I was 10 years old, about halfway through Primary School, when I first met Luke. He’d just started at our school after moving into the area and was seated at a desk near me. He was a stocky, slightly chubby, boy with wavy brown hair and brown eyes. He wore glasses, which gave him a serious, studious demeanour, as well as gray school slacks and jumper, unlike the rest of us, who were dressed in the rag-tag fashion of 10 year olds of the time.
Everything about Luke was different to me or my other friends. He was born in Australia, while almost everyone else I knew was born in the UK. We lived in Ingle Farm, a young, still developing suburb of uniform housing, new lawns and immigrant families. Luke lived in Valley View, which lay on the ‘other side’ of Wright Road, where every house was different, and there were hills, trees and a meandering creek.
Luke had older siblings, while I had three younger sisters. His parents were older than mine too. An older family might have accounted for the calmer, much more pleasant atmosphere at his house. Compared to the chaos of our house, with four squabbling children, and a menagerie of pets, Luke’s house seemed almost tranquil.
His family lived in a new house on a sharply sloping block. His father was always working in the garden when I visited, and there was usually a mound of dirt, sand or gravel waiting to be shoveled or wheelbarrowed. Luke and I turned these giant sandpits into vast cities, complete with roads, skyscrapers and dams. Our imaginations seemed to spark when we were together, and our games would invariably become more fantastic and elaborate the longer we played.
Our creative collaborations soon included writing and drawing, and we began to put together a series of little ‘books’ (made from A4 pages folded in half and stapled in the middle) called ‘Parade Of Monsters’. It was more like an encyclopedia than a set of stories, as each book introduced a new group of ‘monsters’, and described their habits and habitat. They generally lived on islands with odd names – Stinkyshoe Island, Anklebone Island – and had names like Pupo or Blotto.
After the completion of ‘Parade Of Monsters’, Luke wrote stories about new characters – the Cheapsteaks (each one named after an American state), Bing Bong of the Mark Patrol, Nosey Parker, Mr Manta and others. Meanwhile, I started work on an epic three-part ‘novel’ called ‘Tale Of The Ring’. As can be guessed from the title, I was a big Tolkien fan. I also loved CS Lewis and Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books, and the ‘Tale Of The Ring’ included elements of all these influences. The central characters were Mungy (who looked suspiciously like a Marshwiggle) and a little dragon called Mingie.
Luke and I then expanded our invented universes to entire planets. I called my planet Sapphire, while Luke settled on Bauxite. We designed every element of these worlds – cities, animals, vegetation, transportation, even water and power supplies. We filled books with maps, designs and diagrams.
Our teacher that year was a grim disciplinarian called Miss Barker; a short, bulldog-like figure renown for her habit of spitting while she spoke, and using a megaphone unnecessarily during recess and lunch (e.g. when you were right in front of her). I don’t think she smiled the entire time we were in her class. She certainly didn’t like our extra-curricular activities, sneering at our ‘silly books’, and even confiscating them if she caught us working on them in class. Miss Barker’s opposition to our projects didn’t deter us; in fact, it seemed to spur us on to even more elaborate projects.
The following year, Luke and I said goodbye to Miss Barker. We were also put in different classes and, as is so often the case with childhood friendships, we drifted apart and found new friends. Years later, towards the end of High School, we became friends again, and we are friends still, but there was a period of six or seven years during which we had little or no contact. It was during this period of separation that we each destroyed the books we had written as children, as well as all the maps and drawings. They were just too embarrassing for young boys entering their teenage years.
I did manage to save my two ‘epics’ – ‘Tale Of The Ring’ and ‘Invasion Of The Coobah Monsters’ (which was never completed). I don’t recall how or why they escaped the incinerator, but I’m glad they did. They are like strange relics from another age, written by someone familiar, yet unfamiliar.
And sometimes, when leafing through the yellowed pages of these books, memories and sensations from years ago will pop into my mind – a Saturday afternoon playing in Luke’s backyard, meeting him before school to swap the latest stories, or staying up late in my room with a pile of maps and drawings, imagining a new and exciting world.
For a glimpse of some of the drawings from these early books click on this link.