Ryan Elson - No Humble Opinions Chapter 1
Updated: Sep 25, 2020
My earliest memory is a typically weird one. I remember walking down a concrete path on a hot day in Subiaco, Western Australia (W.A) with a lady I knew as ‘Auntie Bet’. She wasn’t my aunty but I think she was one of those family friends that kids refer to as Aunty or Uncle, something I find to be pretty weird actually!
Anyway, it was 1976 and I was about four years old. As we were walking along Auntie Bet suddenly coughed and choked before she announced to me that she had swallowed a fly. At the time I thought that was the weirdest shit I had ever heard! Why the fuck would you swallow a fly? I mean dirt okay, but a fly? It was not long after this outing with Auntie Bet that we left W.A.
My next recollection is living in a weatherboard place in Windsor St, Glenorchy, Tasmania that backed on to Cosgrove High School. From what I gathered we had left W.A. in a hurry and a friend of my Nan’s had rented us the house. I remember it being pretty shit with steel mesh fences, broken fence palings and a rusty corrugated iron roof. I was sitting at the kitchen table with Mum one morning and watching a big fat black rat scamper across the floor from under the oven. Lovely. About that time I started to become aware that something was wrong with my family. I started to feel the tension and see the difficulties between my mum and dad. I can’t remember seeing the violence or fights in that house but it’s definitely the place that my inner dread started to be noticeable. Strangely though my toughest memory from this time was when my dad shaved off his moustache. He didn’t look like my dad anymore and I balled my eyes out. It’s weird that my kids at 15 and 17 still hate it when I shave or shorten my beard.I guess it’s a security blanket type of thing.
After starting school at St. Therese’s Moonah we moved to our house in Meredith St, Newtown. The house was at the end of a downhill dead-end street which was fantastic for street-long time trials or “longest skid” competitions between my brother and I on our trusty MX bike. Mr and Mrs Salt lived next door and they were really nice to my brother and me. I still remember with great delight the time that my brother braked way too late on one of our aforementioned time trials and slammed headlong into the Salt’s brick and concrete front fence. It was like slow motion as I watched him sail over the fence and land face first onto the beautifully manicured lawn before skidding into the garden. It was fucking brilliant!
My brother and I have always had a very tumultuous relationship and it was about now that it all started, which is probably not unusual for fellas of primary school age. We had many confrontations such as my brother chasing me with the garden fork and trying to kill me. Fortunately, he tripped and shoved the fork through his own foot. Right through. I distinctly remember pouring blood out of his little yellow gumboot before we took off to the hospital. We got fish and chips for dinner that night. It was awesome! Another time I was teasing him about my football team (Glenorchy) beating his football team (Hobart). He lost his shit, picked up the solid metal sprinkler and ran towards me. I turned and took off towards the rear of the back yard. I later woke up lying on the grass, my head covered in blood. He had pegged the heavy sprinkler into the back of my head and knocked me out cold. He then did the right and proper thing, and promptly ran away. Our neighbours over the back always had a stack of kids that were a bit older than us. They also had a huge walnut tree and there were many walnut throwing fights where we were always outnumbered. As I recall during one of these fights we ran low on walnuts so my brother pinged a rock at our back fence enemiesSubsequently, a rock was pinged back and I was hit in the head earning me another scar.
It wasn’t always us attacking each other though…I recall watching as stuck a screwdriver into a power point in the garage. The electrical shock blew him a few metres backwards and all his hair was standing on end, which reminded me of the puppet character Beaker from the television series, The Muppet Show, the unfortunate laboratory technician with the crazy hair that was constantly getting blown up!
Occasionally my brother and I actually got on well. As with most Aussie kids playing cricket was a favourite activity. We played in the skinny driveway to the side of the house. ‘Straight drive shots’ were best as it was the only real opening for the ball to go. ‘Square cut’ shots went straight into the house which was fine but ‘hook’ shots landed you in the market garden next door. There were two issues with this.Firstly it was six and out but even worse was that the old European resident (referred to as the Wog) that owned the joint was one seriously scary old bastard! If he ever saw us amongst his cabbages he would come racing out with a stick and screaming at us in some language that we couldn’t understand but we knew he wasn’t wishing us any pleasantries.
