Sunday, May 29, 2011

A river and a bridge

My mother’s eldest brother, Eric Walker, liked to point out in his typical loudspoken manner that I was conceived under Bawden’s Bridge, located to the west of Grafton on the Glen Innes Road, some 20 kilometers beyond the home of the Walkers at Waterview.

He never made it clear, though, how he had obtained that trivial piece of knowledge. Besides, I could not understood why he seemed to take pleasure in shouting out this information every now and again. I can imagine a scenario in which Eric (a 29-year-old bachelor nicknamed “Farmer”) had accompanied his 21-year-old sister Kath (my future mother) and her 22-year-old boyfriend Bill Skyvington (my future father) on an excursion to Bawden’s Bridge. Counting nine months backwards from my date of birth, I imagine that the excursion must have taken place around Christmas 1939. Maybe the trip to Bawden’s Bridge was a family outing on the warm afternoon following the traditional midday Christmas dinner of spiced roast chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, steamed pudding and bottled lager. It is perfectly plausible that my future parents, inspired by the balmy atmosphere on the banks of the splendid Orara River, decided to find a secluded shady spot under the lofty span of the bridge where they could make love. Did they realize that Kath’s big brother Eric was spying on them? I shall never know. In any case, Eric was probably not accustomed to seeing live demonstrations of human sexual activities in the environment of the dairy farm at Waterview, and this chance happening starring his young sister must have impressed him greatly.

If anybody were to ask me what I thought of my parents’ choice of Bawden’s Bridge as a place to conceive me (which is not exactly the kind of question that people often ask), I would reply unhesitatingly that it was an excellent decision... although I am aware, of course, that they probably did not really do any explicit choosing. It was the sultry atmosphere and their passion that did the deciding.

The Orara—a tributary of the Clarence—is such a splendid river that one of Australia’s best-known poets, Henry Kendall [1839-1882], even celebrated it. Had my uncle Eric been a lover of poetry (which was not the case), here are verses from Kendall’s poem that he might have recited, in the shadow of the old bridge, while the young lovers went about the task of conceiving me:
The world is round me with its heat,

And toil, and cares that tire;

I cannot with my feeble feet

Climb after my desire.

But, on the lap of lands unseen,

Within a secret zone,

There shine diviner gold and green

Than man has ever known.

And where the silver waters sing

Down hushed and holy dells,

The flower of a celestial Spring —

A tenfold splendour, dwells.

Yea, in my dream of fall and brook

By far sweet forests furled,

I see that light for which I look

In vain through all the world —

The glory of a larger sky

On slopes of hills sublime,

That speak with God and morning, high

Above the ways of Time!

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