“Proust, more perspicaciously than any other writer, reminds us that the ‘walks’ of childhood form the raw material of our intelligence.” ― Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

For decades I believed I had come from the stars. What I believed to be memories waned in my 30's, re-surfaced in my early 50's and came to a necessary halt around the time I turned 56. But it was that first decade when the backyard walks of my childhood fired my imagination so much that Zandor’s adventures across the cosmos lived both in me and the stories I would share with my younger brother and sister. Our mother would have us bed down early — as children we slept in the same room as our parents — and I would recount my outer space memories.

How could I be human when I felt I had such little in common with anyone I knew? I’d move out schoolyards, infants and primary, often alone and when not I’d be taunted, pushed about and ridiculed for my accent, lisp and my mother who would often wait for me at the front gate on those days I would take lunch at home. We lived across the road from a primary school in Sydney’s outer western suburbs.

It took several decades to realize how much I yearned for an extended family, a village, a collective happening. My parents migrated to Australia from Europe, arriving in 1950 escaping their world war memories and trauma. They arrived in suburbs where homes were fenced off from each other. The White Australia Policy was still in play. My father was multilingual and my mother grew up in a mountain village in Austria. My genes may not be of Australian soil, but I am not an alien.

Andrew Garton in Game Over a short 8mm film by David Nerlich, Sydney, 1985.

I am not an alien. I didn’t arrive on Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago, keeping myself alive by evolving through plant and animal DNA. No, I am not the Master Explorer Zandor who mastered English in this life, but somehow had forgotten the 100s, perhaps thousands of languages he would have spoken across the eons including his alien mother tongue. I hadn’t originated in the Mentas System nor was I stranded on Earth, crash landing here waiting for my people to come. I am not an alien. But what I truly am is far more astonishing than the fancy of a lonely boy with an imaginary friend and an eye to the stars. What I am and what you are is of those stars and that is life’s remarkable achievement.

If I were such a creature I would know how to navigate the galaxies and understand something of the technologies that brought me here. Talk of crystal power spacecraft is not evidence enough. I would also know of the flora and fauna of my homeworld, its linguistic capacities, its historical achievements, but I have no recollection of any. What I do have is a loosely constructed narrative of an adventurer with a child’s view of their inner and outer world; a child that had grown apart from his family, neighborhood and a small cohort of school friends. A child mesmerized by science and astrophysics, consoled by music and radio plays, creatively restored by filmmaking and writing. A boy whose head was not in the clouds, but among the stars from where he knew, and that was certain, all life had emerged from.

Andrew Garton performing Tong Tana with Benguela, Cape Town July 2009. Photo by Niklas Zimmer.

Here we are, on Earth, bound to it by the atmosphere and gravity that prevents us from falling in every direction into space. Here we walk, sleep, stand and flourish as flesh wrapped to bone stood upright, with skin that heals itself when cut, with eyes embedded within a unique hominoid skull housing the very same human brain from where both the fictional Zandor emerged and the perceptive thinking of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is extraordinary that not only we have the historical records to prove this, but that we exist at all. That we literally evolved from cosmic dust, from the essence of the numinous we can barely fathom, that our telescopes and radio scopes scan the heavens to fuel our curiosity for, marvels beyond the stratosphere and our imagination; that is the making of me and the making of us. All of us.

Consider the atmosphere. A thin triple-decked pancake comprised of troposphere, stratosphere and the mesosphere. From space, astronauts have described it as thin as a slick of oil, astounded at how fragile it appears from space. It protects us from the random violence of the entire universe, from asteroids smashing into celestial objects, stars collapsing, black holes devouring everything including light. Thankfully, we are too far from the nearest black hole to be sucked into it. The atmosphere has its limits, and yet it protects us from our own sun, mighty and supercharged whipping solar flares across our galaxy. And here we remain, protected from this unruly cacophony and the deep chill vacuum of space. Such is the fragile nature of all that keeps us from oblivion, but sadly the atmosphere cannot protect us from ourselves and the penchant for extinction oligarchs the world over appear to prefer a life palatable for all.

I grew up with a cocktail of stories of a life beyond this planet. Stories that helped me survive school, that gave me the courage to travel beyond the domestic fence boundary, a troposphere of wire and concrete, that filled a longing for my traumatized father, for laughter, for love. And I took those stories with me into adulthood where they became less necessary, somewhat embarrassing and finally extinguished when I longed for my daughter, for laughter still and again for love.

At fifty-six all that had been imagined collapsed. No, I am not an alien from Alpha Centauri, 4.22 light years away from us here on Earth. No, I am not. But I and we are of all that Alpha Centauri is comprised. We are of the stars. But we didn’t come here in spacecraft, we arrived through the most incredible confluence of protons and neutrons. At the atom heart of our bodies resides the very stuff of stars and that is just incredible! There are wonders enough out there, said the astrophysicist Carl Sagan, without our inventing any.

I AM NOT AN ALIEN is from Pear Horizon, a new book in process by Andrew Garton.



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Andrew Garton

Andrew Garton

Filmmaker, musician, educator. Lecturer and Adjunct Industry Fellow, Media & Communications, Swinburne University.