I’ve always been fascinated by words with no English translation; poetic reminders that our most complex thoughts and emotions can be defined, and that almost everything we feel is shared.
There are terms that describe the way sunlight filters through foliage (komorebi), the moment we realise those around us have lives as complex and nuanced as out own (sonder), the fleeting disorientation you feel when in a country that’s not your own (dépaysement). But my favourite untranslatable gem is the Welsh word hiraeth (and its Portuguese sibling saudade), which describes the longing we feel for a home we can never again visit - a place lost to the past, or perhaps one that never really existed, yet is steeped in nostalgia nonetheless.
One of the most fabulous things about these terms is that they leave a little room for interpretation - and during the first lockdown in London, hiraeth took on new meaning for me. Bittersweet and beautiful, it seemed to apply to a multitude of locations I’d ventured to over the years. Far from my family in Sydney, and with the walls closing in, I yearned to savour pintxos amidst the buzz of San Sebastián, watch the sun set over Venice’s canals or gaze out across a cascade of green in Japan’s Kii Mountains. These destinations weren’t home, but they were places I belonged - waiting for me out there in the temporarily closed-off world.
One of these treasured ‘places’ is Berrima in the Southern Highlands, a pastoral patchwork of villages, wilderness and sun-baked farmland. I spent countless holidays here as a child - bushwalking, dam-swimming and arriving home a happy, muddy mess. Visiting as an adult, the allure of endless Aussie skies and sun-dappled country paths remains, but my focus has shifted away from madcap outdoors-ing towards craftsmanship and gastronomy. When I think of Berrima, I imagine hazy summer days and winter evenings made for rugged-up stargazing. I see a crepe myrtle-dotted main street lined with historic stone houses re-imagined as shops, studios and cafes (Berrima Village Pottery will always be a favourite, and I pine for pastries straight from the Gumnut Patisserie oven). On nearly every corner, galahs and cockatoos forage, while rosellas squark in the branches above.
I’ve always adored Berrima. Indeed, it was memories of weekends in my grandparent’s Highlands home that I thought of when dreaming up the Black Blaze Lodestars candle - a heady mix of pine needles, clove leaf, cedarwood, bergamot and eucalyptus. For me, it conjured the crisp, country night air - best savoured with a roaring fire and a canopy of stars.
I get comfort too when picturing myself on Blue Mountains’ trails, alone on forest-framed paths I have tramped over numerous times before. I think of the scent of gums, the expanse, the time needed to carve out the lush valleys and staggering heights. When I recall its icy waterfalls and the soft light - or the calls of lyre birds - I can’t help but breathe deeper.
And then there’s Crescent Head, a chilled-out coastal community that I suspect arrived at 1972, realised it liked the year, and decided it stop the clocks. Growing up, my family would road trip there every Easter, and spend a week transforming into salty, sun-kissed beings. I don’t need to bask on Back Beach or hike through the hinterland - just thinking about those halcyon days makes me smile.
We’ve all got a collection of treasured destination - familiar retreats we crave when everything starts to feel a bit ‘much’. Don’t get me wrong, jaunts into the Australian unknown are decidedly good for the soul; but when desperate to unwind, to set frenetic minds at ease, few things feel as restorative as the ‘known’. And pondering them - even if the images we evoke are more brilliant than the everyday can hope to be - we can’t help but feel at ease. We know we’ll return, eventually, yet for now these memories are enough. This to me is hiraeth.
Words by Liz Schaffer