Via Facebook, fellow child of Tuggeranong, Mel B, challenged me to relive my youth; a time when Tuggeranong was ‘nappy valley‘, local petrol stations tried to break world records and Kambah felt like the fastest growing suburb in Australia.
The Mouse House at Weston Park + Ugg Boots + Kambah Pool
‘I think their new place is down this street,’ Paul said, indicating to this wife Laura she should turn left.
Laura nodded and turned as he suggested, but she wasn’t completely sure until she saw her old friend Penny waving from the footpath.
‘There she is!’ she squealed. Laura stopped the car and ran out, to give her friend a hug.
‘It’s so good to see you again! It’s been too long.’
Penny beamed back.
‘That’s what new babies will do to you!’
As Penny climbed into the car she couldn’t help but giggle as she made eye contact with Paul.
‘Man, am I looking forward to this!’
Paul had remained in the car, and from the front passenger seat, he turned around to look at his wife’s best friend. He was immediately struck by how distinctive her red hair was still, after so many years since the day they had first met. They had dated for a time, might even have been classed as ‘going steady’, but his friend William had always been the man for her. And while he knew he had a great thing going with his wife Laura, still, on some level, he had to admit he still held a torch for Penny.
‘Which bit? The afternoon with no children, or seeing how much the place has changed?’ he said.
She kept grinning back at him.
‘Well, for me, I’ll take any afternoon break,’ Laura said, climbing back into the car. ‘I love my two little ones to death, but the idea of letting my hair down and having some adult conversation for the afternoon sounds wonderful.’ She ruffled her recently cut and dyed blonde hair as she spoke, unconsciously acting out the very fantasy she was describing.
‘William is just saying goodbye now, and probably giving his Mum some last minute instructions,’ Penny replied.
A moment later, the other back door open and a tall, thin man with shortly cropped greying hair entered the car.
‘Kambah Pool here we come!’ he shouted.
The others in the car laughed. As William closed his door, Laura pulled out of his driveway in Chifley and began the fifteen minute journey to the river and picnic spot they had explored as teenagers.
‘So do you think the place will have changed much?’ Penny asked.
‘I bet the nudist beach hasn’t!’ William called.
‘Eww, I could never face it. I’m not interested in seeing a bunch of booners or westies wearing nothing but their ugg boots.’ Laura replied.
‘Hah, I haven’t heard anyone described as a booner or a westie in years!’ Paul replied. ‘I live in Molonglo Valley now, does that make me a westie?’
‘It’s the boners I’m worried about.’ William offered, complete with cheeky schoolboy look. It was an expression he had perfected twenty years earlier, although he didn’t use it as often any more. It seemed the trigger of seeing old school friends was bringing it back to the fore, along with his teenage humour. He found himself almost involuntarily slipping back into the role of class clown.
Groans rang out from the three other occupants of the car.
‘You’re an Italian stallion Paul, what have you got to worry about?’ William replied.
‘Yeah, a five foot, six inches stallion!’ he replied gloomily.
‘That’s height enough for me,’ Laura replied. ‘You’re taller than me!’
William went to open his mouth for no doubt a joke based on the double entendre of Paul’s size.
‘Don’t even go there William,’ Penny said, cutting him off and hitting him.
‘What?’ he said, suddenly attempting to look innocent. ‘I was going to share my good news. We don’t have to go to the nudist beach. I brought these.’
He reached into a bag at his feet and brought out a pair of clear glasses, that had a silver band along the top. A thicker band of metal held in place a small cube in front of the lenses.
‘No way! You have glass!’ Paul called, turning around in his seat.
‘Yes way!’ William replied, smiling.
‘What way now?’ Penny asked, looking confused. ‘So he has a pair of dorky glasses.’
‘Not just any dorky glasses,’ Paul said. ‘Those look suspiciously like a pair of Google glass.’
‘That it is; there have to some perks working in the IT Department of Parliament House,’ William replied. ‘The amount of grief I get from some of those pollies, and my job is just to give them desktop support.’
Paul turned to look his old friend in the eye.
‘Do you get to see any top secret stuff? Like, are there really tunnels under New Parliament House that lead to the US Embassy, Old Parliament House and ANZAC Parade?’
William shrugged his shoulders and looked back cryptically.
‘I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.’
‘Well, there has to be a reason why ANZAC Parade looks like a runway,’ Paul said indignantly.
‘You do help desk support William, I’m not sure they would tell you that sort of thing,’ Penny said gently.
‘I’m the manager of desktop support for some of the most important people in the country, including the Speaker. They tell me things.’ William replied, an indignant tone now in his voice also.
