Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 5

Castles, Swamps and Big Metal Beasts

by Chalky MacLaan

Squinting, my eyes being assaulted by the flying dust, we fought the wind across the drawbridge. The battlements towered high above as we entered the gates, my children by my side.

Ahead of us was a staircase and we ascended, following its upward curve. My third born was struggling, whining, trying to pull away from my grasp. I held tight, lest her tiny body be swept away on the hot North wind.

Reaching the safety of the tower, I looked out at the godforsaken surroundings. Westward lay the churning grey water. To the south, the mangroves grew like a fungus around the edge of a bay. In the east, the light shimmered on the salt pans and I could see the causeway which we had just traversed. In the north loomed a great wall of brown. I had to turn away as another strong gust blew more grit into my face.

Gesturing, my firstborn entreated me to follow her to the edge of the tower. From the eastern battlements, two great metallic snakes made their way down to the ground.  “Can I go on the slide now, Dad?” she pleaded.

So began our ‘Daddy Day Out’ at St Kilda, South Australia.

The castle slide

The castle slide

Because of family work arrangements, I am often tasked with looking after my three children for whole days by myself. I don’t like hanging around at home, so I often take them on a ‘Daddy Day Out’ to ward off cabin fever. In the recent holidays, a number of factors meant that I had many excursions to plan. The excursions have to be cheap and engaging for all of the kids (aged six, four and two).

Amongst my childhood memories, one place that I remember especially fondly is St Kilda. If my brother and I had been particularly well behaved and if my dad was not too grumpy, we would sometimes stop there for a few hours on our way back from Adelaide to our home in the country.

St Kilda lies between mangrove swamps; an unpleasant part of the Adelaide coastline; and some very stinky salt lakes. It is dry, dusty and completely flat. However, what it lacks in beauty is made up in bucket loads by three child friendly attractions: a mangrove trail, a tram museum and a massive ‘old school’ adventure playground.

St Kilda was named, not after a Saint, as there has never been a saint by that name (Buchanan, 1983) (see this clip from Qi for more details [from 11:30 to 12:03]), but after a part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, which, like ours, has abundant bird life (Gunton, 1986).

St Kilda is an isolated community of 250 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007) and is served by one road, which passes over the salt flats. These salt flats are currently Australia’s only source of soda ash (Taylor, 2003), a very interesting product with many uses. Just beyond the salt pans is Adelaide’s sewerage treatment works whose miasma wafts steadily towards the town.

We arrived at the playground early to beat the crowds and chose the castle as our first port of call.

I soon discovered that the one parent to three children ratio was not ideal as each child wanted to do something different. I wanted to keep them in sight because despite many of the best equipment being removed over the years for safety reasons, it really is still an ‘old school’ playground: in one part of the castle there is a ladder that descends at least ten metres into the earth. My two year old thought that this ladder was fascinating and my time was spent keeping her away from the shaft.

After distracting her with slippery dip rides, I rounded up the others and headed for the pirate ship: three levels of splintery, wooden goodness, perched on the edge of the grey, sludgy bay.

A quick descent from the top level to the bottom was enough for the kids and they were soon running toward the flying foxes, the smaller of which was available. Never in my life have I been able to go on the flying fox here. The line was always huge and populated with bullies.

Each child had a fly before we set off to tackle Slide Mountain: The most exciting, fabulous, amazing piece of playground magic in the entire world. Spiralling down into its centre were two speedy slides. As a child, I spend hours deep in its echoing caverns.

As we approached the mountain, we paused, trying to contain our excitement. Ducking my head, we entered a tunnel reminiscent of a Wild West mine. After a zig and a zag, we emerged into a maze, its curving wooden walls no match for this cheater. Finding the gaps, we edged through, trying to find the magic portal.

We came face to face with the portal and to my disappointment, it was all boarded up. We scrambled up the rocks and looked to the top of the hill. The slides were blocked off too. My head starting to pulse with rage, I charged off towards the little wooden bridge that would take us across to the other part of the playground, but when we reached its edge, it was also blocked off.

