Power of Landscape
Sydney Writers Festival 23 May 2013.
Presenter Walter Mason
Authors: Sue Woolfe is the author of four novels, including the acclaimed best-selling, internationally translated Leaning Towards Infinity, which won Australia’s distinguished prize, the Christina Stead Award, for the year it was published, as well as the Asia Pacific Region section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was shortlisted for the Tip Tree prize in the US. It was short-listed for almost every major Australian prize. It was translated into French, Italian, and Dutch, and in 1999 was named in Australia as one of the most important books of the century. Her first novel, Painted Woman was also nominated for the Commonwealth Prize, and was runner-up in the Australian Bicentennial Award in the year of publication. It was republished several times, including in France in 2007 where it was published in translation. She has adapted both novels for ABC radio, for the professional stage, and Leaning Towards Infinity has been optioned for a film in the US. Her third novel, The Secret Cure, is currently being adapted for an opera. Her fourth novel, The Oldest Song in the World has just been published in Australia and New Zealand, and currently is only available there.1
Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Australian writer of Goorie (Aboriginal) and European heritage. She was born in Brisbane in 1967. After working as a barmaid, delivery driver and karate instructor, Melissa received an honours degree in public policy from Griffith University. Melissa has 5 Books; Steam Pigs, Killing Darcy, Hard Yards, Too Flash and her latest Mullumbimby.2
The seminar opened by each Author describing their background and relationship with various landscapes, and how this affected how they wrote about it.
Sue grew up in the Blue Mountains and always had the bush at her back door. She could often be found just sitting in the bush, watching what was around and listening to the different sounds.
When living in the city, the landscape of the country is lost. Our perception is different.
One thing to remember: WE CANNOT RULE THE LANDSCAPE. It needs to be respected.
Feel the landscape; don’t just say “Oh, isn’t it beautiful”. Sue says that when she went to live in the Northern Territory with local aboriginal people, she was taught to read it. Look into the bush, not at it. The local elders would stare at the bush for hours and it was explained that it is like going window shopping for them. We look at the bush and see trees. The aboriginal looks at the bush and sees tucker, clothing, tools, weapons etc. We have to learn how to see the country through that country persons eyes. Know that land, learn the land.
The language belongs to the land, not the people. The people learn the language from the land.
REMOTE is relative. What are you remote from?
Sue went on to say that when living in the Northern Territory, she was invited by the women folk to come away and hear the men sing, and watch the ceremony. It was when she returned to her home afterwards that she realised that although she was readily accepted by the aboriginal people, she was never going to be a part of them. She would always remain an outsider. It was then she was filled with sorrow, that she couldn’t belong to this wonderful people group. As soon as she realised that, she wanted to return to the city.
At present, Sue lives with her husband in a property on the Hawkesbury River. Before she went to live there, she didn’t know about tides, but now she can tell you when the next one is due and the height of it. She has learned to read the land, because her livelihood and comfort depends on it. One mistake and it could mean that she is stranded, on the water or in her home until the next tide. She relates that when visitors come to her property, she has to cousel them on the phone prior to the trek and then again when they arrive. People who need a latte every hour just don’t cope at her place, because they are 40km from the nearest tar road let alone a coffee shop.
Melissa is a Koori lady who knows and understands the land. She was amazed that someone living in Sydney would not know how many tides Sydney has in a day. Aboriginal people take these things for granted. Melissa went on to describe the landscape and animals and really showed she knew the land intimately.
She had a major hesitation when writing some of the rituals in her latest book. Some of the things she wrote about has knowledge only meant for Koori people, and then more only for certain nations of koori people. There is great religious significance in some things she wrote about, but to the average joe, it is just beautiful writing. To the aboriginal it means so much more.
One thing that Melissa learnt when writing about Landscape is DONT ASSUME PEOPLE KNOW, THEY DONT. Express your thoughts and feelings.
Both writers said it was good to write about Epiphanies or exalted moments.
Write what is in your heart; don’t bow to pressure to be non-religious, non- political.
Both writers expressed that all should read BLISS by PETER CAREY.
Melissa said gardening is trying to control the land. In the end the land gives you what it wants to, then reverts back to what it wants.
Songs and poems are the language of the land.
Songs use a different part of the brain to language. Sometimes language gets in the way of what we are feeling or thinking. Language often gets in the way.
Can Landscape become the main character? Yes! Not just in writing but also in life.
In Aboriginal society, the land is the culture. We are walking in the culture of the people when we are walking in their land.
Write landscape in relation to your characters.
Jesse Blackadder; Author of Antarctica, was in the audience and the writers referred to her and asked her to comment. Jesse said in Antarctica, you cannot be ignorant of the landscape…OR YOU DIE. The winds and the cold are very unforgiving.
Jesse also commented that walking around in Antarctica and also Lord Howe Island is easier as you are not in someone else’s land. There is no heritage here so you don’t feel as if you are imposing.
Can city landscape have power? Absolutely. All landscape needs to be learnt and respected. Become familiar with the landscape, learn to read it and learn to survive. In the city, we learn how to read traffic lights.
DM own comments to that was City landscape is manufactured. So it seems the landscape is telling us to be busy, to do something, whereas in the country it is easier to just sit.
Country (or landscape) includes birds, animals, people, plants, earth, mountains, water… everything.
Melissa says senses become more aware in the country.
City people wonder what people do in the country?
In Mullumbimby, Melissa’s latest book, she has a saying. “Sit ‘n’ ning” which means…
“Sit down and shut up”.