I was born and raised in Murray Bridge, South Australia; the town imaginatively named because it was on the edge of the Murray river, and well, had a big bridge put over it.
My earliest memories are from the 1970s, when it was considered perfectly normal to locate the town's rubbish dump right next to Sturt Reserve on the river's edge, which was also next to the caravan park. Directly off the main street (creatively named 'Bridge Street' seeing as that's where it ended), was a tannery between it and the river which added a spectacularly bad stench if one wished to drive that way in order to have a swim in the summer time.
I'll never forget the red-faced, sobbing shame of being told off by Mrs Geisler, Manageress of the South Primary School canteen, for bringing a one dollar note to her counter. "This is far too much money for you to be spending here and I don't have enough change. Please go away and let me serve the other kids." (So much for raiding my birthday money and not being content with Mum giving me a ten cent piece tied in a knot in my hanky every Friday).
Seeing Matthew H pick his nose in the school activity room and wipe it on the floor in reception seemed like a good idea to me, as did cheering Andrew W on the solid iron rocker before he overturned it, smashed his teeth in and ran off with blood spurting from his mouth. Rob liked to jump from the enormous wooden cotton reels that once held electrical cables until he misjudged and had his nose break his fall slightly. I chased poor old Roger through a cement pipe only to see him misjudge the height and scalp himself. It didn't occur to me to check that he was OK, instead I ran outside screaming, "Roger's split his head OPEN, come and see!"
Eight year old Jill was doing a superb job hanging upside down on the monkey bars with her skirt over her head and twelve cents in her mouth (a ten and a two) until she flipped onto the ground and swallowed them. She was rushed to hospital before being told that her Mum would have to 'sift' through her stools in order to assure her that they'd passed through safely. I offered to run into the boys' toilets, touch their urinal and run out again to make up for her misfortune.
Primary school was obviously a huge influence on me, but so was home. Ours was located in River Street which, strangely enough, was not located anywhere near the actual river. Despite this, it was an ideal location for us because it wasn't a thoroughfare to anywhere and didn't have decent bitumen or gutters of any kind until 1980. This meant that we kids could have lengthy games of road tennis, basketball, bike races and puddle splashing competitions.
The road was also the "Barleys" zone for games of chasey and hide-and-seek that extended across four houses and gardens on both sides of the road. Why this Swiss Safety zone was called 'Barleys' I don't know, but our mothers were either confident about the lack of traffic, child molesters and slave traffickers or didn't care, because we were allowed to spend our entire weekends and after school hours with the neighbourhood kids as long as we were home in time for tea.
We were lucky enough to have a very large back yard and my cricket-mad father and brothers put in a full-sized cricket pitch and net. I can't honestly say that this was a big thrill for me and only ventured out to join in if they used a tennis ball instead of the rock-hard red one and applied the 'one hand one bounce' fielding rule because I couldn't catch for nuts.
"Uh oh Dave, you're going to be in so much trouble when Dad comes home......"
As the 'big girl' of our street, I would walk a gaggle of younger kids to school every day. For some reason my responsibilities didn't include how the hell they got home walking the 2km on their own. However in the mornings we'd all stop, survey the mess and giggle at the volume of sun-dried white dog turds near the corner of our street having hilariously christened it 'Poo Corner'.
Once I was dared to pick up a discarded cigarette butt thrown nearby and did my best to light it via our 'burning bin' (backyard incinerator) and bum suck my way to sophistication and awe in front of my witnesses. Unfortunately I tried a bit too hard to blow smoke and it turned into a torturous drawback that found me coughing and throwing up in front of three shocked seven year olds. I like to think that I played my part in preventing several youngsters taking up a dangerous habit.
Down at Sturt Reserve - when the pongs of the tannery, dump, and let's face it - the caravan park were blowing the other way, we'd sometimes have a picnic or BBQ on the green grass and I'd carefully, warily, sneak up to see this fellow, the Bunyip.
I'll admit that the Bunyip caused me to wet my pants in utter fright more than once, yet I was extremely disappointed to visit him with Sapphire last year only to discover that he'd had a facelift by a fourteen year old and now just looked as though he was a bit cross and played far too much Nintendo - where's the vicarious brown-pants thrills and spills in that?
By age seventeen and with some decent matriculation results, I headed to the bright lights of the city for Adelaide University. Murray Bridge seemed so daggy, so backward, so out of it to me at that time. It didn't occur to me to ask myself why, then, I came home to see Mum, Dad, Dave and my friends as often as I could.
My folks have since retired to Victor Harbor where they're perfectly camouflaged with the thousands of other superannuated grey hairs and no longer feeling saddened at the expansion of the Mobilong prison in Murray Bridge where the butter factory used to be, or why the government thought it would be a great idea to put thousands of unemployed, resourceless people in housing trust homes without jobs, training, support or entertainment.
Murray Bridge saw some dark years and I wasn't one of the committed, passionate and loyal town dwellers to help turn the place around. I'm certainly grateful they did though.