1960s, Abbott, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Australia, Australian Government, Australian politics, bigotry, capitalism, Charmian Clift, Clift, climate, climate change, Companion planting, corporate capitalism, corporation, Easter, food, food production, garden, gardening, genocide, George Johnston, Greece, Green Renters, Hydra, Indigenous, Indigenous Australians, Johnston, Land of Oz, Lewis Carroll, literature, Melbourne, Menzies, My Brother Jack, Nadia Wheatley, nature, parliament, Peel Me A Lotus, politics, Pyne, racism, slavery, Sovereign nations, spring, summer, The Walrus and the Carpenter, The World of Charmian Clift, urban garden guerilla, urban sustainability, Victoria, Water
I do understand that in a progressive consumer economy nothing is made to be used again. Frugality and prudence are actually dangerous to prosperity. Everything is made to be thrown away.
From an essay titled, On Waste Not Want Not by Charmian Clift, c. 1967.
The handy guy has told me, on occasion, that I tend to exaggerate. My favourite number is 60 billion. For example, ‘I have 60 billion thoughts running through my head right now.’ Last night I was reading the collection of essays by Charmian Clift, brought together posthumously by Nadia Wheatley, Clift’s biographer, called Trouble in Lotus Land. I turned down a lot of corners, and then I began wondering. If I died all of a sudden, would somebody pick up the book I was reading and look at the pages I’d marked? Do people even have time to notice such things any more? Ironically, or subtlely, Clift’s essays are all about details, minute observation, and a keen eye for character – in particular, at the time she was writing, the Anglo-Saxon ‘Australian’ character. In a play on the title of Clift’s book about living on Hydra, Peel Me A Lotus, Wheatley brings together all the essays that weren’t collected when Clift was alive, nor posthumously selected by George Johnston in The World of Charmian Clift (he died barely a year later). In Wheatley’s collection, ‘Lotus Land’ is Australia.
I’ve said before that I think Clift was prescient but she actually wasn’t. What she was is someone who identified the endless, monotonous cycle of life under capitalism – Australia’s particular version of it, what’s more – and who yearned for (in fact, experienced, for 13 years) a life reduced to its barest essentials. She returned to Sydney, as a ‘migrant’ (truly, Charmian and the three kids returned on a migrant ship, paying a migrant fare from Greece in 1964), and never lost her sense of un-belonging, much as her new-found fame in the ‘women’s pages’ made her feel as though she’d been embraced. Her outsider’s eye gave her an insight into mid to late 60s culture in Australia that has yet to be surpassed. The thing that gives you prickles – ‘Rightly or wrongly, I’ve got the prickles,’ she wrote in an essay about suburban sprawl and development – is how apt her descriptions of Australia in the 60s remain today.
I could just copy huge tracts of these essays here, or you could go off and find them for yourselves. I’ve now managed to accumulate most of the Clift oeuvre, and much of Johnston’s, through scouring secondhand bookshops, dropping big hints around Christmas, and whipping a few tomes off the parents’ bookshelf (they’d hardly notice; I think they’re grateful). Today I almost bought a first edition Mermaid Singing on Amazon. In fact, excuse me while I pop back and complete that transaction; how can I let that one through to the keeper? It’s not so much the fact that it’s a first edition, as that it’s only $50 (well, plus postage & handling). So, now I will have that book, and I’ll read it again, having read it as a child, and I can properly say, I’m a Clift expert. It’s nice to be an expert in something other than gardening, and something literary to boot, which is where I was trained. I’ve also nearly completed the Johnston trilogy and read a number of his other books, although he published so many ‘pulp’ novels, this will be an on-going project. I recently read Moon At Perigee, and it’s a brilliant book, showing a real grasp of the tensions in pre- post-colonial India. I was pleasantly surprised. More than pleasantly surprised. But then, I do love a good bit of pulp fiction. (Remind me to write about Raymond Chandler some time.)
By now I’ve put a lot of you to sleep, no doubt, and there are no pictures. I intended to include pictures, but how can you trap too many voices or too many ideas in a picture? Lots of blogs have no pictures. I know, I read them. There are so many voices, competing voices, in Australian ‘public’ life, I think even Charmian would have difficulty trying to consolidate her thoughts, particularly if she had 60 billion of them. Where I intersect with Charmian is in the desire to shed the trappings of the culture I was born into. I would live on Hydra if I could, if it was still the Hydra of the Clift/Johnston arrival. But not the Hydra of the middle passage of Peel Me A Lotus, where the reader feels as trapped as Charmian does, in the heat, the lack of water, the ins and outs of a village life. That middle passage reminds me of Melbourne, of Australia, today, funnily enough. It also began me thinking about the change of seasons. Autumn down here is spring up there; half the world is awakening, while half the world is turning in on its self (and there’s a whole middle section of the globe that experiences none of the above). For the first time, ever, I am looking forward to winter, even impatient for it. Easter frees Hydra, from winter and cold, and Lent, into spring. Easter here, I could do without. I usually wangle it so the kids are with their Dad, so I don’t have to participate in the chocolate frenzy. Can’t we find an Indigenous celebration, of the shift from summer to cooler weather, that we could embrace, and that doesn’t involve chocolate and the supermarkets making a lot of money trafficking in chemicals? Thankfully, as I don’t watch TV or visit supermarkets very often, I am in ignorant bliss as to Easter.
The list of things in the garden that need doing grows ever longer. Meanwhile, the ‘political’ landscape becomes ever more irrelevant and bizarre. Yesterday I wanted to pun on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Land of Oz, and being down the Herr Rabbit hole. Today, well, we’ve been here before, if not quite so urgently, but yes, we’ve been here before. There are a lot of competing voices at the moment; something that distinguishes ‘our time’ from 1964, yet those voices aren’t all that much changed, just louder, more evident, and possibly more strident. Hush, hush. It’s capitalism is our enemy, not Herr Rabbit, nor Pyne, nor … fill in the blanks. Capitalism is that which has severed the self from what sustains the self, and it is to that beast, that corporate beast, that our attention needs to be turned. I read an article today about whether a corporation had, as a ‘non-human person’, the right to deny its employees access to health cover for birth control, based on the corporation’s religion. If we’ve got to that stage of debacle, things have got to change, right? Charmian would be appalled.
In one of her essays – Towards What Millennium – Clift wrote, ‘Nature may well look over the human balance sheet … and decide that, after all, the experiment wasn’t worth while’. Nature has decided, as Charmian predicted. It’s no wonder that I think her prescient, really. Anyhow, the 60 billion thoughts have been somewhat scattered, egged on perhaps by Charmian, and her challenge to me, as an ‘Australian’, to not accept the status quo. Truthfully, I can’t imagine living anywhere else on earth, but it’s not my land. This is not my government (thank god for that). It makes me laugh at the same time as I cry, the outrage over Brandis and his bigging up of the ‘bigot’. This is a nation founded on bigotry, and genocide, and slavery, and racism. How do ‘we’ ever think we can forge a meaningful notion of nation until we address our past? The more things change, the more they stay the same, which is what I gather from reading lots of books from the 1940s onwards. Maybe I’ll make a decision one day, not to get caught up in the high jinks of the so-called ‘government’. Maybe I’ll make the move to Hydra in my mind, and in my spirit.
The title of this post comes from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ by Lewis Carroll.