Just while we are discussing the Meredith Street house, I have vivid memories of my unabashed joy at cooking cheese slices on the sun heated roof of my Dad’s much-loved green Valiant sedan. It was fantastic until he came out and found me sitting on the roof surrounded by melted cheese. A solid flogging was delivered. Sadly, as all these shenanigans were taking place my mum and dad’s relationship was getting far worse. My dad was becoming violent to my mum in front of me and violent towards me.
My mum was, by all accounts, a beautiful soul. She was a nurse and at this point in time was working as a mobile carer for the Hobart District Nursing Service. She would drop us to school each day and we would either walk home or a friend of hers would pick us up. My mum would cook us Toad in the Hole, a dish consisting of sausages in batter served with gravy (which we thought was fantastic) and lamb chops in the upright griller. I loved her. We were very poor but I didn’t really know until I was rudely awakened to the fact during a game of four square. I arrived proudly wearing my brand spanking new Trax sneakers with black nylon uppers, plastic silver sole, two red stripes and best of all…velcro laces! I had never ever had a new pair of shoes and I was dead set chuffed. As soon as I arrived I casually mentioned to one of the girls that she ought to check out my fabulous new sneakers.Unfortunately, I didn’t get the response I was expecting. Immediately the term Trax crap sprang from her mouth as she pointed at my apparently not so fabulous new sneakers. A mob soon gathered to join the public humiliation session and I was referred to as Trax crap for a few days after that.
My dad on the other hand seemed to do bugger all. I remember him lying on the day bed in the lounge room most days whilst Mum was at work. I also remember him having a vinyl book keeper’s bag and some of the scrolling stands that show the betting odds. I’m still not a gambler so I don’t know all the details or terminology but he was obviously at that time a ‘bookie’. From what I gathered from him and Mum fighting about money, he wasn’t a very good bookie.
My first direct memory of my father’s violent tendencies was hearing him and Mum having a screaming match one night. It certainly wasn’t the first one I had heard but I think it was the first time I had ever come out of my room during one. In the small hallway Dad had Mum pinned against the wall and was yelling into her face. Dad was 6 foot or so and Mum was about 5’2” but they were both 6 foot at that moment with Mum’s feet well off the floor. I ran to them and pushed between them only to receive a cracking back hander from Dad, which sent me flying back up the hall. I don’t remember what happened then but it felt like the world had just changed.
After that I’m not sure if it was because I now knew what was happening or if it became more frequent but I was often in the middle of these physical altercations. Dad would occasionally stop when he saw me but not always. Mum would cuddle me and escort me back to my room. I can’t actually remember my dad being drunk often when I was young but I gather that even then booze was the major issue and it was growing all the time.
During this period in my early childhood years, I had adventures with him that were amazing. We went on road trips in his green Valiant which we would sleep in after going fishing at the beach. Dad would sit there with his light blue terry towelling hat and a can of beer while he told us repeatedly, “No it isn’t a bite it’s the current dragging your sinker” before having to cast out again as I had to check my bait…again. We walked around the shore and found a dog skeleton which I thought was brilliant but I wasn’t allowed to keep. He did however let me keep a piece of stone from an old bridge on the East Coast of Tassie.
I loved my dad so much and I have some great memories with him. Unfortunately, I have had to bury them in my mind with all the cruel and nasty shit he did as well.
A strange example was one night when he woke me (possibly us) up to clean up our Legos. I picked them up, put them in the two Lego buckets and went to take them to our room. He then coldly and menacingly said to put them back down before he kicked them both back over. Just as coldly he told me to pick them all up again which I did before he again kicked them both over. This happened many times and I was scared shitless the entire time. I copped many a kicking from Dad but for whatever reason this is the thing that stands out as the time when I started hating him.
Things did not improve until I was 7 years old. I got home and Dad sat me down to tell me that he was going away. It turns out that Mum had given him the ultimatum that unless he stopped drinking he could not live with us. He was crying and hugged me saying that he would come back once he had sorted himself out. I was fucking heartbroken. Just like that he was gone and I didn’t speak to Dad again for a couple of years.