We did not choose to live alone                                                                                               Rather, solitude like the water overcame us                                                                             Place is a habit overcoming us

The sound poem ‘Ladyswamp’ has its origins in the accumulation of silt. Silt was pivotal in the (mis)fortunes of two belles of Melbourne society, Margaret and Jeannie Clement, whose family purchased Tullaree homestead, an 1100 hectare property on the Tarwin River flats in South Gippsland,1907. After Jeannie died an invalid in 1950, Margaret, so-called ‘lady of the swamp’ remained on the property for another two years before vanishing in mysterious circumstances. Believed murdered, her body was never found.

That these sisters persisted in occupying the land, despite their being unable to manage it in the manner of their colonial forbears, is of great interest to us.

For me, their story became one of declination; this was a ‘fault line’ I wanted to pursue in my writing. In my use of the word ‘declination’ I also refer to its rare meaning, that of ‘courteous refusal’. The sisters sank into poverty, clinging to their heavily mortgaged land, courteously refusing outside help, as the drainage channels silted up and the swamp reclaimed the land.

Declination, in its astronomical sense is “the angular distance of a heavenly body (north or south) from the celestial equator, corresponding to terrestrial latitude”. Declination also means “the dip of the magnetic needle”;  a metaphor I want to use to suggest a shift or alteration in consciousness. I think Patrick alludes to something like this in his first post which describes the ‘wonder of performance’. In my writing I tried to imagine a shift in Margaret Clement’s consciousness as she made her ritual wade through the swamp to and from the homestead, decaying on its island plateau. I see her sense of place as being formed by the movement of her legs loose in the swamp.

If you are interested to read about the Margaret Clement story, see the following books by journalist and author, Richard Shears: Swamp: who murdered Margaret Clement? and The Lady of the swamp.

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