THE EARTH UNDERFOOT
By Bec Bignell
On New Year’s Eve I got married. It was magical. It was incredible. My brother wisely said, “enjoy the moment, be really present as it’s the only time in your life that all those people will be in the same room…except for your funeral and you won’t be there to experience it then!” A morbid but poignant thought. I made sure I was present the whole evening- which was harder than it sounds with people throwing champagne at you every five seconds!
Above photos were taken by photographer Courtney Illfield at Swings & Roundabouts Winery in Margaret River, Western Australia.
During the speeches my Dad recounted a moment from my childhood that triggered an idea for a creative writing piece. (Last year was largely administrative and I didn’t get to write as much as I’d hoped so this year I’m committed to digging into my creative reservoir and encouraging others to do the same!) In the speech, my Dad spoke about resilience and relentlessness being two qualities of mine. FYI, my parents never lavish praise- they’ll acknowledge when we’ve done well but they’re pragmatic people, so they like to hand out compliments in context, which keeps my ego in check…!
In relating the story of my traits Dad spoke about my performance at the Inter-school Athletics Championships when I was at boarding school. I loved all sports and I competed in most of the events, but it was the High Jump competition Dad choose to highlight. According to him, I had the worst style and technique of all the High Jump contenders (I think my coach at the time would agree). Apparently, I was, “hard to watch” as my approach was so unorthodox there was no knowing if I would clear the height or not. Those who know High Jump know just how specific you have to be to get your run up correct so your body is in the right position for a perfect frosby flop. I was very unpredictable. To everybody’s surprise I qualified for the final. Dad said it was, “excruciating”. It was down to the final jump, if I cleared it - I won.
I ran up for the first attempt- I missed it.
I ran up for the second attempt- I missed it.
On the third attempt, he was certain I’d miss it.
I cleared it.
I sailed effortlessly over the bar and landed on the mat to the sound of exuberant applause.
I distinctly remember that moment and I distinctly remember my mindset at the time. To me, it was natural that I’d get myself over the bar because despite the fact I wasn’t as polished or professional as the fellow contenders, I was relentless and resilient in my mindset. I knew I could back-up failures, re-focus and get over the next bar because I’d always had to operate like that to get anywhere I wanted to go. I knew I could jump any height because the visualisation in my mind was so powerful, it literally allowed me to achieve whatever I believed in my heart.
Reminiscing about this moment is timely as it’s a good mind-frame to take with me into the new year. I wanted to share this with you because I believe that this mindset was cultivated in my country childhood and I’m sure many of you developed the same mindset and can see it developing in your children. When you’re on the back foot (as you tend to be when you’re raised outside city centres) you have no alternative but to draw out these qualities- it’s just what you have to do to get where you want to be.
I hope you can recognise this resilience and relentlessness in yourself, so you can consciously tap into it this year. I don’t think we shed enough light on the incredible qualities we develop when we grow up on the fringe and it’s something I intend to celebrate more this year. I’m incredibly passionate about ensuring kids from the bush get the same opportunities as kids in the city, in the same way I’m passionate about stories from the sticks getting the same airtime as stories from the city. I’m dedicated to sharing the talent hidden in regional Australia to wide audiences and I believe we should be doing so much more to help country people realise their ambition and unleash their true potential.
I have fond memories of running long distances around the farm, rigging up long-jump pits and high jump set-ups, practising netball on the tennis court to qualify for super league and the long car rides our parents embarked on to get us to the sports we loved to play. I have written this creative piece in honour of my folks who clocked up so many kilometres and sacrificed so much to give us every opportunity. I’ve also written it to inspire country people with high hopes and big dreams.
May your resilience and relentlessness get you over every bar you ever encounter on your journey to reach the highest heights.
THE EARTH UNDERFOOT - A short story by Bec Bignell
Sally’s throat is dry like the ribbon of red that lies ahead. She scuffs her sneakers into the dirt road framed by golden stubble and wiry gums of rigid stance – the anxious crowd at the race start. She spits on sweaty palms, and nervously rubs them together, part of the superstitious ritual she developed after watching one of her favourite tennis players. She stretches her legs and pulls the drawstrings on her shorts real tight. Not leaving anything to chance this time. Slowly, slowly, she folds into position; crouched and focused like a cocky hunched over budding seedlings. Doesn’t have blocks, doesn’t need them. Just a self-taught stance and a will to win. Sally is blinkered and bold. She avoids the distraction of her competitors – a couple of kelpies shadow boxing at the start line. She raises her head and squares her eyes at the dusty track ahead. The gun sounds, and her legs launch into action. She bursts into gear. Her competitors miss the start but quickly pick up pace, yapping at heels. Strong strides push over rough road and the tussle is on. Sally feels the earth underfoot. Her fresh lungs pound, and branches of gums whip, the frenzied crowd urge her on. Save for the lone screech of a twenty-eight parrot all she can hear is the wind in her ears and the beat in her heart. Run. Run. Run.
