A gorgeous little waterhole that we would frequent as children with our family, then with mates as we all got our licences, was Lilyvale.
It was, (I say was, as it is now long past its glory), a beautiful natural spring, surrounded by big native trees and grasses, with a nice shady lower bank to park up and picnic on, and a big shelter up on the high bank to lay out swags and party under.
It was out in the middle of almost nowhere, and such a great spot to play.
One of those waterholes that maybe only inland Australians can appreciate. Black soil, flies, cows, body temperature water, but to us it was just magic!
On a stinking hot day, you’d tentatively climb in on the near side, feet squishing in the mud, trying to avoid stepping too hard and discovering the buried roots and clam shells, which would impale themselves into tender little feet at any given chance.
At this stage, there was still no relief from the heat, the water being around 10 degrees higher than the air (yes an exaggeration). You get up to the knees and it starts to cool off, just a touch. The ground gets less muddy and then the bank drops away, and you remember the Lilyvale legends, and you know there are now only 3 possible scenarios.
1. You will dive in, swim furiously to the other side, not stopping, not diving down once for the sweet relief of the cold layer, and scramble up the far bank, all while trying to look cool, calm and collected.
2. You will turn around and clamber back to shore, slicing hands and feet and getting covered in the mud you so tried to avoid in an attempt to get out ASAP. You weren’t that hot anyway.
3. You will be grabbed by the long dead Chinaman.
The Chinaman who drowned in this very spot a hundred years ago, when his horse and buggy slipped with him, into Lilyvale, while he was collecting water.
The Chinaman whose grave you passed on the drive in.
The Chinaman who now lives at the bottom of this very water hole, reaching up in an attempt to grab and drown, careless children with his long bony, root like fingers.
The Chinaman who spends his nights patrolling the banks of his final resting place, searching for the children that he missed during the day.
Yup, that Chinaman.
Despite this terror, it was always scenario 1 for me and my sisters. Though in my time, I seen countless wary souls turn tail back up that bank.
For us, the prize on the other side was far too great to miss out on.
Over the years, some ingenious children, or child like adults, had set up a series of Tarzan swings from the big trees on the far bank.
There were levels of course.
The lower branches were for younger kids and Sissy Mary’s, while the high, and even higher branches, were for only the very brave and/or stupid.
The stupid usually surpassed even the every high, and leapt from the top branches. Crazy.
I would normally hang out mid-way, tackling the high, but not crazy high swing. Though I did take on the very big guns a few times.
What a buzz.
You had to climb the tree. Scary. Then reach out and grab the swing. Scary again. Jump off. Scarier. Then let go, and automatically pull yourself out of any form of pin dive that would lead you straight down to the Chinaman’s deadly lair. Scare-ee.
Add to this the every present possibility of rope burn and limb dislocation from the excess rope (necessary for catching the swing post jump), and you’ve got yourself an adrenalin filled, action packed day by the water. *
As the day wore on and your wits dropped, or the heat just got too much, you’d always risk that pesky Chinaman and dive down to the cool layer.
There is nothing quite like that feeling. And the colours that went along with it. (Because, of course, you couldn’t close your eyes. You had to keep an eye out.)
The colours would change as the temperature dropped from hot to icy cool. Yellowy brown, to darker browny yellow, to full brown and eventually black, with, wait…..Was that a hand???????????????
The accent was always bloody quick.
We’re lucky no one got the bends.
*One trip ended with a family ban from Lilyvale, which only my Dad ever upheld. My middle sister slipped from the swing and grated her back down the roots (or the Chainman’s greedy fingers, who knows) on the far bank. The three of us (my sisters and I) swam back to our parents with middle sister on an air mattress, and on the tense trip into back into the ambulance in town we were frequently, and loudly, reminded, by a very angry Dad, that we would never, ever, ever be going back to Lilyvale. He never did go back.
But it would take more than layers of skin off, Father bans, and dead Chinamen to keep us girls out of that water!