Last night a chance remark over tawny port about horrible dogs matched to horrible people had us galloping through the portals of time back to the early 1980s when we were establishing ourselves on the south coast. The dog our memories returned to was a Rottweiler with a studded collar: the owner, a feral man called Rat. He and his mate Jed had a daggy camp on the block next door, a lean to hut that was a bit of a rubbish tip. These memories led to more recollections of our next door neighbours: Alan who spray painted his cat pink; Wheelie who sported the tattooed tear on his cheek that is the chosen mark of murderers; Brian Hosesquirter, an ex undertaker, who drove his ute backwards and forwards over the crates we used as a stall for the veggies from our market garden in a burst of mindless destruction.
Rat and Jed shot parrots to eat. One day a bullet whistled past the house, which was by now home to four little children. J saw the owners of the block, saying the shooters had to go. They did. Rat ended up on a prison farm somewhere in NSW; Jed sadly died when he was hit by a car walking home along South Head Road.
Not all of our neighbours were feral, and slowly the subdivision began to fill with normal people, like us. We barbecued fresh mullet with Jan and Steve: we too have a criminal past, since they were caught in an illegal net, with the aid of our makeshift boat, half a forty four gallon drum called the Bismarck. We established friendly relations with two older couples: Errol and Betty were breeding goats, and Flo and Dan, a jazz musician and pharmacist who’d lived in Vanuatu. They retired to Eurobodalla after years of holidaying at Blackfellows Point: when they first came down from Sydney there was only a punt across the river at Batemans Bay.
We’re the only ones of that first lot still on the subdivision.
As we reminisced, we also ruminated on the nature of our memories. Chronology was non existent, that thread on which events are strung: we could remember isolated events, but not their sequence. My memories were very short on detail. What I did remember with absolute vividness was my unfading regret that on first meeting Rat and Jed I offered them a slice of sponge cake, made with duck eggs: the viscous whites held shape beautifully, and my cake cooked to perfection in a temperamental fuel oven.