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Wednesday
Jun012005

Caravan (published Heat magazine 2001)

On the way in to Kempsey en route to South West Rocks, with Fenn and Felix listening to their book tape in the back seat, I pulled off the highway to drive slowly past the house where a girlfriend once lived. It was back in the early seventies and her name was Lyn Reiby. The house is weatherboard and square with a high-pitched symmetrical tin roof, one of the oldest in South Kempsey - like a dairy farmer’s place that the town had surrounded. ‘Why are you slowing down Dad? This isn’t South West Rocks,’ said Felix in a querilous voice. There were no lights on (it was dusk) but the 60’s Viscount caravan was, as always, parked on the wide verge. There were a few old-style housefrocks hung up on a line under the verandah to dry, so I assumed that Mrs. Reiby was still alive. If it had looked like someone was in I would have knocked, introduced my two little boys. When I last saw Lyn about fifteen years ago on a trip down the coast she said that her Dad was sick and would get up in the night to stomp around the house because of the bad circulation in his legs.

I used to be scared of Mr. Reiby. He was a nuggety self-made business man (in trucking I think) who didn’t like me much and told me so. He’d read some of the letters that Lynn and I exchanged (several each week between Sydney and Kempsey) - mine full of pretentious adolescent self pity and long quotes from Dylan Thomas, and hers full of lurid accounts of high school, sex, drugs and fatal accidents - cars that shot off the bumpy riverflat roads, doing a ton.

The Reibys habitually took their caravan to Crescent Head for six weeks every summer, and in January of seventy-two Lyn invited me to come up in the train and stay with them there. I slept on a stretcher bed under their green striped annexe, with the sound of the surf pounding away on the other side of the lagoon. Crescent had the longest left-hand break on the coast.

And I remember one time on that holiday with great clarity: Mr Reiby was shaving over a white enamel bowl full of hot water with his safety razor in the darkened interior of the caravan (they always pulled down the venetians in the middle of the day). I was absent-mindedly watching this ritual when he looked up and asked me if I’d like to have a go after he’d finished. I was pretty smooth and hairless for a 17 year old - just a bit of bum fluff on my lip and chin - but, nonetheless I said ‘Yep, sure.’ Then he handed me the razor and stood and laughed as, in front of Lynn and her mum, I pointlessly scraped away at my soft chin. I hated him for that. Mrs. Reiby told him to stop teasing me and he sauntered off with a bang of the flimsy screen door to the Country Club or wherever he was going.

Lynn told me that holiday how she liked receiving all my letters but that she just wanted me to be her ‘friend’ - she’d fallen in love with a local guy with broad shoulders, a job and a Valiant safari wagon. When he came in from surfing he’d buy a loaf of white bread, pull out the doughy centre and fill it with hot chips.

And now nearly thirty years later, as we rounded the bend in my station wagon (of a not disimilar vintage to the boyfriend’s Valiant) I noticed, despite the fading evening light, that that the Reiby’s caravan looked dirty - its windows were laced with glinting snail tracks, and curls of buffalo grass had wrapped themselves around its deflated tyres.

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