26 Fruits

Antipodean Crossings 3

I love travelling with a purpose. I particularly love travelling when the purpose is to write. And I include in that gathering material, seeing places, meeting people that will feed into later writing.

That’s why my trip to New Zealand and Australia were so satisfying. I don’t suppose I will ever write a novel set in New Zealand, but so much of it was like walking through a mythic landscape. You gazed into the distance and there was Mount Doom – Tolkien surely must have stood here.

Of course it started with writing on the Dark Angels courses in Kare Kare and Auckland that I described in previous blogs. But then, my ‘work’ done, I had three weeks to explore these distant countries I’d never visited before, and to imagine what it might have been like to have been either the first Maoris or the first Europeans to set foot on these deserted shorelines.

‘Civilisation’ soon took root, and there’s a fine literary tradition in New Zealand and Australia. I always enjoy reading books from the countries where I am travelling. So in New Zealand I began with Janet Frame’s ‘The Lagoon and other stories’. Absolutely simple, deceptively simple writing, that I quoted as we kicked off Dark Angels in Kare Kare:
“It is always nice to understand the coming and going of a day.”

You know something will happen but it might not be much – though it will have some significance for you to think about, a slightly puzzled view of life.

As we drove south to Wellington I was reading Katherine Mansfield, perhaps the first New Zealand writer to make a big impression in Europe (a hundred years ago now). I sought out her house in Wellington, where she had been born in 1882. It was evocative although Katherine Mansfield would never have written anything there (her family moved out when she was just a child). Yet it resonated with the scenes described in her short stories, and clearly informed her memories when she wrote in adulthood.

“The Venetian blind was pulled down but not drawn close. Long pencil rays of sunlight shone through and the wavy shadows of bush outside danced on the gold lines.”

Wandering from room to room, then out into the garden, there were quotations from her books, inviting you to read more.

“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. Life would undergo a change of appearance because we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude.”

One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Australia, and Sydney in particular, was to experience places that Patrick White had written about. I was re-reading his novel Riders in the Chariot as we landed in Australia – an almost impossibly ambitious novel about people on the fringes of ‘normal’ society, a version of the crucifixion in a Sydney setting. Patrick White won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 but now it’s difficult to find an Australian who has heard of him. I would have liked to visit houses where he had lived, places he had written about, but none of that is available to a tourist on a short visit.

All I could do was seek out the plaque, just to make sure he was not completely overlooked, on Sydney Harbour’s ‘Writers’ Walk’. I was about to give up when finally, after about forty plaques to many writers who had just passed through at one point in history, I found the plaque I was looking for. I almost cried.


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