05 Nov Voices From the Past
Words in a book…
Esther learnt of my existence and found me through words in a family history tome. My older brother had written and published A Little Bit of Irish, while living in a farmhouse in the Isère region not far from the French Alps.
Esther and I discovered that we were cousins and became firm friends straight away.
Many coincidences connected us—we’d spent exactly seven decades on the planet in the same country, the same state, and in the same city. Intuition, creativity, and a love of nature and family were further connections.
At our first meeting, Esther brought along a neat chart she’d drawn to show me the links to our Irish ancestors, going way back through the centuries. It was like ghosts speaking and waving to me from the past.
More recently, Esther emailed me about ‘voices from the past’: people, ancestors, wanting so strongly to speak to us that … physical laws of time and space appear to be broken.
The past lives in us…
She mentioned Charlie Perkins, an Aboriginal activist who studied at the University of Sydney in the sixties. His words, ‘the past lives in us’ meant a great deal to my cousin. Sometimes the past, through the land, sings to us, he’d said.
Aboriginal cultures often speak of the land talking to them.
The mineral pool in Moree spoke to me when I was about three. See my post on this blog.
Esther also referred to Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. This book explores the Aboriginal Dreamtime mythology and the lovely idea that the land was sung into existence: trees, rocks, paths and animals becoming one, along with the singers who sang them into being.
Places from the past…
Paterson and Vacy in the Lower Hunter Valley are further points of connection between us. Her Dixon ancestors first settled there from 1861-1867 and established a home for their expanding families. Vacy, this small remote community, unknown to most people I meet, is precisely where my son Joel, settled with his family in 2005. It’s also where Alice, a common ancestor, was born; the village Vacy, was spelt in historical archives as ‘Nessif’.
Esther writes: I suppose when I say the ancestors speak to me, my body is a great indicator to me—sometimes urging me to follow up on these family matters. When I first began researching the Dixon family I can’t remember what guided me in that direction—something did, when I could have been engaged in my art work, painting my pictures. And when I really started getting into the search once again, I felt such … wellness! I hadn’t felt so well for a long, long time. It was that feeling that made me think something was guiding me in the ‘right’ direction. I was excited at finding more information and finally, I got in touch with William’s book, and then you two (Myself and my sister Susan).
The Dixons (Esther’s ancestors) and the O’Keefes (mine) were cousins, who migrated from County Clare in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century.
Paterson and Vacy, thence to the Clarence
William writes: It would appear that Michael Dixon and his wife, lived in Paterson for some seven years, from 1861 until 1867, whereas Michael O’Keefe and his wife only lived there for three years, from 1862 until 1864. The two related families may have decided to go there together. From this point on, in chapter 4, we need to examine the O’Keefes and the Dixons in parallel, as they move from Paterson up to Grafton: A Little Bit of Irish.
Family History Songlines
Could this urge to seek out past family links produce it’s own version of songlines? By retracing our ancestors’ steps, are we tapping into their songlines? While she’s explored different family members’ journeys, Esther has actually felt herself in the places where they’ve been. It’s such a strong feeling. While reading up on Vacy and Paterson she could feel herself there and picture different settings—buildings, men working, women cooking…. Could these be called ‘songlines’?
Is that the way our ancestors are talking to us?
She believes that there has to be some ‘other dimensional’ influence in all of this (family history singing to us.) She feels that her mother is guiding this, perhaps through her father James.
Ella’s story is remarkable, too, though she doesn’t belong by blood to the Dixons and O”Keefes, just by marriage to James Dixon. The way she found out about her story is quite astonishing too. And the way she guided her back in the 1990s to undertake more research.
Maybe it is Ella influencing all of this. She has ‘dialogued’ with her before and will no doubt do so again.
Since responding to Esther’s email, a strange thing has happened. Lyrics and songs from the past, a past in which I could not keep a tune, have been calling on me. Within my otherwise musical family, Dad and I, out of the seven of us, were both tone deaf.
Now I have started to sing, at first tentatively, and then more confidently. I have been even singing in tune, especially Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The words and tune from this song have been singing to me day and night for weeks on end. I cannot even remember learning it in the past. But I can now sing it right through, almost perfectly.