Tag Archives: childhood

Returning to country

I was born in red gum country, not far south of the Murray River. Flat, irrigation country with long straight roads. We moved away when I was two but I remember ibis, herons and artificially carved channels lined by bullrushes. Not to mention the curdled smell of the milk factory and the ever-present whiff of manure.

The nature of my father’s work meant changing towns semi-regularly and I lived in the north, south and central parts of rural Victoria. I call myself a Bendigo boy, mainly because the formative years from age 10 to 16 were spent in the goldfields district. But despite an ancestral connection to the region, it’s not where I hail from. Bendigo is ironbark country, not red gum.

Last week I had the honour of touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival with three other fantastic authors and an uber-efficient tour co-ordinator. One of the towns we spoke at was Echuca, only a couple of stone throws from where I entered the world. I found a spare hour or two to wander along the Murray banks listening to the corellas squabble and watching the sun set. It felt familiar. Like home.

It made me think of Australia’s indigenous people and their all important connection to country. I couldn’t recall whether Echuca was Yorta Yorta or Bangerang country and did some quick googling. Apparently there’s still some contention as to where the traditional tribal boundaries lie.

At our public (non-schools) session at the spectacular new Echuca library, I found myself speaking with a local resident who had participated in cultural training with Bangerang elders in Shepparton. One of the activities included creating ‘family’ groups of trainees and then breaking these up, separating ‘children’ from ‘parents’ and people from country. My informant said the sense of dislocation was palpable.

What a powerful way of getting people to understand the Stolen Generations and issues spawned by these policies. It sounds to me like training every Australian should experience. While we’re at it, we should all be made to watch the SBS series, Go Back To Where You Came From. Watch this show and you’ll understand that leaving country is not something most people choose to do lightly. Or voluntarily.

Book signing in Bendigo

If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near Central Victoria, or in the mood for a road trip, I’m heading up the Calder Highway to Dymocks in Bendigo to sign copies of Five Parts Dead on Saturday the 13th of November.

I lived in Bendigo for six years, aged 10 through 16. Big years, those. Important.

Maybe that’s why Bendigo still feels like home whenever I visit. I’ll never forget:

– Seeing the cathedral for the first time, whoa-ing at the size of it and loving the story that the priests dug up gold in their backyard, enabling them to them to fund completion of the spires.

– A little house in Golden Square with a carved sandstone lion rampant on the front wall. I think this property spells Arrival to me, as I spotted it at the end of an interminable drive from our previous home. To set the scene, we’re in a groaning Peugeot 504 chock-a-block with five of us, Thumper the rabbit and assorted toys my sister couldn’t be parted from. We were towing a trailer loaded with pot-plants and Thumper’s hutch. The removalists were late arriving in Yarram and even later departing. Dad drove through the night, stopping only once to caffeinate and I suspect he and I were the only ones who didn’t sleep. When I saw the house with the lion I knew I had an answer to, “Are we there yet?” Our new home was only minutes away. We tumbled out into a typically golden dawn, found mattresses and went to sleep.

– Seeing one of the teachers at school release the handbrake on his car and then, somehow, fall out of his vehicle. The car rolled down an embankment, across a road and crunched into the rear wall of our assembly hall. (No one was hurt.) My brother and I were about to walk home and witnessed this incident as if it were in slow motion, savouring every second. It was bloody brilliant. We dined out on that yarn for many a recess afterwards.

– Hiking camp at Mittagundi, via Girton, and discovering that my meagre sporting abilities didn’t really matter. In the wilderness, the person who can hit a ball the farthest isn’t necessarily going to flourish. If you’re determined and reasonably robust, that counts a lot more. That was a massive moment for a kid regularly picked last for school sport.

– Telling my parents that I was going for a ride on my bike and then roaming far and wide, exploring creeks, culverts, old mine tailings, apparently vacant buildings and whatever else caught my eye. Suburban kids rarely get to roam like that any more. They get their adventures within virtual universes where all the imagining has been done by coders and there are no grazed knees or climbing trees. Sad.

I digress. Thanks to the generosity of Harry at Dymocks Bendigo, you can swing by and say g’day to me at:

11am on Saturday, November 13 at 1-3 Mitchell St, Bendigo (Right near the famous fountain).

I’ll be signing books and feeling like I’m 16 again.