Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day Twenty Four - Appreciative August
Murray Bridge

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 remember the fire station letting off their siren at lunchtime every day to test it; the smell of the fat being rendered at the meatworks on hot and still Saturday nights; the distant clacking of the train winding its way past the edge of town and local boneheads doing wheelies near the golf course.

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.

If the ball was cracked over the fence into Cowham's pool it was six-and-out; on the roof was six but you had to climb up there and get it down or be counted as out; and anything that bounced off the brick tankstand and caught was one-hand-one-bounce. A few months after it was put in, Dad had to put bars on the windows facing the pitch.

Robert (pictured here about to bowl) smacked a ball into their bedroom window. The smashing sounds were quite dramatic and I stopped reading in my room to overhear his and David's panicked conversation outside.
"Uh oh Dave, you're going to be in so much trouble when Dad comes home......"
"Why me?" Dave squeaked, "You hit the window, not me."
"Yeah," Robert countered, "but it was because of the way you bowled it." Dave accepted this reasoning from a sibling four years older than him and went and hid by the lawnmowing shed for a few hours.

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.

If 20c was put in the slot - or a folded over paddle-pop stick, he'd slowly and malevolently rise out of the water, roaring as he did so. His mouth would fall open in rabid, deliberate hunger and hatred and he'd sink back into the murky milo-river, only to rise up again, growling before the coin dropped and so did he.

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.


River said...

I lived in Murray Bridge from 1968 to 1972, I don't remember a tannery by the river but I do remember the original butter, cheese and milk bottling factory right next to Sturt Reserve. I had my first job there, it's where I learned to operate the bottling machine, the bottle washer, and how to wrap 40lb blocks of cheese securely enough that air didn't get in and cause mould to grow on the cheese. My very first paypacket was $70 and I thought I was RICH!!. In the summer, we'd wear our bathers under our clothes and spend lunchtime and after work in the river with a couple of the younger, cuter milk tanker drivers. one of them would always have a giant inner tube off one of the trucks and we'd fit about 8 of us in it and have great fun pushing each other off it. Then the factory was moved up to Maurice Road, so water hi-jinks were a weekends only thing.
Do you remember when the Bunyip was first upgraded with a coat of paint and a baby bunyip added? Silliest thing I ever saw.

Kath Lockett said...

GREAT reminiscing, River!

and yes, I do remember the Baby Bunyip, unholy and ridiculous addition that it was. It looked like it had been made by a ADHD kindergarten kid.

Lidian said...

I always enjoy reading your posts...This is really fascinating as I love to learn about how other people grew up in places so different from mine. You are a terrific writer.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Lidian

...and I'd like to say 'thanks' to you too, Shea, but the photo was taken by my Dad in the 1970s and not by me.

Miles McClagan said...

Any backyard cricket game that doesn't have a six and out rule is un-Australian (that might made me sound a bit John Howard, but it's true).

And, if you are bowling slow to an unco kid, and he gets cheeky and slogs you, you are allowed, as an adult, to bowl a bouncer. Only fair I reckon...Penguin rules.

gigglewick said...

My sister and I used to play "French cricket" - basically the deal was to cover your legs with the bat while some one else bowls extremely badly at you. When they run to get the ball you run away and then stop in place when they yell "stop!" having retrieved the ball.

I'm not sure who thought this up - probably a smart parent who knew that games like this would go on for hours, and hours, and hours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks kath...really needed a good laugh tonight and as usual you did not disappoint. Cannot believe that is what the bunyip looks like now...that is just wrong!!

Lynda D

Baino said...

Oh my God . . the Bunyips are pure gold both old and new! No wonder we're blown away by Disneyland! Great recount Kath. Life in the country sounds so idyllic, weird smells and all. We've broken a few windows in our time with backyard cricket in fact the annual spring gutter clean always reveals a few tennis balls! Great yarn!

Unknown said...

My daughter is doing a project on the Murray River at my suggestion. I grew up in MB (1971 - 1982). I insisted that she use only the original Bunyip as I sincerely hated the mother and baby and detest the current one! I was there for the unfailing of the original bunyip and do remember the dump! I even me Prince Philip at the opening of the Rowing Club.
Thanks for the blog entry - great to read!!