This morning I had an experience that for me was unique.
I am 74 years old, have lived in about 10 countries, went to some 14 schools, have had a large collection of professions and lived in rather a lot of towns, villages and so forth, and in all of that I have so far never, ever, been back to a place I lived in, a place I have worked in, revisited an old profession or in any manner or way gone back to any earlier experiences.
It has always been my policy that once left, is always left, and so far that policy has worked well for me, even if it has made the business of regularly having to make new friends a bit exhausting.
So what was this revolutionary experience I had this morning? Simple enough. We are currently driving around in Tasmania, a country where I lived for a few years back in the late ´40s of the last century, and one of the places I lived in was a farm about 15 km to the west of Burnie at a place called Doctors Rocks.
The actual Doctors Rocks is a small rocky headland just opposite the entrance to the track up to the farm and the house we used to live in.
So, as we were driving past this place, I had no excuse not to stop and have a walk around and revisit for once part of my earlier life – a part that I have always remembered with affection.
It is a simple enough place, a farm at the end of a track (now sealed, but in my time, simply a dirt track) going off at right angles to the road. Now it seems to consist of several wooden houses and a lot of modern barns set in a rather attractively wooded and up and down bit of countryside.
I am not sure if the houses that are there now were there when I lived there, as they are wooden houses, I suspect that they are not the same ones, but they seem to be in roughly the same positions relative to each other that they were in my time there.
The farm itself was about 2000 acres (some 800 hectares) and stretched in a relatively narrow strip back from the farm and up into the hills behind the farm.
When we lived there, my father was working as a dentist in the nearby town of Burnie, and my mother, my 2 year old sister and my few months old brother happy passed our days in that house – well actually, I passed most of my days in a school in Burnie – more about which later in this account.
For a kid such as I, the life there was superb. All the space in the world to run around in, small creeks to go fishing in (never caught anything apart from leeches of course), friendly farm labourers with whom to play ¨ẅho can piss higher” and rabbits to shoot every day before going to school.
On this rabbit killing bit, at that time rabbits were a major problem in Tassie, there were millions of them, as they had no natural enemies and simply bred like, well, rabbits.
So the government had put a bounty on them, so if you turned up at a police station with their tails you were given money for each tail (I seem to remember it was a shilling per tail, but I am not sure of this). Anyhow, what most of us kids who lived on farms did was before going to school we would go out with a .22 rifle and shoot a few rabbits, cut of their tails and sling the bodies into the chicken run and then head off to school with those tails to get our pocket money that way.
Whilst I was happy enough to kill rabbits, I hated the way the rabbit traps worked. These were Gin traps that worked by a sort of spring loaded pair of heavy serrated metal jaws that closed when the rabbit (or once, my pet dog) walked on them, and grabbed the poor creature by some part of their body. If they killed them at once I would be OK with them, but they often grabbed them by their legs, their faces, their ears or some other painful but not fatal part of their bodies… and there they were stuck until many hours later the farm labourer came around, broke their necks and took them away.
So I often went around with the guy setting these traps, so I knew where they were, and then later went around with a load of sticks and sprang as many if the traps as I could – horrible things!
And the getting to school part of the day was fun too. What I had to do was walk down the dirt track to the road, cross it and there was a railway line (narrowish gauge) and a sort of construction for milk churns to be placed upon. When the train duly came chugging along, I would hold out my hand the way you do for a bus, and the train would stop, I would clamber on board and off we would go to Burnie, where my school was.
In the afternoon, it was the reverse process. Board the train at the station in Burnie, and when the train was almost at the place I wanted to get out, I would lean out of the carriage, wave my hand and the train would stop, I would leap down and off the train would go – to the next farm and so on… Great fun.
At one point in the year the farm hands would burn off the grass in all the fields, which caused hundreds of scorpions and tarantula spiders to run out of the grass and onto the track, so all us farm kids would gather up a handful of these on our way down to the railway track, bung them into matchboxes and take them to school with us.
This we did as our teacher was terrified of these small (and relatively harmless) creatures, so we would agree on a signal, and at the signal we would release all of them at once – resulting in dozens of huge hairy spiders and scuttling scorpions rushing around the classroom in panic – and a teacher doing much the same. Not kind but fun.
This school by the way I remember as follows – no idea if my memories are actually correct, but this is how I remember the state school at Upper Federal Street Burnie.
It consisted of two classrooms, and the students started in one of them, and as they progressed academically (!) they duly moved to the second classroom and stayed there until they reached the age to leave school. There was a third room there, which was the Headmaster’s office, which we only ever saw when our teachers sent us to him to be caned for some misdemeanour or other.
Not really at the cutting edge of educational thinking to put it mildly.
Anyhow, this place (Doctors Rocks, not the school) has always held a special place in my memories of my childhood, so now that I am finally back in Tasmania I felt I had to go and look at it once more. To be honest I was concerned that it might be somewhat unnerving to be confronted with a section of my early life like this, a part that I have always looked back upon fondly. Would the reality of the place be a serious let down? Would it all be so much smaller and more boring than I remembered it to be? And so on, many worries and concerns about seeing it again after some 66 years or so.
Happily, whilst I did recognise the place totally, I found it interesting to see, and recall my life there, but in no way disturbing or unsettling. Just curious to stand beside the now disused railway track at the spot I used to stand all those years ago, look at the bit of the beach where once, while paddling I stepped on a sting ray (it was as frightened as I was and hurtled off to sea, as I hurtled off to shore), contemplate the section that the farm labourers used to go to when they panned for gold (for beer money) and to look back up the track to where the houses nestled in their trees and remember how I learned to ride a bike up there (the daughter of another family who lived there taught me on her huge bicycle). In passing I would mention that they lived on the other side of a small field from our house, and once when on my way to their house I managed to fall face first into a fresh cowpat… Not to be recommended!
Standing in the rain beside that railway track all these memories and many others came flooding back in a manner that most people who do return to places they lived in earlier would find normal, but for me was a completely new experience – unsettling and a feeling of tristesse I think best describes it. Odd and interesting.
Lotty wanted me to go and knock on the doors of the houses there, and introduce myself, but I found that I did not want to do this, that would have been going too far for me – my memories are enough, and have no need for other people’s input or interpretation.