June 2008 Newsletter - Tim Harvey YHS 1971

Tim Harvey YHS 1971 the next edition:
Part 3 - Earth
Okay, Part 3 of the continuing series of I-Can’t-Believe-What’s-Still-In-Your-Head-After-AllThese-Years...and we continue thematically through the classical elements. This time, Earth.
Briquettes - Coal was, of course, Yallourn’s raison d’etre , dug from the earth around our little town. Munched into dust, it fed the power stations; and the power stations were generous, for they shared their left-overs with us. They must have been on a bit of a diet at some point because there seemed to be quite a bit left over, and coal dust was a constant companion when I was young. It got in your eyes, it got up your nose, it got in your eyes, it got on your clothes, it got in your eyes, it got in your shoes, it got in your eyes, it got on mum’s washing and it got in your eyes!! It filtered through the roof tiles and filled up the roof space. I remember in Primary School watching a drift of coal dust being blown gently across the asphalt in the schoolyard, tracing little curls and swirls and shapes under the hand of an invisible breeze. It was everywhere. Coal could be compacted too, into the lumps known as briquettes which seemed to be the bane of my life for a while. I described in a previous article the part briquettes played in our home, providing hot water and heat….but briquettes probably deserve a bit more of a lookin than that. They were delivered to your house by Eddie Brock in a truck, in potato sacks, which were then up-ended into a boarded-off section at the end of the garden shed. (What a shocking job!) From there, someone would bring a bucket-full down to the house to feed the hot water heater and the lounge room heater - usually mum, sometimes dad, very occasionally me, because I hated it. Briquettes were rather fragile and over the years, the dust built up in the back section of our shed until it would form a bed more than a foot deep. Dad would dutifully wrap his mouth and nose with a handkerchief and dig it out. He would end up looking like a panda in revere - with white eyes and his face blackened with dust...and dust up his nose. It was all very grubby and rather like shoveling away a very slow tide because the dust would always return. The odd thing is that I can still conjure up the smell of freshly-delivered briquettes, and it is not an unpleasant memory.
The Hills. Yallourn was, of course, overlooked by two hills. One, Coach Road, I knew fairly well because my grandparents and cousins lived up there. It was a big hill and it was a significant achievement in early High School when I rode up to the lookout tower on my bike for the first time without stopping. The return trip was quicker, but not too much quicker - I really wasn’t that brave. (Nothing like one of my young cousins who - hands behind his head and cheesy big grin on this face - sailed down the hill on his bike and around the bottom curve into Strzelecki Road, as he bellowed merrily at the top of his voice “hey Tim - LOOK AT ME!!” He disappeared around the curve and out of sight, hands still behind his head, still grinning rather madly. Happily, neither the years nor uncounted accidents and close shaves since have mellowed his brimming optimism.) The Reservoir Hill I only got to know in High School as I got to know friends who lived up there...and there was no space in the middle. There was a rather useless dam wall there and some bush in which generation after generation of kids seemed to have built cubbies in. I remember my Aunt took a few of us kids through there for a walk years ago. She showed us dozens of small orchids through the bush that I never knew existed and which I could barely distinguish from the surrounding vegetation, even when they were pointed out to me. I suddenly found, for the first time, that there were other worlds within this one which I could walk past without noticing - or even suspecting - their existence, unless I stopped and looked very, very carefully in the right place….
