The move to Mount Isa was a big one. Almost all the way to the other side of the state, and a good way north. And we were moving to a desert, where it never rains.
Despite having images of my head of being Arabian nomads, riding camels and living in tents, Mount Isa was actually a lot better than Gin Gin. As rural towns go. In terms of size alone it was a step up. Mount Isa had its own Kentucky Fried Chicken: the days of a thirty minute drive to Bundaberg just to get a hit of potato and gravy were OVER. Now, it only had one Kentucky Fried Chicken, and it did not have a McDonald’s (but then, neither did Bundaberg—in fact, I would have no idea what McDonald’s even was for another two years), but it did have several Big Roosters. I’d moved to somewhere fancy and metropolitan!
We moved to number 2 Ruby Street, in the suburb of Happy Valley. The house was very old, but it did have an above-ground pool. Having recently been a horse owner, I was already snobby and pretentious enough to know that an above-ground pool was not as classy as an in-ground pool, and I did ask on more than one occasion why we couldn’t just dig a hole beneath the pool and lower it. BUT: a pool is a pool. We had a pool, and I was very grateful. One shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I should know, I used to own horses. Had I mentioned? Horses.
The backyard also had a giant mango tree in the middle of it, and an unfinished treehouse sat halfway up the tree. A neat little cactus garden near the back door completed the tableau of an almost perfect suburban backyard.
Moving across the state at a young age may have been a huge adjustment, but between the pool, the treehouse and my tricycle I was too occupied with having fun to notice.
Ahh, my tricycle. I was too big for the stupid thing, but I was yet to upgrade to a full bike, so it was all I had. And I still loved it. I would pedal it around the house, up and down the two car-tyre-width concrete stripes that made up the driveway. There was enough concrete paving that I could make it from end of the driveway, around to the back of the house and up the ramp that led to the back door. (Nearly all houses I ever saw in Mount Isa had that same concrete ramp at the back door. Perhaps it was superbly progressive thinking in terms of domestic wheelchair access; or, more likely, those ramps were cheaper to build than stairs.)
One afternoon I was pedalling around my concrete track, loving the shit out of life. School was great: Mr Sharp, my teacher, was both friendly and scary, and was reading us Roald Dahl’s The Twits with the most spectacular array of voices you’d ever heard. I had a best friend: a girl by the name of Sheridan L., and a prerequisite nemesis, Joanne Uglyface (not her real name). Everything was just excellent. The pool was clean, the treehouse was airy, the mangoes were plentiful, and the wind tousled my flat, brown hair as my tricycle hurtled down the concrete, and up the ramp to the back door.
Well, nearly up the ramp. About three quarters of the way up I lost momentum. My hair came to rest, and the tricycle came to a teetering halt. I pushed with my little legs, but the tricycle would go no higher. I hadn’t given myself enough of a run-up.
Then gravity took hold, and the tricycle lurched backwards.
I took my feet off the pedals, intending to plant them on the ground for safety, but that released all resistance on the wheels, and suddenly the tricycle gained terrifying backwards momentum. In my panic I let go of the handlebars—a dreadful mistake, as they immediately spun and locked hard right. With no control over my speed or my direction, I had no choice but to clench my tiny buttocks and flail through the air. (SIDENOTE: I had one other choice, I could have, you know, STOOD UP. It was just a tricycle. But I have always tended towards the dramatic.)
The tricycle flew down the ramp, the locked handlebars causing it to careen out to the right. It flew off the edge of the ramp, rocketing easily between the two horizontal bars of the ramp railing, and sailed out onto the lawn, where it came to rest only after wedging its front wheel under the curvature of the above-ground pool. I, on the other hand, being significantly heavier and larger than the tricycle did not sail quite so easily. Slamming my head into the railing, I lost all momentum and dropped straight down off the edge of the ramp…
…into the cactus garden.