Finding out that we were leaving Darwin and heading back to Queensland resulted in my first full-blown teenage temper tantrum. Oh sure, I had experimented with talking back and acting sullen, but this was the first all-out conniption. When mum broke the news, she found herself staring down the barrel of a Double Black Diamond Hissy Fit™.
Of course, this is still me we’re talking about. The above gif is not accurate. For the most part I still cowed to authority, and had no idea how to tap into my teen rage. So my tantrum consisted of hissing “Well I’m not happy about this!”, stomping off to my bedroom (but not too stompy because we had downstairs neighbours), closing the door behind me (gently) and then crying (but quietly, so as not to disturb anybody).
Fear my adolescent wrath.
Robby had come back up to Darwin, and was living with us. She was, once again, invaluable as she had both helped us to pack up the house…
…and she was making the drive with us. Yes, drive. In mum’s 1989 Toyota Corolla. Don’t get me wrong, Corollas are excellent. But crammed into a little red shell like so many pomegranate seeds were mum, Robby, me, my sister Lauren, Robby’s daughter Taren, and every item of clothing/linen we owned. Personal space was not on the cards. Leg room was a distant dream.
Even looking out the window was fraught with danger, because at almost-three-years old, Taren had just grasped the concept of ownership: as a result, the excitedly aggressive peals of “DON’T LOOK OUT MY WINDOW!” broke out with alarming regularity.
It took three days to get from Darwin to Moranbah. The first day was 964 kilometres from Darwin to Three Ways, so named because it’s a highway T-junction. Accommodation in Three Ways is a row of small, demountable, air conditioned sheds filled with bunk beds.
The five of us piled into one room and spent the night with the air conditioner turned so low our breath was visible. (December in the middle of Australia: when you can get cool air, you make the most of it.) Mum and Robby even shared a bed, for economy. Sadly, lesbianism stubbornly refused to take hold of either of them: if only it had, I feel all our lives would be a lot less tumultuous, and this writing project would be a lot shorter.
The second day was 864 kilometres from Three Ways to McKinlay, where we stayed at the Walkabout Creek Hotel. Also known as the pub from Crocodile Dundee.
The third day was a trifling 965 more kilometres from McKinlay to our destination.
We finally arrived in Moranbah, after three days and nearly three thousand kilometres, very early in the morning on December 20th; my 14th birthday. I didn’t feel great about it. I was still nursing a giant festering sore of bitterness from a) having to leave Darwin in the first place, and b) having spent three days cramped and uncomfortable and getting further away from the place I wanted to be. I silently wallowed in a deep pit of it’s my birthday and nobody cares and I’m in some stupid mining town and I’ll never be happy again. I refused to talk. I shrugged my shoulders at the promise of cake later in the day. I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.
Twenty-five minutes later I was given my birthday presents and all was forgiven, because I am more easily bought than a Curly Wurly. A mini hi-fi cassette player, an Ace of Base cassette and a “Hound Dog” baseball cap was all it took to make me an enthusiastic Queenslander once more.
Dale had gone to Moranbah ahead of us with Tommy, to start work at his mining job (Dale’s mining job, not Tommy’s mining job; Tommy was four). He’d also secured us a place to live, which is how we ended up at Belyando Avenue. Like everything Dale ever did for/to us, he bollocksed it: Belyando Avenue was Moranbah’s “Drive-In House”: a moderately sized house built on the grounds of what used to be the town’s drive-in cinema, intended as the home for the cinema’s manager.
I should clarify: I don’t mean it “used to be the town’s drive-in cinema” because then became something else, like proper housing; I simply mean the town stopped using it. It was still a drive-in, only it was now an abandoned drive in; all cold shadows and derelict terror. And it was our backyard.
Straight up, this place was creepy as hell. The screen loomed high and large, dominating the view of half the windows of the house. The speaker sets that once hooked onto the cars were all still in place, hanging from the short posts that dotted the crumbling asphalt at regular intervals. What little wind drifted through town found a way to whip and howl around the screen’s scaffolding in such a cliched fashion it would have been funny, had I not been 14 years old and already quite skittish.
Not only were we living on the set of approximately nine different horror films, but we were also sharing the house. Dale’s old work-colleague also lived there; a fairly vulgar man called Jason. Mum and Robby called him Basin; as in Jason Jason, pass the basin, I think I’m gonna be sick. So it was Dale, Mum, Robby, me, Lauren, Tommy, Taren, Basin, and Basin’s girlfriend Lee, all living at Drive In Nightmare House.
Our introduction to Lee was as follows: Basin was giving a tour of the house. The first room up the hallway is his room. He opens the door, where Lee is sitting on an unsheeted mattress on the floor, reading. He says “everyone, this is Lee”. Lee looks up, sees two women, a 14 year old, a 7 year old, and a 3 year old, and decides the best response is to leap off the mattress and charge for the doorway, screaming “SHUT THE FUCKING DOOR CUNT WERE YOU BORN IN A FUCKING TENT!?” and slamming the door in all our faces.
Basin turned around, almost (but not quite) as shocked as the rest of us. “She’s…she’s tired.”
Within two weeks, it was decided that maybe five adults (well, four adults and some sort of earth-bound banshee), one teenager, and three children living in one of the set pieces from Silent Hill was so incredibly untenable it was actually unelevenortwelveable. So we absconded Drive In Nightmare House for some emergency short-term accommodation provided by the mines in the area.
Living underneath the silent spectre of an abandoned drive-in theatre, or huddle in some fugacious corporate-owned shell for the sad and unstable? Welcome to Moranbah.