Stillpoint Theatre


I have been thinking about bones and belonging. About the earliest imprints that connect us to a sense place – to a sense of where we are from. I wonder how arbitrary it is or to what extent we can choose it. What is it that gives a place a sense of resonance and meaning? Is it love? Is it diversity and richness of experience? Is it community? History? Loss? Or is it simply the experience of having lived? Is there a sense in which we leave and / or grow parts of ourselves in every place our lives brush up against? I have lived places where I feel I have left very little of myself.
England is not such a place.

I don’t often write about Australia. But I am recently returned from a six week visit there. Partly work, partly pleasure. Mostly to meet the newest tiny addition to our family and spend some time with my people out there. Australia is my birth place and I have always imagined my bones will return there somehow… either by intention or default.

For me it feels less to do with people (I have a wonderful rambling crew out there) and more to do with a kind of animal response to the natural environment. Heat – yes – but i have visited many hot countries and that is not it.

It has to do with an expanse of space. A bigness of sky. The highness of it. A dryness to the heat. The clean, penetrating lines that carve up vast swathes of landscape. Ocean, beach. Land, sky. The inconceivable distances. It has to do with a quality in the air and a kind of subliminal, ambient scent, that may well be gumtrees, though i am not too sure. A quality of light…. It is mostly unconscious. Sub-rational. It does something to my cells and my skin. It feels like it does something to my skeleton. Is this even possible?!! And it provokes a sensation of unfurling in me. A cracking open of deep things I hadn’t even realised were in any way closed. An opening of the body and spirit. And it is a sense of returning to a place my body quite simply recognises as a kind of mother. Not happiness – i think happiness is different and can be carried with you as a default practise or framework, anywhere – but more a feeling of being amplified by an environment that is part of you somehow.

I like to perpetuate mystical notions that it is inherent in generations, genomes and cellular structures. That the 5 generations of Australians on my Mothers side – right back to the gnarly Scotsman who was caught redhanded, one blustery night, stealing a sheep and was sent there for life – has rubbed off on my DNA somehow. Yet my father was born in England so I am genetically half this too, so…

And is it just that everyone enjoys heat and light?
No. Not so.

When I first moved here I collected a pale skinned English man. We lived together for a while in Brighton, then I bought him far south, via cramped economy seating to introduce him to my Australian family. His initial curiosity was eclipsed by ambivalence when he met with the wall of heat and quickly descended into resentment and – well – trauma, as he experienced what i can only describe as some kind of acute and bespoke, personal walpurgisnacht. He complained relentlessly about the heat, contracted every possible tropical skin rash, became a smorgasbord for hungry mosquitos (whilst I slept on beside him, oblivious) and was in such flabbergasted disbelief at the casual proximity of life threatening nature, he would talk about it loudly and often: ‘Its not, ‘Hi I am a spider’, but, ‘HELLO, I AM A FUCKING SPIDER!!!’ What the fuck is wrong with this country??!’

One day, towards the end of our trip, he made the mistake of covering himself in coconut oil and lying in the midday sun for an hour… oh dear. In school, when i was growing up, it was drummed into us to avoid the sun at midday altogether and if you had to do it, wear a hat, a t-shirt and high protection suncream. I told him all this, but despite my warnings he went ahead. He emerged with blisters so ferocious he couldn’t wear a t-shirt or put his arms down by his sides for 3 days.

Essentially he had fried himself.
I’m afraid I laughed. Which made it worse.
He spent the rest of the trip indoors in the dark with the door closed.
(That might be a slight exaggeration, but that’s how it felt. I think I probably spend Januarys in England doing a similar thing, but curled up near a heat source, watching Game of Thrones re-runs or some other bollocks)
The relationship ended shortly afterwards.

No. Heat isn’t for everyone.

And then I return here to England and am greeted by the close, low hanging, damp blanket that always seems to envelope Heathrow, even, mysteriously, in the summer(?). I try to hold onto the openness, bring it, practice it, but eventually it leaks away. It feels like it works against the intrinsic nature of the place somehow.

But there is a lot I have learnt to love and respect about this place. I’ve learned to love the hard won intimacy and loyalty that grows amongst friends over time. It is grittier and well, just different. One glorious thing about England are its seasons. How hungry I become for light come March and how everyone breaks open so beautifully with the return of the sun. How precious the winter solstice becomes. How fragile the light is in winter. How suddenly a fire and snuggling up feels like soul food. The smell of leaves in Autumn. The feel of the grass in summer. The changes of season here feel more rich in symbolism and steeped in myth. Anglo-Celtic myth. A bit of Norse. Pagan.

Australia has myths that run far deeper and far more ancient than its thin veneer of European-ness can begin to penetrate. When I was growing up our (white) education was still turned with such expectant, delusional optimistism towards Europe. We were reading Dickens and eating hot plum pudding at Christmas time, whilst someone’s Dad was sweating buckets, dressed as a shit, culturally displaced Santa Clause. In retrospect it was the most anomalous thing in the world. It is changing now. Christmases are about BBQ’ed fish, fresh salads and swimwear. Our cultural gaze is turning towards our own myths for meaning. I like to think – towards the dark heart of our colonial past. Towards the indigenous roots of the land – but I may just be expressing hope here. Certainly towards the emerging sense of what we might all, collectively be.

Images: Gum Tree by me, Melbourne.
Kathy Klein, Flower Mandala by Kathy Klein

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