We are currently ensconced in a lodge built into a mountainside overlooking Apollo Bay, far southern Australia. The sun is just rising, and we have our balcony door open to admit the strange chirps of birds we do not recognize, crisp air, and the distant booming of the sea. The kids are still in bed, but Wendy and I have developed a habit of awakening just before the sun crests to drink coffee and watch the world spin from a sky luminous with alien stars to the red and orange of the coming day. That's a long sentence, but its being crammed with nouns and adjectives that link the known of nature with the weirdness of constellations and plumage and a life not ours suggests how difficult it is to narrate our Australian experience so far. I'm estimating that I possess maybe 25 minutes before the kids come out of bed to devour that bag of donuts, pastries and raisin bread that the man at the bakery demanded we take home with us when he saw our sorrow at his shop being closed last night. He would accept no payment for them. You see, that is our travel narrative to date: days so full of stories that to tell one leads to the hundred others.
Given limitations of time and of your patience for my piles of nouns and adjectives, I'll simply offer you a few memories that are with me as I'm listening to a green lorikeet (I can identify that and a magpie due to Stephanie Trigg) noisily demand more bakery bread from me. First, the "Hearts and Stones" symposium went extraordinarily well, with memorable presentations by Tom Prendergast (on the difficulties of extracting history and desire from the London Stone) and Kerryn Goldsworthy (a true ghost story that exactly captured the best of what the symposium was about), among many others. Questions of objects, agency, and human-lithic touch were approached in various ways, all of them mutually illuminating. It was invigorating to be part of a conversation that lasted two full days. The talks were haunted by difficult Australian histories (Aboriginal, penal, modern). The impress of place was strong, as was Stephanie's own warm touch. She is an excellent guiding presence, welcoming and community-creating.
Stephanie has also been extraordinarily kind to my family. She met us at the airport, and was cheerful even as we were in the worst shape imaginable (Katherine developed a stomach issue aboard the long flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne; she vomited throughout the 16 hours of flight, and then for a few hours thereafter). She and her family entertained us that evening and pretended that we were something more than jet lagged lumps. She gave my family excellent suggestions for expeditions as my time was spent in the collaboratory and teaching a seminar on temporality. Then as we departed Melbourne for the southern portion of Victoria, she escorted us to her parents' home outside of Geelong. I'd been corresponding with her dad for about a year (I met him via Stephanie's blog) and he was kind enough to show us around an aboriginal craft center near his home. Both Stephanie's parents were extraordinarily kind to us, providing us with a hearty lunch and an auspicious start to our adventures.
Despite driving on the wrong side of the curviest and steepest roads imaginable, I have done OK with getting us where we need to go. I just close my eyes and drive. It seems to be working, mainly because the other drivers are attentive.
We've spent the last two days just outside Apollo Bay in a lodge that overlooks the sea. It's mostly glass on one side. There is nothing else here but a small restaurant (they are kindly letting me steal their wifi) where we had dinner our first night: some of the best food we've ever eaten, not just because it was fresh and we were tired, but because the small staff were so happy to have us there. We spent yesterday at the Otway Fly, a series of metal platforms that traverse the tree canopy of the nearby mountains. The platforms are narrow and sway in the wind. They rise to 47 meters at their highest point and it is only then that your are actually above the 300 year old trees. Then we took a hike through a rain forest to a magnificent waterfall, the Triplet Falls. We spent a long time looking for platypus and saw none; that was the day's only disappointment. Then it was onwards to the sea and Apollo Bay, where we spent the evening beach combing and watching fishing vessels return.
Today we depart for the Tower Hill Game Reserve, where we will stay in the park in a small cottage. Tower Hill is a dormant volcano, so if you hear of visitors meeting a fiery death when it reawakens, you'll know which medievalist and his family were consumed. After that comes some time in an Eco Lodge in the Grampians, farther inland. Then back to Melbourne.
OK, kids are getting up and the birds are looking like an Australian version of a Hitchcock movie, so I'll say: this trip has changed many things for me and for my rocks project, but how and what I can't yet say. That will be the work of the next year.