The concept of belonging is dealt with in the poems Migrant Hostel and 10 Mary Street through constant images throughout the poem created by Skrzynecki. The composer of the poems has decided to portray the way the family feels from when they are moved out of the hostel to when they actually have a home and feel as if they belong to the land where the house is situated. In Migrant Hostel the poem is about the experiences of migrants when they first arrived in Australia and were placed in migrant camps, Skrzynecki employs the third person to present how he and the migrants were united in their alienation from the new country.
As a five year old, he had not begun the process of disconnecting from his cultural heritage. During the two year period, in order to cope with homesickness and fear of the unknown, the migrants sought each other out instinctively to attempt to feel the sense of belonging to the new adopted home. Whereas in 10 Mary Street conveys the feeling that they are loved and nurtured in a house filled with special, irreplaceable memories. The style of the poem captures the exact feeling that the Skrzynecki family feel.
The poem conveys a clear sense of belonging. The poem immediately evokes a sense of security and the feelings of stability and belonging that are associated with the concept of the home. Towards the middle of the poem there is a sense of happiness and contentment within the Skrzynecki family. With the contentment and the happiness it creates flashbacks from the past which is evident within the poem. The strong sense of transitoriness and anonymity is established in the opening lines – ‘no one kept count of all the comings and goings’.
There is no concern for individuals; ‘the comings and goings’ and the arrivals and new comers are simply just a part of the process, like business and making it impersonal. The sense of impersonality and anonymity is further emphasized by the reference to the ‘busloads’ of newcomers – individuality is lost and is overwhelmed by the multitudes of new arrivals. This is heightened further by the last 2 lines of the stanza, where the migrants are ‘left wondering who will be coming next’.
This contributes to the sense of impermanence felt by the migrants, who struggle to find a sense of security and belonging amidst the uncertainty that a new life holds and over which they have little control. The title of the poem 10 Mary Street, a home address, immediately evokes a sense of security and feeling of stability and belonging that are associated with the concept of a home. This sense of belonging is quickly strengthened by the opening lines of the poem ‘for nineteen years’, with as reference to a prolonged period of time establishing a sense of permanency and security.
The poet’s reminiscences of the family’s day routine served to strengthen the feeling of permanency; it’s a routine that has clearly been followed over many years ‘we departed each morning’. A sense of comfort is derived from this well established routine, the image of shutting the house ‘like a well oiled lock’ carrying out with it a sense of familiarity and ordinariness. The poets detailed description of the family’s habit of ‘[hiding] the key under a rusty bucket’ hints further at the comfort and strong sense of belonging that he felt here.
The reference to small details, such as the secreting of the key – a detail only known to the family – establishes a feeling of family intimacy and connectedness. The struggle to find a sense of security is depicted in the image of people seeking each other out; the migrants, guided by the same instinct that guides a homing pigeon seek out others of the same nationality; they are automatically drawn together searching for some familiarity, some sense of identity and belonging. This serves to heighten the dislocation experienced by the migrants – they must rely on their instincts in order to find comfort in their situation. Like homing pigeons’ ‘they must circle to get their bearings’ to find a place in their new home, deriving some sense of comfort from the recognition of accents, years and place names. However, the feeling of comfort and belonging is tempered by the reference to the indifferent massing of the migrants – they are forced to mingle with those who has less than 5 years previously been their enemies; the image conveyed by ‘partitioned of at night by memories of hunger and hate’ emphasizes pathos of their situation. Simultaneously this irony reminds us of the lack of empathy, the thoughtfulness of those administers to the placement of the migrants.
The uncaring sense of stanza 1 is reiterated and heightened as we realise that little has been done to help the migrants simulate and find any sense of belonging in their new land. The sense of belonging experienced here is focused very strongly on belonging to a place, to the family home. While references to ‘the too still narrow bridge’ and ‘the factory that was always burning down’ hint at the poets familiarity with the surrounding environs, his feelings of belonging clearly emanate from the home 10 Mary street.
