So much of the past couple of weeks have felt like I was trying to fake my own identity.
The gap in my bureaucratic paper trail is fifteen years wide. I had a driver’s license. I had a Medicare number. In many ways it would have been easier if I didn’t. An example: to transfer ownership of the car I bought without a state license, I needed a ‘customer number’ from the licensing department (RTA here). Which is simple enough to get unless you have previously had a state driver’s license, which you would otherwise use as your customer number. So they found my old license number instantly when I went in for my ‘customer number’. Unfortunately it lists my address at a house that I not only haven’t lived in for one and a half decades, but has actually been torn down.
It’s been a game of trying to trick bureaucratic systems into thinking either I never left or that I am completely new. That’s why it feels like faking my identity. Whilst I am me, I have to push the boundaries of what is bureaucratically ‘me’. As you probably know, this stuff is my absolute kryptonite. And, weirdly, I think that’s been a required part of the process, particularly as it has been accompanied by some bizarre, low-probability bumps in the road and dramatically reduced resources to overcome them (no car, no house, etc) which suggest it falls outside the typical bureaucratic experience, which is never pleasant.
To stay with the car example, in addition to the license-based drama, I wanted to put it on finance so we can start to build a credit rating here. After spending a day in a car yard in a tiny town with no way of getting home unless I bought an actual car, it turned out the best/only way to do it was to pay for the car outright while simultaneously applying for the loan then getting the dealership to transfer the difference back to me. So it got pretty MacGyver… but wildly more boring. I couldn’t just use my savings card because it was over the maximum amount for the day, and internet banking was down, so I had to find the correct bank to get a bank cheque with insufficient ID. (I’m alarmed how easy that was.) Then the next day the dealership’s internet connection went down and took the printers with it, so the salesman had to print out my paperwork at his house, which is two hours north.
This is my way of excusing my absence these past couple of weeks, essentially. I have been fox/grain/chickening myself across the river.
Speaking of rivers…
Back in the Mother Country
My farewell drinks were here, the Island Queen, a pub we would sit in for hours when we first arrived in the city and had no jobs and no money and thus nothing else to do. We would buy a second hand book from underneath Waterloo Bridge on the Thames and just sit on the couches, reading to stave off panic. I got through a lot of the more boring Tolkien stuff here (Unfinished Tales, etc), probably because I was desperate to leap into any world but the one I was in.
It seemed appropriate to have my conspiratorial farewell/birthday drinks here after the Occult Conference and two days before we left. Not only had the universe arranged to have me within walking distance, but it is also a place of some resonance for what remains of my Antipodean friends in London. Plus it is a seriously excellent pub if you are ever in the area.
As mentioned in my departure post, the long-running psychogeographical farewell ritual met me halfway (and then some!) in ways I am struggling to conceptualise, but will attempt to do so here.
When you think about a ritual, it is an arrangement of physical and mental things designed to make it easier for something to show up. It is a spaceport, stargate or teleportation pad. (This holds even in unsophisticated psychological models of magic.)
The friend who showed up and gave me a bottle of champagne was definitely not supposed to be there. He lives in Abu Dhabi and was only in London for that very afternoon. But we are old school friends so he knew half the other guests from back in Australia. He wasn’t in the model. I hadn’t built him into the departure ritual. He had showed up. It felt like he was an interloper from another dimension or story, like Tom Bombadil in Middle Earth. You’re not supposed to be here. You’re a result, not a component. He stayed for about ninety minutes and then left for the airport and Abu Dhabi.
In that time we were all discussing my Australia plans. My partner had already landed a vastly-better-paying position in the northwest fringe of Sydney. I had mixed feelings about this because I didn’t especially want to live in Sydney if I could live anywhere, which I can for the moment. Firstly, the argument for Sydney is an argument for London… only much more expensive than London and not as good. Secondly, more importantly, I had already lived there!
There is a trick to weaning yourself off London, and it is not methadone… it is not seeking to replace the things you are guaranteed to miss about the place with less effective proxies. It is to lean into the things London cannot ever do… these are all natural things. The ocean, the harbour, the wildlife, etc. Sydney will not compete with London as a gallery/museum destination for, what, two hundred years? Ever? London will never compete with Sydney as a SCUBA destination. That’s how you wean. I could see no upside in paying more for a less good London experience in central or eastern Sydney.
So we were all talking about how far up the Parramatta River I would live to make commuting less awful for my partner. It would still need to be on the river, it would need decent access to Sydney’s mountainous hinterlands, easy access north for diving, and so on. Realistically we were looking at a place called Parramatta itself, which also satisfied my ‘I had never lived or been there before’ criteria. (There is a reason for that.) Plus I could get a boat into town which I always enjoyed about living in Hunter’s Hill.
My interloping friend mentions a place outside Sydney I had presumably heard of at some stage but had never been to or knew anything about. It rang no memory bells. He has friends who live there and they say it is very beautiful. It quietly and briefly echoes in my head the way Important Things usually do but I put it aside.
We get drunk. We say our goodbyes. I move to Australia. I celebrate my birthday. I celebrate a one year old’s birthday on the beach with an open bar. I start looking for places to live up the Parramatta River.
