“The white writing desk replaced the timber shack I’d known since I could understand the concept of time.”
I grew up in the Tropics – a small cane farming town – Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia. It shaped me in such a way that even though I adore my new found four seasons in a year and sitting by the fire with a Dostoevsky novel & hot chocolate, there’s still something about heat waves over bitumen which send my bones into a shiver. I maintain I dislike the heat of course, (eww muggy summers) in fact just yesterday I was whining because it was, what, 40% humidity – I grew up in at least 80% … but the past is the past right, our childhoods were idyllic and a bit of salt water never hurt anyone.
“The town was a tired selection of bitumen aligned in a grid and at the end of our street, the main street of shops (pubs) was to the left, and to the right, past the overgrown dried up river (storm drain) was the A1 state highway. Further south Walsh reared his celebrated head. At 922m tall he was paramount to the tiny town and along with his brothers and sisters helped to provide a mind-numbing sense of security to the 4,420 residents.”
Sometimes when I feel lethargic, I catch myself on google earth or real estate listings from my home town to see the place that’s responsible for the world of my youth, to make sure that at least some of it still exists. It’s been nearly 13 years, as long as I lived there to begin with, and I’ve not been back yet. Perhaps I’m daunted by the changes it has endured, the city life encroaching, the cane paddocks cleared to make way for housing estates.
“I would no longer wake to the sickly sweet sugar smell each morning. Nor would I fall asleep to the crisp air, heavy with smoke, in the sweltering summer evenings. There was no burnt orange sky; no black columns rising and no fat brown bufo marinus lining the streets day and night. For the later I was grateful but the absence of Basquiat sky left me feeling a little philistine.”
Either way every time I sprinkle brown sugar on my porridge, or make someone’s tea with sugar I remember that little town; the plume of smoke rising each morning, the smell of sugar cane burning into the late hours of the night.
† quotes are from my own piece of memoir fiction, Saccharum Officinarum
§ header image: ‘Mulgrave Central Sugar Mill, Gordonvale.’ From Pictorial Grandeur of Cairns, Cairns, c1935, collection of Centre for the Government of Queensland, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/gordonvale