There’s a series of stories in this Weekend Australian Magazine about the childhood backyards of various well known Australians and it set me thinking about the backyard of my childhood in suburban Brisbane. My parents were keen gardeners and my Dad was an engineer, so he changed our sloping hillside backyard into two terraces with a brick wall complete with steps. This was terrific because the rotary clothesline was on the top terrace, but hung out over the bottom terrace, so I could play netball down below and use the rungs of the clothesline as my goal.
The photo is of me on my first day as a Brownie. The first badge I earned was the writer's badge with a story about a girl who had to leave the city for the outback. Obviously that's my core story:)
I spent hours playing with balls in the backyard. If it wasn’t netball, I was playing golf with a softball bat that Dad made for me from a silky oak branch. I’d hit a tennis ball into the drain (harder than it sounds). Or I played “sevens” with a tennis ball up against the garage door, or my sister Liz and I threw softballs at each other. If we didn’t have a softball we’d substitute a lemon, which makes a terrific thwack when it hits a softball glove.
Yeah, I was a sports freak, which is a little unusual for a writer. But I loved books and writing, too. We had no television, so there was plenty of time for reading.
When I was quite small I used to play with frangipani that fell on the drive at the side of the house. Turn a frangipani flower upside down and you have a lady in a beautiful white ball gown. Mine were the ladies in waiting at the Queen’s coronation. I had a book about the coronation and I was obsessed.
There was also a large garage that was old and made from timber and people had lived in it before our house was built. At various times my sisters and I transformed it into a hospital, a school, a restaurant, an artists’ studio and a cat nursery.
A favourite memory is our barbecue – no, not a flash brick one but a small round, portable one with a grill set over coals. I can still remember the prefect taste of a grilled lamb chop eaten for lunch on a sunny Sunday in winter.
Mostly our garden was very pretty with a mixture of native trees and exotic shrubs, but one untidy section developed where I used to blow the husks off the budgie’s seed and the seed grew. I tried to harvest the seeds and make my own budgie food, but I don’t remember being very successful.
At one stage Mum and Dad grew a few vegies and herbs and I remember the tangy scent of tomato leaves and grazing on fresh parsley and shallots. Oh, yes, and then I would sip the honey out of the bottom of russelia flowers and put nasturtium leaves with Vegemite on sandwiches.
About twenty years after I had left home and after my parents had sold up and moved away, I bought a Courier Mail on a Saturday morning. I swear I hadn’t bought one in all those years, but I’d been thinking about my old home and I felt the urge. And when I opened the paper, there was our house in Alexandra Street for sale.
I resisted the desperate impulse to throw up everything and run back to my roots. Well, my husband flatly refused to consider it. But it was the strangest coincidence.
I'd love to hear about your backyard memories.