A Childhood in Technicolour
What has inspired my all my life
This story is set in a little town, far far away, nestled in the flats of Goulburn Valley. Fruit grows in abundance in Mooroopna, yet no-one seems to know where it is. To me, it is a place where my imagination grew from a seed and my creativity was discovered at its source. My memories of 1970’s country life are like an old reel to reel movie. I flick through each frame, taking myself backwards to a moment that comes to life in full colour. My memories are found in Mooroopna’s streets, its old buildings, the land, the weather and of course my childhood home, which still stands like a palace in its own kingdom. Memories live inside it walls, pulsing vibrantly, the source of everything that makes me, me.
While I sit writing, I drive myself there in my mind up the Hume Highway, park in our driveway, walk inside and there, I am greeted with a story that is a page turner- the creators, my parents. The ghostly essence of all the characters of whom took part in this tale, drift about. Many have passed. Some still live in the much changed streets of Mooroopna. The charm may have left, but my imaginings allow me to activate my senses to recall every detail, of a life lived in technicolour.
My need to share my the memories of my early life is constant and endless, and that somehow in doing so I will prove to others how magical it truly was. I continue on my memory trip. I am warm. The dry heat creaks, the bird life sings, the footpaths glow, the perfume of the eucalyptus fills my nostrils, and I am free. Free to roam. Free to explore. Free to create. Free to imagine.
In my minds eye, I see myself wander into the backyard after Mum insists I go outside. No idiot box for me today. My sisters follow me, an intense love swimming between us. We swing on the walnut tree bow, cracking and devouring nuts as we go. The back gate is beckoning. We are free to walk through as we please, entering the wild overgrown garden of Mrs.Gardner. We can see her with her precise bun, peering out her window. She waves, familiar with the sight of us creeping through the meandering pathways, toward our grandparents deep property.
The branches are thick and the leaves dense so we bend down to find the well-worn hollow to inch through. We carefully push the brush, past acting as adventurers seeking a treasure soon to be discovered. Mrs.Gardner’s Edwardian home, a white beacon to us, hides amongst the rambling garden. She sits quietly inside reading, and watching out for us. Nearing the swinging gate to our grandparents block, we stop in awe, witnessing the beauty of fragrant, violet wisteria blossoms dancing in the breeze, smattered with tiny spots of light that break through the canopy. Its petals make an inviting blanket under the arbour that curves handsomely above our small heads. We don’t have to think twice of what to do next. Spontaneously, we take turns covering ourselves in the scented petals.
Our Ninna is waiting; she always is. Wanda Thomson seems to know when we will arrive. We continue on our well-trodden journey through the second swinging gate of the rickety fence. As per usual, we’ve forgotten our thongs. Who will make it across the parched, bindi-eye ridden grass without a prickle? We run giggling with terror and excitement with our game of Russian roulette. Who will it pierce today? Thankfully, it’s me-as I don’t cry. I sit under the Hill’s Hoist, on the fractured path, to quickly pick the stinging bindi-eye out, as I know what awaits us.
The fairy jewel fruits otherwise known as ‘pomegranates’ are bursting open on a bush at the entrance to paradise. During our feast, we gobble up the juicy seeds, ruby red liquid staining our chins. My sisters and I anticipate the energy vibrating from the oasis down the next pathway. Everything is a luscious, rich green. After a few rotating cartwheels around the perfectly manicured grass, we are united in our decision to open the bungalow door to visit our Uncle Cyril who lives there. He is a curious chap with antiquities and wares unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Things that move. Things that sing. Curious objet d'art travelled with him from his Essendon hardware store. Oh, and he likes to spoil us with a coin or two to buy an ice cream from the milk bar. This is for later.
Walking toward the back door, we can’t help but pop the intriguing flower buds that release the petals with a sound. We can hear her pottering around the kitchen- our favourite person in the world. The acrid smoke of Black and White cigarettes wafts out the fly wire mixed with the cooking smells of Papa’s lunch, boiling away on the enamelled stove. Ninna greets us, warmly hugging each granddaughter, pressing love into our souls with each squeeze. She’s wearing a decorative apron and her signature lipstick. The cigarette smell tries to hide under her soft, flowery perfume.
We eye the duck tin sitting safely out of arms reach, high on the fire place. Our agenda is achieved as she offers us two stop light lollies each. Mum wouldn’t be pleased as our lunch is yet to be had. With our mouths sucking away furiously on the stoplight lollies, we wander to play in the other parts of the house. We must be careful. Our Papa is not thrilled when he sees us touching things. We do it anyway. The lounge room first. The most peculiar vessels live on the surface of the bar. The eldest sister tentatively picks one up and it comes alive, playing playing a classical tune as it turns. There is a strange creature that hold a bar utensil- it has something private underneath its skirts. We dare not look. We turn our attention toward Ninna’s bedroom.
Creeping down the hallway, we enter into her dim bedroom with lace curtains. Light breaks through its patterns, creating flickering silhouettes on the floor. A faint smell of powder lingers in the air. Our posse heads to the dressing table of delights. A small stool sits in readiness to receive someone’s bottom. With great respect, we tentatively pick up the glass Avon vials that decorate the table. The pink one catches my eye. A translucent glass with opalescent jewels, crowning the top. I open it like its the first time I’ve found treasure. Inside is thick, white cream I’m dying to stick my finger in. I decide against it. The time for our adventure is almost up. One more stop until we journey home.
The front yard is calling us. The blue and pink floral carpet weaves and scrolls as we follow it out the front door, to the porch. We play on the ledge that connects to the rope like columns, running our hands over the forms as we do so. Skipping along the path, we find our way to the boronia bush, speckled with waxy pink flowers. Standing on the brick fence, we take turns flipping our whole body into it. No one would know that we were there. The perfect hiding spot.The heat is beginning to spike. I can feel it burning my nose. Together, we start to think about how long we have been on our adventure. Is it time to trek home? Is that Mum’s voice echoing across the land? Time to go home before we are scolded.
We skip back inside, hugging Ninna with tenderness along the way. In the backyard, we can clearly hear our mother. The edge in her voice tells us she is starting to get annoyed. Quick! Our expedition is over and it’s time to bolt home. Fingers crossed the bindi-eye’s don’t get us. We take a moment to peer over Ninna and Papa’s rear fence into the Beaton’s backyard, a very odd place with extremely tall grass and beat up, rusty old cars parked all over the place. Time is ticking. Who will get home first? Our competitive streaks switch on. Giggling with excitement, we race on another back through our trail, leaving our expedition behind us. This time, I arrive back first. “I’ve tried calling you for ages! Mum bellows with frustration. We know she’s not really angry, as we’ve been out of her hair all morning. “What’s for lunch Mum?” I ask beaming with satisfaction as the youngest one cries, trying to pry prickles from her heel. “Vegemite and walnut sandwiches” replies Mum. The quintessential meal of Australian explorers.
I’ve returned from Tardis trip back rom the past. I’d stay to watch Bewitched at the end of the day, but my present life is calling me. It’s ok. I can go back whenever I want- to visit my memories, the ones that never leave me. They fill my insides and glow inside my brain like a treasure that hides from the world around me. They’re mine. All mine.
By Kate Ashforth