Searching for my place in history

When I talk with strangers about my project to walk from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River, people often ask why. I trot out a range of reasons but, in truth, it is never clear to me at a deep level why I am making this walk.

My experiences over the past few days have given me new insights.

Earlier this year I began immersing myself in family history searches, with the view to knowing something of family members who were born and had died before me.

When I realised that the 150th anniversary of arrival in Melbourne Australia from England of the first family with my surname, from which I am a directly descended, will occur next year (2016), I decided to find and see where they lived in Victoria. Last Friday, I walked the Melbourne suburban streets of Carlton and the areas governed by the Boroondara City Council in Hawthorn of Glenferrie, Auburn, Deepdene, Kew and Camberwell.

I found all the streets in which my great great grandfather lived, however his houses have been replaced with various vintages of newer architecture. The landscape was changing while he lived in Melbourne when massive land sale and building booms wiped away acres of farmlands. And, of course, since he died in 1889 ‘development’ has progressed.  Nevertheless, because homes built in the 1880s still exist with their facades intact, I developed some understanding of what an original streetscape might have looked like during that decade.  Unfortunately late 1860s and 1870s buildings are no longer in evidence.

Throughout my-day long walk, I felt very much attached to the areas where he lived. A weird sense of belonging.  Albeit transient. And I was profoundly happy that in every street, one or more magpies warbled as they watched my progress.

My father’s family home, located in rural central Victoria, has always been special to me. It was during my early childhood visits that the music of the magpies perched on trees above nearby gold-mine slag-heaps, caught my attention. I have loved their intelligence and beauty ever since. Therefore, I should have not been surprised when I made a trip to the family home on Saturday and the wonderful sounds of magpies made me weep.  It seems the melodic notes of these black and white beauties provide me with a marker of family places, and also to other places where I gain so much pleasure.

Throughout my blog postings following the walking stages along the Derwent River, I have recorded my observation of magpies, and my delight in their song.  Rarely do magpies fly through my part of suburbia, so now I realise that part of my purpose for walking the Derwent is to hear the glorious communications of magpies. I guess it is my way of finding my place, as I make my own history – which becomes part of my family history.

10 thoughts on “Searching for my place in history

  1. Alexandra Farrow

    I have just come in from the clothesline. The magpies here too are warbling happily. Such quintessential Australian music of the outdoors. Especially poignant in the winter months. I remember it when visiting my parents in Brisbane.

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  2. mamamunho

    I loved reading about the magpies – I don’t think I know what their song is like, even though there are plenty of them around here. Are British magpies the same, I wonder? Well I will listen more carefully next time I see one!

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    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      More research required. Perhaps yours don’t have the song of their Australian family and make a different sound – because I feel sure you would know it; the sound of our magpies is so distinctive and musical.I have been heartened by lots of emails (rather than direct comments on this blog) from Australians scattered over the continent each with their loving stories and memories of Magpie warbles.

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      1. mamamunho

        I just had a quick google and it’s true – our magpies make a “noisy chattering” (but are among the most intelligent of all animals/birds) but your magpies are “one of Australia’s most highly regarded songbirds”. The two species of magpies have different origins despite both being called magpies. I feel I’ve learned something today – thank you!

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  3. RuthsArc

    A lovely post. I will now listen out for the song of magpies here in Tassie. I love the small insignificant things that remind is of home and childhood.

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    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      To some extent I think hearing the song of the magpies is something that you need to have slowed down a little to experience – that is, when the busyness in your head is so noisy, it can sometimes be an impediment to hearing.

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