The home provides Skrzynecki and his parents with a both physical and spiritual refuge. The positive imagery of his parents caring for the garden – ‘growing potatoes and sweet corn’, and ‘[tending] roses and camellias like adopted children’ serves to reinforce the significance of the family home as a source of comfort. This sense of energy and growth that radiates from the garden widens to embrace the child as well as the parents; Skrzynecki recalls the garden as a source of sustenance – the young child regularly ‘ravage[s] the backyard garden like a hungry bird’ on his return from school.
Here the bird emphasizes the sense of security provided by the feeling of belonging to a place – the bird is nourished and provided for by the garden. This is in stark contrast with the poets reference to living like birds of passage… unaware of the season whose track we would follow’ in Migrant Hostel. The overwhelming sense of disorientation and transience evident in Migrant Hostel is replaced by a sense of security and stability here in 10 Mary Street. The image of the homing pigeon is extended in stanza 3 but with a slight shift of focus – the migrants are likened to ‘birds of passage’.
This simile with its sense of migration is overpowered by a sense of instability and uncertainty. Again the migrants are forced to rely on their instincts – ‘always sensing a change in the weather’; like birds of passage the migrants are always ready for a move. However, unlike migratory birds whose migration follows a regular pattern pre-determined by seasonal change, the migrants are ‘unaware of the season whose track we will follow’. Their sense of disorientation and their powerlessness to control their own destiny is clear; the migrants are at the mercy of others, of beaurocratic process.
This feeling of being controlled by impersonal and unfeeling process is heightened in the final stanza of the poem where we see the lives of the migrants being regulated by the physical barrier at the main gate. This physical barrier which ‘sealed off the highway from [their] doorway’ while physically separating the migrants from the general community, also symbolically isolates them; it represents their alienation and disorientation, their inability to experience a sense of belonging while the highway represents the migrants’ path to a new life, they are not permitted to follow it, sealed off from it by cultural and social barriers.
The personification of the barrier as ‘it rose and fell like a finger’ and ‘pointed in reprimand’ highlights the isolation and separateness of the migrants. The sense of degradation is emphasized further by their need to gain sanction from this inanimate object to live their daily lives. The physical barrier of the gate is a strong symbol of the sense of belonging that the migrants are denied. The poem conveys an overwhelming sense of individuals struggling to belong.
The migrants’ journey to a new life, to freedom and to a better life has been impeded by an overpowering sense of disorientation and alienation, of instability and impermanence. The migrants have been denied control over their life’s path, while the physical barrier at the gate denies them access to a sense of belonging. In 10 Mary Street there remains a strong undercurrent of transitoriness and insecurity. While the house represents stability and comfort, it’s simultaneously symbolises the family’s inability to belong to their adopted country.
The gazetting of the house and it surrounds for industry, Skrzynecki is forced to acknowledge his parents’ failure to assimilate; their sense of belonging to their adopted home has been limited to a physical location, to 10 Mary street. This link is reiterated by the personification of the house ‘in its china blue coat’ and the reference to the family as ‘citizens of the soil’. Despite having been naturalised, the poet’s parents have remained culturally apart from their new country.
The poet is actually aware that while his parents are afforded a sense of belonging and comfort in clingy steadfastly to their traditions of their homeland – ‘we kept pre-war Europe alive with photographs and letters… and embracing gestures’ – this sets them apart from their adopted country. The incompleteness of the family’s experience of belonging is suggested in the image of ‘lawns grow across dug up beds of spinach, carrot and tomato’; the disorientation and displacement experienced by the family in Migrant Hostel are never far away.
The challenges of assimilation for the migrants prevent them from gaining a true sense of belonging – they are merely the ‘inheritors of a key that’ll open no house’. In conclusion, the composer has conveyed the sense of belonging in contrasting views of their aspects in life. Although the two poems used are totally different as Migrant Hostel deals with the sense of not belonging whereas 10 Mary Street deals with the sense of belonging to a specific place not the adopted country they live in.
Both the poems illustrate the emotions felt by the Skrzynecki family over the years however, always attempted to find that sense of belonging even though they knew it didn’t secure them completely. The composer of the poems has used constant imagery which appears throughout the two poems therefore reinforcing the change over time. The two poems also illustrate his journey of belonging, of searching for a balance between the experiences of his parents and his observations of them, and his own experiences in his new homeland society – Australian society.