Saturday, January 13, 2007

tour of duty

Or how I spent my holidays by AOF aged (oh bugger that) .

Each morning I woke to a blanket of clouds, rain or mist outside the window. The air was always cold, too chilly to pad around in a summer dressing gown kind of cold. The novelty of the lush green bush began to recede into the misery of endless, damp weather. The neighbourhood surrounded me and my world seemed to shrink to the size of my childhood – a handful of streets horseshoed in a farm and tree lined valley with only 2 roads leading out of it. But for those 11 days life centred on the house, how a pair of parents had slept, their need to be fed and watered, even entertained occasionally. One tugged at the reins needing to get out, itching with boredom. The other didn’t want to move much further than her bed, or chair. Though one day when we were out she took herself off to the supermarket barely a kilometre away, like a naughty child taking someone’s car for a joyride.

From the home front I observed how not only the world of my family had changed, but also the land I had grown up in. Sure I remember childhood summers where the sun had actually shone, we’d squirt the hose at each other with glee, muddy up the lawn and get sunburnt – but the other ways in which the nation had altered in my extended absence. The media had not changed, or rather it had worsened. The paper and TV talked little of the outside world, unless like many you had pay TV and beamed in the BBC rather than just the cricket. From NZ news services I deduced that this apparently peaceful land was really a hotspot of violence and following that line of reasoning it placed South Auckland, fair and square, in Hades. Almost all the violence was linked to Maori. Yet beyond the news, I saw a different presentation of this culture – frequently while walking through the city streets Maori language was spoken, full sentences or a peppering of words through a conversation. I never heard this in my childhood. There is a Maori channel on the box – the programs usually bilingual, with delightful homegrown stuff like “Ask the Aunties”. The meeting of the 2 representations of Maori life in NZ collided. But then again, I wasn’t staying in South Auckland.

The other major change from my childhood was the bird life. Just as the development of a bicultural society had flourished, so too had the native birds – tuis, kingfishers, fantails…these sweet and beautiful creatures bought back to life thanks too the development of a predator free precinct, letting them reproduce safely and flourish once more.

I come back to Australia, where I look out my window onto houses and cars. Yes there is some birdsong, the occasional nonindigenous blackbird, sparrow or mynah. The land is dry and brown. The native peoples suppressed, hidden, ghettoised. For a few days I have the juxtaposition of the heady joy of returning to my own space that does not run on the timetable of having to take care of my elders, meeting some kind of cultural and environmental shock.

As always I ask, where is my home? Can I create a new promised land? I pick the lushness on New Zealand with some Australian warmth muted to a more reasonable 20something degrees. I want the flora and fauna, but with my Melbourne urban delights. I want family, but not living in the same house. And I want a healing with the indigenous owners of the land.

Why can’t I ask for this, it is Christmas after all!


Blogger LisaPal said...

I rack my brain regularly trying to figure out how to have all the same kinds of elements come together in one happy place in my life. Let me know if you figure out the secret formula.

6:11 pm  

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