… songlines – family – a wedding in Darwin …

Families are an enigma to me. I value solitude and, yes, company, inner space and, yes, gritty adventure, constancy and, yes, change. I must have been born on a wave of contradiction. With no siblings or surviving grandparents, and my mother gone since 27 years, I’m left with a hermit-like father who avoids communication and  lives at a distance. Well, bless him.

my mother with her grandson

my mother with her grandson

 

Opa and his grandson

my father and his grandson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, my sense of family has an abstract quality that benefits my fiction writing. That said, my family extends to weathered friends whose authenticity I respect, my ex-husband included. Last week, our son, Yeshen, and his partner, Natasha, who live and work in London, had their wedding in the tropical Northern Territory of Australia. Sensible, since most of Tasha’s relatives live around the great coastline of this continent, in Brisbane, Sidney, Melbourne, Perth and  Darwin – where we gathered. As a child, like the author Bruce Chatwin, I once asked, ‘why don’t the people from down under fall off the earth?’ Australian children may well think of Europeans as down-unders and similarly ask, ‘why don’t they fall off the earth and float into space?’

The first three decades of my life I moved from place to place, restlessly roaming my inner songlines, searching for footprints leading to a family of mind and spirit, much like Chatwin described in Songlines, the practices of the indigenous people of Australia, who used to traverse their vast territory following the dream tracks of their ancestors, singing the names of everything they encountered on their paths, as a way of bringing their world into being and endowing their lives with existence and meaning.

I travelled all over Europe, have been to Israel, Africa, America … the other side of the planet had never called me. The thought of clocking up over 20 flight-hours made me nervous. Hey, I told myself, this is an adventure. In the end, my passion for clouds outshone my anxiety. A window seat always helps. Without the view I’d feel boxed in.

As the plane cruised over the Bay of Bengal towards my stopover, Singapore, I stared 36 000 feet down and couldn’t help thinking of the plane that only a few months ago went missing without a trace. I diverted myself, as one does when overcome by the enormity of one’s human helplessness, with useless thoughts, like pondering the possible legal implications when bodies can’t be found. Two days after my flight, another plane went down, this time shot out of the sky above the Ukraine. As it emerged, my son’s father was meant to be on this flight from Amsterdam. Due to overbooking, the airline offered a later flight, via Paris, with complementary business class thrown in. He and we were lucky, others were not.

from my window seat

from my window seat

Life is a treasure, if unpredictable – at times beautiful and brimming with joy, at other times painful and cruel, and often exceedingly strange, without rhyme or reason. We like to think we have control, yet know little to nothing about what decides our fates.

It made the wedding ceremony, which took place on an old pearl fishing vessel, all the more precious. The event culminated with the setting sun painting the wisps of clouds salmon pink. It’s my favourite light.

 

approaching Darwin

approaching Darwin

father and son

father and son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the ring exchange

the ring exchange

the signing

the signing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bride

the bride

the sun winks

the sun winks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Because the pearl-fishing boat could only accommodates a limited number of people, the ceremony was small and intimate. The images speak for themselves. Later on, a much larger party met for a fabulous reception at the estate of a relative.

There were songs, one specially prepared by the bride’s mother, accompanied by my son’s father on the guitar, there were humorous speeches, there was the glimmer of water from illuminated rock-like pools, festive lights overhead, candles, and the music and slideshow the couple had prepared. The latter I missed and must catch up on, having been too involved with meeting my son’s new family and getting drawn into stories over champagne, wine and delectable menus.

The pleasant tropical winter night, with tables arranged on English-style lawns, was equivalent to a rare, gloriously European summer night. And of course there were more songs, by Mr Palm of Palm Guitars …

Mindil Beach Market

Mindil Beach Market

P1060262lowerIn days that followed, we returned to favourite places.  Crowds gather, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays, at the iconic Mindil Beach with its backdrop of festivities and over 300 colourful market stalls. People come here to watch the sun grow in size as it nears the horizon, and everyone cheers and claps when the last sliver of red drops into the Arafura Sea.

 

P1060759lower

 

We travelled to Nature Parks, with abundant wildlife …

Palaces built by termites …

Springs, waterfalls and rock pools to swim in, with the thrill of possible crock sightings …

P1060382 - lowerWe enjoyed nights at the waterfront where they serve fresh seafood and Thai dishes, with Sharks and Moon fish beyond the harbour wall waiting for morsels.

Wangi Falls

Wangi Falls

termite palace

termite palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the garden pool

the garden pool

Russell

Russell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banyon

Banyon

palm roof

palm roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On returning, I watched the lights shining from the islands in the Timor Sea. After 4 hours stopover in Singapore, to stretch my legs, and, delight, enjoy a few roll-ups, yes they have smoking areas at this airport, I settled into another window seat, overawed once more by how such super-heavy Airbuses can lift from the ground. My eyes switched between the book I was reading and the screen on my seat showing the flightpath, with the sun moving across to the Atlantic, while Australia’s night was encroaching on India. Endless hours later, England’s south seemed quaint from the air, with its patchwork of orderly fields framed by hedges and lanes. An American friend once called it Hobbit Land.

