The Yurt

The Yurt

The frogs are loving this weather. It’s been raining and blowing on the coast here just out of Sydney for three long days and each night as I lay down to sleep beside my daughter in this yurt the frogs sing us into the stormy night with the insistence of Steve Reich.

I love this place but it’s not always easy being here. On the first night of this trip I was spooked by the ghost of my father. His ineffable presence was everywhere in the decaying wood of the place. I see his ambition in the grand aspect of the land looking down the coast to Sydney. Naturally he’s indistinguishable from the fact of my presence here and the soft breath of my sleeping children.

In the night I reason that the old man is no more. He died last year and we Celtic-Australians have no stories, really, for what happens after. There’s the funeral of course. The religious stuff for ceremony before the real sacrament of drinking and talking shit tearfully begins. We move on. But sitting up here blown about in this yurt I’m left with the undeniable permanence of the man.

I swim through a recurring dream. In it his funeral is a terrible mistake – he’s still with us.

He wanted to sell this place. He’d become dislocated from it and from his life-long friends here. It didn’t make sense financially. He was right of course. In that abstract world of the purely financial it was madness. I talked him out of it on one of our regular trips by arguing that our family, or what was left of it, had already lost so much. This place to me was the only place left that proved there had once existed love and hope between my parents. It gave birth to us three kids. My kids (unborn and unnamed) I argued, would one day lean against the untamed wind on the beach, feel saltwater surge through them in the surf, sting from sunburn, then play cards and fight through long rainy holidays. They’d feel alive.

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Wasn’t that about as close as we get to the point of it all? He relented or couldn’t follow through. Perhaps some combination of the two.
So here we are. Herself and I took it on. We wrenched the place back into some sort of shape. We rented it out to pay the rates and taxes. We lived here for a while and were married on a glorious September day on the beach down below the ridge. Our best and fairest guests traipsed up the hill from the surf club and danced round the yurt through the night. 50 years earlier dad had fishtailed in his MGB up the dirt and gravel to the top of Wards Hill Road and bought the scrub off the plan for $6000. It was his best decision even though, let the hansard note, he messed it up – he read the map upside down and thought he was buying up the top of the road next to the National Park, not here at the other end. We’re still looking for the original title…

Mike Shepard the yurt pioneer in Australia drove up from Goulburn today. He hadn’t been here for 35 years, not since he’d built this, the first liveable Yurt in Australia. It was howling of course and he was here to fix the cupola on the roof. One too many storms. It was something special for him to be here today. I made him and a friend cups of tea and he recalled seeing me as a boy years ago when mum and dad drove down to his yurt farm at Goulburn to talk about putting a yurt here. They’d just returned from China and the plains of Mongolia and mum was taken with the yak herders tents – “we can build one ourselves!” Mike reckons while they were talking I let the handbrake off in the car and it rolled smack-bang-whollop into his chook shed. I now dimly recall this incident in family folklore, and am certain it’s my elder brother who did the deed.

Who can tell for sure now mum and dad are gone. This land remains though. And there are some stories. For me these are the two essential elements of the past. The land is insistent, like those bloody frogs. We only inhabit it for a while and it’s much better at shaping us than we are it. Our stories are laid into and over these places. But like embers, they’ll die if we don’t speak them into life and make them glow again, and again.

I like our story up here. We’re surrounded by McMansions – garish manifestations of an Australia still pissed on the proceeds of a once in a century mining boom. The brashness and shine of those places will fade and they’ll seem even more out of place. The wind will still blow over the ocean from the south, throwing salt spray up the ridge and shaping the rock in its image. The yurt of course will pass away too. But its more of this landscape, shaped so the wind bends around it. Able to move with the storms and surrender quietly to the earth when the time comes. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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