Extracts from an essay
Let me pose a simple yet stubborn question of what you need to imagine are your last days. Suppose that Death — which nearly had you — has let go for a time; a remission which gives you, let’s say, a week’s grace. Maybe two. You are spry and full of life and feel the need to go back to a place that is… special. Somewhere loved, treasured.
Where do you go? And, more importantly, why there?
If you are like me, your place will not be urban. It will be natured and own a spirit; you will have sensed it, received it, deeply1. It will have, to quote geographer Edward Relph2, “a synaesthetic faculty which combines sight, hearing, smell, movement, touch, imagination, purpose and anticipation.” In short, all your senses and all of what your mind desires and anticipates will partake of it. You will use it. Why ‘use’?
For me, its purpose — why you use it — is a key part of its significance. It feeds all those other reasons you partake of place, of nature.
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I shall answer my own intractable question, not out of dire necessity but because to create its answer is to rekindle my sense of why nature and place matter; to re-establish meaning; in imagining it, I am anticipating bringing into being what Richard Louv would call3 a place that restores us, one that feeds a hunger.
My immediate purpose in this place, to be singularly mundane, is fishing. Angling…
When the term “place” is used geographically (as in the expression, “The place where I live is…”), the reference usually seems to be to somewhere about the size of a landscape that can potentially be seen in a single view—for example, a village, small town, or urban neighbourhood.
Edward Relph, 2011, A pragmatic sense of place
Google Earth lets me take in this place, from headwaters to confluence with the big river, in that single view. The scale of such a viewing, however, is not really human. Nor practical. Nor what I really know. I have never scaled the ladder of topography (blessed because it is mostly preserved in a National Park) down which the creek descends and have been no further than a two-day fish/walk up from where the creek joins the river. There is more fishing to be had than I have ever done and still parts of this place I’d like to go, different to what I sense and know simply because I’ve never been there. Those places I’ve yet to go, to be, are ones with imagined continuities and dissonances from those I have travelled. A reason to explore; maybe next time.
Though the landscape is dominated hereabouts by beef cattle and mixed farming (lychees, guava, some sugarcane, other exotics) it is the traditional land of the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan peoples4. They would have known and loved this place; peopled it with stories, swum in it, worshipped its shade, trapped its eels and snakes and birds, caught its fish, eaten its plants. Like much of the native vegetation in the wider valleys, they were — under the auspices of either pest removal or now-deeply-ironic protection — fundamentally removed as a significant influence on place after Europeans came here to do what they do in the mid to late 19th century. Down deep in the creek, however, while wading, you can still feel it is as it was when they camped here, fished it, loved it. Riparian vegetation still shades the creek, azure kingfishers (Ceyx azureus) still sit and watch the water — and you, freshwater monitors leap ashore from drowned branches when they hear you coming…
1 In A Pragmatic Sense of Place (2008-09), Edward Relph speaks of a distinction between spirit of place and a sense of place. One may say that the difference between them is that the spirit of place, in lying outside us, is essentially transmitted to us. A sense of place is received, interpreted; it lies within us.
2 Relph is cited in Threshold country, by Annamarie Weldon, 2011.
3 See The nature Principle, Human Restoration and the end of nature deficit disorder by Richard Louv, 2011
4 See Queensland Government, Cultural Histories E – I, Hinchinbrook Shire, 2015 and Qld Government, Department of National Parks, Sports and racing (what a strange amalgam), Dalrymple Walking Track, 2016…