It was your former friend’s older brother’s pigeon coops that did it for me, Mark Mordue. Bought back those hazy memories of an old mate, now lost to me in time. It seems to me the ‘sport’ of pigeon racing is from another era. It may still have its devotees, as a backyard hobby of sorts, but are they still sent to the skies to compete with other coops? If that’s the case it’s wide of my orb these days. But way back then I was introduced to this proud pal’s pigeon-house and its denizens. I cannot look back with any degree of confidence, but I suspect each bird had its name with any champion homers treated as feathered royalty. I probably held several of them and cooed my amazement at their feats. This was certainly pre-uni for me – the late Sixties, maybe in my matriculation years, maybe before even those. I know, during the two years post-Grade 10, I had other friends and my interest in girls had awoken. Leaving my regional area for the capital, to train to be a teacher, ended this particular relationship – that is for sure.
We’ll call him Rob. It wasn’t his real name. He never went by his real name. He was somewhat older. Now much is lost, but he chose, for whatever reason, to hang out with myself and other younger guys. There were a group of us – a fellow from the housing commission flats down on North Terrace; perhaps my brother and some of his cobbers. It’s all so vague in my synapses. Despite his greater years, it didn’t seem Rob had any interest in the opposite gender. There was never a sign of any girlfriend at that stage. Maybe he was otherwise inclined, but there was never a hint of that either. Did he drive a car? Was that, in turn, our attraction to him? Of course, a mode of transport meant freedom to us who then relied on walking to get from A to B. But I have no memory of there being so. He definitely had a boat which he left on the sand at West Beach for much of the months of warmer weather. He’d row a number of us out to sea in it. No life jackets – and I could hardly swim a stroke. He took us so far out that the sunbathers back on shore were mere dots. On some days we’d fish from it and we also beach netted. On other days we’d take our rods down to the wharves; to Ocean Pier, readily accessible to us in those times. On the seaward side there was a narrow ledge, high above the briny, from which we’d dangle our hooks. Heaven help me if I fell in. Any catch we’d proudly take home for our mothers to cook – even dozy old cod. On occasion we’d toss out couta lines. What ever happened to couta? Like pigeons they don’t seem to figure, but then they were prized.
Tennis was another activity I engaged in with him. There were old bitumen courts behind the school where Burnie Makers now imposes itself. We were all reasonable players and took it quite seriously. It was fun.
Rob’s parents owned one of the town’s corner grocery stores. It’s long gone, as are all the others of my childhood – Redmans, the BP Roadhouse, the Terminus Cafe where my father alighted from driving a Green Coachliner down the highway from Launceston each evening, the West Beach Shop.
After reading Mondue’s ‘One for the Boys’ I wondered what became of Rob. When I returned to my home town, to continue my career in education, there was no re-connection – not even an encounter similar to the columnist’s that I can bring to mind. And that would be strange given the relatively small size of the place and the long years I spent in the schools around the locality. But by then I was married and was eventually a father. I never hung around at the attractions of my growing up. Maybe he still did. Did Rob marry and produce offspring? Did he move on to the bright lights of a big city somewhere? And now, these days, is he even still with us? Questions I cannot answer, probably never will. In any case, I trust he’s had a good, fulfilling life.
He was kind to us younger boys. We felt entirely safe in his company. I never smoked, but I seem to think he may of done. I don’t remember any indulging in alcohol or, heaven forbid, drugs. All in all it seemed quite an innocent time without the distractions of today’s digital world. We were out and about, not stuck in front of screens, at least until ‘The Flintstones’ or ‘Bonanza’ came on in the evenings. But was that innocence just a veneer? It may have been for all I know. So long ago now – with so much in front of me. I’d forgotten about Rob until I read that column. I shouldn’t have.
Mark Mordue’s column = https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/childhood-friendship-is-a-beautiful-thing-that-slips-away-20190514-p51n97.html