“I grew up on the world’s largest island,” Winton says. “I’m increasingly mindful of the degree to which geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palate, my imagination and expectations. The island continent has not been mere background. Landscape has exerted a kind of force upon me that is every bit as geological as family.
“To be a writer preoccupied with landscape is to accept a weird and constant tension between the indoors and the outdoors. I am so thin-skinned about weather and so eager for physical sensation I seem to spend a shameful amount of energy fretting and plotting escape, like a schoolboy. Sat near a window as a pupil, I was a dead loss. And I’m not much different now. I can’t even hang a painting in my workroom, for what else is a painting but a window? My thoughts are drawn outward; I’m entranced.”
“This country leans in on you. It weighs down hard. Like family. To my way of thinking, it is family.”
For over thirty years, Winton has written novels in which the natural world is as much a living presence as any character. What is true of his work is also true of his life: from boyhood, his relationship with the world around him – rockpools, seacaves, scrub and swamp – was as vital as any other connection. Camping in hidden inlets of the south-east, walking in the high rocky desert fringe, diving at Ningaloo Reef, bobbing in the sea between sets, Winton has felt the place seep into him, with its rhythms, its dangers, its strange sustenance, and learned to see landscape as a living process.
Island Home is the story of how that relationship with the Australian landscape came to be, and how it has determined his ideas, his writing and his life. It is also a passionate exhortation for all of us to feel the ground beneath our feet. Much more powerfully than a political idea, or an economy, Australia is a physical entity. Where we are defines who we are, in ways we too often forget to our detriment.