Frustrated and with my youngest getting more bored by the minute, I resigned myself to the fact that they would probably get more enjoyment from the fairly standard, modern equipment designed for the younger ones. Ironically, they did. My eldest, however, decided to run off and try some of the more unusual equipment.

While standing near a small plastic slide, incrementally offering hand holding services to the two year old, I had some time to reflect. Opened in 1982 (Taylor, 2003), the St Kilda Adventure Playground was originally full of every piece of exciting, thrilling and downright dangerous equipment you could imagine. Feeling the unnatural concave curve in my front teeth, I remembered the thrill of climbing onto the metal giraffe: you sat three metres up in the air and it would rock so violently that if you weren’t careful you’d bang your chin. Those were the days! It really wasn’t the same anymore.

When I finally felt like my eye sockets did not have room for any more dust, I scooped up my offspring to move on to the mangroves.

The mangrove boardwalk

The mangrove boardwalk

We collected the electronic boardwalk access card from the local bait shop and set off for the self-guided boardwalk, my two year strapped, secured and safe in the pram.

We sped through the unmanned interpretive centre and out towards the mangroves. The first part of the walk took us over the low, flat samphire marsh. The green and pink expanse of this edible succulent was surrounded by pristine pools of still, saline water.

Despite the noise emanating from my rambunctious progeny, we started to hear the chirping of birds. Apparently, the mangroves are home to over two hundred species of birds (Waanders, 2004).

As we approached the mangroves, the dirt track was replaced by a narrow wooden boardwalk which quickly rose a metre in the air so we could view the mangroves from above. Mercifully, this section of the walk had a hand rail.

The wind still blowing strong, we descended into the mangroves. They enveloped us, their leaves blocking the wind and creating an eerie atmosphere. The heat and the moisture from the swamp gave the impression that we had just entered the tropics.

A little further up the winding trail, we entered the finger forest. Mangroves grow in the soil beneath the swamp, but send roots up to above the waterline. Because of the tidal variance, when we visited, these roots protruded significantly from the water, making it look like hundreds of fingers were emerging from the mud.

Number two child was quite amazed and was not watching where he was going. “Stop!” I cried, but instead, he turned his head, still walking towards the lip at the edge of the boardwalk. As his toe caught the edge, I stumbled forward, trying to scramble past the pram to catch hold of him. I realised, to my horror, that there was no way I would reach him in time.

He started to fall out towards the swamp, hundreds of spikey fingers waiting to catch his little body. He propellered his arms, flapping about like a startled chicken. After what seemed like hours, he managed to regain his balance and stepped back from the edge. Not knowing whether to scream, snicker or scold him, I took a deep breath and reminded him to look where he was going.

The finger forest

The finger forest

After posing for a few pictures and hiding in a couple of bird hides, we reached the lookout. Toddler was unstrapped and we made our way to the top. We had made it to the edge of the mangroves and could now see waters of the bay.

Before setting off on the four hundred metre walk back to the car, we peered through the mesh that blocked the onward stretch of path. The boardwalk, covered in seaweed and rotting in the darkness of the dense foliage could be seen disappearing into the distance. Once, this had been a loop path, but that half is now closed. I wondered why.

Walking back to the car, second born was vibrating with excitement. The most exciting part of the day had arrived: it was time to visit the tram museum.

From 1878 to 1958, Adelaide had a very large tram and trolleybus network. All but one of these lines were ripped up when the glorious car era arrived (State Transport Authority, 1978). Thankfully, many of Adelaide’s historical trams and trolleybuses have been preserved at the Adelaide Tramway Museum near St Kilda. The museum regularly runs tram rides along a two kilometre track to the playground and back. For each round trip, they usually run a different historic tram.

We paid our entrance fees to the dour lady in the office and headed for the trolleybus shed. Trolleybuses are electric buses that get their power from overhead wires. They are very strange looking creatures and the little ’ns enjoyed running laps, in through the front doors and out through the novel rear doors.

