John Goodman is an Auckland writer and author; as he seeks to write more, he is attending the 'More Life Writing' course taught by Deborah Shepard.
From the back of the house you could see across the gully, which was wide, deep and gorse filled. In summer, all right-minded boys made tunnels and dens there, hollowed-out caves with soft floors of choked, dried-out grass and spiky walls, which caught at you like a hedgehog unravelling, if you weren’t careful.
You got to the gully down the face of a clay cliff. Decades of little kids had toggled their way along, swinging and balancing on a ledge here, a tree root there, so you could get down fast if you knew how and we kids did, only the adults didn’t and told us never to go that way.
Once down, you were amongst the gorse, thick browns and greens in the autumn and winter but dying out in the summer for the tunnel season. You got in by wriggling under on your belly, head hunched between your shoulders, nose smelling the ground and the back of your neck just clearing live prickles above. Then you picked up an old tunnel or made your own, or both, snapping back branches at the base and carving your way to a really private den, at least three feet from someone else’s, where you swore your neighbour to eternal silence so no one else could find you.
Eternity lasts ten minutes. After that gangs sprang up to dispute territory. Alliances formed and re-formed as land and favours were traded. Betrayal was frequent and forgotten in the heat or illusion of conquering the enemy, your best friend.
Girls weren’t allowed except for Paul’s small sister, Linda, a wiry, dark-skinned girl with green eyes and straight black hair, although she only tagged along. And the bigger kids came in only to catch you and give you Chinese burns.
We were always late home. You couldn’t get back via the cliff but had to use the gravel access road to the top, past the parked earth-movers and dozers. In the end, the dozers cleared all the gorse and surveyors put pegs in the shiny, yellow earth. So, then, there were no more dens and tunnels, and no more warfare in the gully.
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