“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, known or unknown, actual or visionary. There’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.”
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
One challenge for my time in Australia was to come up with a definition of what home means to me. The origin of this question goes further back, though, stemming from several protracted conversations with friends on the topics of home and place. As part of a generation coming of age in an increasingly globalized society, the question of home is no longer as limited as it used to be. Instead, rapid global travel and communication technology allow for a more mobile and connected society. Our options of where to live, work, and play quite literally span the globe. Yet, the idea of discerning one’s home in the vast world still constitutes a fundamental part of our identity.
As for myself, I feel like home could be anywhere. That’s to say that home isn’t necessarily a physical location in particular, but an idealized interaction with a location in general. Though I have travelled through admittedly very little of the world and have not experienced substantially different cultures, I can see a trend in my interaction to new places. Foreign locations become less foreign with familiarity. Given enough time, I feel that eventually I could make a home on any corner of the planet and be content with that location. This is not a judgement of place, but a judgement of my interaction with places. Home, then, is a process. It’s the homing sentiment.
Fundamentally, to me the question of home comes down to the concept of rootedness. How rooted do I feel to a certain place? My answer to that question is that I’m yearning to be rooted to any place at all. I struggle greatly through my travels with feelings of transiency and impermanence—essentially a new kind of homelessness. I yearn to be connected to a place at a more than superficial level, and any place could ultimately fill that desire. This is why, among other things, when I’m travelling I feel the need to stop at interpretive signs detailing local history—about the actions of city residents long dead or buildings long ago razed even though it may have little personal meaning to me at the moment. Doing such is just one small tangible way of discovering more about a place that leads me to a feeling of connection—that I belong more to a place now that I know more about it.
Given enough time, my habits of interaction with unfamiliar places should lead to a greater sense of home within each place I stop. Along with my habit of learning local history, I also tend to eschew corporate retailers in order to patronize businesses I could find nowhere else, take ambling walks along city streets to understand geographical differentiations within the city, and take note if I see local faces more than once. In short, in each new place I try to understand the local identity. I try to live like a local. This, fundamentally, is the reason why I feel like I could find sentiments of home in any geographical location.
However, though I feel like any geographical location could ultimately become a satisfactory home, some places I visit certainly seem more likely candidates. As someone who studies the natural environment and geography, the landscape—physical and cultural—plays an elevated role in the homefulness of a place. In my Australian travels, some places lend themselves more readily to sentiments of home; towns like Orange, Tumut, or Hobart sparked a sense of rootedness in me quickly. Other places, such as Maroochydore, felt reprehensible at first but inevitably grew on me endearingly. If nothing else, my period of meandering travel in Australia has helped me refine the qualities of a place that most readily resemble a home for me.
In a globalized society, the whole of the earth could theoretically be my home. Such possibilities create a world of geography to navigate in finding one’s place. For me, home is still an ongoing conversation, and I still have a lot of geography left to navigate.
‘I cannot honestly say that I liked Canberra very much; it was to me a place of exile; but I soon began to realize that the decision had been taken, that Canberra was and would continue to be the capital of the nation, and that it was therefore imperative to make it a worthy capital; something that the Australian people would come to admire and respect; something that would be a focal point for national pride and sentiment. Once I had converted myself to this faith, I became an apostle.’
-Former Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, reflecting on his changing attitudes towards Australia’s national capital Canberra.