In recent decades I would see Audrey once a year at most, when I visited my mother at Christmas, or for birthdays. Audrey was, however, a pivotal influence in my infant years.
Around 1964, my parents asked Audrey to look after my brother Sebastian and me in the dairy town of Benboka, near Eden on the southern coast of New South Wales. I cannot remember how long we were there, but it was long enough for Audrey to start me at the tiny school in Benboka. I think it is likely that Sebastian and I nearly drove Audrey to distraction.
Walking with Audrey to fetch a pitcher of milk from a very elderly couple in a tiny timber house, down the road.
Walking with Audrey, her husband Vic, and their children to herd dairy cattle along a road. I was given a piece of green garden hose to “encourage” the cows.
Vic took me fencing with an old codger. I was fascinated by the workings of an electric fence. At morning tea, the codger gave me a rolled fag and a cup of bitter tea. It made me ill; Audrey was furious with Vic.
I would walk to and from school. I had a tendency to wander. One day I stopped by the clay tennis courts to watch my cousin play. There were translucent green and red “soaker” hoses snaked along the grass outside the tennis court. They looked delicious, and I tried chewing on them.
There were dried dog scats on the tennis court, bleached chalky white in the summer. There was a delicious delight in crushing them with my bare foot.
One day I took so long to walk home from school, it was nearly dark when I arrived. Audrey was waiting in the dusk-shrouded doorway, which seemed lit up by her radiating fury and worry, a dog leash in her hand. I knew trouble when I saw it, and realised I had to run the gauntlet. I took off through the doorway and Audrey managed to get in a couple of good whacks across my calves as I crashed through.
Vic and Audrey had one of those lobe-shaped hand-built plywood caravans, that enjoy a retro distinction today. We sometimes used the caravan as a cubby house – I thought it was the most luxurious and amazing thing ever.
We went swimming in an icy cold local creek, stained with tannin from the state forests. I was simultaneously repulsed and attracted to the frog spawn foaming at the ragged banks.
Audrey was an enthusiastic collector, with many interesting treasures. One item that fascinated me (and I still think about it today) was a pressed metal typewriter toy that could actually type. You rotated a dial on the top of the typewriter shaped box, to select a letter to type, one at a time. It was brightly coloured as pressed-metal toys are. I desired it with all my heart (and still kind of want it now).
Audrey was always really well turned out. She had an excellent eye, and a keen intellect revealed through incisive quips. She liked a bit of verbal thrust and parry. She was both sharp and kind.
I miss her now, selfishly, an embodiment of my distant infancy.