Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Home means to Australian Author Carmel Bird

Since reading the 1997 Government Report on the Stolen Generation, titled ‘Bringing them Home’, Carmel Bird has been intrigued by the concept of ‘home’. As she says in the Introduction of Home Truth, the newly published collection of essays she has edited, ‘this is a most striking example of the powerful use of the word ‘home’, a word which is used so frequently in speech and writing without necessarily very much reflection.’

Home Truth is the result of Carmel ‘wondering what [home] means to people, how writers might explore it and describe it.’ The book is a collection of ten essays from Australian writers, including a powerful essay from Carmel herself. The other writers she chose because, ‘their work had impressed me over many years, and I was very keen to see how they would approach the subject of 'home'.’

For Carmel the end result was what she had hoped for; 'Every single essay was a delightfully fresh insight into both the writer in question, their mind and process, and into the notion of what is “home”. The essays were a great enrichment. And I was very pleased with the wide differences between them all - as well as the places where they crossed over. ’

Indeed every essay is very different and for me, the most powerful included Andrea Goldsmith’s intense study of home and grief, and Marion Halligan’s exploration of family and the homes they made in different countries throughout her life. But, most importantly, all are beautifully written and will demand further thought and reflection from the reader.

Carmel’s essay, titled Start with the Tulip, is particularly astute with such observations as ‘the charm of home is its elusiveness’ and ‘the real home is not a real place’.

She says, ‘What I meant by the unreality of home, by its not being a “real place”, was that the essence of “home” rests in the heart of the person. It is possible to describe details and to express hopes about what home is, but it seems to me that “home” really is “where the heart is” and is lodged in the heart.’

While the details of ‘home’ have changed for Carmel over the years, she says ‘I think I have always had the sense that home is the place of safety, of comfort, of nurture and warmth and love.’

So, which house has most felt like home for Carmel? ‘Actually (and fortunately perhaps) it is the house where I live now. I think that’s because it is private and spacious and has many large windows and a garden on several levels with a wide back patio where there is an ancient wisteria.’

‘My little grandson comes often and we explore the garden together, and play here. It is a sweet place. He and I plant things and cook and paint and make music. It all feels full of heart, and is a place of nurture - for me as well as for him… It seems like a world.’

For more information about Home Truth and Carmel's previously published work, click here to visit her website.

Images © Harper Collins Publishers Australia

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