This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from our Home Grounds. Waysides: Connections is the second of two reflective posts that Annie and I would like to share with you, written in response to our experience of the Waysides project. Please pop over and read Annie’s response to Waysides: Connections.
I discovered something rather horrifying in the course of this project. I discovered that I feel alienated from the land. Actually, I felt this already. I have felt this for a long time. But I as I began to work on Waysides the feeling only grew.
I don’t feel a sacred to connection to the place where I live but I think I ought to. Books like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place and Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks seem to suggest that a deep connection with place and the land is intrinsic to humanness.
But when I think about the land itself around here, I find it hard to love. I see a broken waterway with its bluestone bed ripped away to make road gutters. The wild spaces along the creek are plantings in a place that has been so modified, the original inhabitants would not recognise it. The weed are invaders, relics of pastoral colonialism, choking out native grasses, flourishing in the scars of urban growth. It is so hot in summer, the earth cracks open, the plants wither and leave the soil bare and baking. You need to walk carefully along the creek then as there are snakes, venomous snakes that somehow have managed to cling to the vestiges of what remains of their habitat. It bothers me that I don’t know the names of the trees here, the trees that were here before the land was robbed and pillaged.
As I gathered my bits of bark, leaves, pods and flowers, I felt like an interloper. The act of identifying the eucalypts in particular was so frustrating and laborious that it only escalated my feelings of disconnection. The weeds made me angry, the garden plants made me angry, the trees in the park made me angry. What are we all doing here? I kept asking myself.
The skeins began to mount and I made alot of beige. Each colour was very hard won, what with the fibre preparation and spinning and mordanting and gathering and dyeing. The results were underwhelming. I couldn’t really talk much about the colour in my posts so I started focusing on the stories instead. I reflected on the paths where the plants came from, what they meant to me. I read about the plant species. I read about the history of the wattle in Australia, I listened to a podcast about Australian birds, I started reading about Aboriginal life along the Yarra before European Settlement and up to the present day.
But it wasn’t until I was puzzling over the Waysides shawl design, that things really shifted for me. I was writing a bit list of dichotomies: exotic vs native, modified vs wild, grid vs creek when I realised that the whole lot was beautiful. The weeds, the plantings, the creek, the trees, the cracked earth, the bare soil, held in tension between history and the will of all things to live. I saw that even the scars on the earth, the overlaid grid of roads and concrete, they were all beautiful, in their way. The whole thing is flawed, a remnant of a brutal incursion, but it pulses with life. The land is determined to live, to grow, despite all that has happened, all that is happening, it burns with a will to live, to endure, to continue.
I still feel uncomfortable about my relationship with where I live but I am determined to know more about this place and see the whole of it, if I can.
Some books that changed my perspective:
Ellender, I. and Christiansen, P., 2001, People of the Merri Merri: The Wurundjeri in Colonial Days, MCMC
McLellan, R and O’Toole, J. (eds) Creek Life: Flora and Fauna of the Merri Creek Valley, MCMC
Moore, S., Howard, E., Topalidou, A., 2013, Moreland City Council
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