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From estrangement to a sense of place …

conference contribution
posted on 2013-01-01, 00:00 authored by Ursula De JongUrsula De Jong
Maggie MacKellar in her book Core of my Heart, my Country writes 'What is sense of place? Why is relationship with place so fundamental to our identity as individuals and as communities?' MacKellar rightly acknowledges that 'A sense of place is a complex connection between land and self. Place is both inside and outside; it takes us beyond ourselves, yet allows us to make sense of ourselves. Attachments to place are born into us, but they are also formed through movement, through labour, through words.' My mother Maria Radzimirski-Herzog considered herself truly Swiss and thoroughly Australian. Through one migrant's story this paper explores something of the complex intertwining of place, memory and identity. It grapples with the notion of belonging to one's country of birth and one's adopted country via a rich understanding of place. In Maria's case, place becomes inextricably bound with who she became as a person. In the early 1940s, Maria explored Switzerland on bike and on foot during war-time restrictions on cars and she came to know it intimately. She photographed the land and the mountains; she documented her journeys. Spirn writes perceptively that 'Significance does not depend on human perception or imagination alone.' For Maria significance was, to use Spirn's words, 'there to be discovered, inherent and ascribed, shaped by what senses perceive, what instinct and experience read as significant, what minds know'. For Maria, Landscape was not 'mere scenery'. The ability to see, to listen, to be present in place, stood her in good stead in her adopted country, Australia. Maria called place into being for her children: through her lived experiences, her memories, her story telling, through language, traditions and history, Maria shared her Swiss identity with her children. But imperceptibly she also taught them how to understand her new homeland Australia, their birth country. How did Maria become Australian? Was that her creative response to exile from Switzerland? How did she come to feel at home in both countries, to understand both places? How did they seep into her and she into them? Through my own research on place I have discovered that assessing 'sense of place' is not an exact science but a creative analysis of the attributes of a place. The methodology I have adopted to explore the complex interrelationships between place, memory and identity allows recovery and reclamation, rediscovery, juxtaposing the subjective and the objective, the co-presence of different evidence. This paper draws on place research, on personal papers, letters and photographs, and the author's own experiences and memories. Through story and narrative it interweaves autobiography and biography with theoretical scholarship, to illuminate one migrant's journey from estrangement to a sense of place in her adopted country, Australia.



Cultural Ecology. Symposium (2012 : Geelong, Victoria)


18 - 29


School of Architecture + Built Environment, Deakin University


Geelong, Victoria

Place of publication

Geelong, Vic.

Start date


End date




Publication classification

E1 Full written paper - refereed


M Lozanovska

Title of proceedings

Cultural ecology : new approaches to culture, architecture and ecology

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