15B) 1990-1991. Abel-Smith Parade, Mount Isa 4825

This is the second story. The first one, the whimsical one, is here.

It was the middle of the night, and I was asleep. Nestled in the top bunk, feeling on top of the world (it’s amazing how high five feet feels to a tiny, runty child). I was woken suddenly when something struck me on the butt. I rolled over and saw the offending object was mum’s purse. Then I became aware of the screaming. Mum was standing in the doorway, yelling my name, while Dale lurched and crashed behind her in a drunken rage, trying to pull her away. She had slung the purse at me (she has the aim of a sniper, that one) to wake me up quickly, because I was a shockingly heavy sleeper, and had been known to not wake up until physically lifted out of bed and into a standing position.

“CHRISTOPHER,” she was almost shrieking. “Run to the phone box and call the police! Tell them the address, tell them what’s happening!” Dale continued to try to pull mum away from the doorway, stopping only to punch the wall, stumble about the place and wail some more in his violent stupor.

Because nothing stops me from following the rules and being obedient at all times, I immediately opened mum’s purse to find the correct change—thirty cents if I remember correctly—because you never just take a lady’s purse. “NO, just take the whole thing!” mum yelled. (I have always possessed the unique ability to be simultaneously useless AND adorable.)

As I leapt down off the bed and ran for the door, mum braced herself and took three big steps backwards, crashing into Dale to keep him distracted, and distanced from me. I ran down the hall and out the front door, noting on the way that the house had been trashed.

As I sprinted for the front gate, Dale reached the door. “Christopher! Come back here!” he roared. I can’t adequately convey exactly how much of an obedient child I was, to explain why, when he yelled, I stopped. Dale was an authority figure, and he had given me an instruction. I was so conflicted. My insides tore apart between doing the right thing and doing what I was told. I slowed down and turned around…

…and then he called me ‘Chrissy’.

“Come on, Chrissy. Chrissy? Chrissy! Please?”

He had no way of knowing that (to this very day) there is nothing I hate more than being called “Chrissy”. Any impact he had on me as an authority figure evaporated. I turned and ran down the street.

Two in the morning, holding mum’s purse, wearing my pyjamas, running for the phone box. I was terrified but I was determined to save our family. I got to the phone box, dialled the number, and babbled incoherently at the man who answered. I said that my stepdad was yelling and crazy and he’s wrecked the house and mum is crying and she needs the police and then I gave my address and hung up and ran back to the house.

By the time I’d returned from the phone box, Dale was nowhere to be found. I would find out later he was simply hiding in the backyard, but at this point all I knew was he wasn’t there. Mum was trying, in that half-vacant way people in shock do, to tidy. She did manage to plug the phone back in to an unripped plug, and it immediately started ringing. She answered it, meekly.

“Are you Jenny?” said a male voice.
“Yes. What? Who is this?”
“I’m Greg. I work night switch at the mines. Sorry, your son called me,” the male voice replied.
“I don’t understand, he called the police?” Panic started to rise in mum’s voice.
“No love, he didn’t.”
“What do you mean!?”
“He called me by mistake. He hung up before I could tell him he called the wrong number. Not his fault, our number’s only one number off, love.”
Mum started to cry before the man could continue. “No hang on, I got everything he said. I called the police, they’re on their way. I looked you up in the phone book so I could check on you and make sure they arrived.”

As if on cue, the police showed up.

Greg didn’t give any further details other than his name, because he “didn’t want to make a fuss”. Probably also because he didn’t want to get involved in someone else’s family drama (wise move, Greg). Nevertheless; one of the nicest things ever done for me or my family was done by a man none of us ever met.

What Greg did for us was certainly nicer than what the police did for us: They gave Dale several cups of coffee to “sober him up”, congratulated him on his former football career, and sent him straight back to our house. He was back before the sun even came up: punching more walls and trying to grab Tommy (who was still a tiny fragile sultana) out of his washing basket.

When he finally passed out, mum, Lauren, Tommy (and his washing basket) and I fled the house and spent a few days in women’s refuge.

