Living in History
I lay in bed and gazed up at the ceiling. Wish I hadn’t. A hessian sheet hung above me, pinned to the four corners of the room and sagging in the middle. It appeared the sand from the Central desert had worked its way into the sheet, threatening to burst all over me. How long before the sheet would no longer be able to contain its weight? I sat up and swung my feet to the floor. A cockroach scuttled under the wardrobe made of oak. I shuddered. Better sand fall on me than cockroaches.
I grabbed my towel and toiletry bag, then padded out my room and down the dark hallway to the bathroom. There I gazed around the small room, sealed with green and white tiles, some broken. In the 1950’s wash basin, waist-high and looking like an enamel pastel-green pulpit, a line of rust coursed from the faucet to the drain. The matching bath suffered a permanent rusty-brown ring, a reminder of how full to fill the tub. I scanned around the room and above the bath. No shower—not even a rusty one.
I heard a knock at the door. ‘Lee-Anne, are you in there?’
‘Yes, Dad,’ I replied. ‘Where’s the shower?’
Dad opened the door and poked his head through. He screwed up his nose and swiveled his head left, right, up and down. ‘Oh, no shower. I guess you’ll have to have a bath.’
‘Hurry, though, we’re off to see Mr. C and his school.’
‘Oh.’ Last year Mr. C was my mathematics teacher.Then, in 1977, he’d taken up a position teaching the Arunta children in their camps near Hermannsburg.
I turned on the tap. Water dribbled into the bath, brown and making the pipes groan. I gazed at the tea-coloured brew pooling at the base of the tub. I like baths, normally. Not sure about this one.
‘Don’t fill it too full,’ Dad said.
‘No, Dad.’ No danger of that happening. The bath looked like it’d take an eternity to cover even to the depth of an inch.
‘Don’t take too long,’ Dad added.
I reached in and tested the water. Cold. I then placed my fingers under the dribble from the tap. Cold. Great! Not much water and it’s cold. Yep, I’ll have a quick wash.
I stopped the dismal flow and rushed through the motions of washing. After raking dry shampoo through my limp strands of hair, I bunched them into pig-tails and returned to my room to change.
Then I walked into the kitchen. Light through the louvers reflected dust motes drifting through the air.
Dad looked up from his bowl of porridge. ‘Oh, you’re finished already?’
I helped myself to the saucepan of porridge on the ancient stove. The cooker squatted there in the corner, brass fittings attached to afford gas to the rings on top. And lime green. I could see Hermannsburg had a theme going—shades of green. Except the table, washed with the thin coat of white paint. Perhaps it was green once, at the turn of the century.
As if taking advantage of my abbreviated bathroom visit, Dad took his sweet time. So, while we waited, Richard and I played cards, on the kitchen table.
‘Mr. B and Matt are taking their time,’ I said gathering up the cards.
‘They’re sleeping in,’ Richard laughed. ‘I think Mr. B’s exhausted.’
‘He didn’t know what he was getting himself into coming on this trip.’
Richard snorted. ‘Bet he’s never been camping in his life.’
‘No, all motels and luxury for him, I reckon.’
Dad stood behind us and coughed. ‘What are you talking about?’
We turned and widening our eyes to feign innocence, my brother and I chorused, ‘Nothing.’
‘I hope so.’ Dad cleared his throat again. ‘Now, come on, Mr. C’ll be here soon.’
‘Can I see Mummy’s house? Did we get permission?’
‘Er, um, later. Mr. C’s waiting. We’re late,’ Dad said and then strode out the door; the green door.
Richard and I followed.
‘We know whose fault it is we’re late,’ Richard muttered as we followed Dad out the historic hospital to meet Mr. C.
Speaking of time and schedules, when we arrived back at Hermannsburg from visiting the camp school, the B father and son had only just got out of bed. The pair had adjusted well to the Centre’s ways, basking in the unstructured time to relax in the heat of the middle of the day.
Over lunch, bad news, Mum’s house, not available; it’s a wreck, not safe to enter. Can’t be much worse than the place they’ve given us to stay in, I thought.
‘Can I get a photo of me in front of mum’s house?’ I asked.
Dad hummed and hawed. ‘I s’pose so.’
I reached for my camera.
‘No, not now,’ Dad said. ‘Tomorrow morning. I’m busy right now.’
After lunch, while the fathers lazed in the missionary’s lounge room talking to our Hermannsburg hosts, and Richard napped, Matt and I sauntered out into the common area and sat under a tree on the sand, near my Mum’s old home. If I couldn’t go into the house, I would sit near it. I was determined.
Matt pulled a small cloth bag from his pocket. ‘Knuckle bones?’
‘Yeah, why not,’ I said while wishing I could go into my mum’s old home. I pointed at the house, and told Matt, ‘I’m holding Dad to his promise. He’s going to take a photo of me in front of mum’s house.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Yours Truly in front of Mum’s Old Home © C.D. Trudinger 1977