The white grub larvae were causing patches of dried dead zoysia grass to multiply at breakneck speed. It’s not that you could play a match of lawn bowls on the grass in the back yard but it was looking like a patchwork quilt, and late August is the ideal time to throw some grass seed down. I decided enough is enough so I spent a couple of afternoons digging and peeling back rolls of dead zoysia. Before I could spread turf-type tall fescue seeds, fescue with a deep growing root system so the grass plants can access water without me turning on the hose every second day, I had to fill the craters that were left after I removed the brown dead carpets of zoysia. I find it odd that you go to a home improvement retail store to buy a bag of dirt. I left with a one and a half cubic foot bag of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil-Vegetables and Herbs; fortunately, the bag was an Easy-To-Carry Shape. I cut open the bag and thrust my hands into the rich soil. Welcome back to mother earth, and then my attention was taken over by the warning on the back of the bag: Use With Adult Supervision.
My arms and hands blurred as I hurriedly pulled them from the black, silky, warm, soil and hysterically shook them; what danger could lurk within the rich, inviting, loam. I examined the bag looking for a list of recommended safety measures to use to get the dirt out of an Easy-To-Carry Shape bag. I lost count of the number of times I turned the bag over and over but I found nothing. Usually, when I am exposed to risk I endeavour to reduce that risk; so I prepared myself to remove the dirt risk-free. Using my finely honed risk management skills I evaluated the need for; safety helmet with a face shield, comfort cup respirator, safety goggles, ear muffs, protective coveralls, and chemical resistant gloves. I stared into the bag and became fixated on the soil; when I raised my head my legs were curled over at the knees and I was hanging ten feet above the ground and swinging upside down from the monkey bars in Williamstown’s Commonwealth Reserve. As I swung to and fro I could see the Gem Pier, the shops and bluestone buildings of Nelson Place, the Band Rotunda, and across the bay the distant skyline of Melbourne.
The playground in the Reserve was made up of a wooden see-saw, swings, and monkey bars. The monkey bars were made of metal piping and straddled a patch of foot-worn, trampled, turf; it was more bare, hard dirt than grass. And that is what you would fall onto. On hot summer days, the monkey bar metal was baking hot and after swinging and crossing the bars a few times you would have blisters on your hands. Leg fights were a popular activity. You and another combatant would start from each end of the monkey bars, and as you approached each other both of you would start kicking and flailing your legs trying to knock each other off the bars and onto the compacted ground. The ultimate was, to place a leg scissor lock around your adversary’s waist or thighs, and fling them to the compressed, packed, ground below. Sometimes you both went down.
One trip down the metal slide baking in the hot midday sun usually was good for a few thermal burns to the back of the thighs; or cuts into your legs from the jagged, angled, sharp metal edges where the metal surface seams had separated. There were no side rails so it was easy to create a deliberate flip and free-fall off the slide on the way down. And you didn’t even think about getting a concussion, breaking your neck, or knocking out a few teeth when you did a head-first journey down the slide.
Each see-saw was a wide thick wooden plank, aged from the elements, usually with splinters and had the tops of bolts poking out where the plank was attached to its metal A-frame. The only reason for the see-saw was to bounce the person on the opposite end onto the ground. This was attempted by teasing the flight of the see-saw. Teasing was done by bouncing from the knees and then randomly generating a full bounce up; pushing the wooden plank skywards, hoping that your opposite end partner had released their grip because their cramped fingers could no longer hold on to the plank; and sending them falling to the ground. Or if they managed to stay on the see-saw you would try for an immediate uber bounce before they had the chance to recalibrate their balance and equilibrium. The see-saw was also used to explore the world of physics; if your opposite moved close to the centre fulcrum you had the benefit of effort overload and could give them a wild bumping, bouncing ride. And we challenged each other to Run the See-Saw; you ran up the see-saw until you reached its fulcrum so that it would go bouncing to the ground, and you had to keep your balance as you ran down the see-saw.
Mum encouraged our adventurousness. If you fall and break your neck, don’t come crying to me was her most common feedback, and her advice for healing any cuts, abrasions, or bruises was; go swimming at the beach the saltwater is good for it, or let the dog lick it.
