This is the first book I have read by Australian author Tim Winton; titles such as Dirt Music and Cloudstreet have somehow passed me by. But there can be no better recommendation than to get to the end and say, I want to read more by this writer and that is just what I did.
The subtitle of this superb collection tells you exactly what it is about – “A landscape memoir”. A very personal journey through time and the landscape as seen over the last three decades, both from close up and from far away. It is an observation and a reaction to living in Australia, surrounded by its unique and often puzzling flora and fauna. In some places it touches on the reaction to that strange land by the earliest of foreign settlers, the descendents of whom are still puzzling over it.
Winton’s books, I learnt, have always featured the natural landscape as a leading character, but here he indulges in more reminiscence. In one respect you have to be an Australian to really make the most of the pictures in these words, to know what the trees and the animals look like. But in another way your response to these wonderful descriptions is what matters. You want to know more, to visit some of the places he describes and share his wonderment.
As Winton says in his final story Paying Respect, that many Australians confess their ignorance of their own plants and landscapes. It is after all a big island to understand. He puts it beautifully, “Sometimes I think it’s sufficient to admit that you’re mystified, not just because it’s an honest response, but because it’s a suitably humble one.”
The landscape is the central character here, lurking in many different lights behind all the stories. After that come the people and their reaction to that landscape. Winton is especially close to those who fight to protect what is left and to change the views of others through conservation and understanding.
Towards the end of the book we encounter Aboriginal characters and begin to explore something of their unique bond with the landscape. Nothing can summarise this better than the words of the Aboriginal lawman David Mowaljarlai, “When I’m on a high mountain looking out over country, my Unggurr [life-force] flows out from inside my body and I fall open with happiness.” And that is what you sense about Winton writing this book, his stories are the pouring out of his happiness at what he sees.