I know, I was there. And I have the photographs to prove it.
My skin a pale grey,
my eyes coal black,
my brother’s white blond hair next to me on the bench. Staring out into
the hope of a coloured future.
In the 1960’s, even the big events were black and white. Like when I was four or five –
no, four exactly, my brother was or five, and we were sitting in the front room of my
Grandmother’s house, recording the Meckering earthquake on a (rictus) scale of
childhood fear. Black concentric lines radiating on a white map
I remember it like a photo, although I haven’t one to show. I remember it like being in a
photograph looking out, with the bevelled edges of memory masking the big picture.
I can see others around me in shades of grey. My mother, her face cut out from a larger
photo, a smiling close up with a baby me. Only now the baby is my sister – she is crying
and my mother is distracted. A Great Aunt is shouting
“grab the baby’grab the baby!”
The pram rolls by itself on the lino floor.
I am frightened and want my bear – a Panda – what else? My mother tells me to go and
fetch it. BY MYSELF – DOWNSTAIRS IN THAT SHAKING HOUSE. I must have gone, I
can’t remember, (or maybe my brother came with me) because he pops up now and
then – the panda, in other photos of me at five, at six, still in his striking black and
white, though eventually he got a little off colour. (later still, he was disembowled by a
neighbours dog in the all too bright, polaroid seventies.)
There were others too, at my Grandmother’s house. A great uncle, in the driveway with
my father, chocking the wheels of his new car all shiny black and chrome, and tyres of
scrunching gravel. Above the car the sky is blank grey nothing. Unimpressed with the
shaking anger of the ground or turning a blind eye – it has nothing to say. The rain is
falling softly, placating, apologising.
We lived not far from Meckering and, had we been home on the farm ,things may have
been different, coloured maybe, or etched more clearly in my mind, or spiked with the
random edge of broken glass. But where we were, near Perth, the earthquake was only
a strange and eerie thing, a moving silence, a heavy noise. And most distinctly the
shivering of the dimpled louvers in their frames like clear brittle cellophane.
My Father says he wasn’t there. Most emphatic. He says he was in the State library, and
the books came tumbling off the shelves in waves, with the type falling every which
way, black and white, black and white.
I acquiesce, my memory lies on a fault line and many things have fallen in. But I know I
was there once, with someone chocking the wheels of a car on the gravelled drive and
my panda bear too far away for comfort and the ground vibrating like a struck gong.
Black and white. My memories are black and white, all broken up by seismic shifts and
grey with interference.