Childhood Trauma

© Julie Boyd

My earliest memory is of being used as a cricket wicket by my brother and his big boy mates. I was happy standing behind the batsman till I got knocked out by a wild swing from Mickey Elliot and he had to run and tell my Mum he’d killed me. He hadn’t, but that was my first black eye. I was three. My next one was when I was five, just after I’d started school. I was hit on the head and knocked out by George.

 

We lived at the timber mill where my Dad worked in a tiny ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ town called Swift’s Creek in the mountains. Dad was a mechanical engineer and used to fix all the big trucks. Watching him weld a hole in the petrol tankers was always a treat. All the adults would run and hide from such a scary job. Us kids would all go and watch, the others, waiting for the explosion when he’d be blown to kingdom come, and me because he never was- and that made him look like a hero.

 

We’d watched Dad weld a tanker the day before the bushfires, just after I started Grade 2 with Miss Jones. Our teachers were sent as punishment for playing up at Teachers College so some were really good, and some were really bad. Bushfires were scary. We all had to race up to the footy ground when we heard the siren go for longer than a minute. It was the off season and the farmers always cut a firebreak on the oval – just in case. Just as well, because that day the whole town ended up there, totally surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world. At night it got really cold so we all had to cuddle together. We could see the fires in a big ring all around us on the mountain tops. I was really worried about my cousins who were out on their farm and couldn’t get in- but they were ok.

 

Not long afterwards, the mill boiler that powered the entire town exploded and went up in an inferno, just like a bushfire. Flames were licking at the walls of our house which was right next door. I thought we were going to die. The same day over at the big bandsaw- the one that chopped the trees into smaller chunks, Dad’s mate lost his arm when it was accidentally cut off. He’d just helped put the fire out and gone back to work. I saw it lying there in the sawdust. I still hear his screams whenever I see a saw, although there are all sorts of safety cages around them now. Back then, lots of people were hurt by rolling logs, and falling against saws.

 

Running to meet Dad one day across the muddy yard in front of the saw area, where they used to cut and stack the boards, I saw George. He did all kinds of jobs around the mill, from working in the office to loading timber. He wasn’t a bad bloke. He taught us spelling and maths when he was in the office and he actually taught me to enjoy learning. I’d help him to ‘do the books’ until one day when I was sitting on his knee he took my hand on put it onto a soft and squishy part of his body that looked really silly to me. I didn’t know until much later that he did it to the other kids as well. None of us were scared. He was sad and lonely and just looked stupid. We never told our parents.

 

On this particular day though, I called out ‘G’day George’. That was a pretty dumb thing to do because he swung around, forgetting that he was carrying some 10 foot pieces of ‘3 be 2’ on his shoulder and knocked me clean off my feet and face down in the mud. I woke up again to hear people around me asking if I was dead.

 

The world was a dangerous place when I was a kid. It was just something we lived with and didn’t worry about too much. When someone got hurt, they got fixed by the local bush nurse, or they didn’t. It was simple. One friend broke his neck diving into the swimming hole in the river, even though we told him not to. He hit a rock on the bottom and ended up in a wheelchair.  Another shot himself carrying a loaded rifle while riding a motorbike. The safety catch had been on when he started. We all had drilled into us by our Dads how to manage safety catches when we went out on rabbit shooting parties. The bumps must have moved something. He survived but half his face and brain didn’t.

 

A neighbours’ son hanged himself when I was eight. He was an only child and his mother almost went insane. She hadn’t expected it, neither had we.  A lot of women in the town number died of cancer or had miscarriages, which no-one thought strange. At one time I was the only girl they could find who was under 25 who was not ‘crazy, married, pregnant or had kids already’. I was 12 and they wanted me to be queen of the mountain in the local footy grand final parade. It was that kind of place.

 

The other kid who they could have given the job was crazy Kay. She and her sister Gloria both had a hard time with school, and us kids had a hard time with them. They used to go nuts and throw furniture and attack the teachers. Mr Cobain would hit them with the three foot ruler, and they’d get really mad. I got in the way one day when Kay was going after Mrs Aitken, the sewing teacher with a knitting needle in her hand.  She’d just been in Mr Cobain’s class and she was pretty steamed. Mrs Aitken escaped but I copped the knitting needle in my head. Right in the crown, the bit they call the fontanelle on a baby. Luckily I couldn’t see it as it was sticking out, and they had to call the bushnurse again. She knew me pretty well by then.

 

Boarding School meant escape from the town. Not that I didn’t like the place, it was just a bit small and I thought the world had to be bigger than that. I also thought I’d stop being so accident prone. Not so. The week before I left I was walking across the street to collect the mail. The post office was tiny and Mr Armstrong who ran it was always on for a chat. I wasn’t looking where I was going, and trod on a board with my bare foot. It wouldn’t have been too bad but there was a nail sticking up from the board. So there I was, in the middle of the street yelling to Mr Armstrong that I’d trodden on a nail. He called the bushnurse and she came racing down from the church up the hill where she worked and gave me a tetanus shot.  It didn’t hurt till they pulled it off, and then it hurt like hell. So off I went to my new catholic boarding school, being able to tell them that I knew what crucifixion really felt like.

 

****

 

I escaped but went back several times. The bushnurse was still there, Mrs Carroll was her name. Her daughter had escaped even further than me and ended up in Saudi Arabia married to a sheik.

 

The boiler finally blew up completely and burned my old home to the ground. I’m told it was quite spectacular. Arty types moved in and tried to change the culture. They didn’t succeed and left.

 

I’ve recently moved back again to a small town. I still have nightmares about fire and wind. My whacks on the side of the head have become metaphorical these days but the mores and values haven’t changed much. Neither have the characters.

 

Just the location.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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