On my last day before leaving for Papua New Guinea, the girls at school gave me a present.
It was a shoebox that had pictures of models from glossy magazines cut out and pasted all over it. On a nest of tissue paper inside were lots different make-up things. It must have cost a fortune.
I felt like an imposter, receiving a gift like that. The other girls looked mature and sophisticated when they put on make-up; I just looked like a clown. I liked Pot o'Gloss though, because it tasted like delicious sweet berries. It was usually gone from my lips in about three minutes because that's about how long it took me to lick it all off.
In any event, I never ever used any of it because I would have felt totally out of place wearing make-up in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
It only dawned on me years later that this lavish present had not been bought but that in reality, light fingers must have pocketed the items from department store shelves.
In my second year of high school, I felt like I was beginning to fit in. My friends still teased me about my very uncool pigtails hairstyle, but still, we did stuff together on weekends and during the summer holidays, and we talked about which songs and which bands were groovy, and we made ourselves look glamorous with Mary Quant eyeshadow and Yardley Pot o'Gloss on our lips.
When we went back to school after the Christmas holidays, our science teacher handed out text books for the new school year. I told her that I didn't need any because I was going to Papua New Guinea the next week. The teacher laughed and told me not to make up stories. The other kids told her I was telling the truth. She looked dumbfounded because she had never heard of anyone going to Papua New Guinea before.
I was looking forward to this new adventure, but I at the same time, I sort of realised that the fleeting moment of those few months with the cool girls had just slipped through my fingers.
When I started high school, I saw how important it was too be cool, only I wasn't very good at it.
Most of my friends knew how to be cool and often on weekends, we went to the beach with a transistor radio and we stretched out on our towels in our bikinis, and talked about the surfy boys. Only I didn't know what to say about the surfy boys so I just stayed quiet and listened. My bikini was a hand-me-down from one of my friends.
On school days, we all sat in a row on the concrete outside the classroom in our lunch breaks. Our legs were stretched out in the sun and we smothered them in cocoa butter. It was cool to have very brown legs. That was the only cool thing I was good at.
A week of spasmodic posts at best. I may have bitten off more than I could chew.
I realise now that it would have been better to do the "challenge" as two separate 30 day projects with a gap in between, because at the moment, I am a bit exhausted.
One more story will be posted a little later today, and then I will take a couple of days to write and draw new material. I will be back online in a few days, hopefully refreshed, to continue the 60 days.
Our school got a new librarian in February. Her name was Mrs Milton and she was very old fashioned and very proper and she looked strict. But she turned out to be very different from how she looked.
Each week Mrs Milton helped everyone in our class to find just the books she knew they would love. Thanks to her, I became a veritable book worm and I started going to the library about three times a week. Mrs Milton also read unusual books out loud to us in the library lesson.
But on Mrs Milton's first day at our school, we all laughed at her mercilessly. It had been a very hot day but in the afternoon, dark clouds filled the sky. Just as the bell for the end of the school day rang, the clouds burst. Amidst thunder and lightning, and pouring rain, all the students were pouring out of the classrooms to go home.
Mrs Milton stood on the steps of the library, watching the children streaming out of the school gates, with tears rolling down her face.
"The poor poor children! They're getting drenched to the bone. They'll all catch pneumonia!" she cried.
We all laughed at her because we thought she was stupid to think that a little bit of rain would bother us. But when we got to know her better, none of us ever laughed at her again, even if she did think we were all just delicate little flowers, because we realised that she was the most delicate little flower of all.
We never went to restaurants. We didn't have enough money and anyway, if there was any extra money, it was better to save it for travel adventures or to buy worthwhile things we needed for the house.
A few times when we did the bus trip to do the weekly grocery shopping, my mother would buy us a finger bun as a treat. That made helping to carry the bags of groceries from the bus stop to our house a little easier. And in summer, my mother sometimes bought us an icecream when we went to the beach. Also there were times when we bought fish and chips, which was a rare treat.
But that was as far as "eating out" went in our family.
And so, when we drove into Dubbo on our way home from one particular camping holiday out in the far west, I could not believe my eyes when my father pulled the car into a parking spot outside the local Chinese restaurant with exotic signage on the glass shop front and lace curtains. My parents told us they were going to order take-away Chinese food for our dinner. I didn't think they even knew how to order food in a restaurant.
But it turned out that they did know, because out they came 15 minutes later with take-away Chinese food for us all. We took it to the park in the centre of Dubbo and ate our exotic meal by the banks of the Macquarie River. We feasted on such delights as spring rolls, fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and some sort of dish with very fine noodles. Dubbo became the international culinary pinnacle of my universe.
Chinese restaurants in country towns still always remind me of my 'introduction to world cuisine' and even though it is a long time since I have been there, I have a soft spot for Dubbo. But I still don't know what prompted my parents to buy Chinese take-away that day.
On one camping trip in the arid far west of New South Wales, we went for a walk on a very hot day. The dishes had been washed after a long, slow breakfast and my parents decided that it would do us all good to stretch our legs.