Sally’s tummy rumbles like the engine of an old truck after a hiatus in the shed. She hates the long car drive on the way to competitions. The black seatbelt chokes and the itchy car seat is prickly and uncomfortable. “Stop fidgeting back there.” It makes Mum edgy. “You’ll be right. It’s just a race.” Sally looks out the window at the white pickets with the fluro bits on the side of the road, guiding round twists and turns. One. Two. Three. Such a long drive for such a short race. “Want a banana?” Sally shakes her head. “An apple?” Sally shakes her head. “An Anzac biccy?” Sally shakes her head. “I feel sick.” Mum shakes her head. “I don’t know why you get so worked up, it’s just a bloody race.” Sally winds down her window. “I think I’m going to be…” Mum rants. The radio blares. “You put too much pressure on yourself, you’ll make yourself…“ Sally is sick. It sprawls across the side of the window and she can see blurry bits of her breaki through the glass. It makes her more sick. Sally belches, brakes screech. Mum stops the car and holds her nose. “Sorry Mum.” Lucky there’s always a box of tissues in the boot. They always come in handy. Mum cleans the sick and stoops, “you know we’ll still love you whether you come first or last?” Sally’s palms sweat excessively. She nods. They drive on. Such a long drive for such a short race. More white pickets with fluro bits. Four. Five. Six.
Sally’s foot taps incessantly like the impatient woman waiting for her stores to be scanned at the local co-op. The tension is tangible. Sally has goose bumps but she’s not even cold. She works up the courage to approach the water fountain to top up her water bottle. A distraction, to keep the butterflies at bay. She bites her nails and fiddles with the lid. A line forms near the fountain. With similar twitches the collective movement of girls in the line vaguely resembles a dance. They wriggle, they writhe, they wait. Sally gingerly shimmies into the line. A pack approaches, laughing like hyenas and swinging their hips. Sally pretends she doesn’t notice them, she focuses on the water bottle lid. Tighten. Release. Tighten. Release. It’s fascinating. Not as fascinating as her scuffed sneakers are to the intimidating gaggle of girls. One points. Another scoffs. They all giggle. Sally clenches her jaw. She wanted spikes. She told Mum she needed spikes for boarding school. Mum said she had everything she needed– in her heart and in her mind. What wank. Maybe she didn’t need spikes back in the bush when she was doing barefoot burnouts ‘round an old dirt track. Maybe she didn’t need them then. But she sure as hell needed them now, in this state of the art stadium with expensive girls and their expensive shoes. Sally backs out of the line. She overhears a whisper as she recoils, “bet she’s not very fast.” She closes her eyes and blinks the hurt away. A hot tear leaps down the flushed cheek like a run-away sheep at the back of a mob. Sally feels the earth underfoot. A surge of energy bellows through her body. Maybe Mum was right. Maybe it is in her heart and her mind. Maybe it’s not all wank.
Mum’s fingers tremble faintly, like the farmer in the auction-house waiting for wool to sell. She traces over the faded poster of Cathy Freeman in Sally’s room. The rough edges indicate it was torn from a Womans Weekly by desperate hands, back in the day. Loosely clinging to the old bedroom wall with masking tape and crusty blue-tack, it represents a thousand dreams and the high hopes of an earnest little girl. Underneath the poster a collection of My Little Ponies, an installation of dusty trophies, and a dossier of competition photos from yesteryear complete the sacred shrine. She muses that the race from childhood to adulthood is a time trial that goes way too fast. Mum pulls the poster down. She lets out a breath that is painted with the past. Loaded with every moment of every day, of every year. Every sports carnival, every practise session, every competition, every time she watched, waited, celebrated, commiserated and elevated. She’s like the masking tape, clinging to the moments captured within the bedroom walls. Cathy beams at Mum. Mum blinks. She applies fresh blue-tack. She carefully positions the poster back on the wall. She beams at Cathy.
Mum flies out of the bedroom. Dad makes a spot for her on the couch. Family and friends lean forward intently. The tension is tangible. The camera focuses on the competitors. They jiggle and wriggle and stretch and shake. “There she is!” Mum leaps to her feet in excitement. They laugh. It’s too much. Outside the gums whip, the frenzied crowd urge her on. Pubs across the outback crawl with proud patrons hustling for a prime race view to accompany cold brew. She’s running for all of us.
Sally’s throat is dry like the ribbon of red ashfelt that lies ahead. She spits on sweaty palms, and nervously rubs them together. Slowly, slowly, she folds into position; crouched and focused like a cocky hunched over budding seedlings. Sally is blinkered and bold. She avoids the distraction of her competitors. She raises her head and squares her eyes at the track ahead. The gun sounds, and her legs launch into action. She bursts into gear. Sally feels the earth underfoot. Save for the distant screech of a twenty-eight parrot all she can hear is the wind in her ears and the beat in her heart. Run. Run. Run.