Australia and Me would be an awesome title to a book if I ever get around to writing it. We moved to Australia when I was 13. I’m two degrees from being a gypsy. My parents were gypsies, so it must be genetic. I’d be able to prove this, if my genes didn’t keep packing up their crap and moving. Plus, genes have tiny wrists and slip right out of them.
In the 1960’s, Australia was searching for people to move to their country and be productive citizens. There was a flood of immigration to the US in the 80’s, but rarely do countries invite strangers to their shores.
My father took Australia up on its offer to become a modern pioneer, settle in the outback, and become a blooming citizen. He had retired from the Air Force, earned his helicopter pilot’s license, and flew small aircraft. He and a partner were going to start a crop dusting business.
It fell to my mother to hold down the fort at home with four kids, and after two years of uninterrupted single motherhood, she packed us all up, we boarded a Quantas flight, and flew off to New South Wales.
There, after a suitable interval of getting to know Dad again, we set out for Kununurra, a tiny town in the outback of Western Australia that looked just like the town where Crocodile Dundee lived when he wasn’t wrestling crocodiles.
Crocodiles were as elusive around Kununurra as the black sambas were in Africa during layovers with Pan Am. Cougars in northern California were scarce during the two years my son and I lived there, and so was the black bear in Colorado where I lived for two years, and went hiking with my infant son in a pack on my back.
I never wanted to see any of them, but hearing stories and being warned about them tended to put a damper on my enthusiasm for the outdoors. My subconscious is making up for it now; every now and then I’ll have a horrendous dream about wild animals, dreams where even fish are featured.
My father saw crocs; saltwater crocodiles that were in excess of thirty feet long. He also brought us fire opals of all sizes; they were abundant in the outback, and could be scooped up like any other stone.
In Kununurra we lived in a small house that was set off the ground on pilings, as protection from floods. The streets were hard-packed dirt and not paved with gold.
The buildings looked as if they had been lifted straight off a Universal set. There appeared to be a population of just three people, two of them men, eying my sister and me rather hungrily. I was just fourteen, and was never approached by any man while there, and I can only think it must have been my father who was setting those female-starved men straight.
On the other hand, puberty was not very kind to me, and might have offered me natural protection from predators. I discovered later that the population of Kununurra was actually about 700, and included women and girls.
It was a perfect playground for barefoot boys and girls. There wasn’t any traffic, few roads, and a stranger would be noticed within minutes. There were other kids there; all of them Australian, settling with their parents in the outback on ranches and farms.
It was their fields my father had come to spray. We explored without restriction, and never ran into trouble. I do remember climbing a mountain, and being too afraid to climb down.
I still have that problem, come to think of it. I have no problems climbing high, I am just fearful about getting down. By dint of scooting on my butt, I can make it back from anywhere.
School was non-existent in Kununurra; kids took correspondence courses. We would be on our way back to New South Wales before it became necessary for us to start school.
Moving to New South Wales, the equivalent of moving across the United States, but still closer to my dad than when we were in the States, was my mother’s doing. She didn’t relish using a wringer washer, or living in a primitive house with four kids underfoot, who would need to go to school via correspondence course.
Grocery stores in Kununurra numbered all of one, with no fresh food available, unless it was flown in. By the time things such as cake mix appeared on the shelf, they were full of insects. Freshly butchered meat was the main meal for everyone.
My first paying job was working for my dad. He hired my brother and me to count out steps at the borders of the crops and wave a flag so he could fly over and spray pesticide. Long before it was fashionable, my brother and I were being sprayed with something similar to DDT before it was fashionable to do that. My father didn’t deliberately spray us, but we were subject to blow over, when he passed over a strip of field, dropped the load, and then swooped over us.
My steps never matched my brother’s, and we were always off a little bit. I know it bugged my dad. I still like the smell of fields being sprayed, though, just as I love the smell of jet exhaust.
(What I thought was DDT was actually parathion, a potent insecticide that was probably safer than DDT, but still not something you want to spray on children in whom you are sinking a lot of money.)
I don’t remember seeing any kangaroos except in the petting zoo in Sydney, of all places, but my dad did bring me a dingo puppy after a drive he and my brother had taken outside town. The pup had already been weaned, but it’s mother was dead, or gone.
Having been weaned already, the puppy was a lost cause for nurturing and domestication, but I didn’t know that. All I saw was a puppy. He was that beautiful caramel color common to wild dogs, and he was small. Wild dogs don’t get very large.
I kept him by my side for a couple of weeks, I was the only one he would go near. I smelled so bad after two weeks of his company, that may have been the reason I was left alone by adult human males. There can’t be a better equivalent to a chastity belt than smelling like a wild dog. All the bathing in the world won’t get the wild smell off of a wild creature.
My dingo baby finally ran away, never to be seen again. I would not have been allowed to take him with me, no doubt, so it worked out best for him and me.