Saturday, September 23, 2006

Never ending story


The week has zoomed past with not a huge amount to show for it. A day and half went into getting my phone re-activated, due to an all around unimpressive showing by many Telstra departments.

I spent half an afternoon digging through my storage room for documentation to support my visa applications. There was a scary number of boxes marked "unread books" - all very heavy, and for some reason, sitting in front of my document boxes. Floating high above the boxes is a wooden row-boat that migrated from a backyard in Palm Beach to a Marrickville kitchen, then rested under a tree in a Seattle backyard for 4 years, and finally returned to Sydney. At no point did it touch water, though it was shipped across the Pacific Ocean twice.

I wound up down at Bondi Beach (obligatory photo above) around midday yesterday, one of the many loci for my Sydney orbit over the years. I had a strange feeling as I turned from Hall Street into the beach-facing Campbell Parade: "what am I doing here? what do I expect to find here? do I expect to find anything different perambulating around the other end of the world? where do I belong?". As I navigate its streets, parks and seaside paths through memory, all of the vital connections with Bondi people are long gone: 12 years since I lived there, 16 months since my last visit. Since then it's been replaced with other streets in Paris, Salamanca, London, Wigan, San Sebastian, Amsterdam, Seattle, and fragments of dozens of other high streets around Europe.

This is my 3rd or 4th "return" to Sydney after a long overseas sojourn, and visiting Bondi and other places each time re-imprints them. I lived in 5 different country towns while I was at school, but none of them feels like my home-town to the degree that Sydney does. Rural life was regularly punctuated by long drives to Sydney for seasonal and family gatherings. Each of those towns has its memories, but rarely anything that evokes nostalgia for them - I just realised that I tend to remember the books I read in each town, the authors and places released from small libraries into my care.

In Gosford, where I began reading I have dim memories of different picture books, or of re-reading The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. Queanbeyan gave me The Wind in the Willows on my 6th birthday, preparing me both for the weasels of industry, the joys of the Open Road and associated riparian pursuits.

Bourke, the beginning of the outback, yielded Mumfy, The Tree that Sat Down, The Hobbit, The Little Grey Men, Narnia and Little House on the Prairie. Snow-covered fantasy-lands and American frontiers were both still worlds away from dry, red Bourke. My first pocket-money - 40 cents/week - was enough to buy a cheap book from the newsagent each Monday, perhaps an Enid Blyton, or a tiny transcript of an American cartoon telemovie of The Fantastic Four, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or The Arabian Nights. By this time I was also immersed in the dusty, but comprehensive eccentricity of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia, and some other smaller but more modern reference sets.

After two years in Bourke, it was off to the little fishing village Urunga where I was introduced me to the Moomins, tales of young settlers at Sydney Cove, and my first glimpses of volumes of Thelwell and Ronald Searle. A large volume on geology produced by Readers Digest, and given to me by my father to celebrate coming top of my Year 3 class was especially prized. By the time I reached Temora at the age of 9, I was ready to haphazardly work my way through the children's and adults' sections, fiction and non-fiction, of every available library in town.

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