Saturday, September 30, 2006

Home on the land....my mother would be proud.

This trip has been exactly what I needed. Out here I am so completely at home, all the bits of me seem to fall into place and I feel truly happy. There are of course so many memories, happy and sad. I can feel my father in the un-renovated rooms, down by the shed where he fiddled with machinery or by the empty creek where we used to sit together and fish. My grandmother is in the air, in the crisp sheets that we carried in from the line together or in the garden where she traced the teddy bear rhyme around my palm. Four generations of my family have now called this home, have let their feet become caked with mud while catching huge lobster sized yabbies from the dams or let the harsh dry scrub scratch their arms as they trekked up the the aboriginal cave in the hills. I had been told the hand paintings were gone, but it wasn't true. They are still there and I felt like singing with joy when I found them. It was enormous fun to show them to my Japanese guest, sharing something often makes it better I think. Super Son has enjoyed it too, I can tell, as slowly the tension of keeping his 'cool' face on eased and he has relaxed. He ran over the rainbow coloured rocks, the sheets of dry gum bark cracking crisply under his converse. He's going to need a new pair after this trip. I feel like I haven't seen him so animated in months.

I also found an aboriginal axe on the first morning here. I have been looking for one all of my life, I had just shown Ink the grooves in the sandstone down by the water hole and tried to explain to him that these grooves were made as the stone axes they used were sharpened, as we walked back towards the house over the ridge where I played so much as a child and felt such peace as a teenager an axe just lay on the ground in my path. Perhaps a cow had kicked it out of the soil, anyway it almost feels as if I was meant to find it, as if the land finally accepts me as it's offspring. Ha, that sounds stupid but thats just how it is.

Today is our last full day out here. I hope to catch some more yabbies, maybe climb the highest mountain so we can see one hundred miles around us (almost), perhaps we will go and collect nuts from the huge Queensland nut tree in the 'park', right now I am taking the binoculars and checking the water tanks for my brother. He is happily on the coast with his family so perhaps for the first time in over twenty years, this place really does feel like my home. I feel lucky.

On the phone my daughter tells me that she is moving to Sydney very soon. She is going down in a few weeks to try and find a job, I feel a little sad but resigned that maybe this is something she feels she has to do. Maybe I will come to Sydney for a visit soon? I can't think of any greater contrast than this place and Sydney.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My arm is Aching

It is winter in Paris in early 2000. We take this day to walk the cold, cold air and visit the true tourist spots in this famous city. We line up with hundreds of others as the breeze rips through our insufficient clothing. There is a mist of moist cold enveloping us; our faces burn with it as we stamp our feet like horses, to be warm.
A mime has come by to entertain this unhappy queue, as we are waiting for access to the tower. My son is enthralled by him and walks nearer for a better look. The mime begins blowing up an invisible balloon; it stretches out in the air before him, my sons eyes widen as if he fears that it may burst. The mime checks the size of the balloon, it isn't quite long enough yet, it is a sausage balloon. He fills it some more, and then checks it again. Satisfied, he ties the end and then starts the intricate process of making the balloon into a dog. He makes the ties and checks it then continues, finishing by adding a piece of invisible string. Then proudly he hands his masterpiece to my patient boy. My son returns to us his eyes glistening with pride. He holds his prize aloft and smiles warmly at the admiring crowd.
We move slowly up the queue and finally after what has seemed like hours we take the stairs and then the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Like cattle we are herded up and on and up. Finally we are there, the light mist blankets the city pink and white and pretty in this bright winter light. We gaze out across the miles, triumphant in having reached this height.
"Mummy, can you please hold this? My arm is aching." My son hands me his invisible balloon.

I dare not let it go.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sugar Flower

In the kitchen opposite the wood stove was a leadlight kitchen dresser painted white. It had panes of glass, green, burgundy and clear. On the centre door which curved outwards the glass was cracked and the design slumped inwards. I used the wonder if the heat from the stove opposite had melted the lead and imagine that one day the whole panel would drip to the floor.

