An Olfactory Blast from the Past

January 11, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in Australia, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Leisure activities, Memoir, Nature, Reflections, The Senses | 11 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

 

It was December 2005, and we were traveling along the Great Ocean Road in southern Victoria in our camper van. [My husband] Dirk and I were in bed at a caravan park in Apollo Bay, when an aroma took me back to my early childhood. As the perfume wafted in through the open window, it affected me so powerfully that I couldn’t sleep until I had written about it.

 

greatoceanroad

 

 

This is what I wrote then, and added to after we returned home.

 

11.20 pm 19th December 2005, Apollo Bay Caravan Park, Victoria.

 

I lie in my bed in the caravan, weary yet content, and listen to the murmur of the waves, ebbing and flowing, muted by a hundred yards of distance from the seashore. Beside my head is the open window. Through it wafts a scent/smell/odour/perfume, carried on the cool night air. It is fresh and clean, and takes me immediately back to my childhood. It is at the same time comforting and exciting, familiar yet strange, bringing me thoughts and feelings from the distant past, whilst still being here in the present.

 

I take in the smell with each breath and attempt to analyse it. What is there about it that makes such an impression on my both conscious and unconscious mind? I look out of the window. In the diffused glow from the park lights, and against the darkness of the sky, I see the spreading branches of the huge trees beneath which we are parked. They are ancient pine trees, what kind I don’t know, but as soon as I realize that’s what they are, I can put a name to the perfume my subconscious memory has already identified.

 

It is the clean scent of pine; a perfume that has been added artificially to cleaners for years to give the impression of freshness and purity. But this isn’t that artificial perfume which invades the senses and often becomes cloying. Instead it is a subtle blend of pine needles, bark and resin, damp pine-infused earth, and cool night air. It is light, almost ethereal, more a presence than an odour.

 

It brings to my mind cool and shady woods, feelings of peace and tranquility overlaid with the tang of adventure. I can almost believe there are elves or fairies present – that is how strong the impact is on my senses and my feelings. It stimulates me to such an extent that I can’t sleep until I have put these impressions and feelings onto paper. I wish I could capture in words the strong sense of how I am somehow transported back more than fifty years into the past and to the feelings I had as a young child.

 

What power has the sense of smell on the mind! I want to drink in this perfume as if it is the elixir of life, and to be conscious of every draught of it.

 

I am sure it was at Reed Park, where we lived in a caravan for an extended time during 1954-55 when I first encountered this aroma. We had arrived in Australia from England in March 1954, and somehow, the scent makes me think of good times, the stimulation and excitement of the new, but also of security and contentment.

 

Reed Park with pavilion 1950s

Reed Park in early 1950s, showing a few of the pine trees

 

 

I talked about this with then, and later with [my brother] Peter and Dad over Christmas. They all agree that there definitely were huge pine trees around where we camped in the caravan at Reed Park. Peter can’t remember there being pine trees anywhere else we’ve lived. So I am confident that the smell that night – which I have not thought about since I was about six or seven – was from that park. I must have been happy there, I think.

 

© Linda Visman

 

 

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11 Comments »

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  1. Odors leave strong impressions in memory. Pine would be one of those for sure. I like your description of it being more of a presence. I grew up near a Christmas tree farm, and my friends and I would either hike or ride our horses through there. The scent of pine always takes me back there.

  2. The smell of pine trees reminds me of New Zealand and how some collect the cones for fire kindling, Smells are evocative reminders of so many memories and as you say you’re immediately transported that time and place. 🙂 Linda

  3. Beautifully written, Linda. Smells are such amazing stimulators of memories. I get that often with the smell of campfires; I’m transported back in time instantaneously to summer vacations with my family. Lovely post.

    • Thank you Diane. 🙂 It seems that there are many others who have the same experience with smell.

  4. I agree too: smell will take me back in time quicker than any of the other senses. Cedar trees do that to me, invoking the mysterious presence of fairies and other magic. Thanks for reminding me.

  5. I also love the smell of a pine-wood. I can’t add anything meaningful though, Linda, because your words so perfectly frame it all. I wonder how many memories are carried on those random breezes, scented rather than seen?

  6. […] week I wrote about the smell of pine trees and the memories they evoked fifty-five years later. There are a few other aromas that also […]


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