Soon we would flee Mount Isa altogether, and move across the state to the Sunshine Coast. Dale would find us, but at least we would be getting terrorised in a nicer climate.

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15A) 1990-1991. Abel-Smith Parade, Mount Isa 4825

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That big tree on the right? I used that on more than one occasion to climb in the window having accidentally locked myself out.

We lived in this house on Abel-Smith Parade for quite a while. My baby brother, Tommy, was born in this house. Side note: if you’re a foetus and your mum has dengue fever, you are going to come out very early, and very sickly, and weirdly wrinkly…

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Tiny baby in a laundry basket looks like a tiny baby that shrunk in the wash.

…but with a bit of care, and a couple of weeks sleeping in a washing basket because cots are too big, you’ll soon puff right out and use up all your skin.

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It’s like having a baby brother made out of a balloon!

I have two distinct story-memory-things from Abel-Smith Parade, and I couldn’t decide which one to tell. So I am going to tell them both. One is whimsical; the other is…less so.

The first story will help explain why, to this day, I hate sad movies. I don’t find overt dramas cathartic, I find them distressing. And it all started living in this house, and it’s all Barbra Streisand’s fault.

So, it was 1991. The two lanes of Abel Smith Parade ran either side of a long, deep stormwater trench, which ran dry for the ten months of the year when there weren’t any storms (or rain at all, for that matter, what with Mount Isa being in the middle of a desert). The two lanes of road, the stormwater trench and the two chain link fences that traced the length of the trench acted as a border between the houses on my side of the street, and the giant discount supermarket complex on the other side, called Jack the Slasher (no, seriously), which also housed a few little shops, including a video store.

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They’ve removed parts of the fence, and the drain now seems to be just a big ugly trench, but this should give a vague idea of the “obstacle course” from my house to Jack The Slasher (no, seriously) which appears to not be called that anymore.

Apart from the broken gumball machine at the entrance to Jack the Slasher (no, seriously) which spat out mini-chewing gum pieces whether you put a 20 cent piece in the slot or not, the video store was my favourite part of that entire block. Every week, usually on a Saturday afternoon, I was allowed to go and hire videos. Sometimes I was given instructions for something mum wanted, but the “kid” selection was entire up to me.

During this regular routine, I think I rented every single Looney Tunes video they had at least once, and a few of them I got several times over. But on one particular Saturday afternoon, I was gunning to get one film in particular: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I had been obsessing over it all day. Of course, because it had been on my mind, Saturday took FOREVER to pass. The long Saturday morning crept into a long Saturday afternoon at a glacial pace. But finally, the time came. The house had been cleaned, the yard had been tidied, the dog had been played with—I was finally able to go to the video store.

And so began my journey across Abel Smith Parade. I loved the way it was set up; it was like my own private obstacle course paid for by the Mount Isa City Council. Check for traffic, cross the road. Climb the fence. Slide down one side of the trench, scramble up the other. Climb the second fence. Check for traffic, cross the road. Then? Bypass Jack the Slasher (no, seriously), GO STRAIGHT TO THE VIDEO STORE AND RENT WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? AND THEN COME HOME AND WATCH THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

Because I was ten years old and had no perspective, as soon as I had grabbed the video case, given it to the teenager behind the counter so he could put the tape in, paid the two dollars for a seven day hire (two dollars! Back in my day…) and held the treasured case in my little hand, I wanted to watch it IMMEDIATELY.

Unfortunately, I still had to walk home. And within an instant the fun Mount Isa City Council sanctioned obstacle course became a NEVER-ENDING ARDUOUS JOURNEY OF TORTURE. I had to go all the way across the road, all the way over the fence, all the way down the stormwater drain, all the way up the other side, all the way over the second fence, and all the way across the second lane of the road, and even I’d still only be on the FOOTPATH. I’d still have to walk all the way up to my yard, open the gate, walk up to the front door and walk inside.

And even THEN I still wouldn’t be finished. I’d have to walk across the lounge room to the VCR, take out whatever videotape was currently in it, put Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in, then fast forward through the previews just to get to the delicious film itself.

