Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Peace and quiet
Last week, in order to escape the logical consequences of Nell refusing to have her morning sleep (ie meltdown in suburbia), my Dad and I took the girls to Woolmers, the remnants of a once huge estate. It's quite a remarkable place. The house consists of a neo-Georgian annexe awkwardly attached to the original humble, and to my mind more elegant homestead, surrounded by the outbuildings used in its previous incarnation as sheep station and then large scale apple farm. Through the quirks of the family's residential and building choices, and by virtue of the fact the place was kept on down the line, the insides remain intact, tracking the changing styles and growing (and declining) wealth of the Archers.
The house is remarkable but I really like the outdoors - an open air museum where kids can run far and wide, where swifts swoop through broken windows, and where it's always quiet even then busloads of tourists arrive to see the buildings and visit the rose garden. The smell of it reminds me of my childhood - the heat on the ground and the scent of particular types of weeds drags me back to age eight again, running with my brothers through the paddocks.
Mostly, though, I am intrigued by the tidiness of the place. This is true for the grounds and gardens - well mowed and well tended - and for the history. I've taken the guided tour a few times, and the eventual decline and then end of this branch of the family tree tends to be presented as a bit of a tragedy. It's not something I weep over (generations of privilege supported by slave labour and dispossession - surely the family had a good run) but it is fascinating to look at the photos of boating parties and see the elegant gowns.
Woolmers is a bit like Tassie itself in this way, a veneer of beauty and ease built on exploitation (see for example, forestry practices). A friend was looking at houses to buy and she came across shackles, mortared into the walls of the cellar, used to hold the unfortunates who misbehaved - it's that kind of place, you live with the history even as you are seduced to forget it. I'm someone who mostly lives my life without being overly aware of what came before me, but the disjunction between the manifest and the latent stops me short and makes me think again of what it means to live in this place.