I stood next to the dresser that day and the ledge where the key was kept was very high. If I stood on my tiptoes I could feel it there with the very tips of my fingers but unless I dragged the stool across, there was little chance I would ever reach it.

I considered the moving of the stool and the noise that it would make. My parents took their midday nap just behind the dresser in the other room. If they heard me I might get the "flapper", a piece of bamboo about 20 inches long, with a folded strap of leather bound with "catgut" to it's end. Mum and Dad would threaten me with it what seemed like every day, but perhaps it was only when I was naughty? It was kept on the front veranda high on the coat hooks above the rifles. All those terrifying items dwelt there at our front door. I wonder now what people thought when they called in, to be greeted by that armoury?

The stool was too heavy for me to lift quietly but I remembered there was another outside. I slowly opened the rattling back door knob, it was dented brass kept shiny from many hands and the sound of that doorknob is more keen in my memory than any other sound I have ever known.

The back stairs creaked slightly and the small yellow stool, made from an apple crate is there.

On the way back my hands are full, the door slams in the breeze and I freeze....
All stays quiet. I carefully place the stool and reach the key. My footsteps through the dining room are swift and sure. I sit down cross-legged in front of the china cabinet and the key moves easily in the lock.

I am not allowed in here. In the very back is a small tin, slightly rusted. Carefully I move the breakables aside, fine china teacups and antique figurines. I grasp my prize. The lid squeaks a little as I pry it loose.

The hard sugar melts slowly in my mouth. I close my eyes in bliss. They won't notice just one more wedding cake decoration disappearing, surely?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

dusk

the slamming of the screen door
the koel calling in the dusk
a child's name, a few times in ascending volume
dinner is almost ready

a dog barks and the noisy hum of traffic in the distance continues

this might be the only time of day that I cannot separate the sound of the surf from that of the traffic

it is almost dark

an owl? i could swear i just heard an owl

echoing across the gully I can hear the clatter of dishes in the neighbour's kitchen

i stand and add my kitchen’s own clatter to the evening chorus

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dorm

Along the wall on the left are the wardrobes, my memory exaggerates and I see forty of them or something, but there are problem only a dozen or so all lined up and when I think of them now I wish I had taken a photo. It would have been an arty shot, the peeling old white paint and the doors all ajar in differing degrees of dissarray. In my memory I walk towards them at the head of the pack, footsteps rumbling and stumbling down the winding staircase behind me. I head for mine, my footsteps racing in a panic that I don't want anyone to see. I grab the door and lean into my cupboard it's door a shield for me and for a moment I feel safe. In here they cannot see my tears, they can't see my shaking hands as I pretend to search for some misplaced item. They cannot know how weak I am.

Behind me there is a double sided row of drawers. My two are labelled with my name and number. Across the other side of this long narrow room are our beds. They are metal framed with wire bedsprings supporting our "horsehair" mattresses. They are not really horsehair of course, they are probably coconut husk or some coarse fibrous material like that, I can't remember them as being that uncomfortable as they were pretty much the same as what I had at home. A bed was a bed.

There was a story in the dorm about a ghost who came every fortieth night or so. She was said to drift above one bed and then below the next, stabbing the knife she killed herself with into every second mattress from below. Apparently her knife was snapped so you had to be pretty unlucky to get knifed, I still lay there at night waiting for the sharp pain in my back or closing my eyes incase she was floating above me and leering down at my face. Our boarding house was full of stories like that.

It was usually the seniors who passed these stories on, telling the gullible year eights then watching their eyes widen in fear before they slipped back to their twin rooms snickering with glee. My sister was my dorm prefect when I was in first year. It wasn't a good thing. My dorm scoffed at me for getting preferential treatment while my sister treated me extra harshly so that she would not be accused in kind. She found it wonderfully convenient though, having me close to run her errands and also to wake at five am so she could train me to swim as well as her. She desperately wanted to be proud of me. Alas I was a disappointment and in the end I rewarded her by getting suspended and shaming her name. Given that it was her stupid boyfriend that dobbed me in, I say serve her right.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Remembering the milking yards

