Welcome to our Young Writer in the City stories! The works in this series were written by young writers who sourced inspiration from Launceston’s prominent sites and buildings during their 2016 residency.
About Claudia Locatelli, 2016 Young Writer in the City
I am 21 years old and have lived in Launceston all my life. I am currently a waitress working two jobs and I plan to move away next year to Melbourne to study psychology. I spend a lot of my time writing on my online blog that is centered around my fairly ordinary life, about my fairly ordinary self, and about a not so ordinary circumstance. I like to cook, learn guitar, drink coffee, walk my dog, listen to Active Child, take photos, drink wine and laugh. A lot.
I based my piece Lost and Found off my own experiences that I’ve had at the Cataract Gorge over the past 21 years of my life. The piece is highly personal and focuses on how I’ve found peace and comfort within The Gorge when I’ve experienced difficult times in my life, and my emotion connection to this place.
Lost and Found
By Claudia Locatelli
I sit. I gaze. I walk. I wander and let the familiar path lined with trees lead my way. I sit again, not far from where I originally began. I smell. I inhale the air that surrounds me, it circulates around my face, being gently vacuumed in by my mouth. I breathe it in, deep into my lungs. It’s different to the air in the city. The coolness slices the inside of my chest, leaving me with the faintest stinging sensation. The air tastes nice. It’s fresh. It tastes like leaves and like dirt, but I like it. The flavour lubricates the walls of my mouth and falls gently onto my tastebuds. It floats around my tongue before it continues its journey down my throat to a place where I can no longer taste it. The smell. It reminds me of my days spent at Liffey falls, exploring the damp, cool reserve, searching to find the waterfall that is nestled comfortably in amongst the trees. The reserve felt so big when I was so small. Just like this place. It used to feel like I was exploring a jungle. I was convinced that Tarzan hid among the trees, that maybe he would come flying above the swinging bridge like an eagle. I imagined him gripping onto his vine tightly with his fingers. The water is cold beneath. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen him yet. Not even once, but I’m remaining hopeful.
Walls made from rock tower high towards the clouds from the ground where I sit. Trees find themselves comfortable homes wherever they fancy, spreading out high and wide along the rock walls. I look up to the sky. Clouds are moving fast, like a flock of birds migrating south. It’s the afternoon, 2.45pm. It’s chilly, my warm jacket is doing little to distract from the goose bumps rising on my skin, the air however, is calm.
The trees stand quiet, only rustling their leaves ever so often. The surrounding trees create serenity, only letting the sun shine down through the open top. It feels as if an entirely different world lies beyond the green of the leaves and silvery rocks speckled with orange clay. I like to walk from one world into another. To enter into a place of calm, and leave my world of craziness behind. My love for Tasmanian nature, for the Tasmanian wilderness began when I was very young. It began at the place where I sit now. It began on the bridge. It began on the swing. It began in this hidden gem, in this place that seemed as big as a jungle, now it’s a second home. It began at the Cataract Gorge.
I now live off the zigzag track. The Gorge is my neighbour. It’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is attending The Gorge Concert. Young girls only a little older than myself at the time danced gracefully around a maypole. Long streamers of different colours soared in the sky as they circled around and around, their feet barely touching the feathery grass.
“Mum, can I do that when I’m a bit older? I want to dance too.” I tugged on my Mother’s beige trousers as I looked up at her.
“Oh, of course, darling…” her voice trailed off as she looked around, squinting from the glare. “Ah! Would you like an ice-cream?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
I never made it to dance around the maypole. In fact, The Gorge Concert ended for a number of years until recently, so I never had the chance. But hey, maybe this is the year to live my childhood dream.
I spent a lot of time here with my sister. Her name was Melissa. She loved The Gorge as much as I do and it wasn’t until I couldn’t come here with her, that I longed for it. I crave to lie down in the sun on my pale blue beach towel on the emerald grass next to her. Her straw hat would sit over her face to stop the burning sunlight from blinding her eyes. I crave standing on the small, rocky ledge looking down to her in the water. I was too scared to jump in because I knew how cold it would be. She would call my name, splashing water up at me. Melissa always went in the first and I would always follow. I crave to swim through the dark green, icy water, over to the waterfall that gushed below the bridge. I’d watch boys do back flips off a giant rock nearby, girls in bikinis stood by, laughing loudly before taking their turn. We would climb over the slippery, mossy rocks through the water and make our way to climb over the small waterfall. Above it lies another tier to The Gorge. A smaller, calmer version which eventually leads to another waterfall and yet again another layer. The swinging bridge hangs overhead, crowded with tourists clicking their cameras ferociously. Children jump up and down excitedly, letting the bridge sway slightly. I used to be scared it’d come crashing down into the water, but thankfully it still stands strong. Tourists still stand on the bridge and take photos and children still jump around. Little has changed at The Gorge, until more recently.
I came here when Launceston had torrential rain and as a result, flooding. The bad kind. The Gorge copped it hard. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were people everywhere that came to look, like ants running to spilled honey. Both tourists and locals watched in amazement as the place where I so often sat in summer was now being drowned by this furious water. I remember The Gorge flooded when I was six.
