As a young child, I enjoyed getting my own atlas and looking at the strange shapes and colours of different countries, trying to read the unpronounceable names. I drew maps and traced maps; Izal toilet paper was extremely useful for that, if a bit tough otherwise. Tracing maps, colouring in the details and copying the names on the maps supported ad range of developing learning skills. I have to say that this was being done on my own, as a pastime, as my parents were not always around, or interested.
Adventure stories were the background to my early independent reading, Biggles and Tarzan loomed large, while westerns were a regular feature of early weekend TV viewing. Adventure stories were also a large part of classroom experience, as the teachers told the stories of people like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and James Cook.
I have to admit that childhood, for me, was largely spent outdoors, enabling exploration of the local areas, with friends, so our ability to move around was relatively unhampered. Up until about seven years of age, I lived in Exeter, close to the prison and an army barracks, but also a field away from the university. We used to draw sketch maps to support our playing, or the old trick of chalked arrows to follow each other. We explored, discovered and made sense of our local world. This was enhanced with trips to grandparents in South Wales, exploring a different environment.
Australia meant a different adventure, but also new stories of adventure, never heard, such as John McDouall Stuart travelling South-North around 1860. The ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. How camels were brought in especially to help with desert conditions, then turned out into the wild. The stories of Ned Kelly and his gang. We sang a new set of folk songs, of colonisation, convicts and desperadoes. One of these was “The Wild Colonial Boy”
There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name.
He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine.
As for “Walzing Matilda”, the social history came to life.
It is always interesting to me that a great deal of social history is embedded in the folk tradition, but this is often an area that is not valued in education, whereas is supports spoken and reading activities, as well as providing the springboard for research questions.
My adventuring continued for several more years, with a return to the UK, parental divorce and a second emigration to Australia, which, for my father was a “promised land”. Sadly the dream turned again to a nightmare, as he discovered the difficulty of being a single parent, having relied on my grandmother for much of our upbringing after the divorce.
I still love exploring though and am very happy diving off the beaten track and finding unexpected gems in backstreets. Everything adds to the sum of my experience and knowledge. I also know that there is much still to discover and that can only partially be satisfied by second-hand experience through a screen or by a retelling of someone else’s experience. I can’t get the full flavour through their words or their pictures. The picture is the central part that they chose to show. There is much more at the periphery and the sounds and smells are missing.
My exploratory mind-set was developed in childhood, with localised experience. While this freedom might be less available today, for a wide range of reasons, it is still possible for families to undertake mini adventures, even to the local woods, seaside, or other natural areas, to look, listen, feel and smell (not taste) and to talk. He same can happen in towns, looking above the shops to find clues of former times.
Alternatively, finding an atlas and exploring imaginatively, with grease-proof paper for tracing, can be the start of a lifetime of awareness and looking.
It did it for me.