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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Land Below the Wind


Many years ago, in another life in Canberra, I shopped at Phillip and there, in Colbee Court, noticed an odd sort of shop with odd sort of people going in and coming out with odd sort of things. They told me it was an op-shop which meant nothing to me and I forgot about it.

After I had moved to the coast, I noticed a similar shop in the Bay but it was many years before I set foot in it. I wished I had done so sooner! Why? Well, for starters I've come to realise that I'm probably just as odd as the next person but, more to the point, I've come to realise that op-shops sell some of the most interesting books.

Today I am an op-shop aficionado and know every op-shop in a 50-kilometre radius and visit them regularly. From a recent visit I brought back a copy of Land Below the Wind which was Agnes Newton Keith's first book in a trilogy which describes her life in what was then North Borneo and what is now Sabah.

‘Land below the wind’ was a phrase used by seafarers to describe all the lands south of the typhoon belt and it was made famous through Agnes Newton Keith's book. When she writes of the Sulu Sea, and of the islands around Semporna, you can just about feel and smell the sparkling sea, tread quickly over the burning sand and peer again into the miraculously beautiful pools among the coral reeds. You can almost feel with her the exhaustion of toiling through the jungle, of slipping in and through the jungle mud, you can experience again the horror of leeches, the misery of unremitting rain, and of never, as it seems, being able to dry out.

Her second book, Three Came Home (published 1947), was made into a movie, and White Man Returns (published 1951), which completes the trilogy, is now quite a rare book.

Of course, I've ordered the movie on ebay and I'm looking for a reasonably-priced copy of White Man Returns. After all, my own Borneo retirement plans are still intact.