Urban Dreaming

I want to switch gears now, from the millennial past to the urban present. 

I had the opportunity while in Melbourne to see David Page’s performance Page 8 . The one-man show is a memoir of Page’s youth and early manhood. He grew up around Brisbane in a large family, the eighth of twelve children. (One of his brothers is Stephen Page, choreographer for the truly-ought-to-be-internationally-famous Bangarra dance company, for whom David has often composed music). David Page became famous at an early age as a child singing star, though his career crashed when his voice changed. He later went on to attend the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music in Adelaide, but his time there was interrupted when he was called home to care for an aging aunt and uncle who had helped to raise him as a child, often making their home his.

In some ways, the story he told reminded me of Sally Morgan’s My Place in its focus on family and on the discovery of the bonds that tie both authors to a community of people related by blood. Unlike Morgan’s memoir, however, Page’s doesn’t overtly treat of his Aboriginal identity, of a discovery of a past kept hidden or of a heritage that played a formative role in his development. It’s not an issue for Page at all, at least in this telling.

At the conclusion of the performance, Page relates how his father eventually re-assumed responsibility for the old couple and sent him back to school in Adelaide. The family was grateful for David’s willingness to put his own life and career aside to care for those who had raised him, but they recognized that he’d done his share and needed to get back to his education. The ultimate revelation for David was exactly the depth of his bonds to the extended family. The show’s final line is, “I know where I come from; I know my Dreaming.”

This sudden, last-minute invocation of “the Dreaming” came with a jolt for me, given that it was the only reference to his Aboriginal heritage in the entire show: even the connection to Bangarra goes unspoken. As I thought it over, I came to the understanding that the Dreaming is, even for a suburban Aboriginal man like Page, a metaphor that organizes life, that speaks of connectedness.

In her book about the Yarralin people of northwestern Australia, Dingo Makes Us Human, Deborah Bird Rose speaks of differences as being an essential aspect of the natural order of things. Wet season and dry, old man and young boy: it is the Dreaming, the Law, that makes the connections between these differences and makes sense of the world. I think this is very much the spirit in which Page speaks his summation.

And so in some ways, the Dreaming remains the same–the source of connectedness–and yet for an urban man like Page, it also is different, for it lacks the conventional associations with a creation period and ancestral heroes that we ordinarily conjure when we hear the term. Here is yet another way in which the Dreaming continues to change.

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