The Rat Race and the Wilderness
Monday. First day of the working week. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry arrived in to Port Melbourne, as expected. My waking was met with thoughts about Queenstown and the memory of my time there and the welling up of feelings of wanting to live there. Even though I slept so deeply, and I went to sleep well before 10pm so had around 8 hours of solid sleep, I still felt groggy and tired.
The time I had had in Tasmania was like a dream and my dreams were vivid while I were there.
This world, the “home” that I have returned to, looks like a nightmare. It hasn’t penetrated me to become a feeling state yet. It just appears so nonsensical and silly. Thousands, or is it millions are stuck in the rat race. Cars, cars, cars… adding greyness to the world, their noise destroying the peace of the singing of birds which is the way mornings ought to sound. Their fumes interfering with the breathing in of morning air, which ought to be fresh. The way they enable us to rush around gets in the way of that quiet contemplation that the morning feels it asks of me.
I get dressed, drink my herbal “Female balance” tea left from the night before, which I forgot to drink before brushing teeth, then head down to Level 7 and wait to be called to go to my car. It feels rebellious and perfectly natural to locate and urge the woman who will be announcing our return to the cars, to please remind drivers more than once to not turn their engines on until the time comes to depart the ship. This is because on my way to Tasmania I had my car on the very bottom level which was an airtight room one drives down a ramp to get in to - somewhat claustrophobic really. Anyway when I went to my car upon arrival in Devonport, I noticed a car was running its engine. I knocked on their window and spoke to the driver.
Have you got your car on?
Yes, the young man replied.
All the other young men were looking at me.
The one in the passenger seat and two in the back.
You’re killing us! Please turn your engine off!
They all stared at me and I walked over to my car.
It isn’t common in our society to tell others what to do.
Unless of course you’re a boss and therefore entitled.
Or a school teacher.
Or a parent.
I then decided to wait on the deck to look at the water.
A stand up paddle boarder was making his way across the bay towards the boat.
I watched others.
Mostly they were photographing and videoing.
The sun was almost over the tips of the horizon but everything was very light already.
Yes the water was beautiful.
It felt special to be up this early on the water.
Traveling by boat feels so much better than by plane.
Boat traveling is a more ancient and slower way of moving through space than a plane.
Connecting to the earth in a way that is the most romantic of them all - except perhaps for horseback riding. Or even horse and cart. Although the horses may not agree with that.
The man next to me said “what’s that?”.
I first thought the was referring to the stand up paddle board and was a bit shocked he hadn’t seen one before, but quickly realised when I looked at his face again that he was staring at something traveling through the water. Some creature.
Neither of us could work it out.
It kind of looked like a 50cm long stick swimming along towards the boat.
I wondered if it was a snake or eel but snakes wriggle along. So that wasn’t it.
Whatever it was it looked like it needed its nose out of the water to breath.
I wondered if it was the nose of a seal but that made no sense at all.
I was clutching at straws.
Then a woman approached who said apparently its a rat.
Ok. The man next to me and I were satisfied that was the only plausible explanation for it.
She made a comment about how we’d been staring at a rat for some time, as though we had wasted that time, now that we know it was only a rat… which I thought was funny.
Why would staring at a rat be any less interesting than staring at a seal, eel, fish, snake or anything really?
I went to my car, picked up the key to my studio/gallery and here I sit writing this now, listening to the traffic and remembering the bike rider rushing down St George’s Road and the child in the back of the bike, eating something.
I ponder the rush.
The rat race.
And I reflect on my visit to Queenstown, the happy/sad town which lost many of its residents when the mine closed down. The town with a sense of “belonging” which is “hard to describe” according to the main character of the documentary I watched three times over, during my shift as a volunteer for the Uncomformity festival. In the 3 part documentary, “Tasmanian Ghost Town Project: A Diary of Lost Memories”, he and other characters interviewed, shared their love for Queenstown, Gormonston and Lake Margaret.