The Common. When I was growing up in Fairfield Avenue, it was a short walk over Parkway to the area behind the nursery. It was known in our household by the very English name, “The Common”. It was an expanse of flat ground which must have contained a lot of clay soil because there were always massive cracks all over it. It hosted a heap of activities over the years and I regularly headed down there for an hour or so after school to amuse myself. I used to kick the footy down there and I used to throw boomerangs, until I would misjudge the distance or the wind strength and lose it over the nursery fence (I must’ve lost half a dozen boomerangs there over the years. Dad never complained about this He just cut and filed another one down for me and I would head off and eventually misjudge the wind speed and pitch that one over the fence as well.) In my teenage years, I used to practice belting - and losing - golf balls on The Common. At one stage, I had a toy rocket which I could fire into the air with a slingshot and which (all going well) would then open at its zenith and parachute gently to earth, which was all very exciting. (Or, if things did not go well, the parachute didn’t open and
the rocket would then make a suicidal attempt to bury itself lengthwise in the ground.) We rode our bikes around The Common and we went for family walks there on the weekend, down and across toward the hospital...and we would walk our dogs there. We had quite a few dogs when I was little. One of the more memorable members of that procession was a Basset Hound we had when I was in early High School. The Common was a place of wonder for him. Bassets have extraordinary sense of smell and he could pick up odours and stories that predated civilization itself. Unfortunately, there were such stories every few feet and he was bound by the Code of the Basset to take them all in, snuffle a bit and then ponder them deeply. It made for slow progress. Some things simply transfixed him. He would stare intently at an area on the ground. He would sniff at it, stare, sniff some more and stare again in an apparent mixture of deep thought and disbelief. Eventually, we’d have to drag him away, although often he’d go back to the same spot and investigate the same story all over again. He was a funny dog. He was very good natured, although he had his boisterous moments as well. (I remember, for example, watching him swinging around our rotary clothesline - all four feet well off the ground. This, of course, was not an uncommon pastime in Yallourn as many readers know, although it was somewhat unusual for a dog. Unfortunately, he managed this by the expedience of swinging by his teeth from one of mum’s good towels...and before you ask, no, I did not teach him this.) Anyway, our Basset loved The Common, but not just for the stories it told him. The Common was bounded by The Drain, which I have written about previously. If you broached that slight barrier and then the subsequent gentle slope, there was a fenced paddock. Most of the time, the paddock was empty, but occasionally there were cows…and the cows in the paddock beyond The Drain fascinated our Basset. He would run back and forward along the fence, barking furiously, comically and as expressively as only a Basset can. The cows generally ignored him, or wandered off in search of quieter sections of pasture. Once, however, our Basset found a hole in the fence and despite our yelling and imprecations to the contrary, he squeezed through into the paddock, refusing all subsequent threats and pleas for him to come out forthwith. Suddenly liberated, he then ran back and forward along the inside of the fence (joy of joys!), barking and baying in his usual animated manner. The cows, it seemed, had never seen such an odd beast before - short legs, great floppy ears, feet like dinner plates, tail like a small kangaroo, making a noise like a donkey with a throat condition. (Rather like a bloodhound that had been plunged vigourously and repeatedly into hot water when the instructions clearly stated “Cold Wash Only!”). It all combined to make him terribly, terribly interesting. So the cows proceeded, as a group, to amber over to investigate further. This was not part of the dog’s plan. The eyes of the Basset generally protrude slightly and this became progressively more pronounced as the cows ambled even closer. The barking ceased, except as an intermittent strangled protest that everyone was getting a bit close and could they please back off a bit and give a dog some air. All the while, he frantically dashed back and forward, desperately trying to find the hole in the fence. He didn’t bark at the cows again, except from the safety of the fence. Looking back, it was not unlike the first time he learned he could swim. Same sudden impulsiveness. Same bulging eyes…
Roads. While roads are roads and asphalt Is asphalt, there were differences. Parkway was beautifully quiet and smooth and I loved it. Loved walking along it, loved riding on it. I presume it was for visiting dignitaries and royalty who must have left the same way as they came in so as not to spoil the illusion that all Yallourn roads were like this. Come the height of summer, I would walk to the pool down Parkway. Each summer you walked, barefoot, in your togs, T-shirt, with 10 cents (20 cents?) and towel in hand. Every summer your feet started off soft, feeling every stone and progressively toughening as summer went on...which was good because at the height of summer, the repaired asphalt at the corner with Westbrook Rd would melt and stick to your feet, leaving hot, liquorice-like marks. It was a sign of summer and a good day to come.
The Playgrounds. There was a great sense of social responsibility in the designers of Yallourn and mindful of the need to entertain children outdoors, they allowed for lots of green space and playgrounds...and they obviously didn’t want to be messing about later on with things like maintenance, so they made the play equipment solid enough to outlast granite. It’s probably all still there somewhere, languishing at the bottom of the open cut - too heavy to shift, too sturdy to cut up, too elemental to corrode - all made from left-over bits that were too big to fit in the power station. Thick, heavy steel tubing, massive planks of hardwood for platforms or seats. It was designed, I think, at a time when, if bad things happened to you, and it was even vaguely your own fault, people thought you were a bit dim and deserving more of derision than compensation. For example, the roundabout in the playground at the bottom of Coach Road hill
was massively big and massively heavy. If you got spun off while using it - and you would get spun off while using - that was a painful, but inevitable, part of the experience. It was no-one’s fault, you just learned to hold on. It was a metaphor about life. In a similar vein, the plank-swing in the Church St playground near our house was clearly modeled in size and weight on something the Romans would’ve used to take out the gates of Carthage. It could’ve punched a neat rectangular hole in the side of a bus. It was, I think, built not only with a purpose, but also with a philosophy. Children would be amused, children would be entertained, children would be exercised...but they would do it in a careful and orderly manner, or they would die in the process. It was another lesson about life - Constant Vigilance! (*with apologies to Harry Potter.)