I recall a time when I was 8 years old, living in the Sydney suburb of Glenfield. Back in 1982, things seemed a lot different to nowdays… my sister and I were given free reign to roam where-ever we liked. The only rule was to return home by the time the street lights turned on, which was around sunset.
My sister Angie was 7 and liked to hang out with my mates and I, just mucking around and playing. We would go visit the nature reserve behind our house and wander through the bush for hours, making up our own games.
One time, during a hot summer day, we went walking far from our house, to near the Georges River. There were four of us there, Angie, two of my good friends and myself.
The water down at the river was fast moving and we didn’t know how to swim very well, so we just played on the riverbank where it was nice and cool.
While we were there, we encountered a strange old man, who was walking with a large backpack. He offered us some softdrink which we was carrying in his pack. The cans were warm but drinking Coke and Lemonade was such a treat in those days, we didn’t mind a bit.
We all got to talking to this guy, and he told us that he lived on a boat by the river, which he offered to show us. We had not seen a boat when we were there earlier, so we excitedly accepted his offer.
We all walked down there and he showed us his boat… well, actually it was a raft and he had two of them. One had a tent on it, the other was covered in pots and pans… as well as other supplies. We were really impressed with his rafts and he offered to take us for a ride down the river.
We were really keen to do this, but by now the sun was pretty low and Angie wasn’t happy. She kept telling me that we had to leave and go home. Of course, I knew she was right, but my friends and I didn’t want to leave, we were so fascinated by this strange man.
The man said that if we came back early in the morning, he would take us down the river on the rafts… but only if we promised we would not tell our parents about him or the planned trip. Of course we promised… and looked forward to our great adventure!
By the time we set off, the sun was setting so we really had to hustle to get home before we were in too much trouble. All the way we talked about how great it was that we would have a big adventure tomorrow, and promised each other we would not tell our parents.
When Angie and I got home, it was dark and we got into huge trouble for being so late. It didn’t take long for my sister to crack under the pressure and she told our parents about the strange man. My parents went mental! They were furious that we would talk to, accept gifts from, and go off with a stranger. They called the parents of my friends to alert them to the danger of this stranger and then grounded me for a week. I was so angry at my sister for breaking the promise.
After a week had passed, I went down to the river again (even though my parents had banned me from going there again…) and looked for the man. My friends had told me he was already gone and his rafts were nowhere to be seen but I needed to see with my own eyes.
At the time, I was really upset and disappointed, feeling I had missed a great adventure. Now, as a parent, it scares me that I could have been so stupid to go on a one way trip with this stranger.
If I had gotten onto the raft with that man, I doubt I would have been seen again. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my little sister Angie did me a great service. In fact, she probably saved my life!