Billen Cliffs. Friday, 8.45pm
This is my home. Has been for 35 years. Good.
The woman arches her back and stamps both feet down onto the stage, one after the other – wham, wham – and stares at me from behind her fan. Time passes, and still she stares.
Only as you get older, can you realise how short a long time is. Or, how impossible it is to grasp the feeling of a long time. I understand the concept: Thirty-five years have passed, one after the other – wham, wham, wham, wham (etc) – since I came here to a degraded 400-hectare paddock. Time is linear, right? I can understand that, but it doesn’t feel like that.
Her eyes burn – not with colour, but with passion. Of course, it may not be me she’s staring at. There are other people here, but she does seem to be looking straight into me, unmoving in her power pose, time not ticking by, but suspended. Her foot stomp and fan flick having fanned the fire in her eyes, are now but echoes in the forest.
I look behind me – I might just be collateral damage, her gaze aimed at someone else. Behind me is a man, slouching, glass in hand, against the cob oven. I know him. That’s not unusual; I know most of the people here. They are my community. This man I’ve known for – I don’t know – decades.
Einstein showed that time is not linear. It curves and bounces. It stamps its feet. It has an intimate relationship with space. Thirty-five years is not ago; it’s now, staring at me, clapping its hands, demanding attention.
The guitarist’s right hand is a blur over the nylon strings, a hummingbird, poking at the Spanish nectar, extracting tangy flamenco rhythms and tasty licks.
This land, my home, is not a degraded paddock anymore. It’s a regenerating forest, 100 families taking refuge under the cliffs, revelling in the relearning of social responsibility, living today, preparing for tomorrow. Respect for environment and each other is unfashionable in these perverse times, but it is the proper way, the only way.
This cafe didn’t exist 35 years ago. It was built by the community. The community has also built an arts and craft centre, and a hall. I remember those workdays. Tonight, on this, my community’s 35th anniversary celebration, memories, long buried in the silt of ages, are being uncovered by the flood of nostalgia.
I remember the slouching man hanging off a huge beam of the arts and craft hall by one hand, hammer dangling from his tool belt, three storeys above ground level, as the roof was being built, many years ago. He laughed at the precariousness of his position and scampered off like a possum across the new rafters. Ah, we were younger then.
But a few years ago we had a falling out. And have not spoken.
The audience cheers as the singer finishes the song on a low note, her voice steamy with Latin passion. The dancer, her eyes now disarmed, smiles, bows to the crowd, and returns to her chair on the stage.
Thirty-five years is a memory. There is no time except the present. There is no holding on. There is only letting go. I go to the man, walking past the oven. It’s still warm from the pizza cooking.
This space is my home, and his. We who live here under the cliffs are bound to it, to its history since before the Wiyabal people loved it, and to each other. Time and space are lovers and we are the fruit of that relationship.
We embrace, he and I. No words are spoken. What can you say?
Happy birthday, Billen.