8) 1989. ??? Street, Edmonton QLD 4869

Yes, I know. There’s no street name. I’m sorry, I’m letting you down. It’s the first address for which I’m completely drawing a blank (SPOILER: it won’t be the last). I know the town, but any further details escape me. Even mum, who thus far has provided a great back-up memory bank, came up empty.

Luckily this story was never going to be entirely about the house itself: it’s also about a person.

I feel like I’ve introduced a lot of villains so far: Mrs YudetskyMr & Mrs Fuckshit, the peanut butter bandits, a lazy kidnapperthe laws of gravity. And I haven’t even begun with Dale yet. So I figure it’s time to bring in at least one white hat.

Meet Robby.

Mum sent me this photo in response to my request "Do you have any old photos of Robby?" Mum thinks she's hilaaaaarious.

This is what Mum sent in response to my request for “old photos of Robby”. Mum thinks she’s hilaaaaaaaarious.

Robby is a dear, dear family friend. She’s practically family herself: her grandmother and my great-grandfather were childhood friends, whose parents had not-all-that-secretly hoped that they would marry each other. This didn’t happen, but they did stay friends, and our families have been intertwined ever since. It’s been about 150 years so far. Robby and mum became very close when Robby was 13 and mum was 23. That’s also around the time Robby and I bonded. As she likes to tell it:

“You were three years old and I knelt down in front of you and you RAN into my arms! You’ve been my treasure ever since.”

That last bit is 100% true to this very day. I am a 33 year old man, complete with a driver’s license and a beard and a browser history littered with pornography; but Robby still calls me “treasure”.

Proof: A message from Robby in 2014 in which I am called “treasure”. (And in which she gives me glowing praise. Not that that’s the only reason I picked this particular message. Ahem.)

The family entwinement continues apace, too: my sister and Robby’s daughter are now also close friends. So the family friendship looks like it’s easily going to round out at least two centuries.

But back to 1989: Robby had already been part of our lives for a few years by this point. But while we were in Mulgrave Street, Robby actually moved in with us. She had been in a bad situation, and coming to live with us was her way out.

Being that she is a) a clean freak, and b) a workhorse, immediately upon moving in she started acting like a live-in housekeeper. As mum left for work each day, Robby was making sure my sister and I were breakfasted and dressed, then she would bundle Lauren into the pram and walk me to school. She would be at the gates in the afternoon when school finished, where she would walk me home again, usually via a park. By the time mum came home from work, we were all bathed and pyjama-ed, and dinner was on the stove. In mum’s own words “it’s the closest to living like a movie star that I will ever experience.”

BUT HERE’S THE THING. While it might have been glamorous and utterly befitting my childhood snobbery (horses, internal staircases, now a live-in nanny? But of course), the glamour was slightly diminished by having  mum, Dale, Lauren, Robby and I all squeezed into a two bedroom apartment.

And that’s how we ended up in Edmonton, and this is where my memory fails you. I’m sorry.

What I can tell you is that Edmonton is a little town outside Cairns. Well, it was: I think by now it might just be a suburb of Cairns. I remember that I went to Hambledon State School (evil, possible-witch teacher count: 0), and I remember we  legitimately had a movie-style “fake” phone number: it started with “555”. It was never not funny to give the number out, but it did take some convincing to get pizzas delivered.

I do also remember being impressed by the size of the house we lived in. Compared with the space we’d been occupying it was positively palatial, but even on its own merits…it was still kind of palatial. The bathroom was like the foyer of a casino, all black tiles and spotlights. There was no need for a shower curtain, because the recess for it was so deep that water had no chance of getting out. After entering the shower cubicle you had to turn a corner and walk a few steps to get to where the water was. It was so big it had a bench built into the wall; presumably so one could have a rest and get their energy back before making the trek back out to the towel rail.

So while I can’t remember the address, or anything about my room, I do remember being amazed by the overall size of the house. And I distinctly remember excitedly telling anyone who would listen that the space between the front door and the kitchen bench was so wide I could do four whole cartwheels in a row.

In hindsight, I guess this is what mum means when she says she had an idea I was gay many years before I did. Measuring the width of a house in gymnastics, rather than in metres, does send some pretty clear messages.

Me, taking measurements.

Me, taking measurements.

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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.