In 1987 I was six and obsessed with archaeology. I created a kingdom in the front yard, burying clay mummies wrapped in cloth. I also wanted to find the present again in the future, and so I wrote the date in texta on pieces of paper and buried these. They did not last so well, but I am curious as to my instinct and my hope. Was I imagining that I was preserving that particular day by the act? Was I imagining that I was creating history or creating archaeology? Perhaps, perhaps.
I also went looking through the old newspapers in the woodbox. This was almost a room, a large space next to the woodfire. The old newspapers were piled in there. I always wished they were older than they were. What if I could go back to before I was born? Would I be into history then?
Perhaps the milieu fostered these obsessions. Between 1988 and 1990, my primary school was caught up in an atmosphere of commemoration. For the Bicentennial we all received two medallions, an amazing treasure to seven year olds. The history of the school was being written, just as our new building was rising up. When it came out, I read it quite obsessively, the story of these people now old or dead who once walked this same ground.
And then there was the time capsule, the ultimate expression of my obsessions. To be opened at the centenary of the school in 2013, it was an enchanted project. I remember the pressure of writing something that would sum up my life so far, giving an insight to my future self and the future world of what it had meant to go to Allanson Primary in 1990. I think Ms Leitch warned us to make sure we wrote in 2H pencil so that our words would not be lost to the future. In my memory, I wrote twenty or thirty pages for that time capsule; I felt embarrassed afterward for oversharing, including a list of every book I could remember reading. I included The Complete Work of Shakespeare when all I had done was fail at an attempt to read the opening pages of The Tempest when I was home sick from school. (My secret shame, that twenty-three years later I still find Shakespeare hard to understand.) Cheater! I wanted to be better than I was; a brilliant nine year old would be reading Shakespeare. I have often wondered of the other books on the list, the ones I actually read and have now forgotten. To read that precious list again would be to rediscover a large chunk of my life.
The year 2013 seemed so far away it would never come; I would be thirty-two! I have thought of the digging up of the time capsule quite often since it was buried. It was one of the few future events already set down, a precise date decreed on the plaque above the water fountain. Maybe whoever made these decisions should not have buried the capsule below a water fountain. I couldn’t quite believe it when the time-capsule came up full of water, our packet of stories turned into black compost. When I was nine, I still believed the grown ups wouldn’t let that happen.
Wesley Gleeson said:
I’m always dubious at looking back on what I thought & did when I was a child (the step-stool pulpit & taking up of offering to purchase the sacramental green frog lollies comes to mind), but I am truly sorry that your opportunity to do so was so cruelly dashed!
Then again, perhaps I should have listened to the 8 year old who wanted to become an Indigenous educator having just realised his own heritage. I might not be a slightly rudderless 32 year old jack-of-few-trades!
Did you ever read a story called Diesel Boy, about a boy who liked trains and was taken from his school by a lady named Laurie & I remember something about a snake, but that’s about all? Would have been late 80s/early 90s. Can’t find a trace of it anywhere!
Long live our embellished, but truth containing, oral histories. Following in a fine tradition!
Patrick Chiller said:
Nooo! I can’t believe it’s been destroyed. I was just getting excited about reading of your reaction when it was retrieved… There is something very troubling about this story.
Nathan Hobby said:
Hey Wesley and Patrick – thanks for reading. I’m sorry it didn’t have a happier ending. Wes, there’s things to be said for rudderlessness. Unfortunately I didn’t read Diesel Boy. There is nothing more tantalising than the childhood book you cannot rediscover. My lost mythical book is about a man on a motorcycle in Greece who realises he lived there in a past life, and visits his mother, showing her where he hid something as a kid. Then he goes to the cemetery. I wish I know what book that was.
Abebooks has a forum for lost books you may want to try. They didn’t solve mine though!