It was going to take forever.

desert

Seven months later (or possibly just four minutes), I was finally in front of the television, ready to watch the movie I’d been obsessing over for about twelve hours. The credits rolled…

…and it was completely unfamiliar. I couldn’t see Bob Hoskins (whom I was convinced at the time was just Phil Collins acting under a pseudonym) anywhere. And I don’t remember my beloved mad-cap cartoon caper having Barbra Streisand in it? Or Richard Dreyfuss? Why were their names coming up on the screen?

Because I had been given the wrong tape, and was actually watching the opening credits for the 1987 movie Nuts.

I was devastated. Appalled. I had waited all day for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. I didn’t want to see Barbra Streisand “acting”. And by now it was past 4pm, and the video store had closed.

The entire weekend was ruined, and it was all Barbra Streisand’s fault. Her and the sad movie she was in. I’ve been against sad movies ever since. Because they ruin things.

Also—and please hold on for this magnificent segue—I had enough actual drama going on in my life to not need any fictionalised drama performed by one of the world’s most celebrated singers.

Because we still lived with Dale. The second story, the darker story, features him. Surprise.

14) 1990. West Street, Mount Isa 4825

The haze is still present at this part of my brain storage, but I do have a clearer memory of living here.

That fence is the only thing keeping the dirt moat from taking over the whole house.

It was in this pokey, fibro house that I learnt the dangers of electricity, and how much of a no-no it is to stick a breadknife into a toaster.

First, some history: do you remember back when toasters did not have a multitude of buttons? If you don’t remember, feel free to gasp in horror; it was indeed a primitive time. Phones still hard cords, microwaves still had dials, and toasters were still just metal cubes of barely converted electricity.

toaster

CONSPIRACY THEORY: They’ve already perfected A.I. technology. Each toaster is implanted with it. That’s why each toaster cooks bread however the fuck it wants.

You had to use the same function to toast bread AND muffins AND crumpets like a common fucking savage. There was no “cancel” button, no “just a little more” button, and the levers were NOT built to be lifted so you could get easily get see/reach the finished product. Nope. You put the bread in the slot, pushed the lever down, and hoped against hope that what popped up again was toast. Occasionally it was toast. Other times it was charred blackness. Sometimes it was warm bread. One time it was a mouse (that’s how I learnt the importance of cleaning out the crumbs).

But. Most of the time? Nothing came up at all.

It is safe to assume that the insides of toasters in those days were filled with barbed wire, or some kind of special gluten-specific magnet. For as long as I’d been making toast—which, being nine years old, hadn’t been all that long—toasters were trying their hardest to not let me have any.

So what did you do when your bread got jammed? Well, you were probably already holding a knife in your hand, ready to spread something delicious on your toast: so you stuck that knife down the guts of the toaster and levered your bread out. For as long as I’d been making toast—which, again, nine years old—I’d also been stabbing toasters with my knife and angrily flicking my breakfast across the room.

Until that one fateful day when mum saw me do it, and threw me off my game forever. She screamed in terror and turned into a blur as she leapt across the room (a significant feat in itself, as she was substantially pregnant at this stage, and had only recently recovered from dengue fever). I’m not sure what happened exactly, except that when the dust settled, I had been picked up by mum, and was no longer holding the knife or the toaster or the toast. OH GOD DAMN IT: She had done that mum-Vishnu thing where she magically grew extra hands in a moment of chaos: she’d picked me up with one hand, grabbed the knife with the other, knocked the toaster out of the way with another (but not before retrieving the toast with yet another), and probably safely buttered the toast and added Vegemite and given it to my sister with a couple of others.

“Christopher, you must never, EVER put metal into a toaster!” she gasped between worried breaths.
“But that’s how I ALWAYS get toast out!” said my mouth, ignoring my brain’s message to SHUT UP SHUT UP.

Back and forth we went for a while, mum repeating that it was a thing you should never, ever do while I countered that it was a thing I had always, always done and couldn’t understand where this sudden from-nowhere danger was.

Afraid that I would immediately return to going full Julius Caesar on my toast the minute her back was turned, mum made a tactical manoeuvre. She went dark.

