By Stan Stewart.
Real estate salespersons and travel agents ‘invented’ scenery. It was always there, but no one noticed. That’s an exaggeration; but not much of one. Classical painters visually captured it and great poets waxed lyrical about it. Ordinary people walked through it without giving it a second glance.
Growing up in Victoria, Australia, 80 years ago, there was Melbourne and the bush. I grew up in the Australian bush; more particularly, the Victorian bush. Nowadays, real estate salespeople, selling in this same area, talk of the scenic vistas and of the native animal and bird life (60 different varieties). To tell the truth, when I was growing up, all I looked out for were snakes and bull ants and there were plenty of them. I note that in real estate blurb, snakes and bull ants are not mentioned.
My bedroom was on the verandah of our house, shielded behind a netting screen. From my bed, I could see through the netting to a small house on the other side of our valley. The thing I could see most plainly was their outdoor toilet (long-drop in kiwi parlance). It had a door, but no one ever closed it. On weekends I stirred about the same time as our neighbour who would make her way to the toilet. Sometimes she would sit there for a very long time. I am sure she had no idea that a seven-year-old boy was watching her. Maybe she was admiring the view; but more likely she was thinking of her hard life.
My Dad purchased our bush block in 1941. At that time, the Japanese conquest of the Pacific seemed unstoppable. By nature, Dad was a pessimist and he felt that soon the Japanese would conquer Australia. He was also a realist. He believed he could care for his family in the bush if he had permanent water. Our block had a spring that had never run dry. By scavenging wood from the wharves where he worked and buying asbestos sheeting, he built our two-room home. Soon he had hens and a vegetable garden. My step-mother and I lived there and he was ready to withdraw my much older two sisters and brother from suburban Melbourne if it became necessary. This was his bolt hole. There was never any thought of the ‘view’.
Living on the Coromandel, we are almost drowning in views. Around every corner, down in every valley, on the top of every hill, there they are, front and centre - beautiful vistas. We love them. I love them.
Now that ‘views’ have been discovered and promoted; we just can’t get enough of them. Just walking the main street of Whitianga, I overhear people talking of taking trips to see more views. The whole idea behind the bucket-list concept is to see more views before you die - Machu Picchu, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, Iguazu Falls, and so on. For me the thought of being on buses and following guides with flags to view yet another ‘must-see’ view, makes me want to die.
Actually, I think the power of ‘views’ is overrated. In 1977 I lived in Melbourne’s leafy river suburb of Warrandyte. Not far from where I lived, Peter Brock, Australia’s most admired racing car driver built a fabulous house designed to catch every view. In the best house with the best views, the heroic Peter Brock married, wait for it, the reigning ‘Miss Australia’. The marriage lasted less than a year. The perfect house with idyllic views did not sustain their relationship.
For years I have known a family who live in a nondescript mining town, surrounded by desert. Through social media, I have kept up to date with their life. These days my friends have retired. We all expected they would move to the city or the coast, somewhere with facilities and of course with a view. They can well afford to move wherever they want. But they haven’t moved yet, and I don’t think they will. They are surrounded by friends and family. Small fry are off to kindergarten. Teens travel many kilometers to be part of a graduation ball. Grand children come for sleepovers. What can I say about them? They are happy with their lot. They don’t feel deprived. They have enough friendship and love around to last them forever.
A friend of mine always had a hankering to see the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. Eventually she made it. She was at the museum for two hours following a uniformed lady with a flag. She has no clear memory of what she saw and she wished it had been a different kind of visit and tour but it was one thing she could now cross off her bucket list. Really!
I’m thinking that life is more about relationships than views. To live as we do in one of the most beautiful places on earth is a privilege. But the source of a warm heart and the courage to face whatever is ahead may not come from a view. Relationships are the greatest source of this inner dynamic.
Caption: The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.