Always in country

The Red-tailed black cockatoos are out in force at the moment. I saw them crushing Sheoak nuts between their beaks last weekend near the Nightcliff Jetty and again tonight at East Point. You can get quite close to these birds; they’re not flighty like the Double-barred finch. The footpaths are all littered with snipped off sheoak needles and the remnants of this tree-top feast.

Moving around the Darwin suburbs on my bicycle I’ve had a chance to connect with different places… creeks, foreshores, cliffs, monsoon forests and beaches. But I’ve hardly been on my bike since returning to Darwin. I miss it. The freedom, the smells, the birds and the feeling of connecting with where I live in a direct, sensory kind of way. There is a patch of regenerated bush not far from our home, I think a local Landcare group planted it. It is alive with vivid green leaves of different shapes and textures and splashes of colour from all the flowers that are blooming at the moment. Being in this bush evokes something in me. Maybe it’s the possibility of what our gardens could be like in this ‘tropical paradise’. Take away the millions of palms (there must be at least a million in this city) and bring back the grevillias, acacias, pandanas, woollybutts and paperbarks… and then the birds. Being in the city I forget that I am always living in country, until I see pockets of bush, and birds going about their busy-ness. In my conversations with people reference is often made to “getting out of the city” to re-balance and connect with country. I can understand how we can exist in this mindset when the ‘nature’ we see around us is palm trees and bizarre neighborhood parks with lawn and Mahogany trees. These are strange places for me, there is something disconcerting about them. They feel imported. There are places in this city though that make me feel like I can connect with something raw, something that hasn’t been ‘tamed’ too much, places that have the potential to be restorative. Place like East Point, Dripstone Cliffs, Lee Point and Casuarina Coast Reserve. What do these places represent? Let me clarify something though, I am not fantasizing about the notion of an untouched place, quite the opposite. It is place as home, but a home that is of this place.

These places I mentioned are homes; long grassers camp here and the communities of plants and animals dwell here. Do these places also represent some kind of ‘in between space’ as Somerville (2010; 2007) might suggest? But in between what? Urban and bush? Included and excluded? Visible and invisible?

In their book Singing the Coast, Perkins and Somerville (2010) translate the stories of coastal places along the Central Coast of NSW. Tony, a Garby Elder, tells stories about his people being pushed to the fringes of their country, by the occupation of their lands by colonisers. He calls one place in particular, the swampy wetlands around Corindi Lake, ‘No Mans Land’.

‘The idea of No Mans Land was a powerful and ingoing story for the people who settled at Corindi Lake. Neither water nor land, the swamp was the quintessential in-between space where new stories could be born’ (Perkins and Somerville, 2012, p. 7).

People grew up in this place, living off the food in and around the lake, unseen and safe from Welfare Protection Board. But there was an until; people lived in this place until a new material reality came into being and lifestyles changed, connections changed. Then coastal development and pollution transformed this place and degraded its viability as a ‘home’. The threads that may connect Tony’s narratives of place to the stories of this place are not that visible as yet. Writing about the places I feel around me here, I realise that I know very little about them and the many stories they hold. I remind myself, I’m just at the beginning and there are many more rides left in this city/country.

A flock of Rainbow-bee eaters circled above the tree tops at East Point as the sun was setting tonight. I always hear their “krim-krim” calls, but never manage to see them. It’s not until I’ve been away from country for too long, a separation that exists only in my mind-space, that I realise what sustenance it offers me. Being in country, with country and feeling a rhythm that is slow and remembering that I am small.

Image: Double-barred finch at Milibinyarri camp, Nia Emmanouil, Nov 2012.


Somerville, M & Perkins, T 2010, Singing the Coast, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Somerville, M 2007, ‘Postmodern emergence’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 225-43.

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