Across the park

When I was a boy I took Tae Kwon Do lessons at Woden Library on Tuesday nights.

As my mother was also looking after my sister and my baby brother, she'd ask me to walk home after the lessons. The Library wasn't far from the apartment we were living in at the time, however as the days shortened it became a scary walk in the dark for this boy.

One spot in particular used to frighten me and that was the Melrose Drive underpass. I was thinking about it recently when I walked through it and took these photos, which don't convey much menace during the day.

Back in the day, or night as it were, there was a lot of graffiti that led me to think there were gangs that would hang out in the underpass.

As well as being devoted to martial arts, I was obsessed with hiphop and the craze of breakdancing. So I had seen a bit about the gangs that inhabited urban spaces like the inner-south of suburban Canberra.

Anyway, my mum had a more balanced perspective on the likelihood of me being assaulted while walking home in the dark wearing a martial arts uniform. She was of the view that all I needed was something to take my mind off the idea of being attacked.

So I came to memorise Hist! by C J Dennis after being offered $5. I can still recite a large part of the poem.
Hist! . . . . . . Hark!
The night is very dark,
And we've to go a mile or so
Across the Possum Park.

Step . . . . . . light,
Keeping to the right;
If we delay, and lose our way,
We'll be out half the night.
The clouds are low and gloomy. Oh!
It's just begun to mist!
We haven't any overcoats
And - Hist! . . . . . . Hist!

(Mo . . . . . . poke!)
Who was that that spoke?
This is not a fitting spot
To make a silly joke.

Dear . . . . . . me!
A mopoke in a tree!
It jarred me so, I didn't know
Whatever it could be.
But come along; creep along;
Soon we shall be missed.
They'll get a scare and wonder where
We - Hush! . . . . . . Hist!

Ssh! . . . . . . Soft!
I've told you oft and oft
We should not stray so far away
Without a moon aloft.

Oo! . . . . . . Scat!
Goodness! What was that?
Upon my word, it's quite absurd,
It's only just a cat.
But come along; haste along;
Soon we'll have to rush,
Or we'll be late and find the gate
Is - Hist! . . . . . . Hush!

(Kok!. . . . . . Korrock!)
Oh! I've had a shock!
I hope and trust it's only just
A frog behind a rock.

Shoo! . . . . . . Shoo!
We've had enough of you;
Scaring folk just for a joke
Is not the thing to do.
But come along, slip along -
Isn't it a lark
Just to roam so far from home
On - Hist! . . . . . . Hark!

Look! . . . . . . See!
Shining through the tree,
The window-light is glowing bright
To welcome you and me.

Shout! . . . . . . Shout!
There's someone round about,
And through the door I see some more
And supper all laid out.
Now, Run! Run! Run!
Oh, we've had such splendid fun -
Through the park in the dark,
As brave as anyone.

Laughed, we did, and chaffed, we did,
And whistled all the way,
And we're home again! Home again!
Hip . . . . . . Hooray!

These days parents would probably give their kid a mobile phone to carry in case of emergency but this poem really did assist in alleviating my fears. I'd walk alone through the dark reciting rhymes and when I got to the end, I'd start again.

More recently I recorded a version of C J Dennis' classic as part of my 2013 video presentation to conclude the centenary of Leeton. I offered my eldest son a financial incentive to learn the poem and we recorded him reciting it.  

Hist! was then added to a soundtrack composed from sounds recorded at a nearby playground, click hear to see it.