It was a sunny afternoon. I was sitting in my book nook, reading and listening to my tiny transistor radio. I half heard the old pop song by Verdelle Smith, ‘Tar and Cement’. I was instantly transported to my early teenage years, in the 1960s. That had not changed. Then I was sitting reading a book, listening to my radio, the song was new, ‘Tar and Cement’. It was like a time warp, but that song was prophetic.
I was born in a semi-bush hospital, as were my sisters, in a leafy green suburb – like a small town. The hospital is long demolished, turned into a mega-shopping centre, with multi-level car spaces. I grew up not far away in a sprawling weatherboard, with a Hills Hoist washing line to whizz around on trips. We had an outdoor toilet, a shed, a vegetable patch and a homemade swing. Each home in our little corner of the world had a free pet, a land tortoise, native to the surrounding bushland. These tortoises wandered through our lives as our fathers daubed them with different coloured dabs of paint on their shells, to tell them apart.
The roads then were unmade, we lived in an area of fruit orchards as the suburbs slowly took over the old blossom trees. It was very pretty. Some roads were two lanes of tarmac, fringed by overhanging gum trees with pink and white heath interspersed. A simple walking track meandered into the next town, dotted with signs, “Why ringbark? For every tree you chop down, plant two more!”
No one did. It all vanished into six lanes of highway, intersecting with eight lanes of toll road, tar and cement, as far as one can see. There used to be a creek, where once platypus were known to dwell. The road designers drained it into a vast polluted pipeline. Every time there is a heavy downpour of rain, the old creek floods and the toll road is closed, blocked off. Very damp tar and cement.
This old town I grew up in once boasted an antimony mine. It was unsafe to construct houses in that area, so the local town and planning department built a flash Civic Centre on it, with more tar and cement roads. Older pundits in town always declared that, eventually, the whole Civic Centre was going to sink into the mine shafts, like Atlantis.
I drove down my old street one day. That Great Australian Dream, the weatherboard homes of generations of little Australians had all been flattened. They were replaced by rows of tacky multi-cluster units, while the old gravel roads were all tar and cement. The gum trees were gone, our primary school and local church had been demolished. We mourn our old suburb and its friendly character, looking for a childhood that no longer exists. Just like the prophetic Verdelle Smith.
Maturing, we chased our dreams into the city, for employment or for tertiary education, catching trains with smoking carriages. If we were in one of them, we either smoked or had passive smoking. It was all so long ago. Progress has changed smoking carriages too. Some days, I caught the 7:07am. Nearly 50 years later, from the same platform, it is still being cancelled. That never changed, only the faces of the commuters.
Progress created change. Everything changed except cancelling the train. Now it is all one whole suburb of ‘Tar and Cement!’