It… does not go well. It’s difficult to explain but I couldn’t find the nearby universe where I lived there. This surprised me because Parramatta has some very Gordon things going for it. The river, for one. More historic buildings than The Rocks for another. A thriving multi-ethnic population that I only mention for purely venal reasons: it has nothing to do with self-satisfied white people politics and everything to do with a wider range of ethnic food shopping options. Insanely affordable rent by Sydney standards because Boomers with an 85-95 IQ range think an infinite number of apartments that are unliveably small is the ticket to a comfortable retirement.
But… no. On our first foray, despite seeing plenty of perfectly serviceable places to live, the spatiality of the area didn’t work. The dimensions felt all wrong. It’s not foot-navigable in the way old places are supposed to be. Parramatta did not want me and I found this confusing. You see, with all requisite humility, I’m pretty good at place magic, even when dropping pins in maps from across the world. Also, the ritual was working. The divinations were good. My spirit allies were all double thumbs up. I was supposed to be in Parramatta that day. In a two hour gap between viewings I suggest we sit in one of the places I was looking forward to being near, Parramatta Park, formerly the Governor’s private farm. Perhaps that’s where I’ll ‘find’ the place plug?
We sit in the park, watching the cockatoos grazing. A thought occurs to me. What was the name of that place my friend mentioned?
If you are going to lean into the opposite of a city of ten million people at the centre of the world, a town of 1,800 at its edge is a pretty good start. My partner and I hunt for rental properties on our phones while the cockatoos graze. There are only a couple of options because, again, 1,800 people. There is almost enough time to go and see them before our next appointment, but not enough. So we agree to drive back to Newcastle that evening and come back down to check them out and overnight in the town the next day.
We arrive in the town via winding roads through scenery like this.
The first property we see is it. There’s nothing even remotely special about it but… this is where I live. So we apply.
When you are open to following those post-ritual winks from the universe, when you have enough confidence in yourself to push on that door, great vistas open up to you. Let me tell you about the place I have called home since yesterday.
- Windsor is one of the Macquarie towns, first surveyed and laid out by Governor Macquarie on the banks of the Hawkesbury River so as to provide essential grain for the colony. Had he not done so, Sydney would have starved.
- Lachlan Macquarie himself was probably the colony’s ‘best’ Governor, which is why so many things are named after him. He was sent to New South Wales to quash the Rum Rebellion. A Freemason, he had previously participated in the recapture of Alexandria for the Empire.
- He named this stretch of the river for the same stretch of the Thames I had just left. The next town over is Richmond, which is just down river from Windsor back in London.
- We toured the town on the anniversary of Macquarie’s death, July 1st. Where was he born? Ulva, just north of Iona.
- It has the oldest pub in Australia. Meaning I am in the unusual position of moving from a part of Greater London that shares the same names as this corner of the New World and ending up with an older local. (1880 versus 1815.)
- Having been founded in the 1790s, it is foot-navigable. I mean, it’s a town.
- It has a tricksy mountain pass that drops me out near the top of the Hunter Valley for when I want to go visit my countryside family, which I intend to do fairly regularly. (For locals, this also means less time on the f%£*K%$$ M1!)
Let’s recap. I’m in a town that is deliberately designed to evoke the corner of London I miss most, surveyed by a Freemason who also conquered Alexandria, drinking in an even-older pub and I didn’t even know this place existed until an unexpected piece of information dropped in a pub built during and named after an aspect of the heyday of the Empire.
One more -and this speaks to some ongoing ritual activity a few of you are alpha testing with me- I moved from the banks of Thamesis -River Isis- to the HAWKesbury River. It is at the end of my street, maybe a couple of hundred feet away. Behind it loom the Blue Mountains, so close you can smell the cold mountain air in the morning. Have some tourist information. (I have some childhood stories of this river that will have to wait until I get to know it better. In ways I haven’t yet explored it’s tied into the colonial history of where I am from, where I have been and why I am here. Oil has been struck but the well has not yet been tapped.)
Plus… it’s not actually in Sydney! It falls under a completely separate council. Granted, it is within spitting distance of western Sydney which also mean the town’s southern parts are a bit of a biker gang haunt. So let me know if you need some jam or meth because apparently we do both well. At least it’ll keep it interesting.
I used to think that the preponderance of Old World names in the New World was laziness, banal. Growing up in a town that was once known as the worst place in the Empire, named after a place in the UK that isn’t exactly super popular today, it was a double slap in the face. We weren’t even interesting enough to have our own name. And yeah, that’s probably true in 60% of the cases in the Empire’s old footprint. But it’s largely thanks to Chris Knowles infecting my mind with his brilliant grasp of place-based synchromysticism that it occurs to me it’s not always the case. Magic is very much a game of names. Names contain things. To say them is to summon something up. It is a profound component of place magic.
So the whole process feels like a respawn, like I have reverted to a save point in another dimension. It has a nominal familiarity… it has words my tongue is used to forming. It has some shapes that are familiar, like the curve of a river or the presence of pub ghosts. It has pieces I already contain -skills I respawn with- but in a landscape of mountainous foothills and horse farms and winter starlight.
Let us see how this level turns out.