part of an application for a writing course …
I grew up in Oamaru wearing knitted green jumpers with bobbles and elephants on them, playing at the caravan park, the haunted house and sliding on old fishing crates down the clay slope of ‘the hill.’ My sister is still famous for a song that she invented, as a seven year old, at a Marae talent contest called ‘green sheep.’ The song continued on through three rounds of applause, some quiet, and forceful, guiding off the stage and even when the host prized the microphone out of her little hands she was still singing. And I will never forget the tender, smoky flavour of the meat, cabbage and potatoes that are still the highlight of that day for me.
I grew up in Oamaru where, on certain days, the tired sea breeze wheezed, like Mr Murdoch the relief teacher, over the town, exhaling the odour of dying krill and rotting kelp. In Oamaru, where the bank, art gallery and posh houses were made from a crumbly limestone that came in huge lumpy slabs and left a white dust if you rubbed your hands along it. White dust that was a 35 million year old lithified sediment that just might contain an ancient penguin bone or shark tooth. We were all successful fossil hunters. Sometimes we even found sketchy tendril outlines of them in the blocks of people’s houses. Once I caught my little brother trying to dig one out.
– you can’t do that!
He looked up unperturbed. His blond curls shining in the sun and a blunt knife glinting, poised in his hand.
– that belongs to someone. It’s someone’s house.
I put my hands on my hips and towered over him.
– how can something 35 million years old belong to someone?
Speechless, I kicked a stone and went on my way. That little shit.
Yes, I grew up there and I couldn’t wait to get away.
I wasn’t tough enough to be a bogan. I wasn’t boring enough to be a rugbyhead and I wasn’t cool enough to be a surfer. But I did have books and music and a massive desire to understand this bizarre place in which I seemed to have been created. So, I wrote. I wrote sci-fi fantasy novels centred around girls who discover they have powers over giant eagles and dragons. I wrote poems about patterns in the sky and ‘meant-to-be’ moments. I dreamed of Paris and intense conversations with other starving artists in cramped Parisian cafes over coffee and second-hand cigarettes. I wrote stories about far away tribes, about unseen worlds unwinding in incense smoke – and got accused of taking drugs, stories about what I termed ‘the underneath.’ And I read …