The prompt for week 20 in the 15 month series of Book of Me is “Home”: Home means different things to different people, so this week we are going to explore what it means to us: What does it feel like? How do you recognise it? What makes it home -people, place, time. This will be a long post I fear, so get comfortable with a coffee or tea.
This is something I’ve pondered generally over a long time, in the context of my own life but also for my emigrant ancestors. Were they ever truly at home in Australia or did they still think of their places of birth as home? Did they hanker for grey skies, old buildings, green fields? Of course these are answers I’ll never have since there are no diaries to read, no letters and no oral history touching on the topic.
My own sense of home is sometimes elusive. We are empty nesters and our “children” have established their own homes. They are family but they are no longer part of “home” except inasmuch they live in the same city.
The core of “home” for me is my husband, Mr Cassmob. We’ve been together so long it’s almost impossible to imagine home without him, though that will be a reality one or other of us will have to face one day, hopefully far in the future. Another part of home on a daily basis is our very indulged fluffy tabby cat, Springer. Certainly both of us felt a gap in our lives when he went missing for seven weeks last year. He has, I suppose, become a surrogate “child”: he even gracefully returns our affections – when it suits him – occasionally.
After spending all my younger years years in one house, , our own family has moved house eleven times, some houses being but passing phases, others being our home for long periods. While I’ve loved living in each of our houses, the house itself does not define home, except for the duration we live there. If we return for a drive-by it’s out of curiosity to see what’s changed and especially to look at the garden. So I guess we have to add the garden to a sense of home. It may be a townhouse block or a larger suburban block, but the plants and birds who visit become part of our feeling of home. And in every house, a cat has been part of our home.
There is really only one house for which I feel nostalgic and that’s my my grandparents’ house which I visited daily as a child. I think it was the indulgence and exploration that made it so irresistable. That is perhaps the home of “time”, a special place in memory and affection.
Other than husband and cat, the constants of home are the belongings we treasure and take with us from house to house. Always a core of books, special items and “treasures” we’ve acquired wherever we’ve lived or travelled. Very little has any real commercial value, but they reflect our lives. It’s hard to imagine our home without them, though that is something that has to be considered when living with the annual risk of cyclones. Perhaps that’s why my cyclone emergency packing pays minimal attention to clothes, linen and other practicalities. It’s interesting to ponder what I would take with me to define home if we were to spend an extended time overseas.
Is “home” a specific place for me? For a long time Brisbane was home, as I’d known no other. That changed when I went to live in Papua New Guinea after we married, the transition to a new sense of home being surprisingly speedy. Returning to PNG in 2012, there was a real sense of being home again: the familiarity of place and people. We feel the same every time our plane lands in Cairns because the density of the tropical ranges evoke PNG so clearly. Now, each place we live imprints itself on mind and emotion.
My parents didn’t own a car until I was in my late teens so Brisbane was a series of disjointed images rather like map segments stuck together. Flying in regularly, my vision of it changed: the serpentine Brisbane River wound its way through the city; the hills enclosing the city and the red-roofed houses seemed so obvious.
Brisbane is kookaburras laughing, magpies warbling and lorikeets drunk on nectar. The sound of cicadas on a hot summer’s day. The different flowers and plants of this sub-tropical town: perhaps the best of both “worlds”.
The Top End will remain with me for its very different geography and vegetation, and its wide open spaces. The drama of the Wet Season with its fierce electrical storms and torrential rains. The inability to swim in those magnificently turquoise waters (crocodiles, stingers, sharks etc). The tropical beauty of a bush billabong. The peep-peep of the crimson finches in our yard, the flash of colour from a rainbow bee-eater, the strangled laugh of the northern kookaburra, the speed of a whistling kite as it snatches a sausage.
All these places become part of my history of “home” as we move around.
What remains unchanged is my core sense of Australia as home. Whenever we return from a trip overseas it’s the wide, bright blue skies that strike me first and the vivid colours so different from the northern hemisphere. The sense of space when travelling through our much-mythologised outback. The sound of surf breaking on the vast white sands of our beaches. A huge sky emblazoned with the southern stars and the Southern Cross marking their transition through the night. Its bizarre animals and magnificent native flora. Dorothy Mackellar’s poem, My Country, though a little old-fashioned in style, sums it up well in essence.
So what is truly home for me? On a daily basis it’s Mr Cassmob, the cat, our books and belongings, the garden and its flowers and birds. The house structure is important but only while we live there. Underpinning it all is the sense of place: the affiliation with the land and landscape of Australia in all its manifestations.