I was lucky enough to grow up in East Malvern, in a dead end street – at the end of a road that went nowhere. We lived in the Gardiners Creek Valley, in the middle of parkland stretching from Holmesglen to St Kevin’s College, almost in the city. In fact we could and did, put a canoe in the creek near my house and paddle into the city then out into the bay.
Today the whole area is beautifully manicured creek and parks, as it should be. Not so when we lived there. While we had two well maintained parks looking out from our house, beside us was a clay pan for many years, baked and cracked during summer. On the other side of Dunlop Street was bracken and scrub, loosely fenced into horse paddocks that you could lease from the council.
Our street sat on the highest point in the creek valley which was just as well, because every few years the creek would flood, with the water being up to 20ft deep. In the mid 70’s council decided to install drainage & resurface the football ground directly in front of our house, it certainly needed.
In what was typical of the day council dumped about 10 tip-truck loads of topsoil on the hill that sloped down to the oval, almost in front of our house. It then sat there unmoved for almost a year.
The whole area teemed with kids so naturally this pile became a huge draw card, with kids using it for anything from a slide to a sort of sand pit. As time went on the hill compacted and even us teens stooged around on it a bit.
This one sunny day on the weekend, we decide to tunnel through it, yes I know, no brain – no pain. So Barry, Paul & I take turns digging this tunnel until eventually we can see each other through the hole. It was toward the top so we only had to dig about a metre and a half.
Then we dig it out more until we can touch hands through the hole. Then Paul decides he’s crawling through and begins to expand the hole. He was going great guns and was in up to his waste when it all collapsed, burying the top half of his body. I may have panicked a bit as I started pulling his legs, trying to get him out, then that being useless I start trying to clear the dirt from on top of him.
Now this all took place within 20 seconds and I realise Barry is not digging, he’s measuring. This is where Barry was so quick thinking. He realised what I was doing wasn’t going to be fast enough so he calculated where Paul’s head should be and dug straight down to get air to Paul. He saved his life!
It took about 5 minutes to free Paul and his face was clogged with dirt. In typical Paul fashion he cleared his mouth and eyes and started joking about how he felt Barry’s fingers gouging around his eyes and all he could think of was zombie mole creatures.
Paul said that when he felt Barry’s fingers scooping dirt out of Paul’s mouth, it was the greatest relief he had ever felt. We talked about trying again and using wood to shore the tunnel, in the end though we had learned our lesson.