It was January, 1983, with a week of the Australian long summer holidays to go. Lewis Rickland was 14 ½ . He lived in Lindfield on Sydney's North Shore, in New South Wales. One Saturday afternoon, he felt like reading a novel in a park, but not a park full of people playing sport and exercising active dogs. He pondered on a suitable location, and then remembered a very small park. It could be reached either by walking through the car park behind the Lindfield library on the Pacific Highway, and past the tennis courts, or by walking down a lane way between the back of the Pacific Highway shops and the railway line.
Lewis chose the latter route and settled himself with his book at around two in the afternoon. He had not been reading that long, when three girls around his own age came over and introduced themselves. They were Georgie Donald, Rosie Villiers and Lynda Fielding. It was Lynda who caught his eye. She had long brown hair, laughing happy teenaged eyes, a breathtaking smile, and the air of someone who could create her own fun wherever she went. She was four feet and eleven inches tall, while he was five foot five.
Lewis was only in the early stages of lately developed adolescence. He knew that Lynda had made an unprecedented impression on him, but he had no idea that this was meant to lead to dating and kissing. Though 14 or 15 like himself, Lynda had matured much sooner, and wanted keenly to undertake such experiences. Lewis vaguely sensed her fondness for him, but was unable to respond. The girls had been amusing themselves in the park, while their fathers played tennis on the Saturday afternoons. It seemed, from what they said, that it would continue to be a weekly event.
One thing was for certain. Lewis would turn up at that park again the following Saturday afternoon, as though he intended to read again, and hope that somehow something would be revealed of what might come of his having met Lynda Fielding.
The following Saturday, the one before school went back (to year 10 in his case), he was there again. While he was reading, the girls turned up and called out their 'hello' greetings to him. They went into the change rooms and soon came out, wearing a different combination of each other's clothes, and paraded themselves in poses to gain his attention. He smiled and waited to see what would happen next. They went back into the change rooms once more and then came out in a third reshuffling of their combined wardrobe. Still the boy lacked the slightest inkling of what he was meant to do next.
Not willing to lose heart, despite the boy's apparent inability to take the lead, Lynda led her friends back to their fathers and asked for some money to take up to the corner store for afternoon tea. Then the girls came over to Lewis and invited him to go with them for a walk up to the shops. When they reached the shops, Lynda asked Lewis if he'd like an ice cream.
"I should have the money to buy you one," he said, embarrassed at the fact that he had spent all of his allowance earlier in the week.
"No, that doesn't matter," said Lynda, and persuaded him to accept one.
They all walked back to the park, eating their ice creams. When they had finished, the girls' fathers concluded their last set of tennis and asked the girls to be ready to go home. Lewis was determined to be there the next Saturday afternoon, if he had to spend the whole week trying to understand what was to be done about the fact that one girl, it seemed, was very important to him.
Yet there was a greater problem to be faced than his latent lack of maturity. In years 7 and 8 at school, Lewis had been lazy and dishonest and disruptive at school, achieving grades far below his potential, trying to get away with a minimum of work, and reaching the point where his pranks and misbehaviour during class time brought him within one step of being expelled from the school.
Throughout year 9, his father had closely policed his homework and monitored his grades. He had moved from one of the lowest positions in the order of class merit to one of the highest. Now, on the Monday night of the first week back at school, his father told him that he had to take his school certificate year even more seriously and study hard in his bedroom every Saturday afternoon, for the whole year around, not merely wait until a few weeks before the exams at the end of each term.
Lewis was heartsick with the secret loss of his only chance to see Lynda again. It seemed that school work, with all its daunting demands, was going to take over his life. He decided that Friday afternoons had to be his own special time, away from school, and away from home. Instead of alighting from the train at Lindfield after school, he would alight at the next station, Killara, and take a longer walk home, giving himself more time to daydream about his hopes and dreams for life in general.
He walked from Killara station, to Stanhope Road and along that road, until he came to a driveway with a large sign:
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC SEVEN DAYS
TEA ROOM OPEN ONLY ON SUNDAY AFTERNOONS.
He walked along the driveway and passed tall bamboo, and came to beautiful footpaths leading over narrow bridges and streams, up slopes, around curves, past trees and the loveliest gardens. It was the most serene enclosure he had ever seen. There was something about this place, which calmed the awful sense of unfairness he had felt all week, since losing his chance to see Lynda. He had moments of daydreaming that Lynda would walk into the Swain Gardens too and say something lovely to him, but it was not to be. Yet this place was like a sanctuary. It seemed to promise to him, that Year 10 would hold many pleasant surprises to come, not a dead end to his newly discovered dreams of being with a special girl.
