Yesterday between rain showers in the little garden we share with our friends we harvested the broad beans. Sticking out of old cooking pots and shopping bags were huge, instantly familiar green pods. These were unmistakably Joe Garita’s beans, broadies that Joe had planted, saved and improved year after year since he bought the Coburg market garden from a Chinese family in 1945. The result of Joe’s patience is large, sweet beans perfectly adapted for growing in the soils along the Merri Creek.
We shelled our beans around the kitchen table, our kids pitching in for a pod or two. It’s a secret inoculation; for in years to come there will come a day when they are inexplicably compelled to grow and then shell their own broad beans just as I was and my father was before me. That night we made a beautiful broad bean pasta that even the kids ate. It’s a special meal that brings us together, binds through the passing of seasons and the acts of growing,cooking and eating.
The next day we share some of our broad bean harvest with Kun, our neighbour one down. That afternoon Kun brings over some home-made dumplings with a little pot of spiced sesame sauce as a thank you. I feel grateful, connected, at home.
The other day I read Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s article about Yolngu song cycles in The Monthly and it reminded me that our stories like our broad beans are bright and green but they also have shallow, fragile roots When Yunupingu writes about Yolngu stories – how they are the very power that keep the Yolngu world turning, how taking on and singing his father’s songs as he died was the most important moment of his life – I feel the roots of Yolngu stories going a spine-tinglingly long way down.
Lately I’ve watched my son tear through book after book of the Percy Jackson novels based on Greek and Roman myths. His appetite for stories is seemingly insatiable. We have shelves full of stories in beautiful and impressive buildings like our State Library but like my son we’re always hungry for more – for something new. Maybe it’s because we don’t have any stories that are truly our own, that root us to this land and each other. Clearly we want them, we yearn for them. I suspect Joe Garita’s patient advice in this situation would be to smile and say, “Just plant the beans Chris, just plant the beans.”