I’ve always been interested in identity and its fluidness, but also its influences. I wrote at length about identity while at university – in fact my honours thesis was on identity in liminal spaces, so I have a bit of a preoccupation with it. I looked at how liminal spaces interact with identity and the establishment of it, so there was a whole chapter dedicated to landscape – specifically the dessert. But my analysis was of fiction, so not true to life, but somehow representing life.
That cliche – art imitating life, there’s something in that.
Recently I went camping in Beechworth in north-east Victoria. It is quite gorgeous in that part of the world. Both my parents are from Wangaratta, and my Grandparents lived there to. So I grew up always visiting this part of the world. When we were bored at Gran and Grandad’s, Mum would take us on day trips to surrounding towns.
After Gran & Grandad died (they died six weeks apart and I was 15 at the time), we stopped going. My auntie lived in Wangaratta so Mum would visit her, but she’d go alone. We weren’t really interested in going. So there was a long gap between visits to that part of the world – at least 25 years.
Then, over Easter last year my husband, kids and I went camping in the region, in Porpunkah. And I was struck by how connected I felt to this place. Not one place specifically, but to the area. It was not something I had ever felt as an adult. I had no burning desire to go back to the region, but ended up there by accident. And that connection with the region surprised me.
According to the study The Power of Connection: Sustainable Lifestyles and Sense of Place ‘a ‘‘Sense of place’’ refers to a psychological construct that involves attributing a geographical location with meaning, values, and a sense of ‘’connection.’’’ But I also think that history plays a role in this connection. Both my parents spent a significant part of their lives in the region, I had aunties and cousins in the region, my grandparents settled there and I had grown up regularly visiting the region.
The first time I went back to Wangaratta after my Mum died, I spotted an old shack on the side of the highway. When we’d visit as children, it was my marker that we were coming to the end of a long car journey. After hours of travelling along a straight road, where the view from the car window didn’t change; the shack on the side of the road told me we were near. When I saw that shack as an adult, I experienced a ‘sense of place’ for the first time. I felt a real connection to that landscape.
At the end of that week of camping I told my husband that I wanted to come back next year and camp in the same spot. He’s an explorer at heart and said he’d rather see somewhere else, somewhere new. When I explained this strange sense of needing to return he respectfully agreed.
Over New Year we camped in the region again, in Beechworth this time so a different town, but the same region. And it was like I was looking through rose-tinted glasses. I was so delighted by the names of surrounding towns – Eldorado, Beechworth, Bright, Greta, Indigo Shire. When I said them slowly in my mind, they sounded like romantic movies or glorious fantasy worlds: El ….dor…a…do, Bright… Gret…a.
But through all that, I realised I had what I understood to be a ‘sense of place’. And I understood first-hand how a connection to a place or landscape can inform your identity. I think that family and ancestral link count for a lot, but also now that my Mum’s ashes are staying in Wangaratta, I will always be drawn back to the region.
We are going again at Easter and I feel happy to be getting another ‘fix’. I don’t want to live there, but feel now it is somewhere that I will always visit, as it reminds me that I am part of something bigger than myself; a long line of family members whose souls remain there even after they have left to live elsewhere, died there or come back, like my Mum, for their eternal rest.
What about you? Are you deeply moved by somewhere, or do you feel a connection with a place that is bigger than yourself?