This sketch was intended for Chapter two: ‘Getting out of jail’, of The Woman on the Mountain. We lived here, in a village of 200 people, for 10 years before we went bush; both my children were born while here.
‘It would be hard to imagine a more extreme downsizing to a 3 x 4-metre tent than from the grand complex that locals simply called ‘the old jail’. Built in the late nineteenth century, it encompassed courthouse, police station, three-cell jail and exercise courtyard, plus the residence, with accommodation for a special constable tacked on later. Not to forget the back-to-back outdoor double toilet — the most imposing proverbial ‘brick shithouse’ imaginable.
‘There was a separate kitchen/dining room building, as was the safety custom in the days of wood-fuelled cooking, linked to the main house by a breezeway. The latter also led to the heavy iron door, complete with spy hatch and massive iron bolt, accessing the jail courtyard, open to the sky except for iron bars, and thence to the cells. These had similar iron doors — creak of rust, clang of finality — no getting out of there.
‘… A few pot plants and hanging baskets turned the exercise yard into a pleasantly sunny, protected courtyard, accessible also from the lounge room via an iron-barred door.
‘I’d had to promise not to get pregnant until we’d repaid the loan for the total purchase amount of $6000 (truly!) and even that loan was only possible through personal string-pulling by my in-laws. In the 1960s a wife’s income was not taken into account and women could not borrow. The Pill had arrived, but if bank managers knew about it, they weren’t letting on.’
That antique cane pram in which my babies basked in the exercise yard was a family heirloom that I desecrated by painting bright orange.
‘Here I feel obliged also to confess that I painted a beautiful, borrowed, antique cane bassinet and stand with gloss enamel ‘Aquarius Green’, a rather acidic lime. It was the era of the musical Hair, ‘the dawning of the age of Aquarius’, plus that’s my star sign — but neither seems a worthy excuse in retrospect.’
I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.