In the early 1970s, Ingle Farm was an area of growth and development. Houses, schools and shops were being built. Roads and carparks replaced open fields. Consequently, there was always earthmoving equipment in the area – bulldozers, graders, steamrollers etc. My friends and I were fascinated by them. One of us would turn up at school with news of a grader or bulldozer in their street, and we would all run down to check it out. Sometimes, if we were feeling really brave, and there were no workmen around, we’d climb up into the driver’s seat. We fantasised about finding one with the keys still in the ignition.
At the peak of our fascination we pretended that a parade of bulldozers and steamrollers was planned for main streets of our suburb. The boundaries between fact and fantasy blurred, however, when we told other kids that we’d actually seen the parade, and produced ‘photographs’ as proof. I don’t think the crayon and pencil scribbles we claimed were ‘photos’ fooled anyone.
Our interest in building sites went beyond an adoration of bulldozers. We also loved vacant blocks, bridges, pipes, pillars, hills and mounds of dirt. Anything that could be crossed, climbed, crawled through or under, or turned into a cubby house, a racetrack or a dam. If we found a new building, unoccupied but otherwise complete, we would try to find a way into it, by crawling beneath the floorboards, or up and through the roof cavity.
Once, when playing in the foundations of a new school, we were trapped by a bunch of older kids. They’d blocked the exit with a huge concrete slab, leaving us to tunnel our way to freedom. After escaping, we giggled while watching them look for us, baffled by our apparent disappearance.
But we didn’t need anyone else’s help in making things difficult for us; we were quite good at doing that ourselves. For example, one afternoon Keith and I decided to cross a local bridge on the outside of the pedestrian guardrail. There was nothing between us and a fatal fall to the road below. We thought we were awfully brave, but our parents would have been horrified.
On another occasion, Keith and I dared each other to crawl along the pipe that spanned the local creek. It was fairly narrow and very slippery, and while we both managed to slither across, it wasn’t without getting wet and quite muddy.
And then there was our storm drain period. When one of us discovered that a drain emptying into the creek led to a series of interconnected tunnels, we were compelled to investigate. There must have been half-a-dozen of us, armed with boots and torches, sloshing about in the pipes underneath the streets. We weren’t trying to cause trouble or upset anyone, but when one neighbour heard voices coming from the drain outside his house he threatened to call the police.
We gave up exploring drains when it became obvious that we weren’t going to discover the doorway to a secret military bunker or cavernous underground world.