I grapple with two things. Have always done so. One is indecision. The other is an ongoing sense of homelessness. Because I know those things now I have mechanisms in place to help myself with them but still they haunt and harass me.
Right now both are activated.
I almost cancelled the trip to Tasmania. Glad I didn’t.
Then I almost cancelled the second part of it, the visit to Queenstown. Glad I didn’t.
But I did move my ferry ticket forward a day, arriving today instead of tomorrow. Not so sure that was wise. As now all I can think about is wanting to visit all those properties for sale and imagine my life there, my escape from the “rat race” and ideas about what I can offer the town flood my brain. I may not “belong” there for awhile, if I did move. I don’t have a history there.
The upside to not having a place in which one’s ancestors have merged with the landscape, is one can choose to create a new place for that. Both my parents are relatively new to Melbourne. My father’s parents moved there from Hungary after the war. My mother’s parents moved there from Dimboola, as her dad was posted there by Shell. Ha, my mother’s father worked in the fossil fuel industry and my father’s father worked as a timber merchant. Great ancestry for an environmentalist! Both my grandmothers were creative. A talented writer on my mother’s side and a talented fashion designer on my father’s side.
If I really wanted to find a sense of “home” amongst the lands of my ancestors I could get a Hungarian passport and live in Hungary. Half my family are very Hungarian. Its even backed up by the saliva DNA test. Jewish Eastern European almost 50%. But every time I’ve visited that part of the world I’ve got depressed, had panic or anxiety attacks. I figure the holocaust is responsible for that - and my ancestral memories coming up around that trauma.
I love Scotland. My mother’s side have strong roots there, going back along the lines of the Kings of Scotland. But also in my DNA is Scandinavian (14%) blood, which my mum was surprised to hear. William the Conqueror was in my bloodline too. But he’s probably in billions of people’s bloodline.
What intrigues me about all this is that I have both ancestors who have done terrible things, and ancestors who have been victims of terrible things. I am also interested in the scope of drawing upon the skills and attributes of our ancestors. Like a golden shadow, the strengths they had are available to me now perhaps.
In any case, my search for “home” and “belonging” is not just about ancestry.
Its essentially about relationship with place. With country.
Last week I spent the first 5 days in the Sumac camp in the Tarkine forest. Set up by the Bob Brown Foundation, it enables us to protect many more very old trees and a thriving ecosystem. We were visited on about the Wednesday or Thursday (all the days blurred in to one another) by two local Aboriginal men.
1 a (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings
(2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community
b : an empty or pathless area or region
c : a part of a garden devoted to wild growth
2 obsolete : wild or uncultivated state
3 a : a confusing multitude or mass : an indefinitely great number or quantity
b : a bewildering situation
One of them talked about “country” and how that’s the word his mob would like us to use to describe all environments, whether it be city or natural. He took a dislike to the word “wildnerness” because the definition of it he said negates the very presence of Aboriginal people on land, as whilst it appears to be “uninhabited” is instead, respected and well managed (such a stark contrast to how whitefella “manage” the land). He told us words for “country” in his language and “sea” which is also “country” as its our environment too. He said to look up the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre as language is shared there.
It is an acceptable practice to use the same word for a place as for the people of that place
My search is also about finding a home in which I can co-habit in a place in a meaningful and respectful way with others. A home in which relationship to country is deep, spiritual and intertwined with daily living, in an everyday sort of way.
I know that’s probably the case for many on the planet. I can’t presume everyone is as full of yearning as I am.
And yet I don’t feel I can do that in a city. At least not this one, Melbourne. I feel like I’ve become swallowed up by the machine of the city. The demand upon me to “earn a living” and “educate” my son via a schooling system which feels a lot like a factory farm (even though his school is the best version of one I can find). I feel under pressure to justify my existence through a series of superficial acts which have no meaning to me. I feel a sense of isolation and even the wonderful people I know and feel a connection to here, are hard to find time to see.
