In the early 60’s my parents packed up my brothers, sister, our numerous menagerie and me and relocated us from the sleepy country town of Pyramid Hill, Victoria, to the bustling metropolis of Launceston, Tasmania. I don’t think my five-year old brain was able to conceive the concept of moving house, and from that innocence came no sad farewells. In my brain we were going on an extended holiday, this was exciting stuff.
After waiting hours in a long line of cars driven by frustrated, cursing drivers, Dad finally drove our over-stuffed vehicle onto the massive hull of the MS Princess of Tasmania. Mum seemed nervously devoid of any form of verbal ability – I found out later that this was due to her fear of water – she couldn’t swim and still can’t to this day.
It was a hell of a voyage – the six of us spent almost the entire time in our cabins throwing up. My Dad always thought of himself as a sea-faring gentleman but it was definitely my dear mother who between her own vomiting episodes managed to get to ‘the kids cabin,’ to hand out large doses of sea-sickness tablets, albeit a little too late. My father was nowhere to be seen. In my nauseated state I had imagined he was probably helping the captain steer the ship or navigate her around some tricky island, but no, he was in the ‘parent’s cabin’ vomiting profusely.
I remember being worried about our pets, so at one stage Dad managed to bravely chaperone me outside to get some fresh air, away from the stench of our soured cabin. We swayed in unison next to our animals that sat in cages, strapped together on one of the outside decks. The dogs even looked green around the gills, and the cat was pissed off. During the entire crossing our feline been forced to listen to the sound of our hyperactive attention-deficit-afflicted canary carrying on relentless conversations with himself in the cage above her. A few minutes were all that my Dad and I could take – even the free breakfast smorgasbord was a no-show on that windy day. If you’ve experienced that Bass Straight crossing I’m sure you can appreciate what it’s like in rough seas. It ain’t pretty… let’s just leave it at that.
Our apartment wasn’t ready when we arrived in Launceston, so we set up house in a small flat located somewhere at the General Hospital where my father was to be employed as a surgeon. I have no recollection of this place at all, nothing, but apparently due to mother’s insistence we hastily moved into the much-anticipated apartment that was, to my mother’s horror ‘filthy – just filthy.’ She spent her days ‘tut-tutting’ under her breath as the rest of us chocked on bleach fumes and the aroma of coal that I distinctly remember wafted over the city.
My father’s family lived in Hobart and during the long drive to visit them I’d eagerly watch out for the disappearing house at Conara and the animal topiaries on the side of the road somewhere near Oatlands. But once we hit the water I knew we were close to the highly fashionable big city. From then on I’d beg my parents to take me to the Cat and Fiddle Arcade. Many hours I’ve spent with Mum sitting patiently beside me, smoking a Peter Stuyvesant through coral painted lips, while I waited anxiously for the clock to strike and the cow to jump over the moon. Pure joy.
In my teen years my interest shifted – visits to Hobart were often tied to playing in bands within smoky, dimly lit pubs while a highly inebriated audience screamed out the lyrics to our version of JJ Cale’s, ‘Cocaine.’ Meanwhile, in a quiet little arcade an aging cow tirelessly jumped over a waning moon…