Who'd have thought a trip to Moruya would gift me so many encounters with past selves from so many years? All because of the people I bumped into.
The teacher in Broken Hill
Once upon a time, I lived in Broken Hill for five years. During that time, I confirmed my own interests, lived alone for the first time, bought a house for $30 000, went through menopause, started a women's group and a writing group, fell in love with the desert and my house, and returned to school teaching. I learnt calligraphy, made paper, and shared a house with an artist. I camped on the banks of the Darling in Kinchega National Park and watched hawks fishing. I walked into the desert in the afternoons after work and spoke at a Reclaim the Night celebration (in the dark and without the benefit of my specs which I'd managed to tread on as I marched.) I wrote frequently and read a piece about a sweat lodge on ABC local radio. I festooned the car with balloons to meet my daughter's train when she returned from four years overseas and missed her because I forgot the half hour time difference. I shared the house with my other daughter who often asked “Who's the adult here?” and I mourned my two boys, left with their father back on the coast.
The market gardener
Once upon a time, I worked in our five-acre market garden. I planted and weeded and picked, and ended each day grubby and whacked. I washed carrots in the river, husked mountains of corn cobs, cooked up gallons of tomato sauce. I became a connoisseur of zucchinis and could estimate a kilo to the microgram. Each Friday we picked manically, and on Saturday morning I'd head off to the Moruya market, the roof of the 1967 Corolla piled high with cauliflowers, the inside packed (in season) with spinach, parsley, broad beans, capsicums, potatoes, green beans. I'd set up a stall – a door on wooden boxes – and reconnoitre veggie shop prices. We never had any money, so the change box began empty. Invariably the first buyer wanted a 20c cucumber and only had a $50 note. Occasionally there were hagglers who wanted a 20c cucumber for 15c. At the end of the day, I'd return home with the weekly shop and precious cash. We also had a roadside stall beside the garden with an honesty jar. Once it contained a bullet. Once I was bailed up on the beach by a guilty customer brandishing the money he didn't pay a year ago. Once we watched in disbelief as our neighbour ran his ute backwards and forwards over the boxes that constituted the stall. Our other enemies were grubs, friends who wanted to stop and talk, hot winds, Riley's cows, hailstorms, and of course floods and drought.
The Nerrigundah socialiser
Once upon a time, I socialised at the Nerrigundah Ag Bureau. I was one of those who smeared the walls with a rendering including cow shit. There were dances, dinners and cabarets. The kids could run wild in the dark and collapse in the tent when they'd had enough. It was there I listened to a rhapsody about being present as you swept the floor, and shared a log with one of the few totally unpleasant drunks of my life. It was there I toke in the many aspects of the alternative ideology and played pool on Ladies' Night. It was there my sons and their mates held Friday night jam sessions. There were also cricket days on a nearby reserve. Once I agreed to be the recorder of scores, a thankless job that required more concentration than I was capable of and left me far more fatigued than the cricketers.
The literacy consultant
Once upon a time I worked in schools all over the south coast as a literacy consultant. I'd often be away from home three nights a week. I spent a lot of time in classrooms, trying out advice I was giving teachers. Sometimes it worked; other times it was an embarrassing failure. I made PowerPoints with Year 2, wrote the longest paragraph in the world with year 4, expanded sentences with Year 1, provoked Year 6 into splendid complex sentences, and battled with the role of the full stop across all grades. In staff meetings I surprised some teachers and put others to sleep. I found interesting places to overnight. Room 6 at the Great Southern pub in Eden where they apologised for a price rise ($20 per night to $22 per night). Bumblebrook near Candelo, where a luxurious king size bed filled the room (they'd ordered a queen size and the drive was too rugged to argue when a king arrived). The old nurses quarters at Delegate, where I paid for a room and ended up with the whole house. A cabin on Jervis Bay where the bunks became my filing cabinet.
Once upon a time, I owned a brownie box camera and produced black and white shots of dubious quality, which I put in an album with charcoal grey paper, using photo corners. Photography lurked in the background until I moved to Broken Hill in the early 1990s. The art teacher was a photographer and his stark black and white shots of old machinery in the regen area and a wilting sunflower against a corrugated iron fence reactivated my interest. I began borrowing the school camera at the weekend, and finally invested in a camera of my own – a golden non-digital that travelled with me to the Snowy, through the backblocks of Broken Hill and to Egypt, Syria and Jordan, recording bark, desert, snow gums (that reel of film disappeared forever), rainforest, beach, ruins, mosques and an archaeological dig at Pella. Just before I retired I bought a digital and began photographing every day. I figured I would've spent $1000 on development in the first month if I'd still been using reels of film. That camera masticated orchids, shells, more bark, and rock faces with its three megapixels, but it was a bit bulky for travel. Before my first trip to Warsaw, I put it aside and bought my current one, which has recorded rock pools, shells, beach pebbles, Poland and grandchildren.
An afternoon in Moruya yielded me at least as many memories as Proust activated with his more famous madeleine.
From Marcel Proust “Swann's way”
And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.