Abandoned picnic places

Picnic spot

I’ve always been fascinated by those places that time and history has passed by: Industrial archaeology, the stone circles of Celtic Europe, or the smaller, more intimate places, derelict houses or picnic places that have been by bypassed and abandoned.

Near where I live, and cycle regularly, there is a short stretch of the highway that was diverted off perhaps thirty years ago now and replaced by a newer streamlined bit of more modern cornering. The original stretch of highway, that we used to travel on as kids, maybe 400 metres or so long, was just cut off and left to grow over.

Sometimes, riding in the area, I like to take that old detour and explore that old niche. Included in the off-cut was a roadside picnic table and stools, now being overgrown in grass and emerging saplings. Here, I like to think, families would pause in their travels, unpack a thermos and some sandwiches and take a rest. I blogged about it already in 2011 in a post about The Lost Highway.

It’s still falling apart gently. And, I was reminded of it recently when I saw a recent article on WebUrbanist about 150 Vanishing US Rest Stops, which a photographer had been documenting. An admirable project I thought. I heartily approve.

Below, another photos I’ve taken over the years on that theme, a drawing and a poem too. Seems that these ideas keep bubbling up in lots of versions.

Picnic table

Abandoned picnic table

Picnic Place

These families with their picnic baskets,
their kids weightless on the swings
legs flashing in the sun,
think they invented this place,
think they found this place near the bridge
by the estuary where the creek flows into the sea.
They think they found this place this summer evening,
but we were there.

I walk from the swings and the families,
their wine glasses and picnic plates
their kids racing to the jetty,
the last sun shining in their hair,
someone putting on a jumper against the cold.

Up ahead, up river somewhere,
I can hear the beating of wings.

Top: Picnic spot, near Mildura, VIC. Photo: Warrick
Middle: Abandoned picnic spot on ‘the lost highway’, Mt Martha Photo: Warrick
Bottom; Picnic table, iPad drawing. Warrick

Speaking to Blue Winds

Following on from the recent posts and comments on John Shaw Neilson, I was pleased to the ABC Radio National program ‘Arts Poetica’ featuring Neilsen’s work this week. They describe it this way, and I think you can listen the program online HERE

John Shaw Neilson is widely regarded as one the great Australian poets. Neilson was himself the son of a bush poet. He was born in Penola in South Australia in 1872, and became a bush labourer at 14. He worked for many years alongside his father as a surveyor and fencer in Victoria and South Australia. On one occasion the pair nearly died of thirst near Scorpion Springs when they ran out of water while out in the field. As he walked, Neilson composed verse, committed to memory and refined them over long periods -up to two years in some cases. Such was his attention to the metre that he would often have to dismount from his horse in order to find the appropriate rhythm through his feet.
John Shaw Neilson interpreted the Australian landscape with awe and wonder, capturing the mystery and beauty he saw in the harsh Mallee country. Many of his poems also celebrated the birds of the district, notably the Smoker Parrot; so it comes as no surprise that his poetry has an uncommon musicality. His emotional landscape encompassed the isolation, loss, loneliness, joy and contentment of bush life. Neilson was active as a poet for the first thirty years of the new Commonwealth of Australia, and died in Melbourne in 1942.
In Speaking to Blue Winds, ABC producer Christopher Williams joins writer Paul Carter and painter John Wolsely as they retrace Neilson’s footsteps in the North-East Victorian Mallee country around Lake Tyrell. Neilson’s poems are read by Rory Walker.
John Shaw Neilson is also a central character in Paul Carter’s radiophonic drama Mac, which will be broadcast in Airplay to coincide with the 2011 Mildura Palimpsest, where a re-mixed version will be featured as a sound installation.

Top: Wimmera light, photo by Warrick (2011)

Fading Victoria

For a long time I’ve been interested in the changing landscape. particularly the changes at the suburban margins as development overpowers the old lines of the land. I’ve documented some of those ideas in the Suburban Margins project on my poetry web site.

So, it was nice to see some connections with those ideas in Fading Victoria, which is a collection of images of change, more semi-rural than suburban, but great images and ideas all the same. They’re from Rowan Crowe who writes:

Consumer hunger for residential land and infrastructure is slowly destroying many historical sites located near the steadily expanding fringes of suburbia. Weather also takes its toll on beautiful rural buildings that have been abandoned by their owners. What causes them to just walk away?

Landscapes in the Wild Places

One of the best things about having some time off work is the time to read, and write, more. One book that’s been beside my bed waiting for that time is Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places. I enjoyed his earlier work, Mountains of the Mind, which traces the change in western notions of mountains from horrible, literally ‘awesome’ places to be shunned to places of beauty and the sublime, so I was looking forward to this and putting it off until I had real time.

