The first journey I remember

Posted 17-02-2007
I begin to remember as I am about to leave our farm. I cannot remember the preparations, or crossing our own paddocks. Memory begins as I approach new territory.

I am on the south boundary fence walking east, watching Heaslip's place across the Huddlestone road. I can go across to Heaslip's if I need help. To the south, through the fence, is one of Heaslip's paddocks, red and fallow. If I climb through the fence I can cut off some distance. I worry whether I can cross the creek that runs along the fence, but four or five years old, I carefully climb between the middle rusty barbed wire and the heavy number eight above it, and begin the short cut. After the scramble through the wash-away, it is much hotter on the fallow, and for a five year old the furrows are deep, and tough going to walk across.

Finally I am on the road. It's a typical country road, a white metal centre with a rutted track worn on each side. The farmers choose where to drive based on the inclination of the day, and the current crop of corrugations. The formal keep-to-the-left rule is only obeyed on the odd occasion there is oncoming traffic, and perhaps on blind corners.

I choose a smooth rut to follow, swapping occasionally if the loose sand gets too deep, making it hard to walk. I'm carrying a little wicker basket with a lid and a brown leather shoulder strap. There is a loop with a cane plug on a leather thong to latch the lid, but I can't remember what's inside.... are there some tiny plastic binoculars?  Behind me Heaslip's is not too far away as I climb the hill in the heat. Our house is far away on its own hill. I have been looking back.

First Heaslip's and then our house disappear as I cross the crest of the hill. Years later along here, Murray Logan will be driving home one night and open a paddock gate here, ready to drove sheep in later in the week. In the meantime, Brendie Head's sheep will get out on the road, and wander in over the hill. Unknowing, Murray will drive his own sheep in, and shut the gate. He will have a huge drafting job when Brendan can't find his sheep. But today Murray is still in short pants, too, and I am all alone in the world in this hollow. Me... and the road. Hot silence, and no farm house to be seen.

I rehearse in my head the way the road goes- how there is one more hill, and the road will run straight down to the 5PI fence and the rougher, almost cobbled road to Crystal Brook. And you can turn left to go down to the railway crossing, and then right for Huddlestone, or you can turn right straight away, and then you will go to McNeil's, or to where Grundy's live next to the 5PI tower.

There was a freckle on my right hand which used to help with right and left when I started school. But maybe today I don't yet properly know right and left. Maybe l just know Mr. and Mrs. McNeil's place is in the same direction as the big wireless tower.

As you come to the top of the rise you begin to see 5PI and then 5CK, the same two towers you can see across the cow paddock and the scrub at home. Then you can see McNeil's house, still a long walk away. I could cut across the paddocks here too, but it never occurs to me. I walk all the way around. I know BobHeaslip- that's what Dad calls him, almost one word, but I don't know who owns these paddocks.

Finally I walk up McNeil's track, round the front of the house, the track sunk in the grey sand as it cuts through the white grass, and in through the side gate. Mrs. McNeil welcomes me into the dark cool of the farmhouse as though I were Livingstone returned. It's a much older house than ours, and I am awed by the delicious cool and gentle dark after the hot light of the roads. She fetches me cold cordial, and we sit out under her wonderful grapevine and talk while we wait for my Mum to come and collect me. She lets me pick grapes. Mrs. McNeil is one of those kind ladies who, years later I will understand, doesn't just treat you like a little kid. My Mum comes, and she's proud, and she and Mrs. McNeil fuss over me, and Mrs. McNeil tells her how grown up I was.... and the memory of the day ends there.


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