Many people who grew up in the pre-digital age will have a stash of old photos stored in shoe boxes or worn cardboard albums, memories fading with time, rarely looked at, but treasured nevertheless. On occasion, I remember mine too-. those chosen photos that made it into albums, occasionally flicked through by the children, who enjoyed re-visiting their childhood travels, or being amused by photos of their dishevelled, long-haired hippy parents. It was their past, our past. The shoe boxes of prints and yellow Kodak envelopes of negatives were in need of sorting and pruning, a rainy day task that I never really got around to doing. In February 2009, the Black Saturday Bush fires, a disastrous fire storm that swept through many rural areas close to Melbourne, destroyed them all, along with everything else I owned. After that event, I came to value my lost photos, even those packets of negatives and discards, and developed a clear visual recall of many old photos and the events surrounding them. The past is no longer a foreign country; I can step in and out of it quite comfortably. This visual memory has been a comfort.
Recently my brother unearthed five photographs from the past, taken in Nepal in January 1978. He is a great hoarder and collector of old images, and has spent hours digitizing old slide negatives and black and white shots from my parent’s albums. Along the way, he found a few negatives of our children, taken when they were around 6 or 7 years old, providing them with a record of their childhood, a patchwork of images that they can then pass on to their own children one day. Other relatives have unearthed images of our old mud brick house in the bush, and the odd party or Christmas shot occasionally turns up too.
I was quite overwhelmed to see these Nepalese photos again. That trip was a magical experience: I recall my daughter’s words as we flew over the rural countryside of Nepal, breaking through the blanketing cloud cover,” It looks like fairyland”, as Tolkienesque villages emerged from the mist, followed by tiny mudbrick cottages clinging to the sides of deeply terraced fields.
In our time there, the children played simple games with the Nepalese children as we trekked in the mountains beyond Pokhara, children who had so little but seemed happy in their home on the roof of the world. We ate the daily Nepalese staple meal of Dal Bhat, rice served with a lentil soup and a few green vegetables or potatoes on the side, (still one of my favourite meals), frequented tea shops and smoked bidis. We met colourful Tibetan families and wild mystic sadhus, circled the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath and had a wallet stolen by wild monkeys. We wandered through the medieval city of Bhaktapur, now severely damaged by the earthquake of 2015 and attended a Puja, a Nepalese house blessing ceremony in Patan.
There were hundreds of photos taken on that trip, back in the pre digital age when photos were expensive to print. Some were enlarged and graced our walls in the old home. I am happy that I now have five. Like a time traveller, I am back in the late 70s, wandering through my past, and am enjoying the trip.