Monday, June 11, 2012

Two Geographies of Friendships and More

Beach Cricket, Anglesea, 2012 or How Australian Am I? Photo by La Professoressa

Joan's Oath

Early in my life here, around 2002, a group of Di's old friends and my new ones on a very hot December day down in Torquey, a beach front town, spent some time coming up with my very own Oath of Loyalty to my new country, in a parody of the citizenship pledges that were being taken around the country on this  day. Lesbian to its teeth, and deeply Australian, the oath is based on a dearly loved Australian poem, "Core of My Heart,"written  by Dorothea MacKellar in 1908, just a few years after Federation. Thank you, Sarah, Sue, Alison, Seal for an oath I could live with.

I love a sunburnt country
A land of slithering snakes
Where dingos eat the babies
and crocodiles lie in wait.

I love her vast horizons
Where girls are strapping Auzzies
I love my front and back doors
And the air is full of mozzies.

I love her creepy crawlies
This land of backyard sheds
Where anything can bite you
Even goannas run up legs.

I lover her tennis open
Her beauty and her sea
Her language does amuse me
This wide brown land for me

I love that dykes are growing lemons
and beetroot comes in ones
That friends are mates and cobbers
And they're all obsessed with bums

[I love the friends she's given me,
The old ones and the new,
I love this sunburnt country
a land of burnished time
where witty friends give care in gifts of rhyme]

Photo by Paula Grant, Joan and Denver, in Hobart, NY, 1981

Another geography, another lesbian world behind me, Naomi, Deb and Paula in a deep upper New York State winter where I have my first experience with snow shoes, an experience made even more interesting by Paula's lessons in balance which I will not go into. Denver, a most wonderful friend, who came on all our adventures, her large, sure body always ready to intercede to keep us upright. 

I am in the process of getting my "papers," the documents of my life, ready for a future when I will not be here to explain the faces or the words. Perhaps a futile or a narcissistic act, but it is the tenderness of the body caught in pleasure or in struggle, the geographies, the terrains of heat and cold, both with in and without, that I offer to a future I fear for, in the name of all our bodies, either marked as deviant or unwanted, as subversive or beyond the pale, the woman's body here who found its pleasures in the sun and the freshness of winter's air, clear in the sight of women she loved. These thought rise up in me as my mind keeps playing the image of the Golden Dawn spokesman slapping a woman who disagreed with him three times full in the face on a Greek television show while all others seemed frozen. A nation watched, a world watched--the fists of intolerance in the service of frightened nation states once again beating down the unwanted and still this man walks the streets of Athens. How did we get here from play on two continents to what connects us all--our bodies so fragile and yet so dazzling in joy when embraced in caring sight. 

Here is the full text of Dorothea MacKellar's poem which has only grown in meaning for me as I have traveled over this vast old land. In the first stanza she disowns the English traditional countryside for a different kind of place.

Core of My Heart, 1908

The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins--
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies...
I know but cannot love it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror--
The wide brown land for me!

The stark white ringbarked forests
All tragic beneath the moon
The sapphire-misted mountains
The hot gold rush of noon--
Green tangle of the brushes
Where the lianas coil
And the orchid-laden tree-ferns
Smother the crimson soil.

Core of my heart, my country--
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die--
And then the grey clouds gather
And we can bless again,
The drumming of an army,
The stready soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country,
Young land of rainbow gold--
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back three-fold--
Over thirsty paddocks
Watch, after many days
A filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as you gaze...

An opal-hearted country,
A willful, lavish land--
Ah, you who have not loved her
You cannot understand--
---the world is fair and splendid
But whensoe-er I die
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly!

Is the land different from the Nation? Can we honor country without possessing it? And the people who walked and walk this land and were not seen as people?    A land made empty by the wishes of Empire.

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