Monthly Archives: August 2014
Forty years ago tomorrow, my mother left behind her village in Macedonia with her brother Meni and arrived in Melbourne, Australia. She has returned twice to Boshoftsi (Mavropigi – black stream) to take her mother back to the village and to bring her back to Australia. The last time she was there was in 1999. Since then, the rocky stuff that made the stream in the village black (coal) has transformed the place and the community, making it Almost no place to go back to.
The Thei open pit coal mine grows, stretching its terraces closer and closer to the village. Other villages have already gone under the shovels and dozers, creating a different sort of space in these once dwelt-in places.
On the edges of the village (or is the anchor of reference now the coal pit?), fields (horafia) lie abandoned, except for those still walked by my Thio Fani who still keeps his herds of stock here. Our relatives and other village dwellers have almost all moved to the nearest big town. Their safety is no longer guaranteed, explosions from the mine rocking the earth and breaking apart its substance, the materiality that has fed existence in this land since the great forests laid down to sleep.
I wanted my parents to go back to the village when they were in Europe earlier this year. It is only now I can sense the heartbreak that would have ensued if they had.
My father once told me about the way in which the fields were laid out before they had been consolidated for tobacco farming. Each family had fields scattered on the outskirts of the village, each bounded by pear and walnut trees and vines. Then someone had the bright idea of redistributing the land so that everyone had big plots they could tend for cash crops, so the pear and walnut trees and vines went. The waves of industrialisation – some small and soft, others big and violent – of the land have removed people from the places with which they were connected.
When my family and I were talking about our family tree, I would ask my mother and father where so and so came from… “the village” and this person who married such and such… “the village”. In living memory, all but one of my ancestors has come from this village. I went there once, when I was nearly sixteen. I walked the voono (mountain) with my father and spoke to a relative herding goats. On top of the mountain is a tiny church and a view of the fields, village, open pit coal mines and smog from the nearby coal-fired power station. My time in the village (4 weeks) did not foster within me a sense of home or feelings of belonging. I have always felt confronted about this. Like so many other first-generation Australians, the place of my ancestry exists in the imaginary of my parents’ stories about ‘the village’. Their village is a place from 1968 (dad) and 1974 (mum), the home they left behind.
What will remain of ‘country’ and feeling in country when the fields, houses, mountain, trees and birds are all gone? In the space that used to be place, a home…
For nine days we walk along the coast, through mayi, along sandy beaches and cliff tops. At sundown we unfurl dusty swags onto red pindan or white sand, tying mosquito nets to the branches of murga. Smokey fires ward off persistent mosquitoes, infusing hair and cloth with the smell of gunaroo and jigal…
I had a conversation with a woman in a dream. She told me that she had seen a mamara (spirit tree) that I had written about (see The Women and the Mamara), but not on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. I was confused, I had not written about any other mamara. Which place and which mamara was she talking about? This dream was so hauntingly vivid, I felt as though the conversation had happened during a lucid conversation. The next day as I walked through the native gardens close to where I live I looked up and saw her, as if for the first time. It was her, the mamara from my dream. Fat girth, limbs outstretched and caressing the sky, this mamara was old. I found a shallow dip near the base of her trunk and burrowed in, my back supported by her body.
How had I not see her all the other times I had passed by? Perhaps I had see this eucalyptus, but I had not seen her, the mamara. With eyes open, I began looking around at the surrounding country and noticed that I could see a long way into the distance, in all directions. This was the highest point for a long, long way. A big tree on a big hill right under my nose and I’d never noticed… From this mamara, on this hill which used to be called One Tree Hill, you can see unimpeded all the way to the Dandenongs, out to the Yarra Ranges, over to Mount Macedon on the western side of the city and a long, long way to the south.
My friend J grew up next to this park. When I asked her about the tree she knew which one I meant in an instant. She told me a story about when she was little… whenever there would be thunderstorms passing through, she would worry that the lightening would strike their home because they too were perched on top of the hill. Her mother told her not to worry, that the tree (the mamara) would protect them.
A week later I came back to the mamara and started to feel another tree calling. Not far away, near the adventure playground I found her. A sprawling coast tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) hugging the earth and creating protective caverns for children to hide and imagine in. Her limbs twisted into impossible turns, diving down into the soil (just like the jigal mamara on the sand dune at Bindinyankun) and rising up again. A child discovered me whilst I was meeting this mamara. He had come to visit his ‘magic tree’ and draw a picture of his secret cave in this journal. I asked him if he thought this was one tree or many. He carefully considered my question, gazing and what looked like at least 10 different tree ‘trunks’ (actually limbs) rising out of the earth. I showed him the emanation point, the place of convergence where all the branches came from – the well hidden original tree trunk. He was shocked that this could all be one tree!
To have two mamara (that I know of) close to home has awakened the possibility of seeing other entities in this place. It makes ‘coming home’ feel like a process of renewal; a deepening of my being with this country into which I was born.