Twitchy New Shoes

Twitchy new shoes and white cotton socks. Standing on the burnt orange and rust red local stone driveway of my home, scrubbed to within an inch of sanity with a buzz of excitement hanging in the warm March sunshine. Important visitors were on the way and everyone’s attention was on that coming.

It was my birthday and the brand new Kodak Box Brownie camera was resting uneasily in my hand. The red carpet was down for "Elizabeth & Philip".

I know I promised to be good. Some things are harder to do when it's supposed to be your day but on this day, I was way under the radar.

I secretly had a couple of Quandong seeds in my pocket, and was distracted playing with them. These marble sized, wrinkly and woodenly bumpy seeds, hard as stone, were a favourite of outback children before an electronic childhood was even imagined. Empty milk powder tins, wire and red sand with a goodly amount of sunshine was the stock standard for hours of fun. But Quandong seeds, when ground together in a small hand, could make a sound like an arthritic cricket. Annoying to adult ears, go figure!

Mum had a funny hat on, round like a tin can but covered in pale green net stuff. Dad was the same as always, calm, and with a special wink for me. He had grey woolly caterpillar eyebrows, and a breeze could un-tumble the odd hair to distract from his deep set eyes. Dad had a camera, it's use was important to him. It was a Kodak Pocket model, with its snug leather case, the same shape as the camera, when opened revealed, with a tug on the lever, a magical bellows contraption. You had to hold his camera to your middle, and peer down into the small prism like viewer.

This new camera in my hand, had a friendly, if not surprised face. It also had a viewer prism on the top and the side, for different photo formats. This was obviously a special day and I had been given this special box camera and had to stand still and be good. Difficult.

A man in uniform, while standing next to the flagpole on our flat roof, with a salute and practiced flip made the colourful flag jump into the warm Alice Springs breeze. I could see a lion and a harp in squares, a strange but sparkly thing on my roof.

A black car with no roof and a small flag at the front, matching the one on our roof, stopped at our gate. Many locals stood on the pathway and started to clap and excitedly call "Hooray, the Queen". A great flurry passed me of frocks and grey trousers, more funny hats.

Mum, Dad and some of the people went inside our home/art gallery but we were not to follow. I started jiggling my camera and getting used to sighting pictures. Clicked a few and carefully rolled on the film.

After a time, we spotted Mum at the dining room window. About to take a photo, Bob, my brother grabbed my camera and ran towards the front veranda. Almost there, he was grabbed and roughly heaved into the air by a couple of men, who marched briskly around the corner. I don’t know why it was my fault. The Scotland Yard detectives thought my camera was a bomb...

Decades later, at Reedy Creek, standing on the hall carpet, a riot of old floral Axminster. The phone in hand and a plum, English voice says "Hello, it's Sam from Buckingham Palace." I must have been wearing my cynic's socks, as I answered "Sure, Sam... you sound closer than that..."

He reminded me of that day, when Prince Philip - also a painter - was so taken with Dad's art work and story that they purchased paintings to take back to England. The contact was to get permission to publish an image of the painting; 'Rex Battarbee – Ghost Gum Central Australia' as part of a touring exhibition and documentary of Prince Philip's favoured collection of art.

I still play with Quandong seeds...

Gayle Quarmby

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Mike and Gayle Quarmby

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