“Do you know what happens when people get electrocuted?” she asked quietly. Of course I had, I’d seen TV! They leap off the ground and electricity zaps all over them and their skeletons are visible and little bits of lightning shoot out and afterwards their hair is all sticky-outy and smoke comes off them.

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“No, that’s just in cartoons. Real electrocution doesn’t look like that at all. The real thing is much nastier.”
“What does it look like?”
“I don’t know if I should describe it.”
“Why?”
“It’s terrible.”
“Why?”
“I don’t want to give you nightmares.” The trap was set.
“TELL ME!”

What followed was the most gruesome description of death I’d ever heard. Eyeballs melting, skin bubbling, fingers exploding, hair catching fire, organs turning to goo, clothes fusing to skin bubbles, teeth cracking, blood evaporating, pooing in your pants, and so on. I’m surprised I didn’t barf on the spot.

“…and there’s no zapping sound like on TV, it’s totally silent. Mummy wouldn’t even know it was happening until she came into the kitchen and found what was left of you.”

I was boxed in. She had combined my two most annoying childhood traits: unflinching curiosity and chronic fear of physical discomfort, and as a result there was no way I was going to put anything into a toaster ever again.

Not even a wooden implement.

Not even a rubber implement.

Not even bread.

It was at least a year before I had anything other than cereal for breakfast.

13) 1990. 175 Miles Street, Mount Isa QLD 4825

The return to Mount Isa was a sweet, joyous relief; only slightly offset by the fact that it was still just Mount Isa.

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Dustbowl, sweet dustbowl.

Full disclosure: I don’t really have a story for this address in this time period. The main reason for this is I don’t really have a  memory of this time period. Most of the first half of 1990 is kind of…fuzzy. I think the reason for this is that the time I spent in Bamaga, Yorke Island and Thursday Island occupied a great deal of space in the spectrum between “stressful” and “traumatising”, and the wash of relief of leaving and coming back to familiarity (and indoor plumbing, and medical care, and Kentucky Fried Chicken) completely overloaded my brain circuits.

In fact, all the stuff in the previous story about Lauren going into hospital with impetigo, and mum going into hospital as well with dengue fever/a foetus? I didn’t remember any of that. I mean, I remember the foetus, kind of, because I now have a 24-year-old brother. But all that information came from mum, while I stared at her like this:

I am very Glenn Closey when I’m flabbergasted.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t have an excuse: I had very recently learnt a new language, survived multiple ant attacks (and one shark ride), busted my face open, gotten scurvy and been molested, so it’s entirely understandable that my brain’s RAM was spread a bit thin. Hell, my MacBook shits itself if I try to run iTunes and Chrome at the same time, and there are hardly any ants in my MacBook at all.

SO, considering the circumstances, I’m giving myself a mulligan on this address. I did find out where we were staying: it was in my grandparents’ house; they were staying with my great-grandparents, because my “Nin” (great-grandmother) had had a stroke. The house was nicknamed The Grubbery (for fairly straightforward reasons: when they bought it, it was a dump – see picture), and we were there for a month or so.

Here’s everything I remember myself. Don’t say I didn’t at least try:

-This would be the first time (but not the last time) that I would return to a street I had previously lived on. This is partly because Mount Isa doesn’t have that many streets to choose from, and partly because with our rate of movement it was bound to happen eventually.

-I was at Happy Valley State School (again), in a composite class of year 4/5 students. Mr Sharp had gone! 😦

-We had two excellent teachers, however: both women, who would split us up into our individual grades when required (there was an accordion door in the middle of the room they would use to make the giant classroom two small classrooms), but for the most part we were all taught together, and they would teach as a comedic duo.

-The two teachers seemed like they were BFFs, and I loved them. My brain tries to tell me that one of them was named Ms Lawrence, and the other one’s first name was Jennifer, but then again I could have just read an article about The Hunger Games and be confusing myself.

– I had a white digital watch. I think it was a promotional watch from a video rental store.

– I was so in the habit of speaking Pidgin, it took ages to train my brain to stick with English. Mere months after the “Who’s on First?” routine I endured in Bamaga, I would go through it all over again, this time in the other role. It remained as unfunny as the first time.

