28) 1995. Belyando Avenue (AGAIN) Moranbah QLD 4744

YES. WE WENT BACK. During the few weeks we spent at Grout Street, Basin and his shriekmonster had left Belyando Drive, Robyn had moved back to the southern part of Queensland to be closer to her family, and we had to find somewhere else to live, as our “short-term” at the emergency accommodation had run out. There weren’t a lot of options in Moranbah, and technically Dale was still on the lease, so we ended up back at Belyando Drive: Abandoned Drive-In House of Nightmares.

weepingangels2

My backyard, probably. I don’t know, I was generally too scared to look out the windows.

Admittedly, it was much better when it was just us. There was room to move. We had bedrooms to ourselves. A tiny, ferocious woman didn’t scream obscenities at the top of her lungs at random intervals. Saucepans of half-eaten two minute noodles didn’t rot on the stovetop. It was better.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 2.05.56 pm

I notice Google Street View has failed to become any more informative in the last two weeks.

Still, the drive-in continued to menace us from every window, all steel and rust and crumbling structure. One night I swear I saw a man standing out in the middle of it. Just standing still in the centre of the asphalt, not moving. After turning away in disbelief, when I looked back, he was gone. Have you ever played Silent Hill? That was my backyard.

But, as it turns out, the inside of the house was able to provide scares even greater than the outside.

One night, Lauren and Thomas were asleep in bed, while mum and I watched TV. Suddenly, mum did her best meerkat impersonation. She jolted upright in her armchair, staring intently at the corner of the room.

“What’s that over there?”
“What’s what?”
“In the corner?”
“Where?”
“WHERE I’M LOOKING.”
“I can’t see anything.”

Spoiler alert: at this point, and at every point for the rest of this story, I am completely fucking useless. Part teenage gawkiness, part me-specific uselessness, part shattered nerves from living full-time inside a Stephen King brainfart: I am zero help to my mother whatsoever. What she was looking at, crawling across the carpet in the corner of the room, was a medium-sized brown snake.

“IT’S A SNAKE, CHRISTOPHER.”
I immediately yelp and clamber up the back of the couch.
“Wha-wha huhhh? Snaaaaake?”
“YES.”
“Is it…is it dead?”
“NO.”

I whimper helpfully.

The snake, now aware that two very startled people are staring at it, stops briefly. It quickly realises that we are not of any threat whatsoever (HOORAY FOR COMPETENT HUMANS), and starts to move again. Problem is, it’s heading towards the hallway, which leads to where Lauren and Thomas are sleeping. Mum’s maternal adrenalin starts pumping, and she is kicked into gear.

“Find something.” 
“What?”
“SOMETHING?” (Sure, I was useless, but hello, details please.)

“I don’t knoooow what you meeeean!?” I have no such maternal adrenalin, so continue to be as much help as a chocolate teapot.

The snake has stopped again, and is lifting its head and flicking its tongue. It is smelling the air. It can smell my fear. Or possibly it can smell the delicious warm flesh of my brother and sister, because it heads back towards the hallway.

“GET. SOMETHING. LONG.”

All I can think about is that whenever my Grandad encountered a snake, he would either shoot it, or chop its head off by running it through with the edge of a shovel. I know we own neither gun nor shovel, and that’s as far as my brain is willing to think before it snaps shut. So I just start jumping up and down on the spot, flapping my hands and squealing. It is exactly how you imagine it.

“CHRISTOPHER.”

I run in a small circle on the spot, still leaping from foot to foot and flapping my hands and demonstrating to my mother how very, very gay I will turn out in approximately nine years time. The snake is now a metre from the hallway entrance. Mum moves closer to the hallway in an attempt to herd the snake. The snake stops.

“CHRISTOPHER! I can’t take my eyes off it I need to know where it is you have to go NOW.”

I finally remember how feet and eyeballs work and run out of the room. The closest room to me? The one I run into? The sun room. Do you know what is usually in a sunroom? Fucking SUN. The room is completely bare. It’s a converted garage and we weren’t using it for anything. It’s just carpet and walls and nothing else. There aren’t even any curtains hanging from the bare rods—

Bingo.

I jump, knock a curtain rod to the ground, grab it and run back into the lounge room like a half-sized, half-assed pole-vaulter.

Mum holds her hand out for the weapon I was tasked with bringing her. Feeling the flimsy, wobbly curtain rod in her hand, she takes a second from SnakeWatch to fix me a look of sheer disbelief. “THAT’S ALL THERE WAS!” I scream, and resume my earlier stance of vibrating, wordless terror.

Me IRL.

The snake has now reached the hallway, and mum has no choice but to use the item at hand. Her only goal at this stage is to prevent the snake from reaching the hallway, where there are four or five open doorways, two sleeping children, and not nearly enough lights to see what’s going on. She figures if she just whacks the floor near the snake, it will turn and go in the other direction.

She swings the curtain rod.

THWAPANG!