It seems our knockabout playscapes of yesteryear have morphed into risk-free, educationally interactive environments; a far cry from the landscapes where we learned that life was a harsh and unforgiving adventure. The compacted soil and ground surrounding what we played on has been replaced by wood mulch, sand, or recycled rubber mats; and we insist that playground quality sand is used and that the recycled rubber is lead-free. And those towering metal slides have been replaced with moulded polyethylene with ultraviolet stabilization, anti-static inhibitors, and double-wall construction; along with their height and slope being shrunk to conform to Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. One of today’s cardinal rules for playground safety is you must take off your bicycle helmet before playing on the playground equipment. We never had that rule when I was growing up; we never had bike helmets. Since that Christmas morning when I found a two-wheel bike at the end of my bed, and through adolescence and adulthood, I never once wore a helmet.
It is acknowledged by Melbourne’s bike-riding community that Williamstown provides all the ingredients for a great bike ride; today it is included in several of Melbourne’s listings of best bike rides. I rode many of those relaxing and popular wide bike paths as a young lad; but we had to make the paths across bumpy, rocky foreshores, maneuver through local streets and the shopping centres of Douglas Parade, Ferguson Street and commercial Nelson Place, and dodge our way across, and through, the football and cricket matches at the local parks and reserves. And when we fell off our bike we proudly wore as a badge of honour our stitches, bruises, cuts, or plaster casts.
As a thirty-something young man, and before the dawning of the age of the urban cyclist, I used up a couple of years riding a bike through and around Melbourne. There were no bike lanes and sometimes you remembered to lock your bike; there were no bike racks or stands and you never walked the bike; you never road on the tram tracks when they were wet and you had just a bike, not a road or commuter bike. And you never had a bike helmet. I had a yellow bike without a crossbar; the style was known as a girls bike.
I recently read that the city of Melbourne in partnership with the Victorian Government has provided a Bike Pod for the convenience of urban bike riders; the pod provides free bike parking, and shower and change space, for anyone who cycles to the city. Facilities include.
two self-contained showers
basin and mirror
floor heating for comfort and drying
stainless steel floor for hygiene
an automated door with a time-lapse for security
Whoa, fair suck of the sauce bottle; where was my bike pod. In the early seventies, I studied Library Science at the State College of Victoria, Melbourne. I remember my first lecture class. It was a warm summer February morning. I left the house we were sharing in McIIwraith Street anticipating a leisurely ten-minute yellow bike ride down Lygon Street. I soon realized that I was going to be late for my first class. I pushed and pushed down on the pedals. My tee-shirt became damper and wetter with perspiration; my wettish shoulder-length hair grew more hopelessly matted. The doors to the lecture hall were closed. I opened the door and forty-five women’s, and three male, heads turned and watched. The only empty seats were in the front two rows.
In the good old days, my bike riding was a risky business. I didn’t wear a helmet or ride on three-foot-wide homogenized bike paths; and I didn’t carry water in a hydration pack, practice cycling citizenship, or worry about hygiene for cyclists. When I think back I admire my naive innocence; instinctively working at-risk compensation. Adjusting where and how I biked in response to what I perceived as a level of risk. And maybe that was just part of growing older and wiser; taking on risks, and riding the journey of life with no regrets. To prepare our present-day youngsters to become risk managers and risk-takers I think it’s time to start unwrapping the bubble wrap. We need to bring back yesterdays playgrounds and the distraction of; Drop the Handkerchief aka Duck Duck Goose, British Bulldog aka Red Rover, Brandy aka Dodge Ball, Cops and Robbers aka Cowboys and Indians, and Tiggy aka Tag.
The backyard grass should be ready for a match of competitive lawn bowls by next summer. Be warned; the game can be exhausting. Games can last for three to four hours without a break, and you can walk two or three miles and bend up and down more than 100 times; a potential risk for both back and knee injuries. The two risk management process steps that I always follow are identifying the risk and treating the risk; a lot of breaks for cold beers should take care of business.