It was once said that the Aboriginal Tasmanians would come to the west coast, look out over the moiling sea, and imagine a country in that direction known as the “Land of Sweet Forget”.
Whatever the veracity of this legend is, when I found myself on the west coast just before the turn of the year, I discovered not some longing for amnesia but rather a heightened sense of memory. I was, in fact, caught in a sticky morass of reminiscence, as I thought of all of those whose existence is part of the structure that had made my year, and in fact my life.
Interestingly, after a year in which I almost entirely failed to leave Tasmania, I still find that my days are deeply affected by those elsewhere. It may seem incredible that Turkish bomb blasts should disturb me in Triabunna, or that Donald Trump’s election would ruffle my feathers at Lake St. Clair, but this is how it was.
And likewise, out on the west coast, after I’d coaxed a fire out of damp tea-tree and eucalypt, I found old friends returning to me, incorporeal like smoke or sea-spray.
I could list them all here: the Spaniard teaching maths in a Bristol classroom, the lovely young cynic I met a decade ago in northern California, the Brazilian lesbian labouring on a newspaper, the placeless Dutch lady with the fair eyelashes…But as a list they make for futile literature, whereas in my head they are able to interact, like figures with volition, same as those who populate a proper city. In my head, there is a world.
After forays into this world, I retreat back to its margins. At least that’s how I presume it looks to those who come from the cultural and economic centres of the Earth: the nouveaux-riches in India or China, those who watch themselves on television in Los Angeles, the colonial capitals of London or Paris, or those from the middle of the world: the Mediterranean or the Middle East.
What they will have trouble understanding is that for me, this is being smack-bang in the middle of things.
At one point I found myself remonstrating with a fairy-wren, who I had accused of stealing a very significant item of mine. This was a petite teaspoon, which I pinched from the side of my café noisette in a Parisian bar one night. Yes, I found the teaspoon somewhere amongst my camping equipment – and duly apologised to the fairy-wren – but it goes to show how much value I place on memory.
And how strangely, instead of being keenly aware of how remote I am from many whose lives I care about, I somehow feel as if they’re drawing closer.
This time last year, I was on Tassie's east coast, exploring the meaning of fish.