The River

My town had a real river, a wide green serpent which cut the place in two. We were brought up to have respect for this body of water and told never to go near it alone. Tales of drownings and near-drownings kept me obedient. Besides, I knew there were rats living on the banks. Because our house was just a block away the odd rat made its way into our backyard. Even the cats would not approach them. It was up to my grandfather to do the job with a shovel.

Almost directly opposite our street was the freezing or meat packing works. One summer when I was a student at university, I got a job in the office. Maybe it was through the manager of the works who was the father of a friend of mine. If I ‘d had a boat I could have rowed there in about fifteen minutes but as I used a bicycle, it took double that time to reach the bridge, cross it and then double back on the opposite side of the river. The wind always blew into my face on one of those trips.

The river was used for recreation. My father had a boat which we took up river to fish and have picnics. I have photos of us sitting in a row on a bank drinking tea. Dad was a keen and founding member of the Speedboat Club. They held noisy and exciting regattas on the river. People also swam in it and rowed on it. The rowers included one of my cousins.

I remember a flood when i was 8 and I went down to look at the high water at the bridge. Somebody saw me and contacted my father. He collected and lectured me. I did not understand why he was so upset. It was exciting watching the tree branches and dead sheep whizz by. The bridge survived that flood but it did not survive Cyclone Bola in 1988. I was living in Canada at the time and my mother sent me newspaper cuttings and photographs showing the devastation in the district. I believe that cars had to use the railway bridge while people were ferried across the river by boat. The new much higher replacement bridge was opened by the Queen when she was touring New Zealand. Mum was at the ceremony and her photographs show she was close enough to touch the Queen. Not that she would!

Next week I will probably write more about my hometown.