Blue poles

I wasn’t in Australia when Gough forked out $1.3m to buy a splashy, dripping painting by Jackson Pollock. I missed the Blue Poles controversy by a dozen years, not arriving here until 1985. In that time the world (your world, if you’re an Australian) had changed dramatically: you got out of Vietnam, had several tumultuous changes of government, floated the dollar, won the Americas Cup, put a woman in prison after her baby had been killed by a dingo. Heady stuff.

Strangely, it wasn’t really these blue poles that reminded me of 1973; it was a bunch of chokos scattered about the creek bed.

Maybe “reminded” isn’t the right word. Rather, they triggered a train of thought that took me back to a winter in the early 1970s in northern England.

These chokos had obviously been pinched by kids off some overhanging vine and lobbed around like hand grenades. (Well, maybe that hadn’t happened, but that’s what I assumed. I’m often amazed at how civic-minded Australians are compared to the British. Your roadside collections are never messed with, the timber collections are never set on fire. If this was in Britain …)

Anyway, the train of thought was off and running by now. Thoughts of lobbing stuff around, maybe too many nearly ripe apples pinched off trees or eggs from Harry Barker’s hen huts. Or snowballs.

It was about a mile walk from school to the bus stop, along rows of terraces, via the cake shop where you could get two stale cakes for a penny ha’penny. On snowy days we’d have snowball fights, but not horizontal ones. These would be fights with whoever was on the next street along with the snowballs being lobbed high over the roofs of the terrace houses to come hammering down like mortar shells on the street on other side – a big ask for a skinny-armed 12-year-old. At some point a bright spark would wrap a rock in snow and lob that over, starting a Cuban Missile Crisis-like ramping up of armaments. The snow around the rocks would get thinner and thinner until basically it was just rocks that were being thrown. Inevitably someone would get hurt or something would get broken.

I remembered other rock fights. Where I lived there were lots of abandoned slate quarries, perfect for making camps. Other kids would try to “take” them, with us chucking the sharp scards of slate at them and them back at us. Old barns were great for the same kind of gang wars.

We must have been absolute demons. If my son did any of this stuff I’d go ballistic!

I was coming out of the gasworks, where there seems to be an exceedingly large number of dead things at the moment.

Two young lads were sauntering past, a Coles freezer bag in hand. Now, I might not be the most worldly person but I knew that these lads had not been shopping for yoghurt. These freezer bags, with their padded sides and zip lids, are perfect for storing your Ironlak collection. We nodded cautiously at one another and I headed downstream while they snuck off up the Chaucer Street drain towards, I presume, the Broadmeadow rail yards.

A reminder that maybe not much has changed in all those years. Young males will still seek ways to put themselves in danger and generally annoy the rest of the world. As they always have.

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