Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Between the dunes and the sea

We stayed with family in Perth last week. I lived there for a few years when I was a child, and otherwise only visited. Yet even now, one road in Perth sings to me of home.

Whenever we go, we drive the long coast road from my relatives in the north to my old home, Fremantle. During the day, children sit in the back and I tell them the same old stories. Turn left here, and you'll get to my grandparents' house, before they moved to the Home. This is the suburb where my mother grew up. She was your grandmother. She lived in a house at the end of a sandy track, before the road was built. They buried a trailer load of sheeps' heads in the garden, and grew beautiful roses. Years later, when they dug up the roses, every bush had its roots wrapped tight around a paperthin skull.

Turn here to my other grandfather's house. His garden overlooked the golf course. He sat in his garden to paint and made friends with an inquisitive crow. Wayward golf balls landed among his roses; he put them in a cupboard.

Look at the dunes, I say. Look at the soil. It's sand, not clay. This is a city built on sand. Look at the water. Can you see the sailing boats? Let me tell you about my great uncle Merv, a sailor. He brought back China silks for my mother and her sisters when they were little girls. Let me tell you about my cousin Rob, the one you love to call Funny Man. A few years ago, he sailed down to Albany, and we drove hundreds of miles to meet up with him there. On our way home through the midnight forest, owls sat on reflector poles at the side of the road, enormous eyes glowing, and took to the sky as we roared past. We saw their wings flash past the windshield, soft, soft.

Just here is Port Beach. Out to sea, the container ships are waiting to come in. My daddy brought us here to swim after school. We'd bodysurf the breakers again and again. As the sun set and the shadows grew long, he'd call us out of the water. Damp and dozy, we'd sit on our towels in the back of the car and watch the street lights flashing by.

Look, round the corner there. Look at that one house, in among the stacks of shipping containers. One person refused to move. So they built the dockyard around her, and there it is even now, a little lavender house towered over by red, blue and grey blocks.

Story after story as the road unfurls.

At night, aunties babysit and my husband and I drive in darkness. For long stretches there are no street lights. It is magical; we roll through my memories. I tell my husband harder stories, sadder stories. And every time I weep for love of this place. I may live in Melbourne on the other side of the country, yet here is my landscape. Ocean to the west, dunes to the east. Family to the north, friends to the south. The air is salt and clean and fresh; water surrounds us. Salt water, river water, lapping, rolling, roaring. During the day, it shimmers silver. As the sun sets, the water ripples orange. The sky is thin and high, the scrub thick and low. I am deeply oriented here. I feel it in my bones.

This road maps my family, my history, my stories. This road is my geography. Driving along, I drift in and out of memory. Whether I travel it north or south, day or night; whatever my destination, wherever I am headed: on this road, I am always coming home.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this today brings a little tear to my eye, as I contemplate making a new home. Where is my deepest sense of home? And where will it be in years to come? I face this time of change with great joy and some sadness. Hope you had a great time away, Suzy xx


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