Tag Archives: Famous Five

Social justice rock ‘n’ roll, rugby league & archaeology: Heroes from childhood

Stained glass window with image of knight, Tower of London

Who are our heroes? Who do we look up to and why? The strong? The talented? The verbally skilled? The Everyman/woman? Who inspired you when you were a child? Kings, knights, super heroes, princesses, librarians, veterinarians, chefs or vegetarians? Here are five of my disparate childhood heroes. Who were some of yours?

1. Katharine Hepburn 

To my mind she was a woman and an actress ahead of her time: she wore pants a lot in the movies when the other women wore dresses, after her initial short-lived marriage, she never married again, but had a series of unconventional relationships. In movies she was sporting (Pat & Mike), opinionated (The Philadelphia Story) and spirited (Bringing up Baby). Her appearance and her voice were a bit out of the ordinary – she was striking with her pronounced cheekbones and sharp voice and had a strong presence on screen. Personally she had her fair share of tragedy, but she had a long career of roles spanning nearly 70 years, from roles of naïve young women (A Bill of Divorcement) through to elderly (but still spirited) women (On Golden Pond). Her long life included her lengthy and unconventional relationship with Spencer Tracy, who she also played opposite in a number of great movies, including Desk Set, from which film I learnt incidentally all about what a palindrome was! And it never hurt that she also made a number of her earlier films opposite the charming and handsome Cary Grant. To me she was a unique and versatile actress and a role model for women.

2. Peter Sterling

In a completely different vein, I believe my mother was horrified when I got into rugby league as a child (I started watching it because it came on TV after my regularly scheduled viewing of Nancy Drew). Peter Sterling was the half-back for the Parramatta Eels rugby league team during the main period in which I watched rugby. I was drawn to him because he was small and fast (not like some of the players in the other positions who were big and bulky and built for scrums) and he seemed to be everywhere on the field weaving in and out and scoring points. Even if he was tackled by someone larger, he always seemed to come out fighting. During the 1980’s when Parramatta won a number of premierships, he was a star player and I always wished girls could play rugby league too.

3. Spy vs Spy

Sydney indie ska/rock band Spy v Spy were amongst my childhood rock and roll heroes. As a kid I really questioned why everyone seemed to write those ‘boring love songs’. Why were so many songs about love (or sex)? Wasn’t there anything else in the world to write about other than broken hearts or love hearts? Spy vs spy wrote and sang about individual and social injustice. With their rock guitar sound, they put power behind the plight of murder victims, the homeless and marginalised and asked questions about our society. I had all their albums on vinyl and got to see them live once. The combination of the energetic, powerful guitar and drum-driven sound and their political message drew me in, and I thought Doc Martens were cool after having a poster of the Spies wearing Docs on my wall. I wanted to grow up to play rock guitar in a band and sing about the world’s injustices.

4. George from the Famous Five

I always thought Anne was wet: she did dishes and made meals and was kept out of the ‘dangerous’ aspects of the Famous Five adventures by her older brothers, Julian and Dick. They tried to keep George out too, but she embraced adventure and refused to conform to stereotypes of obedient young women of the time. Coming from my own time, I was incensed that the boys would try to exclude her from adventures and that she would be expected to instead attend to domestic matters. She was a tom boy, a spirited heroine who spoke her mind and, with her dog Timmy, she ran headlong into the heart of any mystery. She never wore dresses and I went through an anti-dress phase, seeing it as a form of anti-feminist oppression. I’ve since reconciled with dresses, but my admiration for George’s spiritedness lives on.

5. Indiana Jones

When I got to University and first joined the Archaeological society, I discovered that along with me, most others had been inspired to study archaeology after we were brought up on a childhood diet of Indiana Jones movies – especially Raiders of the Lost Ark. During the course of studying archaeology we learnt that what Indiana Jones was doing was actually ‘treasure hunting’, where he looked for particular objects and scandalously ripped them from their cultural context with no regard for stratigraphy. However, he made history and archaeology seem cool and brought the past to life, so he remained my dusty book-learning, action-embracing hero.

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Lurking in trees writing down number plates: the life of a junior sleuth

Shadow on grass

Solving mysteries involved taking puzzling clues that were only part of a whole and deciphering them to work out the big picture.

I may have mentioned this before, but I love mystery. As a kid, most of the books I borrowed from the library or saved up my allowance for were about mysteries and the secret societies, clubs and gangs of kids who set out to solve them. Secret Seven, Famous Five, Trixie Belden, Lone Pine club, Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Buckinghams, Bobbsey twins, Five Find-outers, McGurk mysteries and more. Mystery solving 101 usually involved finding and interpreting clues, seeing strange objects or faint traces, parts of a whole, and then putting them together to solve the crime and catch the culprit. Of course, apart from clues, wearing badges and having secret meetings in sheds and eating afternoon tea were essential – I mean, what would the Famous Five have been without their ‘lashings of ginger beer’?

