By STEVEN WINDUO
TIM Winton, the Australian writer of Island Home: A Landscape Memoir, published by Random House Australia in 2015, comes closer to being a kindred spirit of mine.
It is unreal because I have the exact title to my own memoir I have been working on for sometime. Winton and I have never met in our lifetime. Our worlds are different, but I recognize similarities of thought and influence in his work.
I cursed myself for not publishing my memoir before Winton. My memoir is still trapped in the folder on my laptop with the label, “Memoir”. The reluctance to say something without achieving significant milestones in my writing life prevents me from publishing my memoir.
Perhaps it is my own sense that my life cannot be captured in a 100 pages, which suggests that I need to write more than what I have done so far.
Now that Tim Winton has published Island Home: A Landscape Memoir, before me, I will have to change the title of my memoir, and call it something else.
Reading Winton’s Island Home: A Landscape Memoir reveals the extraordinary sense of writing about place. It quickly dawned on me that I was reading a book that spoke to me about a lot of things, about the sense of place and the connection we have to our particular space.
Winton describes the Australian landscape and the deep connection to that space that Australians should feel. Winton goes further than talk about the Australian space that is both accepting to its people, both to the Aboriginal peoples and the European settlers. In Winston’s words we see the Australia that has a strong identity of its own.
Island Home: A Landscape Memoir won the Australian Book Industry Award. Winton’s Island Home received rave reviews from around the world.
Delia Falconer, writes in The Age: “I’ve always boggled at his ability to create sentences as clear and familiar as Australian air, through which the landscape feels incandescently present. His fiction and non-fiction characteristically offer a keen intelligence coupled with an intransient refusal of academic modes of thought…and a visceral feeling for the coastal West, made more intense for its marriage with the plain domestic detail of ordinary lives, those same qualities shine through Island Home.”
Another reviewer, Michelle Langstone writes in the New Zealand Listener: “[A] love letter to nature…Each of the places he takes us in Island Home hints at a different aspect of his own nature…Winton’s unique alliance with nature allows him to become a mouthpiece for the strange temperament and volatile charm of an enormous island continent.”
Reading Island Home, brought me to a place in my own memory where I encountered the landscape Winton is describing. The landscape that has intrigued generations of Australian writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Patrick White, Miles Franklin, Randolph Stow, and others. The landscape that inspired the imagination of these great writers is also the same landscape that Winton is describing.
“But young or old, stare as we might, much of what we learn about the object of our attention in the natural world seems to come from out of the corner of the eye. When you’re not trying to dig a place up with your eyes, a feeling for what’s present will creep up on you, seep into vision and consciousness. It is the hard lesson newcomers have had to learn here on the continent,” writes Winton.
Through Winton’s precise description, I appreciate this revealing passage: “When Dutch mariners began making landfall in the early seventeenth century they were confounded by what they saw. Almost two centuries later the French and English similarly viewed the enigmatic southland through the lens of their hemisphere. And they were appalled. Terra Australia didn’t correspond to what they expected or understood; it was simply that they were baffled by the land and its indigenes—what they saw often them.”
My own reading journey through the pages of Winton’s Island Home arrived at the “Power of Place”, which invited me to a familiar place in literature classrooms, and reading lists, which include authors such as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Patrick White, Flannery O’Connnor, Alice Munro, and Randolph Stow.
Incredible it seems Winton and I share the same admiration of Randolph Stow, whose works have been an influence in my life as well.
Winton writers: “Randolph Stow was a greater influence. I came upon The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea as a school boy and loved it, but Tourmaline and To the Islands were books that excited me the way few novels have, before or since…Stow was born in the 1930s – his novels were the first in which I recognized my own land and people without having to translate and accommodate as I read.”
Stow’s Visitant is about Trobriand Islands and the life of an Australian Kiap out in the frontier. It is Stow’s writing that changed the ways Australians were writing about Papua New Guinea in the colonial period.
“Visitants was an enquiry into the logic behind the kiap’s responsibilities, a study of kiap’s vulnerability to the expectations of both black and white societies, and an investigation of the Kiap’s conflicting authorities undertaken through analysis of interweaving streams of expatriate and indigenous consciousness….Stow’s view of the kiap and the civilization he represented was the most savagely anti-romantic of the genre. Visitants was an unwinking examination of the death-throes of the Australian colonial myths” (Krauth 1982: 35).
To the Islands, remains Winton’s favourite: “Heriot, the raging apostate pilgrim of To the Islands, has long been a teacher, protector and controller at his far-flung-mission. His aims are in keeping with those of the racist mid-century government and he fear change – fresh policy directions and a new sense of agency amongst the tribal people for whom he is accountable. And Heriot, of course, goes to pieces … He surrenders to immensity and merges with the landscape, turning a European failure to arrive into a tragic antipodean acceptance, even an apotheosis.”
- Island Home is an inspiring read.