Playgrounds

I’m recently moved to this sub­urb, and I’m not yet intim­ate with its inter­est­ing bits. Its blots and blem­ishes, sur­prises and gifts.
Today, I went out explor­ing after the storm. When the roads and gar­dens were steamy damp as if they’d just got out from a hot shower. Refreshed.
In old Can­berra you can walk in almost any dir­ec­tion and count upon find­ing a park before too long. I picked a dir­ec­tion. I found the park and before it a pre-school, tiny little place, with sand­pit and a bed of straw­ber­ries. Bring­ing back memor­ies of being very small, Nine O’Clocks and packed lunches, that mix of love and fear.
It’s thanks to the ACT Government’s (past) pro­gram of hav­ing sep­ar­ate preschools, tucked away in the sub­urbs. Looks like this one sur­vived the schools clos­ure. Good for it.
And the park adja­cent has a play ground. If you grew up in Can­berra you’ll know the sort. Old, metal, uncol­our­ful. Swings and a slide that, if you fell off, you’d prop­erly hurt your­self. Years ago, they took the set from my child­hood down, and replaced it with some­thing mod­ern, safe and fun proof. I mourned for weeks. Every time I dis­cover another ori­ginal play­ground still stand­ing, I’m a child again, bare feet trot across the tan bark. My hips are almost too big for the seat, my legs too long, I have to tuck them under, but with very little effort I’m prac­tic­ally air­borne, and I may as well be seven.
No two of these old swing sets are quite the same, shorter, taller, wider, longer. They’re most likely from the ’60s, as old as this sub­urb. Maybe built by a local plumber, climbed all over by gen­er­a­tions of little ones. Someone had left a space ship on the park bench, out in the rain. Did it go for jour­neys down the slip­pery dip, as my favour­ite toys used to?
Ah old Can­berra, with your estab­lished trees and quiet pock­ets of endur­ing love. Vis­ion­ary plan­ners. Places for grow­ing up tucked away in this little sub­urban won­der­land. Greened and paved and tamed from the dry wil­der­ness.
The report that I’m not writ­ing is about high speed trains in Aus­tralia – a net­work will effect­ively be cre­at­ing more dorm­it­ory sub­urbs around Sydney and Mel­bourne. What kind of sub­urbs are we build­ing these days? Big­ger houses, lar­ger roads?
It’s rain­ing again, with drips and rustles, and I think of my for­tune to live in a city that breathes. The cock­a­toos have cer­tainly got some­thing to say about it.

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