As a child some friends and I formed our own Famous Five. It wasn’t very sexy to have a cat as a fifth member, so I think we tried to coerce someone’s escaped pit bull pet who happened to lift his leg on our front lawn into being our ‘Timmy’. Some of the activities our Five (or Four) engaged in were lurking up trees and taking down the number plates of passing cars – I think this was supposed to hone our skills of observation, because I’m not sure what else it was achieving. There was a wedding reception venue around the corner from my friend’s house and I think we suspected some suspicious figures were attending, so we snuck into the grounds (in our school sports uniforms) – if that was your wedding and there were some strange kids in grubby school uniforms in some of your wedding photos, it was probably us. I think we’d seen two many 1940’s Hollywood noir films, because we got it into our heads that men who smoked cigarettes were suspicious, especially those who surreptitiously discarded the butts in shrubs and I think we tried to ‘shadow’ or ‘tail’ some likely suspects. in the end I think my friend’s mother discovered where we were and dragged us away for a scolding – like all those adults in the mystery books who refuse to believe the kids, I’m sure she caused some nefarious nicotine-addicted wedding guest to get away with a heinous crime. Like many a misunderstood crime-solving genius, our true value was never quite discovered.

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Looking for solitude: the magnetism of lighthouses

Bench seat and granite lighthouse at Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island, SA.

The solitary beacon: lighthouse at Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island, SA.

When I think solitary I think lighthouse. Where they occur, they are often the only building in the landscape, a solitary beacon – the last line of warning for shipping traffic to avoid coming to grief on coastal rocks and reefs. Historically the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families were very isolated and they spent a lot of time alone with the elements and the routines of the lighthouse . The somewhat-harrowing film ‘South Solitary’ particularly reminded me of the loneliness of lighthouse living ‘back in the day’. A solitary existence was one that some embraced, but it was one that often attracted eccentric people – those fleeing families, awkward social situations or secrets.

I’ve always found something magnetic about lighthouses, whether it’s their unexpectedness in an otherwise natural landscape, or their proud bearing and gleaming paintwork and glass. From books like the children’s tale, The lighthouse keeper’s lunch to the lighthouse in Enid Blyton’s Five go to Demon’s Rocks to Virginia Woolf’s To the lighthouse – there is a fascination and mystique around lighthouses. In the TV series Road to Avonlea, lonely Gus Pike lives in a lighthouse for a while (apparently the real Sea Cow Head light on Prince Edward Island, Canada, was used for the exterior shots). The light station on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island at Cape du Couedic was constructed 1906 -1909 and manned by Keepers and their assistants until 1957. Due to the isolation, up until the 1940’s, apparently supplies only arrived once every 3 months and both supplies and people had to be transported up the cliff from a wharf via a flying fox! These days many lighthouse keepers’ cottages are let out to holiday makers and I’ve always thought the solitude might make them a good place to go to write a novel.

I believe times of solitude give the opportunity for reflection and withdrawing from the bustle of life for a short time can sharpen your clarity of mind, especially when you need to make serious decisions and are weighing things up. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to retreat to the solitude of an actual lighthouse to make decisions, but many of us find a lighthouse place to withdraw to – whether it’s the toilet cubicle that’s the only place you can find sanity and privacy in your house, or whether you have another room or place you go, I believe lighthouse time enables us to return to the world renewed in our sense of purpose and at greater peace with ourselves and our decisions.

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Little libraries, talking cats and creating your own places

Beyond the pergolaPlaces

I heard an interesting interview on ABC Radio National on the weekend, while driving around in my car from place to place (specifically from a ukulele festival  in the inner northern suburbs to a birthday party on the north-eastern rural fringe of the city). The interview was with social geographer, Alistair Bonnett, who was talking about his book Off the Map: Forgotten islands, abandoned spaces, feral places, invisible cities and what they tell us about the world.

Apart from competing for the longest ever book title, one of the fascinating points he raised was around children and place. He said that one of the most important things was to let children create their own places, and that in today’s western culture and context, children can often only create virtual places (on websites already designed and governed by adults). The discussion took me back to the places we created in childhood.

I grew up in a house where there were numerous books in bookcases and in my own way I began putting together my book collection in my bedroom. Then my brother and I would play libraries in there. We made the old cardboard school-library cards to go inside each book and we’d take it in turns to be the librarian and the borrower. Somehow we also mixed it in with the characters from a TV show The secret lives of Waldo Kitty and I seem to remember us as Waldo and Felicia (cats from this show that featured real cats with dubbed voices having adventures) coming in to check out books. I have maintained an affinity for libraries (and cats) and have always loved having tall bookcases in my home that loom over everything else.

Another time I remember turning the wooden garden table into a pirate ship and inserting a pirate flag through the hole that was supposed to fit the garden umbrella. I’m sure we also had numerous cubby house experiences and we’d climb trees and pretend we had a tree house. We were also obsessed with the Famous Five and Secret Seven and would scheme to create a club house in a shed or other space.

When I was a child, my mother might come into my room and see mess and tell me to clean it up, but to me it was usually something else, the paths of clothes were grasses in a murky sea that you had to push through on your adventure to find the path to the castle, like something in The grass beyond the door by Catherine McVicar (which also featured a talking cat). If I’d found Narnia in the back of my wardrobe, I would have been ecstatic. Unfortunately my wardrobe wasn’t even big enough to climb into.

It is amazing the worlds you can imagine with the most ordinary of props, when a lot of today’s toys are very prescriptive. Adults and children alike, next rainy day, grab a cardboard box, a bed sheet, a broomstick and a marker pen and see what place you can create.

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