Getting HIV services to vulnerable people
Death of the ‘bosboi’

The importance of place

Tumby Bay
Tumby Bay - a fine place to be born and  to die - but cast my ashes to the winds, writes the much travelled Phil Fitzpatrick


TUMBY BAY - It is not so long ago that people were born in one place and remained there for their whole lives.

This can still happen, as we know, but many people now pass through multiple places over the course of a lifetime.

In places like Papua New Guinea it is still common for people to spend their lives in one area, just as it is in rural regions of Australia.

My next door neighbour, for instance, who is in his eighties, has spent the whole of his life on the southern Eyre Peninsula.

He finds it fascinating and somewhat inexplicable that I have lived in so many places in the course of my life.

There is no hint of regret in his voice when he says this, and I suspect he is simply puzzled that anyone would want to live anywhere other than Eyre Peninsula.

For my part, his attachment and loyalty to his place of birth echoes a distant past laden with tradition and heritage and contrasts markedly with my multiple attachments to many different places.

These began in rural Suffolk in England among rolling fields of kale and barley and shady lanes lined with ancient beech trees. I wasn’t born there but it is the place that formed my earliest memories.

Next were the dusty paddocks of the Adelaide Plains in South Australia where roads were being carved into the hard red clay for a new city and an optimistic future.

To me, that place has an attachment mixed with the disappointment of a rosy future never realised.

In stark contrast my next connection came in the form of high mountains and grassy valleys in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

And this was followed by the rugged limestone karst and endless swathes of hot rainforest on the Great Papuan Plateau.

Those highland mountains must have made a great impression because, upon my return to Australia, I settled in the green hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia.

So too must have the hot tropics because after that I found myself giving in to a nagging yearning for long white beaches and swaying palm trees and moving to Hervey Bay in Queensland.

There I enjoyed the delights of that magical sand island called K’Gari by the local Badtjala people and Fraser Island by everyone else.

And now I’m living in remote Tumby Bay, South Australia, on the edge of a great dry peninsula, driven there by the urge to get away from the seething masses of humanity dicing up the east coast of Australia.

In contrast to my elderly neighbour, I have an attachment to all those places and the formative roles they have played in my life.

If we are shaped by our environment, as the scientists tell us, then I must owe something of my character to all those places.

My neighbour duly expects that upon his passing he will be laid alongside his many ancestors in the cemetery just outside town.

His is a tradition common to many peoples and cultures, that one should be interred in the same place that one is born.

I don’t really care where I end up. I think, if I have a choice, I would like my ashes cast to the wind to blow wherever they wish.

Who knows, perhaps a speck may eventually come to rest in all those places where I have lived and to which I hold so many fond attachments.


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Paul Oates

Actually, now you come to mention it Wullie, my great grandfather did own a pub. Slange.

Chips Mackellar

The importance of place can even transcend generations. I remember when I visited Glen Daruel in Scotland, which is where my ancestors came from.

I went into the local pub and asked the barman if any Mackellars still lived here.

He said there were plenty, and asked why. I said, "My name is Mackellar, I am just passing through."

He called out to his cellarman and said, "Hey Fred, go and tell Sandy Mackellar that one of the Mackellar boys has come home from Australia."

You see, not only had I never been to Glen Daruel before, but I had never been there for three generations, yet their sense of place was so powerful that to them "I had come home."

William Dunlop

Good on yer, Paul, the staid Celt coming out in your relations.

No doubt your ancestors would have seen nothing wrong with a wee drop or yet a large one of smuggled French Brandy as intestinal fortitude. Slantie.

Paul Oates

When we moved to the country and set up a farm, we encountered local people, some of whom had never been to the town let alone the city. The lady of the couple had no idea about even what knife and fork were for during a small dinner party.

For people who have traveled around and lived in many places, this apparent isolationism is hard to understand. It must be equally hard for those who have never traveled to understand why other cultures and people's perspectives are so different from their own.

Traveling in Europe with a group of Australian farmers, my name tag said as much. I was constantly addressed in German by people who thought I was Austrian. 'Nein, nein,' I would say. 'Australia as in kangaroo', and made hopping gestures on my leg. That produced some blank looks with most younger people until in Turkey one young man's face suddenly brightened.

'Ah yes,' he said. 'Harry Kewell', (an Australian soccer player)

My parents in the 1970's visited my ancestral home in Cornwall and met my very distant cousins who ancestors has stayed when my ancestors left for a new life in the colonies, since the farm couldn't support all the family in the 1840's and 50's. My parents were asked 'Where do you come from?' When told Australia they were told: 'You can't come from there. That's where all those people who go to cricket matches and drink beer and swear come from.'

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