The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Anne Rees Re­view [email protected]­tralian.com.au

“Mul­ber­ries $3.” A sim­ple sign on a coun­try road trans­ported me back al­most 60 years to a child­hood where such trees fig­ured promi­nently.

We were seven girls in four neigh­bour­ing houses — “the gang” — whose child­hood likely would be de­scribed to­day as “feral”. Although we had a well-used neigh­bour­hood park, it was the trees in the back yards and road­side that filled count­less hours.

Joan was the old­est and the leader. Her yard had one of the best trees: a large and spread­ing mul­berry tree, big enough for all seven of us, with high branches for the ag­ile and low branches for those not so dar­ing. Joan’s mother some­times asked us to pick mul­ber­ries for a pie. In hind­sight it was prob­a­bly a ruse to clear the house since more of the de­li­cious fruit went into mouths, or down the front of clothes, than into the bucket.

As the only mul­berry tree in the neigh­bour­hood, it also had a very spe­cial role when some­one brought home a shoe­box with lit­tle holes in the lid and silk­worms in the base. There was much talk of the silken gar­ments we would make but, while we of­ten pro­duced silken co­coons, we lacked the skill to un­ravel them.

Our yard next door lacked any trees much worth climb­ing but plenty to keep us oc­cu­pied. The frangi­pani tree had us imag­in­ing ex­otic is­lands in the South Seas and beau­ti­ful flo­ral leis. Frangi­pani flow­ers pinned in our hair were a com­mon sight, as in­deed were sticky la­tex­cov­ered hair, hands or clothes.

We also had nu­mer­ous fruit trees. They suf­fered from lack of at­ten­tion since our fa­ther pre­ferred week­ends on the cricket pitch or golf course. A man­darin tree still man­aged to thrive and pro­duced fruit enough for all.

The worst were the nec­tarines. So of­ten the squeal “dis­gust­ing” went up when some­one opened a nec­tarine to dis­cover the fruit flies had been there first. To this day, I am more than happy to leave nec­tarines alone.

“Dis­gust­ing” was also the de­scrip­tion for the figs that grew on a fab­u­lous tree in the back yard of the only boy our age in the neigh­bour­hood. Like fruit bats, we would de­scend — but only to climb and not to eat. It was very much a white bread child­hood and figs were too ex­otic for our plain tastes. Some­times a dar­ing child, or one on a dare, would bite into a fig, de­clare it “dis­gust­ing” and leave it for the birds, which must have had a won­der­ful feast.

In the years since those hal­cyon sum­mer days, my palate has for­tu­nately ma­tured and I re­gard ripe figs as a glo­ri­ous fruit. I am al­ways de­lighted when I spy a box on the green­gro­cer’s shelf. “Hmm, I won­der how they would go with a mul­berry sauce?”

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