REVIEW: THE LAKE’S APPRENTICE BY ANNAMARIA WELDON

THE LAKE’S APPRENTICE

Author: Annamaria Weldon
UWA Publishing Headline RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

LA_COVER from KIRII’m going to preface this review by saying that The Lake’s Apprentice is not usually the kind of book I’d pick up. I rarely read non-fiction, unless it’s travel memoir or cookbook; I don’t read a lot of poetry, though I do enjoy it at times. In fact, if it were not for the fact that poet Annamaria Weldon is to be my next Stories on Stage guest, I might never have read this. What a shame that would have been. Reading The Lake’s Apprentice was pure pleasure, both for the love of words that shone into my soul and for the journey they took me on … literally.

The Lake’s Apprentice, both a landscape memoir and poet’s journal of poems, nature notes, essays and photos, explores Weldon’s deep connection with Yalgorup National Park and Lake Clifton, south of Mandurah, arguably best known for its thrombolites (“living rocks”). The area is about an hour south of where I live and it came to me that the best way to review the book was to visit the area; armed with a camera, my copy of The Lake’s Apprentice, Blue Eyes and I set off for a day trip to visit the place that has captured Weldon’s heart and soul. As Blue Eyes drove, I read Weldon’s poems and snippets from her essays and nature notes; he liked hearing me read … I fell in love with Weldon’s writing. Our day trip included walking the 4.5km Heathland walk trail, stopping at the holiday hamlet of Lake Preston for a look at the beach and the lake, and skirting the national park via the highway back to Lake Clifton to see the thrombolites. I’m going to let the pictures tell the story for a bit:

Lake Preston. MM
On the edge of Lake Preston, along the Heathland Walk Trail. We walked through remnant tuart forest, mallee and peppermint trees, over sand dunes and emerged from a paperbark swamp into this. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
Heathland Walk Trail, Yalgorup National Park
It’s been raining quite a bit and the forest floor was sprinkled with fungi. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
Lake Preston, Yalgorup National Park
A short drive took us into the hamlet of Lake Preston. Walk trails, picnic areas and camping spots are hidden within the park that fringes this stunning lake. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
Lake Preston, Yalgorup National Park
Lake Preston, Yalgorup National Park. Imagine what the reflections would have been like on a calm day. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
Lake Preston, Yalgorup National Park
This curious kangaroo watched us we stood at the lake’s edge. While there was evidence of bandicoot diggings along the walk trails, they were too busy sleeping to greet us. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
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The thrombolites at Lake Clifton. It’s winter in Australia and they are covered in water; in summer they are exposed. The lake contains the largest lake-bound microbialite reef in the southern hemisphere. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
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Looking back towards the shore at Lake Clifton – see the submerged thrombolites? The Binjareb Noongar, the land’s first people, call them  call them Woggaal Noorook – their creation story describes them as eggs laid by the female creation serpent in the Dreamtime. The wind was fresh, so I’m glad I managed to get the images I did. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN
Lake Clifton, WA.
Looking over Lake Clifton towards Mandurah, WA. Annamaria writes about the interplay of light and dark in The Lake’s Apprentice … the light at the end of the jetty makes me think of her words. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN

This is just a sample from the day – in all, I took more than 70 pictures!

The Lake’s Apprentice takes as its first central reference the significance of the Yalgorup wetlands and thrombolites to the Bindjareb Noongar people, and Weldon gratefully acknowledges Bindjareb Noongar cultural leader, musician and teacher George Walley as a mentor. This is no clearer than when Weldon describes visiting the Murray river and Battle of Pinjarra with Walley; these passages sent a warm shiver through me. The feeling was almost spiritual, like beautiful, pure emotion washing over me. I mentioned this to Weldon who said that experience was a turning point for her, and the words only cover part of what happened. Some of Weldon’s poems evoked similar feelings – reading them on location enhanced the words more than I can express. The award-winning essay  ‘Threshold Country’ (inaugural Nature Conservancy Australia essay prize 2010) was rendered with intimacy and a deep understanding of the scientific, natural and cultural areas of interest – I found it a fascinating read and by complementing her words with my experience, I saw the landscape not only as she saw it, but through more open eyes.

For Weldon, The Lake’s Apprentice is also a story of “coming home to country as a migrant” – you can find out more about that here. She writes how Yalgorup, this “hidden lake  and the precarious living rocks at its heart” first drew her in, and then how her nature writing wove her “into the fabric of Yalgorup country”. Such contemplative words challenged me about my own sense of place. Having lived in several Australian states, and been a resident of Western Australia for 12 years, I still feel torn between the place of my childhood and early adult years, and where I have now made my home. Visiting Canberra’s hills and bushland and the nearby Highlands gives me that shivery sense of recognition of coming home, even though I spent only three years there; likewise the Blue Mountains in NSW, with their eucalypt-studded ranges and ragged gorges evokes that feeling. Returning to Perth after a visit back “east” gives me a similar feeling, but not because of a particular landscape, more because of the people I love. So, why do I feel drawn to the hills and mountains of Italy, a country I have never visited, and have no family connection to? And, what if, when I get there, I find that that feeling inside me is more about the idea of Italy than the place itself?

For those interested in the literary side of things, The Lake’s Apprentice contains a number of award-winning pieces including the aforementioned essay ‘Threshold Country’, poem ‘The Memory of Earth’ (Tom Collins Poetry Prize 2010) which is about the Pinjarra massacre, and poem ‘After Devotion’, shortlisted for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2012 and published in the Australian Book Review. I’m no expert on poetry, but I know what I like … and these poems were a gift to a landscape that has welcomed Weldon with open arms. Some were contemplative, others descriptive … all powerful lyrics in the soundtrack of an ageless landscape. ‘Wind Speaks’, ‘Interval’ and ‘Tracings’ spoke to me the loudest and they were even better when read in the landscape they honour.

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Bringing Annamaria’s book to country. She’ll know what I mean. This was taken at Lake Preston, Yalgorup National Park. IMAGE: MONIQUE MULLIGAN

 Available from UWA Publishing. This book was courtesy of UWA Publishing.