THE BACKYARD OF NEW ZEALAND
For much of their childhood, my younger brother and sister were schooled in a tiny town called Kurow: population approx. 312.
Every other weekend or so, I would go visit them, and stay in a small one-storey house that looks like it was transported straight from the pages of a 1970's catalogue - ugly windows and all. The floors were of plastic lino in a grey pattern, the doors were hollow, and resounded when they shut, the wallpaper was all bumpy and textured.
To get to the school, it was simply a matter of walking about 2kms up a dusty gravel road, past the water channels and farmlands, to the edge of town. Town itself was so small that you could blink while driving by and miss it altogether. There was a convenience store, at which we would buy tubs of ice cream and 'put it on mum's tab, please.' There was a small museum, and a store owned by a rather odd gentleman who liked to pile his books in towers and mazes, wrapping them in glad-wrap to keep them safe. I wondered if he ever sold anything. There was the petrol station, with a few solitary pumps, and the playground, and the dairy where you could buy ice blocks and chips and pies. Kurow is like the epitome of New Zealand.
The local kids liked to spend a lot of time biking around - hanging out by the river, at the small indoor swimming pool, or causing trouble around the farms. Some of them liked to hunt rabbits, and many of them planned to become farmers when they grew up.
It was not long before I knew every square inch of that town, seeking out my favourite places: the bough of the tree overhanging the river, only reached by a small path off the main road; and a hidden jungle-like maze of overgrown tumbled stone walls, a mysterious labyrinth with a forgotten purpose.
In a small town like Kurow, there is always something to occupy yourself with. If you are of a mind to, you might...
Climb the watch tower on the racecourse and look out over the farmlands.
Pick walnuts straight from the trees in the school yard.
Play truth or dare down at the playground, and end up licking the slide.
Charge your mums account for all kinds of things: chips, lollies and ice cream mainly.
Go over to your friends house and ask if they want to come out and play.
Meet up with everyone at the river to practice diving from the old bridge.
Explore the tiny offshoots of land and islands beside the river, and disturb the campers there.
Dare your friend to enter the paddock with the bulls.
Muck around on the edge of the waterways that trickle all through the town, racing small boats of leaves or twigs.
Get in trouble for running all over the golf-course, yet again.
Sneak back into the golf course and draw an obscene picture in one of the sandpits.