While perusing the vehicles, I realised how so often, things come full circle. Adelaide once had a fleet of double decker trolley buses which were diverted to Adelaide from Japanese occupied China during World War Two (Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008). They disappeared well before I was born. To me, double decker buses were always exotic machines from magical London, even though they were once common here. Later this year, the government is once again introducing double decker buses to Adelaide’s streets. This little transport nerd is wetting his pants!

After some convincing, I was able to get the littlest away from the buses and move to the other sheds, where we were able to explore many different trams from various eras and

The tram on which we travelled

The tram on which we travelled

locations.

We took our seats in the historic tram that was slated for the first run of the day. It is always a bit unnerving waiting in a stationary tram as they make absolutely no noise. We chose our seats in the open section, where there were no doors; it’s more fun that way (I can hear all the mums fall sideways off their seats).

As we waited, I took the opportunity to admire the detail and artistry that went into the décor of these old trams. They even have colourful leadlight windows!

When the tram started rolling, we were the only passengers. I strapped the little one in a ‘daddy seatbelt’ (on my lap, my arms as restraints) so she didn’t go tumbling out of the door. The old tram rattled down the track at quite a speed. That, combined with the wind, meant that I was very glad we had left the hats in the car.

At the other end, we watched the solemn pole swapping ceremony. The electric poles on old trams must always trail behind; so, at a terminus, the driver must pull one pole down using a rope and raise the other. Modern pantographs have eliminated the need for this quaint practice.

After collecting a few passengers from the playground, we set back across the salt lakes. As we clattered along, the breeze ruffled my youngest daughter’s silky blonde hair as she snuggled into me, her eyelids growing heavy.

Returning to the car, I shut the doors and we were finally free from the dust, wind and heat.

 

Quick Reference:

castles-pg

castles-mg

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Key:
P = Pram accessibility
0-4, 5-12, 13-17, 18+ = star rating (out of 5) for these age groups

Works Cited:

Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008. Adelaide Tram Muesum At St. Kilda South Australia – Things to see and do. [Online]
Available at: http://www.trammuseumadelaide.com.au/01_things.html
[Accessed 8 May 2014].

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007. “St Kilda (State Suburb)”. 2006 Census QuickStats. [Online]
Available at: http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2006/quickstat/SSC42626
[Accessed 28 February 2008].

Buchanan, M., 1983. St Kilda: a Photographic Album. s.l.:W. Blackwood.

Gunton, E., 1986. Tracing Our Towns, Stories of Same Named Places in South Australia and the United Kingdom. South Australia: Self Published.

State Transport Authority, 1978. Transit in Adelaide : the story of the development of street public transportation in Adelaide from horse trams to the present bus and tram system. Adelaide, South Australia: State Transport Authority (South Australia).

Taylor, E., 2003. The History and Development of ST KILDA South Australia. Salisbury, South Australia: Lions Club of Salisbury.

Waanders, P., 2004. A birdwatching guide to South Australia: St Kilda tidal flats and mangroves. [Online]
Available at: http://members.dodo.com.au/~peteriw/birdingsa/sites-6.htm
[Accessed 21 January 2007].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, Scotland. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_Scotland
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, South Australia. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_South_Australia
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

 

 Author’s Note:

This week, I decided to try my hand at travel writing. I love writing and travel, therefore this genre seemed like the perfect fit.

I am considering starting another blog dedicated solely to writing about my Daddy Days Out. I frequently have people ask me how I know what to do around Adelaide with my children each week. So, this week’s blog was an opportunity for me to test out this idea. Writing this piece was enjoyable, so I think I will write the other blog. I’ll let you know the link when it is set up.

I hope you can forgive me interpreting my writing brief in a flexible way – I am a man and I was on a boardwalk, which I think is close enough to a wharf… maybe?

