Mucked around home all day.
My diary entries for the next few days are pretty run-of-the-mill. But rest assured, dear readers, the adventures are about to start! In the meantime, here’s some background information about my life before we set off to travel…
BACKSTORY. PART 2: The Flaxton Boys.
I was born at 11:20AM on February 19th, 1963. It was a Tuesday. It was the last month of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. According to “The Internet”, I had been conceived on May 29th the previous year!! That same February day, Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel was born. He would go on to become the British singer Seal who would write a song called Crazy with includes the lyrics: “in a sky full of people only some want to fly; isn’t that crazy…”
My father, Norman (Norm) Blakiston, was 64 years old; my mother, Mary, was 36. But you already know that story. This is the story of me from that day on.
We lived in a big old house at 28 McKenzie Street, Geraldine. The house had originally been a boarding house. It had big rooms, high ceilings and a long hallway, six feet wide and thirty feet long, running down the middle. Myself, my brother Joe (fourteen months younger than me) and our friends would build blanket forts in the hall on wet days and throw marbles at each other. We had our own rooms and there were enough spare rooms for us to have winter and summer rooms: warm rooms in winter and cooler rooms in summer. The red, corrugated iron roof amplified the sound of rain and one of my favourite sounds is still the sound of rain falling on a tin roof.
Our house stood on an acre of land in the centre of Geraldine. There was a hen coop, an orchard, a couple of fields where we kept our pet lambs, and a big oak tree where we built a rambling tree hut. Across the road, the Waihi River chattered in its bed of stones, hemmed on both sides by willows and sycamores. We tickled trout, built dams, rafted the
brown floods, and swam in the green pools of the Waihi (it’s pronounced “why-hee”). On the hill beyond the river, Talbot Forest (the Bush, as we called it) was a venue for wargames, hide and seek, and clandestine cigarettes.
Geraldine in the 1970s was a backwater. It serviced the local farmland; old folks retired there. In summer, the sun would melt the tar on the main street and the grass would be burnt brown for months. Winters were harsh, or seemed to be, and I remember biking to school in shorts even in the hardest frosts. There were WW2 veterans in our town: battle-scarred, lame old men with haunted eyes. Women wore floral dresses and men wore hats. Geraldine was the same as every small town in the southern world. It was a colonial town, out on the edge of the British Commonwealth.
I was a Cub Scout. I hated sports. I ran in the cross country team because it allowed me to get away by myself. I was never a team player. I was a frail, sickly boy. I got bullied a bit at school but nothing serious, nothing scarring. My friend Steve Keats was a runner too and we started climbing hills to keep fit. That was the beginning of my love for the hills and for the wilderness. Our heroes were mountaineers – Chris Bonnington, Sir Edmund Hillary – and our bibles were accounts of epic climbs and disastrous expeditions.
My mother was a church-goer; my father wasn’t. He set store in a man’s self-reliance. He hated pretence and people who considered themselves above others because of birth or money. He was a man’s man. He’d been educated at a prestigious boy’s school and could quote Shakespeare and speak Latin. He swore like a fucking trooper and used to say that he hadn’t learnt a new swear word since he was seven. And, like his son would be, he was a loner.
Mum went to St. Mary’s Anglican church most Sundays. Anglicanism is a very English faith: quiet vicars, ornate churches with stained glass windows, a subdued, reverential communion, no fire-and-brimstone sermons. Both my brother and I were “confirmed” meaning we were able to take communion (that is, drink the blood of Christ and eat his body). It all sounds so weird and arcane now. I didn’t believe a word of it. But we went along for mum’s sake. We both did altar boy duty on alternate Sundays once a month. You dressed in black vestments which smelled of body odour, and helped the Vicar out with the communion. I would sit in the carved wooden chair at the side of the altar and pick out rock-climbing routes across the vaulted wooden ceiling. We worked out that if you volunteered for the early 8AM service (which no one wanted to do early on a Sunday) you’d be out of there in forty minutes. The 10:30 service lasted an hour and a half!
My father died in June or July 1977 when I was fourteen. He was 78 years old and suffering from diabetes. He had also been a chain smoker for his whole life so who knows if it was the smokes or the sugar that killed him. He had always known that he would die while we were young and I can remember him telling us “not to fret” because he had enjoyed his life and had done his best to set us up to enjoy ours.
I left school in August 1980. I had a job on a farm about half an hour’s drive from home. Actually, I never officially left school: I just never went back after the August holidays. I joke with people that every morning, a teacher at Geraldine High School is still calling for me in the roll: “Blakiston…..is he here today?…..No?…(puts an x by my name)….absent….again…”
I worked for a year and a half on the farm in Cattle Valley, then got a job as a high country shepherd. I worked at Grampians Station on and off for the next four years. In between times I went to Agricultural College and earned a Diploma in Agriculture. But I still went home most weekends. It was too easy not to. All the things I was familiar with were there.
My mother died in 1982 from breast cancer. Joe and I inherited the house from her and put a tenant in it. He was the cook at the local pub (hotel/bar) and single, so we would still turn up there at weekends, get drunk and crash out. Colin, the tenant, looked after us, cooked us greasy meals and kept the fridge stocked with beers. I was living my little dream of being a shepherd, with a pick-up truck, a saddle, a team of sheepdogs and no ties to anything…
TO BE CONTINUED