Monday, April 8, 2013

My Secret River - Wisemans Ferry

My Dad, Mum, dog Cindy and me.  I LOVE this picture - taken on my river abt. 1968

Sometimes, a book comes into your life that opens up a vein and lets you bleed your past and hidden memories for a while. Such a book has come into my life, and yet, I resisted reading it for a long time as I had a preconceived idea that it was a book that would preach at me.  Funny how our minds work.  I  'eased' into reading The Secret River by Kate Grenville by first reading the book she wrote about writing it.  Called Searching for the Secret River, Grenville created an inspiring book for writers - the how and why and where - of writing a novel.

Standing in a book shop, reading the first paragraph of Searching for the Secret River I caught my breathe at the last two words...

In the puritan Australia of my childhood, you could only get a drink on a Sunday if you were a 'bona fide traveller',  That meant you had to have travelled fifty miles or more. Around Sydney a ring of townships at exactly the fifty-mile mark filled with cheerful people every Sunday. One of them was a little place called Wiseman's Ferry. 
(Grenville, Kate. Searching for the Secret River. Melbourne (2006)

Will become one of my top 5 books for sure.

Wiseman's Ferry is the place I have always called home. Its a strange notion, as I only spent about three years of my life there, yet it holds the strongest memories and yearnings in me.  Helen Garner wrote about this notion too, in her short story Writing Home in the book, The Feel of Steel, ... "Whats home supposed to be, anyway?"  Only one other time did I feel like I was coming home, and that's when I flew over the checkered fields of England for the first time and wept with an emotion I did not understand - I truly felt like I was now home, yet I have never lived there and was born in Australia.

I have lived in Western Australia for 86% of my life, yet it still, does not feel like my home. In my heart, I am still a Sydney-Sider. All the significant things in my life have happened to me in WA - meeting my best friend, my husband, owning a horse, having my children. Just shows how powerful our early memories are.

I devoured Searching for the Secret River in a day, and I could not get to its big sister quick enough.  Now three quarters the way through The Secret River, I have slowed down and am savoring it slowly, like a good drop of port on a cool night.  I don't want to leave the place, its my childhood place,   where all my memories come from, its my home. When Grenville wrote of the tides and colour of the river, I am taken to times when we crossed the ferry and I stood on the edge and watched this majestic river. When she talks of the flats and the cliffs and ridges, I am taken back to long walks, exploring the bush behind our house, playing on those flats, swimming in the river, my dad crossing all the way to the other side to steal a watermelon and the wonder that such a heavy thing can float. I recall my Mum milking a cow in a field and the sight of my river one side and the cliffs the other, the thick grass and flat cow-pats, the old farmhouse that I still yearn for. I am not at all religious but there is a derelict church on the side of a hill that I always said I wanted to get married in. I have so many warm and golden memories of this place - my grandfather and boats, my catholic friend and her many brothers and sisters, the smell of rain in summer, the thrill of playing in a cave, moss on rocks, getting purple while sitting in the mulberry tree on  the river, crabs in the mud, dead animals floating during a flood, the whip birds, poplar trees, winding roads, my baby brother, my happy parents, my tiny school of 17 kids.

The Ferry that takes you to Settlers Road and my home.  I can still hear the chug, chug and the sound when the ramp scrapes up the bank.

The house my Dad (and Mum) built as it looks today - note the rock wall.

My Brother, Cindy and I with Dads rock wall in progress behind us.  The mountains all around still feel familiar to me.

I have a lot more to say and show about this place, some good writing fodder.  

Is there a place you call 'home'?  Why?

Searching For The Secret River


  1. Wow such powerful memories. How amazing to have such a special place as a part of your soul.
    The closest I come to is a beach in the far corners of WA. However whilst my memories are special they are not as passionate as yours.
    Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed this post.

  2. Yes Jacana, I think I am pretty lucky to have such a place, I always ask people when chatting and find out they are immigrants to Australia, where they call home. It intrigues me what defines this.

  3. i just have to get that book xxxx

  4. It's a great book. If you get a chance to see the stage performance you should, it's one of the best I've seen and I still get goosebumps thinking about it!

    1. I think I missed it here in Perth, but will look out for it every appearing again. I believe there is a movie planned 2014?

  5. I absolutely adore Kate Grenville. I've read everything except "Albion's version" because I've heard too much about it and don't want to spoil "Lillian's Story". She is an amazing writer.

    1. She is Ms George. She is also very generous with her time and knowledge for writers, having written 4 books on how to write.