Lazy Luddite Log


Wild Child

I would never be considered a 'wild child' in the sense of someone who is wayward and risk-taking. Much of my play happened at home. And yet I look back on my childhood actions and some of them fit the description. My environment was a big part of it. I was a child in the 70s and 80s. I lived close to some remnant bush and vacant land along the Yarraman Creek. In this post I will recall some of the wilder thing we local kids did and the 'urban wilderness' in which we did it.

* The walking tracks back then were all naturally occurring - formed by the action of local walkers rather than by council planning. They criss-crossed the remnant bushland between creek and back-streets. Some of them were modified by kids to include speed humps for BMX bike jumping. Of particular interest to me was a billabong left behind by a former course of the creek. It fluctuated between wet and dry but in whatever condition felt alive. It definitely harboured frogs and sometimes I imagined a bunyip lurking in its muddy reeds. It is still there today.

* Only some of the open ground flanking the winding creek was fenced horse paddock. The rest was just vacant and while it may have belonged to the water utility it felt like it belonged to nobody. We navigated long grasses and bumpy ground to find the detritus of suburban neglect. There was a patch of debris that looked like it had once been parts of a shed or other structure. I suspect there was asbestos in those fibrous fragments we idly handled. Another exciting discovery was a burned-out car with blackberry bushes growing to fill it.

* That car reminds me of an incident in which a handful of we children were on the sports oval overlooking this vacant land. Parked outside the local scout hall was a panel van and we instinctively hid from it atop the scrubby embankment. Some graffiti on the scout hall bricks seemed to advertise the risk we imagined manifest in that suspect vehicle - 'sex and drugs and rock-and-roll' it declared.

* One of the more stupid things we did was gather in gangs during Summer and scour the steep creek banks for the annual appearance of a European wasp nest. Once we located it we then destroyed it. I say 'we' but I always held well back from the front-lines and confined my activity to throwing sticks and clay-clumps at the despised enemy. Other kids did far more than that. One got several stings but never seemed to mind in his berserk state. Kids are crazy. It was satisfying however to see the inner sanctum of the wasps tumbling into the creek.

* Possibly the last stupid thing I did around the creek was to follow its course underground. Lukas and I went to the tunnel it traversed under Dandenong Road and decided to go from one end to the other. It was Summer so the water flow was a mere runnel and the sky had been free of clouds. Walking was awkward in a cylindrical passage with feet placed either side of the water. We got to the other side just fine. Decades later it partly inspired a short story.

We got to do a few risky things. There were limits on the ability of my parents to monitor everything we did. Dad worked long hours (besides which his was a relatively relaxed brand of parenting). Mum was at home but was never a driver despite her desire to hover over us more. And the closest phone was back home. I'm happy I did all that and survived. Whether I would recommend it to others is a discussion for another time.