Excerpt from Chapter 1: Faster than a Frillneck
18+ In 1969 when I was a little younger than I am today, Mum and Dad and I moved into a new house in Condell Park, a sub-suburb of Bankstown in western Sydney. Adjacent to our new red brick home, on the other side of the grey paling fence, was a vast expanse of bushland which I knew nothing about for many years. We had neighbours on the other side and at the rear of our property, but I didn’t know they existed either.
It was basically me and Mum and then a couple of years later my sister joined us. Dad was around, but not much. I could say because of his infrequent appearances at home except to eat and sleep that I don’t remember anything about him, but I could say the same about Mum and she was with me twenty-four seven.
Like all new suburbs birthed on the outskirts of burgeoning cities, Condell Park was filled with young aspirational first-home buyers, with young children and babies. It was filled with good people and bad people, nice homes of varying sizes and worn-out shacks inhabited by worn-out people. Mostly hard-working dads with a few mums forced into the labour force to help pay the mortgage: the price of the Australian dream. It’s normal now for both husband and wife to work, but it wasn’t back in the late 60s and early 70’s when I grew up. The rat race had not yet begun in earnest.
There were no personal computers, mobile phones or even video games. The television was the mainstay of our indoor entertainment diet. Beatles, Rolling Stones, the birth of the Hippie movement, and the awful Vietnam War, but I don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember anything much about my childhood in Condell Park. Next to our home, in the park which had usurped the natural bush, there were some great “backyard” cricket matches played. Local kids playing together. The group of children who were the offspring of Yugoslavian migrants pretending to be the West Indies cricket team, while the rest of us non-wog kids were the Aussies. The east European wannabe West Indians had their fair share of wins in those epic matches, but they never did get those Caribbean accents right.
We had awesome and massive bonfires on cracker night in the park too. My friends and I rode our bikes everywhere around Condell Park, but preferred the bush surrounding the industrial zone. I had a Motocross bike, the first of the push bikes to come out with suspension. It was red. So special. Without technology to entertain us we simply played outside as long as there was sunshine. Weekends and after school, just hanging out. I suppose we may have got into some trouble, but I don’t remember anything serious. I remember my friends. I remember the layout of the house. I remember when we got a flush toilet and I kept using the old pit dunny.
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There are a bunch of fragments. Staying at a friend’s house and learning his parents made them turn off the tap while they brushed their teeth. We let it run until we were done. Being chased home from school by some bullies. Being at a mate’s house and laughing uncontrollably at the word “drizzle” while watching said precipitation fall from within his garage. He’d never heard the word before. Stone and rock throwing battles. Dad shouting at Mum for serving him cooked pineapple. Dad shouting at me and reefing me out of my seat because I wouldn’t eat my dinner, and I was a smartarse apparently. Watching Little House on the Prairie every week as a family and laughing together when Dad announced the Dingles were coming on TV. Mum always working, cooking, washing, loving, caring. Mum threatening me with the fly swatter when I pushed the envelope a little far. Dad coming home from work one night with a toupee which caused my sister and I to laugh hysterically. A dream I had about a demonic dog attacking me in my sleep. The night I’m sure I caught Santa at the end of my bed. The time I ripped open my toe on our steep front drive. Mum taking us shopping and me coming home with my first pet.
At last, says the exasperated reader. I thought this book was about pets not a memoir.
© 2021 D.A. Cairns
The I Used to be an Animal Lover project was inspired by my experiences as a house sitter in Darwin. The superficial and unscientific memoir is a collection of anecdotes, my life with animals, as well as my thoughts on various issues relating to animals, and a stunning assembly of animal trivia. The recently released companion anthology of the same title is an extraordinary and eclectic collection of 49 short stories written by seventeen authors form around the world.
Heavy metal lover and cricket tragic, D.A. Cairns lives on the south coast of New South Wales. He works as a freelance writer, has had 100 short stories published, and has authored seven novels and a superficial and unscientific memoir, "I Used to be an Animal Lover". His latest book is the "I Used to be an Animal Lover" anthology.