BICENTENARY BOY

Sunday afternoons, before the highways. Light rain and thin, ribbed leeches arching uselessly on black rubber. Pond water burps in boots, and mosquito bites swell between knuckles and behind ears. Damp air, rich with the scent of red dirt and spiced from invisible, descending walls of wood smoke from family fires. Stoop again, and gulp another half-pint of murky water into a jar.

Walk back to a house and press against the outer wall of the chimney. Blink through wet hair at grey-eyed trophies, wriggling and warping behind glass. Feel heat through bricks, rousing shoulders. The steam that smells like a synthesis of eucalyptus mud from a roof gutter, and the lifeless density of wet air from a sunken cellar.

Sunday afternoons spent dipping for tadpoles. Fond reflections, and as true to as the chair upon which I sit. I’ve written of these memories several times, each effort spaced in years, and every visit recalled through a varied lens.

In my fifth year of primary school, among the Andrews and Alisons, the Benjamins and Belindas, I began to shift my attention, toward writing.

I first began writing exteriors, in the year of the bicentenary. Lunch orders came in brown bags from the local milk bar, and Batman stickers peeled easily off juice boxes. School projects were crudely etched on A2 card, and fourth-graders printed their coerced depictions of an Australian settlement on blue, red, and white paper.

Topical questions manipulating a European voyage to Australia, and subsequent colonisation of the land at the bottom of the globe. We were instructed to summarise our subject findings. Pint-sized plagiarists in the making. Cutting and pasting heavily lathered slices of lined paper, pock-marked with distorted information. Ink from biro scratchings bled like berry juice over congealed welts of Clag.

My assignment was to be something different. I recounted stories from this land’s prehistory that I’d read in the school’s library. In particular, a picture story book called The Quinkins published in the late 70s. While attempting to keep the source authentic, My retellings moved eyebrows inward and tugged at the seams of this classroom’s educational architecture. My account of an invasion was printed in bold capitals that bent and swayed like saplings in a literary wind, leaning in all directions, and girt by a sun setting from a sky, into earth.

The classroom was soon wallpapered in a patchwork display; a mosaic of Union Jacks and warped, grey lead renditions of the Captain, James Cook. In a corner, stretched tightly over the power point, one could just make out the red, yellow and black of an Aboriginal flag. Segregated.

In 1988 I began writing practical adventures; frog hunting expeditions, boundless narratives wrapped in the foliage of tree top. These were scrawled, mis-spelt, and captured on the watermarked pages of my Dad’s high school exercise books.

Frequent places or moments from childhood, attempt to capture mud on a forearm or a scratch on the cheek, or the texture of bark from the tea tree. I will always pull at and chew on memories, as everyone does. Hopefully, one day I can find pure happiness again; writing about the way I wish things still were.

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