– I had a ridiculous haircut. Though, having said that, this is technically true of every address I’ve ever had, up to and including the one I’m in right now. So that’s less of an impressive memory gem, and more of an educated guess.

– Since leaving Mount Isa, television licensing had changed, so the one local station that had been “ITQ” was now called “Ten” (a rural version of the “Ten” from the capital cities; now known as “Southern Cross Ten”). The advertising campaign had a jingle that went something like “T-E-N…that’s en-ter-tain-ment!” I thought it was glossy and shiny and metropolitan and everything I aspired to be. I sang it non-stop, and occasionally still do. This is a version of it, and yes part of the “rap” in the middle (performed, or at least mimed by, Bruce Samazan) does include the lyrics “Neighbours, E-Street, L.A. Law! Doogie Howser, lots lots more!

You can totally sing along to it. I dare you.

6) 1989. Miles Street, Mount Isa QLD 4825

Miles Street was a definite elevation in status for snobby eight-year-old me. It was a two-storey apartment (not a flat; an apartment) with an internal staircase. Up until that point I had never seen an internal staircase in real life. I had seen plenty on the outside of homes; Queenslander houses have massive ones. But indoors?

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Also pictured, some dude hoping to be captured by the Google Street View cameras, but who got more than he ever bargained for: a starring role on this website. CONGRATULATIONS DUDE, YOU ARE NOW FAMOUS TO LIKE TWENTY WHOLE PEOPLE.

Finally, I was one stop closer to living my dream of being a member of the Huxtable family. All I needed was a swinging door to the kitchen, a giant coat rack, and a door that opened up directly onto the street. And yes, they were the only differences I could perceive between me and the Huxtables.

The-Huxtables

Mum even had Claire’s hairstyle (and earrings). I’d be Theo, Lauren would be Rudy, and Cliff, Sondra, Denise and Vanessa would be…uh, imaginary.

Admittedly, the internal staircase wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t a solid staircase that curved 90 degrees at the bottom. It was a straight staircase up against a wall and you could see between each step; it was designed more like an outdoor staircase. Still, it was a step (yuk yuk) in the right direction. Even those of us destined to be Huxtables had to take our lumps; and at least here no one stole our sandwiches.

In the apartment next door to us lived a lovely old couple. At least, I assumed they were lovely. I assumed because, thus far, old people had always been lovely to me. But then, everyone was lovely to me. At this stage in my life, I’d been loved by all adults: relatives, teachers, mum’s friends; and kids our age hadn’t yet learn that cruelty that kids are known for, so I’d never actually experienced unpopularity of any kind. I was an adorable child, and I was adored.

But all that changed with the couple next door; who, for the sake of ameliorating my bitterness, we shall call Mr and Mrs Fuckshit.

One day I was playing on my back fence and I saw Mr Fuckshit walk out into his backyard. I called out “HEY MR FUCKSHIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” in my friendly, adorable child-like manner.

NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, YOU BAD-MANNERED LITTLE BUGGER” he barked back.

Well, I never.

And this wasn’t a one-off. This old couple only ever spoke to me in that tone. Whether screeching at me to stop swinging from the clothesline (which, okay, I wasn’t allowed to do it—mum would have yelled at me too—but it wasn’t their clothesline), or muttering loudly enough for me to hear about “that bloody kid next door”, they were constantly unpleasant, to the point where I started to think maybe the horrible adults in Roald Dahl’s novels were based on real people.

"The Fuckshits" was Dahl's working title.

Accurate likeness.

The Fuckshits next door were responsible for me feeling something I’d never felt before: resentment towards an adult. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. So eager was I to please my elders and follow every rule ever given ever that it had never once occurred to me to be angry or upset with someone taller than me. They unlocked something dark and vile within me. It was because of what they unleashed that I became so full of pain and anguish that I ran away from home.

