Growing up in the Shire.

Growing up in the Shire was easy for me but I had a few things on my side. I wrote this piece for a non-fiction writing competition I entered last year. The competition has closed and I didn’t win a cracker! However I still think it’s a pretty good story. The theme of the competition was growing up in Australia. It’s a true story. It may be a tad too parochial for places beyond Australia. Some of the cultural references may not land right. The original piece did not have subheadings. They are there for the SEO!

Growing up in the Shire.

I grew up in “The Shire” in the 1960s and 70s. Back then it wasn’t THE Shire, just plain old Sutherland Shire at the arse-end of Sydney. Captain Cook’s Landing Place and hence the Birthplace of the Nation.

Cronulla was only famous for its sandhills and beaches not riots. The refinery at Kurnell was still pumping out petrol and the Royal National Park caught on fire at infrequent intervals.

It was a place where meat and three veg appeared on the table every night, except Friday night when the Dads stayed at the pub even later than they did every other night and the Mums would wait (im)patiently at home. The Dads’ dinners waited too, on top of a saucepan of boiling water turning into a dried-up biscuit of tough meat and grey vegetables. Microwaves were yet to be invented. The only way to serve spaghetti was out of a tin and mashed potato wrapped up in devon was the height of culinary sophistication.

The only restaurants in my home town were two Chinese cafes, a swanky Swiss fondue place and a milk bar owned by the Wogs that (allegedly) sold Pal burgers. Mind you, it was a progressive town! When Pizza Hut opened in the early 70s the line up to get in extended down the street for weeks. It was especially long on “All-you-can-eat Tuesdays”. We’d take turns to sniff the spew-cheese in the shaker bottles and congratulate ourselves for trying pepperoni.

You get the picture?

Anglo and middle-class.

Sexist, racist, able-ist

As we walked to school on opposite sides of the street, the public school kids chanted “Catholics! Catholics! Make me sick! Call the doctor quick! quick! QUICK!” A similar refrain was hurled back across the road by the Catholic school kids.

Girls skipped and played elastics while the boys played marbles or dug holes in the dirt patch. Only the girls did sewing and cooking and only the boys did woodwork.

You’ve got the idea?

Anglo, middle-class, Protestant and sexist.

There weren’t any gay people at my school. Not one! I’m sure. We never saw a poofter, not once! Although it did turn out one of our teachers was a paedo!

And then there was that spastic kid who had no ears because his mother had used thalidomide. The boys would twang the piece of elastic that held his glasses in place. And we’d laugh.

Anglo, middle-class, Protestant, sexist and intolerant.

I can’t imagine how it must have been if you were “different”. Lucky for me, I was white, middle-class, agnostic and female. My ancestors came from Germany but let’s not mention that. I was smart and cute, so that helped make up for the female bit. I could wangle things to get my own way most of the time. My life was easy.

That’s me: A white middle class able female.

Two Georges

It was another story for the two Georges in my year group, they didn’t have it so easy.

There was a George that nobody liked because he flapped, and a George nobody liked because he was Aboriginal. Flapping George was there from Kinder right through to Year 12. Naughty George turned up one day in Year 3 and I’m not sure when he disappeared, but it was sometime around Year 9.

I can still visualize Flapping George’s curly sandy hair crowning his pale freckled face. The face that was twisted with frustration and despair. The mouth that tried to squeeze out words. What words, I’m not sure but probably ‘get lost’ or ‘leave me ALONE’. We’d crowd around him, and if we played it right, George would jump up and down on his skinny, even more, freckled legs, and screw up his little face tighter and tighter. Then, at the zenith of the taunting, his hands would begin to flap like windscreen wipers and everyone would laugh and run away squealing with delight, and flapping their arms in unison having achieved the group’s goal. We had tipped George into a screaming rage.

Satisfied with our handiwork, we’d move on to harass the other George. The Naughty George. The George who always got into fights.The one with the fat lips and black skin. The George that everyone was a little bit scared of but not so scared it prevented us from teasing him. The one, later in high school, we would call Lamington. This George just turned up at school one day, all of a sudden and without warning. He was dropped headfirst into the lives of a “kind normal family who were being so generous to take him in”.

As an adult, I look back now and see the obvious truths not known or contemplated as a child. Flapping George was autistic and Naughty George, a member of the Stolen Generation. And I was in cahoots with the bullies. Where were the teachers telling us to stop? Where were the adults telling us to be kind?

As Flapping George grew up, he was able to control his flapping and although he was still bullied he “learned” to cope. His autism affected us less and hence stopped being a problem (for us). No doubt he went home from school each day, exhausted from his efforts to mask his autism and appear “normal”.

As I said, I don’t know what happened to Naughty George. We ‘jokingly’ said he’d gone on walkabout.

My future-self shamed by my past-self.

My 2021-self is ashamed of the 1970-self. I strongly admonish my child-self. I was a cruel and perverse bully. At the very best, I would describe myself as a bystander. A person who stood by and watched evil happen.

Part of me wants to protest that I didn’t know any better. That everyone did it and I was part of a society whose intolerance for diversity was accepted, expected and widespread. Deep down I knew it was wrong, even back then, to be so mean. But if I didn’t join in it could be me that suffered the wrath of the “typicals”. That’s how bullying works. In Year 10 I cowered under the desk in Tech Drawing class while the boys threw little pin darts at me because “girls weren’t meant to do Tech Drawing”. The teachers did nothing, despite my complaints. I apparently got what I deserved.

