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Personal Choice 85

The Scent of Eucalyptus

In the early 1980s I approached Barbara Hanrahan with a suite of poems Mary’s Plea: A cycle of poems for Christmas. Her response to the poems was very favourable and I asked her if she would collaborate with me on a publication using one of her images as a front cover. The image above was one we discussed as a possible cover design. Although the project did not proceed, she became an early supporter and encouraged my writing as I began to be published in magazines, newspapers and a first collection Leaving Maps. I fondly recall the visits to her home in Unley, our conversations and her gift of books that introduced me first to Janet Frame and Angela Carter.

But where were the hills of the history book, stitched with the pathways of Burke and Sturt and Leichhardt? - the hills of the sun-burned earth and budgerigar grass, the azure skies and fiery mountains we sang about at school before the flag spangled with all the stars of the Southern Cross I was never sure of seeing? Where were the old dark people I did not link with the lost couples on suitcases at the railway station? Where were the crocodiles and brolgas, the billabongs and

snakes? Where were the flowers that wilted in blistered clay, the rusty leaves of spinifex ? I looked about me for the sunburned land. In vain. (90-1)

Once they entered the house, and the front door closed behind them, the outer world was lost - drowned in the greenness of crinkled glass. The real world sprang into being as my grandmother, my mother, Reece, and I came close. It was a delicate world that waxed and waned; constantly threatened by my grandmother's depressions and possessiveness, my mother's materialism and secret longings, Reece's stomach that rattled, my fits. It was nurtured and protected by the roses

and the grape-vines, the ivy and the lavatory-creeper. The real world came into being round the dining-room fire, as we toasted bread on the crooked fork; it lurked in the porcelain basin as my mother washed my hair with rainwater from the well, bloomed in the fusty bedroom as Reece soothed my head with little pats when I was sick, rose from the earth when my grandmother stooped in the garden and coaxed withered seedlings to life. (182)

‘In the first passage the narrator describes the Adelaide Hills. She compares this gentle,

monotonous grey landscape with the Australia she learnt about at school. The second passage describes life at home as a child with her mother, grandmother and great aunt. Note the gendered nature of these two versions of Australia. The first version, the sunburned land, is the masculine land of explorers, deserts and bush. The second version, Hanrahan's 'real' world, is the domestic world of women and relationships. The Australia that was recorded in the history books when Hanrahan was growing up, the ‘official' Australia, was the masculine one. The female world was for the most part unnoticed and therefore lacked validity.’ Elaine Lindsay

Barbara Hanrahan (1939–1991) was an Australian artist, printmaker and writer whose work featured relationships, women, women's issues and feminist ideology. Hanrahan famous for her novels, writings and short stories featuring coming of age stories that were somewhat biographical. She was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1939. After her father's death at the age of 26 from tuberculosis in 1940, when Hanrahan was just a year old, she lived with her mother (a commercial artist), her grandmother, and her great aunt (who had Down syndrome). This matriarchal household is often correctly thought of as the inspiration for much of Hanrahan's art, as well as the suburb she was raised in, the inner-western Adelaide suburb of Thebarton. When Hanrahan was 23 she moved to London to take a break from teaching tertiary art in Adelaide. Hanrahan furthered her studies at the Central School of Art in London. ‘I wanted to try my life at something bigger. I wanted to get away from safety and walking with little steps.’


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