When I was five, a tree was my best friend. An old peppercorn on Grandpa’s little farm. I’d haul myself into its calloused arms and hide from the world in its foliage. Apart from the pleasure of looking down on unsuspecting adults, I could be Robin Hood in a one-tree Sherwood Forest or Johnny Weissmuller in his jungle. I fell out of my friend once while Tarzan-ing. Gashed a large chunk from a leg. Almost 70 years later, there’s still a scar.
Later, in a different home, I befriended a eucalypt, using a resilient bough as a trampoline. Learning nothing from having plummeted from the peppercorn, I’d bounce happily in my haven in the heavens. I loved that tree – and fully understand why Heysen, Roberts, McCubbin and the rest devoted so much time and effort to painting arboreal portraits.
I was certain that if you offer a child the widest possible range of food from the earliest age in a loving environment, if you eat together as often as possible, and demonstrate your own enjoyment of flavour and texture and conviviality, that child will eat well forever, and will enjoy being with others around a table for the rest of his or her life. After all, that is the lesson of my own life.
I still feel childlike. Not childish – there’s a difference. But to be childlike is to be savoured and treasured. I offer my books to those who like the things of childhood; the challenges, intrigue, joy and fun.
A close contact with nature has been a focus of my life since childhood and has been my inspiration both professionally and personally. I believe that for most of us, most of the time, it is in the everyday experience of beauty, certainly in nature and in music, that we sense a heaven half-revealed and come closest to the true meaning of reality.
Simple old-fashioned values that come from a sense of community are the key to a great society. I believe we all have that sense from childhood memories, when life was simple. It’s those memories that should drive us to reflect on our values.
I think this feeling that I have for people and the importance of behaving in a way which is respectful to people of all colours, shapes, sizes and religions goes back a very long way… possibly to my mother and father in very early stages of childhood.
My dad taught me from my youngest childhood memories through these connections with Aboriginal and tribal people that you must always protect people’s sacred status, regardless of the past. Every time you lose an animal, it’s like losing a brick from the house. Pretty soon the house just falls down, you know?
But, in the end, the books that surround me are the books that made me, through my reading (and misreading) of them; they fall in piles on my desk, they stack behind me on my shelves, they surprise me every time I look for one and find ten more I had forgotten about. I love their covers, their weight and their substance. And like the child I was, with the key to the world that reading gave me, it is still exciting for me to find a new book, open it at the first page and plunge in, head first, heart deep.
I escaped the torture of my childhood home by reading. To this day it is still one of my greatest pleasures.