Why History Matters
Call me nostalgic. The past is rosy to me. But, I suppose, like a colour-warped photograph, it is only a reflection of reality.
I’ve spent my past few weekends calling in on greats from yesteryear, digging for photographs to accompany my articles – typically wistful words that magnify days gone by. Nattering on the front doorstep of John Chapman’s home, with a CD of scanned ’70s prints in hand, I realised that the last time I visited him was with similar purpose (two years ago, or thereabouts, I interviewed him about his climbing in the ’70s).
Somebody once told me that they thought Rock magazine – then my employer – focused so much on the past, it was “as if they believe we have no future.” Words that ring in my head ever since.
Yes, my nose is buried in the past. Dust from leather-bound books in my office is as billowy as chalk clouds clapped into being; the smell of old periodicals is dampened only by the scent of tea brewing by the window.
But I don’t believe the future is dead. That today’s rockrats have nothing to lean forward into. That the so-called golden halls of climbing are entombed along with the bygone perils of expired heroes, relegated to retelling their escapades because in the years ahead, there will be none so great, so devastating, nor so fanciful.
Wild places still exist, and even in modernity the romance of some cliffs has not been lost to time. Climbing at Cape Woolamai recently, I braced in a torrent of coastal wind, brushing away salt crystals, loose grains and a sludgy green paste to uncover a perfect depression for my number one Camalot. Briefly I considered the ocean – that vast, heartless pulse; that ever-changing energy, barren of rule, yet laced with rhythm. The tide arrives, and leaves.
Like the sea, history repeats itself. And whoever claimed we don’t truly know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been was onto something.
You see, the past isn’t something to be stuck in. It’s a forest of ideas, the birthplace of imagination, the lowly foothills of icy peaks.
When I explore the past in my writing, I’m not simply exploring a time. It is a person, a thought, a seed. It is much like gazing into a mirror and discovering a new line or mark on one’s face. Something we didn’t see before, that could change the way we face the future.