It is difficult to describe the last two months, as it has been extremely intense with activity, reflection and I have in a way been in survival mode. The exhaustion I felt when I came home only extended to me how much had been going on in these last two months that ended up feeling like six months. The closeness and relationships I have built with people slowly and intensely along the way have also contributed to my perception and understanding of the environment and its communities. People are living with very different perceptions of their reality, and these are based on their economy, family history, ethnic groups, and social background. This determines what type of access they will have to the Busselton environment, and how they see their social environment. The entire question of whether or not people can bridge the gap is based on multiple factors of access to these resources, for the most part. There are those people who break out of the normal social conventions, because they have dared to challenge them in one way or the other, and therefore end up carving their own path and destiny.
I think that it is important to attempt to put questions to a social environment that not everyone is comfortable in talking about. Otherwise you will not be able to step out of the quagmire. If you don’t take chances in asking the difficult questions, you will not grow in your understanding. Moreover, learning demands that you step off the edge of a cliff sometimes, instead of only treading where there is stable land. In the history of British colonialism people have been made to believe that these questions can only be asked and answered by specific groups. This might be tied to the idea of a class system. The divide and conquer mentality also bears repercussion in terms of who can say and speak what, and where you should go and not go.
And so yes, I am a Black woman with a Jamaican background and upbringing, but I believe there are comparisons out there with the aftermath of colonialism, especially extended to the British that has repeated itself in many other contexts within some parts of the Caribbean and Africa. The difference is that in Western Australia, the environment is especially raw/sore as if you are stepping off right after and into a history of slavery and genocide. So by asking questions about people’s perceptions, their answers too will be linked forcefully to their own sense of power and empowerment in their community, or the lack of such a power or representation. The fragmentation that exists is a direct result of this brutal force that has been inflicted into many people’s lives, and continues to bear the reciprocities that people continue to live with in the best way possible. But nightmares still exist and they are reoccurring. So there were days where after I had listened to people- all I could do was go to the beach and stare at the water—where there were moments where I could only speak on mundane things—such as what kind of cows do you have –and listen to small forms of talk here and there.
People’s stories in my project are very powerful, and they really made me reflect on resilience. People have had to survive and forego the odds in the best way possible. Furthermore, the fragmentation has caused people to create their own groups based on their own feelings of not fitting in to the accepted norm, and this alternative route becomes a form of survival and empowerment.
Many of the participants in this project have made a huge effort to share their stories and some have even made the leap to question their own lives- including myself. Perceptions of the other when turned on the individual’s body taught lessons of unrevealed racism within this environment. Once you begin on this type of journey and reflection, is there one right way to do it? I do not think so.
The thing is that loss; pain, joy and longing take up space in both the body and mind. And you need to give yourself fully to understand, that being in control is not necessarily a part of this process. And at the same time, the institutional forces and official communication wish you to stay in control. Even nature itself is regulated big time.
I grew up in Jamaica. Here this form of precision was not enforced as harshly as I now understand that it must have been in Western Australia. There is a type of propriety that even extends into the landscape, and there is a morality that is constantly there as inflection of right and wrong. For instance, just think of the load of road signs: don’t speed—you are too tired take a break - Falling branches - Watch out etc. etc.
I can't count the number of times I heard people here speaking of the beauty of this environment, and then thinking wow… hardly anyone has spoken about the fragility and brutality lying right below the surface. At the same time, what is natural beauty? And what is controlled natural beauty? And where do the two divide? Is a swamp less beautiful than a vineyard? It is all a question of perception and aesthetics.
The history of the European settlement must have impacted this construction and gaze. Farmers have had to control the bush and the animals or they would take over the pastoral land of grazing. The bush is still very present, the natural chaos and order that exists imposes itself on the created landscape. That is why sharks are also very present in the water, since they are no longer killed. Some speak about this fact, others prefer not too. But the beach becomes a danger space as well. Interestingly enough I did not see any shark signs. After all, tourism is a big industry in this area of the world.
I have learned a lot by having the opportunity to step into people’s homes, where elements are not constructed, but actually reveal true remnants of life, with deep memories displayed on the wall. When this kind of trust is given to you, it is your responsibility to handle it in the best way possible.