Wandering through Greer’s archive, at the University of Melbourne, I’m fascinated by her wondrous aptitude for demonstrating a womanhood that is ‘joyfully otherwise’– I glow to it, as if a beacon in a redundantly patriarchal world fast approaching climate devastation, now in the midst of a global pandemic. Sally Quinn, columnist for The Washington Post, recorded Greer’s comments back in the 1970s post publication of her break-out feminist book The Female Eunuch:
“… the only reason I ever submitted to the commercialisation of Germaine Greer is to help women in the home, to raise the self-image of women, to spread the movement to the widest possible base. My aim was to demonstrate that everything could be otherwise and joyously otherwise.”
Greer has strayed, gone rogue, journeying to the wild zone, repeatedly for women – from The Female Eunuch redolent of Shakespeare’s virago woman, to her subsequent other main works, culminating in her important ecofeminist book White Beech, not to mention her prolific writings as a journalist. The woman warrior summoned out of the pages of Shakespeare’s early comedies can be found replicated in Greer’s oeuvre. Her sympathies clearly align with the virago woman, as do Shakespeare’s, over and above the untenable ultra-feminine woman, now considered entirely gender reductive. But, distinctly unlike Shakespeare Greer is not an apologist for marriage, rather she has opted out, been decidedly unmarriageable, a ‘scold’ as Kate is in The Taming of the Shrew. She has been willfully other, joyfully so, and offered an alternative prospect for women. Of course, this is what many love about her. It’s what others loathe about her. Undoubtedly, from time to time in her dotage Greer has veered beyond provocateur to overt polemicist. Still, I don’t think the popular media would quite so viciously take down an elder statesman as they have done Greer in recent years for her trans-phobic comments. Indeed, we ought to celebrate Greer for demonstrating all her life how women may come to invest their desires in the world against-the-grain of expectation, and specifically as powerful advocates of conservationism.
Greer’s early forays into the natural world perhaps began as a gardener at her villa in Italy – a verdant wonderland. She first visited Italy in 1965 whilst a postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge. From 1973-1994 she owned Pianelli, a stone house in Montannare di Cortona, Tuscany, close to the border of Umbria. In The Book of Pianelli, a red covered photograph book that Greer prepared for her best friend Gay Clifford, now housed in her archive, she reminisces about time spent together at what Fellini referred to as her ‘fairytale castle.’ That is, until the area became encroached upon by an aspirational bourgeoisie – suburbanised by rich American neighbours who started cutting down trees and forced Greer elsewhere. Certainly, the book closely examines the natural world as reported through an intimate exchange between two women. Greer begins by reminiscing about a working party in 1970, which she joined to ready the house for high summer. At the time Pianelli belonged to her friend Lyndell who owned several properties, but it was her favourite house because of its remoteness and the fact that it was a bit of an oddity.
“We swept the mouse turds out of the corners, emptied their families out of the mattresses, plucked cobwebs from the beams and boiled caked fat and grime off the kitchen things. We didn’t dare to attempt the extirpation of the brambles that were trying to grow through the walls” (Greer, p.2).
A house hemmed in by wilderness – encroached upon by shrubbery. Greer even noticed a Chestnut wood outback for rambling in. She writes that next time she visited Pianelli it was by motorbike – as woman troubadour. It was the summer of 1972. Clifford was already staying there with her friend Michael Miller. Greer found Clifford sunbathing naked ‘on the ballatio, engulfed in fig and apple leaves, like Eve after the Fall’ (Greer, p.3). There is the sense of an against-the-grain friendship forged between these two women in the vein of the Llangollen Ladies; an abiding kinship between women based in a concomitant love, albeit which was unlikely sexual.
Greer speculates that she never anticipated owning Pianelli. It was in fact Clifford who loved the house. Greer writes that she bought the house for Clifford, for them both, to keep it in the family, though she suggests that Clifford may have had some ill feeling about that, maybe having wished to purchase it herself. There is an undercurrent of occasional misunderstanding, perhaps a thread or two of intimacy gone wayward, which Greer clearly hoped to reign in through her dedication.
Nevertheless, The Pianelli Book is a kind of love letter from Greer to Clifford. Greer signs her letters to Clifford with a doodle of a love heart with bat wings and a small crown on top. Clifford responds with a heart and bat wings – no crown. Greer is the crowned one. But, as it becomes clear, the crown on Greer’s heart signature intimates that she is crowned by virtue of loving Clifford.
