Almost no place to go back to

My parents migrated to Australia in the the late 1960s – 1970s from a Macedonian village now in northern Greece, Boshofski or Mavropigi. I can’t write about this place with the sentimentality that they might, I only visited once when I was 15. What I did get when I was there was a strong sense of my social interconnections. I am pretty much related to everyone in the village (2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins…). My maternal grandmother’s family and descendants have married into my father’s father’s side over many generations. My dad and Buba Ourania (mum’s mum) are even related through marriage… we always laugh about that connection. So what is left of the village? The creek that runs through the village that gave the place its name (Mavrogipi), black spring, well I’m not too sure about how its going. Whether it is still flowing, nourishing. In my grandparent’s living memory the country all around there used to be divided up into small fields, each owned by different families. Between each field were walnut, pear and other fruit trees. Each family might have half a dozen fields scattered around the area. I would love to have heard stories from my grandparents before they passed away on how this influenced the social fabric and relationships between families in the village. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was, but around the time my parents came into the world land was reassigned to families in big parcels. The fruit and trees made way for big fields and crops of tobacco. Wheat and other crops were still grown (the gypsies would come to town with their flour mill each year and receive payment in wheat), but tobacco was the main cash crop. Mum used to have to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go and pick tobacco with her parents. When they returned home she then had the job of sewing the tobacco leaves onto thread. Back to the black spring though, because the name is important. The coal that makes the spring and creek black is a powerful actor in this story. Over the last generation the ploughing by hand tools, animals and tractors has been replaced by huge dredgers. Back in 1995 when dad took me up to the mountain near the village I had a sinking feeling in my heart. I had heard so many stories about this place, where my parents spent their first 23 years of life. I could see the village below and an ill-defined horizon, on which stood massive coal-fired electricity plants and open cut coal mines. Dad and I talked about the pollution and the threat that one day the village may not be here. That time seemed so far away and the concept of losing the place where my ancestors came from disconnected from my established sense of belonging. Fast forward to 2012 and the ‘creep’ of the coal mine has reached the outlying fields of the village. Every few months mum asks me if we can go onto Google Earth to have a look at whether the creep has gotten to the village yet. Komanos is gone, when you look on Google Maps the place name and streets are still there like ghosts, just raised ground. I think Kardia is gone too. Kardia means heart. Is there anything still there though? I know that the material desecration and social dispossession have transformed that place, but is there still something there that is deeper than the coal which can’t be ripped out by a bucketwheel dredger? When my mum arrived by plane in Australia in 1974, she and her brother went by taxi from Tullamarine Airport to their aunty’s house in Prahran. Mum says she still has vivid memories of that car ride through Melbourne, she said that she knew she had come home. I cry every time I think about that. For what it might mean about where we, I belong. Can you belong in a place which is different to where your ancestors walked the earth? As far back as both my parent and I can figure out, our ancestors are from the black spring. Yet, when I walked that country, I felt no conversation. The land was silent. Maybe it didn’t recognise me, maybe I had the smell of a different place.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Almost no place to go back to

  1. Reading over Somerville (1999: 6) I find this quote, I think it belongs here:'So there is no choice, I have to flesh out a connection to place here because it is the only place I can; I have to make sense of that.'

  2. Pingback: 40 years | Being with Country

  3. Lara

    Amazing story Nia, thank you for sharing. I think you should go back again for a visit!

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