The worry-filled woman who had needed so desperately to be alone in sorrowful silence in Fijihad evaporated.
In Sydney I suddenly walked taller. I felt a belonging I had been waiting for since childhood. The Cockatoos on high rise buildings, the hot still air, the landmark monuments and the very mannequins in shop windows audibly cat called 'You GO girl' to me as I passed them.
I arrived in Australia with no itinerary and many forming ideas around the potential to connect with an ancient part of myself and my history.
It is important for you to know this: I grew up in green, rolling, rural England hearing anecdotes about Australia and being read stories from precious illustrated books about Australian animals, spirit - magic and the Dreamtime*. My parents had personally carried these books back from their folkloric year in Waga-Waga in the 1970's just before my twin brother and I were born. (Waga-Waga is a town in New South Wales, South of the Murrumbidgee river whose name is from the Wiradjuri dialect, it means something like 'Where the crows meet'). My twin and I were in utero in Australia. In other words, I had been to Australia before and been touched by its magic, I just hadn't had a window out.
*The Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are collections of ancient tales of the great rocks, rivers, trees and indigenous animals of Australia coming into being. Woven into these stories is the idea that immortal spirit beasts and man created this great land through encounters as hunters and travellers looking for the places they belonged and trying not to get eaten.
'The Giant Devil Dingo' is is a story that captivated my brothers and sister and I. This telling from the beautifully illustrated book we had should give you a feel of the magic of the Dreamtime stories.
I had been waiting my whole life to meet Australia. Now that I had been travelling alone for almost six months I felt mentally uncluttered, light and able to enjoy each 'wow' as it unfolded. Sydney is clean, crisp colour, grunge, heat, sophisticated stone, kitsch, brash, fresh green and subtle as well as feeling familiar and safe. I relaxed into being an unshielded self.
Winifred: My granny's mother. This photograph was in Mary's collection (who you will hear about Marvellous Mary shortly). My mum (AKA the family tree oracle) thinks the photograph must have been taken when Australian relatives visited my granny and her parents sometime between 1920 and 1930, when my granny was little.
I intentionally spent a lot of time on my own wandering the different quarters of the city. I gathered up cultural ingredients, stirring into the broth of the idea of myself as part of a lineage of people connected to Australia. Now that I had cleared all the futile internal worry away, I suddenly had inner space to consider who I was, who I couldbe...
I began to connect to the memory of who I was before tryingto be an adult got in the way of just being me. Australia pulled at recollection of those story books from childhood. I not only remembered the Dreamtime stories, I remembered the small scruffy girl who listened to the stories and endlessly re-told them to herself as she played in the mud and grass, pretending to be in Australia. This curious child had made her own projected dreamtime about who she would be as a grown up, a woman who fulfilled an initiation into adulthood through travelling the world alone. I realised I had stepped into my own projected future albeit a decade later than my child self would have expected. I had come far enough to trust myself alone in the world and now I wanted to reach through time to connect to the bloodline seeds of mothers and fathers and daughters and sons and aunts and uncles whose souls seemed to want my attention.
Am I really saying that my ancestors hummed to me in Australia? Well, let me put it like this:
1) The whole of the country seemed to ooze a nature based spirituality.
2) The urban-human space seemed to be borrowed only; nature was a visible, audible, numinous presence everywhere, as if waiting for an opportunity to overgrow and reclaim every inch of space.
3) I have a scattering of relatives who live in Australia, descendants of the siblings of my granny's mother, Winifred who died in 1942.
I felt a spiritual potency of place. Knowing that early in the last century some of my relatives had arrived in Australia for the first time too, I really felt like I was being quietly accompanied by the drifting strands of my ancestors. As if I was fulfilling a sacred destiny by being there. I am sure it reflects my need at that time to reach back into the story of who I am, who the collective women in my history have been. A need to make myself up afresh, now that the hunched over world weary woman, who flew out of manchester months ago had finally been vanquished.
My journey from Sydney to Sydney on a map was a thin line drawn in a rough square covering the edges of almost a quarter of that whole great country, I made quick stops in most places staying for one or two nights before moving on. My far away family, scattered in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide welcomed me with open arms and hearts. I travelled delightedly on night buses, day buses and in mini vans. Saw sunrise at Byron Bay, stayed in a hostel where cockroaches criss-crossed the floor between bunk beds and crawled over bodies (and faces) in the night. I fed Kangaroos in Adelaide and made long lasting eye contact with descendants of the Giant Devil Dingo. I saw underground dwellings and opal mines at Coober Pedy and photographed Koalas in Port Macquarie. I slept in a Billy-bag, under the stars almost next door to the epicentre of Australian spirituality - Uluru - before visiting its mysterious dry vastness the next day. Though I later found out that my own mother has never been, I convinced myself whilst there that she had walked upon the sacred rock at Uluru with me (us) in her belly.
I can't finish this postcard without telling you about Gwen and Mary. My Aunts who lived on a farm outside Melbourne. Daughter of the daughter of one of Winifred's siblings, Mary - who lived an extremely full life - joined the glowing ancestral embers in the 'other place' this year.
Gwen and Mary showed me photographs, visitor book entries documenting my parents visiting when my brother and I were in utero and told me stories of being at Uluru the day it was given back (I had seen photographs of the same event in Sydney Museum days before). I saw photographs of my great grandmother Winifred - and saw my grandmother, mother, sister, aunt and a little bit of myself in her face.
Gwen and Mary had travelled A LOT. They had plenty of stories to share with me. Most memorable, time in Eastern Europe driving a Lorry with a companionable rescued chicken ('chook') happily tucked into the cab for weeks. The chicken laid eggs that Mary collected and boiled at various hostel stops. She assured me that you can keep a hard boiled egg (in its shell, tucked in your biker-jacket pocket) for a couple of weeks on the road and not get ill eventually eating it. Gwen and Mary were typical of the lineage of women I knew already about in my family: quietly bold beyond belief, irreverent, kind and earthy.
From cackling Kuckaburras to unconventional aunts a collective numinous message echoed through me in Australia:
You are seen.
I was transitioning into the next iteration of woman that I understood how to be. It felt easy and wonder filled. It didn't feel like change rather a returning to myself. I had finally developed an understanding of how to have faith in my journey in my own scatty way: An ability to stay cool - curious even - and keep walking in the face of the unseen, unknown and unlikely.
Next stop Malaysia