The flimsy, wobbly curtain rod bends on impact and cracks like a steel whip, belting the carpet with such ferocity that a bit of dust flies up.

Inspired by the whipping action, mum changes tactic. “Ohhhh no wait,” she says, “I can hit it!”

I finally stop jumping on the spot.

Mum swings the curtain rod over her head and slices it downwards.

THWAPANG!

The snake flips over onto its back, arches itself into the air in anger, and tries to right itself.

THWAPANG!

The snake curls into a ball for a second, but immediately unravels, then coils into another angry stance.

THWAPANG!

Something bounces off the carpet, then the wall, and flies up in the air back towards mum and me. Thinking it’s the snake’s head, detached and after vengeance, Mum yodels a noise that is the closest thing to singing I’ve ever heard from her, and half-skips-half-leaps out of the way. Once again the family resemblance is on display: we both jump like drunk frogs. Luckily, it wasn’t a snake’s head, it was just the stopper from the end of the curtain rod.

Meanwhile the snake, with its head still attached, has stopped moving.

Unsure if it is dead, unconscious or just lulling us into a false sense of security, mum tests it.

THWAPANG!

Nothing.

The combination of relief, fear and anger at the snake turn my mother briefly into some kind of cold-eyed snake hitman, and she double-taps the snake like it owes her money.

THWAPANG-FOOM-THWAPANG!

It is probably *quite* dead by this point.

But now what? Neither of us are willing to pick it up with our bare hands, but we can’t just leave it there or the cat will probably try to eat it. We could flick it outside with the curtain rod, but we wouldn’t be able to flick it nearly far away enough to feel comfortable, and we can’t stray too far outside because it’s 11pm and the abandoned drive-in nightmare backyard is at its most terrifying at this time of night.

weepingangels2

Just a reminder of the bullshit that was outside at all times. Probably.

On top of all those problems, I’m also not convinced it’s dead enough. So, it needs to be kept somewhere sealed AND indoors AND out of the cat’s way until morning. And that’s how it ended up inside a pasta jar which was screwed tight, taped over, and left on the kitchen bench with two phone books and three photo albums stacked on top of it.

I wasn’t taking any chances.

The next morning the snake was still there, still dead, and still in the sealed, taped, weighted jar. Overnight, the terror of the incident had galvanised, and I decided that I now couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar. So, using the same curtain rod, I pushed the jar onto the floor, and rolled it out the door, down the driveway, and out onto the curb to the wheelie bin. I tipped the wheelie bin onto its side (I kicked it with my feet, because I now couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar OR the thing the jar was going into), rolled the jar into the bin, and used the curtain rod to flip the bin upright again. Then I bent the curtain rod in half and jammed it into the bin as well, because now I couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar OR the bin OR the thing that touched the bin, the snake and the jar.

Having used the rod to kill the snake, I’m surprised I didn’t go back to the house and ask mum to climb into the bin as well.

Advertisements

27) 1994. Grout Street, Moranbah QLD 4744

The fugacious, corporate-owned shell for the sad and unstable didn’t turn out to be as bad as I had imagined. At best, it was a real home: the backyard was a regular backyard, the house was furnished, and it even had a television. At its worst, it was still a bit shit: For a start, the television was was about the size of a toaster and was bolted to the ceiling, so even that silver lining was dubious. The house itself was a very matter-of-fact construction: a stark metal fence and a stark concrete driveway bordering a stark brick box.

Grout

Though, I will say this: that capsicum-dip brick colour is SASSY.

It was strictly utilitarian; it felt like emergency short-term housing. The memories of all the sad/troubled/unsettled families before us who had also had needed emergency, short-term accommodation had soaked into the walls. It was like the house was always quietly whispering to you: things aren’t going great for you right now.

So obviously Christmas 1994 was a real hoot.

(I snark, but the truth is I have always loved Christmas with all my heart. Only a small contingent of people who get into Christmas as much as I do. No matter where my life is at at any given time, Christmas provides an impenetrable shield of happiness that lifts my spirits and makes me completely carefree.

FullSizeRender

Christmas Day kids: me, Robby’s daughter Taren, Lauren, and Tommy. Note the tiny ceiling TV, the pitiful Christmas decorations dangling from nothing in particular, and the long-haired, purple-shorts-and-a-necklace-wearing twink who is still, astonishingly, nine years away from figuring out he’s gay. Note also the answer to an oft-asked question: No, the (actual) carpet does not match the (actual) drapes.

I don’t know how or why this is, but it’s always been the case. So even though Christmas 1994 was spent in a spartan house with all the charm of a prison cell, and even though Dale got ripsnortingly drunk on Christmas Eve and spent most of Christmas Day passed out on the floor in his jocks with a half-eaten tube of luncheon meat clasped to his chest, it still felt, mostly, like a good Christmas.)

Christmas Day, 1994. My hair pre-dates Jennifer Aniston’s “The Rachel” by two whole years, god damn it.

