I come home on a quiet Sunday evening to find dozens of faces staring at me in the streets.
There’s no-one walking the streets, of course. It’s Sunday night. Lengthy shadows ran down the South Esk as my aeroplane landed. The fields were golden, but cold. The mountains were grey and indistinct from the sky.
The faces are those of council candidates, contenders for the position of alderman. A lot of them are familiar. Some are good friends, admirable people. Some, I have reason to believe, are not. (The athlete Usain Bolt is also edited onto a panorama of Launceston, for an Optus ad.)
A town like mine writhes with competing motives, and I see these in the eyes of those on the posters (although what Bolt is doing I don’t know). While I criticise some council wanna-bes, I know my own wishes seem to be weird and wormy, outdated and obsolete. Very few people want what I want: solitude, diversity, the intermingling of simplicity and complexity.
A few years ago, outside Town Hall, I had an alderman tell me off for calling Launnie a town. “City! It’s a city!” But it feels like a big ol’ town to me. The sun comes out and every day I see a dozen people I know. Nina’s in the park, Luke’s in the street, Barnesy’s in Civic Square, Sinead’s in Service Tas, Wombat’s in Saint John, Stacky’s at the Oak. I like to see the old cobbers, but I am also ready to be alone.
The mall has been rejuvenated; so too has the square outside the library. I find them clean, open, uninspiring spaces. Their motifs seem meaningless: a honeycomb design, some skinny thylacines, x-rays of human skeletons. Northern Tasmania has a million pertinent symbols, but these are sourced from nowhere, from nothing. They are for everyone and so they are for no-one.
I try and found comfort in the grounds of the Cataract Gorge, but there, the lawns are being torn up and a pile of playground equipment is being installed. The trucks’ blaring signal cuts through the excavator’s dull roar. The quiet peep of the fantail is impossible to hear.
I have been away for some months, and I know that much of my dissatisfaction in what I see comes from inside of me. I’m restless; I’m ready to finish up travelling for a while, but still I find myself crashing in a different spare bed every night, living out of my backpack. I test-drive cars around Kings Meadows, up the Tamar, Waverley. It’s nice to get behind the wheel, to muster up a bit of speed, to have movement on my native island. But one car runs too hot, another seems to have oil in the radiator. I get on an empty bus. I walk up hills and through parks.
What, then, do I take comfort in? The sight of raptors above Tamar Island. The slouching wattles, prudent plovers, and boofy casuarinas. The first flowers of native mint, its sticky sour smell, and the reminder it offers of a woman I met last year who described it in novel terms. The greys of dolerite, the greens of ferns, the blues and browns and blacks of river-water.
I take comfort in the plethora of fine editions in second-hand bookstores and charities, and the hours I spend in the library.
I take comfort in the council candidate, my friend Tim, who pointed out the racist remark of a prominent Launceston businessman online. (I try and smother the misery I feel that this git probably won’t be held to account because he’s contributing to the local economy.)
Mostly, I take comfort in the map. My eye is drawn to the central section. In this representation of the island, it’s empty. But I know it’s the most interesting place of all. I will head up the steepest track and I will keep going on. I will hop over creeks, circumnavigate lakes, camp on peaks, suck up snow, chew on bitter berries. Who knows what will be waiting there for me. The travelling, then, will be finally over – for a time – and I will be properly home.