Monday, 24 November 2008

Dog paddling with submarines

My father is wearing a handsome pair of black bathing trunks. They hug his lithe body. The material is a heavy woven cotton, double thickness. At the front a skirt stretches across his privates modestly disguising his tightly assembled tackle. The sides are a good five inches covering from waist to hip bone. His wavy head of hair shines, the sun highlighting its copper colour. He stands beside his black Morris Minor with his mate Ken, his eyes sparkling and his face alive with expectation.

Suddenly I’m airborne as he sweeps me up and plants me on his shoulder. I’m so high I can see over the high riverbank and glimpse the other side of the broad river. I’m standing, balancing on his muscled shoulder, holding his right hand which he stretches up to me. His shoulder, his up-stretched arm encase me securely as if on a platform. I can let go of his hand and balance without any help. I’ve spent hours walking along the top rail of our Moolabar Street fence practicing to be a tightrope walker. This is simple.

My curly headed little brother bounces around at the feet of our double height, double headed body. He’s three and scurries around like a puppy, leaping up, trying to launch himself into my father’s arms. Without effort my father steadies me and bends to gather up my brother and tucks him under his left arm. Now all three of us, looking like some weird 12 limbed creature, move forward – the water beckons.

We’re at Murarrie on the Brisbane River. It’s 1954. The war is less than ten years gone and my brother and I have no awareness of it or of our father’s part in it, but the idea of swimming here has the added excitement of my father’s story of this as the site of a WWII submarine base. His mate Ken is in on the story as well.

In front of us is an excavated site the size of two Olympic swimming pools carved alongside the river. On the river side a high bank separates it from the main waterway. On the southern side, a cliff-face, of enormous height to a four year old, marks the other edge . At the far end an opening allows the tide to fill this submariner’s hide-out. We, meanwhile, stand on a sloping bank, its clay base slippery under our feet. It leads gently into the bottomless hole.

Whether for storytelling or fear inducing purposes Ken (Uncle Ken as we know him) creates a picture of unfathomable depth and danger as a precursor to our swimming lesson. Far from being afraid or reluctant to enter this underwater, underworld black hole, we are even more excited by the possibilities. This excitement is further enhanced by the barren landscape surrounding us. We are beyond civilization, out of sight of any signs of our home city, having arrived here at the end of a long thin gravel road leading from the familiar world to this moonscape. And we are alone. The four of us. We are the only people who know about this secret place. My father and Uncle Ken are explorers of the unknown, dare devils who have brought us here for our first swimming lesson.

I’m not sure what it is about this submarine base that excites us but as I prepare to swim, my mind conjures up black shapes lurking below the black surface. These shapes carry men I’ll never see or know and they come and go in secret, under cover of darkness. It’s a story I’m more than willing to embrace. I have no expectations of ever having the story confirmed or resolved. It just is.

My father loves water. I will inherit his merman genes. He is preparing me and my brother for our destiny. He will teach us to swim. We turn towards the water. I jump down from my shoulder perch and await his instructions.


Luvvie said...


I've been thinking of you - don't get excited....I was at the Gallery of Modern Art on the weekend and there was a work of art about swimming - 8 perspectives on swimming or somesuch - up on the top floor in the new media section I think. Clever and fun. One speaker has the swimmer's dialogue, the other speaker has a sport's commentator making remarks on his swimming style - fun. I love watching swimming underwater. There's also another fantastic sculpture in the Gallery - have you seen it - it's of a woman lying in bed - it's enormous, monstrous almost but I like it. It's me. I love my bed. I'd retire there if I could. The Murray Cod is thrashing about in the tank - I'd better feed him. How do you catch a Murray Cod. Give your daughter 40 bucks to buy herself a purse for the formal. She comes home with a Murray Cod.

capo said...

Thats weird Alex. A Murray Cod instead of a purse! How does she get the coins in (or out)? or is she going to wear it?
A monstrous woman lying in bed? You're too harsh on yourself.
It's very swimmey weather - even without all the acoutrements.

MostLusty said...

Hey Capo,

Another great waterbased story. How was the tea cosie parade? I didn't make it after all. Any photos?