I can hear the Happy Families chattering as I hold my arms outstretched either side of me.
The timber beneath my toes feels almost shiny, small bumps where splinters used to be, worn smooth now from the hands and thighs of many bodies, sitting, waiting, watching the daily ritual of "doing the cows".
I look at the beam in front of me and let my feet find their way along with confidence. I am confident, I tell myself, I am I am....but always, as soon as I query my confidence I start to waver and I look at the ground below instead. I choose a spot to place my feet when I have to turn my fall into a jump. I look for a place deep with mud and manure; I know below that mud the gravel is sharp and cruel on my cold bare feet.
As I jump I think of myself as light like a bird and bend my knees quickly to break my fall and then spring up again before the soft skin in the arch of my foot can find the gravel. I am safe.
I hear an order barked from one of my parents.
'Let in that calf.'
The clunk and scrape of the timber gate latch then the squeak of the hinge, in need of oil again. I know every calf by name, they bunt their heads against me and their warm animal aroma is like a balm of contentment to me. I block the others and let the called-for calf in, to feed from it's mother. She lets out an appreciative bellow from above her finished grain bin. The calf knows the ritual and runs in behind the bail, behind the cow.
The cow begins to relax now, and she lets her milk down and we scramble for it. First the young bull then he is led away and I practice my knot tying to keep him aside until the next cow is brought through for him. Then my father sits on the three-legged stool. I watch the muscles in his chocolate brown arms flex and relax as he hand milks the cow, her teats slippery from the saliva of the young bull, I see him fight the calf for the best teat. The bucket fills quickly when my father milks. The deep foam on top, proof he milks well. Whenever I try, my arms get tired before the foam begins to build and I pass it on to him. Yet still now, thirty years later my hands are stronger than anyone's I know.
I pull myself up and sit on the rail where before I walked. In my memory now I can hear the rustle of the animals and the rumble and scrape as the cows lick their grain bins, the rip of milk as each stream hits the foam in the metal bucket. The meow of the yard cats, frantic for a taste of the hot frothy milk.
I can hear the sad desperate bleating bellow of the hungry calves still waiting, the deep bellow of the bulls in their stalls, my mother's voice, talking about this animal or that. I can hear the Happy Family's chattering together.
I can see my father's boots, caked in mud and manure and hay.
I can watch his lips move, but I cannot hear his voice.
In four days it will be seventeen years since anyone heard his voice.

Reposting again - First posted Mar 2004
In fact tonight it will be nineteen years since anyone heard his voice. And excuse that picture, I drew it with the mouse in Corel, and I am not that great at mouse control. Also excuse the slightly morose postings. I just miss my Dad and although I always promised myself I'd try to remember him more on his birthday than on the day he died, it's a hard thing to do, I rememeber him every day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sprint Training

In the mornings, after I would wake with that crisp cold air burning my cheeks and the sound of my father splitting tinder at the woodheap, we would crowd around the wood stove fighting for a turn to toast our thick slabs of white bread over the hot coals. My father would lean across the stove, his cup kept warm on the white enamel stove warmers and the ash from his cigarette sometimes landing in the ironstone thunder egg he used as an ashtray and sometimes landing on the floor where he would hurriedly spread it out on the mottled pink linoleum to hide his mistake before someone snapped at him.

The kitchen was crowded and stuffy, the yellow painted vj boards that lined the ceiling, black with grease and soot.

My parents voices starting softly, discussed what would be done that day; the fences to be checked, the cows to be preganancy tested and the performance of the new bull. It seems always that the volume would rise and my mother would begin to speak louder as she sensed my father was not agreeing with her, not bending to her will as she believed then and still believes is the only possible conclusion in all her conversations. Finally my father would dump his cup on the sink, stub out his cigarette and shuffle, sock footed, to the back stairs where his oldest heeled RMWilliams boots would slide over his boot shaped feet and his stained and holey second-best Akubra would land in its familiar groove upon his forehead.

Sometimes I would rush after my father, squeezing my backside onto the stair beside him, working my way through the box of old boots. Always hoping my feet may have grown enough to slide into them like his did but always, in the end, chasing after him my pattering feet wearing shoes of hard skin and painful cold.

