Small Beginnings–in the wilds of far north Queensland, by Sheryl Gwyther
Is creativity part of our genetic makeup? Perhaps. But I know for sure – living an unrestricted, happy-go-lucky childhood in far north Queensland in the early 60s was the genesis of my creative life.
I’ve always made things, even when I was small – from doll-houses out of cardboard boxes and miniature furniture out of matchboxes, drawing and painting pictures, to building cubbyhouses in trees that doubled as Tarzan’s home, pirate ships, smugglers’ caves, dragon lairs or a princess’s castle.
My younger sisters (Meryl and Robyn), and I didn’t own many kids’ books. Our Aladdin’s Cave was the Innisfail public library in far north Queensland. It’s where I discovered the joys of Narnia and Enid Blyton el al, and where my journey to being a writer began.
Those stories fed our adventures. Being the eldest of a mob of sisters, cousins and neighbourhood children meant I instigated and led many escapades. We roamed the streets and the scrub surrounding our town on the weekends, dodging ticks, taipans and cane toads, the smell of burning sugarcane in the air – only coming home to eat and sleep.
We were Tarzan swinging from ropes strung in the neighbourhood’s huge tropical fig tree; the Swiss Family Robinson on their deserted island; pirates and smugglers, cowboys and Indians. I told ghost stories to scare the hell out of the littlies; and wrote stories about princesses and witches which we acted out, with me bossing everyone around, of course.
Once I pretended to be a journalist – that idea likely came from observing Lois Lane in an early Superman movie we’d seen at the Saturday matinees. I interviewed the milkman and the rubbish-man, with my trusty spiral-bound notebook (bought especially for the occasion) and a pencil behind my ear.
Then one day, at 11-years-old, I discovered a small book my mother had kept from her college days. It was a play about Lady Jane Grey who in 1554 was beheaded after being Queen for a few days – the first time I’d seen the format of how a script was written. What an epiphany! All you had to do was follow the directions.
I guess I must’ve been an over-zealous director. Or the antiquated dialogue was too much. The neighbourhood kids disappeared, then the cousins – until just before we were to put on the play under our stilt house with its hard dirt floor, the only actors left were my two sisters and I. Luckily, the lure of dressing up in costumes was enough to enthral and keep them.
The show went on. We gave up trying to follow the play’s real script, making up the words as we went, with great hilarity, giving Lady Jane Grey (me, of course) a truly dramatic send-off.
Memories that spark images in my brain, that feed my stories, even today.