Or so my friends once told me, as we rode our bicycles telling stories at Penfold’s old winery.
We’d lay there quiet and still throughout the morning, cradled in paspalum grasses that swayed high above, their wispy heads broken off by wind in fields of dung and sandstone. Empty milkshake cartons lying all about us. The children of nothing.
I never did slot that coin unless it was to ball that someone pushed my dragster into a bright stone wall, graffiti new and shocking against my smooth young face, those demented letters, teeth bent out of place. The New York hipster musical sound, a secret cuneiform burial ground. Letters without character, characters without hope. French letters cast aside in the broken glass and wasted butts of a Datsun 180B car-park. A teenager blew smoke into my face on Main Street, Blacktown, and I was instantly addicted, or so he told me.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when a dollar note with the Mona Lisa grimace could fill your gut with potatoes cut and diced into a hundred broken chips. The white butcher’s paper smothering rebel off-cuts in a bitter vinegar hill and red sauce. And the Hot Chiko Roll woman, crisp as prawn, yellow and juicy, peered down across the counter from Her saintly motorbike throne. The pinched nose upturned when coins were exchanged as though smelling bad fish beneath Her.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when house keys were tossed into a heap and your neighbours, uncle this and aunty that, smirked at a scrabble-board of tip-of-the-tongue decisions as you were marched into an early bed with the mosquitoes and blood-sucking fleas making their marriages of three. A stab in the dark and small cry was all you heard before a shadowy figure turned on electric light at dawn to announce the no-frills, no-fault divorce.
Murphy’s law and double-word bonus.
Now your boy gets two rooms and two mums, an autograph Ian Chappell cricket bat and set of miniature Ringo drums.
Darren held onto his back (he’s beginning to understand), but they had no history to speak of and they were naked for it.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when men lived in constant fear of breaking down, clenched at the appendix when their minds cracked and shook their heads slowly if you called an ambulance for their heart attacks.
He once drove a Samurai sword into rented turf and sawed the air with his hands. Somebody ought to call ASIO and he should be forever banned.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when your uncle steered a big rig into the new northern suburbs, his soft-drink piss flooding open mouths at every curb and gutter, lemonade fizz and copper coins overflowing like washing-machine scudder.
Your brother once caught his thumb in its door hinge on Caramar Street, Whalan, and your Irish grandfather, newly crowned, strolled the paddocks like Samuel Beckett on a European battleground, all wavy hair and laughter as you pined for the freedom of that trapped little thumb.
He’d seen worse during the War, but that was private history denied to all, and you were naked for it as you began to ball.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when Mount Druitt ponds evaporated and cattle still floated past and licked its surface out of habit as they did before Blue Mountains were crossed by three wise men tracing a winter star, when Millennials gave away their secret ridges and Napoleon Bonaparte was all anyone ever talked about.
And the vacant block stood empty behind the Fleabag where the Major once held his garden parties, all twinkling glass and star-cut jellies, European trees and roasted pork belly, when the 48th Regiment lit up the Great Western Road to the mansion house with the glow of oil lamps against horse flesh, and Druitt’s hazel green eyes stared out across his watery ponds for the silent new arrivals.
A local drunk once showed us where to find the old brick footings of the forgotten two-storey with a shovel in the tall grasses and clay, but it was doubtful now that any such house existed, and the overgrown paddock was nobody’s business but the owner’s.
Or so somebody once told me who called upon him with a glass, and saw his translucent shape pass across the muddy creek waters, saying, ‘I am transformed’.
But the Major was mistaken and his time out of joint, his widow only ever de facto and long since expired, the hair and bones stowed-away beneath a mislaid plot at Pinegrove (or Rookwood at a stretch), and for our part, we all knew better than to believe in ghosts.
Things were easier in the ‘Seventies when our premiers could sense the wind north by northwest and August 20 on the calendar meant a respectable twenty grand raked over the counter, like a street bet of stacked roulette chips beneath Her Majesty.
The airless flat land a conspiracy of fibro.
But Neville Wran was our loving father with his flared nostrils and folded arms, the day the bridge suddenly collapsed at Granville, rising out of wild grasses where Chifley once threw his daffodil seeds out a locomotive window, and Indian slaves scrubbed the redcoats at Government House in a river of eels.
Why is that tube stuck up his nose if he’s no longer alive? When will this so-called resurrectionist arrive? Did you see that? Did you see it just now? Call back the doctor! Is that a breath? Someone please tell me, I’m not ready for death.
But we had no history to speak of, and the sheet never did reach his head, and we cremated him at Pinegrove, but no-one ever said when, because without history, we were already dead.