The plane tree is a colonial import to Australia, often found lining city and inner-suburban streets in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. Shaded avenues often lined on both sides, forming a ceiling of brilliant fluorescent green in spring and summer that becomes somewhat stark and barren in winter. Most controversially, perhaps, aside from being a non-native tree, they can also be an allergy and respiratory menace in spring, when the trees shed their spiny hairs and seeds, especially on windy days. It is, of course, all a matter of perspective and subjectivity, but also of timing and repetition—as marked by the passing of the seasons.
I too was remembering, not for the first time, the broad street of Lacey’s, the two-storied hotel, the several stores. I imagined the gentle tidal encroachment of the dunes, the soft red sand, wind-ribbed and untrodden, mounting, mounting. Over the bar of the hotel, over the piano and the billiard table, over the counters and merchandise of the stores; until, in the end, what would be left but a chimney or two of the hotel, dully moaning in the red wind? And those too, of course, the wind would have silenced by now, and the sand would lie unbroken and printless over all the places that knew me. In my terrible loneliness I grow elegiac.
At times, in the early morning, you would call this a gentle country. The new light softens it, tones flow a little, away from the stark forms. It is at dawn that the sons of Tourmaline feel for their heritage. Grey of dead wood, grey-green of leaves, set off a soil bright and tender, the tint of blood in water. Those are the colours of Tourmaline. There is a fourth, to the far west, the deep blue of hills barely climbing the horizon. But that is the colour of distance, and no part of Tourmaline, belonging more to the sky.
It is not the same country at five in the afternoon. That is the hardest time, when all the heat of the day rises, and every pebble glares, wounding the eyes, shortening the breath; the time when the practice of living is hardest to defend, and nothing seems easier than to cease, to become a stone, hot and still. At five in the afternoon there is one colour only, and that is brick-red, burning. After sunset, the blue dusk, and later the stars. The sky is the garden of Tourmaline.
The young man believed he might draw a map of a city beyond the reach of normal perception and only faintly recalling the city where he had lived his early life. The suburbs and districts in the new city would be sized and spaced according to the intensity of the poetic feeling he had once felt in this or that part of another Melbourne. Thus, a huge glowing core of what he called vivid imagery—with its centre where Fitzroy might have been—would spread outwards and drive to the farthest margins the shrivelled remains of places where a young man had once tried and failed to feel what was expected of him.