On Being From Somewhere

Posted: 12/09/2010 in General

On Facebook and elsewhere, people quote their “Home Town”. It’s interesting to see what people write. It’s a subjective term. Some people nominate where they live. Others quote where they’re from. There’s a difference.

Recently I had occasion to visit my home town. The one in which I grew up. I actually go there regularly (in Australian terms, it’s Just Up The Road[1]) but usually just to the family home, via the same old back-road route, not really seeing anything between point A and point B.

On this occasion, they were naming the new library at my old primary school after my mother and I was speaking at the function. The route I took was therefore quite different to the usual run. I drove through the main part of town for the first time in a while, quietly noting some of the changes, and positively gaping at others; the town I thought I knew so well was elbowing me in the ribs and chiding me for the fact that in real terms it’s been 20 years since I really lived there. I felt something of a traitor for a moment before Getting Over It, adult rationalisation winning out over my overdeveloped sentimentality.


The spirit of “Flame Trees” ringing in my head, it started to dawn on me that nowhere else I will ever live will provoke the depth of reflexive familiarity that that place does, as obvious as it sounds. I’ve lived in other places, and generally liked them a lot, some more than others. But I was, at all times, a visitor. Up until 2 years ago I’d never lived anywhere else that I was able to regard as some semblance of a permanent home. And 2 years is not a History.

A lot of people happily shake the dust of their original home town from their boots as soon as they’re practically able. This is not merely the act of leaving; obviously there is a subset of people with purely practical motivations. It’s Leaving With Prejudice. I’ve never understood this well. For some people, this act is just a reflection of the place itself. Others are moving away from something other than pure Geography. For some others though, I’m sure it’s a ritual they feel they need to perform in order to take themselves seriously as an adult. Or some highly personal mix of the above.
Many people then go on to describe themselves as being “from” the place where they have laid their hat. This is despite the fact that they complain about the habits of the local drivers, occasionally get lost in the back streets, find the demographic mix unfamiliar, have a vague feeling that ‘the stuff on the supermarket shelves here isn’t quite right’.

Being from somewhere isn’t a function of mere residency. Being from somewhere is in your bones. It’s about knowing where the bumps are in the streets, about remembering three generations of buildings on any given patch of dirt, about driving past the furniture place that used to be the cinema and wondering how the hell they did *that* conversion, about driving past churches and recalling the good people whose weddings and funerals you’ve been to in each one, about wondering what the hell happened to the pubs that aren’t there any more. It’s about never having to think about navigating across town, and about being genuinely shocked when some pencil-necked bastard changes the streets so that you have to. And it’s about, despite whatever failings the place might have, always having your compass pointing Due Home. Always.

The point is that to try and escape where you’re from is folly. It follows you like a bum – attached to you regardless of how much you might think it stinks. And to forgot where you’re from…..if you do that, you’re lost, because you’ve lost a part of yourself – the first part, the part that everything else is built on.

[1] Anything up to 2 hours’ drive, generally, but probably at least double this in more sparsely populated areas.

  1. Duncan says:

    Started to comment, but realised I was writing a blog post myself: http://300words.posterous.com/a-sense-of-place

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