The thing I miss most about being on campus is lineage. The lineage of knowledge seems to have seeped away from the physical, but the emotive lineage of family and connection is embodied by shared experience of place. Traversing the campus prompts is a series of personal ruminations about the unknown and recounted, mostly the unknown experiences of a divergent family. These gentle queries conjure their presence.
As I disembark from the tram, the sign Sidney Myer Asia Centre prompts me to wonder anew why my youngest sister enrolled in a now forgotten course, some sort of South East Asian post graduate studies. At the time I accepted it as an extension of her perennial preoccupation with China. I didn’t question the fit or register that her acquired knowledge was visceral rather than academic (Tai Chi, Mandarin and Chinese Traditional Medicine) and now I suppose that neither had she.
My father studied Law/Commerce in the 1950’s. On graduating he pursued Law, a devotional career which left little space for anything else. He is a mild-mannered man, seemingly without words. His intermittent eloquence was always surprising, an expounding on the altruism and nobility of Law. As a child, aside from a sort of wonder at so many sudden words and his conviction, it was boring.
Two of four siblings thought otherwise and studied Law at Melbourne University. In search of a book titled ‘Cultural Property Crime‘, I ascend the cantilevered staircase in the hushed ambiance of the Law Building; the hush itself, an experience. I wonder when it was built. Was it before my sister studied law or perhaps in the intervening years prior to my brothers’ studies? Am I walking a pathway they traversed? Is their footfall included in the multitudinous echo? One or both have traversed these ascending steps and are now accompanying me.
As my father’s retirement loomed, he announced he was returning to study Arts at Melbourne University. An unexpected detour from a dutiful life, explaining the double rows of Penguin editions on the bookcases which lined his study. All those books I so avariciously read as an adolescent, never wondering that I had only ever witnessed him reading reams of paper held with pink tape clinched at each end with brass.
The Arts degree was a late flowering, a rush of excitement and eloquence. He read, he researched, he visited sites, he had ideas; I discovered a new father with a new dialogue. As I zigzag through the campus, on my way to North Theatre, Old Arts, I wonder about my aged father and where he may have eaten his packed sandwiches? How he felt about the collective youth and they him? Did they recognise his quiet pleasure?
The campus conjures these shadow presences; absence from campus erases the trigger. Absence from campus also impacts distressingly on real relationship. My father is in an aged care facility in Rathdowne Street. In lunch hour I can drop in and share the facilities’ pallid offerings, which the residents push aside, as they fast forward to ice cream. Or I drop in after classes and amble to Curtain Square where my father invariably remarks on the trees and children. Without an operational campus, my father is captive, invisible, silenced.
I miss my father. I miss listening as a child again, uncomprehending but comforted. I miss his fluttering hands as if they have an alternate agenda and I miss the learning. Most of all I miss the anecdote, real or imagined, which brings learning to life. Peripheral learning, the absence of which, makes zoom meetings and the lineage of learning and family seem thin.