This book is a little artificial in construct it seems to me; see if ‘wild places’ can still be found in Britain, and immerse yourself in them, but it’s no less enjoyable for that. It pays homage to Roger Deakin’s work Waterlog and indeed Deakin and Macfarlane were friends, but it also harkens back through the natural history lexicon: Thoreau, Edward Thomas, Constable, Saint-Exupery and others.
The structure is simple but effective; snippets of reflection on key landscape types: island, valley, moor, forest, river-mouth, summit, ridge, storm-beach etc. interspersed with detailed accounts of short visits to one of those places, making the connections.  It’s hopelessly romantic of course, but gorgeously appealing as well, with Macfarlane’s adventures hiking in the moors, or swimming in remote lochs as evocative as you’d expect.
A reflection that connected with me, reading this book in the unvarying warmth of far north Queensland, was the idea that certain landscapes harbour thoughts or impulses somehow, that somehow, perhaps through ancient archetypes or ancestral memory, particular landscapes connect emotionally with us.  When talking about valleys Macfarlane writes, ‘Of the many types of valley, by far the most potent is the sanctuary: that is, the sunken space guarded on all four sides by high ground or water. Sanctuaries possess the allure of lost worlds or secret gardens. They provoke in the traveller who enters them – cresting a ridge at a pass, finding the ground drop away beneath your feet – the excitements of the forbidden and the enclosed.’ (47)  I’ve had that same feeling, coming into some of the river valleys of the north-east in Victoria, along the Ovens River, for example.
Macfarlane later writes: ‘… I had also learned from each place, had been brought to think by each in unexpected accents and shapes. Connections and patterns were emerging too, supplied by the land itself. It was starting to seem that certain landscapes might hold certain thoughts, as they held certain stones or plants.’ (115). It’s an interesting idea to me, that landscape might not only reflect but help form some kinds of consciousness. I like the way Peter Ackroyd put a similar thought in his book on the Thames: ‘There is no reason to doubt that human consciousness is changed by the experience of living above clay, rather than chalk’. Or beside warm tropical seas rather than a cold river.
Thanks again to blog reader John, who originally told me about this book.

Disappearing Landscapes

I was pleased to hear this week that a photo-essay I wrote a while ago for Thylazine magazine, on the suburbanisation process on the Mornington Peninsula, has been picked up by an Irish website called aughty.org The site says:

aughty.org aims to provide a focus for
information and discussion about the Slieve Aughty uplands in
Counties Clare and Galway in the west of Ireland. The site was
launched on Earth Day, April 22 2006 at a gathering in Crusheen
called Aughty People and Earth Day, hosted by Heritage
Inchicronan. People from around the region and further afield
explored ways in which the heritage of the Aughties could be
recorded, protected and enhanced by considering the region as
a whole.

At first I thought that the Irish site wanted to use an essay I wrote while in Ireland a few years ago, called Entering Irish Landscape, which talks about my impressions of that place. So, I was surprised, and pleased too, that they wanted to use my piece about suburban Australia,and that they saw some connection between the landscapes they’re working to celebrate and preserve and the landscapes around me here.

The original version of the essay, with photos is HERE. The direct link to a PDF version of the essay on the Irish site is HERE

Mapping our imagination

Peter Canty

A friend pointed me to this beautiful article by Nicolas Rothwell that appeared in the Australian early in January. Rothwell writes well about landscape and I enjoyed his book Wings of the Kite Hawk, which is described here at part memoire, part compelling history and traces the journeys into the Australian landscape.

Maps, landscape, exploration, the ways we know, or think we know, the places we inhabit and dream about. It’s my favourite literary territory! A couple of quick passage to whet your appetite:

Even the most sublime writers of the Australian landscape know this and populate their country with presences and figures of speech and flights of imagination; with stories, with memories, with anecdotes and episodes, until quiet, empty-seeming land is covered, like a morning sand dune, with a reduplicating set of literary tracks. In my own attempts to describe the inland, I have found it always prudent to have diversions or parallel channels running in the narrative: to be engaged in the routines of driving, perhaps, while one tells one’s story, or to be in conversation, or remembering, or dreaming with one’s eyes open. This is just what one finds in life. One is only very rarely present to a place, fully present, without the engagement of the constantly modulating pressure of the self.

These are some of my ideas about the landscape of the centre and the north: country harsh and hard to survive in, and filled with a beauty and a dignity that give depth to life. The country, though, is not just a made-up thing, constructed, alive with our dreams. It is not just the screen from which we draw our words and thoughts, which we have already busily poured into it. There is a landscape behind the landscape that we are always reaching for and seeking with our eyes and hearts. It is the landscape that is always there, and always receding, and that seems especially well evoked by the Aboriginal conceptual frame of the Tjukurrpa, which is the flash of the present moment and the echo, far off, from primary, long-vanished events.

Can today’s Australians inhabit such landscape? Can we feel at home there? When you find yourself in a pale dune field at sunset, with the sky blush pink and deepest indigo, or when you look out from the crest of an inland mesa at the clouds in their indifferent race across the sky, such questions tend to dissolve, and patterns and thought-chains separate from man’s deliberate kingdom take hold. I have always felt, at such moments, on the verge of dissolution — close to death, as much as on the threshold of new revelations in the march of life — and rather than imposing my will on country, or on landscape, and prolonging the dictatorship of control and consciousness, I am overwhelmed. I am a creature of new rhythm, and the desert, and the inland, are writing me.

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