The bell of the world by Gregory Day

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Music, art and poetry combine in this unique ode to the natural world. Sarah is a young poet, a little lost in the world, who gradually finds solace in the restorative environment of Ngangahook, an isolated bush property owned by her beloved uncle Ferny, a kindred soul in his love of words, sounds, and beautiful natural surroundings.

Ferny has a book he carries everywhere, Furphy’s ‘Such is life’, a classic Australian novel he loves to read aloud about life on a remote cattle station in colonial Victoria. When he seeks to have his damaged volume rebound, he is astounded to discover that the binder has interwoven chapters from Moby Dick, a story of whales in the isolated expanse of the sea. Shock and surprise lead to a fresh appreciation of the worlds envisaged by the two unrelated authors.

Sarah’s curiosity and thirst for natural sounds leads her to place leaves, twigs, and other objects between the strings of the grand piano to create new strange musical compositions. Local audiences are perturbed but Ferny revels in her poetic gifts.

Sarah and Ferny are the perfect companions in their appreciation of the beauty of their natural environment, a peaceful existence that is about to be disturbed by the local villagers’ wish to erect a ‘sacred’ bell to sound out through the stillness, a bell that Ferny equates more with the colonialist urge to assert dominion over land that is not theirs, an urge that leads to violence. Sarah and Ferny prefer to hear the noises of the night, the wind in the trees, the call of the frogmouth, indeed, the bell of the world.

Day makes reference to an Aboriginal understanding of being at one with the world, of slowness, and stillness, and appreciation of the sounds when one stops and listens, a true love of Country. It is an experience that finds another kindred soul when Sarah enters an epistolary friendship with musician John Cage, a chronicler of exotic mushrooms, and a composer of music of the ‘prepared piano’ and then of the music of silence.

The bell of the world is wondrously full of natural imagery, poetry, and meditative ideas, a book to take one’s time with, and appreciate the call to quiet thought and natural surroundings.

Themes: Nature, Sounds, Music, Natural environment, Friendship.

Helen Eddy