May 01, 2012

by English Muse

This weekend I paid a visit to The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, Australia, built atop sandstone cliffs that stagger straight down to the briny green waters of Sydney Harbour.

Once upon a time, The Rocks was populated with convicts, sailors, gangs and the poorest of the poor. Back then it was simply called ‘Sydney Town’ because there was not much more to Sydney than The Rocks.

Today this old village is a tourist destination but, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear the echoes of its long and colourful past. In The Rocks, time unravels. It is at once antique and contemporary. I snapped some photographs to take you there with me.

As I explored the labyrinthine laneways and streets of The Rocks, I carried in my purse an old, dogeared paperback of Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, which haunted me when I read it as a child. Set amid those same cobblestones now under my feet, Playing Beatie Bow is an eerie coming-of-age story that crosses two centuries and a timeless mystery.

*        *        *

The children in the playground were playing a group game. The dark came down fast around them. Soon it would rain.

“They’re playing Beatie Bow and it scares me.”

These are the words of four-year-old Natalie. The book’s heroine, Abigail, is babysitting her. And the game is scary.

“Oh Mudda, what’s that? What can it be?” The children chant. And while ‘Mudda’ insists it is “nothing at all,” the children hear bloodcurdling moans, a clatter of stones, and then they see a ghost.

“It’s Beatie Bow,” shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, “risen from the dead!”

Watching the game, unseen by all except Abigail and Natalie, is “the little furry girl,” an urchin of about 10 with cropped blonde hair.

But when Abigail pursues the little girl up a steep alley opposite the playground and into the gathering dusk on Harrington Street, time dissolves under her feet. Before she could make another move she heard a clinking and creaking and rattling and the unmistakable sound of a horse’s hoofs.

Abigail is in 1873. And she is trapped.

*        *        *

This is the second time in recent weeks that I have come to think of time in layers, instead of lines. And I believe places, in particular, hold on to time. They vibrate with the past, the present and the anticipation of the future. So when we step inside these places we are standing inside time. Isn’t the world wonderful?

Yours truly,
Naomi Bulger (guest posting on Tuesday nights)


This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 at 6:00 pm. It is filed under Books, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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10 Responses to “Antipodean dispatch: Playing Beatie Bow”

  1. Mariana says:

    Wonderful pictures- and this place truly does sound magical 🙂

  2. Heidi says:

    Thank you for taking me back in time! I loved this book as a child and I too believe that places hold on to time. The Rocks in particular rings true for me also. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have many places with long histories here like they do inflates like London, but I always feel a distinct sense of time standing still in certain parts of Sydney. A lovely post!

  3. Naomi Bulger says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed them Mariana. And yes, despite the tourism that fills it these days, it is easy to imagine the past in The Rocks. I hope you get to visit one day.

  4. Naomi Bulger says:

    Thank you Heidi, and I agree. There are some places in Australia that just feel ancient, and you get a sense of connection to the thousands of years of our nation’s history. But in the cities, everything is so much more recent, and I love places like The Rocks that help us feel part of the past (and books like Beatie Bow that take us there).

  5. There are so many comments I have bouncing around in my head after reading this fabulous post – History, travel and stories are three of my favorite things so apologies if they all come tumbling out at once! I worked near The Rocks when we lived in Sydney in 06. I used to love wandering around on my own, breathing in the history. It’s funny, I loved Playing Beatie Bow when I was younger but I didn’t pick up on the connection when I lived in Sydney, I didn’t realise I was walking the streets the story was set in. Playing Beatie Bow terrified me but I also felt a little pinch of yearning, a tiny part of me dreamed of being taken to the past. I think that tiny part was the romantic in me!

  6. Luli says:

    Your pictures are so beautiful and your posts are hauntingly beautiful.

  7. Wendy says:

    I’m not sure if I believe this about time, but the idea of it certainly intrigue me! My favourite stories are about time travel. You’ve inspired me to visit the Rocks sometime and to read Playing Beattie Bow. xx

  8. look see says:

    I love these photos – The Rocks is such a great part of Sydney to spend time in. I’ve never read Playing Beatie Bow – might have to now!

  9. Ezgi says:

    Monkey.Not that its likely to atutbirte to anything much but here in Hawaii homosexuality does not face the amount of generalizations and phobias they are subjected to on the mainland. Mahus as gay men are known in Hawaiian and the Bootchies (gay women) are generally accepted by their parents and society here more readily with less discrimination or rejection by their families.She probably entered this phase upon some self awareness at some point or did way too much acid one day creatingsome irreversable damage. Maybe played spin the bottle one day and found out she liked it, who knows, I havent even watched the video, dont care to, dont needto.If the kids healthy and shes made some family happy while getting her 15 minutes then alls cool with me But what a waste, and then again, who am I to determine her lifes value ?She was created by our maker and decided to make some changes to that thats a whole nuther conversation that might apply to the same people who go for some simple botox injections or repeated plastic surgeries to the point they’re not even recognisable anymore.

  10. […] One more thing. I am blogging on English Muse today, about time travel and a sense of history and the modern children’s classic Playing […]

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