While bullies still exist in schools and the wider world, things have improved, a little. We are more tolerant, yes, but there is still a very long way to go. As a society, Australians are still, racist, sexist, ageist, able-ist, homophobic, and intolerant of any variation from the hegemonic norm.

Will we ever live in a world where we are free to be ourselves? As diverse as our genes and desires are capable of expressing? Where sexuality and gender will be viewed in the same light as height, as a non-binary continuum? Where your skin colour does not define whether you live or die in the hands of the law. Can we do it? I hope so. How much longer will it take?

A late apology

I fervently hope that the two Georges are safe and well and will accept my adult apology for my childhood behaviour. I am sorry George(s) for my part in your suffering.

Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip Part 2: A Sudden Change of Plans.

Ten days into my Great Southern Road Trip many a cliche is leaping into my head

  • The best laid schemes of mice and men
  • If anything can go wrong it will
  • If life gives you lemons make lemonade
  • Every cloud has a silver lining

There are no doubt many others that would fit my current (first world) predicament! After much procrastination and side stepping in the last months of 2020, I went ahead with my road trip to Coastal Victoria and Tasmania. All was going well. My tent-erecting  skills were improving and my detailed planning was reaping benefits.

Going to the races was not on the original plan but it was fun!

And then the Premier of the State of Victoria declared an immediate snap five day lockdown due to increasing COVID numbers. EEEEEK what should I do?

I was very much enjoying the small town of Mallacoota which is just on the other side of the border, but I didn’t want to be stuck there for another 5 days! So I did what nearly everyone else in the caravan park did, I packed up in a hurry and hightailed it over the border before the midnight curfew.

Aslings Beach Eden, not on the original itinerary.

I cancelled all my upcoming accomodation in Victoria even those bookings beyond the proposed lifting of the lock down, because if there is nothing else we have learnt from the COVID pandemic, it’s that you need a Plan B, C and D! I didn’t want to risk getting into Tasmania.

I checked the Tasmanian border entry conditions and it seems that the best plan is to stay out of Victoria altogether. I am in a holding pattern, waiting to make a quick nonstop dash from the NSW border to the Port of Melbourne to catch the ferry to Tasmania. 

Jincumbilly: A unintended treat!

Lemonade aplenty. 

I have been able to make plenty of “lemonade” by staying in Eden and doing another long walk in Ben Boyd National Park, catching  up with friends in Berridale, doing the Main Range Loop Track walk in Kosciuszko National Park, and revisiting Braidwood. I have another couple of days to fill in and will drift back to the coast before making my way westward to Wagga. From here I will be able to drive directly to Melbourne on a single tank of petrol without needing to stop. 

Would not have done this either!

Off the bucket list.

In the scheme of things my inconvenience has been trivial. It’s not like I had to cancel my wedding like many Victorians were forced to do. My payments have all been refunded. The most disappointing cancellation has been the walk to Wilson’s Promontory to stay at the lighthouse. This was on my 60 for 60 list and now I won’t have the opportunity to do it before my birthday. I might have to extend the deadline!

The Next Big Adventure

I am planning another big adventure. Some of you may have followed my posts about planning a road trip around Scotland. It started with a very thorough (and fun) process of plotting out my activities, destinations and driving routes. I pre-booked my accommodation and ferry transfers. It finished with a BIG compendium of notes and information. 

Well, it’s time to plan another big adventure for 2021. This time I’m staying in Australia. I had already planned to do that before Corona hit. It was my intention to do some travelling around Victoria in conjunction with my upcoming 60th birthday celebrations.

Camera sitting on a map
I won’t need my passport this time

Freedom!

I have been lucky enough to work in a job that accrues Long Service Leave and have quite a bank of it stored up. I’ll be taking ten weeks off work and by adding on the long summer holiday and the autumn holidays, I don’t have to go to work for 18 weeks. Did you hear that folks, 18 weeks off work! Nearly 130 days! 

O thank you Unions! Blessed be the fruit of your hard work back in the 1970s!

So now the dilemma is what to do? I want to ensure I don’t run myself ragged and do too much opposed to not wanting to get to the end of the 18 weeks and think I have wasted my time. 

The big picture

To this end, I have started to plan, in less detail, my next big adventure. I have several things on my 60 before 60 list that will be included and some new ideas. There are lighthouses to see and a balloon ride to take. A real proper go at astrophotography if I can find a dark enough sky. 

At this stage, the overarching plan is to

  1. Stay at home for half the time and 
  2. Travel for half the time in two stints. A short getaway in January and a longer road trip in February and March.

In the stay-at-home period, I might paint the internal walls in my house and sort some of that domestic stuff. I would also like to make a more serious and sustained attempt to write some feature articles that will bring in some moula! The travelling-period, well that will be a road trip!

Where am I up to? So far I am collating my ideas. Throwing everything on the pile. Everything! Money, time and logistics are magical and unlimited. From here I’ll narrow it down and book what I have to and leave more up in the air than last time since if things go pear shaped, I’m not far from home. 

This might be a tad ambitious but I’m still thinking about it!

Impact of COVID19

Of course, it’s all complicated by the fact that not all the Australian borders are open due to COVID related travel restrictions. Do I just presume they will be open by next year and plan away? Or do I  plan a long extensive trip of my own state?  Do I create two plans? I had thought about a walking tour on the Overland Track in Tasmania. I’ll have to book that. But Tassie’s borders are still closed….

Ahh…. such tantalising first world problems to solve