‘So what do those things do?’ Laura said, not taking her eyes off the road, but anxious to change the subject. She was trying to remember the exact directions. She decided go through the intersection with the Tuggeranong Parkway and continue heading west along Sulwood Drive. None of the others protested, which she decided was a good sign.
A twinkle returned to William’s eye as his attention turned to his new toy.
‘These are the future of wearable computing. They provide you the power of all of Google’s wealth of information and services overlaid across the real world.’
‘So you can do a web search with them?’ Penny asked sarcastically.
‘More than that,’ Paul chimed in. ‘I’ve heard of a hardware add-on where you can control them with your mind via an electrode connected to your head!’
‘Hmm, I’m not sure I want Google to know what’s going on inside my head,’ Laura offered.
‘They do more than web searches. I’ve got an app that lets you see through things; walls, curtains, clothes….bathers.’ He uttered these last words with a smile that was one part cheeky and two parts creepy.
‘William! That’s gross!’ Penny said.
‘Speaking of,’ Laura interjected. ‘I think we’re getting close.’ She had just gone straight through a small roundabout and turned onto a long stretch of straight road.’
‘Ahh, Kambah Pool Road. This brings back some memories,’ Paul said. ‘I remember driving down here in my parents car and just flooring it.’
‘And nearly killing me in the process,’ William replied.
‘It was that motorcyclist coming the other way that spooked me!’ Paul protested.
‘We’ve all got a scary P-plate story,’ Penny said.
‘And most of them probably happened on this stretch of road,’ William said.
‘I remember Danny doing that big burnout in Erindale College car park!’ Paul exclaimed. ‘Must have been beginning of year twelve?’
‘Yeah, and when the cops arrived about a hundred college kids all simultaneously pointed them in the opposite direction to the way he left.’
‘I wonder what Danny is doing now?’ Laura asked.
‘Last I heard, he was teaching at our old High School, or at least what rose from the ashes?’
‘Namadgi, really? That must be a little weird?’ Paul asked.
‘I dunno, it’s an entirely new building, just built on the old grounds. But they’ve left the old Urambi Primary school building there. Not sure what is happening with that one….’
‘Here’s the fork in the road guys,’ Laura interrupted. ‘I’m now officially choosing the road to the non-nudist beach.’
‘All good for me,’ William replied, slipping on his glasses. ‘I’m wired for nudity.’
Laura gave him a dirty look in the rearview mirror.
‘Sorta always knew Danny would be a teacher, you know?’ Penny offered. ‘I always wanted to study ballet in Vienna.’
‘What happened?’ Paul asked.
‘Not sure,’ Penny answered. ‘I guess life happened. I’m still here; got my kids; got my man.’ She ruffled William’s hair as she spoke, although he seemed more preoccupied with his glasses.
‘You were going to be an actor Paul, yeah?’ William said absent-mindedly, apparently able to perform Google searches on his glasses and participate in the conversation.
‘Yeah,’ Paul replied tentatively. ‘But I’m happy selling cars.’
‘We’re here!’ Laura announced with a sigh of relief, as she parked the car.
The four friends clambered out of the car.
‘Let’s go for a walk and then come back for the barbeque stuff,’ Penny suggested.
They all agreed, and started walking from the car park down the embankment towards the river below.
‘Still such a beautiful place,’ Laura said.
Hills rose up around the river below them, covered in gum trees, scrub and bushes. Down below a green river corridor awaited them.
‘You’re not really going to leave those on are you?’ Penny said, looking at William with a look of pure exasperation.
‘You have to check this out!’ William said, although it was unclear if he was responding to Penny’s question or not.
‘Someone’s titties William?’ Laura asked.
‘No, there is something in the hill over there. Across the river.’
The friends paused their walk down the steep embankment to follow William’s pointed figure across the gorge.
‘I don’t see anything,’ Paul replied.
William removed the glasses from his face and peered over the lenses.
‘It’s the app. It’s revealing something over there, like a covered cave opening. Here have a look.’
Paul took the glasses and put them.
‘Hey, these are cool. I love the heads up display.’
He started to look at the ground and brought his hand up to play with the button on the side.
‘Don’t do that!’ William said. ‘Leave the settings the way they are, and look over there.’
Paul squinted through the glasses.
‘Hey, you’re right. It looks like there is cave over there. Let’s check it out! I know a shallow part of the river where we can cross.’
And with that, the two men started scampering down the hillside.
Laura and Penny exchanged glances and then slowly followed.
‘Just like high school again,’ Penny said. ‘The boys burning off testosterone, and us left holding the picnic basket.’
‘It’s so good to see you. I’m glad we’ve finally been able to catch up.’
‘I feel like we’re just getting through that tough first phase you told me about. Now Jim is six months old, it feels like we can finally start going out and having our lives back.’
‘Yep, those first few months are tough. I’m just lucky that’s all behind us. Ours are old enough now that we can drop and run with the grandparents.’
