by David Scott
For thousands of years, stars have held our attention and imagination. They influence our life—we wish upon them, sing songs about them, navigate by them, write about them, follow them, and even give their name to the actors we love. My memories have revealed a lifetime of navigating by the stars, and moving beyond the fear and anxiety that self-doubt so insidiously cloaks us in. Yes, as Jiminy Cricket sang for us in Walt Disney's Pinocchio, "when you wish upon a star . . . fate steps in and sees you through."
Memories and influences have a profound effect on our lives. I look back on my childhood years—the 1940s to mid-'50s—and I can recall the people who were inspirational to me. Mostly it was my family, but there was also Jiminy Cricket. You no doubt recollect the song "When You Wish Upon a Star," with its lyrics that lift the spirit and let you believe anything is possible. I didn't doubt Jiminy for a minute.
The early years of my life were a time of innocence, security, adventure, and family love. How quickly my situation changed—one decision by my parents, made with my best interests foremost in their thoughts, shattered the world I had known. Through the fear, torment, isolation, and loss of my own identity, my memories and influences would come to have an overwhelming power on the choices I was to make.
My transition from teenager to adult seemed to happen overnight, but my unflappable outward appearance belied the struggles of a boy coming to terms with his guilt, and an irresistible need for his parents to be proud of him. My future was being shaped from the past, but it took me a long time to realise it. I chose the road less travelled, steeped in the wonder of the cinema and accompanied by my beloved animal companions, and it has been intriguing, daunting, rewarding, and, at times, solitary, but I always felt it was the path I was meant to take.
Like so many people, I let the emotions attached to memories hold me captive, and I missed opportunities to choose with more clarity. A near-death experience helped me to live a simpler life. Participating in a creative writing course inspired me to engage in script writing, stage work, and novel writing. This is my third book, an autobiography that has revealed more of me than I ever intended to share, and fate has led you to it.
My father was no stranger to military life. On December 17, 1941 he’d enlisted into the army at Brunswick in Melbourne and was posted to Darwin. The details of what happened there are rather sketchy as Dad never talked about it, and when I dogged Mum about what Dad did in the war I sensed she skimmed over a lot. I did, however, gain some insight into his larrikinism, such as the time Dad and his mates went AWOL to go duck shooting in a nearby swamp and were caught red-handed with their spoils as they stole back into camp. Their saving grace was the commander’s love of wild duck. Moderating their punishment to messtent duties, he demanded they personally cook and serve the ducks for him and the rest of the big brass.
Dad was never one to let an opportunity pass so he organised a poker game behind the mess tent, with a non-player on lookout so they weren’t caught. Everything had been thought of, except a Japanese attack. The hiss of a dropping bomb had Dad’s mates kissing dirt, but he remained sitting by the box they used for a table, holding his winning hand to his chest.
The mess tent copped a direct hit, sending canvas, splintered tent poles, tables, chairs and kitchen equipment flying. Debris soared over the men on the ground, leaving them unscathed, but the only sign of Dad was an arm and shoulder poking out of the rubble. Frantically tearing wreckage off Dad, the others discovered to their amazement that he was not only conscious but still clutching his cards.
“Who’s raising?” he challenged, getting a roar of derision from his relieved mates.
It is open for conjecture whether they finished the game, but Dad ended up in hospital with a broken leg—his only major injury beyond superficial cuts and scratches. That’s when the army medic discovered that Dad had dangerously low blood pressure, a fact he’d concealed from the overworked recruiting doctor. His tour of duty came to an abrupt end and he was honourably discharged to recuperate at home.
Now, if Dad had told this tale, a lot of this may have been tongue-in-cheek, but Mum couldn’t tell a tall story to save herself, so I’m pretty sure it happened something like I’ve reported.
But I digress, like life so often does to our plans. At Wodonga, Dad took out a bank loan, employed a couple of school-leavers too young to join the armed forces and started constructing houses in conjunction with screening films four nights a week.
Wartime fuel shortages meant those owning cars drove sparingly, leaving small communities outside Wodonga semi-isolated. Chiltern was such a place, being fifteen country miles west (give or take a mile or two), so my parents added to their busy schedule with the fortnightly showing of movies in an old hall behind the pub.
As if that wasn’t enough to tire them out, Dad contributed to the war effort by bringing movies to soldiers at the Albury and Wodonga army bases, something other exhibitors baulked at because it was financially risky. They weren’t far off the mark, but Dad put entertaining the troops ahead of monetary gain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David Scott is a playwright, director and novelist – among other things. His career included forty years as a film exhibitor; establishing a horse stud; managing a motel; working in the hospitality industry, and a few other experiences along the way. David’s latest book, Stargazer, is an autobiography highlighting the value of family, ingenuity, bravado, old-fashioned common sense, colourful characters and unfailing good humour. From rural towns in Victoria and New South Wales, to the mountain life in Queensland, the constant has been faithful canine companions, perseverance and a joy for living.
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