Have you ever considered the importance of your home, or your connection to place, to your sense of identity??
This is a concept that I have been grappling with of late. It is a concept that has been foremost in my mind yesterday and today. Yesterday was a big day for this island. Norfolk Islanders , together with descendants of the first fleet from mainland Australia celebrated the 225th Anniversary of the wrecking of the Sirius, the flag ship of the first fleet to Australia. At the same time members of the community on this island were grappling with the decision by the Australian Government to strip the island of it's legislative assembly and replace it with a local council.
Irrespective of whether people feel positively or negatively about this, this is a BIG change for this island, and I can understand that for some people it will feel like they are losing part of their identity. I can understand that there will be a kind of grief felt by people in this community. There are people in this community with a thick web of roots set down connecting them to this place, people whose families have lived here for generations, who identify themselves more as Norfolk Islanders than as Australians. Self determination, for the last 36 years has been a big part of that identity. 36 years is a lifetime for some people. I am 38, that is most of my lifetime. For better or worse, yesterday was a big day in this communities history. A big day in their lives.
Having never had that connection to anywhere, as one with many homelands, I can only begin to imagine how some people are feeling. It has just made me think more and more about what ''home'' really means, how tied up home is in place and how much identity is tied up in both home and place. I know it is a concept that third culture kids, or expat brats have to grapple with, but I wonder if any of you have explored the notion of late?
Where did you grow up? Do you live on a family property that has been in your family for generations? Are the stories of your life imbued with the images of a house somewhere or a place? Are they intertwined with the stories of the land? Or are you uprooted and building a home somewhere new?? Is home about family? Or connection to place? Or both? Or neither?How would you feel if, like people in remote aboriginal communities, you were suddenly uprooted from your homeland, or like Norfolk Islanders, if you were a self governing people, how you would feel if that was stripped away from you.
I just can't stop thinking about it, especially these last few days. And about what the connection between home and identity means to me. Having moved a lot in my life and having homes in many places it's a concept that I struggle with. Where is home? Where would I go ''back to''. Will I ever have the connection to place that Norfolk Islanders do? Or that Aboriginal people do?
I imagine I will continue to think about this for some time, as this isolated community comes to terms with what it means to keep/hold on to/maintain/continue to live their culture in a changing world, and as I meet people who are so deeply connected to this place in a way that I both envy and can empathise with but have never fully experienced. Living on this island I have met and connected with, listened to and learnt of people whose families have lived on properties for generations, who have family traditions that go back generations. These are people who have a language spoken by less than 1000 people in the whole world, who have fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers who have worked the lighters to unload the ship and today learn those skills themselves. These are people whose families have fished and swum and farmed in this place...for generations. It is a rare thing these days. And it's something I have never had in my life. This experience of living tradition in situ. Sure, there are traditions in my family I hold dear, but this thing of experiencing them, learning them in situ, in the place where your forebears learnt them, is rare and beautiful. It is something that the western world is losing.
In considering my own sense of identity and understanding of what home is, I was struck by something I watched on SBS a few nights ago (for those of you on the other side of the world SBS is the best Australian tv channel on offer, the least mainstream and the most multicultural channel - it's the cultural heartbeat channel as far as I'm concerned). The show was a british show called 'Who do you think you are?" where people, usually famous ones, trace their ancestry. Last night they traced the ancestry of British Actor Nitin Ganatra, who plays Masood on East Enders. Nitin is a brit of Kenyan Indian ancestry. He was born in Kenya, and grew up in the UK. The show traces his family's path back to Kenya, and then Gujarat, and Nitin's growing understanding of where his roots are, and what is home for him. The thing that struck me as I watched this show, is how it is possible to understand home as....and this is going to sound crazy and is maybe not the best way to describe it... a continuum of connections.
So it is possible to have many homes and to be rooted not in one place, but in many.
Because we aren't trees! We are human beings, and we can be rooted spiritually, not physically, although for some I am sure it feels almost physical. And for those of us without the deep rooted connections to one place, our conscious connections to places can be like filaments spreading across the world, like spiderweb threads connecting us to places that are dear to us, connecting us to the genius loci of a place that resonates within us and holding us in place, centred amongst all these places.
This concept is really important to me. Because when you spend your life thinking you need to find a HOME, suddenly realising you are allowed to have many, is particularly freeing.
Especially living amongst these people with such an incredible connection to place. It makes me realise all the connections I have with different places. It is probably why I feel more like I am a citizen of the world than of any one place. I hold two nationalities, two passports, and although I am more Australian than anything else, but I don't feel my Australianness excludes me from having strong and passionate connection with all the places that have informed my sense of self.
Whilst this concept of home as a continuum might help me with my own understanding of home and identity, it doesn't change anything for Norfolk Islanders, as they grapple with what this change in governance means to them and to their sense of identity and self. Neither does it change anything for the pain that Aboriginal people are feeling as they are uprooted from their homelands. And I find myself wondering whether a single member of the parliament has really considered, let alone understands the potential impact of these decisions.