In Yankalilla, a place you’ve never heard of, I recline in an olive lounge chair inside a café run by wholesome rural women with tattoos and pink hair.
Three golden retrievers guard the door, stocky and ring-curled like plump sheep, lapping for love and belly rubs. Out the window, a great hill looms over the town, scorched by the sun, stobie poles wired over its dips and peaks, and a lone windswept tree atop. It’s from another era, some other time; colonial and mythic in its isolation.
We live a drive away up by the beach in another place you’ve never heard of – Normanville – a 30 second strut from a main drag that offers the staples of Australian country life: BBQ area by the butcher, a surf shop and a Sip ‘n Save.
Winds howl at night and course through the clearing behind the beach where the wallabies hide, and a great husking whoosh swells through the camphor laurels and willow myrtles, that eerie roar of a million tiny spectators in the silent bed of night. It’s isolated and haunting out here, yet a stunning stretch of the earth: one of last I imagined we’d be spending the whole summer in.
HK and I returned to Australia for a brief stint late 2015 after living in Berlin for the better part of two years, a big life whim that paid off. The creative and ceaselessly inspiring capital, with its history of volatility and world-changing events, overhauled our lives in the deepest ways. But as the Berlin summer waned last year – a very good summer, full of canal boating and ½ litre biers and abandoned airport grill parties with best friends under liminal nights – the prospect of its counterpoint, another subzero, grey and ultra-moody winter, was enthusiastically shelved for a Southern Hemispheric return. A homecoming and review, the promise of family time and festival shows and all the things we missed so far away in our unexpected new life in the Old World. We booked a month on an island in the Gulf of Thailand as an acclimation point, and landed in Melbourne in November.
Our planned single month at home quickly bloated into two, then three. The original plan: to cavort through South East Asia for two months before Berlin return – Vietnam and Cambodia perhaps – became increasingly quashed with the lure, and comfort, of refuge in rural South Australia, through the virtue of HK’s family beachhouse, sitting lonely by the coast in nowhere Normanville.
Berlin had been a fierce ride; it would do us well to take an extended breath out here, and catch up on runaway time. We wrote, took photos, traipsed sunsets beachside, cooked delicious meals, listened to throngs of cockatoos and galahs swoop in teams over our roof in the evening, with magpies warbling at dawn. What was this life? The sheer opposite of Berlin, a glimmer of retirement perhaps. We adopted Jonah, the family border collie, and nestled into our strange rural domesticity in the alien ends of coastal South Australia.
I have travelled and wandered many a place, with the knowledge that home in Australia would always be there waiting should I wish to plant and ground, or indeed settle for good. But this return has questioned that. We came to investigate how we felt about our old HQ, and though we slipped effortlessly into the comforts of familiarity as summer transpired – however alienating and unfamiliar the rural life was – there remained the resounding sense that we had to keep moving: home wasn’t actually here – not right now, and we couldn’t be sure whether it was back in Berlin, or someplace else altogether. In-betweenness par excellence.
The old continent beckoned: glimmers of an exciting new life, a potential fresh home, new faces, routines and prospects; above all, that intoxicating daily feeling that all of our senses were being lit like fire wicks – that we were really living, and doing it right.
Yet each morning I wake in Normanville, I feel the lightness of the bucolic air. I walk the dog each night beneath canvases of hot gold, pink and teal: the kind of sunsets that envelope, glowing with such deepening hue, that once the sun itself ducks out of the picture, the entire landscape – a whole stretch of coast, alpenglow cliffs, sharp blue horizon and all – appears as if contained in a giant, rainbow-filtered arena. It’s fitting that this project, something I’d been pondering for years, finally lifted off here, a most liminal space between realities, between homes, between lives. There has been much time to think and ponder out here in the silence, where time flows a little slower.
When I peer across the quiet waterline to a European return – not far off now – I feel the shifting tide again. A different pulse to the daily ebb of the Normanville shoreline. Something bigger, more powerful, a sensation no doubt exacerbated by the eclipse weather in the sky at the moment. The fortnight between eclipses are a particularly liminal moment, and can, as Eric Francis of Planetwaves suggests:
…sometimes feel rather like another dimension, one where life can shift markedly. […] a moment when the physical world is particularly flexible, and subject to creative intentions […] moments to both establish new patterns and release old ones…
Slow time is needed to recalibrate between phases, between planes, between transformations: to heal and reassess, put the past in its place, and ground for what’s to come. So too, to clarify we’re on the tracks we want to be on, and move forward boldly.
As the weeks here start to close out, I’ve already shifted into nostalgia mode. In weeks, any isolation felt out here will rose-tint into one large stint of glory. In landlocked Berlin, I’ll yearn for the small town coast, the sunsets, the ease, the birds and the dog; the soft lapping waves on Normanville beach, like those my old pal, Jackson Thoreau, wrote to me about last week:
I remember being a little kid, (who am I kidding, I still do this), in the ocean when waves are coming from both sides. When the flow moves towards the shore to get a taste of “our” world and the ebb leaves having had its fill. I would run and splash my way to get to the point where the two meet, the Ebb and Flow, to get in between of that moment of impact; because it is there where I thought (think) magic happens.