The Wakefield River winds through Auburn, cutting the town in two. There are two bridges – a road bridge and a foot bridge – as well as a ford, to cross from one side of town to the other. A new bridge was built in 1971 on the site of the old, narrower one. This meant a few months where the ford was the only way for cars to cross from one side to the other. We used to go to Saddleworth to see nana and our aunt, uncle and cousins – and the non-existent bridge meant going the long way around.
I was in grade 7 in 1971, my last year at primary school. I spent a lot of time with our neighbour across the road, Tess, who was a year younger than me. During school holidays and after school we would ‘hang around’, go for walks, do projects of one kind or another, mess around with other kids in the street.
In the September school holidays that year we went for a walk across the other side of the creek from where we lived, and by the time we wanted to cross back we were quite close to the site of the new bridge, as yet unfinished, and a long way from the ford where we had crossed in the first place. It had been a fairly wet winter and there was water in the creek (which is not always the case), but we decided that we would not go back the way we’d come but cross where the building work was being done – we’d use a long stick to see how deep the water was before taking each next step – and venture across.
Of course things didn’t go according to plan. We got part way across, but the water was getting deeper and at a certain point when we lowered the stick it just kept going down and us after it. It was all a bit dramatic – our clothes wet and our shoes (which we had taken off before the crossing) – Tess’s floated away down stream, lost altogether. We tried to get them back – we thought we saw one shoe in the reeds a bit further down stream, but it turned out to be a dead chook! We were a bit worried about getting told off – especially Tess, as her mum was a bit stricter than ours, but I wasn’t confident either. I was also acutely aware of the fact that I was having my first ever period at the time. The sanitary surfboard I was wearing got wet along with everything else. The weird ‘adult’ uncomfortableness. My self-consciousness (I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying anything to Tess about it), plus being cold and wet.
We got across in the end, and walked back towards home, hoping for some way to avoid trouble with our parents – but of course the first person we saw was mum, driving somewhere in the mini. She picked us up and helped smooth the waters with Tess’s mother. I had to go across later to offer to buy Tess a new pair of socks (offer declined!). And there would have been a change of clothes, and warmth and for me more self-consciousness about the period!
I think of these things often when I go across the bridge now. There is mostly not much water in it these days, and it is much more overgrown there now, but there are still reeds, and probably still the odd dead chook, and possibly a decayed child’s shoe somewhere or another. The plaque on the bridge acknowledges the Highways Department and the date. This post is a reminder of a couple of little lives that were being led at the same time…