When I was little, my older brother, John and I had a treehouse opposite the jackeroo’s quarters on the property. Actually, treehouse is probably too flash a name for what was basically four long timber boards nailed into the higher branches of a bottle tree. From our point of view, what that tree lacked in finesse was made up for in spades by its location. It grew within the homestead garden but was situated far enough away so that adults either had to walk to the corner of the house and call loudly to get our attention, or physically come and find us, which happened on more than one occasion. The tree was also adjacent to the jackeroo’s quarters, with direct line-of-sight to the buildings gauze veranda. Much to the annoyance of the jackeroos we took great delight spying on them from the elevated safety of our special place.
One of the jackeroos at this time could be relied upon like clockwork at day’s end. He showered as soon as work finished and settled down before dinner to either reload bullets, a necessary task for the destruction of noxious pests such as wild pigs, kangaroos or snakes, or resume his leatherwork hobby. However, in order to use the shower/bathroom complex the jackeroos had to leave the quarters and walk a short distance to an adjoining building. Now, for two children dreading the bath-time summons, the sight of that young man, towel flung nonchalantly over a shirt-less torso was too much of an opportunity not to take advantage of.
We waited patiently late one afternoon and as that poor boy appeared from his quarter’s we pelted him with mud balls. John and I were particularly adept at making these nasty little missiles, and the treehouse was the perfect place to store our hoard. We honed our skills forming dirt and water into clumpy spheres of wet soil which we then dried to rock hardness on the rainwater tank-stand. Once the novelty of firing them from a shanghai (aka slingshot), wore off – I must admit I was not particularly fond of hitting birds, a larger moving target, one who ducked, swore and tried to throw the pellets back at us, was far more entertaining. That first afternoon we counted numerous direct hits. Of course, all good things come to an end and our new-found game lasted less than a week. A serious complaint was lodged and the making of mud balls banned. John returned to firing nails from a toy tank and I resumed playing with dolls. Far less satisfying I must say.
That old bottle tree is in my mind because it was planted by my grandfather on November 11th, 1919 to commemorate the signing of the armistice on the 11th hour, of the 11th Day, of the 11th month in 1918, following the end of the Great War (WW1). My grandfather, a veteran of the Western Front dug his spade in the ground one hundred years ago on November 11th and planted that bottle tree to mark the first anniversary of the war’s end. Today at 11 am, no matter where you come from, do remember our war dead with one minute’s silence. It is because of them that here, in Australia, generations of young children have been able to enjoy the simple pleasures of freedom.
(At the end of World War Two in 1945, Armistice Day was officially changed to Remembrance Day in memory of all war dead.)
NB: Image courtesy Sonya Heaney