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Old Stories

Old Stories – Play Café

Author’s Note:

When I finished my undergraduate Arts degree in 2004, real life started. From that point on, my time was consumed with my demanding teaching course, a stressful new teaching job, marriage and having three children. Because of this, until recently, I hadn’t written anything of substance in ten years, excepting one story: Play Café.

I wrote Play Café in 2009, only a year into being a father for the first time. After visiting a play café with my daughter, I started to notice the politics that existed amongst small children. At this stage, I hadn’t taken her to many playgrounds and I was struck with how young we are when we first experience brutality and inflict it on others. Whoever says children are innocent angels is wrong!

Writing this story marked my first experience of writing for the sake of writing. No one demanded it, I wasn’t completing a course and I didn’t necessarily think anyone would want to read it; I just wrote for fun. I enjoyed the process so much that I vowed to work towards writing  in the future. It took another five years, but I have finally reached a point in my life where I have the time and head space to be able to write.

It is not perfect and I have learnt a lot more about writing in the last five years, but I hope you’ll enjoy it!

If you like this story, it is available for free as an ebook from itunes and smashwords.

 

Play Café

by Chalky MacLaan

Jessica had only just learnt to speak, so she was chattering to herself, experimenting with the sound ‘eh’ as she lay in the ball crawl. She preferred the sensation of lying on the squashy plastic balls to that of lying on the sand. The absence of water was a benefit as well. As she thought about the beach, a shiver ran up her spine, her little hands started to shake and moisture gathered in the corner of one of her blue eyes. She remembered the way her feet sank in the soft sand and how she couldn’t stay upright.

She rolled over and came to rest on her stomach. She could see her mother’s safe smile through the fence, causing her to forget all about her past misadventures. Her mother nodded encouragingly just as something caught Jessica’s eye in the next section of the play café.

She rolled over on to her back, then kept going onto her front again and repeated this until she was at the edge of the ball crawl. She had experimented a little during her few minutes in the crawl and decided that this rolling action was easier than walking and more fun too.

She pulled herself out and onto her feet and waddled out of the enclosure, past her slowly-caffeinating mother and into the next enclosure.

Jessica was delighted with the sight that lay before her eyes. Cars lined up along the fence; cars that were the right size for her. She let out a delighted giggle and ran up to the first car, her arms outstretched at the ready for exploration.

“Go away,” were the words shouted at her as she was thrown back onto the floor. In the shock preceding the inevitable cry, Jessica had a chance to see what she hadn’t before. A large boy in a red t-shirt was looking down from the very car that Jessica had been investigating. He had small dark eyes that were narrowed in selfish anger, a long, narrow face and a chin that was as sharp as his words. “I said go away girl!”

As a mournful wail emerged slowly from Jessica, the boy decided he hadn’t finished. He slowly moved the little car away from the fence and as the startled Jessica was just getting to her feet again, he bumped into her, knocking her to the floor once more. He then turned his car around abruptly and trundled off to the other side of the enclosure.

The now very confused, upset and red-faced Jessica was still on the floor as her mother came up quietly and scooped her into her arms. Instant calm came over Jessica as she felt the warmth of her mother’s neck against her cheek. However, with this familiar feeling of comfort came a fresh batch of tears.

As she lay in her mother’s arms, listening to the comforting sound of her favourite nursery rhyme being whispered in her ear, Jessica saw an amazing sight. It was like a huge castle. It had slides, trampolines and tunnels. She was itching to go and climb on it, so she started to wriggle.

Her mother placed her on the ground and walked behind her as she made her way to the bottom of the ladder. This was like no other ladder Jessica had ever seen before. It was made of soft cubes placed on a diagonal across a slope. She tried to climb onto the first cube. It was a lot bigger than Jessica was expecting and she struggled madly to try and climb on to it. Eventually, after several seconds of pulling with her arms, wiggling with her bottom and scrabbling with her legs, she finally made it onto the first cube. She was exhausted and looked ahead to see that there were at least two more cubes to go to get to the top.