I kicked through the water in my pink gumboots as I swung as high as I could on the swing. This time the water completely covered that playground. It came in so ferociously like there was a monster inside of it, destroying anything it touched. I watched the water crash and spit in anger. It was scary. If anyone were to fall in, they would be consumed like the bite of a strawberry, only it wouldn’t be so sweet. I hated seeing The Gorge like that. It still isn’t back to the way it was, the way it should be. The swimming pool, once blue, is now an unattractive shade of brown. Although I never did trust the water in that pool and the chances of contracting something nasty is probably considerably less now it’s been washed away. However, the murkiness does little to help the aesthetic of the place. The main area of The Gorge has been sectioned off, forcing people to take a short stroll, or perhaps a run around to the other side. To where the restaurant sits peacefully watching the male peacocks shake their tail feathers. A second children’s playground is situated close by. I recently came to this playground at night with someone I think I quite like. I’ve only been to The Gorge a handful of times at night, but I like it. I like how everything looks different. Sometimes it looks scary, other times it looks as big as it did when I was a child. The trees look as though they go on forever, the restaurant lights illuminate through the dark right across to the other side of The Gorge. Possums dart across the path, they’re timid, but they’re not frightened. They’re used to us invading their home. I sat for the first time in a very long time on the Fairy Dell Coach. Memories of running around here with my mum came rushing back to me. The cool air kissed my face, but it was nice. It was calm. It was dead. A word that’s become far too comfortable for me, a word that’s become far too familiar. There was no else around really. Aside from a couple of middle aged women gossiping loudly as they exited the restaurant. It was the most peaceful I’ve seen The Gorge. I liked it.
I used to feel like I was trapped. I felt like Tasmania was a constant dead end. That it was preventing me from moving forward with my life. I guess my life wasn’t really moving forward, but I think that had more to do with me than the place I was and still am living in. During some of the hardest times of my life and more recently during the single hardest time of my life, I’d come to The Gorge and I’d sit. Just how I am now. I’d often write, I’d often just sit, sometimes I’d think, other times I wouldn’t. The clouds above me would sew themselves together to make an unbreakable canopy, I felt like with each and every thought, the trees around me would grow tall, their roots swimming though the ground to bind my ankles to the earth. To bind me here. To make me stay.
From the moment I knew that Melissa was gone, I longed for a place that made me feel at home. I still do. I longed to feel close to her. I spent a lot of time trying to find her, trying to find places or things, even objects that made me feel connected to her. I can’t tell you exactly what is it I’m looking for, because I’m not really sure, but what I can tell you is that I found part of it, whatever it is, here at The Gorge. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to write about The Gorge so badly, because I feel physically and emotionally connected to this place. I’ve had so many experiences here and spent so much time here with a person who I miss so dearly. Right now from where I sit, I can feel her all around me. I feel her in the trees that stand strong like soldiers of war, I feel her in the grass beneath me, tickling the soles of my feet. I feel her in the air that flies through my long hair, the air that punches me in the face to remind me that spring isn’t here yet. I watched her in the flooding waters that came in like a hurricane. Everywhere I look I see her, I feel her, I miss her. I’ve never felt connected to a place before, but I feel connected here. I feel closer to her here. And let me tell you that when you have nothing, when a person literally ceases to exist, you will hold on to whatever you can. You will hold it so protectively, so tightly, so preciously, as if you were holding your own beating heart in your hands.
I told myself that I needed to create a place in my mind where I could open myself up to grief. I wanted the pain to become like a room in my house. A place I could visit when I wanted, when I needed, a place that I could leave when it became unbearable, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave the imaginary room inside my head. I couldn’t get up off the ground to walk out. It was consuming me. So I found somewhere else, a real place. I found the spot where I can be a little bit closer, that little bit less far away, where I can be fractionally more okay. I realised that maybe it’s important for people to form ties to places instead of just people. That maybe we can find somewhere that lets us connect with what we need to. That sometimes people hurt us, but places don’t. Sometimes I just wonder that maybe I’m grasping at anything with my clutching hands to find her, that maybe I tell myself all of this and talk myself into believing it just so I can let myself feel again. But I do believe that part of feeling complete or content means having a home, having somewhere we feel we belong. But sometimes in life our homes are taken away, our homes are disrupted, the dynamic of our home changes and sometimes it doesn’t feel like home anymore. This is what happened to me. My sister who made me feel at home wasn’t around anymore. I felt lost, so I was forced into figuratively finding a new home. It was closer than I thought. It’s been there all along. I’ve lived less than 5 minutes away my entire life, some of my earliest memories began there, some of my fondest memories also take place there. I think sometimes people have to look a little wider, take an extra couple of steps, become more aware of their feelings, become aware of what makes them click, of what makes them happy, of what makes them actually feel something because only then can we find where we feel like we belong.
I’m glad that I no longer feel like a prisoner with Tasmania as my guard. I’m glad that I’ve realised that Tasmania is my home. It’s sad to me that it took the worst experience of my life for me to realise this. I know that The Gorge will always be here in Tasmania. That it will always be nestled peacefully inside the state I was born. That it will always be near where my parents live. I know that it will never be far away. That no matter how many more floods there are to come, that it will still exist. I found a home within a place that isn’t actually a home, I found peace in a place I’ve lived all my life where I felt I didn’t belong. Like my favourite author, J.R.R Tolkien famously said, “not all those who wander are lost”, and I don’t feel lost anymore.