The Footprints of Dinosaurs
Posted on March 23, 2013
Our lineage is full of lost stories, the snippets and fragments and glimpses all that we have, so that even if you know the dates, the branches of the tree, the names, you cannot see anything but the most rudimentary of broken mosiacs, like images fleshed out from dinosaur foot prints.
The stories that we tell about the dead are always incomplete, projected over with our own longing. This is as true of the recent dead as the long buried. We take our perceptions and make them truth. Gathering our tales around us, we fortify ourselves with our own mythologies.
Of other people’s lives, loves and losses, I can only really pretend to know. I am fleshing out my own images from foot prints. I am going to publish a short memoir piece in parts on this blog, beginning over the next few days. It is called Wide Brown Land, the name borrowed, of course, from the Dorothea MacKellar poem. I wrote these words over six years ago and have tinkered with them ever since, taking joy in the polishing. It is partly my own story, but it pilfers from the lives of others, and it begins long before I was born. Remember, as you read, that it is just a story. The only true stories that we can tell are our own, the rest are full of gaping omissions, errors and misconceptions. I don’t pretend to know or tell the whole truth. I beg the pardon of my ancestors and of the land itself, in advance.
I was in Mulwala recently, swimming in those wide brown waters (where this story begins) and later a great uncle was telling the stories of one gravestone in the cemetery, full of the names of four ancestors who all died in their early twenties; one young man in the Great War, another in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 , and then the two adventurous young women, apparently ‘a bit wild’, who ran off to Queensland after the war, and worked as cooks on a sheep station, only to quickly contract tuberculosis, and have to come home to die. That is all that I know of these four young figures, a few sentences from an old man who wasn’t even born when they died. It is a tale full of pathos, appealing immediately to words, to paint warm flesh over the old bones, these people who have become a word, a name alone, but my words would travel blindly over their lives, only pretending to restore anything to them.
If my little story criss crosses some lines of stories told before, it is because the stories are common, and similar, but not quite the same, not quite ever the same. It might be interesting to note that a story that began in the twenties was never intended to encompass my own experience but that the words flowed in that direction anyway.