'Our environment shapes our reality'The family holidays of my youth have largely molded together in my head. Despite remembering nothing else about it, a clear memory of a trip to Joanna is the birth of a new born calf. As most holidays are a mental montage of theme parks, resort pools, or beach side caravans, baring witness to such a wonderful moment is entirely unique. There it was; defenseless, damp and incapable; the calf lied next to its mother as excited farm hands simultaneously kept us away and ensured we could see. Despite their familiarity with the lifestyle it was clearly a special moment for them.
Why then do I remember the moment but not the year? Hell, it took me two goes to remember the exact place! I remember it because of its wonder, its uniqueness, its natural beauty. I am distant from the calf's rural and raw lifestyle, even on holiday. Michael Leunig would no doubt knock my lack of authentic experience, though perhaps he could acknowledge my appreciation for this moment. He detests the rampant commercialism of modern society. Indeed he celebrates being entranced by the "widely peculiar" sight of foal born during the recent drought. He is right to knock me. Most of my holidays are common, the result of commercial bookings rather than a chance encounter with ugliness in an uncomfortable environment. But in this wiz bang society the package tour is easier than a chance encounter with God's work.
There is still room for the pure moment though. No travel agent could guarantee being able to witness a natural birth. I am glad that I have been reminded of this moment. I have traveled the Great Ocean Road many times but have never been to back to Joanna. Would I appreciate the moment if I saw it every year? Probably not. It has made me realise that these singular moments, often left in my unconscious, are precisely the best kind of memories. They are chance encounters that remind me how wonderful the world is. One trip to Skeene's Creek on the Great Ocean Road was rudely interrupted when a gale swept through the caravan park sending kids, adults and tents flying down the dirt road. While most braved the night, one simply scooped up the tattered remains of his tent and began the two hour drive back to Melbourne. It has become an iconic camping story in-spite of the plush toilets and availability of electricity. Whenever I stare up at another ridiculous roller coaster, smell chlorine in the pool or notice the trees that have been trimmed to ensure I see the Opera House, I am reminded of these distinctive moments. The natural juxtaposed with the forced reality of a commercial holiday. My favourite moment on the Gold Coast was being caught walking home in what can only be described as a Monsoon (and people say Melbourne's weather is unpredictable!) So soaked were we that no cab would pick is up, making for a long, damp walk back to the apartment. I could only laugh at the mess as we collapsed when we arrived.
Leunig can be cynical of society's obsession with artificial appearance, false wit and faux personality. He has every reason to smirk at Occupy Melbourne protestors who use iPhones and Twitter to spread their message. But the purity of nature can still be appreciated. As the recent drought and floods have shown, we can wear whatever mask we want, but our environment will always frame our perception. I choose to remember great moments of my holidays, the moments when, like the new born calf, the place allowed me to experience something new and utterly unforgettable.