Greer recalls the following summer of 1973 when she and Clifford were alone together at Pianelli – they planted white petunias. Greer surmises that they were likely extremely happy, but didn’t realise it at the time. A polaroid of Clifford shows her nymph-like, a nipple touching the page of her book, her dark hair draped across her face, sitting in the sun reading atop several mattresses piled high. On the next page there is a picture of Greer smiling broadly squatting out front of Pianelli nearby the Iberis sempervines planted on the second spring at Pianelli. Another polaroid shows the Pianelli villa from behind a stone wall ledge and reveals the terrace of wild flowers leading up to the property. Three more portraits of ‘Vipers Bugloss, Papaver rhoeas and corn chamomile in the orchard’ flowering at Clifford’s window (Greer, p.6). A shot of chives in full bloom (Greer, p. 7). Rosa floribunda or ‘Iceberg’ growing over the gate in wild abundance. All is recorded at Pianelli by way of plantings.
In a letter from Greer to Clifford sometime post-summer in 1973 she writes to invite Clifford to Pianelli for the Christmas period. Greer talks of a possible excursion to Bologna, conveys that at the time of writing the letter she’s using a borrowed typewriter, which flails under the strain of her literary will – the typeset is occasionally muddled. She ruminates about their Italian community in the letter – tells of Italian carpenters who likely think her a nouveau riche pig from Milano, unable to detect her Australian accent. Greer is fluent in Italian, having picked up the language organically early from a neighbor in her native Melbourne. Greer comments on the fact that all of the flowering in the garden is overly white, as if a prodigious field of narcissus – pre the fall into Hade’s underworld. It prompts a friend, Enrico Tariffi, to gift Greer a red Cerastium tormentosum to plant. Nearby a polaroid depicts Greer’s two white cats named Bisi and Boogaloo.
In another letter to Clifford Greer writes of recent renovations at Pianelli, of camping out in the two thirds of the house not under construction, drinking scotch and going to bed early. During this period Greer recounts a rather amusing episode of being pulled over by the carabinieri (Italian military police) for driving her Cortina unlicensed with a small chimney in the back. Suffice to say that Greer was suitably unimpressed by the policeman’s authority and desire to bring her in line with the law – she basically took the piss. ‘You know what they say about carabinieri, they use the brick test, that is they bash him over the skull with a brick – if the brick breaks he gets the job’ (Greer, p.11). Clifford writes back to Germaine accepting her invitation to Pianelli over Christmas.
A letter from Greer at high winter addressed to ‘My Sweet Gay’ – tells her that ‘The vegetable garden and all the plants and all the leaves have disappeared as if smitten by a giant hand’ (Greer, p.13). Greer laments – even the petunias are snap frozen and the cats refuse to go out in the snow. ‘The sky is dead white, the wind blows a gale and it has begun to snow again’ (Greer, p.14). A polaroid of a domestic scene – Clifford on the sofa reading with Bisi and Boogaloo beside her contentedly. Greer later writes a commentary on how much fun that Christmas together had been. ‘We were comfortable, tidy, calm and busy’ (Greer, p.16). Serenity reigned supreme.
In a letter from Greer to Clifford after their shared Christmas Greer writes of a ‘bee army’ enveloping Pianelli – likely in Spring. ‘Lo–and–Behold, as I entered the house I discovered that various out-rider bees were reconnoitering, and the roar from the glade convinces me that bee-armies are on the move’ (Greer, p.17). She hastens around the house ‘mopping up bees and hurling them outside’ and shutting up the house (Greer, p.17). Greer reports at length:
“The insect scene this year promises to be the liveliest for many a year, all along say the sages, of this year’s mild winter and exaggerated rainfall. Appalling creatures appeared on the lilies and the potatoes, pink all over and hiding from the world under a pompadour of their own shit which they piped incessantly onto their heads. Then aphis descended on absolutely everything and ants appeared to herd them back and forth. I saw one little mean ant with its teeth sunk into a huge ants eye-socket, hanging on grimly while the big ant removed all his legs and his abdomen in the maddening effort to escape. Eventually they both died”(Greer, p.17).
Greer further writes of ‘Horse flies this year as they have never been my dear’ (Greer, p.18). And ‘navy-blue bees’ equipped with a kind of knife in front of their heads. ‘I don’t like them half so much now that I have actually had to watch the neat evisceration of my nasturtiums’ (Greer, p.18). A polaroid shows a naked Clifford reclining on a mattress suspended on a metal frame sunbathing – pansies and wisteria behind her. Another polaroid depicts the Tuscan landscape covered in mists.