I didn’t pack. I didn’t leave a note. I just walked out the front door and kept going, never to look back. I don’t know how long I walked for, or how long the police were looking for me, or how many tears my mum shed over my absence. All I know is that by the time I finally looked up to see where I was, I’d made it all the way to here:

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NOTE: “Cheering Bystanders” is an artist’s impression only.

Feeling like my family had learnt their lesson, I made the journey home again. Mum, ever the diplomatic one, bravely pretended like she hadn’t even noticed I’d gone. But I knew. I KNEW.

As for the Fuckshits: I don’t remember their real name, or even what they looked like, so they can’t have left too strong an imprint on my psyche. But they were my first memory of having someone actively dislike me for, as far as I could see, no apparent reason. The concept was, and remains, distressing. Not least of all because it would look bad on my application to become a Huxtable.

5) 1989. Marian Street, Mount Isa QLD 4825

Mum and Aaron split up, and so mum, Lauren and I moved into a flat in Marian Street. Marian Street was located on the far side of town, and it was a side I was not too familiar with. (In hindsight, Mount Isa is not that big, and referring to “sides of town” in Mount Isa in the 1980s is a bit of a stretch, but I was still a very small child. Runty, even. So even a 2.6 horse town like Mount Isa seemed massive, if McDonaldsless.)

The apartment was a small, odd box of a thing. Painted brick inside and out, with big metal gates in front, it kind of resembled a vaguely pleasant amenities block. I don’t remember having any strong feelings against it at the time, but when I picture it in my head now, I can’t see how it could have been anything other than sad and boxy.

Marian

Sad Weird Box, Sweet Sad Weird Box

Good thing, then, that we didn’t stay there too long. We were gone within a few months.

Now, it might seem like we were being too picky. Too fussy. So it was a little small. So what? So it was a little boxy. Big deal! So it was on the “other side of town”. Who cares? You take the good, you take the bad, etc. Why not just settle down and make the most of it?

Well, because, we kept getting broken into.

Home invasion is a frightening concept. Strangers in your home: your private space, your sanctuary. How can you feel safe when you know that people­—uninvited, unwelcome people—have been inside your home while you’re not there? They could have stolen your valuables, or broken your belongings, or manhandled your most personal possessions, or say, made themselves a sandwich.

Yes, on more than one occasion, we would come home to find the bread bag half opened, a chopping board and breadknife on the counter, and the peanut butter sitting on the bench. Someone had made a peanut butter sandwich.

Now I realise the leap to “home invasion” is a stretch: Occam’s Razor suggests one of the people living in the house was responsible for leaving the mess. The thing is, nobody in our house made peanut butter sandwiches: Mum was on this crazy health-kick (every morning for breakfast, she’d have Just Right cereal with orange juice instead of milk—I thought she’d lost her mind); my sister was barely a toddler (the only meals she prepared for herself at that age were dead moth bodies she found in window sills); and, as the memory of horse ownership does NOT fade fast, I was still very much a giant snob and wouldn’t touch a peanut butter sandwich with a ten foot pole. I’d eat ham sandwiches or tomato sandwiches or tuna sandwiches, but a common SPREAD? Out of a JAR? Like some kind of ANIMAL? I would assume you were trying to poison me.

(In my defense, this commercial of the era definitely deserves to shoulder some of the blame. Gross.)

So if nobody in our house, then who? The peckish burglars turned out to be the people in the flat next door. They would break into our house, make a sandwich, and go back home. It was like finding out a stray neighbourhood cat was pilfering your own cat’s food, except nothing like that at all because PEOPLE WERE BREAKING INTO OUR HOUSE TO FIX SNACKS.

Ugh, that better not be multigrain…

What do you do when your (frequent) burglars are also your neighbours? Do you call the police? Confront them angrily? Set booby traps? Question the choices you’ve made in your life that have led to actual burglars in your actual house assessing peanut butter as being the most valuable thing in your home?

We did none of these things. Despite being fourth-generation Australians, we suddenly become very, very British, and acted like nothing at all was happening. For however many weeks between the first discovery of the opening of the Marian Street Snack Station and us finding a better place to live (preferably with a combination-lock pantry), we simply denied the existence of the frequent burglaries. We literally did NOTHING.

