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A connection to a physical location may present us with the perception that we either belong or not belong however, it is the connections that we form with people in places, memories of previous places and ones response to experiences within places that heightens ones sense of belonging or alienation. The concept of belonging through connections with people, experiences and memories in certain places is explored in the texts Romulus my Father a memoir by Raimond Gaita and Oranges and Sunshine directed by Jim Loach.
It is not a connection with the physical landscape that allows us to experience a sense of inclusion but rather connections built with people or communities that either heighten ones sense of affiliation or estrangement. This concept is portrayed in Romulus my Father through the character of Anna who is unable to form a connection with the community of Maryborough who ostracize her for her neglect of her young child (Gaita) and her inability to conform to the social expectations placed on a mother in the 1950’s in Australia.
Her inability to connect to the people around her is exacerbated by her mental – illness and amplified by her perceptions of her surrounding landscape. Raimond states that “few people in the area liked her, most had taken against her for her neglect of me”. The quote shows Anna’s disconnection to the community who surround her and her inability to connect is intensified by her perception of the Australian landscape as barren and isolated, “a dead red gum, stood only 100m from the house and became for my mother a symbol of her isolation”.
Whilst this quote focuses on separation due to the surrounding landscape Anna’s alienation of the landscape is her perception in comparison to the European landscape she has left behind. In the case of Anna, her isolation of Frogmore (place) is developed due to her inability to form any type of connection with the people and community that surround her. Connections with people or a community rather than places leading to a sense of belonging is explored in Oranges and Sunshine where the connection with family (especially between mother and child) is portrayed as necessary to ensure ones sense of belonging.
Jack is a character in the film who is one of he children who experienced forced deportation through the child migrant schemes developed by the British government, he is know a full grown man however, the separation from his mother and family still plays a significant role in determining his identity and his ability to belong has suffered severely due to his forced migration.
Connections to places are built through memories of experiences in certain places, through these memories you are able to form an identity that is shaped by experiences of past places and a connection to a certain place based on these memories allow one to experience a sense of belonging. In Romulus My Father memories of past places is significant in forming a perception of belonging to a place. Romulus’s sense of belonging is developed through his vivid memories of experiences, in particular those with his mother, at his childhood home in Frogmore.
His bond with his mother is explored deeply within the memoir and the relationship between the two of them is clearly fractured however the bond is complex and incredible to the point where it may be seen as the driving motivation to make the memoir. Christine’s extreme neglect of Gaita, “after she gave birth to me she seemed incapable of taking care of me, ignoring my elementary needs,” is juxtaposed by Romulus’s extreme sacrifice to stay connected “at his request my father was transferred to a job cleaning lavatories so he could be near me”.
Christine leaves Raimond constantly “to my deep disappointment she left us again to live with Mitru” and was unconcerned with his moral developments of character, “she smacked me more because she was humiliated then because she was seriously troubled by what I had done”. Despite his mothers neglect, the connection with his mother was still deep and although she was only an occasional visitor to Frogmore he was “glad of her physical, feminine presence, which comforted me more than food”.
Raimond also justifies his mother’s affair with Mitru when he describes his mother as “a troubled girl from central Europe who could not settle in the dilapidated landscape that heightened her isolation”. The complexity of the bond is developed through Anna’s first attempt at suicide, which is more of a desperate cry for help; “In words that were barely comprehensible she said that she loved me and wanted to say goodbye, that she would fall asleep and then die”.
This vivid memory of his mother saying goodbye leads to a very complex bond between the pair. Perhaps the most intense memory of his mother that Gaita has is the memory of his mother returning from hospital after this suicide attempt, “alone, small, frail, walking with an uncertain gait and a distracted air. In the vast landscape with only crude wire fences and a rough track to mark an human impression on it she appeared forsaken. She looked at me as though she had returned from the dead, unsure about the value of her achievement”.
The memory is bittersweet, although she is alive after a failed suicide attempt; she conveys a vivid impression of someone who does not belong in the place they are in and does not seem to belong in that life. Raymond’s memories of experiences at Frogmore, especially experiences with regards to his mother, has shaped and built his connection with Frogmore allowing him to experience a sense of belonging. In oranges and sunshine connections to places is developed through memories, the connections may be good or bad, regardless a sense of belonging or alienation is still developed.
Len > memories , “you should have seen it, 40 or 50 little nippers bounding around in the back of an open truck, eating dust and crying for their mums, we thought we had been dropped off at the end of the earth”. A perception of belonging can be developed not through a physical location but through an experience in a certain physical location that evokes an emotional response resulting in a connection to a place and a sense of belonging. In Romulus my Father Gaita records a truly defining sense of freedom when riding the Bantam around the land of Frogmore. Riding the motorbike that summer, through the hot yellow grasslands of Central Victoria, wearing only shorts and sandals, it crystallized in me a sense of freedom”, “it left me with a sad, haunting, image of freedom, impossible now to realise and which even then the world could barely afford”. Gaita’s emotional response to the landscape around him comes from this experience and this powerful experience is embedded very powerfully within him even as a grown man.
Althogh Raimonds connection with Frogmore is intense and comforting it eventually proves inadequate and the emotional response in a familiar landscape of Frogmore is represented in stark comparison to Raimond’s experience when visiting his father in hospital. “The hospital represented a foreign world to me. ” Gaitia’s discomfort at the hospital is developed through his emotional response to the physical place and his perception of his father’s mental illness is changed permanently when visiting his father in hospital, “I could no longer see my father’s illness just from our life at Frogmore”, “my sense of that life, of the ideas that nformed it, was given intensity and colour by the light and landscape of the area”. The harsh surroundings of the landscape of Frogmore made his father’s illness more bearable and once removed from the place where he remembers only safety and protection, Gaita no loner views his father’s mental illness in the same way. An experience in a place leading to a sense of belonging or alienation comes down to ones emotional response to the experience. In Oranges and Sunshine responses to experiences is fundamental in developing a sense of belonging in a particular place.
Margaret experiences a complete sense of alienation on her trip to Bindoon through the stories that she has heard of other people’s experiences their, her sense of estrangement is also further heightened by the bareness of the surrounding landscape. Bindoon is the church run outback home where the migrant children where taken straight after their forced deportation. A long shot over the entire of Bindoon and the surrounding landscape develops an eerie, discomforting mood right from the very beginning of the scene.
The building appears out of place with all its grandeur against the backdrop of the harsh, desolate Australian outback, even the building appears to not belong in the place it is located. Diegetic noises of birds screeching coinciding with the non – diegetic noises of the instrumental music result in a conundrum of screeching, uncomfortable music adding to the already unnatural and eerie situation Margaret is in. Flashbacks are used very effectively to develop Margaret’s stress and pain as she comes closer and closer to the building.
The flashbacks tell the stories of once young boys upsetting experiences at their time in Bindoon and these stories have all become, as Len puts it a “monster in you’re head”, Margaret’s strong desire to not visit Bindoon is fuelled by the stories that these men have told her of their experiences. In particular a common motif throughout this scene is the physical pain that a majority of the boys went through during their time at Bindoon, “the cement would burn you’re feet, the cuts on our feet and the sores on our hand and knees”, “I was nine years old and I was lifting rocks the size of my upper body”.
As Margret and Len approach the front gates the long shots of the grand building and it surrounds are turned sour by the flashbacks of past experiences. “We built stations of the cross, but who was crucified huh, tell me that”. A grown man’s pain of an experience in a place is reflected in Margaret as she approaches the building, through experiences of others Margaret’s sense of alienation has been developed in a place that she has never been to before. It is Margaret’s response to other people’s experiences in a certain place that leads to a sense of disconnection.
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