My first memories are still quite clear. I wonder if that is because I have often remembered them and put them into shape, so to speak. I was about three, so it was in 1935 or 36 and I had gone out through the back fence to find my cousin Annetta known to me as Netta, or quite often Net Net. (I have had all these events of the day confirmed by the lady herself, who recently had her 90th birthday. She remembers well the drama.) We were living at my grandmother’s house in Davidson St Newmarket, Brisbane, apparently waiting for the tenants of the house which my parents had bought a couple of of kilkometres away in Ashgrove Avenue, across Newmarket Creek which ran through the valley between the two roads. Across this area was a lot of scrubby bush marked by tall and beautiful trees and, of course, the creek. It varied in depth from a ford, through which you could walk, to several metres in long stretches of deep, brown, slowly moving water.
Netta’s place was accessible by a path through some low bush at the back of Nana’s place and it was through there that I went that morning. Netta wasn’t around, she was at school I was informed by my Aunt Florrie, the wife of my mother’s elder brother, Jim, and she didn’t take much notice of me putting my head around the door. She was much criticised for her trouble later by the family for not noticing what I was doing. I have no memory of what happened then but apparently went off to find ‘school’. This involved walking up the hill and along bitumen streets, past large Queenslander’ houses on their wooden stumps and with wide verandas, and tall trees, some of which are still there. I got lost, not having the foggiest where ‘school’ was anyway.
It seems that I reached the main road, Kelvin Grove Road, about a mile from the house, where the trams travelled on their journeys to and from the Brisbane CBD, about seven kilometres away, because I have a clear memory of sitting on the gutter crying my eyes out, watching trams go by, totally and completely lost. Somehow I must have walked on because my next memory is of being in a shop with two young men, one of whom kept moulding a ball of white putty in his hand, something that fascinated me. They were, in fact, painter apprentices, and had found me nearby and taken me to the shop to telephone the strange event of the wandering child to the police-no mobiles in those days. I had walked several miles, up hill-and there were some big hills-and down dale, and was not far from the main General Hospital at Herston.
In the meantime my disappaearance had been noted and a great search was on. My father raced home from his work at the Roma Street Railway Station, one of the city’s biggest, the neighbours were out, and all the surroundings were being beaten. Of particular interest and dread was the creek, carrying the fear that I had wandered off and fallen in. But all was to be well and I was to return in glory. My last memory of this remarkable day was that, sandwiched between two large policeman in a ‘dicky seat’ car-a one seater under the cab, with the open seat behind, very smart!- I crested the hill at the top of Davidson Street to find all the family and many neighbours out in the street waiting for me to return in triumph.
Many years later my analyst was quite struck by this episode, saying that it was rare for a child that young to venture beyond the family boundaries; and I have speculated that it had something to do with my great desire in my adulthood to travel far.