Felt Trips: “In The Holidays I Went Out Bush But When I Toasted my Braead It Caught On Fier” by Adam Spellacy

I’ve sometimes wondered how the experience of the “haunted” childhood differs from country to country. For a long time I was convinced the phenomenon was exclusively British, the inevitable result of our damp 1970s childhoods with their dreary procession of rainy Tuesday afternoons; of Crown Court and building sites and Vimto and Doctor Who.

Could it even be possible, I wondered, to understand the concept of dark, nebulous childhood unsettlement if you were raised in a sunny country? Surrounded by wide open wilderness and azure blue ocean, and mesmerised by the wonders of multi-channel TV?

The answer, according to Australian-born Adam Spellacy, is a resounding yes. Not least because the wide open wilderness regularly caught fire, the azure blue oceans were filled with sharks, and the multi-channel TV still had Doctor bloody Who on it. Adam grew up in the already disturbingly-named city of Broken Hill, New South Wales, and all of these fears made it into the wonderful childhood drawings and paintings that comprise our latest Felt Trips contribution…

Over to you, Adam!

“These childhood drawings were recently sent to me by my mother, who discovered them while sorting through some old document boxes. They date from the early-to-mid-1970s, when I would have been between five and seven years old.

This portrait of the artist as a young man appeared on the front page of Broken Hill’s local newspaper The Barrier Daily Truth in 1973. I’m five years old, at kindergarten, painting a picture of a cowboy while wearing one of my father’s old shirts backwards as a smock. It must have been a very slow news day.

Scuba divers, sharks and other aquatic beasties feature prominently in my drawings from this time. I remember being so obsessed with sharks that I insisted my mother take me to Broken Hill’s Silver City Cinema to see Jaws when I was seven. These were the days of double bills, and Spielberg’s film was paired with Earthquake, one of the many Irwin Allen disaster films that dominated US cinema at this time – along with miserable, dystopian sci-fi films. Earthquake screened first, and I remember being so scared that I asked my mother during the intermission if we could go home. Now to give you some idea of how ‘scary’ Earthquake is, there’s a scene in it where a bridge collapses and a livestock transport truck topples over and disgorges its contents: the truck is clearly a model and the cows are clearly plastic farm animals. My mother replied: “You want to see Jaws, I want to see Jaws. We’re staying.” Suffice to say that I, like many other impressionable people who saw this film on its initial release, I have never been out of my depth in sea water since. Which is no mean feat if you’re Australian.

The submarine, island and sea monster that feature prominently in this drawing suggest that it was inspired by the Amicus film The Land That Time Forgot, which I saw at the Broken Hill drive-in in 1975. Jurassic Park it ain’t, but in the right light those dinosaur puppets looked the business. I loved it – even though I remember being completely freaked out by the protagonists being left stranded at the end. Thank God for sequels, eh? This drawing was a gift to my favourite teacher at the time, Miss Powell, who evidently had to correct my spelling of her name. She also gave it a kangaroo stamp, the Antipodean equivalent of the elephant stamp denoting “good work”.

I love the colour scheme of this drawing of Batman and Robin. I’m assuming it was inspired in equal parts by my collection of DC comics and repeats of the 1960s ABC television series. I would imagine, at the time, that the campness of the show went straight over my young head, but Robin’s bulging underpants, as seen here, suggest otherwise.

In addition to having a title like a David Lynch painting, ‘In the holidays I went out bush but when I toasted my braead (sic) it caught on fier (sic)’ is notable for documenting a real-life experience of which I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever. My father would often take me on trips into the desolate rural areas surrounding Broken Hill, the northern New South Wales mining town where Wake In Fright (1971) was filmed. It was every bit as frightening as its filmic alter-ego, ‘Bundanyabba’. My abiding emotional memories of these journeys are comprised of overriding anxiety and fear, a dreadful sense of being stranded in a vast and isolating landscape, and of being incompetent at even the simplest of father-son bonding exercises. Feelings all distilled in this rendering of a disastrous encounter with a towering elemental force beyond my control.

I’m unsure as to what media, if any, inspired this drawing of (rather generic) spacemen battling some reptilian creature, but it reveals an early love of sci-fi. It wouldn’t have been long after this drawing was made that I discovered Doctor Who, which became my absolute obsession (and I cannot stress this enough) from the age of five onwards. To the degree that my earliest memory as a child is sitting on the sofa in front of the television as the show’s opening vortex and howling music came on, leaning sideways to peer down the hallway through the back door, where I could see my mother hanging washing on the line and yelling out to her in a tremulous voice: “Mum! Doctor Who’s on!” as if it were an emergency.

She hurried back inside and sat down with me for the duration, which was apparently the only way I could tolerate it. I can even recall the story – ‘Terror Of The Autons’ – because that fucking murderous plastic doll haunted my dreams forever…

I was surprised and not a little crestfallen that the trove of childhood drawings my mother unearthed didn’t include any of my attempts to depict the Doctor or his monstrous adversaries, because I can definitely remember doing so. As I said, I embraced Doctor Who with the fervour of a zealot: it was my weekly escape from the depredation of living in a harsh mining town. As soon as I started to receive pocket money I’d buy a new Target novelisation every week, and read them over and over again (graduating directly from Doctor Seuss to Doctor Who). And when my father brought home our first shoebox-style Panasonic tape recorder, I immediately pressed it into service making audio cassette recordings of the show, placing the recorder on a foot stool near the television speaker. I always assumed that I was alone in this practice, until I encountered other members of the narrow-bandwidth tribe which Bob Fischer helpfully categorised as the ‘Haunted Generation’.”

Shucks, thanks Adam. Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone would like to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.