I remember listening to a radio national story about a block of units somewhere (in the USA I think). There was a high crime rate until they decided to plants lots of trees. The crime rate dropped significantly. Another radio documentary talked about isolation and loneliness in the modern world and how “incidental interactions” are what gives people a sense of connection and belonging. Both those things are much easier to find in small towns and both those things would have been prevalent in Aboriginal life pre-settlement, I imagine. Living in smaller groups affords incidental interactions - those that just happen because you are there - not because you’ve made an arraignment to meet someone, or because you’ve made a purchase at a store - but because you belong to the same place. These interactions are different because they are aren’t transactional and therefore impeded by the layers of role playing customers and sellers hold and they aren’t as intense as the “meet-ups” that one might arrange with a friend. They afford a freedom, a fluidity and allow for spontaneity.
I was starting up the fire again one morning whilst at Sumac camp and as I ripping up the newspaper, something caught my gaze.
A photo of Uluru with a the caption
“The heart of Australia makes for an exciting and adventurous family holiday”.
It strikes me as a very strange way to relate to our environment. We work our buts off or struggle to survive (or thrive for some) in the city, then take our savings and have excitement and adventure in a “natural” environment. Pretty much what I have been doing. And I don’t like it. It is against the grain. Against my heart and against my soul. To be divided like that. My time divided up in to “nature” time and “everyday living” time.
I’m not sure about you, but my heart and soul yearn for the natural landscape to be my home.
In an everyday kind of way. Not in a “drive by” or “exciting holiday” way but in a way that makes it a part of me and my life.
I have a theory that we all want this. Deep down. We all miss this.
And I believe its our birthright.
And we’ve all inherited a forgetting of this.
Some of us volunteer in activist camps and visit remote arts festivals.
Some of us paddle board across the bay before work or take a job where we become a tour guide.
Some of us take on a business in a beautiful place running a caravan park.
Or head off to be a GP in a small town.
Or start up a little farm somewhere rural.
Essentially we miss our connection to nature and each other.
Even those who are unaware of this.
Many don’t even know what it feels like.
Or even that that feeling exists.
Someone was telling me last week that some rich dudes want to create an extremely expensive resort in the middle of a national park in Tasmania, which can only be reached by helicopter or the many many hours of trekking. Of course there is opposition to it. Why should those who are trekking through the “wilderness” have to hear helicopters overhead and know that when they arrive at the centre of the area, they encounter a resort!
I know tourism is a desirable outcome compared to a logging outcome.
One eradicates the gifts of nature (and wastes the tax payers money on subsidising an inherently economically stupid idea of old growth forest logging) and the other makes it commercial and risks lessening the “wildness” of the wilderness we are trying to save (even though “wildnerness” doesn’t exist anyway - absence of “whitefella” intrusion in to the land though is a relief indeed).
I know which option I’d prefer. The tourist one.
But I do feel it needs to be managed well.
We need to somehow better empower the Aboriginal people of Tasmania to lead us in this.
For they have been doing the management of their country for centuries before we came along and they did it exceptionally well.
Much better than we have.
One of the glum aspects to all this is that I have a feeling that its impossible for us all to live in the way that I crave and I wonder if that way is indeed the way hunter and gatherer societies lived. Before the settlement of towns and cities and the larger scale agriculture emerged, people perhaps lived a truly better life. Yuval Noah Harari, writer of “Sapiens”, reflected on this.
For its impossible for us all to become hunter-gatherers now as there are way too many of us for that.
So the reality is we’ve got here and we have to deal with it somehow.
I know for me, for now, I can only crave living somewhere a bit less cultivated by humans. In a smaller community, no matter how damaged, it can only have more scope than the city to hold me in my desire for a deeper connection to community and country.
And so I continue to feel my way towards this.
And grapple with the decision that if I do this now or soon, I am taking my 10 year old son away from his habitat. For his father is here. And his school. His friends. Our community. And I’m lucky to have those and that he has those. He has what I didn’t have as a child who moved around quite a bit - a continuity to draw upon, a sense of belonging.
