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Being called (back) by place, cont.

The others left the track before me, choosing to scale up the low sand dune which grew off the side of the track. I kept going, drawn in by the corridor of tea trees that led me deeper into the heart of the big sand drift. The sandy track emerged into a windblown chute in the towering sand dunes. Beyond was an endless expanse of sand, sculpted by the winds that buffer this promontory. I’d expected there to be no other people here, it had always felt like our secret place. Somewhere in the near distance I could hear the sounds of people whooping and whistling as they slid down the steep face of sand dunes. I could see them in my mind’s eye, rolling and catapulting over themselves all the way to the bottom and then scrambling hand after foot back up to the top. Squinting into the sun, I could make out foot tracks, they crisscrossed the dune system below where I stood. More people; things must have changed. I hadn’t been back here for years, maybe ten or more.

Walking in giant steps down the slope, my eyes grew wide at the sight of a large soak (of water) in a depression in the sand dunes. Being early spring it made sense for there to be water around, but having never been here in this season, to see water amongst sand dunes seemed like a fantasy. Tracks from all directions lead to the edge of the soak. Bird tracks, roo tracks, but no human tracks. Confused, I looked out again at all the tracks crisscrossing the landscape around me. Three toes imprinted in the sand glared up at me from the wet sand to my left. Three toes… three toes… ahh! I followed those three-toed footprints away from the dunes. Countless other three-toed footprint tracks intersect the path that I followed.

Led away from the soak, I arrived at a group of acacias just as the emu tracks petered out. The thinnest sliver of a new moon hung low in the sky, making its final descent towards the dunes. The track that I followed brought me here, I felt a sense of having arrived somewhere. Scanning the area around me I wondered why it was that I had arrived here. But I carry on… Clambering up low sand hills, compelled to walk the edges of these sand sculptures, they are the embodiment of impermanence, providing (if any) only moments (or illusions) of stability. Wandering north to find my group, I felt called back. I was meant to be there. I looked back to see the acacias that acknowledged my presence where I had arrived. The only things in this landscape that had some kind of grip on me, I am pulled back, descending the dune, returning and to their circle. Countless tiny seedlings shoot up from the sand, encircling a group of older trees of the same species. Walking forward, I parted the dense foliage of the older trees. Mossy growths inhabit the thick limbs of these trees, I could just make out what appeared to be the ‘heart’ of the formation. Something about this situation felt familiar… the jigal mamara on the sand dune at Bindinyankun. What had appeared to be 10 or 15 trees growing out of the sand dune was actually one. I looked deeper into the thick growth and saw a dense tree trunk emanating from the dune. Tracing the branches, they all led back to this central trunk. One tree. Standing within the spherical canopy of this acacia, I felt as though I was in a world. All round me native bees hummed as they fed on the yellow flowers in bloom. This tree wanted to be seen, acknowledged, and there was a path that led me here.

I have always felt a strong pull by this place, since I was a young child. In my return there is a sense of having been called back. I am not sure why, but there is a strong resonance in my being with this place.

The faint sounds of ‘Coo-eee’ reached me before being swallowed up by the sand. In the distance I could just make out the silhouettes of three figures walking the ridge lines towards me. When we meet I ask them if they too feel a familiar sense of walking on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, across the pink dunes at Rujimon. When I think of this place as a home, a camping and hunting place (fresh water, animals to hunt, close to the coast), my feelings shift. Sensing the habitation of a place, the dwelling that is happening, or has happened, creates a profound shift in how I relate to that place. Place as home, it is an invocation, an opening for new things to emerge, new realities to be born.

We headed north, back towards the farmland and the old coast banksias that fringe the path to this big sand drift. My eyes searching the sand as we climbed the dunes, and there they were…


IMG_1004… Small messages lying in the sand that this place is home.

Images by Hayley Bunting

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40 years

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.

Mavropigi August 2014 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.

On the edge of an open pit coal mine

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…

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