Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 25, 2011

My Blood’s Country, by Fiona Capp #BookReview

My Blood's Country: In the Footsteps of Judith WrightMy Blood’s Country is an enchanting book.  I took it with me to read at the hairdresser’s today because everything else I am reading is too heavy for the handbag.  Well now everything else is going to have to wait until I’ve finished reading this.  I am completely captivated by the concept that lies behind the book, by the story of Judith Wright’s life and preoccupations, by the snippets from Wright’s poetry, and by Capp’s own beautiful way with words.  It is an affectionate and honest memoir of an amazing woman, and at its best it reminds me of the gentle toughness of Pamela Bone’s writing.

Judith Wright (1915-2000) was one of Australia’s best-loved poets, a staunch campaigner for Aboriginal rights and a prominent early campaigner for the environment.  Fiona Capp was a much younger friend of Wright’s and this book is partly a biography and partly a meditation on Judith Wright’s poetry.  Written after the poet’s death, the book traces a quest to  explore the places that shaped Wright’s life.  In following her footsteps it begins when old age and infirmity had confined this grand old lady to a small bed-sit, and then transports the reader to the high tablelands of New England, to the rainforests of Queensland and finally to a home in the bush outside Canberra.

The title comes from the first verse of Judith Wright’s best known poem, South of My Days:  

South of my days’ circle, part of my blood’s country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country.

Beautiful, isn’t it?  But so is this, in Capp’s seductive prose:

A few hours out of Newcastle, I began looking for signs: outcrops of rocky granite, the bones of an ancient land poking through the surface, the earth splitting open in mighty gorges. ‘Clean, lean, hungry country’.  There must be a moment, I thought, when you sense that you have entered the New England Tablelands, when the elevation is such that there’s no mistaking it: you’re in the highest part of the whole country after the Southern Alps.  I had inhabited this terrain in my head for thirty years, surely I would know when we had arrived there.  ‘High delicate outline / of bony slopes wincing under the winter’.

The Hunter River valley undulated lazily until, as we approached Muswellbrook, the land began to shrug its shoulders more often.  Only after Scone did these individual hills begin to coalesce into a rolling upland.  Small rocky outcrops appeared as the hills grew sharper with substantial eucalypts on the upper slopes, the lower cleared for pasture.  The climb, however, was gradual and it was heard to believe that we had reached any great height.  I kept willing the landscape to be more dramatic, more like a mountain range.  (p21-22)

The Spouse and I visit the Hunter Valley vineyards regularly but I shall view the surrounding terrain differently from now onwards.  Capp’s sense of yearning and mild disappointment is then shocked into profound loss as she realises that the landscape she had imagined from Judith Wright’s poetry has been subsumed by heavily grazed and cleared land. This book is a journey of discovery for Capp, a search that finds the author pondering the contradictions in Wright’s life, her secrets, and her disappointments.  It demands to be read with the Australian Poetry Library close at hand where you can find the poems that have bewitched Fiona Capp for thirty years, and more besides, all illuminated by the insights gleaned from reading My Blood’s Country.   (The Wedding Photograph 1913, for example, means so much more when you understand that Judith Wright’s own mother died when she was just twelve).

There are photos too, but the word pictures wrought by Judith Wright and Fiona Capp render them almost redundant.

Fiona Capp was interviewed on the Radio National Book Show and MJ Lawie reviewed the book at MC Reviews.

© Lisa Hill

Author: Fiona Capp
Title: My Blood’s Country: In the Footsteps of Judith Wright
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2010
ISBN: 9781741754872
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh, $27.99 AUD

Availability:
Fishpond My Blood’s Country: In the Footsteps of Judith Wright
Allen and Unwin (eBook) My Blood’s Country


Responses

  1. This sounds wonderful. Wright was such a wonderful writer and so strong on social justice and conservation issues – and, near the end of her life she not only lived in our suburb but visited the kids’ primary school. As I recollect she was nearly blind but what a trooper. I’ll have to find time to read this book.

    • Capp says that she suffered progressive deafness too so that by the time of her last visit, conversations had to be conducted with pen and paper. She writes very movingly about how Wright missed the sound of birdsong and other sounds of bush life.
      But it’s not a sad book, not at all. It’s uplifting.

  2. Ok, well – now I have to buy it… :)

    • Oops, I forgot to do availability, will fix that now…

  3. Thank you – I don’t think I’ve yet been disappointed in a book I’ve bought on your recommendation :)

  4. I enjoyed your review of this book, Lisa. With my face-to-face bookgroup we read her autobiography “Half a Life Time”, and then a fiction book by Fiona Capp (who grew up locally and was known as “Dr Capp’s little girl”). It was interesting to see both of these brought together in this book.

    • Thanks, Janine, you’re not home from overseas yet, are you?


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