this (well-charted) life
My father loved maps. He loved the idea that the world could be understood through topographical lines and cartographical loops. He loved the curious places on his maps, but also the idea that magnificent landscapes were waiting to be discovered beyond the margins. Maps spoke to him of unknown lands and places of the imagination.
Topophilia — or love of place — seems to be fashionable again, but Dad was always aware of our deep connection with our landscape, especially here in Australia. Maps, he felt, helped us to understand this country and our place within it. And he never, ever travelled without them.
When I landed my first job in Sydney, he restored a little Nissan hatchback for me and, as a fatherly gift, filled the glovebox with maps. There must have been 30 of them. I said: “Dad, one of these is a map of the Oodnadatta Track? I’m not likely to be going to the Oodnadatta Track anytime soon.” “Just take it with you!” he said sternly. “You never know.” Whenever my friends opened the glovebox, all the maps fell out: a tumbling waterfall of crinkly cartographs. “That’s my dad,” I always said, half-apologetically. “He loves maps.”
Naturally, Dad was expert at folding his maps. Someone once told me it’s all do to with combinatorial mathematics, which made sense because Dad was a mathematician. I was not mathematically inclined and therefore failed at mastering the craft. My attempts always looked like origami gone awry.
When I started travelling the world for work, Dad loved to locate me in far-flung destinations on his atlases, calculating the distances and logistics of getting there with his mathematician’s mind. The planning of these trips with him was often more pleasurable than the journeys themselves.
When Dad and Mum retired, they hit the maps in a serious way. They ventured up the mighty Amazon River and down to Patagonia, explored Alaska, crisscrossed the outback, Africa, Europe and the US more times that the most of us have cups of tea. His beloved road atlases were always by his side.
Twenty years after he gave it to me, I still keep the map of the Oodnadatta Track. Sometimes I take it out, unfold it, smooth down its creases, and think of him. It’s my dad’s love letter to his daughter.
My dad is now in a place where there are no maps, and I’m quietly worried he won’t be able to find his way. But when you pass away, you don’t get to take such things with you.
Travel well, Dad. I will miss you. I know you’ll have a grand adventure, map or no map. Go far into the margins. And don’t look back.