Welcome fellow HSC students, I’m here to discuss the idea that more than anything an individual’s sense of belonging or not belonging is intimately informed by their sense of place. However this ‘sense of place’ does not strictly refer to a physical place but also to abstract notions such as one’s place amongst family, friends, other members of society as well as shared experiences, a person’s memories and past events. The idea that a sense of place is central to the concept of belonging is effectively demonstrated in Peter Skrzynecki’s poem “Feliks Skrzynecki” as well as Judith Wright’s poem “Remittance Man”.
Skrzynecki’s “Feliks Skrzynecki” effectively conveys the notion that an individual’s sense of ‘place’ and belonging is tied to their relationship with the physical environment. In the poem Feliks is portrayed as lacking a close connection to the Australian culture, it is instead his garden where he finds his sense of place, he “Loved his garden like an only child… swept its paths ten times around the world”. Skrzynecki has used a hyperbole to demonstrate how much time Feliks spends in his garden as well as how his garden shares his identity as he travels across the world. By characterising Feliks’ relationship with his garden as a family relationship through the simile ‘like an only child’ the poet effectively highlights how belonging to physical place can take on equal importance as familial relationships in finding our sense of place and belonging.
Similarly, in ‘Remittance Man’ an individual’s relationship to their physical environment is shown to impact both their sense of belonging and identity. “Blue blowing smoke… red blowing dust of roads”. By using vivid, colourful imagery and metaphorically describing the Australian breeze as breathing, Wright effectively evokes a sense of being physically and emotionally influenced by his relationship with the ‘living’ and vibrant Australian landscape. The ability for different physical environments to provoke different emotional responses is highlighted through a juxtaposition of the English landscape in the poem, “past the sallow circle of the plains’ horizon faded the rainy elms seen through the nursery window”.
By characterising the English landscape as miserable and lifeless and as seen from the perspective of an outside observer, Wright has demonstrated how the remittance man was never able to enjoy the landscape of his homeland, effectively highlighting how the physical environment can either help or hinder an individual in their quest to find an overall sense of belonging.
However the physical environment is not the only way an individual can find their sense of ‘place’ and belonging, we may also find our ‘place‘ through relationships with other people including family, friends and strangers. In Skrzynecki’s “Feliks Skrzynecki” his father’s sense of ‘place’ is influenced by recalling his past relationships with his friends, “Talking, they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered, Horses they bred, pigs they were skilled in slaughtering”.
By reminiscing with friends about their once shared identity as farmers and pastoralists, the poem effectively demonstrates how Feliks’ identity is tied to the shared experience of his friends. By demonstrating how relationships formed through long past activities continue to impact identity and shape the present, Skrzynecki shows how human relationships and shared experiences are important to create a profound and continued sense of one’s ‘place’ and of belonging.
Wright’s ‘Remittance Man’ also effectively conveys the notion that an individual’s sense of place is heavily influenced by the relationship to their family. In the first line of the poem our protagonist’s relationship with his family is portrayed as bitter, “The spendthrift, disinherited and graceless”. This cumulation of negative adjectives serves to represent how the remittance man is viewed by his family, as the ‘scapegoat’. This lack of belonging to family results in the persona also sharing ill feelings towards his environment, where he is “only surprised he could escape so simply”. The contemptuous tone conveyed in the word ‘escape’ is used to reflect the remittance man’s own feelings about his family while also standing as a metaphor for his feeling of not belonging to the whole society he was born into. Therefore Wright effectively demonstrates how relationships, specifically familial ones, can shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us and can act as a driving force to seek a sense of place and belonging.
In addition to being influenced by physical place and relationships with other people our sense of belonging is also strongly tied to connections to our own history and memories and our ability to look beyond the present in order to find a sense of self. Skrzynecki’s “Feliks Skrzynecki” demonstrates this notion. “When twice / they dug cancer out of his foot, his comment was “but I’m alive”, The enjambment of the word ‘twice’ in this line is used to demonstrate the severity of the surgery as well as Feliks’ resilience. The direct quote “but I’m alive” gives a first hand impression of Feliks’ stoicism and his ability to let go of negative experiences from his past which included “Five years of forced labour in Germany”. By characterising his father as someone who has overcome great adversity to define himself as a ‘survivor’, Skrzynecki highlights the importance of memories to an individuals present identity and sense of ‘place’.
Similarly, Wright’s “Remittance Man” also exemplifies the idea that an individual’s experience of belonging is influenced by their past and their ability to look beyond past negative experiences to find a new ‘place’. “Sparse swinging shadow of trees no longer foreign silted the memory of a greener climate”. The alliteration of ‘sparse swinging shadow’ allows the line to flow, showing the remittance man is enjoying his new-found freedom and finding his sense of place. The choice of the word ‘silted’ is used to demonstrate how the remittance man is able to cathartically replace his bitter memories of England, let go of the past and belong elsewhere.
The battle to let go of past experiences and memories in order to belong afresh is again seen in the line, “That pale stalk of a wench at the county ball sank back forgotten in black Mary’s eyes”. The metaphor of ‘sank back’ suggest that the remittance man is able to easily let go of his bitter feelings and allow himself to find peace. By focusing on the ability of memories and past experiences to shape our identity, Wright effectively highlights how individuals can actively seek a new ‘place’ to belong.
Both “Remittance Man” by Judith Wright and “Feliks Skrzynecki” by Peter Skrzynecki effectively demonstrate that more than anything else, in order to belong we must first find our own ‘sense of place’. This ‘sense of place’ can be found through a number of different but equally important avenues, such as physical place, relationships with family, friends, other members of society as well as connections to our own history and memories. This vast array of relationships allow us to find our own sense of ‘place’ and establish a complex and developed sense of belonging.