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U3A Writing: Life Is Full Of Surprises

...She had a monkey bar, a slide and a swing and we played happily until her mother came out to find us both hanging upside down on the bar. Aunt Jenny was certainly no prude but for some reason she said “Susan, you really shouldn’t do that in a skirt, your pants are uncovered”...

Jim Graham tells of the surprise of his life.

In the twilight of my years in this mortal coil I recall being surprised in many ways, nearly all pleasant and memorable, although there have been a few that gave rise to fear and trepidation like the time when as a boy of about ten I was rabbiting on our property, which, to borrow a phrase from Banjo Paterson, was “somewhere up the country in the land of rock and scrub”.

The Ruffy district of north eastern Victoria was renowned as a paradise for rabbits – steep rocky hills, thick bracken fern and lots of meandering, clear creeks with banks soft enough for easy burrowing. Actually it was such a notorious area for underground mutton it was chosen for the release of the myxomotosis virus in the early 1950s.

Along with all the other local farmers we had a rabbit pack of motley mongrels mostly collected from the lost dogs’ home in Melbourne by the ute load and whose sole occupation was to chase and catch rabbits and help with the digging out of burrows – naturally they lived on rabbit and this spurred on their efforts – the more they dug the better they ate.

One day I was supervising the excavation of a warren roughly the size of the MCG – frantic digging, barking and general excitement coupled with the odd “donnybrook” between the canine participants required some concentration and a sharp eye for trouble. Somehow my attention wandered and as I reached into one of the many yawning abysses the troops had uncovered my probing hand brushed over a very unhappy black snake coming the other way. Fortunately it did not bite me but fastened onto the nose of a fox terrier greyhound cross aptly named Cleopatra who had very long legs, the body of a foxy and a head only a mother could love.

This gave me a terrible surprise but had a terminal effect on poor Cleo who was buried with full honours in the crater she helped construct still with the now deceased serpent clasped firmly to her bosom.

There have been a succession of happy surprises such as my 50th birthday when a great mate I thought was overseas met me at the cool room door with the question ”what does a bloke have to do to get a beer around here?” Another party for our 40th wedding anniversary was a momentous and totally unexpected surprise.

But I cast my mind back a lot further to a surprise which probably made the biggest impact on my young life.

I am a pre-war model, having entered this world on 20th October 1938 as the first born of three brothers separated by six and nine years respectively because of WW2 and my father’s involvement in that conflict. I was a sickly child and led a very sheltered life. My father was involved in Counter Espionage work before and after the outbreak of hostilities and then, when the Japanese entered the war he departed for New Guinea. We lived with my grandmother in a large house in Williams Road, Toorak – just Mum, Nan and an elderly cook cum housekeeper who had been with my grandparents for thirty years.

I really had only one friend, a boy named Peter Guest whose family owned Como – a stately house further down Williams Road towards the Yarra River. We often played on the lawns of what is now a National Trust listed property.

I went as a very small boy to an all male school named Glamorgan which later became a Preparatory School for Geelong Grammar. It was run by a Miss McComas, and I distinctly recall hearing the factory sirens wailing, car horns tooting and church bells chiming as she came into the classroom with tears streaming down her cheeks to announce “you can all go home boys, the war is over”.

I really was a very shy and naive child who had been molly-coddled and sheltered from life; probably I warranted the description one of my Jesuit mentors used –“he’s so innocent he thinks pubic hair is Bugs Bunny’s cousin”.

I suffered from a dearth of relations: my mother was an only child, and my father had only one sister who had a daughter whom I rarely saw as they lived in Cotham Road, Kew. She was about 12 months older than I. At one time during the war I was taken to play with her as a special treat. She had a monkey bar, a slide and a swing and we played happily until her mother came out to find us both hanging upside down on the bar. Aunt Jenny was certainly no prude but for some reason she said “Susan, you really shouldn’t do that in a skirt, your pants are uncovered”.

Sue always took notice of her mother and as Aunt Jenny went back inside she quickly removed the offending garment and resumed her upside down position on the bar.

My initial reaction was one of shock - I thought she must have had an horrific accident!

Aunt Jenny explained to us both that there were differences between us and that it was all quite normal.

Now that came as a complete and fascinating surprise!


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