What is it that causes memories of childhood to surface? Most often there is a trigger. We read a story, we engage in a discussion about the past, we re-visit the area where we grew up, we overhear a conversation, or watch a movie and a memory comes flooding back. Recently I was viewing an exhibition of photographic portraiture gathered from the collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. My attention was drawn to a black and white photograph entitled, Outback Children, (1963) by Australian photographer, David Moore. It featured three boys and a black dog playing on a pile of hay bales, in a field in South Australia. In the middle of the picture plane there was a wooden farmhouse and against the horizon a smudgy line of hills squiggling from centre to centre right. The land around the house and fields was very flat - a plain spreading towards the hilly range in the distance.
In the foreground the dog stood on the bales, four legs splayed to keep the balance, tail up and barking madly. I’m sure he was grinning. Two boys waited, one on the ground and one beside the dog, watching a third boy do a flip. That boy was in mid-air, upside down, his body blurred in motion, spinning towards the ground in a giddy, exhilarating rush of movement.
I stood transfixed. As I studied the photograph I was transported back to my own childhood growing up in the late 1960s, on a farm in the Canterbury Plains. I knew what it felt like to be those boys. I could smell the hay stalks. They had the aroma of tealeaves only softer. I could feel the chill of the crisp winter air and hear the shrieks of the boys and the yelp of the black dog. It was a curious feeling. I hadn’t forgotten playing on the farm but what had been lost were the actual feelings of sheer joy that were being communicated in the photo...
Deborah Shepard revised version of her story "Reconnecting with Childhood Memories," Translucence: Life Writing from Manukau and Papakura, ed Deborah Shepard, Auckland: First Chapters, 2010:57-66.