If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll be familiar with my adult children, the Professor and Tough Cookie. I do have another child though, the Strummer, who has so far managed to avoid having his pictures plastered over the Internet. His lucky streak ends with this blog post though. I think it’s only fair to his siblings that I share a survival tale involving him. It’s a tale involving a tail.
(A warning to professional photographers. If blurry, heat damaged images give you heart palpitations, do not proceed! Not only are these photos damaged but they are photographs of photographs making the quality even poorer. )
While he’s been too busy with university, guitar playing and social groups to come on a hike with me lately, the Strummer certainly made up for it in his youth by being an extremely adventurous child. Although his lack of fear and curious nature may have kept me running ragged when he was a toddler, it’s serving him well now in many aspects of life. He managed to survive childhood but only just and on one memorable occasion almost became a drowning statistic. However, first I need to share some background.
In 1994, I left Brisbane with my partner and two young sons to live in a remote location in north-west New South Wales for five years. Leaving city conveniences to live on a 70 000 acre sheep and cattle property with an unreliable water supply, no shops, schools, mobile phones, TV reception and no garbage collection meant a few minor adjustments had to be made. The closest small town was 200km away on roads like this.
However, on arrival I felt for the first time like I was truly coming home. The bright red soil contrasted beautifully against a vast blue sky and a horizon unbroken by human constructions was comforting. Instead of skyscrapers, motorways and a sea of housing estate roofs, spinifex, silver brigalow, box gums and mulga dotted this vast and predominantly flat landscape. Our water supply was mainly artesian water, pumped from deep underground by windmills. Rain water was a luxury.
Sometimes I’m asked if my children were bored out there without TV and Internet but to them it was an enormous playground with never-ending opportunities for discovery and exploration. It was also an opportunity for stitches, broken bones, snake bites and to add a few grey hairs to their mother. So what did they do out there?
They climbed trees.
Picked flowers and accumulated burrs.
Learned to float in a water trough.
Caught yabbies (crayfish).
Fell off horses.
Cared for poddy (orphaned) lambs. No, that’s not beer.
Twice weekly mail deliveries were a highlight.
Redback spider infested, rusting truck corpses were fun to “drive.”
And baths in a “luxury” outdoor hot spa accompanied by dozens of clingy frogs under a million star night sky were always fun.
They also ground their skin and fingernails off with this old farm relic.
Occasionally, I was able to cage them inside the classroom for a few hours of formal education.
Here they wrote literary “masterpieces” such as this. I blame a diet of Roald Dahl books and their observations of festering dead farm animals for this gem. At the time I wondered if my 5 year old would follow in the footsteps of Stephen King.
They also tried whenever possible to enter the two unfenced dams near our tiny fibro cottage. Here is one of the death traps.
When he was two years old the Strummer was particularly addicted to the dirty brown depths. But I have to go back even further in time to when I was a child to give you the complete story.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the television series, Lassie, about a collie dog who rescued people. I had a love/hate relationship with that show. Once it was on I couldn’t drag myself away from the screen. I had to know what happened even though I’d always end up sobbing. The idea of having my own Lassie dog to protect me became a fantasy. Years later when my first born child was 2 years old, I found a 6 year old retired breeder’s collie to keep him company. He was not a very sociable child and preferred to spend hours playing with insects and doing his own thing. I thought that Sophie would help him to enjoy company, albeit the furry non-talkative kind. She did not demand attention but shadowed him and acted as his protector.
Sophie was a dog that hated getting her feet wet. She even avoided walking on dew-covered grass. She never swam and looked miserable in rainy weather.
A few years later, when we moved to the outback, Sophie acted like a furry nanny to my three children – ever watchful, always accompanying them. If I went on walks and some distance developed between the boys and me as I pushed my daughter’s pram through the sandy terrain, Sophie would become distressed. She’d make crying noises and look back at me and at them until I gave her the signal to stay with the boys. The extent of her protective nature was revealed on the day my two year old son escaped from the house during my older son’s school radio lesson.
With doors locked and my younger son happily engrossed in activities on the floor, I focused on helping my older hyperactive five year old sit still and listen to his 40 minute crackly school radio contact. Suddenly, I noticed the little Strummer was missing. My first thought was the dam. My escape artist son had managed to open a locked door. News reports of child drownings raced through my mind as I bolted in panic to the closest dam. I arrived to find him with his feet in the water and my collie dog standing in the dam, facing him. From a distance I could see him trying to go deeper but she kept blocking his way. She was also barking sharply in warning. Sophie had been taught not to bite or grab otherwise I imagine she would have grabbed his shirt with her teeth. I wonder if he’d kept going further or slipped whether her protective instinct would have overridden her training. Perhaps she would have dragged him out. I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.