Greer reports that Clifford got sick the summer of 1974 when she went away to Romania and Clifford kept a Pianelli diary for her. Clifford writes of all the ‘minutiae that engross [her]’ at Pianelli over the course of the summer. She writes of getting rail thin (Clifford suffered from Crones disease). She writes of the wild yellow rose with two flowers, of the ‘pale whitey-purple verbera,’ which has three new flowers. Of ‘melon progress’ and the ‘advent of new beans’ (Clifford, p.22). She writes of deluge and of bad house guests who don’t lift a finger to help. She writes of ‘A cat-voice in the fields below’ and informs Greer that ‘The cats have buggered the fig-tree from playing in it and dismantling branches’ (Clifford, p.23).
A picture with the subtitle ‘great wall of Pianelli’ appears to be a boundary wall built with stone covered in Hydrangea arborescens around the villa. Another polaroid shows dog rose. Another shows Clifford’s bedroom door, which seems to intimate a kind of longing for her on part of Greer. Yet another polaroid reveals Clifford next to a man out front of Pianelli – the garden in full bloom. An amusing commentary accompanies a picture of a sunken courgette souffle made by Greer, which Clifford taught her to bake – ‘even to the extent of blowing off your eyebrows and pubic hair’ (Greer, p.26). It makes the reader consider the pros and cons of nude baking, as well as ruminate further on the level of intimacy between the women. (But, heck, it was the 70s – nudity reigned supreme).
A letter from Clifford in May, 1975, reads: ‘If only you didn’t have to make money and could be here. The garden is a wonder … Huge heavy-faced papal poppies, delicate little marguerites, the jasmine and the broom collaborating towards intoxication on each inhalation’ (Clifford, p.27). She goes onto write of the ants eating the pansies, of the increasingly feral behavior of the cats with respect to food. She reports that one of the cats has sunburnt flaky ears. A few polaroid’s follow the letter, one of Clifford presumably, wanly looking at the sky, another of an exotic looking wildflower, which is almost labial. Clifford’s handwritten scrawl below reads ‘Hurry up – nowhere could be as good as Pianelli’ (Clifford, p.29). A small excerpt of text on the next page reads ‘Best and beautiful Germaine, I do love you, and not “despite” anything’ (Clifford, p.30). Signed as always with the love heart and batwings minus a crown.
In the following pages there are pictures of the countryside dated 1977. Greer writes of a rift between her and Clifford, of some falling out, which she never fully understood. An hypnotic poetic love note in Clifford’s handwriting states: ‘The moon is full, the days are hot, the wind blows all the air like metempsychose honey everywhere: come quickly’ (Clifford, p.32). Clifford evocation of metempsychosis induces a kind of poetic reverie, makes me consider another turn of fate, or perhaps it is a death that is near, or am I merely sensing a growing unintelligibility with respect to Greer and Clifford’s affection? For The Book of Pianelli becomes somehow unintelligible – as Proust writes on the very first page of In Search of Lost Time ‘Then it [a book] began to grow unintelligible to me, as after metempsychosis do the thoughts of an earlier existence…’ (Proust, 2002, p.7) The Pianelli existence grows dim. Greer is increasingly off chasing her great white whale – as if a transmigration of the soul is underway. Hermine Melville writes at the end of chapter Ninety-Eight in Moby Dick: ‘Oh! the metempsychosis! Oh! (Melville, p.651). Greer increasingly in pursuit of another life of reportage and eventually conservation. Her great Southern Queensland forest wins her in the end. But first, there is Pianelli and there is Clifford.
Whatever the quarrel, it is clear that an abiding affection characterises Greer and Clifford’s relationship, much like the Llangollen Ladies immortalised in Worsdworth’s poem, pottering about the garden, or entertaining leading minds of their age, conversing ‘in the Cambrian tongue’ – speaking letters in a discursive tone not of Wales, but of Calabria.
These women of profound friendship, ‘sisters in love,’ are Virago women all of them, dodging marriage and a life of servitude under a law of the father – seeking alms in the companionship of kindred other women. Of course, instead of Shelley, Byron and Wordsworth, Greer and Clifford counted Fellini among their house guests at Pianelli. Greer even apparently once undertook a scooter journey across Sardinia where she attended a dinner with Princess Margaret, before ferrying back to the mainland.
