It's important for me to sign off on this blog, because it's marked an significant chapter of my life. I'm a bit wary of repeating some of the material from recent posts (another reason to stop blogging), though I feel in need of closure. I set out originally write an aide-memoire, of living in Alice Springs, and that's what provided the narrative trajectory for the View, as much as it's possible for a blog to have one. As far as I know, this is the longest running blog about life in the Territory and possibly the first blog about Alice Springs.
Many unexpected things came out of my time in the Territory, and also from blogging. It’s often the things that you don’t predict in life that turn out to be the best. One aspect of blogging I’m loathe to leave behind is its unexpected serendipity (much and all as I hate that word, along with ‘synergy’)…almost everything I’ve had published that originated in a blogpost, I didn’t set out to write as a piece for publication. It just took on its own life. I may find I miss this unexpected freefall into creative recesses too much to stop blogging altogether, and start a new blog...who knows? I’ll post a link here or propagate it through facebook, if I do.
I'm now ‘unexpectedly’ back here in Melbourne, comfortable as a pig-in-muck in the golden triangle of Northcote-Clifton Hill-North Fitzroy, eating far too much food, buying too many cold-weather clothes (tho the Kmart long-sleeved numbers I’d been wearing for three years were never going to cut it in the Melbourne winter). I feel that ultimately I’ll make my base here, tho I’ll continue to dip in and out of the Territory. I’ve noticed that although people often return to Alice the first couple of years after leaving the place, gradually they move on. Amongst the expats I know, there seem to be two types, often represented in a couple: one who yearns to be back in central Australia, the other who might look back fondly, but sees the urban life as their true modus operandi. I suspect I’m more the latter type, although Alice made me more of a convert to the regional life than I ever expected to be. I’d try the regional life again, though maybe on the coast or somewhere wet and misty, like Tasmania.
One of the deal-breakers for me was realizing how quickly the turn-over people — i.e. expats — occurred. Long-term Alice residents would comment on how they saw whole groups of people go, and I stayed there long enough to see ten of my friends leave within eighteen months…virtually a whole social network. Up until that point, I was relishing the regional life…until I realized how unstable it could be in Alice.
I saw that I would have to go through the whole death and rebirth cycle with people, over and over again in Alice, and more quickly…and that the new people in town were getting younger and younger, as I got older and older. After about three years, you also start to become distant from your circles of friends elsewhere, and to miss out on some of the important events in their lives and vice-versa, those things that often make for long-term bonding experiences. So I thought I’d see what it was like to return.Alice is a place of extremes — of climate, of distance, of personalities, of social privilege, of racial divides. The sense of being confronted regularly by some basic issues of human need, survival and even hatred, as well as constantly being made aware of the cycle of life — how tenuous things could be — was ultimately wearing for me. You’re also less cushioned from harsh realities: shopping at Kmart and Target, arthouse cinema once a week and two cafes that make decent coffee are pretty much the mainstay fleshpots on offer in Alice.
Having said that, I don’t at all regret having thrown up the cards to go to Alice six years ago. It’s surely been one of the signature experiences of my life. But I don’t regret having thrown up the cards yet again to return to Melbourne.
What I won’t miss about central Australia:
1.The obsession with early-rising.
2. Evening news reports filled with stabbings, rapes, assaults, etc.
3. Obsessiveness, full stop (tho who am I to speak?).
4. The entrenched binge-drinking reflex.
5. Scary acceptance of blatant racism.*
6. Close-knit community.
7. Distance and expense involved in traversing distance to major cities.
11 1. Roo tails in the freezer at the local shops.
22 2. The mountain-biking tracks.
3. Politically incorrect moments/monuments.*
4. Sense of crazy opportunity-taking/entrepreneurialism.
5. Close-knit community.
6. Quality of people who come to work here.
7 7. Proximity to north Australia and the tropics.
(* I see political incorrectness and racism as two separate, if sometimes overlapping categories.)
Yes, but note to self…it is and it isn’t, because Melbourne has become such a boom town with so much more traffic than I remember and so many more cyclists on its well-constructed network of bike paths. So scrub that: even tho I commute by bike more often, I’m missing the ease of cycling more generally, of being able to hop on a bike and ride out on a bush track or a highway unimpeded at almost any time. If there's one thing that still tugs at my heart, it's the thought of a curve of road or twist of a bike track that I rode many times by myself, with friends or with strangers.
Now that I’m back here, in the ‘real world’ of ideology as opposed to the ‘real world’ of ‘whatever works’, it seems that self-determination (on the nose, as a policy regime, after all) and the wave of ‘self’s — self-government, self-management, etc — has been replaced by a wave of ‘culturally’ this and that: culturally proficient, competent, safe, strong, relevant and appropriate…and woe betide you if you confuse any of the subtle distinctions between these terms.
As I’ve commented in a recent post, it’s better than there being no support for Indigenous issues, but it all seems a tad insipid at times, and how anyone apart from genuine aficionados are going to remember these nuances, I don’t know. All the same, I’ve come up with a new term myself: ‘culturally nice’, to say and do bland things vaguely rooted in another’s person’s culture to them, in the hope that all the world’s problems will go away, simply by everyone keeping themselves noice. I guess that’s not so different from the old ‘culturally-appropriate’ or was that ‘culturally relevant’.
The experience of travelling beyond my ideological confines to central Australia has left me in a kind of no-man’s land, wondering where I belong, what I believe. Through the Centralian experience I ended up fairly disenchanted with left-wing politics, particularly its current capacity to deliver to Aboriginal people. It’s true the left has been on the backfoot for a while, in the position of reacting rather than rebuilding, but to me it seems top-heavy with critique and advocacy, and light on genuine policy solutions. That's where it's troubling to me, the extent to which the left may now be defined as a reflex or supplement to late twentieth-century neo-liberalism. I feel there’s sometimes an unattractive tendency to seize on every opportunity for a bit of a whinge about how things haven’t turned out as Gough Whitlam planned in 1972. Hardly a new insight, but I don’t think the overtones of C18/19th romanticisation of the noble savage, the poor and prelapsarian societies in Marxian thought have done Aboriginal people any big favours, either. After living in central Australia, I can say there’s nothing romantic about the poor or about living in poverty. And -- the unquestioning faith of many in their own ideological point of view as some ‘objective’ vantage point, be it left or right wing, never fails to amaze me.
I’m at a time in my life where I feel I don’t have any real place. I seem to have lost some friends yet gained others, plus some new networks. There’s an excitement, a freshness to all that, but how much is possible? Especially when 50 isn’t too far away. I am a high energy person of the slow-burning endurance sort, if that makes sense: I’m definitely fitter and stronger than many people my age, but realistically, I’m probably looking at another twenty-five working years, unpaid or otherwise, max. How will I find the time and money to implement all my hare-brained schemes and plans? But as surely as when God closes a cat-door, he refills a litter box….
I’m signing off here, with Lulu, the now-fat tortoiseshell from Diarama Village car park in Alice Springs, beside me on the couch…set to become the cat of my middle-age, in the way of the different coloured dogs in The Tree of Man (though no mandalas here). There's so much more I could say; then again, I might have already said it in a blog post.
(Somewhere on or off the road to Nyrrpi, central Australia, mid-2000, where the journey began, as they say on Idol, if it didn't begin in conversations in Brunswick several years earlier.)