And so I am torn.
A drifter still, with some ties to my local community and yet not enough to feel “home”.
Born in Melbourne and yet still feeling an unwilling captive.
I do not want to tear my son away from what he knows to be home but I also don’t want to deprive him of what he doesn’t know yet - that sense of belonging to a place that is truly slower and truly more reflective of a deeper connection to each other and place.
One can never assume what another feels or needs. Surely. Yet as a mother I feel a responsibly to provide as best I can, what I feel is best for my son.
One is going to find people who we resonate with or find difficult, anywhere and everywhere. Not everyone is going to like us or be kind to us, no matter how much they seem to be our “tribe”. I have learnt through over four decades of living and interacting with a wide spectrum of “types” of people and communities that goodness and selfishness comes in all forms and “costumes”.
I rebel against the set up of the city and globalisation which encourages a picking out of one’s “types” to become our friends, and denies us of quality interactions with those that appear to be different. And yet I also know though, how difficult it can be when in a very small community, one becomes an outsider. One is treated roughly and misunderstood.
There is no one place or one answer, it seems.
So I continue, for now, to float.
To travel amidst many groups and places.
And to continue to dream of a “home”, knowing that for now, I can make my heart that “home” and perhaps in small ways those I meet along the way, and places I inhabit every day, can be that special place, however transient, which I make mine. For now.
I once met a man who I called “home” for awhile. But that, as it turned out was transient too.
I remember the gentle hut depression I lay in at Kings Run, in April this year during my visit as an artist for Tarkine in Motion, near Arthur River, a piece of land handed back to Aboriginal people.
I lay there protected from the wind.
I lay there and thanked the land that supported me.
I lay there and thanked the elders, past and present who cared for the land and will continue to do so as much as they can.
I lay there and thanked the sun pouring down on me.
And I felt a sense of peace.
I felt at “home”.
And as I sit here in my studio/gallery on High St, Thornbury, and remind myself that the sun is shining outside and I don’t have to be somewhere surrounded by the sound of cars rushing someone somewhere, I can finish this writing and head off. To my home for now. To gather some food from the nearby organic store and wash clothes and prepare for work, my new part time job in a school working as an art therapist, with children who have lost their parents. We will make a small “womb garden”, a sanctuary they can find belonging in, while they are at school. Its something.
I am grateful.
For this studio/gallery no matter how noisy.
For the job I’m about to embark on even though I’m partaking in the rat race.
For the privilege of the five days I’ve had in the Tarkine, the most extraordinary old growth ancient forest still in tact and hopefully, thanks to all the volunteers and staff of the Bob Brown Foundation to be protected and handed back to Aboriginal ownership.
Soon I am to set up a Facebook page titled “Write to the Queen”.
For Crown land is hers is it not? (wink)
Apparently she’s an advocate for protecting forests.
So you’ll be hearing more from me soon with this idea.
Its a concept which will help inspire us to communicate what we want to happen in our world by being more active in writing to people - those that make decisions which affect us - by providing a platform from which gatherings can be communicated which will bring us together as we write our letters. Also, we may write letters of support and gratitude. And be creative in the letter writing, perhaps using collage and drawings too.
I shall sign off now from my ramble.
I don’t feel I’ve written anything much about the magnificence of the forest and all I’ve learnt about it and logging nor the magnificence of the Uncomformity festival in Queenstown which I’ve just come from.
So that will just have to be the next blog.
NOTE: If you'd like to help protect the Tarkine, you can:
1. Buy a gift from the Bob Brown Foundation Tarkine Pozible fundraising campaign (only 6 days left): click here.
2. Attend a Tarkine Artivist Collection Meeting (hosted by myself), click here
3. Attend a Tarkine Activist Meeting (in Melbourne hosted by Emma Wasson), click here.
4. Attend the Tarkine BioBlitz, click here.