Greer writes of her Fellini fling in her column for The Telegraph – it seems he’d propositioned her for a small part in his film Casanova, which she declined, albeit going onto act as unofficial consort to him on the film. The story goes that she visited the set of his film in Rome wearing no bra or knickers under her dress – suffice to say Fellini was impressed. He visited her at Pianelli replete with his silk brown pajamas, rather confident. Greer tells an affectionate tale of Fellini in an hysterical moment presumably mid love-making when a bat flew into her bedroom and Greer feared what she would have to tell the papers should he ‘cark[ed] it in bed.’ Perhaps this explains Greer and Clifford’s heart bat sign to one another – Pianelli was their homely place of bats, close to the verdurous realms of fairy tale. A fairy tale life that could see you making love with the ‘many-sided genius’ of Fellini. Toward the end of The Book of Pianelli Greer writes Clifford a fairy tale-like poem – of rings, leopards, gazelles and pavilions. Theirs is a naïve mythical love – already unhinged to the vast aphasia of history.
A photograph shows Greer smiling in the garden holding an umbrella while watering the garden with text accompanying it: ‘Dr Greer’s white magic involves watering when it rains, just to encourage it to keep on raining’ is somewhat enchanting (Greer, p.36). Then a succession of cat polaroid’s – Bisi ‘genius loci’ under a tree (Greer, p.38). A poem penned by Greer is dedicated to her cats. She is a white witch at the helm of domestic life surrounded by her animal familiars.
On either side the poppies show
In clumps beneath the violets grow
The house is a slim brown ship
Out of the rain on the hill.
Two white cats flump and slip
From grass to the door and into the slip
One gold and wounded, where the herbs are dry
The other earless, hunting, guards the hill.
Another poem titled Cats and All by Greer, addressed to Christina Gascoigne – leads one to ruminate further on Greer’s cat totem.
It has to be said first that all the best lovers
Love cats. Perhaps it’s their tact, perhaps it’s
Their grace, perhaps the fact that cats
Have the art of being stupid but always a pleasure.
Greer goes onto write in the poem that when she leaves the world she hopes to be led off by a cat, perhaps by Bastet. Then on the following page another round of cat polaroid’s: Boogaloo yawning, Boogaloo drinking from a stone bowl, which looks to be a mortar missing its pestle, Boogaloo with narrowed eyes lazing about, Boogaloo on a rock staring into the distance, blackish tiger striped tail slung down the rock.
A few pages later Greer writes to Clifford of her motivation for assembling The Book of Pianelli, for she’d never before kept a photo album. Two pictures depict black winged butterflies edged with dappled white markings. Another shows a gathering of white blossoms in the cleft of a stone ledge. Greer writes a prose paragraph Finalities ahead of Clifford’s July visit. All is winding up. Ah, but these Llangollen Ladies are a wondrous fairytale romance.
“I don’t just want you to remember everything about Pianelli, the raw Aprils, the serrano, the astonishments of June, the golden heat of July, the flash and the bombast of August storms (and our jewelry left in the garden to lure the rain) and the purple twighlights of the autumn, and our perfect Christmas, I want you to look forward to being there again. You’re not coming on a visit to Pianelli, you’re coming home to Pianelli. There you will see that it is not true that you have no past and no present, and we will still be there in the future. Together we can knit together the fragments and rebuild the continuity of your life, if you will only trust me. You must trust me enough to relax, to get angry when you feel angry, to be confused and tired when you need to be, and not to try to impress me or pretend that you aren’t having difficulties. If I am doing things the wrong way, hurting you, or being insensitive, pushing you in the direction you are already moving in, you must say. I will make mistakes, but I can learn, if you will help me. You can’t incur my displeasure, or contempt or anger because I love you. I love you in that old-fashioned Ladies of Llangollen way that literary females like us must keep alive and incorrupt by twentieth century sex-religion. Amor vincit omnia” (Greer, p.41).
