The Moon story’s final orbit

Posted on July 25, 2019

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So, dear Reader, my Moon landing story makes its final orbit.

Written a month ago.

Published in The Big Issue a fortnight ago.

Broadcast, in shortened form as a letter/postcard, on ABC Radio a week ago.

And now landing here on this little website in its orginal state.

 

LUNCHTIME. 21 July 1969. St Patricks’ Primary School, Mentone. Victoria, Australia, The Earth, The The Solar System, Milky Way, The Universe.

There was a TV. Blocky and bulky. Its images fuzzy. Black and white. Its sounds distorted. Beeps and clicks. Maybe some words. Eventually.

The TV sat atop a trolley or a table, an extension cord dribbling across the floor. It stared out at us from the otherwise empty stage of the school hall.

The children of St Patricks’ Primary looked up from their places on the floor. The air was restless. There will always be someone fidgeting.

The teachers, standing at the end of the row of their classes, looked up to the TV, in-between attending to their flock. ‘Sit still!’ whispered sweet Sister Felicity. ‘Be quiet!’ hissed sour Sister Aiden.

The nuns wore black and white habits, like robes. Their hair hidden, their faces framed by religious headwear. Sister Felicity was an angel. Sister Aiden was a grouch.

I was ten years old, wearing my navy blue uniform, with its gold and dark green stripe in the V-neck jumper. I sat in the line there alongside Bill Soulsby and Michael Potter and Jacinta Johnson.

We were part of Grade 5 O, the O for curly-haired Mrs O’Callaghan. Neither angel nor grouch. A nice aunty.

I looked up at the faraway TV, with its blurry images of a faraway land. So faraway that there was no sea between it and our homes here in Mentone, on planet Earth. Just stars and skies. The dark blue vastness of the known and un-known universe. Lightyears of space and time, seemingly.

I looked up through my glasses, which had a patch on one lens, to make my ‘lazy’ eye work harder.

There was the moon, on the TV, not up in the sky beyond my backyard in Cremona St. The moon, white and grey. And a spaceship. The pictures seemed to flicker and roll every now and then. No one adjusted the TV. No one looked for the vertical or horizontal controls.

From the spaceship a man climbed down a ladder. An astronaut all in white. No face. All helmet and gloves and boots. Suited up for the moon. Neil. Armstrong. He stood on the – on the what? Dust? Soil? Dirt? Cheese? His footsteps puffed up lunar particles.

And then another man. Buzz. No, not Lightyear. Aldrin. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. Down the ladder. Onto the surface. The Sea of Tranquility. Not that there was any water.

The two men seemed to bounce ever so slightly. I did not know about gravity. Or the lack of it. Maybe cardigan-wearing Mrs O’Callaghan would teach us about that.

Every-thing-in-slow-mo-tion.

From the little speakers of the TV, words. How could a voice be heard from such a distance? Two-hundred and forty thousand miles. Three hundred and eighty thousand kilometres.  I had trouble enough hearing quiet Mrs O’Callaghan some days.

And then it was all over. The fidgeting children relieved to be up and about. The talkers no longer sanctioned by Sister Aiden. Maybe we had an extended lunchtime that day. More time for footy with Bill Soulsby and Michael Potter.

 

AFTER school,  Bill and I stood on our respective corners in the main street of Mentone and sold The Herald, an afternoon newspaper.  The front pages, and several more within, were all about the moon landing. Unlike the flickering images on the TV in the school hall, the black and white photographs stood still. And the words of the men, and about the men, were fixed to the page, not floating out of a tinny TV speaker.

Did I sell more papers that day? Did I get bigger tips?  Enough to buy an extra Wagon Wheel for the walk home? I can’t claim to remember. The moon landing would have been front page news for another day or two before politics and football reclaimed their spaces.

 

THESE days televisions are not blocky and bulky. Nor black and white.  Images and sounds are crisp beyond reality. The Herald is long gone. If I went back to Mentone and to St Patricks everything would seem smaller.

The moon, though, sometimes looms large when I’m up for a sunrise dip. To swim under its full but setting gaze, if only for a few cold minutes, is to be reminded, that I’m just a dot floating on the water, on my own little sea of tranquillity, upon the Earth, within The Solar System, part of The Milky Way. An infinitesimal speck in The Universe.

 

First published in The Big Issue, Edition 591, 12-25 July 2019

Posted in: The Big Issue