this (run­away) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Marianne Sun­der­land

Even the hap­pi­est chil­dren have mo­ments when they plot the idea of run­ning away from home. In my for­ma­tive years, when bro­ken homes and true home­less­ness seemed less of an is­sue than to­day, run­ning away was a pop­u­lar fan­tasy, fu­elled by chil­dren’s books and films of the time that made it seem en­tirely doable.

My best mate Gail and I, both hav­ing per­fectly nice par­ents, made grand plans to es­cape the per­ceived mis­ery of our homes. We al­ways sched­uled it for a Fri­day night, giv­ing us two days on the lam be­fore our school re­alised we were miss­ing. (This didn’t ac­count for the fact our fam­i­lies would no­tice our ab­sence ear­lier.)

Each Fri­day, for the du­ra­tion of our run­ning-away phase, we’d say good­bye at the school gates and agree to wait “just one more week”. Deep down we knew it would never hap­pen, but this didn’t stop us mak­ing plans.

Our run­ning-away in­ven­tory in­cluded some prac­ti­cal items (rain­coats, gum­boots) but com­pletely over­looked the need for cash. We’d reach our yet-to-be-de­ter­mined des­ti­na­tions by bus, gloss­ing over our in­abil­ity to pay the fares. Lunch was per­haps the most solid part of the plan: meat pies and cus­tard tarts, to be pur­chased from del­i­catessens that our lit­tle sub­ur­ban minds imag­ined would ex­ist on ev­ery street, river­side and moun­tain­top in Aus­tralia.

We’d raid our fam­ily fridges just be­fore leav­ing, cram­ming piles of food into Tup­per­ware con­tain­ers — em­bar­rass­ingly we be­lieved Tup­per­ware kept food fresh, even un­re­frig­er­ated, for weeks at a time.

Star­ing wist­fully from the back bench of a Grey­hound bus, we’d nib­ble on leftovers that would mag­i­cally stretch — like the loaves and fishes — across our jour­ney to … wher­ever it was. That’s not to say we to­tally lacked di­rec­tion: we knew our con­fi­dent at­ti­tude, cute freck­les and affin­ity with an­i­mals would surely se­cure us work at farms, be­com­ing per­haps the youngest jil­la­roos in Aus­tralia.

I was star­tled when Gail sud­denly added two items to the in­ven­tory: “guns and ammo”. Not that I even knew what “ammo” was; nei­ther did Gail, but she as­sured me we needed both in or­der to shoot an­i­mals for food.

What about ac­com­mo­da­tion? We imag­ined bunk­ing down un­der the stars, but also be­lieved that if we wan­dered up to any mo­tel, the man­ager would be moved by our ten­der years and of­fer us free beds for the night.

Our plans were ridicu­lously am­bi­tious for a cou­ple of nine-year-old cash­less girls from Ade­laide. Then again, my own se­cret de­vi­a­tion from the plan (and I bet Gail had one too) saw us both back home again by Sun­day night, hav­ing taught ev­ery­one a les­son, and with­out hav­ing missed a sin­gle day of school.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­

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