We had walked for about half an hour through scrub and hummock grasses and were now approaching a stand of mallee trees. Suddenly we heard a strange drumming sound that was so powerful that the earth seemed to vibrate. With no clue what it was, we were all a bit tense but curiosity got the better of us. Very silently and very carefully we continued on towards the trees.
All at once, the noise stopped and the silence was almost as eery as the drumming sound. Still we walked on toward the trees. What we saw in the grasslands beyond mallee trees, just a bit over a hundred metres away, took my breath away.
The drumming sound had been a mob of more than a hundred kangaroos bounding across the grasslands. And now the silence was the kangaroos at rest. Camouflaged in the shade of the trees, we stood and watched this rare sight for a while before we began our walk back to camp.
I have never seen anything like that again. And I don't think I will ever hear anything like that again.
Each day at work, my father was surrounded by people. So in the holidays, he just wanted to get away from people. And explore the Australian countryside.
While most of my classmates had seaside holidays, my family preferred to head for the desert for the holidays.
While we were at school on the last day of term, my mother busily packed everything we would need for two weeks away from civilisation: sleeping bags, tent, camping cooker, cooking utensils, lots of water, food supplies, cameras, torches and matches. Each of us kids packed our own small bag of clothes and a few toys, books and paints.
The next day, we would be on the road before sunrise. We headed out of Sydney and drove and drove and drove. Many of the roads and even highways were still unsealed then. Gravelly, dusty and pot-holed. If a car or truck came in the opposite direction, we would spend the next few minutes choking on red dust.
It would be close to sunset, after a full day of driving, that we would look for a suitable remote spot to make our camp. The holidays that were the most fun were the ones where we camped near a river. My mother and father worked quickly to get the tent pitched before sunset.
In our own world away from it all, we saw kangaroos, emus, goannas, snakes, galahs and also rabbits and foxes. Some days we went on long bushwalks; other days we stayed at the camp and relaxed by reading or painting. My brother and I scraped elaborate roads into the red dirt to play with our matchbox cars. We also built towns with houses out of sticks and leaves because the roads had to go somewhere. This game could consume days.
The nights were filled with strange bush sounds and all around it was incredibly black but up above there were just millions of stars. And always a shooting star.
Until she was about three, she had almost no hair at all but then when it did grow, it became a wild mop of curls.
When her curls grew, my baby sister became obsessed with her clothing. She usually had at least three complete changes of clothes during the day. I'm not sure why. When we came home from school, my mother would tell us how many times my sister had changed her outfit that day.
She was also obsessed with bandaids. She loved to plaster them all over herself and could very easily 'require' twenty in a day. The weekly shopping list had to include a sufficient supply of bandaids.
I'm not sure whether she outgrew the bandaid obsession, or whether the weekly shopping was just no longer able to accommodate it.
After a few years of working hard, my parents were able to get a bank loan to buy our own home: a little cottage on the northern beaches.
Not only a house. They bought a boat too. It was a 12 foot tinnie with a 6 horsepower outboard motor. For the next few years, we spent most summer Sundays boating on Pittwater, exploring secluded little bays and having picnics on tiny little beaches that we had all to ourselves.
Once in a while, an irresistible urge to flirt with danger impelled my father to steer our tiny boat into the open sea. On one such adventure, the weather changed suddenly and the swell grew monstrous. I think my mother was terrified.
But she needn't have worried. A couple of dolphins suddenly appeared beside our boat, as if they knew that we were in danger and that none of us had life jackets. Gently they guided us back to calmer waters and we got home safely.
Mrs Pearson was our landlady and I think she must have been nearly a hundred years old. She lived downstairs with her stout little dachshund who was the only dog I wasn't terrified of.
She liked modern things but really, it was a long time ago when they were modern.
Mrs Pearson fascinated me and even though I knew I wasn't supposed to disturb her, I loved to go down to visit her sometimes. She didn't actually mind being disturbed, and she would show me her treasures which were very colourful costume jewellery pieces that smelt strongly of stale perfume.
On a pedestal in the hallway, stood a black bakelite telephone with an old silver dial that still had letters as well as numbers on it. A few times, my parents asked if they could use it and Mrs Pearson said they could.
In the laundry out the back of the house, there was a washing copper with a gas boiler underneath to heat the water. Not quite a modern washing machine but I didn't mind because I loved the smell of the soapy boiling water and best of all, I loved it when my mother let me turn the handle to squeeze the clothes through the wringer.
One night I couldn't sleep so I got out of bed and went to the bathroom.
There was bright light streaming through the frosted glass of the bathroom window and it didn't seem to be from a street light. I wondered what it was, so I climbed onto the toilet seat and stood on my tippy toes to open the old window to investigate.
I pushed the window open and saw a beautiful big full moon. But the moon looked sad and I thought maybe the moon had a sad face because he knew I should be asleep in bed.
"Please don't be sad, moon. I'll go straight back to bed, I promise." And I did.