Laura paused before continuing.
‘Still, did you ever think we would end up here?’
‘Where? Back at Kambah pool? It’s not somewhere I’d come every weekend, but it’s fun to come for a laugh and a picnic. Closest thing to a beach in Canberra.’ Penny replied.
‘No, here in our lives; in Canberra, with boys we met in high school, complete with family. I had so many dreams as a kid, so many risks I was going to take; things I was going to do. All that excitement has gone, as though someone came and buried it Williameath a pile of dirt…or maybe dirty nappies.’
Penny just smiled in return, and the girls continued to walk down towards the river. Laura opened her mouth to start a new conversation, but was interrupted by shouts below. The girls had almost reached the river, and as the terrain flattened out the ground below them became sandy. They walked towards the voices, and as they walked up the beach proper, they could see William and Paul away in the distance making their way across the river via stones. Both had their jeans folded up to their knees.
‘C’mon guys, we’re nearly there,’ William called. Paul grinned back at the girls.
‘The water is freezing!’
‘What are you two clowns doing?’ Penny asked as they got closer. They had to walk quickly, as the two men had made their way quite a distance up the river bank.
‘We’re going to check out that cave. C’mon!’ William replied, holding out a hand to his wife as she took a tentative step on to one of the stones.
Reluctantly the girls made their way across the river.
‘I don’t like how fast this water is flowing,’ Laura said.
Penny squealed as William splashed her with his foot.
‘And you can stop that, this water is freezing.’
The men helped their wives navigate the series of rocks and stones in the shallow part of the river that took them to the opposite shore.
‘Now what?’ Penny asked, shaking the cold water from her feet.
‘There is a path up here, which I think leads to the cave,’ Paul said. He handed the glasses back to William.
‘You found the cave, I think you should lead the way.’
The friends made their way up the steep ‘path’, which was more goat’s track. It consisted mainly of some more worn dirt and squashed down bushes.
When they were half-way up the hillside, and throughly out of breath, William suddenly stopped in front of what looked like any other rock formation on the hillside.
‘I think this is it. I’m not sure how this is going to work, but here we go.’
He pushed his hand towards the rock, and to everyone else’s surprise, it moved inwards. In the shape of a door.
‘Cool!’ Paul said, following his friend into the cave.
Penny inspected the door as they went through.
‘This is a man-made door; it’s thick metal on the inside, maybe steel, and rocky bushes on the other.’
‘Obviously meant to hide something,’ William replied, reaching for his phone and turning on its flashlight.
The friends, in unison, sighed at what they saw.
They were inside a large cavern, built well into the hill side. The cavern walls were all coated in some form of cement, obviously to hold the room together. It was lucky William had turned on his flashlight, as the four friends may otherwise have stumbled into one of the many items strewn around the room. The cavern appeared to be completely filled with a collection of objects, large and small.
All four had now taken their phones from their pockets and begun exploring the cave.
‘Is that the old slide from the Kambah Adventure Playground?’ Paul asked, pointing to a massive metal structure turned on its side.
‘And I think this is the old mouse house frame from Weston Park!’ Penny replied, pointing to a series of coloured objects in the corner of the cavern.
‘The mouse house was one of my all-time favourite places to play, I was devastated when they took it away!’ Laura replied.
‘I think this is the maze and tree house from Weston Park too,’ William exclaimed, examing a massive pile of plastic and wood.’
‘Yep, and over here is the treehouse from the Kambah Adventure Playground, and the spiral slide from the Wanniassa shops too!’ Paul exclaimed.
‘I heard someone got married in that treehouse,’ Laura replied.
‘I loved the Adventure Playground as a kid, it’s just not the same now,’ said William. ‘Remember how high that massiave slide felt, with only air underneath, not a bouncy soft fall. To get on the flying fox you had to climb up some bodgy tires and make a leap of faith. There was a great big rope swing, which sat next to a grandstand-like set of seats. The boys would all climb to the top and pile onto the rope, ten kids at a time, and then swing higher than you would imagine anyone could go.’
‘I think that rope swing is over here too,’ Penny replied.
‘This looks like all the equipment that the ACT Government has taken away from playgrounds because of public liability issues,’ Laura said, holding up an old seat.
‘Perhaps the plan is to bring back these things when all the lawyers have died and go away,’ William offered.
Paul had made his way through to the end of the cavern, and suddenly called out.
‘Hey guys, there is another tunnel back here. More narrow, but it looks like it goes for a long time.’
The others made their way over to where Paul was standing, having to navigate around many bulky objects to reach him.
‘And Guys, I’ve just checked the compass on my phone. These tunnels head north.’
‘Towards ANZAC parade.’
To be continued?