Bamboo patch fire

One of the friends I made at school was Martin B. His mum was a widow, but she always made me feel welcome. They lived on the east side of the Albany highway, about a mile before the orange Ford Prefect that hung upside down from the branch of a large tree. Not that far from the Canberra bomber that was nose down in a paddock on the other side of the road. This was an advertising sign for Weaver and Lock soft drinks.

A completely new experience for me no doubt caused some amusement to the others there. While I was playing with Martin on the lounge room someone came in and turned the radio on. Well that got my attention! I walked over straight away and started having a good look. It was one of those waist high furniture piece valve radios with a glass panel with a display of all the radio stations and below that a row of knobs. The bottom two thirds was occupied by a cloth cover over a large speaker.

I was fascinated. A man was talking from the box! How did that work? Why would he want to be in a box? Must be a small man to fit. But he didn’t sound like a small man.

I tried to look around the back to see this man in the box, but I couldn’t move it. I tried pushing on the cloth where the sound of his voice came from. That didn’t feel like a man either. And then music started. As I remember it was a classical piece of some sort. They couldn’t all fit in there, all those musicians! I just stood there looking puzzled. Finally Mrs B came over to me and tried to explain a radio and how it works. It couldn’t have been easy to explain to a six year old boy who did not even have electricity in his own home.

Mrs B’s house is also where I was cured of my bedwetting. I used to get so embarrassed with this, especially when I was away from home. I was staying with Martin overnight on a Saturday night – my parents would take me home from church the next day. I remember this so clearly. I was in bed sleeping and I was dreaming that I was in a bath and was free to do a wee (now you know what I used to do in the bath! :)). I suddenly woke up and realised I was in bed and I really didn’t want to wet the bed. All my nice gentle relaxing was gone. I tensed up and held my wee in. I couldn’t go back to sleep, and when morning came I had difficulty relaxing enough to have what was by then a pretty desperate wee! But it cured the bedwetting problem. It never happened again.

Next door to Martin’s house was a vacant block with a huge bamboo patch. The bamboo patch would have been the size of a small house. Certainly as tall as a house, and tinder dry.

A year or two after the overnight stay at Martin’s house I visited again, but this time I was to walk home. The idea was that Martin and I were to walk to the swimming pool, go for a swim and then I would walk home from there. For some reason Martin couldn’t come to the pool so I went by myself.

Just as I was walking down Albany Highway, on the other side of the road, the bamboo patch started burning. This huge patch of tinder dry bamboo just went up instantly! Flames shooting high in the air. Neighbours freaking out. Garden hoses not making much difference. It was the middle of a West Australian summer, and everything was tinder dry. Bushfires were, and are, a constant threat. It didn’t take long for the fire brigade to arrive. Eventually it was all put out.

But not for me. Then the fun started. Who had done this? Who had started the fire? Suddenly I found myself on the wrong end of an accusation. Someone had said that I did it. And that figured. I had just left the house, hadn’t I? And then the fire started? None of my denials made any difference. I was guilty, whether I did it or not. I don’t remember all of the punishment, but I do remember a ban on going to the pool for a while. That was pretty hard! I have no doubt that I have done things deserving punishment for which I was never punished. But not that one!

Not long after this Mrs B married Mr Bh, who was head teacher of the John Calvin School. Within a couple of months the whole family moved back to Holland. No doubt great for Mrs B, but I lost a good friend. I wonder what he is doing now?

© Copyright Willem Schultink