Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Harvest Past Tense Group Anthology 2017

Our writing group recently published an anthology of members' writing. The title is Harvest:  Anthology of the Past Tense Writing Group at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre. Below is one of my memoir pieces that appeared in Harvest.


Visits to Labrador

Our visits to Labrador are always on a Sunday when no one else is around. On these occasions, Dad drives into town and parks opposite in the grounds of the colonial hospital. Labrador – a strange name for a building. Mum says it's also the name of a dog that lives on a rocky island off the coast of Canada. But my Labrador is the four-storey terrace building where Dad has his dental surgery.

Sometimes, we see a scruffy old lady with a pile of canvas bags, camped outside Labrador. Dressed in sand shoes, a full-length dark coat and a green tennis shade, she scares me, especially when she shouts out strange words.

'She's speaking Shakespeare,' Dad says. 'She went to the university and lost her marbles.'

I hold my breath as I run past her, to avoid breathing in her smelly old socks.

The building has an old-fashioned cage lift of ornate iron work. After we press the black metal button, the lift comes clanging down from the top floor and shudders to a stop at the ground floor. You pull down on the iron door handle and step inside an open cage that ascends slowly, past all the other tenants, their doors locked on Sunday.

Once inside the surgery, we always make a circuit around the benches, picking up the tiny brown pottery jars and fingering the neatly laid out rows of spikey instruments. Dad lets us mix the amalgam for the fillings, putting the liquid mercury into a china bowl and crushing it with the pestle. The mercury breaks into tiny little droplets that dance around the bottom of the bowl, until he adds some extra ingredient to form a silvery lump.

I climb into the dentist's chair, like queen of the realm, while my sister pumps the foot pedal to send me upwards. The drill has a shrill, noisy motor and Dad ties a ball of cotton wool onto the rotating wire and tell us to 'watch the rabbit going around'. One Sunday I need a filling and Dad asks me to be the guinea pig to try out his new drill. He has just acquired a thrilling new-fangled model that makes a fast whizzing noise and sprays water at the same time. It's all over so quickly. I am always encouraged to be very brave and to this day my dentist can't believe how calm I am in the chair.

Then, one day Dad breaks the news that Labrador has been bought by the bank and is to be bulldozed. In 1958, the site was subsumed for a massive commercial development in the heart of Sydney. Out of the rubble of old Labrador, rose the headquarters of the Reserve Bank of Australia at the corner of Macquarie Street and Martin Place. The eccentric old lady we used to see outside the building, turned out to be the well-known eccentric, Bea Miles, whose life was depicted by Kate Grenville in her novel, Lilian's Story.

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