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Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Guilt rightly stirs under the surface, in tension with the spiritual connection I have to the land I grew from. It never was mine, nor my ancestors' land. People lurking in my past stole it, and the fate of its owners has been tragically obscured by a whitewashed history. But part of me is firmly rooted in Muckatah and the region where, after famine and centuries of dispossession in Ireland my family set their sights on hope for a future. It's dug deep inside me.
    In dreams I try to climb Murray River Pines, I pick around in the dead animal pit, searching for real 'jacks' that I'll paint and show off at school, I scoop out a handful of frogspawn from a lichen topped swamp. Mostly in my dreams I'm visiting Grandma in her little house, and climbing onto her bench so I can reach the biscuit tin.
    Last weekend I was invited to what I imaged was a hokey, daggy literary awards' presentation in Shepparton, a small city where as kids, Mum would twice yearly take us to buy our seasonal garments (from Target and Venture). I was shortlisted for the short story category and Rob encouraged me to attend - so I split my indifference by suggesting that we make a weekend of it, visiting my parents in Cobram, only 40 minutes north of Shepp'.
    My yearning for the homelands resounded in doppler as we drove past our old farm, Pinedale, on the road to Cobram.  In 2000 - after the farm being handed from father to son for 125 years -  Mum and Dad sold up and retired to town. I've never been back.
    On Saturday it just so happened that my dear deceased Grandma's brother, Great Uncle Peter Lawless, was celebrating his 90th birthday. So Rob and I went along with Mum and Dad. The party was held at the farm first settled by my grandmother's mother's parents - Kennedys - whose many decedents still dwell close by. The Lawless farm is only 20 kilometres from Pinedale but I'd never been there. Dad said he hadn't been there since he was five years old.
   The landscaped changed as we drove. The lush irrigated pastures vanished, and enormous tracts of wheat crops extended out to the horizon. Tumble weeds and old abandoned buildings set the scene of a bygone era, and then an enormous bank of silos appeared, and behind them football sized sheds full of cropping machinery and vehicles came into view.
    Crossing verdant buffalo grass lawns and a lavish rose-garden we followed the chimera of voices, finding the afternoon party in a converted garage, next to a cheaply built modern house.
    We sipped bubbles and beer and chatted with blue-eyed obviously Lawless cousins, proffering anachronistic updates. Uncle Peter, like his sister, shared snared me with his perverse sense of humour.  Unlike her, being a non-smoker, and still alive, he's fit enough to play three rounds of golf every week.
    In the loo out the back, a Murphy's Law poster hung in pride of place. I thought about the odd twists and turns of fortune and circumstance; and the wee refrain my own luck and misadventures was drowned out by a cacophony of history swelling up from the very soil.
    I imagined my grandma, frolicking through the crops with pigtails flying, on the first weekend of summer.

   On Sunday morning we headed south again, to Shepparton. This time Mum and Dad tagged along, with expectant pride. My Shepp' based aunt and uncle also joined us for literary feastings.  Low and behold, I was bestowed with First Prize for my story 'To The Light', (my first win since Grade 2 at the Cobram show). Surprise and an awkward speech betrayed my subplot of confused guilt.
   The annual award has been funded for almost 20 years by the good old Furphy family foundry, another family with a history and passion for farming, engineering and writing, bringing resolve to a wonky but near perfect weekend narrative highlighting the constancy and curiosity of Irish settlers in country Victoria. Such is life.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely! The lucky irrigation land - used to so envy the green when we came over from the Mallee to visit rellies at Pine Lodge. And congratulations on getting a prize!