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Byron Shire
February 3, 2023

Here & Now # 21

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Image S Sorrensen
Image S Sorrensen

S Sorrensen

Broadwater. Sunday, 3pm

 I have sanded the caravan down to its aluminium dermis.

It has taken weeks and given me a sore back. Okay, I didn’t work on it all the time during those weeks. In fact, there has been only a couple of actual work days by my mate and me, but even that much physical labour was too much for a body more used to hunching over a computer keyboard or a late-night vodka than over a grinder with a wire brush spinning faster than a mining company’s PR department.

The grinder vibrates so strongly my vision blurs like an acid trip.

But it isn’t all fun. My back really is giving me grief.

Some of the old paint lies in a fine powder around the caravan; some of it is caught in my hair; some of it has drifted over Broadwater National Park, laying a toxic shroud over the heath.

Yes, I feel guilty about that. But, hell, I feel guilty about everything. (I warmed the planet. I killed Jesus… ) What’s a little paint dust? And really, the dust didn’t spread far from the caravan. (Probably the weight of the lead… )

This little caravan was built by students at Lismore Technical College in the 1950s.

It’s strange to think of young people learning how to actually make something; something real with their own hands, not something virtual with their thumbs.

It’s strange to think of white people like us constructing anything other than a tax perk for the rich or a new warm-and-fuzzy word for CSG. We don’t make things anymore because we think machines make them better.

We are just poor rich white people, blinking in the sun and playing with perfect new corporate baubles while an insatiable quarry is consuming this old southern land we once thought was ours.

We have forgotten what beautiful is.

Modern caravans are ugly. Designed by KMart and built by robots, modern caravans will kill your spirit faster than a politician’s speech. Their interiors look like Barbie’s house – flawless, brand new and vomitive.

The western sense of beauty comes from the ancient Greek ideal of perfection. As Socrates said, ‘There ain’t nothing more gorgeously perfect than a boy at puberty’. But once the signs of ageing became visible (like facial hair), it was time for a newer model.

As with boys then, so with everything now. Beauty is perfection. Beauty is free from blemish. Beauty is young. We like new, perfect things.  If your iPhone gets old, get a new one. If your car gets hail damage, get a new one. If your wife gets wear marks, get a Barbie.

The Japanese, though, have a different sense of beauty. Of course, modern Japan has a good dose of the western aesthetic, but they also have wabi-sabi.

Wabi acknowledges natural things, simplicity, the human variability in construction. Sabi acknowledges age, signs of usage, repair work.

My little old caravan has got plenty of wabi-sabi going on. In fact, it’s covered in it.

There are bits of repaired frame that pre-date the Beatles. Ancient dings pepper the exterior. I’m grinding some fossilised bog off the roof right now. Hard work.

I stretch my back. Ow. A flash of pain shoots from my spine to my ribs. Ow.

Wabi-sabi sees beauty in the ageing of things; things like my beautiful old caravan. It values conservation, restoration and human idiosyncrasy.

I hope it also finds a beauty in the ageing of me: the aching bones, the patina of sun exposure, the serenity of experience.

I hope it values a flawed life; an imperfect, asymmetrical one.

I hope it hates Barbie.

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