I was trying to find the words to look back on an eventful season with Parkes Shire Libraries, culminating in this year’s Australian national award for innovation in library youth services. I could have talked about how the country stereotypes have yielded to reveal a town of tough and funny and mad and passionate people. I could have recounted how all the amazing things we’ve done were really about a community that was ready for change, and a bunch of smart librarians who recognised that fact, and who drafted in an outsider to provoke and support and sustain that change.
Instead, I wanted the last word to come from someone else. One of our local writers, but one who – like me – came to Parkes a stranger and a foreigner.
Santhoshi Chander of the town writers’ group Author-rised kindly allowed me to share her thoughts about the experience of finding a new home out in the Aussie regions. “Ex-city-slicker” San divides her time between Sydney and Parkes.
A Country Fling, or
A Love Letter to Parkes
It seemed from the beginning the stakes were against us. I’m not claiming our story has Romeo and Juliet status. But in our own way, we started as star crossed lovers.
I wish we’d met under different circumstances. My being eight months preggars and chasing a two year old everywhere to boot certainly didn’t help matters. You’re never at your best in winter; you come across as cold to the point of frigid. I thought little of how you looked. Your country earthiness was empty and barren. As I stared out the window at your endless dusty roads, I felt sorry for myself, contemplating a future of dry, drab boredom.
It felt a bit like an arranged marriage. You looked good on paper, but we hardly knew each other. Where was the romance in that? It was a marriage of convenience; your main attraction was that I didn’t have to do the corporate rat race anymore. I could stay home and take care of the kids. For that reason alone, being with you made sense. Despite the uprooting of our lives and breaking up the friendships we were so invested in. Not to mention shattering the great American dream we were living. You gotta admit we gave up a lot to be with you.
It didn’t help that my folks were worried I was going to live out in whoop whoop land. How will you survive so faraway from civilization, they thought. We were first gen migrants, fish out of water in Bogan Central! My old workmates back in the American days had an office poll going on how long I’d last at home, without reaching for the Crackberry. Needless to say, they didn’t think much of my escape into stay-at-home motherhood, nor of my sudden love for the country. A temporary fling was the consensus. Certainly won’t last.
So with all this cluttering my head, you can understand why I really had the wrong attitude when the lovely neighbours came by brimming with homegrown fresh spinach, leek and spring onion. You would have thought they would have won me over with an offer to babysit the kids. But the only impression left on me was do these country bumpkins ever stop talking? I knew their whole life story on the first meeting!
I’m no wide eyed, wonder struck little girl. I didn’t really expect much of you. I’ve been around and had a thing or two for others before you. My last real relationship was committed. We were in it for 6 years. I was almost ready for forever in exotic Lafayette, Louisiana. So I know I’m kind of on the rebound and it’s okay if this is just another fling. I’m prepared to not fall in love with you.
Don’t think I’m resentful. Maybe just a little. I’m trying to tell you that I come with baggage. I tell you this in the hope that we understand each other better. Be patient with me as I bury deep the past and open my heart to a future with you. The heart will take time to catch up with the head.
Besides, you really aren’t my type. I go for tall, dark skylines, lit up handsomely with glitz and glamour to shake the nights away. My heart throbs at big city beats, midnight concertos, festivals galore! You can’t blame me for being disappointed that your idea of date night was hanging out at the dog races, downing a keg.
You’re not much of a talker but when you do say something, I have to get past that country drawl.
What’s in a drawl you may ask? The way we speak? Ah, but language is a bridge to culture, my country friend. And so at first you met with rejection. I’ll admit it now, I was embarrassed of you. I tried hard pretending we didn’t even know each other, especially to my city friends. The sad part is in my not really getting to know you, I lost time. In those early days, I sat cooped up inside, making myself a lonely prisoner of snobby city thoughts.
But you’re a quick study and on our second date, you charmed me. The Dish was a real treat, and what better way to warm me up to the possibilities of the future than a radio telescope? Soon you had me dreaming of beings from outer space! Martians and spacesuits and asteroids, oh my! What city skyline could compete with the star studded openness with which you look into my eyes?
The power cut revealed your hidden light. When the kids were cloaked in shadowy fear, I was surprised to find warmth in a stranger’s smile across the street. She gave me a candle and then there was light. It was as though I was seeing you clearly for the very first time. You were just so real, there was no pretension. The way she helped me opened my eyes at last to the compassion you bring out in people.
Being far from civilization makes us more civil to each other. We bond and waste less time on the slow social rituals of acquaintance. We are all in this together, surrounded by space, connected in this moment. As I really got to know the neighbours, I learned more about these higher truths. They shared their life story so quickly because they’d seen tough times and faced and survived great foes like Cancer. They knew the value of time, these friends of mine next door. Time was limited so share now, right now. I became more attuned to your message. Why waste precious time building fences and boundaries of etiquette when the great outback so generously shares it’s boundless space with all of us?
I was falling for you as I started to realise what lies beneath the dusty roads and grassy paddocks. As I start mining deeper and deeper, I keep striking gold. You seem to have the knack of bringing out the best in people. Take the teachers at preschool, who really care about the little minds they inspire. The message was not about competition, but compassion. They encouraged and supported my little girl, the seedling transplant from the city, until she took root. Soon she branched out forming friends herself and showering kindness on new arrivals from foreign lands.
It was at this point, I began to sense I was getting too attached to you. I’ll confess. I’ve been trying to escape you ever since. I really didn’t want to believe you were my type. I sent a frenzy of job applications to get away from you, but to no avail. There seemed to be destiny at work.
You bring out the best in me. You give me time and space to let myself grow.
What I found was a new friend in time. Time, who I once thought was the eternal thief. Stealing the best years of my life, chained to a corporate desk or waiting senselessly in congested city traffic. Time to watch the kids grow, enjoy the moments along the way, smell those roses.
You help me believe in myself and something greater than me. This letter to you is a testament that I believe in following my dream. I’m allowing myself the opportunity to chase my first love, WORDS. And the fact that you show no jealousy but encourage me and respect my passion for literature shows your maturity. Especially welcoming me with open arms into the Authorized Writers’ Group at Parkes. Allowing me the chance to give way to leaps of fancy, as though I’m some kind of Miles Franklin rapidly scribbling my inner most thoughts. Best of all there is no pretending in the conversations here as in the Corporate life before. You give me the courage for once to not follow my head, but follow the trajectory of my heart.
You help me belong. Running away has been my style. We city types find it hard to commit. Who knows what we might miss if we stay in one place too long? You snooze, you lose. I was always taught to keep looking out for the next mountain to climb. The next city to conquer. The only constant was change.
So this is home. So this is peace.
And I was wrong about you, when I listen to my little man lilting out his love song to the twinkling stars in baby lisp, I’m
reminded how romantic you really are. You give me the chance to treasure these moments as they pass me by.
I’m grateful and want to thank you for this place that you are. Thank you for being slower paced, soulful and reminding me what really matters in life.
To tell you the truth, if you can keep a secret, you’re starting to grow on me…