The seaside property in Mauritius where my girlfriend’s father, Mr C, was born meant so much to him, he has told his family that if he ever had the opportunity to name a boat or a racehorse, he would call it after that place: Providence.
There’s something about that story that reminds me of the classic movie ‘Citizen Kane’. The central theme of both stories is about someone holding onto one name that ties back to precious memories of childhood.
In Citizen Kane, that word – the dying words of the main character played by Orson Welles – was Rosebud.
In a lovely twist on this, Rose Hill is the name of another town in Mauritius where Mrs C grew up.
We will be visiting Rose Hill in the next couple of days, but in the past few days we went to Post de Flacq in the district of Flacq, to see where Mr C grew up.
It is only the second time Mr C has been back to Mauritius since he migrated to Australia as an 18-year-old in 1971 with his mother and three siblings.
His first visit was to deal with his late Grandfather’s estate.
“I came back in 1998 and that was emotional, but I’m massively excited this time because I’m here with my kids,” Mr C said in the car, as we approach his old village.
Modern life has come to Post de Flacq since Mr C left, but his stories evoke for us some sense of what it must have been like to grow up here in the 1950s and 60s.
Some of them have become well-worn family legends, but my friend tells me she’s hearing some of the stories for the first time as this visit brings back memories for her Dad.
We pass through the main crossroad in town, where Mr C and his brothers would hang out as teenagers. As the intersection of the main roads into town with local stores on each corner, it was the obvious place for the local youth to congregate and get amongst whatever was happening.
The roads are bitumen now, where once they were dirt.
Some of his cousins are expecting us and as soon as we arrive in town there’s an impromptu reunion on the side of the road.
Word gets around quickly in a place this small and soon there are other relatives arriving to say hello as we make our way around the landmarks from Mr C’s early life.
We pass the primary school he attended, his local church, the bridge where he used to jump into the river and his boyhood fishing spots.
“When I lived here, I never appreciated how beautiful it was, I took it for granted,” Mr C said.
The most emotional part of the day is the visit to the now-disused homestead where Mr C was born and grew up.
It was the home of his grandparents, where he, his siblings and mother lived after their father left them when Mr C was a young boy.
His grandfather was the manager of a local sugarcane plantation called Providence. The manager’s house is a cool oasis set among the palm trees beside the river.
This is the place where Mr C grazed his arms, legs and body sliding down too quickly from one of the coconut palms he often climbed.
That’s a story his four children have heard many times, but they listen with renewed attention in the garden where it actually happened.
There is a fascinating moment over lunch that perhaps says something about the different perspectives that come from remaining in Mauritius versus migrating to Australia.
Mr C is explaining that there was no electricity or running water in the house when he was a child, and that they went down to the river to wash the dishes, their clothes and themselves.
One of his relatives interjects to defend Mauritius, saying it’s no different to saying that once upon a time they only had black and white television, when that was all other places in the world had too.
It is clear from Mr C’s reply that his comments are intended as a factual observation and not a criticism of the place where his life began.
“I’m very proud of where I come from,” he said. “I want my kids to understand what it was like for me growing up.”
From these beginnings, Mr C went on to create a new life in Australia, including a beautiful family and successful career in the printing industry.
He left Providence, but it has always been with him.