I am the youngest of seven children. Seven little Australians we were, our childhoods spanning the 60's and 70's, we lived in a small city on an island at the end of the Earth. We were Catholic by religion and culture. (Not now of course, now we range from atheist to mildly interested.) My father, Dane, having converted at 19, was devout. He was a surgeon and general practitioner working in a huge practice, healing and birthing the Catholic community of Launceston for 40 years. Family myth has it that at one stage it was the biggest single doctor practice in the southern hemisphere. This is one of many family myths whose truth remains untested, in favour of maintaining a good story. Every now and then the family stories come back to me, so I've decided to write them down here, for posterity and the kids' amusement.
In our family of 9 there are 5 sisters and two brothers. The first 4 offspring arrived in an orderly row, each a year apart from 1959 to 1962. Us remaning three arrived sporadically into the 70's. . We careered through childhood in those decades of freedom and no seat belts. TV was black and white and we only had 2 channels. The ABC was the only parentally sanctioned option and only then until after Dr Who. It was an era when 2 bucks worth of fish and chips from Basil's (our local chippy) would more than feed all 9 of us, the only coffee was instant, you could still call cigarette lollies 'Fags' and the rolls were Chiko.
Dane, is said to have bought the first combi van on the island. Dane is like that. An ideas man. He bought crazy cars - a mustard jag in the 70s, a Daihatsu van in the 80's, even a Bentley once and people would wave to us on the road (us grotty kids mucking up the grey leather interior) because they thought we were the governor. He was a Liberal-voting Catholic doctor who hobby farmed, got into organic gardening and taught himself acupuncture. He was interested in things, our Dane. After a medical conference once, some guy in the domestic lounge imparted to him the skill of transcendental meditation while they waited for their plane. When we were small, Dane decided that the perfect opportunity to 'transcend' should be taken every day after work, behind the closed door of his study. You know the time, it is exactly at the witching hour, when he left Mum to the work of wrangling 7 unruly kids, homework, dirty boots and fights over the Milo tin, while cooking 20-odd lamb shanks with mashed potato mountains and smoking Alpine menthols, or so the story goes.
Like many good Catholics, my folks didn't mind a tipple. As we grew older and his urge to meditate abated, cocktail hour began when Dane would return from "saving lives" as he would have it. We'd sit around the kitchen table, Dane drinking his scotch and soda and Granny her gin, discussing the days events, solving the problems of the world.
After a couple of scotches, Dane would generously impart tidbits of wisdom to his offspring.
Once, I think I was in my mid-teens and my elder sister was in her early twenties, the kitchen table topic turned to 'boys and how to 'catch one'' so to speak. Dane decided to bestow on his daughters a glorious pearl of advice. He looked at us over his highball glass and said, in all seriousness,
"What you need to do to get a man, girls, is show them a bit of what they can have and then tell them, they can't have it."
A loud "Pah!" involuntarily burst from my sister, she threw her head onto her hands crying out
"But I want them to have it!!!!"
Superb. Spoken like a true good Catholic girl.