There's No Place Like Home
‘I ran back to the boarding house and phoned home. Mum and Dad were jumping up and down and Dad said, “We get to be a family again.” I stopped for a minute and accepted that I was really going home.’
(Fairholme Boarder, 8 September 2020)
Home matters a great deal, doesn’t it? The border/boarder dilemma that has absorbed a lot of thinking, writing and speaking time in the past month has reinforced the importance of place as well as the fundamental importance of family. These two elements give us strength, they reinforce our identity and they protect our wellbeing: not surprising findings. I’m deeply aware that in this season of corona, many of us are struggling with alienation from the people and the places that define us and make us feel whole. For some, this situation has stretched personal reserves to exhaustion – the notion of resilience has been rebranded. I have been inspired by many of our own families who have shared glimpses of their own unique situations, often quietly, often understated, but enough to remind me that 2020 has affected us all, and for some in the most unimaginably difficult ways. We cannot presume to know what the effect of being separated by distance has had for some within our community – and beyond.
My parents ‘ran away’ to Sydney from Brisbane in the mid-1980s – Dad took up a promotional position. Our family home was sold, a new one purchased, and my youngest sister, Jill, started Year 5 at Murray Farm State School with trepidation born of uncertainty: she had been deeply displaced from her previous world of certainty. The move was huge for us all: a brave relocation to another city; one much larger, much faster-paced and one without family. I drove one of the cars down in the Christmas holidays of that momentous move and helped unpack a lifetime, my lifetime, and that of my older sisters. I remember placing furniture and pictures in recently carpeted and freshly painted rooms; how different those items appeared in their new shiny spaces. My youngest sister sat on the stairs and cried. She too felt like a stranger in a new home that didn’t feel like home at all. Of course, we all adapted, we absorbed the nuances of a recalibrated life and I returned to Queensland; from there I began to view home a little differently.
Home was very different at that time. So, too, was my first home away from home in Mt Isa where I began as a teacher with a new career and a new husband. Our house was a mirror image of every other Department of Education house: three-bedrooms, chamferboard, low-set with chain-wire fencing. As an added aesthetic, ours was devoid of any foliage at all. Importantly, we installed air-conditioners to ward off the rising heat, hung curtains, lay rugs and proudly placed our six directors chairs around the pine dining table my husband had built in the preceding year. Over time, we nurtured seedlings in freshly dug garden beds, grew vines hardy enough to survive drought and scorching summers and established ‘home’. If I close my eyes, I can see each room of that house, I can recall its front door – a vibrant midnight blue in hue, the bathroom laminex, and the complete absence of a phone; I can also conjure the swelling sense of identity I grew in my first season of real independence.
For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, by absence or presence, home ‘is a crucial point of reference – in memory, feeling and imagination’ (Fox, 2016). Spencer and Wooley, (2000, cited in Jack, 2008) would argue that it is also through this attachment to place that children gain their sense of personal identity. In its own way, place touches us, leaves its footprint and forms who we become. Such are our homes – gathering places for family, friends and the development of our view of the world. They encompass landscape, too, and an architecture of life that becomes unique to those who dwell within. It is no surprise that the new health direction published on Tuesday, the one that allows all NSW boarders to travel home for the holidays, brought such relief and such joy. Suddenly, uncertainty became certainty, time with family became a thought to be entertained and not one that needed to be repressed, and the lure of a familiar landscape, real.
What does it mean to travel home – the place where our heart lies? One of our NSW Boarder girls captured that feeling beautifully:
When I heard I could go home, I thought it was the most amazing news in the world. I could have cried I was so happy. All my anxiety and stress fell off my shoulders, in seconds. All my worries left my body and I was happy, excited and I couldn’t think of anything bad surrounding me. These little things mean the most to me because I get to go home and see my family, my animals and my grandfather who is very old.
Yes, we do all have a deep sense of where we come from, and, at a time when so much in the world is unfamiliar, or unsettling, or absent, the pull of home is stronger than ever before. In the journal article, ‘Place Matters: The Significance of Place Attachments for Children’s Well-Being’ researcher, Gordon Jack, includes a beautiful reflection on the reason why we crave place. It seems a fitting description through which to conclude this piece, given its reference to sheep, the land and the tug of home – those potent elements that are so important to so many in our community. Further, Jack’s hefting metaphor provides a common thread for us all.
For the last week, through the horizontal rain, I have been observing my little flock of sheep with profound admiration. At first sight they are not much to celebrate. They are muddy, bedraggled, cantankerous and malodorous. Yet my sheep have this going for them: they are hefted. After countless generations on the same land, they have an inbred knowledge of where they come from. In the fell country, hefted sheep are left to roam without fences in the certainty that they will not wander beyond the frontiers of their hereditary mental map. The vestigial urge to be hefted may be one of the most intense but least noticed features of modern life. We travel faster, more widely, move more often and settle for shorter periods than ever before, yet at the same time we seem to crave a place to stay and return to ever more intensely. Place marks us all and leaves its traces. (Macintyre, 2007 cited in Jack, 2008)
May we all manage to enjoy some elements of home in the coming holidays – remembering that this will be more complex and difficult for some. Home resides in place, it also resides within us and through our connections with family, no matter the distance. It is no surprise that Dorothy’s lines from The Wizard of Oz: ‘There’s no place like home’ have become a much-quoted truism.
There really is no other place like home.
Dr Linda Evans | Principal
Beck, J. (2011). The Psychology of Home: Why Where You Love Means So Much. The Atlantic. December 30, 2011.
Bleam, R. (2016). A ‘Sense of Place’: Why are certain places meaningful to people?
Fox, M. (2016) Why is home so important to us? Oxford University Press Academic Insights for the Thinking World. December 30th, 2016.
Jack, G. (2008). Place Matters: The Significance of Place Attachments for Children’s Well-Being The British Journal of Social Work, Volume 40, Issue 3, April 2010, Pages 755–771