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“Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.” – Mary Schmich

wilmaIn the mission brown suburbia of my youth I know my parents did the best they could to protect me. But one summer that didn’t include sunscreen.

And it didn’t include Dad not leaving his porno mags in the loo.

And it didn’t include closing my bedroom door fully when Prisoner was on…well at least it didn’t until my mum figured out my secret.


Before I had turned double digits it had become quite the game to crane my neck origami like so I could stare at the penthouse or playboy dad had left furled on the toilet floor. Now I realise he’d been somewhat careful…in his own way. I was rarely confronted with giant heaving breasts or dark nether regions staring at me, he always left the flesh mags with the wordy-articles facing up. 

But, you see, reading was my thing. 

I’d sit trying to decipher the strange words and codes of adults. It seemed to me that they played games too.

And… it seemed to me that the games they played could be quite cruel.


On a particular night of every week Mum would tuck me into the top bed of the lime coloured bunk I shared with my sister. She’d shut our rainbow curtains, kiss our pink cheeks and close the door over so that only a thin line of light spilled onto the bedroom floor. Then she’d settle in for a night of telly watching, sitting next to dad on the modular lounge.

When I’d hear the haunting theme song “…he used to bring me rozzeeessss…’ I’d slither down to the other end of my bed and, from under my sheets and blanket, stare through the door crack and watch “Prisoner” over my parents’ shoulders.

The late seventies drama was set in a women’s detention centre and was cutting edge, for back then, in dealing with women’s issues. It was all power struggles, domestic problems, sexuality and violence. Most of the feminist plot went right over my head but the aggression would make my eyes round with fear. 

I made a secret promise that I would always be a good girl and never, ever go to jail. 


Our family took a long vacation driving from Melbourne up the east coast of Australia to the favoured destination for all middle class families…Queensland. We stayed at a holiday park, which is code for caravans and communal toilets and bbq dinners and mosquitoes. Absolute Australian childhood bliss. On a day trip to the beach the sun reflected off the foamy white waves bouncing onto the white sands and landing directly on my shoulders. My fair skin crackled like the top layer of pork in an inferno oven.

In hospital that afternoon mum beat herself up that I had a degree of  burns that was classifiable. The nurse dressed the wounds with mounds of salve and gauze and dad gave me one of his giant tshirts to wear.

I spent the rest of our holiday resembling a sad grid iron player decked out for the game, but sidelined to the bench.


I awoke one Sunday morning to the sound of snores coming from my parent’s bedroom.

The lounge still showed the signs of a party from the night before. A few shelled peanuts sitting in a smoky glass bowl. Some jatz crackers with cheese that had curled at the edges. A few empty glasses stained red, sitting near the granite ashtray.

And…fun…there was a comic book lying innocently on the pine kitchen table.

It was The Flintstones. I picked it up and started reading. But knew something was wrong straight away. That didn’t seem to be a club in Fred’s hand and he was doing things to white-pearled-Wilma I never imagined he would. I put the comic back down, hoping my parents didn’t notice that I had touched it. 


That week Prisoner aired a now iconic scene in which the head bitch inmate, Bea, places the hands of another prisoner, a sweet blonde girl mistakenly accused of child murder, into the ironing press. As she slams the burning press down upon the woman’s hands a burst of steam wafts up and another prisoner cackles. I tried to stifle my childish scream, but my parents heard and whipped their heads around to see if I was okay. They quickly worked out that I’d been watching the adults-only-television show right along with them. 


Protecting our children is a three dimensional task.

Sunscreen can only ever protect  their outer layer.


Mum never let me go out into the sun without slipslopslap from that summer on.

The porno magazines disappeared from the toilet, relegated to a cardboard rosella tomato sauce box under Dad’s side of the bed.

And our bedroom door was always, always closed on Prisoner night. 

In the narrative of their lives, a hefty volume on parenting, I think they named that chapter our little girl is growing up.

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