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GATHERER by Karen Wyld

Illustration of a basket of fruits
Gatherer
[noun]

  1. 1. A person who gathers [things]
  2. Someone who looks for and finds something.

Writers are natural-born gatherers. We collect memories. We gather interesting facts. We collate words. We assemble both fully formed stories and the seeds of stories, before sharing them with others.

Writers are seekers. We seek out images, new thoughts, adventure, and tales to tell. We look for meaning in all that we see, hear and feel. Gatherers are both seekers and finders.

 

Gather [verb] Bring together and take in from scattered places or sources

I spent most of my childhood in a crumbling centenarian farmhouse in South Australia. My parents only rented the house and some of the outbuildings, but my siblings and I claimed every building and the surrounding hundred acres as our backyard. Once we’d mastered getting through or over barbed-wire fences, the more adventurous siblings, myself included, considered the neighbouring farms and public spaces in a five-kilometre radius an extension of our backyard. Our farmhouse attracted a constant gathering of visitors.

 

Gather [verb] Collect plants, fruits, etc., for food

I remember the walks my mother used to take visitors and family on. In the top paddock we gathered mushrooms as big as side plates. She taught us how to tell if they were edible or toxic. Over a few fences, and down the steep hill to the river, we would find watercress hiding among the rushes. And close by there were quinces and figs growing wild. My mum would make fig jam and quince jelly, which I never ate. I was content to just gather the fruit.

When my children were young, I took them on adventures. In the forest, with a gathering of their cousins and friends, we would seek out the perfect fairy ring. There was an abundance of toadstools, but no fairies. We didn’t gather mushrooms, as I was never quite sure which ones were non-toxic. Instead we gathered pine cones and kindling for the fireplace at home. Or we’d light a campfire in the forest. Then we’d poke a stick through slices of bread, to toast them over the flames.

 

Gather [verb] Draw and hold together by running thread through it

Years later, in my neighborhood and further afield, I gathered plant fibre suitable for weaving. I recall a hot summer day, clambering up a small outcrop of rocks on the Northern Territory/South Australian border, collecting tjanpi with Aṉangu women. We made it back to Pukatja as the low-petrol light flashed. I wrapped up the tjanpi I’d collected, to take back home; already imagining what I’d make. The sculpture I created won a ribbon at the Adelaide Royal Show; this piece held a hidden story of being nestled by Country.

For many years I collected sedge grasses, leaves, native grasses, wool, linen and other fibre to make baskets and sculptures. First, I spread the leaves and grasses on a flat surface. Once dry, I gathered a small handful and twisted them together. With a needle threaded with raffia, wool or thick linen thread, I permanently gathered the fibre together. In and out. Round and round. Up, up, until a basket took shape. Weaving baskets is like writing stories – you never know where that first thread will lead to until it is done. Some baskets I have gifted or sold, others I still treasure.

 

Gather [verb] Gain or recover (one’s breath)
Like a dragon in its secret lair, I sit on a mountain of treasure. Not all of these items are mine, and none have monetary value. The owners of this cache have either abandoned or entrusted me with their possessions and mementos while they travelled, moved out or moved on. Some have since returned, as ashes, to rest alongside their personal effects. I catch my breath. Focus on gathering myself. To recover. Dispersing this mountain of memories and shadows can wait.

 

Gather [verb] Summon up (a mental or physical attribute) for a purpose

I gather the dogs for their daily walk. Some days I need to summon the will power but it’s become a habit that the dogs and I enjoy. Last spring, I’d made the decision to get out more. Daily walks on the beach and in the local wetlands is a good start.

Then a turn in fortune allowed me to set my sights further from home. In February, I travelled to Sydney. There was already talk of a virus, and racialised finger-pointing had begun. At a gathering of University of Technology Sydney students and faculty, I gave a progress presentation for my Masters by research; then I flew home.

A few days later I secretly flew into Perth for the announcement of the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Award. The next day I was given an artist pass that granted me entry to the Perth Festival’s Literature & Ideas  green room. There I met or caught up with writers, poets and storytellers that gathered in between their sessions. Having just won an award for an unpublished manuscript, I dared to envision many green rooms in my not-so-distant future.

The next week I snuck into an invite-only gathering at Adelaide Writers Week. Catching up with other members of the SA First Nations Writers groups, we plotted a year of writing activities and celebrating blak literary success. It was only the first week of March, and my year of being less distanced was off to a good start.

And then I started social distancing. Sooner than many, as I was concerned for family members, across a few households, that I provide care for. Eventually it became apparent that I would not be presenting at a literature studies conference in Canada in July. And then not presenting at one in Cairns. Instead, I gathered up the resolve to get through the pandemic, aware I had it far easier than many.

 

Gathering [noun] an assembly or meeting, especially one held for a specific purpose

I may have spent the last few years distanced from social gatherings and large groups of people, but in my lifetime I have been to countless gatherings. Family gatherings. Gathering in pubs and clubs. Community gatherings. Gathering in protest. Waiting, gathered in the school carpark. Gathering to build community-initiated social change. In a weaving circle, sharing and gathering stories. Gathering for birthdays and funerals.

 

Gatherer

There will be more gatherings to attend post-pandemic. In the meantime, I continue to gather thoughts, ideas and words. I have more dreams to gather. I’ve stories to write, and hopefully publish. Gatherers are seekers and finders, dreamers and doers. A pandemic cannot stop the gathering and sharing of stories.


Karen Wyld is a freelance writer and author living on the coast, south of Adelaide. She is a Masters candidate at University of Technology Sydney. Her novel Where the Fruit Falls, published by UWA Publishing, won the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

Copyright © 2020 Karen Wyld. 


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