A million summer memories flood back with the searing heat

Border Mail Column Thursday 5 January 2012

Stepping outside my front door in the mid afternoon the wave of heat and a million summer memories hit.

I wonder how in the past we survived the heat without air conditioning in our homes and cars.

I remember nights in the outer western suburbs of Sydney, in the new housing development of Green Valley, trying to sleep in the heat and humidity.

For relief we sat, including mum and dad, like spokes on a wheel inside our round two feet six deep pool with its aluminium frame and plastic lining.

We hosed the dog, the bantam hens and rooster and each other unconstrained by water restrictions.

Some weekends we would pack the Austin A40 and later the two-tone Holden station wagon and head to the beach, our skin sticking to the vinyl seats and each other, heads and arms out the window to catch what little breeze there was.

Those cramped in the middle in the front and back seats didn’t dare utter ‘Are we there yet?’

By distance, Bondi Beach was closest, but by time Wollongong won out and we would make our way via the back roads and scrub of Heathcote, now replaced with housing estates, and arrive hot but excited in our new swimmers gifted by Santa that Christmas, and lunched on homemade sandwiches of squished tomato and Kraft cheddar cheese and drank GI lime cordial.

Other times we joined our rellies on the Georges River for waterskiing and ate watermelon at the water’s edge, careful not to swallow the seeds because a huge melon might grow in our tummies, and we waited an hour after eating to swim.

In the late 1960’s we moved to Lismore, in those days a 40 minute drive to Ballina beach.

Our home was still without air conditioning, but its Queenslander design ensured air circulated and more relief often came with an afternoon storm.

These were my salad days: jumping onto the bus with friends from school early in the morning then to the beach, smothering ourselves with coconut oil and lying in the sun for hours.

Once we hitchhiked to Byron Bay and then back in time to get the bus home, our skin lobster red and us blissfully, (or perhaps blisterly), unaware of the damage we may have done.

A move to central west NSW in the mid 70’s stifled my summer joy.

I feared swimming in the river with no logical explanation, except perhaps that the Macquarie claimed my great grandfather’s life, but a brief sojourn in Wollongong in 1980 for my first job as a journalist saw that joy renewed.

Summer is now special for other reasons including my two ‘summer’ babies: for one late November may not technically be in summer, but the experience of 40 plus degree days in Echuca suggests otherwise.

My second son was born in the coastal climes of Kempsey on the NSW far north coast just 20 minutes from the nearest beach.

The move to Albury in the late eighties took me away from the coast again and once more I avoided the river; the feeling of silt instead of sand between my toes sends shivers up my spine, and I wonder if some of us are beach rather than river souls.

As the mercury rises I daydream of being on coastal sands, running from them and into the surf, riding the waves, skin covered in salt and sand and the pristine feeling when it’s all showered off.

But for now I’ll step back into my airconditioned comfort, keeping the door open only to these memories.






About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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