This

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Karen Twine

IN 1980 my fam­ily moved from Ade­laide to Alice Springs. My fa­ther was seek­ing to es­cape the rat race and ‘‘get­ting ahead’’. When I think about it, as a par­ent my­self, I be­lieve my par­ents were brave to make this change, leav­ing friends and fam­ily, to move to a re­mote part of Aus­tralia.

I was only 10 when we drove our gal­lant sta­tion wagon, with the back­seats ly­ing flat sur­rounded by sleep­ing bags and pil­lows, on that long dirt road from Ade­laide to Alice Springs at night, as the day­light hours were so hot. I re­mem­ber my par­ent’s eyes be­ing glued to the wind­screen look­ing for kan­ga­roos or cat­tle, as the roads were un­fenced. And I re­mem­ber fight­ing with my broth­ers over space, blan­kets, touch­ing, a can of Coke.

Alice Springs had noth­ing, and I think my mother had a mini-break­down when we ar­rived. We had gone from liv­ing in a cap­i­tal city with four tele­vi­sion sta­tions, big chain supermarkets, the arts, traf­fic lights and mul­ti­ple ra­dio sta­tions to a place with a pig­gly-wig­gly su­per­mar­ket, ho­tels and lawn bowl­ing clubs, no traf­fic lights, one com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tion and ABC TV that shut down at 10pm. We had left Ade­laide’s gen­tle weather and a three-bed­room rental with a yard filled with apri­cot, ap­ple, peach, nec­tarine and fig trees for a three-bed­room flat on the third level of a unit block sur­rounded by salt­bush and desert. Gone was the gen­tle twit­ter of swal­lows and mag­pies; now we were sur­rounded by crows and galahs, their squawks loud at dawn.

Al­though my mother was ‘‘com­pletely iso­lated’’, she re­mained hope­ful and re­signed to the change. But when I think back I re­mem­ber this time as an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture.

To say I loved our new en­vi­ron­ment would be an un­der­state­ment. Even as a child I knew I had found home. We awoke ev­ery morn­ing to bril­liant blue skies that con­trasted with the red earth, and the gum trees re­leased a eu­ca­lyp­tus perfume that en­hanced the pure air. The wa­ter was filled with min­er­als from the arte­sian basin and we were pro­tected by the MacDon­nell Ranges that shel­tered the town from the desert. We did not need to worry about changes in the weather, so our wardrobe con­sisted of shorts, sin­glets and thongs. The re­li­a­bil­ity of the weather and the slower pace had a di­rect im­pact on our life: there was no rush any more, we had all the time in the world.

My cir­cle of friends grew and so did our child­hood freedom. We could walk or ride to school, there was no uni­form, we ad­dressed some of the teach­ers by their first names and we were free to cre­ate our own en­ter­tain­ment. This changed with age. In the be­gin­ning we found caves in the hills and read books, fol­lowed tracks, swam in each other’s un­fenced pools, and even climbed into drains that went un­der the roads. As we got older we be­came in­ter­ested in sport and rode our bikes to train­ing and the games. Our par­ents rarely asked us what we had been do­ing. I guess there was an ex­pec­ta­tion that we could work it out for our­selves — al­though if we couldn’t my mother would ‘‘save’’ us from harm.

Now I am an adult with chil­dren of my own, I moved my fam­ily from the Alice be­cause the cul­tural cli­mate of my home town has changed and I felt that my off­spring would ben­e­fit from the re­sources a cap­i­tal city could of­fer. To be hon­est, I am un­de­cided. When I look at my daugh­ter, a lap­top perched on her knees, iPhone in hand and Fox­tel of­fer­ing mul­ti­ple chan­nels, I won­der if this is bet­ter.

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