This little photo is my favourite from all my baby photos though I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I just like the fact that I looked cuddled up tight in my rug, nursed by my Dad, and wearing either his hat or my Grandad’s. Like many newly-weds my parents initially lived with parents until some money could be saved for a house. I’ve talked before about how my grandparents were our neighbours and when this photo was taken our house next door would have already been under construction.
In the photo I’m only six months old and we’re in the gateway of what would later become something of a treasured space for me – underneath my grandparents’ house. Queenslanders, as these old houses are known, are famous for being up on wooden stilts to provide fresh circulating breezes, protection from floods (where that’s an issue) and a handy workspace out of the weather. Just to the right of the photo was the tank stand providing fresh rain water for hair washing (makes it softer).
To the left of the gate was the space which had once served as the garage for my grandfather’s old Austin car. That always seemed a bit exotic to me, given we had no car until I was nineteen.
Tucked away towards the back of the space (near the tar-painted wooden battens which framed the area) were old stone jars with straw cladding. Over the decades these would become collectibles and worth a bit of money so it’s no surprise that in my grandmother’s old age, they suddenly disappeared one day, after the passing visit of a second-hand dealer. To the right through the gate was the laundry with big concrete tubs and adjacent to that, at right angles, was my grandfather’s work bench where he would re-sole shoes, sharpen tools or do whatever grandfathers do in such places.
But the most important focus for me in that space was the vice on my Grandad’s bench.
In the back yard of our new home stood a Queensland (Qld) nut tree. It was so tall that I can only assume that it may have already been there before our new house was built. One of the joys of my childhood was clamping a delicious Queensland nut in Grandad’s vice and slowly tightening it until it cracked ever so gently –you didn’t want to smash the delicious nut inside. As I grew older I was allowed to also crack the nuts with a hammer, which meant finding just the right dip in the concrete near the laundry, and again giving it just the right strength of a wallop. I remember once when my 2nd cousins were visiting from Sydney that we sat under the tank stand making mud pies with Qld nut fillings. Just imagine the indulgence of wasting one of the most expensive types of nuts in childhood play like that….I’m surprised I could restrain myself from eating the nuts!
These days the humble Qld nut has been remarketed as the Macadamia and is available world-wide. They’re still super-delectable but there’s something very special about memories of being able to eat them whenever you wanted, fresh from where they’d fallen on the grass.