7) 1989. Mulgrave Road, Cairns QLD 4870

During 1989 Mum met, and fell in love with, a man called Dale. Eventually Mum introduced me to Dale, and he told me to call him Zack. I don’t know why, and to this day I have never found out, but us kids just called him Zack without question. It was not that unusual to call older family members by unusual names; my great-grandparents were “Ninny” and “Dard”. For Dale, wanting to be called Zack would turn out to be the most innocuous of the many inexplicable things about him.

Along with Dale becoming a part of the family came another move – this time out of Mount Isa. We left the desert inland for the tropical beachside tourist destination of Cairns!

A tropical beachside haven needs tropical beachside haven-worthy accommodation, and we found that in spades with the Mulgrave Road Apartments. Every surface inside was a pristine white (very beachy), and the place would have felt like living inside a fluorescent light tube were it not for the deliciously off-putting RED VENETIAN BLINDS.

mulgrave2

The shrubbery has, quite wisely, grown to cover the window treatments of the apartments inside.

PROOF OF LIFE: red venetian blinds. (Also pictured: Dale, in one of the only photos in existence in which he doesn’t look like a sneering dickhead. Yes, this photo was once crumpled up. With a thousand good reasons. But that’s for future stories.)

For all its prestige as a hub for tropical far-north Queensland, in 1989 Cairns was still pretty much a big country town (albeit a big country town with bold ideas about window treatments). It did, however, have a drive-in movie theatre, which I’d never experienced before. Mount Isa had once had a drive-in theatre, apparently, but it took so long to get dark that far west that the movie could never start at a decent time, and it eventually went out of business.

Cairns also had a McDonalds, which I’d also never experienced before. At the time, McDonalds was in the middle one of their Scrabble competitions—where buying items gave you letter tiles to place on a board to win major prizes. Here was a fast-food chain that wasn’t Kentucky Fried Chicken or Big Rooster, that also promoted the playing of word games? Finally, I was HOME.

Shame about the school, then.

Balaclava State School. A school that shares a name with the item of clothing thugs wear to rob petrol stations with anonymity. And as far as the 1989 Grade 4 class is concerned, this is not a coincidence. I’m sure it’s a fresh, bubbling spring of positivity and focused learning today, but 23 years ago it was…how to put this delicately. Have you read The Hunger Games? I believe Suzanne Collins spent some time at this school in 1989.

hungergames

Recess.

Our class teacher was Mrs Yudetsky. Mrs Yudetsky was SO MEAN. I don’t know where one gets off being in a permanently bad mood when one lives in a beachside paradise, but there you have it. She was a horrible old woman with giant spectacles, each lens of which was an almost perfect circle. They matched the almost-perfect circle of old-lady hairdo. Old Lady Circle would poke you hard in the belly with her gnarled finger when she was making a point, correcting an answer, attracting your attention or simply passing the time. And my classmates were equally evil. Actually, I don’t think they were evil. I think they just saw, in me, a chance to catch a break from Mrs Yudetsky’s villainy. So not evil, just opportunistic (and, credit it where it’s due: canny). On more than one occasion I was coaxed into doing something to incur Old Lady Circle’s wrath. I don’t remember them exactly (after years in Mount Isa, Cairns was such an overload of stimuli that most of 1989 is not much more than a hyper-saturated blur in my head), but I do have a distinct memory of being screamed at by Old Lady Circle while up a tree.

I have no idea how I got up said tree, but I am pretty sure I was corralled up there by the other kids. Either that, or Old Lady Circle cast a spell and put me up there. No, hear me out, I know everyone says people exaggerate their childhood memories, but I am pretty sure Old Lady Circle was a witch who wanted to eat me.

winnie

Artist’s impression only (though the circular hair is on point)

I’m not saying my memory has become more biased with the passage of time, but I definitely remember my classroom being made of gingerbread.

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