The girl felt the mushy raspberries between her fingers. They were delicious so she was so glad that her Mum grew them. Mum’s first garden had lilies, raspberries and banana passionfruit. The girl came to know that it was the squirting taste of the passionfruit made them fun to eat.
Mum’s next garden had corn which it was her duty to water. This garden was up behind the big rock, on a hill, at their second house. They had peach and apricot trees and wild blackberries. Her brothers used to go up and down the street selling punnets of blackberries. The woman, who was once the girl, recognises this might have been dangerous if they had come across someone unpleasant. The girl was upset she wasn’t allowed to tag along.
They often ate the peaches before they were ripe, which used to upset the girl’s Mum. The woman sees her mother’s despair at all the picked flowers arranged like art on the lawn and all the wasted fruit and children’s tummy aches.
The girl liked their first house better than their second. At that house they had lilies, raspberries and a crazy swearing parrot across the road. They had hordes of kids who swarmed from house to house looking for things to do and playing games. They went from one kid’s house and decorated a cubby, to another’s and ran through the sprinklers, and another’s to play with their new puppy.
She climbed trees. She turned on the hose and pretended she was putting out bushfires. She found a rusted tin and pulled out golden coins from deep inside it (they were really rusty chunks of the tin falling away). She was no longer child, but bionic woman running far and wide to rescue people. The woman still wished she was bionic. As a child her brothers were still close and young enough to wash doll clothes with her. Now they were totally absent from her life.
The hordes of children were sometimes cruel. One day they locked the girl in a cupboard. They wouldn’t let her out. She banged the doors long and hard. She was so frightened of the small space, the darkness and their laughter. She thought she was running out of air.
They laughed and giggled when she started crying. Finally someone let her out of the box. She ran home as fast as she could. She never turned around, or looked back in case she turned into a mound of salt. She never ever played with them at their houses again.
Another time she was going with some of them on the bus to school and they started to call her ‘darkie’ and other worse things she didn’t ever want to repeat when her Mum asked her. She cried and asked her Mum ‘Why do they hate me. I have a heart and a skeleton and bones just like them.’
Luckily when she stopped swarming with the kids she found one special friend. Her friend lived with her Mum, only, in a caravan. She visited her and together they enjoyed picking out the horses that would win at the races. She said, ‘You can bet on them but I just work out how much I would win if I did have a real bet.”
Then her friend left town, and she had to say goodbye –it was unbearable for one with so few friends. They did not meet again for 8 years, and then that was just one year of primary school. The magic was not quite the same. They had both moved on and changed. The friend moved away again and they never saw each other again.
Mum and Dad put her and one brother in a primary school with twelve children. They were all ages. They went to an old Church for lessons. It was two storeys high. They didn’t have desks, but sat at a low table on top of tie died cushions. If they wanted they could lie on their tummies and write. They made a contract with their teacher how much they would do for maths and writing each week. They wrote out recipes from cooking- and once a week they made a big lunch for the whole school to eat. They wrote about all of their excursions. They went to find out about how to make cheese, visited a brewery, and the forest.
When they visited the Ash forest they built forts. The woman remembers the intensity of her childhood games. She was with Robin Hood in the Sherwood Forest. She was doing battle. She was afraid of attacks from the sheriff. The leaves were analogous colours, red, orange and brown. They went crunch, crunch under her feet.
The girl went to music lessons at a college. She learnt the clarinet for a while and enjoyed it but one day her parents couldn’t afford it anymore so she stopped and learnt the recorder and the guitar because they were cheaper instruments to buy.
She went to the museum. She sketched the exhibits. She was good at this. She even won an art competition and the prize was a heater – her very own heater to keep herself warm in winter.
A heater was like a winning lottery ticket for the girl who grew up in Tasmania with fog and ice. The woman lives in the wet seasons, where it is sticky, in North Queensland. Back then she loved her heater because before she had it she dressed hiding under her doona to keep warm and now she didn’t have to.
Her picture and a photograph of her went touring all over America. Many years later the girl had an exhibition of poetry and photographs which lots of school children came to see.
She went on lots of camps at that tiny primary school. She travelled to Cradle Mountain. It was so cold at night even in her sleeping bag and all her clothes she was frozen. She hardly slept at all. In the morning she ate a huge bowl of muesli and had a warm drink to try and warm up. Every time the woman eats muesli she remembers the Cradle mountain and ravens diving down to pinch her sandwich.
She walked along by the lake and saw a barren landscape.
As a child she wished there was more to look at. The Lake was clear and the mountain was dark green and there were no flowers, maybe there were alpine ones- the woman can’t remember, the girl was paying no attention. She liked the Wallabies most of all. The woman wishes she had a camera and had taken more pictures. She would love to go back and observe it all in more detail. She’d rug up well.
Another camp she went on was to the Franklin River. Her whole class went down the wild river on a boat. It was protected after a huge campaign by environmentalists. One of the activists that saved that wild river came to speak at a camp she was at, another ran the Peace group she went to at college. The woman realised that the girl was close to people making history.
She went to a mining town- Zeehan – it was very ugly with its trees stripped away until the hillsides looked bald. ‘I never want to live somewhere like this,’ the girl and woman think in unison.
The girl travels into the mines at Zeehan have a look and feels like she is back in that cupboard and is freaking out inside. She thinks of her mother’s gardens and the rusty tin coins her brothers played with in their imaginary shop. This calms her down until she comes out of that mine.
Yet despite this experience the woman does not have a permanent phobia of small places as you might imagine. She remembers she used to love to curl up in her wardrobe and attempt to walk through to Narnia. They were very tall, narrow and thin wardrobes, full of coats. They were one of her favourite hiding spots when her brothers were annoying her, or her Mum was in a bad mood.
The girl lived in a world where the books she read seemed more real than her family. She remembers them well as if they are old friends: The Secret Garden, Heidi, Grey Friar’s Bobby, Roald Dahl stories, and the Narnia Chronicles.
The woman opens the parcel her mother has sent- she finds her childhood books. These are the gold coins of her memory, and as she holds them up to the light to read she is feeling the blackberries between her fingers.
© June Perkins from Island Rock Girl