Whatever

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The Area of Study

63

Sample response: Nonfiction
Prescribed text: Romulus, My Father, Raimond Gaita, 1999
Related text: Gary’s House, Debra Oswald, 2000 (drama)
Statement about
belonging and
understanding
directly related to the
question through the
thesis statement

Context
Relationship of place
to belonging is
discussed, with
supporting evidence
from text

Final statement in
the paragraph sums
up the pressures of
place versus family in
the quest to belong –
taps into the thesis
about the self, in the
statement forces from
within
Connections between
the two texts are
indicated by the use

Understanding and belonging have a curious relationship. On the one hand, understanding or empathy for others helps you to accept them and to be inclusive. Lack of understanding can be the reason for excluding people. But understanding is also often necessary if one is already in a situation of belonging; knowing about what and who you belong to can offer emotional nourishment. This latter interpretation of understanding and belonging is in play in the biography Romulus, My Father. Developed from a eulogy for his father, Raimond Gaita uses the process of memory to understand his past and what it is he belongs to. The same search for what it means to belong can be seen in Debra Oswald’s play Gary’s House, which explores the importance of family and the Australian ‘dream’ of owning a house. In both texts, the writer, Raimond Gaita and the protagonist, Gary, come to an understanding of what belonging means to them; self-awareness is the main focus in both. This selfawareness includes the knowledge of what it means not to be understood. For each, belonging is about place and relationships, but in Gaita we see that belonging is also about ideas and beliefs. What we also see implicitly through comments made about the respective pasts of each person is that lack of understanding can prevent belonging.

Belonging is often deeply connected to place and for migrants venturing to a new land there is an obvious dislocation from place. Gaita follows the pathway of his parents from Germany to Australia in 1950. Exact dates and descriptions of places give us a sense of objectivity about where the family moves to, but in amongst the factual statements, Gaita also takes time to describe the landscape as “one of rare beauty”. He says that “to a European or English eye it seems desolate, and even after forty years, my father could not become reconciled to it”. Gaita demonstrates what a strong contrast can emerge from the same view of what Raimond Gaita regards as “noble gums”, interpreted by Romulus as “symbols of deprivation and barrenness”. For Gaita’s mother, “a city girl from Europe”, a dead red gum “became for my mother a symbol of her desolation”. In a moment of epiphany when he is an adolescent, Gaita starts to see the landscape as one of “special beauty, disguised until I was ready for it”. Gaita’s alertness to the landscape about him and his changed sensibility in this very lyrical passage illustrate more than just an aesthetic sensibility. By admiring the scene which was so foreign and unacceptable to his father, Gaita is also indicating a move away from the father. Romulus never understands the landscape and consequently never belongs. He remains unmoved by the landscape, failing to understand it in his early years, causing a dangerous fire that distanced him from his neighbours and led to his ridicule in the local newspaper. Gaita articulates for us, and for himself, an understanding of the constant struggle between the past and honouring his father, and the present in which always he lives through the landscape. He shows us that belonging is not easy to perceive and that there are forces from within and without that shape our sense of belonging. Gary, the eponymous protagonist of Gary’s House, also finds himself in a different setting from what he has been used to. Like Romulus, he has made the decision to...
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