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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Landscape: Out Sacred Site

When I write I’m always conscious of setting. Landscape is essential to the telling of a story and to the development of character. Not just the physical aspects of the environment but the demographic profile, the flora, fauna, temperature and scents are essential to create a real sense of place. But not only in fiction is ‘setting’ mandatory for understanding the individual, in real life our sacred places, our growing-up places, our preferred places reflect so much of who we are. When I’m writing about a place I tend to visit it. I like to walk around it and get a sense of that whole picture. I visualise my characters in those places and take endless photos to capture some of the key elements that will either be intrinsic in the plot or part of the description. I also use my own connection to what I call ‘sacred places’. This has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with what seems revered and significant. Places that evoke memory, that inspire thought and allow us to revel in the beauty of the physical world become our own hallowed turf. For me there are a number of these sites that evoke strong connections.

This is one.

I grew up in a suburb in Launceston Tasmania. It was called Youngtown. Not the most imaginative of suburban names. It was, however, in the 1960s a burgeoning community on the southern outskirts of the city. It consisted of several small districts that developed in and around what had been predominantly rural land and light industrial businesses. In my childhood the growth of the suburb hadn’t fully impinged on the open spaces and the creek that drew the neighbourhood children like a magnet. In my memory it seemed that we had kilometers of open space that rose and fell and allowed roving hordes of kids to effectively disappear from their family homes. It felt like the wilderness with its subsequent implied dangers. It wasn’t really dangerous but one could I suppose easily have slipped in the murky stagnant water of the creek and broken a bone or have been bitten by snakes that sought water in the dry summers. But no one was injured; somehow we all survived and managed after a several hours to return to our parents who seemed unconcerned by our absence.


When I go back to Launceston I always visit Alma Street. I am always drawn there to immerse myself in those memories. The march of suburbia is evident but the sense of the place is unchanged. I can walk down Alma Street and recall the neighbourhood families and events of my childhood as if it is happened only a few years ago; not decades. I can hover, inconspicuously (I hope) outside the house I grew up in and be transported back to site where my mother’s winter daphne bloomed at the front door and pervaded the air with its sweet perfume. I can draw out of memory the aroma of summer sauce making and the cloying syrupiness of apricot and raspberry jam on the boil. Wood piles, chicken coops and the Italian neighbours making wine and pasta sauce mix with images of backyard gatherings, ball games, bikes, scrapped knees, gardens full of seasonal fruit and vegetables, sibling squabbles, cousins across the road, school days, Christmas Day chaos and bonfire nights.

It’s a mélange of memory that emerges in no particular order. In that place the agreeable and not so agreeable events of my early life reveal themselves like a naïve collage; things pasted on cardboard in no particular order of importance but telling a story none-the-less. It is hallowed ground.

I have other sacred places; sites that conjure memory or ‘zing up’ the senses. Or simply bathe me in the warmth of familiarity. Their sights, sounds and scents are essential to my recollection of the past and experience of the present. Hence landscape will remain a key component in my writing.

(This photo is Bingie Bingie on the south coast of New South Wales: it is featured in my second Lily O’Hara novel which will be out soon!)

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