Standing on the tiny back verandah (1m x 1.5 m) overlooking the yard I marvelled at how small it looked. How did it ever accommodate two cricket teams in summer and the gladiatorial football games of winter?
The cricket pitch ran downhill a decent 30 degree slope. It began at the top of the yard beside the weatherboard, gable roofed outdoor dunny and ran down beneath the wire clothes line, the four strands of which were attached at each end to an adjustable timber bar bolted to a vertical post. The effect was of a double crucifixion with adjustable arms - though we only ever thought of it as a secular nuisance. We were a catholic family so crucifixes were a dime a dozen and of such familiarity as to be invisible. At the bottom of the slope sat a concrete stormwater channel a metre wide running across the yard from west to east. This path carried fabulous raging torrents of water in wild tropical storms and cyclonic weather, threatening to inundate under the house or back up and fill the whole back yard.
On one side of the yard grew an ever expanding mulberry tree while the rest of the yard was bare of foliage. Grass was king except in dry seasons where it turned into a brown and dusty expanse and became rock hard.
In cricket season we belted down our best fast bowling efforts or tweaked the worn-out tennis ball with our nimble under developed fingers, coaxing it to spin and mesmerise the batter (batsman in those days).
Three stumps were banged in the grass just short of the storm water channel, bails gently set across their tips. A single stump was located between the loo and the top clothsline upright. The wicket keeper located himself behind the stumps on the concrete path and the clothesline was managed into an acute angle by adjusting the horizontal crucifixion arms.
The spin bowler’s run up was a simple one or two steps but the fast bowlers often commenced their approach out of sight behind the loo. They’d appear at the last moment, a flurry of arms and legs ready to let fly with their best, hoping to intimidate the batsman with their wild demeanour.
Over the fence on the full was six and out. The back fence was worth four and the side fences two. To speed up the game we often made up a new rule to suit the mood. Score twenty (thirty, fifty) runs and you had to retire; tip and run, where any contact with the ball required you to go for a run no matter what; stumps were live at both ends so you could be run out no matter which end you were running to; one hand one bounce catch was out; and maximum scores set for any side. There were lots of fights, regular pick up your bat and ball and go home scenarios, and some fabulous tantrums. But most of all it was hour after hour day after day of bowling and batting and running and drinking cordial and eating vegemite sandwiches. It was a great place to rehearse your silly walk or your wobbly run up or use any distraction possible to put the opposition off their game. The sun poured relentlessly down from the high Brisbane sky, the cricket pitch would be denuded of grass from the constant pounding of bare feet; the games would only end with sunset and often went after that, usually ending with a mother’s cry from the neighbour’s dark yard “Allen, Norman dinner”
We’d have spent much of the day on our backs rolling round laughing as much as scoring a century or even finishing a game.
This picture was vivid despite the overgrown expanse I now faced. Large trees dominated the top of the yard, a bougainvillea crawled and spiked its way along the eastern boundary and a sad vege patch sat where the mulberry tree once stood.
The dunny and the thunderbox had disappeared – physically at least. In my mind they were all still there.