Some memories about land
Not being a leader of any kind, I have written a bit about what land means to me as a normal journal entry, rather than as a special 'my story' submission.
We were poor, but white and working class, and so for us Australia was not really poor. We had a house of our own, hostage to the bank, peeling and sinking, but a place to leap forward from nonetheless. Land, then, is the generous square yard around that old house, and especially the giant mango tree near the ancient shed. This was the tree that held me in its uppermost reaches and granted me a new perspective on the world and a feeling of power I did not normally possess. I still see the mango tree stretching with the early breeze, though I heard recently it is no longer there. It was dragged from the ground some years ago once its roots, which had always upset the septic system, had gone too far in.
Land was the bush out the back of the high school. It curved around the edge of town all the way to my best friend's house, right away from the highway. When we were young we used to float our barbie dolls in the streams and run with heavy feet alongside, rescuing them by the hair before they were whisked into the stormwater drain. Once we came across three dead birds placed deliberately in a circle cleared of twigs, leaves and trash. Neck's wrung, like some kids had been playing a sacrificial game, searching for tradition or meaning in violence, perhaps from something they'd read. We ran from the birds, or rather from their halos of mites and flies, and forgot, then and forever, about our dolls and our stream.
Years later, we sat by the dam and smoked our first cigarettes, the taste of dry, scorched earth in our throats, our bikes dropped carelessly in the red dirt, our white school shirts sticking to our backs in the heat. Years after that we were at a bonfire, drunk, with boys older than ourselves, and boys our own age, who we were not interested in. We were poor, but we did not know real hardship. We were bored and undisciplined and complacent though we lived amongst beauty and rarity and providence, and we enjoyed a value equal to boys.
There might have been wallabies and rare kangaroos and stunning, poisonous snakes that inspected our bonfires during the daylight or drank from the dirty stream when we weren't there. But even the wallabies are fewer now that the bush is thinner; now that more brick homes with unfamiliar street names have pared it back. The stream is gone, the land is telling new stories. New squares bought and sold by phone at a weekend auction. More land 'liberated' from statelessness and fenced in, fed into a power grid still stoked by coal.
I can't help but imagine my yard is still the same though, even though I know the house has been demolished and a shiny new one built in its place. I imagine that new shoots have grown where the old mango tree was ripped up, and that they too will begin to choke the new septic system in time. I don't miss my childhood much, or the crumbling house, but do I miss the strong upper branches of the mango tree that held me so often while I cried or, as I looked over the roofotps, inspired me to think beyond the town I lived in. And I do miss the tract of bush land that started at the back of the high school and stretched all the way around to my friend's house, and where I did so much of my growing up.