Alex Miller has been a prominent Australian author for some time now and I am aware of this. But I have only just discovered him myself. Better late than never I guess especially when you are rewarded with such beautiful writing as his.
Landscape of Farewell (2007) is the first of his that I have read only this week. It is a poetic and moving story of two old men sharing a shack in the Australian outback, while trying to come to terms with the loss of their wives, as well as sorting out the shameful curse of their very different family stories.
Lovesong (2009) is one of the books on this year’s list for the Summer Read organised by the State Library of Victoria. I had read a brief review somewhere and immediately wanted to read it, mostly because it begins in a cafe on the outskirts of Paris. Anything about France and I am sold. So far I love it. Our library staff are reading the books on the Summer Read list so that we can be well informed for our customers.
I am aware of his other novels and know he is a prize winner, so he was an author on my mental list of must-reads. I am delightfully surprised to find he writes beautiful, gentle stories that are cleverly woven around love, family, landscape, and culture. He explores the human relationship in all its complexities, especially where cultures collide. You quickly warm to his very human characters.
Reading his stories now is pertinent for me because I am living in a landscape that is new and foreign to me, while also having left important family members behind. I too am missing loved ones while trying to adjust to an unfamiliar new life. His stories resonate within me in a profound way.
Mount Gambier Library in South Australia is a new shiny purpose built, state of the art, no expense spared library. It opens on 17th December 2009. I was fortunate to visit this week to attend a library seminar held there. The new building is completed but the beautiful new timber shelves were bare, silently waiting for the new stock to arrive. Contractors and technicians were finishing the main desk, installing the security gates at the entry, and other little last minute jobs. The technology is state of the art with numerous flat screen TVs, fully implemented RFID, a light bright work room with all the tools of the trade and space to spread out, meeting rooms with smart boards, mini cinema areas, a cafe, and the most amazing cave that is the children’s area.
The seminar was titled Best Sellers. Paul Brown from Manukau Libraries in New Zealand presented an interesting, useful and thought-provoking session on Reader Advisory services in libraries. He reminds us that this is indeed the core business of public libraries and I applaud him for this focus.
By contrast, just 78 kilometres away, I visited the Digby Library as part of the outreach services maintained by the Glenelg Libraries in Victoria. This tiny old dusty collection of yellowed books is held in an old Mechanics Institute building. We replaced the small stock of new library books and materials for the local farming community. Outside in the dusty carpark we struggled to get a signal to connect to the internet to make the data upload/download. Meanwhile the sun beat down, sweat dripped from our foreheads, and the horses and goats looked with bored indifference.
This outreach service goes to small community centres in Heywood and Casterton, a Bush Nursing Hospital in Merino, a local shop in Dartmoor, and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Digby.
Two libraries close together geographically, but as extremely apart from each other as is possible in our society.
The first week of my new life was busy, full, and different. I travelled every day between the place I am living temporarily and the town where I am working. It is a seaside rural community with lots of space to think. I like that. It is a landscape that stretches out to the horizon. There is a lot of sky and fields of farmland. The smell of cut grass dominates as the farmers clear their fields and make hay bales for stock feed in readiness for the dry summer ahead.
This week I saw a koala walking along the side of a busy road in the middle of a large town. I worried it would be hit by a car. Eventually it scampered to the grass of the foreshore near the sea but there were no trees for it to find refuge in. Surely dogs must be a problem for koalas, if not the traffic.
I saw whales just off the headland slapping the water with their grey and white fins. I walked to the red and white lighthouse and sat and watched some yachts sail by. The weather has been perfect since my arrival and contrary to my perception of the weather in this part of the world. Every day I drive past the wind turbines that dot this windy coastline. They were still for most of the week.
I have met lots of people for the first time and I find the country attitude refreshing and I will need to relax my city-dwellers angst to adjust. I didn’t realise the extent to which I actually had been urbanised after all.
I went along to a community art auction that was raising funds for the local hospital. It was held at the primary school but was in fact a formal event where everyone dressed up in suits, bow ties, and frocks. The guest speaker was the events coordinator from Federation Square in Melbourne. The theme for the art was “tea pots” and anyone could enter. A decorated tea pot along with a painting were entered and then auctioned. It was an inclusive and encouraging creative endeavour where entrants did not seem shy about their amateur creations. Some were poor while others surprisingly good – surprising for the amateur artist. Of course some practiced artists included work and these were fetching prices at this auction of $1000. One ceramic teapot in particular reached this amount, but the artist was an established ceramic artist from South Australia. I actually bought two paintings by default really as the final bidder in the silent auction items.
While living temporarily in accommodation with family I feel unsettled for being “homeless” and away from loved ones. One can’t really do the things at home that is routine and taken for granted. So making cups of tea is the thing to do. It is something. But I don’t need that much tea in my system.
Today between cups of tea I helped in my sister’s garden, went for a swim at the beach, made a curry for dinner, listened to the birds as I rocked in the hammock under the pine trees. Meanwhile my husband, still back in our old life for the time being, told me by telephone that he went fishing and caught three large snapper.
I celebrated a major milestone birthday recently with an escape to the wilderness, thinking I would avoid attention and commune with nature in its purity. This was fine and I spent the momentous occasion trekking through 30 centimetre deep snow around beautiful Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. This area is actually listed as a world heritage place.
Since then I have been prodded and probed, scanned and screened to finally get a clean bill of health. I have new spectacles; have had a massage and facial, haircut and general tidy-up. I have a new job; have planned a new house for a new block of land in a new location. I have a new job and start work next week. I have sorted and packed up my house, thrown out the old stuff, and I leave my old life behind this weekend and start the next chapter of my life afresh. I have finally adjusted to being an “empty-nester” and proud that my three adult children are happy, independent, and confident living their own wonderful lives. Fortunately for me, the only thing I haven’t changed is my husband! And my family of course.
Fully realising that you take your Self with you wherever you go, I have worked on my psyche long and hard over the years and I am confident and happy with my place in the world and this life. But I try never to be ungrateful, complacent, nor take things for granted. Life continues to unfold in its mystery.
To my great delight I am still going to be working in libraries so this is not new, but the branches and people I meet will be. It is such a privilege to work in libraries.
I will endeavour to keep up this blog and my two other blogs: French Accent and Port Fairy House as I make the transition into this new landscape. Goodbye beautiful Mornington Peninsula.