I wish my dad had taught me THIS

I have whistle envy. You know, the kind of piercing whistle that takes a finger or two just so at the mouth and a certain intent expression? You can stamp your feet and clap as loud as you want for an encore from your favourite band but a "Whoo!" or a "Yeah!" doesn't cut the air like whistles do.

My dad has a whistle like that. Some kids knew it was time to head for home when the street lights came on but for us Dad's whistle at any time of day meant back to base in ten minutes "or else".  We free ranged all over the backyards of our small town suburb.   There were yards we felt free to cut through and yards we only ever skirted the edges of.  The old lady over the back had no time for us so we jumped the fence on the other side.

In teams we would take turns to tie each other up like Joan of Arc to the posts under the house. Once escaped, we would chase and capture the other team and the next round began. We set bounds by number of yards so there was a chance of finding each other before boredom set in.

Up the top of the street bare blocks led down towards the Botanic Gardens that we treated as an extension of our own backyard.  The playground was full of equipment that would never pass health and safety now but took us to the limits of our inventiveness.   I don't know what the few parents actually supervising their children thought of us, as we never stopped long enough to find out.

We rode our bikes wherever we wanted to go.  Back then bike brakes were a matter of pushing hard backwards on your pedals.  This made for excellent skids but not always the quickest of stops.  Once I went flying down the footpath and kept going right across the intersection, only stopping when my wheel hit the gutter and I flipped onto the grass.

My brother had a BMX and he raced me up the street so furiously he ran straight up the back of a parked panel van and just about knocked himself out.  His excuse was it was dusk and falling dark.  I was scared then but we both laugh our heads off about it now. We had headlights that ran on a dynamo powered by the friction of the turning wheel. They were useless if you were coasting and next to useless even when you were pedalling hard.


These sorts of near misses our parents rarely heard about but sometimes the neighbours filled them in.  My younger brother and I could climb the chicken wire fence and out along a springy little mango tree branch onto our roof. My older brothers climbed out the casement windows, up onto the window hood and over the guttering.  We'd make our way up the ridge to sit there and enjoy the panoramic view out to the edge of town.

We spent a lot of time outside because our tiny TV was black and white and our parents were incredibly strict on our viewing habits.  Once my brother and I were so desperate for 'screen time' we used Dad's hand drill to make a hole in the wall.   We took turns peeping through to the lounge room, with the radio tuned to ABC so we could hear the sound.   It was "Aunty" all the way at our place and Dad insisted on complete quiet once the news fanfare played each morning.

It sounds quaint in the telling, these stories of a childhood in a country town.   My own kids are already well versed in tales of how things were and know by sight the same streets from our frequent enough visits to a place left behind half a lifetime ago.   But they will probably never know the summons of a piercing whistle across the streets of their own neighbourhood, and probably never care to make their Grandfather's whistle their own.

Nik is a mother of three and high school English teacher who decided that writing is best form of procrastination.  You can read her blog about coming to terms with being a hoarder at Nicole Let It Go. She procrastinates further via instagram and twitter @kapernickn.