Dear Diary

I kept a diary for many years. I still do, technically, though these days I only write in it a few times a year. To say "a diary" is misleading; it implies a single volume, like Arrietty's diary in The Borrowers, with one economical line used each day. But of course there were many volumes, beginning with a tiny book with a shy 70s girly on the cover, when I was nine, through tall impressive business diaries, ending with the fat black-and-red notebooks of my twenties and thirties, bursting with dried flowers, cinema tickets and other mementos.

I discovered my earliest diary recently when I was searching for New Guinea stuff. Flipping through it, you'd hardly know I was living in Mt Hagen. I wish I'd included more local colour; I wish I'd kept a list of the books I borrowed from the library (every few days: "went to the library," but hardly ever a mention of what I was reading.) I'd forgotten what an anxious child I was, always fretting about maths tests and whether I'd earn a Merit Card.

Some entries spark memories that would otherwise be lost: "Went to Siberia for a BBQ." Siberia was a block of flats in Mt Hagen, inhabited by other pilots. I'd forgotten what a busy social life we had -- lunch with the Blacks, the Herolds came, lunch at the Highlander Hotel -- but mostly I'm preoccupied with my own projects. I make a housepoints chart, make a boat, write to Rowena, make macrame and batik (it was 1976!), hold a meeting of the Flower Club. It's all school and squabbles with my friends and "my sister infuriates me." If we'd still been living in Ferntree Gully, I suspect my diary entries would have been almost identical.

There's only the odd hint that we're living in a foreign land. My teacher comes down with malaria. Dad flies us to Wewak on the coast for the weekend. "Went to Tanya's. Some native boys chased us." We hang out at the airport (where Dad worked), scrambling over sacks of coffee and playing with kittens in the hangar, and shop at the market (where the meris spread their produce on the ground and you have to walk gingerly to avoid betel spit.) "There was an attempted burglary. We couldn't get in" -- I guess because the lock was jemmied?

And there are things that make me catch my breath, because it's like seeing a premonition of my daughter captured on the page. "I made the Stone of Power..." Alice has three stones under her pillow: the Stone of Light, the Stone of Worries and the Stone of Rain and Darkness. And so we spiral round.

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