Once a year we used to pack the back of our car to the seat height, place a mattress over the top of the seat and luggage and head north to Murwillumbah with mum and dad driving in split shifts all night, while my little sister and I slept head to toe in the back seat. It was always an eagerly anticipated adventure, with the thrill of eating cold hard-boiled eggs and sausages for breakfast in the back of the car as we drove into sunrise.
We would stop for lunch beside the road somewhere along the way and, in my younger years, the little one burner hot plate would be brought out to brew a billy of tea as we munched on sandwiches sitting on the grass beneath the sweeping shade of overhanging gums. The strong smell of the midday eucalypts mingled with freshly brewed tea. Our friendly family banter and laughter joined with the Currawongs, Magpies, Bellbirds and sometimes Kookaburra calls. Though flies buzzed incessantly we smiled and swept them through the air with our hands like all good Aussies.
As we grew older sometimes we’d have the treat of pulling into a local fish and chip shop in some sleepy little town en route, delighting in Chiko rolls, chips, fish and hamburgers; they were the most delectable hamburgers, piled high with onions, beetroot, lettuce and topped with a fried egg. A rare taste sensation nowadays.
As we reached the tumbling green hills and travelled the windy narrow roads, my excitement built. We were nearly there! My little sister and I would eagerly watch for thick white stone mileposts, telling us how far away we were, or more importantly, how close we were getting. We sang songs together, which delighted dad. One of our constant favourites would be sung by the one who was first to see the sea, which she then heralded with the chant “I can see the sea, the sea, the sea, I can see the sea, as far as I can see!”
Then, when we reached Murwillumbah, our car knew exactly where to go. Over the bridge and turn left into Commercial Road on the banks of the Tweed River. We would drive slowly, soaking up the smells, the excitement, the anticipation. Then turn left into that familiar winding driveway beneath the huge palms, to grandma and grandpa’s house.
It was a typical ‘Queensland’ home; Encircled with wide breezy verandas standing on stilts five feet above the ground. Wide stone steps swept up to the welcoming front door, but we nearly always climbed the back steps and went straight into the huge country kitchen; a large kitchen table at one end, benches and sink stretching along one side under the open window a gentle sea breeze always wafting through it which stirred up the aroma of some freshly baked treat and a country appetite which seemed to descend as soon as we did.
One of my fondest memories is of grandma’s pantry.
We children, (including my cousins), loved loosing ourselves in that world of exciting mixed smells, enormous glass canisters lining the shelves which teetered high above. You never knew what you would find there. It was a treasure trove which invited you irresistibly in.
Grandpa’s study was yet another Aladdin’s cave, with a distinctly inky smell about it. Heavily laden bookshelves sagged under the weight of their burden of fascinating and curious old books of a bygone era. The old black typewriter on the table just beckoned little fingers to touch and tamper, guiltily investigate and experiment. There were shelves and in-trays of paper and important looking letters, strange paperweights and weird blotters made of curios from the old powerhouse.
And then there was the chook shed. One day I watched as dad chopped off the head of a lovely white chook, which then ran around the yard, headless, in protest. That was the first and last beheading I witnessed!
I ran and hid behind the old double seater outside toilet, long abandoned but never removed. It was a strange curiosity to young city eyes.
But the most pervasive memory is of the tropical smells and early morning sounds of the town. Anytime I am somewhere with similar sounds or smells, I’m immediately transported back to that place, time and years so long ago.
Then the blissful joy of these idyllic childhood days was shattered.
(to be continued…)
©Jan Stead JEMproductions, 1999 & 2008
In some senses this is the end of the first introductory chapters, this being Chapter 3.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much I have writing it. Childhood memories are so often full of hidden, partly forgotten gems, until we begin to unwrap them!
The meat of the book and my purpose, alluded to in the title, is about to be revealed….