As a kid, I lived my life outside. Nothing much of interest happened inside. The backyard was my playground. It’s what we did.
Every minute of daylight was put to healthy use. And some moonlight. Mum would call more than once to get me inside for dinner.
People of my vintage tell these stories. The younger generation delivers a collective yawn and advises that we don’t ‘get it’. Which is often the truth.
Something beyond dispute, is the quality and importance of the backyard. The ancient times of my youth is a clear winner.
Blocks are shrinking. More and more places have no yard at all.
Our family moved a few times during my childhood. We lost our first house. Dad’s building business crashed. The bank made him sell the home that he’d built for us. It knocked him around.
For a sports-mad youngster, there was a bonus. Our new rental place, humble as it may have been, had a ripper yard. Complete with Hills hoist and outside dunny. It was long and spacious. The yard, not the outhouse.
During winter, Dad and I would spend hours throwing the footy around. Catching, and kicking, and commentating on future glory. Mum would call fulltime and drag us up the back steps.
But it was summer when our outside arena came to the fore. It was an ideal backyard cricket ground.
Over our fence was a dirt lane, and then a spare block of land, overgrown with grass and weeds. Just the sort of wide spaces that encouraged lusty on-side shots.
We positioned the stumps at the far end, so the batsman had to be careful in his decision-making. To the right, was the dunny, and Dad’s shed. If you hit in that direction, you had to make sure it was along the ground.
The value shot was to the left. Anything loose from the bowler would be dispatched over the fence, into that spare block.
Dad would bowl over after over, in fading light. He’d still be in his work clothes, after toiling on a building site somewhere. But he would send them down, without complaint.
I think back, and wonder how I ended up such a crap batsman in adult years. It was certainly not through a lack of practice. Possibly a lack of talent.
Someone else loved that yard, and those endless summer arvos with bat and ball. Our dog, Tess.
She was a beautiful black border collie. I can’t remember where we got her, or how we paid for her, given money was so tight. But we adored her.
She lived for our cricket games. Our best fieldsman by far. She could catch. And importantly for the weary bowler, she could chase.
Whenever I’d whack one deep into the spare block, she’d be galloping after it. Thanks to her efforts, it was rare for us to ever lose a ball. It would come back covered in dribble, but that was a small price to pay.
After Dad’s death, we moved a few more times. Nowhere was quite like that backyard.
Now, I have a yard that is tiny by comparison. There is a rusting swing set, and a trampoline that doesn’t get used much anymore.
Our dog Coco is only a little bigger than the tennis balls Tess used to chase. I get home after dark, so there’s no bowling to be done. The girls hate cricket anyway.
There is hope, however. Daughter Two is now playing touch football. Finally, a reason for our family to own a footy. And to get outside.
This weekend, we’re going to spend some time in our yard. A short break from laptops, phones, and i-pods.
If we had been given access to so many gadgets all those years ago, maybe we would have stayed inside too. Or maybe not. Tess would never have forgiven me.