What The Banksia Said

Charlene vagabonding 15 Comments

I took the picture above on a warm evening in March, getting to know a new camera while out walking.

I was frustrated. Flemming and I arrived in Perth at the start of February, and stagnation set in immediately – office work (which I came back for), website work, creative work. Nothing I had done since, had provoked any movement. Frustration mounted.

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The light was beautiful, but blindsided by the over-familiarity of West Aussie suburbia, I could not see. Long, low slung roofs, capping walls which protected people from the big bad world outside, regulation footpaths and intermittent vehicles zooming by, all brought back the less-than-joyous associations I have of this landscape. Street lights drew dark bars on the ground in the setting sun.

Deciding against further yelling in a vacuum, I padded to the bushland reserve across the road. There, in stately repose upon its laurel, was a single banksia cone, resplendent in the dying day’s glow.

Look at me, it sang.

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So I did for a little while. Banksia proliferates in the parcels of bushland next to where we live with my friend Nicole, and I’ve made a bewildering number of pictures of them since.  I know nothing about banksia, save that they’re native to this land, and come in many varieties with bright flowers that look like microphones. When I loaded the image file into Lightroom, I was intrigued by the patterns on its cone and leaves. I spent four years at a university which has a dedicated banksia woodland, and a banksia cone for a logo. In my entire time there, I managed to avoid looking closely at any of them.

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But banksia are not the only things that have escaped my notice. In the fourteen years I lived in Perth (1999 – 2013), and numerous trips out bush, I’d paid too many things, too little attention. There didn’t seem any point, since they had nothing to do with the priorities of my madly-mortgaged-office-monkey ass.

Returning to that routine in February was a shock to the system. I came back to Perth to a waiting job, which I had been looking forward to in some ways. It was to be an opportunity to rest my mind and body after the rigours of the last couple of years, top up the bank account, update my skills, and take some time to consider what the hell I was doing.

Luckily – or unluckily, financially – the job didn’t work out. So a month after I started, around the same time I took that first photo of the banksia, I resigned.

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Released again from the 12 hour commitment that defined an 8 hour day at the office, I started taking walks at random times. I no longer had to keep a regiment to ensure sufficient  sleep, exercise, and time for Coffee and Magic work in my free waking hours. I went out to look at stuff again, getting close if I wished, or simply wondering at a distance. There was time.

And as always, it is photography that allows me to extend any meditation visually.  Photography pauses the chaos in my head so I can pay attention to things I’d never otherwise be able to. Savour segments of life; explore their connection and significance to the rest of my world; look closer; examine changes; look for pleasure, and curiosity. Being free from the vise of an office obligation allows me to find the magic in mundane things, and richness in unlikely times, like swaying with a banksia cone in breezy twilight, to keep the focus point manually locked on my target.

It continues to be one of the greatest gifts of this life.

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Comments 15

  1. These are beautiful and convey the emotion of solitude, reflection and growth. Much like what you write about in this post. I think there is a kind of liberation in being free of the 9-5 (or longer) cycle. It’s not financially as rewarding, but there are rewards to be found in a kind of freedom that releases the mind from the rigours of routine.

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      “The rigours of routine.”

      Indeed. The more meaning-/mindless the routine, the more exhausting it is.

      I’m relatively new to working for myself, but my general conclusion so far is: freelancing is good for the soul and bad for the finances. I’ve no idea if it’s going to work out in the long term, but I’m glad I got the chance to make that trade.

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  2. Well shot, and well written. “Photography pauses the chaos in my head so I can pay attention to things I’d never otherwise be able to.” >> Love that quote, and shall amplify it.

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  3. I liked it as well – both you and Fleming strike the right tone. Your writing has the ‘something’ that makes me want to come back again and again. And the banksia pictures are slightly creepy – as good flower photographs should be!

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      Thank you very much, Hakan. Flower photos should be creepy huh? That’s a new one, but I’m in agreement with you on it 🙂

  4. I think time is a very important currency. Time can run out so quickly. To not be locked into an unwanted routine but to be able to spend your time how you want it is invigorating and freeing the mind, unlocking energy and creativity. Presently it does mean scraping together every dollar to make a living, but it is a life worth scraping 🙂

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      You are right about that. Time is the most important currency. And it runs out so so quickly…

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  5. Australian bush is usually impressively free of symmetry. I love the symmetry you have found in these compositions. I have also freed myself from daily fixed hours recently and I am massively enjoying returning to that liberation.

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      Banksia are lovely to shoot, Gary. I find Aussie flora fairly symmetrical… at least, the varieties that grow in Perth suburbs.

      I spent three months trying to make one picture of a melancholy eucalypt and failed miserably. They’re harder to shoot than I imagined!

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