Thursday, January 17, 2013
We didn't even have a TV... a random story
I don't think there is such a thing as the storytelling gene. We all tell stories, every day. But some people learn to tell them better than others. If there is a storytelling gene, my father's side didn't have it. Practical people, most of them. My mother's side -- well, born bullshitters, the lot of them. And I mean that as a good thing.
My mum grew up several hours outside of a town called Winton which is famous for... hmm, I don't know. It's West, anyway. And it's flat, and it's isolated, and I've never been there. It's the sort of place, I suspect, where if you can't entertain yourself, you go crazy. And there was no TV. So on her side of the family there were a lot of card games (I learned to cheat at Canasta at a very young age), a lot of cuppas, a lot of reminiscing, and a lot of storytelling.
Also, a surprising number of stories about dinosaurs. Really. Western Queensland is full of them. One story my mother tells is of a neighbour who discovered a massive fossil, marked the spot to come back to later, and never found it again. It's massive, desolate country out there. My grandfather wasn't so careless. In 1962 he found, and remembered, Lark Quarry, a story that began 95 million years ago.
When we moved to New Guinea when I was a kid, we didn't have a TV either. What we had was a bunch of kids from different backgrounds, a lot of free time, and our imaginations. So we played.
What is playing but physical storytelling?
We played Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians (that was an alien concept for some of the local kids) and, our favourite, Star Wars. Never having actually seen Star Wars though, we really had no idea what we were doing. It was weird. This massive cultural phenomenon that we were aware of, but only in the most vague terms. Had my sister Kath and her best friend Catherine known more of the details, they never would have given a plum role like Han Solo to me. I think I got it because I already had a Chewie -- the neighbourhood dog, Oplika Spot. He was the same dog who later bit me by accident when I got stuck in the middle of a fight he was having with two other dogs that barrelled into our yard. I still have the scars.
"It's not Oplika's fault!" I screamed as my mother rushed me upstairs, blood everywhere. "He didn't mean it!"
The people of New Guinea are born storytellers, every single one of them. Oplika Spot and I used to roam the neighbourhood, scrounging food, and we spent a lot of time at Diane's house. Diane was older than me. During the day when she was at school and her parents were at work, her grandma used to cook over a fire in the backyard. Oplika Spot and I used to hang out with her, and listen to all her stories. At that point I didn't know much Tok Pisin, and she couldn't speak much English, but sometimes the language barrier is no barrier at all. The rhythms of a story are the same in any language, and so are smiles and actions. Although, looking back, I'm not sure Diane's grandma ever really understood what a Death Star was and why it was imperative it be destroyed.
Once in New Guinea, we got broken into. Well, twice, actually, but I slept through the first time. My dad was away the second time, so my mum phoned my dad's boss, and he phoned mine security. We didn't work for the mines, but they were kind of the only option. You didn't phone the police. Sometimes they left the phone off the hook. Sometimes they let people out of the lockup if they were from the same tribe. And once my dad and his friend Animal got arrested for being drunk and disorderly, but the police let them go because they threatened to tear the jail down. So not the most competent law enforcement in the world.
Anyway, my dad's boss came around with his houseboy Yupepi --
(I was telling this story once to a friend of mine, and she said, "Wait, you had houseboys?" and that was the first time it occurred to me that we sounded like the British in India or something. But I was five. It's not cultural imperialism when you're five. It's friendship. I loved our houseboy Nick. He was my best friend. Apart from Oplika Spot.)
--and Mum showed them where the men tried to get in. My dad's boss took a look around while Yupepi, armed with a machete, headed off into the bush after the burglars.
"I hope mine security doesn't pick Yupepi up," my dad's boss said, envisioning the paperwork.
"I hope Yupepi doesn't catch them," my mum said, envisioning the blood bath.
I'm not sure why they broke in to our house anyway. We didn't even have anything much worth stealing. We didn't even have a TV.
So that's how stories happen. They can take you from family to dinosaurs to Papua New Guinea and to TVs and back again. We all tell stories and we all listen to stories, even if sometimes we don't recognise their value. And not every story has to have a point. Mine didn't, but it was fun to tell and I hope you liked it. We're all storytellers, every day, it's just some of us are trying to reach a wider audience.
Do you come from a line of storytellers and born bullshitters, or are you the odd one out?