Greer’s friendship with Clifford is sacrosanct in this literary pledge of sorts. It is likely that Greer is shaken by Clifford’s brain hemorrhage in the letter – wants to nurse her back to health. Greer writes on the next page. ‘You shine beyond compliment, while my prosaic tongue stumbles on clumsy eulogy’ (Greer, p.42). A polaroid of Clifford looking over a balcony at Pianelli is positioned next to a love poem. Greer writes of an emptiness – a ‘singing void’ (Greer, p.43). Clearly, Greer turns to poetry to convey the plenitude of her emotions in relation to Clifford, but also potentially by way of homage to the fact Clifford was a poet. On the last page of The Book of Pianelli Clifford’s handwritten scrawl reads ‘But the full moon at Pianelli was marvelous’ (Clifford, p.44). A final polaroid shows a darkened mountain and then a cut and pasted child-like heart with angel wings and a crown. Greer signs her heart over to Clifford one last time – perhaps in perpetuity.
Greer’s work, primarily as a journalist, thereafter took her elsewhere, motivated no doubt by the increasing popularity of Tuscany and the clearing of much habitation in Cortona, which bugged her. Greer strayed from Pianelli. She writes in the preface of her book White Beech that her forays into the woodlands proper began when she bought her Essex house and planted a small wood, that is, by way of extending her dedicated gardening habit, which she documented in her popular Daily Telegraph column ‘Country Notebook.’ Greer’s friends apparently predicted her purchase of an Australian piece of wilderness – even if she couldn’t divine it herself. In Greer’s archive I spend hours listening to her driving around the rugged Australian landscape in pursuit of a bit of wilderness she can rehabilitate, to restore biodiversity – do her bit. She calls it hearts work – a call to custodianship. She’s a woman gone rogue driving with a knot in her stomach, low on petrol, getting up at the ‘crack.’ It’s like spending intimate time with her – listening to her errant ramblings about the landscape.
Past a bandicoot, brushtail turkeys, endless koala signs. Petitioning the rain in the driest of continents. Cattle on the road vexing her – wanting to pass and get on. She refers to the cows as beauties and ponders: ‘Where’s the fuckin’ owner.’ Reciting dozens of towns as she drives along – talks up, rather than sings up the landscape. A dead wallaby by the side of the road – countless dead wallabies along the drovers’ track. Wild weeds like chicory and harebell disturb her. She names everything – notes plenty of eucalypts along the way. ‘It’s pretty dry’ she bemoans. More cattle on the road. Then the wonderful sound of rain on the car. Naming creeks all the way: Oak Creek in the NSW Tablelands. Smatterings of ‘bugger-all’ and ‘bastards’ litter her laconic Australian accent with more than a hint of British defectiveness. Musing on the colour of the earth ‘deep mahogany – no, it’s actually darker than that, dark chocolate.’ She arrives one day in Coolah. Another day drives on the Black Stump way. Headed to Mudgee. Starts naming gullies. Dead man’s gully is the first. She occasionally stops in a town for a pie and some petrol – notes the sad looking inhabitants in Dunedoo. Headed on the Goulburn Valley Highway up to Dubbo – a bloody long way. St John’s Wort grows beside the road. She recites the names of purple flowers: Verbena, Clematis. Gets excited about driving on a graded road, loves the feel of rolling along quite contended, ‘having a good time,’ on the road to Wellington. Greer pontificates: ‘Australian’s have become more stupid than I remember them being … I used to think of them as quite smart people, or did I, maybe I always thought they were slow-witted…’ And then she happens upon an open woodland, which has clearly been logged and exclaims: ‘Talk about slow-witted!’ She reaches Wellington – crosses the Macquarie River. Travelling secret roads around Australia. Behind a truck leaking steaming cow piss. In NSW there are many stone churches – absolutely lovely, like in the Adelaide Hills. But, the un-useable roads are ‘fuckin madness.’ She observes to herself bemusedly: ‘I think it’s going to take more than fixing the roads to fix Australia.’
