Summer, West Midlands Coast, Australia

Childhood
Summer. Wind scorches skin. No leaves to shelter beneath. Trees grow bent at ninety degrees if they make it to waist height. Everlasting daisies in yellow and pink and white rustle and rattle in the breeze.

No green.

Summer. Parents wilt on the back verandah. Radio on low volume. Outback long-drop dunny buzzes with visitors. Needs more ash. Later. After dark. Move away from adults, sneak out to the creek line.

No water. Shrubs grey and scrubby. Kangaroos flopped in the darker shadows. Cross at disturbance. Flap their ears, lick at paws.

Go quietly. Grab that barbed wire. Let’s build a canoe.

Barbed wire doesn’t float.

No water to float in. Let’s build a canoe-shaped mud-bath.

Now you’re talking.

Mud and blood – it is barbed wire – and sweat and tears and laughter and screams. The mud-bath emerges, for a moment. As the sides collapse back into the freshly dug sand, cool wetness oozes from the bottom.

It really is a bath – but there’s no mud!

Grab some dirt – there, near the ‘roos. Dig it out, they won’t mind – no boomers in this lot.

Got it – now what?

Drop it here, get more. Build up this end and that end, so it keeps the shape – work in to the middle. There, like that!

Hankies laid in the base, water sipped from the clean side. Keep up the water, suck on the lump of rock salt – all the kids have a bit in their pockets or hat. Wait for the sun to lower, for the heat to fade, for the ‘roos to move on.

Wait! What are they doing? They’re pinching our water-hole! They want our bath. Quick, run – here comes the boomer! Run, faster; head for home – no, not yet. Here, we’ll sit here and watch. Was that your good hankie? Too bad. You’ll have to say the ‘roos ate it, or something – they won’t believe you anyway, so the truth is easiest. We should do that with our homework – the ‘roos ate it! Won’t that be a laugh. Only the kids on School of the Air will believe it – none of the city kids could say that!

Out here, in summer, we don’t do much. It is the season of wait. After the crops have been harvested, after the schools have sent the boarders home, after the paddocks are bare and brown and grey – that’s the season of wait. Wait until the galahs move on, wait until the creek flows with dull grey water from the rain up north, wait until the days aren’t eighteen-eight, just wait.

Seasons change, summer stillness becomes autumn pain. Plough the paddock, plant the wheat, move the sheep to the lower plains – dust eddies show which farm is ploughing, which one is seeding, which paddock is being sprayed or burned or barrelled.

We wait. School goes on, in the summer. School of the Air – we need to speak to real people, we need to chatter and gabble and babble, laugh and cry and promise and pray. Even out here, in the middle of nowhere, community is people communicating. Even in childhood, we understand.

Summer. The season of wait.

 

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