|About Us||Site Map||Search||Italiano||Bahasa Melayu||Home|
Tuart College, English Faculty
Amid the heat of a Westralian January, in a stifling little house on a dusty wheatbelt farm beside a vacant river bed I came into being. Sperm and egg became a zygote, and throughout the autumn and winter of that year I became first foetus then infant until the womb in which I was conceived rudely ejected me.
September and the wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Across the seas foreign navies confronted each other in the Straits of Formosa. The Cold War raged, but the only red I sensed was that of the blood of birth. It was a Tuesday. It was cold and windy. It had been raining for a few days, and was still raining when through the red I experienced for the first time the light of midday grey.
Of course, I remember none if this.
Remembrance comes with age. Yellow and white gingham billowed from above as my mother sat upon the verandah rail chatting. Again it was summer. My feet slid around in a bath of sweat in my stiff new sandals. With a firm grasp on a handful of lemony cotton I stared around me and wondered. School days were about to begin. "Bruce is inclined to chatter in class" read my first Report.
Awareness began to develop. I mowed the front yard, hating the stench of dried dog turd that regularly burst upwards, mingling with the odours of petrol and cut-grass. At five cents a go it was worth it, though, as I built up my collection of toy Matchie cars. My pride and joy. I faced stiff competition from a schoolyard full of cousins. The Matchies have long gone, but I've been a collector of things ever since.
Summer again. My hand dangled in the cool brown water of the forbidden estuary. The last day of school holidays. The dinghy drifted in the stillness like the clouds above. Our bikes lay on the bank, while wisps of smoke rose from the ashes and fish bones of a last supper. The next day I was to begin boarding at high school. I knew, but didn't want to, that this day would mark the end of innocence.
The southerly wind whipped across the waves. Stinging white sand scythed through the air, some of it encrusting the corners of his mouth and eyes. The rescue vehicle was bogged, the dune buggy wrecked. Like seagulls his rescuers screamed and whirled to no avail. He lay there uncomprehending, his body crushed, his breath faltering. Then nothing. Only mauve skin and white sand. Death had taken a life so young. I saw life fade. I saw it depart. I saw the futility of the rescue attempts. I was only fifteen.
Remembrance Day. Mum was driving along the road by the estuary. We had been to the post office. Suddenly a news flash on the radio. Kerr had sacked Whitlam. Mum stopped the car to hear the radio better. We looked at each other and asked, could such a thing happen? The failure of Whitlam to win re-election matched my failure in the tertiary entrance examinations that same month. My life as a pupil was over.
The caravan sat in the final row at the park. There were few others this far away from the Ablution Blocks, and its isolation suited us. The low dune vegetation offered no barrier to the continual wind, and part of the van annex was always sagging or flapping in testimony to our inability to erect it properly. Three of us rented it - our first place away from home. We ate, slept and partied among the dirty dishes and unwashed clothes piled about it's tiny interior.
Later, Dad bought a beach cottage near the lighthouse. Our little trio decamped, and arrived at Sailors Lane a hexad. Meaningless day jobs were forgotten in an evening and weekend ascent into the freedom of loud, loud music, or rivers of alcohol, of clouds of grey tobacco smoke, or sweetish marijuana haze, of boards and white beaches, of sunburn and blue waters. My ear was pierced, my virginity lost, and still the party continued.
Then, in the summer of my twentieth year, it ended. I would return later, seeking but not finding the abandon of those dog days.
Australia Day. Black swans fluttered as the State began celebrating its fifteenth decade. I wondered what my second had in store. The ship pulled away from the quay as the sun sank below the horizon. Fremantle receded into the night. Alone on the deck, I wondered if I would ever see my homeland again. It was the first time I realised I had a homeland.
On a Soviet ship I saw the gaunt ruin of Krakatoa and the sultry slickness of Singapore. I saw the sights but could not understand that hard-eyed look of the harbour porters or the sweating labour of the rickshaw drivers.
London. Grey skies, grey buildings. Grey faced inhabitants in the gloom of midwinter. The air stank. The mass of scurrying humanity overwhelmed me. The old dowager empress revealed only her armpits at first. I wondered why I had come. Would the colonial pilgrimage be nothing more that a tatty affair? Alone, with only a suitcase and a £5 note, at the beginning of a Bank Holiday (whatever that was) I just stared around me. England was supposed to be primroses and hedgerows, blue birds and white cliffs. The immigration stamp in my passport said this was England. But it wasn't. I wanted to cry.
I had one other thing. A scrap of paper with an address, that of the brother of a distant acquaintance. The faint possibility of refuge forced me to come to terms with three-minute local phone calls, underground trains and big red buses. Then sanctuary at last. A kind person, a vegetarian meal, a warm bed. Perhaps, I thought, it would not be so bad after all.
It wasn't. I worked and travelled. I saw that snow for the first time. I ate some, and skied on it. I stood beneath an oak tree and was overawed my its majesty and mythology. In Stonehenge I imagined prehistoric ancestors. In Stratford-upon-Avon I felt the depths of my linguistic ignorance. Mozart's birthplace meant little to me then, but Dachau revealed human nature at it's basest. In Europe I saw and I grew, and I was thankful that my forebears had chosen, or had been forced, to the far Antipodes. A barbaric heart seemed to beat beneath its civilised veneer.
Then the pilgrimage was over. I stepped on to the hot tarmac at Perth airport on a humid autumn day. It should have been summer.
My country had changed - or was it me? Old friends seemed different - or was it me? I woke, I ate, I worked, I ate, I slept. In a daze I moved through each day. There were no fixed points on a horizon I could only sometimes see. Then a searing passion that ended as abruptly as it had begun. Wondering if it had been love or mere élan, I realised I was in Adelaide. I fled that city. My horizon remained an ephemeral shimmer.
Years of nothing, then finally summer again. College and a new start for me, although the foreign navies had now moved from the Straits of Formosa to the Persian Gulf. It feels now that what I have been searching for lies within, not elsewhere. One day perhaps I will be able to finish this autobiography, and perhaps I will then be able to write, as Rousseau did:
"I am unlike anyone I have ever met. I may be no better, but at least I am different"
1 308 words, published copy of original text, Blackheath 30 September 2004