It’s like I never left…..


Julie Barratt’s  journey retracing family ties with her childhood home of Blair Athol is drawing to an end. Her story is poignant and I look forward to adding her artist’s book to the Australian Library of Art.

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This is the final blog story instalment of my Siganto Foundation Fellowship project: Blair Athol Re-Cut, a pictorial and oral history project about mining and a town that no longer exists, realised in the form of an artist book….

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“Its like I never left,” says my 80-something Mother as we sit in the kitchen drinking tea and eating scones. This is the Blair Athol Station kitchen, sans the 60s vintage orange and lime floral wallpaper, but otherwise exactly as Mum left it in 1975. We have come on this long journey to try to find the elusive taped interview my Father made for Diane Mengetti’s book “Blair Athol : the life and death of a town”. In the process of searching we have found so much more: long lost friends, historical records of the town and surrounds, environmental ephemera from the town and mine, gravestones of people long forgotten. Many precious memories have been unearthed and wonderful friendships have been rekindled over endless cups of tea.

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As I sat in  SLQ library some weeks before, making phone call after phone call, looking again through 70’s newspaper clippings for familiar faces and names, looking for any clues that might lead to the tape, little did I know that the trip would prove to be so fruitful for me and so very important for my Mother.

“Good luck! “says the librarian as I leave.

So by now you are all wondering about the tape, I expect! Yes! We found it. It wasn’t in the boxes of tapes collected from the council ‘dungeon’ by the wonderful staff at the historical society, it wasn’t with bush poet and ex-mine worker Bernie Bettridge, it was found in the archives of  Clermont Library. Set up in a small study room with an old cassette player my Mum and I sat and listened for 2 hours as my Dad’s voice crackled out of the old speakers. He’s been dead for years but for that short time he was sitting right beside us talking about Blair Athol the town, the school, our education, our lives and his tireless work on numerous boards and committees.

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Now I reflect on what a privilege this fellowship has been. The SLQ staff have been so supportive, skillfully encouraging the rich archives to reveal all of their secrets on this journey to a new creative work.  What began as a historical research project has become a family story. My Family story. My Mum’s story. My story. The story of a regional community with ties stronger than blood, stronger than coal.

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On that memorable journey with my Mother, as we drove over the grid onto the wide black soil plains, heading into the house paddock towards my childhood I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom that I have felt rarely in my adult life. I wanted to stop the car, run onto the fields of larger than life sunflowers and play hide and seek. Thing is…they don’t grow sunflowers anymore. But that is a whole other story…..

And there is that feeling that has now become all too familiar…solastalgia….

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Postscript: Huge gratitude to bookbinder Monica Oppen who shared in my excitement as the project grew and grew and the binding that I required became more and more complex to house test tubes, books and an audio component.

Julie Barratt

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