Well, that’s not entirely true: mum did start buying larger jars of peanut butter.

4) 1988. 38 Erap Street, Mount Isa QLD 4825

If Ruby Street was a taste of tranquil, middle-class suburban living, Erap Street in Soldiers Hill was a whole main course (even if it did lend itself a little too easily to being called “Crap Street”). Mum and my stepdad Aaron bought the house. BOUGHT. This would be the first and last time in my life that I would experience being in a family that owns property.

Erap

I do not remember it being that green. It actually looks quite lovely and welcoming. Ugh, why did we ever leave here? Oh, right, shitty divorce.

We had a red cattle dog called Rosie (because roses are red, and violets are blue, and before you ask actually yes, we also had a Violet: my grandparents’ blue heeler), an aviary with several budgerigars, and some guinea pigs, which fed on the scraps from the vegetable garden. No child-attacking cacti in this backyard, we grew actual sustenance. Like, lettuce and shit. I was given a BMX bike, and between the house and the pets and the vegetables and the bicycling, we were a picture perfect nuclear family.

By the time we would move out, Mum and Aaron would be going through a spectacularly unpleasant divorce, but for a time it was positively Family Ties-y.

What a lovely little family. Why does that boy have a mullet. What's happening with that moustache. Oh it's 1988.

The cohesive family unit, before the cracks started to show. (Surely my mullet was an omen of impending darkness, though.)

It was so idyllic, in fact, that I could barely think of a story to tell about this address. But then I remembered the time I was nearly kidnapped.

As I was now in grade three, I very bravely walked myself to and from Barkly Highway State School every day. It was a twenty minute walk, but it was practically a straight line: head straight down Urquhart, turn right onto Bougainville, boom! You’re there. (On the off chance you ever find yourself living in Erap Street and needing to get to Barkly Highway State School, you’re welcome).

So there I was, walking my little self to school one day, when a Land Rover pulled over to the side of the road next to me. The woman driving the car leaned over, opened the passenger side door and said “hey little boy, would you like a lift to school?”

Now, to say my mum had a bee in her bonnet about Stranger Danger is a massive understatement: that woman has an entire swarm of bees in her bonnet, and the bonnet itself is made of wasps. I was taught, under no circumstances, should I ever, ever, ever, ever get into a car with someone I didn’t know. In fact, even if I did know the person, mum always said she would never authorize anyone to pick me up without telling me herself with her own mouthwords.

She also warned me that she may, one day, test me. She might actually organize for someone to come along and offer me a ride just to see how I would respond. Knowing this, and fearing mum’s wrath way more than I feared being snatched by some kid-murderer, I said “NO THANK YOU. I DON’T TAKE RIDES FROM STRANGERS.”

“It’s okay,” the woman answered, “your mum said to tell you it’s okay. And I have kids going to your school too!”

Nice try, lady. My mum had in fact told me specifically that if anyone ever said “your mum says it’s okay”, that they would be lying because she would NEVER tell anyone to tell me that. NEVER EVER. She would, if she absolutely had to, give me a secret codeword. So now I knew it wasn’t legit, and I scooched a little further away from the vehicle.

“NO THANK YOU.” I said, and kept walking.

“Oh, alright” said the woman, as she swung the passenger door shut and drove off, closing the chapter on what remains the laziest, most half-assed kidnapping attempt in the history of kidnapping.

I think one of the reasons mum was so strict on the Stranger Danger rules is because she knew what an easy sell I’d be. Truth be known, I really wanted to get in that car. The seats of the Land Rover were high and comfy looking, and it was a long walk to school, and I was really tired. Had she offered me any candy I would have been in there like a shot.

When I told mum about the incident, she was so, so proud of me, and SO MAD AT THE WOMAN. Her level of freaked-out-ness led me to the conclusion that it had not been a test after all. She was furious. I suspect, had she had access to a cape or mask or some kind, she would have gone full vigilante and spent her nights prowling the rooftops of Mount Isa, looking for that Land Rover. Except Mount Isa didn’t have any tall buildings: she would have looked ridiculous in a batsuit, perched atop the spinning Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket.