A great number of my future postings will be fictional works, so I figured I would kick us out of the starting blocks with something different. This is a non-fiction travel story, written for one of my Communication classes at university last year. Any comments or criticisms will be most gladly accepted.
.: The Swamp Monster :.
A shrill whistle pierced the air as the monorail rattled into the station, bringing with it a peculiar scent of burnt metal and banana bread. The crowd of visitors swarmed near the doors, busily trying to arrange some order of entry. Laughing children squeezed ahead, eagerly searching for a window seat while their long-suffering parents trailed behind.
It was exactly as I remembered it to be.
History seemed to repeat itself; I sat in the window seat, as before; my sister sat to my left and my mother, directly behind, as before; I wondered, could we be in the exact same seats? Too difficult to recall. Yet I remember, with clarity, the anticipation of the monorail bustling along its tracks, weaving through fields of banana plantation. We hadn’t been here in years. I was barely six years old when we were here last; by now I was much, much older – twelve and a half. Practically middle-aged, as far as I was concerned.
A voice crackled over the radio, spurting facts about Australia, and bananas, and the history of banana growth, and what you could do with bananas… Needless to say, it was mostly ignored as the children played and the parents rested.
The monorail rounded a corner and began to slow; I pushed my nose flat against the glass; I knew what was coming. The radio-voice deepened mysteriously as it regaled its listeners with a legend – an Aboriginal legend, passed down from generation to generation, telling of an ancient beast with a dog-like face, a horse-like tail, tusks, horns and a spine-tingling shriek. “A beast that dwells in waterholes, lakes, billabongs… and swamps,” the voice concluded.
Just as it happened years before, we came to a screeching halt beside a wide, murky swamp, where the water eddied and crashed against the shore…
* * *
It was 9 o’clock when the car finally departed from Armidale, loaded full with two suitcases, one esky, four towels and three passengers. Our annual trip to Coffs Harbour was a highly anticipated treat, fuelled by the eagerness of a visit to the Big Banana. I sat in the front seat with childish pride, as my older sister, Kristy, pouted like only a nine-year old could in the back.
“We’re swapping seats as soon as we get to Dorrigo,” she demanded. Mum smiled to herself, and listened as the quiet bickering turned into endless games of ‘I Spy’ (“Was it a car?”; “…Yes.”) and tuneless, repetitious singing.
Our eyes were wide when the car pulled into the Big Banana car park, several hours later. Much of the day was spent in the manner of any family vacation – blissful chaos. Naturally, it wasn’t long before we spotted the colourful display of a sweets shop, filled with lollies, chocolates and, for whatever reason, bananas. We fought against the tide of people to explore it, while Mum followed us warily, knowing all too well the implications behind that age-old simile: “like children in a candy store.”
Despite our loud protests that, yes, we did need to buy every type of lolly and chocolate in the shop, Mum finally bullied us into choosing one treat. (Looking back, I can only smile guiltily at the firm image of Mum, the “one-treat-only” meanie; truly, who bullied who?)
Faced with the dilemma of pulling only one delectable snack from the impressive display, Kristy and I were stumped. We ummed and aahed and destroyed the neat pyramids of chocolate boxes and lolly packets, constantly bringing treats possessively to our chests, then changing our minds within seconds. Eventually, a gentle hand reached down to tap our shoulders, and we turned curiously, looking up at an apron-wearing, candy-holding, sweetly smiling woman.
“Would you girls like to try some Bo Peep Candy?” she asked with grandmotherly delight. I met Kristy’s eyes. ‘Tis a well-known concept that strangers always have the best candy, so we took the offering of small, hard, rainbow sweets with greedy enthusiasm. Mum thanked the woman profusely when we each held up a small jar of Bo Peep Candy and announced that we were finally ready to leave the crowded sweets shop.
Her relief, unfortunately, was short-lived: “Oh look – a train!” Thinking about it now, I am quite positive that I saw her visibly cringe at Kristy’s shout.
“It’s actually a monorail,” she informed us. We stared. She sighed. And we bought tickets. “For the train,” Kristy helpfully added to the bemused ticket-seller.
Mum led us to the back of the carriage, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the swarm of tourists. I quickly claimed the window seat; Kristy sat beside me, uncomplaining (she discovered that she could easily see out both my window and the one on the other side of the carriage); and Mum collapsed behind us, just grateful for the chance to rest her feet.
The ‘train’ whistled and hurried along its tracks. A voice began talking on a static radio above our heads; I listened quietly in case it was important, but Kristy interrupted me, bouncing in her chair, pointing out the windows and chattering in my ear. With the innocence of a little sister, I quickly decided that what Kristy had to say was more interesting than the radio-voice, so I joined her in our childish games. Then the monorail slowed and we fell silent; a hush fell over the entire carriage.
“Aboriginal legend tells of an ancient beast that haunts this land. It was a warning, passed down from generation to generation…” The crackling voice paused, and I shivered. Details of the monster were uttered over the radio, and I gazed out the window with quiet wonder as we come to a stop beside a flat, dark stretch of water.
“It was a beast that lived in waterholes…” The water beside the monorail began to stir; “…lakes…” Kristy clambered next to me and we pushed up against the window; “…billabongs…” The water bubbled with growing intensity; “…and swamps.”