Greer gives a commentary from the Bungle Bungle Ranges at dawn: ‘You never saw country like this, it’s fabulous. There’s a wide sweeping valley surrounded by low hills and slightly higher ones, you’ve got a long vista over range after range towards the alps, and of course there’s crap everywhere: I’m surrounded by pine trees, poplars and willows [introduced species], but I imagine it was sort of eucalypt scrub, but probably pretty sparse, we’re not yet in Mt Nash country, but it’s gorgeous, amazing country … Shangri-La.’ Then on, past the river flats. She rolls into Bungle. ‘This is staggering country.’ As she drives along Greer augurs that the grass trees need to be visited occasionally by fire to ‘Do their thing.’ She sees her first lantana – the good old pink and yellow variety. Driving nearby Grafton – sugar and banana country. Noting a pittosporum invasion choking out the forest along the way. More travelling – to Lachlan. ‘There’s a terrific amount of water around Forbes’ she observes. Greer notes the ‘Roly-poly rolling hills,’ the burnt woods, the yellow acacia, the flowering wattles. Pressing on to Gilgandra – town of windmills. To Tamworth. To Armadale where she notes country ‘enmeshed in mountains.’ She laments the clearing of the country – the denuded hills. Fields full of thistles and sedge make her shake her head in disgust. It is her task to restore the native vegetation in some minor stretch of wilderness – to do battle with ‘fucking willows everywhere.’ Oh the bombard poplars, down with the maples and the hateful copper beech. Red Salvias on the side of the road near Mullumbimby.
On her car journey Greer undertakes an important task of imagining the native landscape prior to colonisation. She discerns why Australia’s so fucked – people keep trying to turn it into something else. Greer finds her bit of wilderness: Cave Creek.
Throughout her travels Greer observes that only ‘a little bit of native vegetation remains …’ in the Australian landscape. She suggests that we ought to be grateful for it. Otherwise the vegetation is entirely encroached upon, ‘driven back,’ as the first peoples have been. Greer wonders what an Australian actually even is – and considers that they ought to become Indigenous. But, she speculates, to do so Australians will need to give up their worst behavior. Greer notes that: ‘Aboriginality is Australia’s only chance of survival…we have to change our values.’ She ruminates about Australia as a country ‘poor in spirit.’ Indeed, Greer puts her finger on a truth about Australian identity as only an expatriate returned can. She identifies the need for Australians to become custodians, to restore biodiversity, which of course is a worldwide project. But, Greer notes that Australians will likely have to get over their crippling prejudice against Indigenous Australians first, which remains a terrible stain on the country.
As journalist Stan Grant so eloquently told Australians in his speech on the impact of colonisation and ongoing discrimination in Australian culture, the so-called ‘Australian dream’ is fueled by racism, which originates with our murky colonial past. Whilst Gwen Harwood’s poem Looking Toward Bruny tells of Australia’s mineral rich earth, of abundant flora and fauna, she also speaks persuasively of a history steeped in violence through colonisation, and of the atrocities committed against our first peoples. ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ was how the first European visitors tried to get a grip on this place. To name it was to claim it: New Holland. This was the first political act, which set into motion a story of violence and nationalism. Australia still suffers under the weight of unlawful ownership. Another much loved Australian poet, Judith Wright, lyrically conjures the Australian landscape in Train Journey, and elucidates the feeling of having taken the landscape into her interiority, invoking a powerful, even eruptive force of creation at work. She writes ‘… country that built my heart’ (J. Wright, 1991, p.78). Poetry captures the melody of place, its wild abundance, which gets under the skin, brings about a strong need to conserve and protect.
Certainly, Greer steers Australians toward their role as custodians. In her book White Beech: The Rainforest Years Greer petitions: ‘Biodiversity is our real heritage as the ostentation of extinct aristocracies is not. We have inherited a planet that is richer and more various than could ever have been imagined’ (Greer, 2013, p.3). She goes onto point out that:
‘The only way of keeping the extraordinary richness and exuberance of this small planet is to rebuild habitat’ (Greer, 2014, p.5). Greer tells of falling in love with the Australian landscape – driving the Birdsville track to Alice Springs. She refutes the literary depictions of the Australian landscape as harsh, relentless, formless and redolent of death, but rather embraces the landscape as a fountainhead of comfort, which flourishes within her. She refutes Nicolas Rothwell’s Wings of the Kite-Hawk: ‘Why do I feel “the stillness of the bush, pure and uncaring”, or the “dull monotony of tree and scrub”, in this “inhuman”, “unnatural”, “alien” “world of suffering, exhaustion, danger and death”, “the cruelest and most inhuman world that it was possible to conceive” under the ‘empty blueness of the sky?”’ (Greer cites Rothwell, 2014, p.36). Indeed, Greer points out that there have been many disparaging descriptions of the Australian landscape.
