Sub-titled as a landscape memoir, Tim Winton’s Island Home is like an enduring love letter to country. Interspersals of memory and analysis in alternating chapter layer element upon element to draw a full, clear image of Australia and its massive impact on our personal and collective consciousness. Big sky, big space, big sun, reciprocity, just how much life there is in the ‘dead centre’; these are all things that shape the Australian experience and that have significantly influenced Winton and his writing.
There is a strong concern and connection with place in Winton’s fiction. The man writes beautifully, he reads as if he is so caught up in his surroundings, so immersed, that he is just looking around and describing to you the feeling, the light, the movement. Island Home reveals that this approach to writing comes from a deep-seated place and that this place is not necessarily particular or special to just Winton. He contends that all Australians have space in their psyche, and it is particular to our spot in the world:
“Space was my primary inheritance. I was formed by gaps, nurtured in the long pauses between people. I’m part of a thin and porous human culture through which the land slants in, seen or felt, at every angle: for each mechanical noise, five natural sounds; for every build structure a landform towice as large and twenty times as complex. And over it all, an impossibly open sky, dwarfing everything.”
Almost thematically collected, Winton cruises through sunshine and weather, cars, the Indigenous relationship with the land, flora, and our uniquely large-island perspective. He has a very West Australian perspective at that, but as an East coaster that never feels foreign or like a rebuke; there is a commonality in the Australian Islander experience. Winton’s contention is that the landscape of Australia has an inescapable impact on our life and minds. The space, the air, the sun, the burnt, are preordained Australian circumstances, shaping us unwittingly and potentially unwillingly.
At times, while written and felt like poetry, Winton’s tone heads toward hectoring, but never actually reaches that destination. And I feel he gets this way because he feels so keenly this important influence place has on us, and he sees so sharply the risk our environment and land is facing. After centuries of the destruction of colonisation, our world is struggling with the lived reality of climate change. Australians have always lived with the weather and the environment impinging on our way of living and our presumed centrality in this world, now the rest of the world is dealing with it too.
Winton’s experience feels so absolutely like mine. He is a man, on the other side of the country, in a different generation, but when he speaks about the feeling of our skies, our scrub and bush so alive with flora and fauna, two-way living, a kid growing up on the beach, he so totally speaks to me. This is the archetypal roadtrip experience for me through Australia:
“…a lot of our country is vivid enough to penetrate the shell of the vehicle and stir the driver from his trance. You notice grasstrees massed like warriors in their thousands. Half an hour later you’re in a plain of limestone pinnacles like a war cemetery and the conjunction sets your mind racing.”
Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic too, but Winton’s complete love of country fills me with wistfulness and a heart-breaking joy. Australia is a surprising, mystifying, massive place: of course it influences us beyond our knowing. This book was a joy to read, it spoke to what I feel in my heart about the country I live in, what it has given me so far, and what I can do to talk care of it as well.