But let’s go back to the week leading up to Christmas. Having been 14 for three whole days, I was full of new found maturity and sense of self. I jest: like any normal 14 year old I was almost entirely out of my mind. But I did feel a need to be more of a grown-up, and contribute more to the family. To that end, I was determined that, for the first time, I would buy my mum a Christmas present. Come hell or high water, she would have something to unwrap underneath the tree.

That was, of course, if we ended up having a tree. It was December 23 and we were essentially squatting: nothing was guaranteed.

I had managed to amass the grand fortune of six dollars, and this was my budget for mum’s present. I can’t fully articulate what an accomplishment it was to have somehow pulled six dollars together. I strutted about like I was Jordan Belfort. I was the Wolf of Grout Street.

I took my fortune and headed off to Moranbah Fair, Moranbah’s only shopping centre. I’m not sure “centre” is the right word, as “centre” implies there’s something for it to be the centre of, and there wasn’t really enough of Moranbah or its fair to draw distinction between the the middle and the not-middle. Still, what it lacked in size it made up for in being easy for me to bargain-hunt from top to bottom in one hit.

And hunt I did. I cased every shop in the joint: Target Country, the newsagent, the two-dollar shop (I believe it was Silly Solly’s?), the rando homewares shop (Copperart?), the jeweller (Kleins?), the chemist: I even did the supermarket and the butcher, just in case. See, I wasn’t just looking for a present that cost up to six dollars, I was looking for a present that cost exactly six dollars. I had six dollars to spend. Not a cent less. Why had I set this restriction on myself? I have no idea, but I have at least been consistent in this compulsive need to spend every cent I own regardless of need or want for the past twenty years.

I finally struck gold in the music shop (Sanity? Or was it Brashs?): Cassette singles were $5.99. BINGO. Now it was simply a matter of buying the right cassingle, which shouldn’t be too hard: Mum loves music of all kinds. Watching Rage on the ABC was a weekend staple from a very young age. That said, she doesn’t enjoy music that is too slow, and she doesn’t enjoy music that’s too poppy. She prefers it upbeat with a rock edge.

It was December 23, 1994. Here is the top ten ARIA singles chart for the week beginning December 18, 1994:

1) The Cranberries – Zombie
2) Silverchair – Tomorrow
3) Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
4) Bon Jovi – Always
5) 20 Fingers – Short Dick Man
6) Tom Jones – If I Only Knew
7) Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You
8) Tina Arena – Chains
9) Gloria Estefan – Turn the Beat Around
10) Offspring – Come Out and Play

Of these ten songs, nine are suitable for my mum. The Cranberries, Silverchair, Bon Jovi and the Offspring all meet the rock requirements, Sheryl Crow, Tom Jones and Gloria Estefan all meet the tempo requirements, and 20 Fingers and Mariah Carey’s songs had a novelty element that would bring a smile to her face.

GUESS WHICH OF THOSE TEN WERE AVAILABLE AT MORANBAH FAIR’S SANITY (or was it Brashs?) THAT DAY?

But it was six dollars. And I had six dollars. And so it had to be bought, because that was the rule I had set in my quest for maturity. And besides: it’s the thought that counts, right? And I was thinking so hard about how terrific I was going to look when I put a present for mum under the tree. I would be the favourite child.

On Christmas morning, mum unwrapped her tiny, cassette-shaped box, festooned with so much ribbon it was hard to see where the box ended or began (Mum and Robby had decided on gift-wrapping theme that year: brown paper with elaborate ribbon decorations: I went all out). She finally rescued Tina Arena’s pouty face from under the lashings of ribbon, and superbly acted like a cassingle of a song she didn’t particularly care for was all she’d ever wanted.

It’s a little thing I, in retrospect, like to call “setting the bar low”, because comparatively? Every gift I’ve given her since has been a bollocking triumph.

26) 1994. Belyando Avenue, Moranbah QLD 4744

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™.

Welcome to the hundreds of new Brony readers this image will surely bring in.

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…

FullSizeRender (5)

This photo answers the question “When you’ve moved as many times as you have, does it get easier?” No, no it doesn’t. You WILL end up, at some stage, lying despondently surrounded on all sides by the scattered remnants of your worldly possessions. I’ve done this sixty times.

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.

corolla

This is not THE Corolla. This is just A Corolla. But as you can see, five people + five people’s worth of clothes and bedsheets and pillows did result in a sort of malfunctioning-TARDIS type of situation.

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.

“What shall we call the location, sir?” “What location?” “You know, that intersection where you can go one of three ways?” “Yes, that’ll do.”

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.

threeways

Threeways Roadhouse: Inhibiting sapphic love stories since 1994.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 1.51.38 pm

The air conditioning wasn’t nearly as good.

The third day was a trifling 965 more kilometres from McKinlay to our destination.

moranbah

Pronounced MOR-an-bah. Moorin’ baa. Moron bar. Maw ‘n barr.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 2.05.56 pm

The driveway swings around the the right where the house is. The drive-in is (was) behind the house. Even the ENTRANCE is creepy.

 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.