Not so, her Cave Creek. For it is a haven of biodiversity, which veritably sings its majesty – ‘galaxies of rare plants’ (Greer, 2014, p.104). ‘Ardisia bakeri, Rhodamnia maideniana, Tapeinosperma repandulum, Quassia Mt Nardi, Neisosperma poweri, Cupaniopsis newmannii, Lepiderema pulchella’ (Greer, 2014, p.104). (Nevermind the sperm and new man genesis imbedded in the Latin). A whole forest of assemblage: ‘…liverwort and lichens, ferns and mosses, sedges and grasses, orchids and vines, thousands upon thousands of species…’ (Greer, 2014, p.107). No less than sixty species of trees in the canopy. Let’s hope Greer’s initiative helps build a new humankind that is elevated above a redundant law of the father, which feels the need to name plant life after its seed and its self. And so, Greer the virago woman has set up a charity called Friends of Gondwana Rainforest, which is a rehabilitation scheme to ‘highlight the plight of the remnant rainforests of the ancient continent of Gondwana’ (as described on the website). The ‘loud overbearing woman,’ the ‘woman of great stature, strength, and courage.’ A shrew, an ‘ill-tempered scolding woman.’ This invariable leads us to fury, harpy, harridan. So be it. A fury in-so-far as ‘an avenging spirit’ for the usurpation of the rights/ rites/ writes of women. A tormentor of men who impudently try to straightjacket women into the role of marriageable termagant. A harpy – part woman, part bird, singing her own song in the face of all haters. A harridan – like the storm itself raging against the dying of the light.
On the last day in Greer’s archive I listen to an especially affecting recording of her documenting a beguiling storm at Cave Creek. She tells: ‘I’m sitting here in the pitchy darkness finding my way about by the lightning flashes.’ She talks as the storm fulminates around her – installs herself on the patio beholding the vast sky full of stars. She just loves a storm. Blue lightening lights up the sky – Greer gasps. She lights a cigarette, watches ‘the play of blue splashes.’ She observes: ‘Way down in the coastal plain the lightning is yellow flares like fire, it looks like Baghdad down there, but up here it’s ice blue.’ The thunderclouds roll in, but all is luminous. She goes on: ‘I don’t know of many other things on earth that are more wonderful than storms. I really love them – this is innocent violence…. Most of the activity is behind me and I can see it very well except occasionally, well that was an electric white bit. It’s sheet lightning, not chain lightning.’ Greer rhapsodises about the ‘mad magnesium radiance,’ which lights up the entire bush. But, there’s very little thunder and as yet no rain. The practised sound of amphibian habitat is meditative – the frogs sing along. A lightning strike of ‘opaline.’ ‘Oh wow … I’m inside an opal,’ Greer ponders. But, still no thunder – it will come. Reflecting on the ‘turquoise light,’ then jovially she gives herself a bit of a ribbing – ‘I’m probably fantasising now.’ Endlessly commenting on the weather system moving in – the rain finally starts. ‘One large half pound drop at a time.’ Greer is recording the night from a womb of ‘calm velvet darkness’ – bemoans the ‘waste light’ pollution. Then the thunder starts. On the ‘skirts’ of the storm strobes of frozen green pour in. Greer petitions ‘Come on shake your thunder sheet!’ Pink flashes. Naples yellow. Pure white. The thunder cracks – ‘that’s not bad is it – eh!’ An Australian visage – on the verandah watching the storm roll in. ‘The clacker of the rain.’ The storm at its ‘full veracity’ – Greer our revered ‘outrageous thunderstorm.’
NATALIE ROSE DYER
- University of Melbourne Archive. Collection Reference Number: 2014.0054. Collection/ Series Title: Photographs. Unit number: 2014.0054.00536 – The Book of Pianelli.
- The University of Melbourne Archive. Collection Reference Number: 2014.0040.00014. Travel Diary Cave Creek Rehabilitation Scheme to Melbourne. Audio recordings produced and received by Greer.
Body text references:
- S., 1971. ‘Germain Greer: “Saucy Feminist that Even Men Like,”’ The Washington Post, 7th May
- The University of Melbourne Archives. Germaine Greer, Series 2014.0054 Photographs. Greer, The Book of Pianelli, c.1973-c.1978, Item number: 2014.0054.00536.
- The University of Melbourne Archive. Germain Greer, Series 2014.0040.00014 Audio Recordings. Greer, Travel Diary Cave Creek Rehabilitation Scheme to Melbourne, 2007, Item number: 2014.0040.00014
- G, 2014, White Beech: The Rainforest Years, Bloomsbury, London.
- Wright. 1991. Judith Wright: Collected Poems 1942-1985. Carcanet Press, London, UK.