We let out a squeal as a fierce, horned head thrust out of the water. It dropped its jaw with a metallic screech; its tail and thorny back splashed to the surface. “It was… a Bunyip!” the radio-voice cried, and Mum joined the other parents with polite applause. Kristy and I, meanwhile, were frozen in place. The tremendous, muddy creature rotated its head and seemed, for just a second, to glare in our direction.
“That’s the coolest thing ever!” Kristy whispered. I smiled with agreement as the Bunyip slowly closed its gaping mouth and lowered its head into the protection of its swamp.
“What did you think?” Mum asked as the monorail bustled back into the station.
“Cool!” Kristy shouted, beginning a speech about why nothing in the world could ever be as exciting as the Bunyip.
I simply took Mum’s hand, using my other fist to rub at my tired eyes. For me, nothing else needed to be said. The image of that Bunyip would remain with me always. Kristy was already launching into an appeal about why we should be allowed to return next year, and the year after that, and I nodded eagerly.
The next crowd of passengers disappeared into the train with noisy excitement while I watched enviously. I was already keen to see the Bunyip again. I squeezed Mum’s hand, smiling softly with a silent wish that we would be back, one day, to see the fantastic monster that hid in the darkness of its swamp…
* * *
The tip of the Bunyip’s mechanical tail sunk into the swamp; the monorail trundled along the tracks; but my twelve-year old frame remained pressed against the window.
…Was that it?
Kristy tugged me back into my chair, rolling her eyes. “That’s the lamest thing ever,” she declared. “It looked like a frill-necked lizard.” I nodded numbly. The monorail whistled as it pulled into the station and we departed through the chaos of passengers.
“Look at that! That’s new, right? That wasn’t there before!” Kristy exclaimed, drawing away from the platform, but my eyes were still on the idle monorail. Was that my beloved Bunyip? It couldn’t have been. I remember coming to the Big Banana for the first time so clearly. Where were the fear, awe and wonder?
“C’mon!” Kristy called loudly, marching through the crowd. Mum kept a watchful eye on us both and waited patiently as I caught up. Kristy led us into a bright and busy sweet shop. I turned back to look at the monorail, but my vision was blocked by a sudden, colourful obstacle.
“Look! Bo Peep Candy!” Kristy chimed, pushing the jar into my hands. I held it carefully as a large grin spread across my face. At least some things were the same. My eyes wandered back to the departing monorail, but the smile didn’t fall off my face. At least the things that weren’t the same could remain safely in my memory, kept under lock and key.
And who knows? Maybe one day, I’d come back, and my Bunyip would have the same allure that it did when I was six…
* * *
The car rocked across the uneven ground. I gripped the door handle nervously as Kristy parked beneath the quivering gum trees. She threw her door open with unbridled enthusiasm. “C’mon, c’mon, let’s go!” she ushered, bounding away down the path. Even at the ripe old age of twenty-one, Kristy had the fervour of a three-year old. Grinning despite myself, I stumbled after her.
I found her leaning against the railing of an outlook structure, her gaze locked on the image before us. “Cool, huh?”
I nodded appreciatively as the mighty waterfall before us pounded along the rocks. “Where are we, exactly?” I questioned, but wasn’t surprised when Kristy shrugged.
“Oh, who knows? That darling housemate of mine decided to have some friends around yesterday, so I went for a drive. Found this by accident,” she smiled proudly. Suddenly she slapped my arm, practically bouncing on the heels of her feet. “Hey! Do you think we’ll see a Yowie?”
I blinked, trying to trace this random jump in conversation. “I beg your pardon?”
She tried to look serious, but a grin was tugging at her lips. “I dunno. I read in the paper that some guy saw a Yowie while he was bushwalking. Apparently it was throwing rocks at some kids.”
“Yes,” I snorted. “Because I’m sure a Yowie would have nothing better to do with its time than to hurl stones at small children.”
Kristy laughed at my derisive tone, and we fell into a comfortable silence.
“Hey,” I began, several minutes later. “Do you remember the train ride at the Big Banana?” I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of it.
“Random,” Kristy replied, slightly dumbfounded. “But, yeah.”
“Remember, it had the Yowie coming out of the swamp?” I encouraged. She grinned slowly.
“Oh yeah! I remember. ’Cept it wasn’t a Yowie; it was a Bunyip.”
“Right, right,” I trailed off. “…It’s gone, you know.”
She turned sharply, eyes wide. “Gone? Gone where?”
“Just gone,” I told her. “I looked it up. The whole monorail is gone. They’ve replaced it with some ‘Big Banana Walking Tour’.”
Kristy continued to stare blankly, then slumped against the railing. “That’s the saddest thing ever.”
I nodded mournfully, but as soon as our eyes met, we dissolved into a fit of laughter. I nudged her lightly. “This is nice – hanging out, I mean. I hardly see you any more. We should come out here more often.”
Kristy smiled. “Definitely… That way we can find out own Bunyip! Take that, Big Banana!” With that, she pushed away from the outlook and ventured through the trees. “C’mon!”
I chuckled quietly and followed her eagerly into the bush.
Far in the distance, the waterfall eddied and crashed against the shore.
- Love The Bad Guy