Yesterday I went out to Mum and Dad’s for our last family dinner before I leave (Mum’s lamb roast). While the roast was cooking, Mum, Dad and I went for a trip along the creek in the tinny.
The high river means that the creek that only ever runs when it floods and the billabong were full of water and since my parents love to explore the backwaters out we went.
What we commonly refer to as ‘the bend’, a riverside bit of native vegetation with clay tracks, red gums and a sandbar, was all underwater. As kids we used to ride our bikes through there all the time, but this year, the only form of navigable transportation is a boat.
I was fascinated by the big spiderwebs encasing trees standing out of the water. The way the late afternoon sun hit the webs and the tree bark was incredibly beautiful. It is such a different perspective gliding over terrain you know well at ground level in a boat. We had to navigate through saplings that were growing in the creek bed and fallen trees and try to pick out landmarks to figure out where we were.
It was a great way to spend a little bit of quality time with my parents, looking at old scenes through fresh eyes and a new perspective.
Growing up on the Murray River meant that we spent a lot of time doing water-based activities.
My dad was a competitive water skier in his younger years, so our holidays generally consisted of camping trips along the river for one competition or another. Summertime family gatherings would be with the speedboat down on the sandbar and all us kids in lifejackets.
So on New Years Day the skiboat was pulled out again for a few runs. We’ve had the boat my whole entire life. Its golden yellow clinker hull with black cutouts on the bonnet, yellow fuzzy seat upholstery and leather steering wheel have worn and faded with time, but still provide plenty of thrills for all the family (except my sister, who only ever gets into the action on rare occasions).
Bro #1 likes to drive the boat, so he took his friends out for a tandem ride on the ski biscuits. Then it was his turn for a ski. Though he prefers a jump start, he had to go deep water because of where we were on the river and I nearly thought he’d lose his grip coming out of the water.
Dad had a go after Bro #1 and as always made it look super easy. His slaloms cutting back and forth over the wake don’t get any clumsier with age. Though he was knackered afterwards, he’s still got it.
I’d finally warmed up to jumping in for a go on the biscuit, but as I’d had some terse words over splashes with Bro #1, I didn’t want him in the driver’s seat. It seems Dad took Bro #1’s mongrel on, grew some big horns and had a one track desire to upend me out of the biscuit.
Dad was swerving and turning, sending me flying back and forth across the wake unable to do anything except hold on…TIGHT. I got through the fear to chortle with delight that he hadn’t tipped me out yet as I was getting good at holding and balancing in all the right places, until an innocuous little skid over the wake had me tumbling out the back.
We were almost back to the start, but this was where Dad was saving up his best to send me sprawling (in front of a crowd) by doing doughnut after doughnut. Each turn I gathered more speed and pelted into bigger and bigger waves. I gripped on tight with my hands and legs, leaning my body weight forward. Miraculously I managed to hold on for the four or five circles Dad cut, getting through the choppy water and at one point flying over it, before he gave in and we went back to the shore.
I was jubilant at my awesome display of tenacity and strength but probably crowed one time too many, because they just left me floating out the back instead of pulling me in.
New Year’s Day 2011 was spent on the amazing, flooded Murray River with my family in what is something of an annual event, a boat trip to pick mulberries.
Two ancient mulberry trees planted circa 1850s on an old homestead, are the only things beside a grave to remain from that time. Somehow these stooped trees managed to survive the drought to produce a crop of dark purple berries.
We’ve been coming to these mulberry trees since the mid 80s when my dad, uncle and grandfather built a modern day paddlesteamer. It’s been a pleasant and productive family outing ever since. This year the numbers dwindled to just Mum, Dad, Bro #1, Friday Night Dad and some of Bro #1’s friends, but that just meant more mulberries for me.
I love the amazing feeling of tradition that comes with eating mulberries. There is nothing better than sitting in the higher branches, container in one hand and the other red stained hand transferring warm, ripe mulberries from tree to mouth. I would always be chastised for eating more than ended up in the container, but I guess I paid for that whenever I accidentally ate one of the ants that also loved mulberries.
This year, our biggest competition was the emus. I never knew that emus liked mulberries, but it turns out that they do, even when they give them purple seeded diarrhea. As we walked over the hill, the dogs started barking and running towards the two trees, flushing out three emus in the process. At least emus can’t fly, so there were still some berries left for us. Emus are also discerning mulberry eaters and wait for them to ripen before pilfering.
Whilst gravity is increasingly against me, I did relive some childhood moments as I climbed up a branch or two. It wasn’t easy going and my clumsy adult body almost pitched through the web of a giant orb spider. Then I was too scared of both the enormous spider and falling out of the tree that I hardly any picked mulberries from that vantage point.
Back at the boat we cleaned up. I had brought along some disposable rubber gloves to keep my hands stain free, but if you don’t have gloves when picking mulberries, just rub some green mulberries on the blood red stains on your hands and clothes and they will miraculously disappear!
In the end we managed to get five containers of mulberries, meaning plenty to have with ice cream for dessert, which is my second favourite way to eat them, right after straight from the tree.