My goodness she was beautiful!
Seventeen, with long blonde hair, blue eyes and her school uniform worn as high
above the knees as she dared.
It was 1972. Four years at a boys’
Grammar school with compulsory army cadet training every Thursday afternoon,
cadet camps intruding into school holidays, compulsory sport, compulsory
uniforms with tie and cap straight out of the Billy Bunter English comic books.
But Albury was just catching on to
the sixties flower power and anti-Vietnam war protests, the Beatles and
Woodstock, All You Need is Love and the Haight-Ashbury scene. The old-school
disciplinarian façade power structure was beginning to crack ever so slightly.
Hemlines were on the way up, hair lines were on the way down, the pill was
replacing condoms and free sex was a possibility at last!
For Michael and his mates 1972 was
a watershed as the boys’ school amalgamated with their sister school.
Coeducation! The girls from the Woodstock Presbyterian Ladies College arrived
on campus and they were as excited and as randy as we were.
She was a day pupil, not a boarder
so Mike was able to get her phone number and make that first, terrifying,
sweaty, awkward call. What to say?
‘You want to come for a drive in my
car this weekend?’ (My car – a 1956 Morris Minor 1000, originally owned by my
Nanna and signed over to me on my seventeenth birthday along with my P Plates).
Crikey, she says OK!
In Albury, the most accessible
parking lot is the Mungabarena Reserve, a few miles up the mighty Murray River
where billabongs meander through river red-gum stands and grassy mounds and
it’s possible to find a private place to park – and make out. Awkward chats,
sideways glances, she’s almost too gorgeous to look at full-on. The first kiss,
a longer pash and cuddle. Then back to town. Repeat a few times in exotic
inland city locations like Monument Hill overlooking Dean Street or a stretch
of gravelly beach overlooking Lake Hume (then known as the Hume Weir).
We don’t break up, we just move on.
Other dates, other girls, all gorgeous in their own right; other parties, more
parking at Mungabareena, nothing too serious. Even Gemma the nurse goes home to
Papua New Guinea after her training at the Albury Base Hospital and we lose
touch with no sense of grief, just glad to have shared some good times between
matric and Uni.
Fast forward thirty years and Michael’s
emerging from the young family raising period. He gets to talk with his
lifelong school friend John, and all that’s left of those encounters in ’72 is
an image of that blonde girl, but what was her name?
Oh, you mean Leonie?
Yeah that’s it, Leonie.
She married a bloke called Michael.
We went to the same Uni in Wagga…