Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the rocks

Last Easter, I travelled with my family to Nambucca Heads, a coastal town about half-way between Brisbane and Sydney. We stayed in a hut a few metres back from a small lagoon, on the ocean side of which was a popular walking path. On a rock wall that formed the barrier to the ocean, and the head of the Nambucca River, were painted dozens of rock-sized family portraits, many quite distinctive in the way they represented the relations between family members.

This one (left) seems traditional in its conception of family life as a perfect symmetry. Mum and Dad stand on either side of the family dog, with brothers and sisters grouped together and the family as a whole framed by the security of the red and yellow flags, in Australia the symbol of where on the beach it is safe to swim.

Other portraits suggest a different ideal of family relations, such as this one (below), which exchanges symmetry for a floating affinity: each of the family members are held by the gravity of the sea horse, which I read to be the family as an idea or genealogical point of origin.

Most, though, want also to record the years in which the family has had its annual holiday at Nambucca Heads.
It seems that Taylors of Cessnock were in 2006, on the occasion of their eighth visit, joined by the Baileys of Cessnock. As it was only April, it was too early in the year to suggest that the Taylors and the Baileys might not be coming in 2009.

The line of portraits made compelling reading, even though most gave little in the way of family biography. Their effectiveness was a reminder of the power of names and dates alone: in most cases, these two things, combined with the personal character of the painters' hands, were enough to evoke a sense of how families saw themselves and their time in Nambucca Heads. Seemingly uniting all the portraits, was the statement that families became more fully themselves when they got away for a holiday.