She then remembered that her mum was standing near by. She held up her hand and it was promptly wrapped in the firm grasp she knew well. In no time at all, Jessica was at the top of the ladder. She now was faced with a choice: would she stay near her mum, go down the slide and then have to climb back up again; or would she go through the tunnel to the left, away from her mum and deep into the castle with all its trampolines and other mysteries?

She stepped up into the tunnel and crawled her way through, stopping only briefly to look out of the port-hole. Soon, she could see the first trampoline, only it didn’t look like any trampoline that she had ever been on in the past. This one extended straight out from the level that she was on, which meant she didn’t have to climb up at all. It was also surrounded on three sides by nets, so Jessica didn’t have to worry about falling over.

As Jessica was just about to step onto the trampoline, she felt a dull thud at the base of her spine. She toppled heavily onto the trampoline. As she landed, she bounced back up into a standing position, just as a dark figure in a red t-shirt rushed out of view around the corner.

Jessica was about to cry, but then she realised that she enjoyed the feeling of bouncing. She walked back to the edge of the trampoline and recreated her bounce from before. She giggled madly and tried the same thing a few more times before she decided to press on with her adventure.

She turned the corner and was confronted with another tunnel. She felt a little apprehensive as her stomach gave a little nervous tickle. She turned back and looked for her mother. She couldn’t see her from here, but was sure that she was still nearby.

With a deep breath, Jessica plunged into the semi-darkness of the tunnel. About half way along the tunnel, Jessica realised that as she crawled, she was getting higher and higher. As she emerged from the tunnel, Jessica looked around through the nets, surveying the castle. Her heart gave a little jump when she realised that she was right at the top.

Immediately, Jessica dropped back onto all fours. Although there was plenty of room to walk upright, she felt much safer with her head closer to the walkway. She crawled slowly around the next corner and then stopped and remained very still.

In front of her was the biggest slide Jessica had ever seen. It went right from where she was standing, down to the ground. The slide was in a long, red tunnel that looked to Jessica like a long wiggly caterpillar.

Jessica was really scared. She had only ever been down little slides, and always when her mother was right there, holding her hand. She looked back towards the way that she had come and then back at the slide. Another choice had to be made. Two small tears began to slide down her cheeks as she pondered, when a small movement caught her eye. Her mother was waving to her at the bottom of the slide. She seemed to have a funny look on her face. Jessica couldn’t tell exactly what it meant, but the sight of her mother calmed her and she now knew what she had to do.

Jessica crawled up to the top of the slide. It was very quiet up here, only the faint murmur of voices could be heard. She sat, her legs dangling onto the slide, waiting for some sort of cue to tell her to go.

Footsteps came thudding up the structure behind her. She turned around quickly and out of habit sprung up, with her back facing the slide.

After turning, the first thing Jessica saw was a red splodge. Then the image of the boy formed quickly around the splodge and Jessica’s heart skipped a beat.

“That’s my slide,” roared the boy. Jessica couldn’t move. The boy’s eyes narrowed so much that they almost disappeared entirely. “Move!” The words thundered around Jessica’s head, but she couldn’t think of what to do. Her thoughts shifted to her mum. She started turning around to look for her mum when she was pushed in the side.

Thunder and tumble and a flood of red.

Round and over and crash and thump.

Jessica’s mum scooped her off of the padded floor at the base of the slide. Silent tears were starting to emerge from Jessica’s frightened eyes.

As she was carried towards the door in her mother’s safe arms, Jessica looked back into the café. She saw the boy get up from a heap at the bottom of the slide. He slowly rubbed his head. He looked around frantically until his eyes stopped. Jessica followed his gaze to a lady over near the back of the café. She was facing the other direction, leaning on a table and talking into a mobile phone.

The boy, after staring for a few moments started to howl. His tears were flowing down on to the foam mat. The lady didn’t flinch or react, but continued to talk to her phone.

Jessica and her mother had now made it to the door and the scene in the café was now out of sight. They walked outside into the bright sunshine.

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Cover image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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