He was so taken by the beauty of the scenery, that he took his camera, a recent Christmas present, out of his schoolbag and walked around the gardens, carefully selecting locations to shoot from, to make the 24 available photographs on the film last. Soon there were 11 shots left in the camera. He saw that, on the far edge of the gardens, there was a one foot high stone wall, with steps on either side of it. On the far side, the step led down to the start of a long bushwalk pathway. He decided to stand on the far side, in the middle of the pathway, and take a wide angle photograph which would capture as much of the gardens as possible in a single long distance shot.
Yet the pathway was curving out of sight, only metres from the wall. There was no way to get the scenery of his choice framed properly if he stayed on the path. He stepped gently over some ferns and stood in the bushes, between two clumps of shrubbery, and began adjusting his stance to a position that would enable him to hold the camera perfectly steady. He remembered what his Grandfather had said about taking a slight breath just before pressing the button to take the picture. He bent his legs slightly for steadiness, looked through the eye piece and exhaled, pressing the button gently.
After taking the picture, Lewis stood up again and felt confused. The shrubbery had seemed shorter before. Now it was up to his neck. Had he been so focussed on taking his picture, that his eyes had not correctly processed the height of the shrubbery? He walked back to the step, and felt confused again. This time the wall seemed two feet tall. He had to exert his legs a little to get up the step. He just didn't understand it. Everything in the garden seemed to have doubled in height and width, since he'd taken that picture. It was as if the exercise had altered his vision. It just didn't make sense.
Nor did it really matter, he decided. The main thing was that he had found such a beautiful retreat from the teenage angst of his life, and the incongruity of the apparent and actual sizes of the garden fascinated him in a strange way which added to the pleasure of the day's discovery. He walked around the garden, using up his remaining photographs, and then saw the alternative path which had a sign at the start.
ROAD EXIT WALK, Approx 5 minutes.
He decided to go that way, having passed Northcote Road on his way along Stanhope Road. It would be a nice round trip to get to know for future Friday afternoon retreats. The pathway was easy enough to follow, but there was a set of upward steps halfway along, which taxed his leg muscles again, just as the step on the far side of the wall had done.
Soon Lewis reached the street and began walking along the road, until he came to an intersection with a sign that took his breath away.
In a much smaller print, below the words "Brentwood Ave" was the word identifying the suburb of Turramurra.
"But I went in at Killara," he thought, "And the gardens surely couldn't have been three suburbs long."
Lewis had been walking along the footpath, concentrating on the pathway in front of him, but now he looked to the side, at a parked car, and the size of it caught his attention too. He walked over and saw that he was shorter than the car's height, even when standing on his tiptoes. He could not see over the car. He studied the front fences of houses in the street, having walked past them before and mistaken them for high walls. The more he thought about it, the more the height of the sign seemed unusually high too. Were they really that different in Turramurra?
Then a lady came walking along the footpath with her daughter, who was wearing a school uniform. The girl had the facial appearance of a seven year old. Yet she was around the same height as Lewis, he realised, as they drew closer. Lewis had been used to the fact that he almost came up to the height of the average adult woman, but this lady was so tall, that Lewis estimated her height at around ten foot eight inches. The lady smiled down at him in a friendly way, and asked, "Are you alright, little boy? Is your Mum around somewhere?"
"I'm 14," he said.
"Is he one of the dwarves, Mum?" asked the girl.
"No Stefanie, don't say things like that," said the lady, assuming he must be a midget, "Can I give you a lift home? Our car's just over there."
"I guess so," said Lewis, "I've … found myself a long way from Lindfield."
She drove him to his front driveway and dropped him off. Yet everything about his property seemed as unexpectedly larger by a factor of two as the surprises he'd had in Turramurra. He was about to step into his driveway, to try to puzzle it out, when he noticed an unfamiliar mother playing with an unfamiliar infant son in the front garden. Again, the woman was tall enough to dwarf Lewis Rickland. It wasn't his family at all! He studied the driveway carefully. There were small garden beds on each side of it. They were twice as large as he expected them to be, yet they were still parallel to each other and to the driveway.