Following in my father's footsteps?
I don't have a lot of photos with my dad. In this photo I'm barely 6 months old.
My dad was a house painter. During the school holidays he would go to rural schools and repaint them. I went with him on some of these trips. I just loved the Australian bush, the outback. The red dirt, the gum trees, the heat. I loved it all. I thought my dad had the best job. Out in the fresh air, making the school buildings look fresh and alive again. I imagined the kids coming back from their holidays and being excited to be in their new school.
I especially loved smoko time. Dad and the other painters would light a fire and boil the billy to make tea. A handful of tealeaves would go in the billy along with a few leaves from the gum trees - eucalyptus I hear them called outside Australia, and of course they are, but for us they were always gum trees. They also made a damper - a kind of bread/scone mix - and baked it in the coals of the fire. How I loved that damper, smothered in butter and plum jam brought from home. I can taste it still!
Growing up, the times with my dad were so special. He shaped the way I thought about life, about myself. Out there in the bush, I told him I wanted to be a painter when I grew up. That was not a life for me, he told me. “Ladies are not painters. It’s a man’s work.” Disappointed, I turned my thoughts elsewhere. Years later I asked him why he’d dampened my enthusiasm for that kind of life. “Too much swearing on the job, love,” was his reply.
But the ‘damage’ was done. After that, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply: “A lady.” After all these years I still haven’t achieved that lofty goal!
Having lost his two sisters when they were so young to something akin to rheumatic fever, I know my father was scared he’d lose his daughters. He was always telling me to be careful, I might hurt myself. It took many years before I stilled his loving, kind, but insistent voice of warning. In the meantime, I never learned to climb over the fence, running around to join the others who seemed to pole jump over easily. I never did somersaults or cartwheels or even sat cross legged. And I was almost in my teens before I learned to ride a bike.
Still, I forgot at times and enjoyed climbing into the trees and onto the hen house roof. I loved to be up high, even though ‘high’ was only about a metre. As an adult, whenever we go to a new place I love to to to the local lookout and survey the land. From that perspective, I get to familiarise myself with the lay of the land and the geographic formations.
Although I didn’t become a house painter, I did become a town planner, enjoying understanding the urban form and how to improve our planning practices to make for a more enjoyable and safe living environment.