Home again. I feel like being gently rocked in a cradle. It will pass. I’ve yet to absorb the experiences of my Aussie adventure, still deliciously disorientated by upside down time and a different kind of dreaming. I got a taste of a new world, as good wine that lingers on, leaving a desire for more, like learning about the traditional owners of the territories, the Larika people. If I heard about Darwin’s man-made and natural disasters, it had not registered. The town was flattened twice, first in WWII – during Japanese air raids, and again in 1974 by Cyclon Tracy. Aussies are a resilient people.

Having enjoyed generous hospitality by the brides fathers, stepmother, mother, aunt and uncle, heart warming company by more uncles, aunts, siblings, their partners, cousins, nieces, and their partners, I miss the buzz of the large family, and not least the cute dogs, Russell and Rosie, whose exuberant joy in ballgames included jumping into the pool. I’ll hold the memory of the green shade under layers of palm leaves, the fresh fish served at the waterfront, the buzzing markets, the incredible architecture of old banyan trees, massive baobab and eucalyptus and the impressive series of sunsets. I’m looking forward to visitors, and maybe assist them in exploring places where their ancestors lived in Hobbit Land.

One image keeps playing tricks on my mind, some dark thing, stuff for a surreal crime novel – a giant toad in a freezer. But that’s a story for another occasion.

Technically challenged, I now hope the images on this page don’t jump all over the place once I press the ‘publish’ button 🙂

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “… songlines – family – a wedding in Darwin …

  1. Magical post Ashen! You condense what I’m sure will take months of sifting. The photographs really convey the ease of Downunder, and antipodean relaxation. Know it well, miss it more and more.

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    • Glad you catch the magical, Philippa. So much more to potentially share, in one form or another.
      Still dazed, but need to attend to tasks back home, like finding someone to cut an overgrown hedge.
      Hope all is well with you and yours.

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  2. Oh! Ashen.
    I just wish I could have been there with you. You make it sound just like it is and the wedding seemed to be love- filled, as it should be.
    When you write of the indigenous people of Australia, my eyes fill with tears. Not through sadness but beauty. There is a mystifying story line that runs through these people that I am trying to connect with at every time.
    The warmth and light of the Darwin area is just splendid and grips ones heart. I so loved your description.
    Having a wedding in the family is so much about reaching out through family connections, it is a statement of love and recognition of the part we all play in this great story.
    Enjoy your memories Ashen and thank you for sharing such a beautiful period in your life and that of your families.B

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    • Thanks B. Any successful event has an organisational genius behind it, and I’m hugely appreciative of the effort it takes.
      I watched the indigenous people around Darwin, in the streets, and at the markets. They work hard, and move so gracefully, in rapport with the land, like the earth knows and feathers their steps.

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  3. Absolutely wonderful pictures and the painting of your “Aussie Adventure. Like you I have travelled a fair bit and as far as the east but that last wave has always seemed quite literally a bridge too far. Yet, the Australian I have had the pleasure to interact with on the internet impress me by their attitude to life and my Uncle, Aunt and Cousins who have made it their home are very, very happy and proud to be a part of it.

    The wedding looked to have been absolutely dreamlike, the bride a picture, the groom suitably coy and the setttings amazing. Thank you so very much for sharing this with us.

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    • My pleasure, Diane. Exactly what I liked about the people I met – their open attitude. Very refreshing. Lovely to have the bright allegro memory, and now the slowing pace and attending to tasks, and writing.

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  4. What a wonderful post and photos, Ashen! Thank you so much for taking the time to describe your visit and the wedding and share with us.

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    • Thanks, Cathy. Another stage, a happy one to share, which reminds me, you posted ‘Stages’ by Hermann Hesse on your blog earlier in the year. I once did a translation of this poem, must dig it out.

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  5. It all sounds bliss and the photos are beautiful. Love the notion of an intimate wedding on an old pearl fisher… how romantic and magical. Also love the father playing guitar – what a fab ambiance it must have conjured. Such lovely memories for you all.

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    • Hi, Sandie. Yes, magical is the word. When my son was little he wrote a poem called ‘The Lamplighter.’ It built up to what magic was – and ended with ‘It’s Life. 🙂 Another thing to dig out from my paper jungle. This is what displacement does (travelling,) treasured memories pop up.

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  6. Thank you Ashen, a beautiful post – of love and connections, land and sea, animals, indigenous people, family …Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
    I’m not mad about the toad in the freezer though? Is this real or imagined? Hope it doesn’t interfere with your settling back home?

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  7. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Susan.

    The toad – it’s what they do when a toad ventures into the wrong place, in this a swimming pool. Apparently it’s a gentle kind of death … which didn’t prevent my imagination from wandering …
    Interesting information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cane_toads_in_Australia
    My on-line friend Joe uses toads as a metaphor for his blog, called ‘The Coming of the Toads.’ Come to think of it, he hasn’t commented.

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  8. Gorgeous photos and a gorgeous day, huge congrats sweetie, your lovely family has expanded to include a new daughter, how lovely! 😀 xxx

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  9. A wonderful post; thank you! You have drawn such a beautiful word picture of Australia that it felt like looking out from your eyes. And the photos filled out the rest of the story!
    I was somewhere below your flightpath when you crossed the Bay of Bengal and Australia’s night was gently encroaching on India. 🙂

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  10. Thank you, Sylvia. You were somewhere 🙂 The people living in the vast territories stretching below our flightpath were on my mind, each with their own story. Wonderful to meet you, and your stories.

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