His gentle silence and firm brown hands would guide me out past the woodheap, past the feedshed and the utes. Out there, just us in the front paddock, he would spring it on me suddenly. "Race you to the yards?" And I would run on my toes to avoid the sharp frostbitten grass, prancing like Bambi down the hill, reaching out in strides as long as I could make them.

My father never let me win though, he would stay just ahead. He made me try so very hard but when I held out my arms out to stop myself against the rattling hayshed gates he was always already there, slowing to a stop beside me, laughing and puffing and telling me how good I was and how hard it was for him to beat me now.

My athletics coach, my father: 24 January 1926 - 25 March 1987

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Barefooted Brats

It started the night before my ninth birthday. Dean and I found the chrome plated cylindrical contraption in the sideboard drawer, all spinning notched disks and fluted brass rods. It had a hinged lid along one side and a scalloped end wheel, which when you turned it would set the fluted rods all spinning. "Here", Dad said, "You lick the cigarette paper and place it in the slot, then lay a measure of tobacco along the length, not too close to the ends or it ends up in my mouth, then you close the lid and turn the end."
So we sat on the floor at his feet, Dean and I and rolled him cigarettes with varying degrees of success, we laughed at our attempts and became loud enough that we were sent the the spare room where we were always allowed to sleep when we had friends to stay. I know it would have been Dean's idea, but there we were hidden by the wall with my father's pouch of drum tobacco and Dean, being the natural ratbag that he was; it was inevitable really.
"Let's roll some for ourselves." he said "We can take them to school and see what it is like to smoke."
I agreed, I always agreed with everything that Dean said, he was bigger than me. He was being nice to me. I would do anything for Dean to be nice to me.
At school the next day we whispered to the others at little lunch and Dean led us all to the chicken coop behind the hit-up board at the far end of the tennis court. We climbed through the wire netting gate into the little pen and found old feed tins and water containers to turn over and plant ourselves on, small relief from the dusty dried out chicken poop, still smelly even a year after all the chooks were gone. Kent demanded the best seat and set himself up as watch peeking between the boards to be sure the teacher was not coming. So we lit the small bent half squashed "rollie" passing it around we puffed clouds of smoke out from our faces.
"That's not really how you do it" Dean told us" You have to suck it right in."
We just looked at him dumbly and kept puffing. Ann held hers elegantly, legs crossed at the ankles. Evelyn swaggered provocatively at eleven years old, swore and spat the bitter tar from her pink perfect lips. I knew I looked stupid doing everything I did, so there seemed little point in trying to be anything other than an untidy little tomboy. At least I was good at that. Little Beth stood defiantly, threatening to tittle-tale to her parents, he carrot red hair stark against the shocked white of her freckled skin. She wouldn't dare, would she?
It became a ritual after that, every day we brought stolen cigarettes to school. We graduated to climbing the tree behind the coop, a better look-out we thought. As if the teacher couldn't see us out the small square window, those little puffs of smoke wafting from between the branches of the whistling pine athol trees.
I remember that time with a feeling of elation, six small children on top of the world. Untouchable.
I can still feel the dread as we watched from our perches that day when he finally stood up from his desk and walked that long 100 metres towards us. I wonder that he left it so long when in honesty he must have known that whole week. Perhaps he simply hoped that we would stop by ourselves. I think a school with six pupils was more than this first year teacher, posted to the back of beyond and an empty classroom of barefooted brats, had ever bargained on. Six defiant, strong minded rebels were harder to control than a normal class of twenty-five.
Watching his slow steady steps towards us that day, we knew that we were caught. I saw Beth's pale white cheeks flush red with fear and defiance, so, she had told on us.
His decided discipline was that we should tell our parents or he would tell them for us. It was the worst punishment of my life.
In time I forgot the punishemnt but I remembered that feeling of elation. The thrill of being naughty and more than any nicotine addiction. That memory took hold of me like a drug. The thirst for that elation has never really left me.
After all, we never inhaled. (Originally posted 27.8.04)