Robert Drewe recalls his first flings

First Love.  Photo by Korihor.
First Love. Photo by Korihor.

When Robert Drewe indulged in a little romantic reminiscing he found himself remembering that early love had its problems too…

I don’t know what caused me to remember my first girlfriend the other day, but I did. I recalled her blonde, bobbed hair, her freckles and her mischievous smile. She was an attractive, physical type of girl, a tomboy, who liked wandering around naked. Her name was Lynette Rumble.

We were aged five and six at the time. There were no boys in our neighbourhood, and Lynette Rumble and I played together every day. Ours was a new Melbourne suburb, the road wasn’t sealed yet, and houses were springing up everywhere. Homes-under-construction, of course, were regarded as official children’s playgrounds back then.

Lynette Rumble and I roamed around dangerous building sites, finding interesting sharp and wiry stuff to take home as weapons, making mud pies in the sand and cement, stepping recklessly from bare joist to joist across lounge-rooms-to-be (and regularly falling and cutting our knees). One day Lynette Rumble and I found a can of brown paint. Well, we couldn’t wait to shed our clothes (Lynette Rumble had hers off first) and paint stripes all over our bodies, so we looked like tigers.

I was determined to marry Lynette Rumble. I envisaged an exciting life together, roaming construction sites, flicking cement at each other, pilfering weaponry, and disguising ourselves as animals. But the in-laws were a problem. Mrs Rumble was loud and tall (though looking back, everyone is tall when you’re five) with curious lips. Her lips folded back on themselves, which I found unnerving, and showed you much more lip membrane than you expected.

Mr Rumble sold hair products from a Ford Prefect van and had wavy hair in the style favoured by the politican Christopher Pyne. He said my hair was parted on the wrong side. I didn’t know the hair-product world had strict rules for hair partings. He put some of his company’s goo on it, and combed a precise parting on the “right” side. My hair sprang back defiantly.

Maybe I could have become used to Mrs Rumble’s curious lips and Mr Rumble’s obsession with my wrong hair parting, but Mrs Rumble’s cooking was the clincher. Even in an era of horrendous Australian meals, hers stood out. They were always boiled sausages, beans and potatoes. The potatoes were mushy and grey, the beans stringy and grey, and I don’t even want to think about the sausages.

Anyway, my romance with Lynette Rumble was not to be. Fate moved our family from Melbourne to Perth, and my displaced heart would soon swing heroically towards Noelene Ivimey.

Noeleen was a central figure in my Tarzan period. She was Jane. After school I would undress, don my PE shorts (the garment closest to Tarzan’s loincloth) and pad around to Noeleen’s house. There, I would climb into her jacaranda tree and beat my chest and bellow the Tarzan jungle cry.

Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) and Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in a scene from the 1941 film Tarzan's Secret Treasure.

Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in a scene from the 1941 film Tarzan’s Secret Treasure.  In real life, not quite as exciting as Robert Drewe had been led to expect.

This was the cue for Noeleen to appear at her laundry door wearing her bathers and with a monkey puppet (Cheetah) on one hand. She would join me in the jacaranda, and we’d pat Cheetah, re-enact the previous Saturday’s film, and indulge in a “Me, Tarzan,” “You, Jane” domestic routine for a while.

This was merely the start of our regular game. Eventually we’d ditch the monkey and climb down into her lion-and-crocodile-infested backyard where, oblivious to wild beasts, we would run at each other from each side of the savage jungle until we met with a jarring clash and kissed on the mouth.

The urgent running at each and kissing was important to the plot. I found it dizzying, but not quite as exciting as movies had led me to expect. I wondered whether Noeleen and I were kissing properly. Maybe you needed to be older than eight. Maybe real romance required us to run faster at each other. But we could hardly collide with greater force than we were. Even at our present velocity we were getting bleeding lips and headaches.

However, I would’ve happily played our secret Tarzan game forever if Noeleen hadn’t told the neighbourhood about it. That was embarrassing enough. But Noeleen didn’t mention Tarzan. Or even Cheetah. She said our game was called Sophisticated Lady. My face felt hot just thinking about it. If Jane was the point of the game I didn’t want to play it anymore.


Robert Drewe’s latest book, The Beach, an Australian Passion, is published by the National Library of Australia and is available here: the-beach-an-australian-passion
His other recent books The Local Wildlife and Swimming to the Moon are on sale here:










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