Book Club reflection to “Island Home” by Tim Winton
Island Home is a revelation! So much of what Tim Winton writes resonates deeply with me. He articulates with rare precision what I have felt, thought and reflected on. A connection with the land that is more than visual. All the senses are engaged and the experience is stored deep within.
My home “country” of North East Victoria evokes such experience for me. (ref p.216) When I return there I have a deep sense of being home. It feels just right. The angle of the sun, the distinct smells of the local eucalypt, the breadth of the sky, the shades of blue/green and the familiarity of those mountains! I am coming to realise how much comfort I take from a peak. From my home on the Warby Ranges, Mt Buffalo stood proud, strong, robust. When I lived in the King Valley it was Mt Cobbler that drew my frequent attention and reassurance by its comforting presence. At my Grandmothers recently in Murwillumbah, Wollumbin – ‘Cloud Catcher’ or Mt Warning as it is also known, anchors my footing in a foreign place. Here in Gippsland I glance disappointingly at Mt Worth when travelling home from Melbourne. It doesn’t fulfill that need. The Baw Baw range fills a stronger place of yearning for me but is less visible from home and travel routes.
In my youth I was a great adventurer. At 18 I left school and worked on an Outdoor Education program deep in the Victorian High Country. This was a life of very little contact with the outside world other than the students who did courses with us and a scant number of neighbours. The seven of us who worked together there forged a tremendous bond. The isolation also precipitated a bond with place and “country” just as strong as with those wonderful people. Once again it was the mountains “The Knocker” and “Mt Wills’” and all of those High Plains that framed my life at Mittagundi. When you spend hours, days, months, quietly and in semi isolation, you come to know that place, belong to that place, and it becomes a part of you. Mittagundi joins my personal inventory of such places.
After Mittagundi I had a strong desire to see Australia. The interior, the country! Through Mittagundi connections I gained work as a Jillaroo in Longreach – ‘Rosedale’ sparse, grey, tired. Then on to ‘Manbullo’ at Katherine and a large station bordering Kakadu “Swim Creek Plains’ – green, lush, dangerous. Finally I Jillarooed in the Kimberley – bold, harsh, oppressive. I only stayed 3 months Jillarooing in The Kimberley at ‘Lissadell Station.’ The work was beyond hard, the people even more so, the romance of those books I’d read (Cattle King – Ion Indress, RM Williams, Mary Durack – Kings in Grass Castles) was everywhere but not enough to sustain. If we were based at the station rather than a stockcamp I’d call mum on a Sunday. “Is it beautiful?” She’d ask – expecting a poetic reply about the extraordinary splendour of the country. “I suppose so” I’d reply. It was simply and overwhelmingly harsh! The dry heat, sucking my vitality, making tools burning hot to touch. The rocky, bumpy landscape, experienced either from the back of a cranky bucking horse or perched on the metal tray of a farm Ute, where I’d be avoiding rolls of barbed wire, crow bars axes and sweaty stockmen also bumping around with me on the back of that Ute. Sharp Spinifex seeds in everything, the horse blanket, my clothes and socks. Scorpions in my swag at night, and days when water was not offered to us as we mustered and moved mobs of cattle. Once, I heard the Head Stockman had water, I cantered over to him, and he offered me the chance to come to his swag that night in return for a drink. So thirsty was I that I hesitated to consider before snatching it from his hands. #METOO.
These digressions I share and would love to elaborate more… they shape my experience of that place beyond the “seeing the country by car…….. in geographical limbo.” (ref p.180)
In the end I shared my time there in true romantic union with a fellow stockman – Indigenous to the area. This begs a book of stories and actually he came home to Victoria and lived with me in Melbourne for a year. However keeping in response to this book, I remember how in tune and connected he was to country. What we would call superstition framed his life. Spotting and unusual bird or animal, or a weather event, he would ponder health of family, good or bad tidings. I remember lying under that majestic curtain of stars with him and seeing a remarkable shooting star that led to the preposition of a family member passing? Sure enough the next day he received word that indeed a cousin had died. What we experience in ‘country’ or landscape is only touching on what Australian Indigenous people may feel after thousands of years spent connected to it. It is precious and it shapes us more than we imagine.
After reading this book I feel Tim Winton’s urge as my own. To jump in the car and travel, to be in country, to devour it, be humbled by her scale, connected to her beauty and majesty, and comforted by the mountains.
These reflections are examples of how I feel connected to spirituality of country have led me to great reminiscing and yearning as well as fear that in the digital era so many of us are not spending enough time just being in nature. That I’m not spending enough time in nature. Tim Winton felt comforted (ref p.226) by the young people he meets out and about who are curious, passionate and connected. I hope we have cause to share this optimism!