I remember my first encounter with history well. I was young. I can’t quite recall my age, but I was young enough to believe myself old for having such grown up things as a white-and-pink Spice Girls backpack and matching T-shirt. Frilly lace socks were cool, Sailor Moon pigtails and buns were a fashion statement, dunkaroos were the envy of all Australian school lunch boxes and I was on holiday. As Mum ushered me and my sister into our beat-up, once-white Ford Falcon, I had no idea that we were heading far beyond our tiny Northern Beaches flat, let alone back in time.
I remember the crunch of gravel as we pulled up in the car park of Vaucluse House. I remember the lush green of the garden, the blooming English flowers that matched the ones on Mum’s dated Dolton plates, and then the fear. The palatial home of nineteenth-century barrister, politician and explorer William Charles Wentworth struck me with terror. It was so big. So foreign. So old. At that age, whatever age I was, I associated old things with ghosts and curses. I was a girl in the 1990s. I was into Aqua and Pokémon, sneaking home brightly coloured eye shadow and tasting flavoured ChapSticks. I didn’t belong in a place that smelt heavy and bitter with time. And I was sure that whatever spirits lived there would sense that too.
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