Light pollution

by Stephanie on June 19, 2010

I spent the majority of my childhood with the sound of traffic in the background, in places where you can’t see the stars for the streetlights. The bush was a place to go temporarily, because we’d always come back over that hill on the Hume eventually, and I’d strain to see the glitter of the city as we approached. It made me excited, even as a very young child, to have my head next to the window and watch the lights flash past. I never understood how people could stand to be away from it all for too long. I never understood why people wanted to be away from it all. To me, ‘away from it all’ meant away from the city—from the hubbub of shops opening and tram doors closing, of money pouring into and out of machines, of people in suits and the smell of hair products and perfume, of coffee shops and bars, the crush on trains, on footpaths, on freeways feeding suburbs feeding families feeding black bitumen blood.

I never understood the appeal of what I saw as a ‘quiet’ life. I never understood how one could find meaning in a tiny country town, as though meaning—greater meaning, overarching purpose—could only be created in conjunction with as many other people as possible. If you aren’t doing a job for other people, if you aren’t getting out of bed for other people, if you aren’t changing the world for other people, what’s the point?

This says far more about my own temperament, priorities and misunderstandings than it does about the reality of rural life. I don’t know when I started thinking that days would be spent in idleness, in selfishness—in pointlessness—in the country. I don’t know why I thought that living in the bush would mean life would be reduced to a struggle for daily survival. I don’t know when I started assuming that the cities were the best place to make meaningful differences to the world. And I never thought seriously about how our priorities might be shaped by the physicality of the places we grew up.

At Kalala Station, a 20-year-old ringer called Dan and I sit on an esky in the dust behind the kitchen. ‘Didn’t think you’d last,’ he tells me. ‘Really thought you’d crack after a couple of days.’

So did I. I thought stock work would repulse me, exhaust me, drain the life-blood out of me. Instead it has made me feel alive—I’m excited and enthusiastic and I’m not even sure why. I thought isolation would make me crave people, bustle, company and confusion. Instead it has had the opposite effect, and I’m forever trying to think of the best way to sink into the bush, the best way to feel like I am part of it, the best way to get away. The best way to stay away. And in the cold howling dark of predawn I no longer dread the day. I can, in all honesty, now say: I get it. It is possible to turn the world on its head. It is possible to remake yourself.

You should see the stars out here.

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