There were no American Indians in the vicinity of our new house in Newnham when I was six in 1964.
I know this because I had a large Indian identification wall-chart hanging in my new bedroom.
It had pictures of all kinds of Indians – including Sioux, Apache, Cherokee and Cheyenne – which came in very handy for a five-year-old with keen eyesight and a fertile imagination.
It mattered not to me that there were actually no American Indians in Australia.
Oh, a wrestler named Chief Little Wolf had made a much-heralded visit to our island state of Tasmania but that did not count.
The real Indians were in the movies and it was up to every vigilant little boy to keep an eye out for them.
We were deeply immersed in American movie culture then. I remember going to the drive-in theatre at Mowbray with my family to watch The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, which was made in 1962 but probably took a while to reach our uncultured (well, as it was widely seen then) shores.
I fell asleep in the back of the car and still do not know what happened in the end. I hazard a guess that someone wearing a white hat won the day though. In those days, the guys in the white hats always triumphed.
I got my own first white hat as part of a cowboy suit for my fourth birthday.
I wore that hat low over my eyes, according to my baby book. My mother wrote that this was because I insisted I did not “want to get a cold in the head.”
In hindsight, though, I think the truth was I did not want to get recognised by an Indian with a cowboy identification wall-chart and get an arrow in the head.
I wore the outfit so often that it fell to bits and I had to be given another cowboy suit – this time a sheriff’s outfit with the obligatory white hat, gun and holster – for my fifth birthday.
A family friend, “Mate” Kennedy, about this time also gave me a shiny replica Cowboy pistol, so I was all tooled up
I also remember having lots of little plastic cowboy and Indian figurines when I lived at 14 Canning St, near the heart of the city of Launceston, and my father made me a wooden model-sized fort for them.
I suspect, alas, it looked more like an English medieval fort with its battlements – and he probably should have known better.
He came from England and as far as I know never got on a horse in his life but, in the spirit of taking coals to Newcastle or selling ice to the Eskimos – at one stage he made good money writing cowboy stories for American magazines.
I spent many happy hours playing Cowboys and Indians in the secluded empty allotment next to our house, and really did not want to leave the scene of so many glorious battles which, of course, I had won..
So when it was time to move to our newly-built house at 25 Ronneby Road in suburban Newnham, I think the Indian identification wall-chart was something of a bribe to get me to go quietly. That, and a pair of pyjamas allegedly depicting little Cherokee Indians.
I also had in my new bedroom my own set of bunk beds which could be converted in a child’s imagination to splendid wagons.
But, despite this, my fondness for Cowboy and Indians games began to wane. And I am not talking about John Wayne.
Until then, I had ALWAYS been the little boy in the white hat against my sisters or imaginary playmate foes.
But I was six when we moved to Newnham.
Perhaps I was just growing up.
More likely though, being a new subdivision full of young families, there were lots of new little playmates in the neighborhood – and not everyone could be cowboys with white hats.
Being one of the smallest boys on the block, more often than not I was coerced into finding a fallen plover feather, placing it in my hair and making wailing sounds by crying out and flapping a hand over my mouth.
Apart from taking a risk any time I went near a plover – noisy, aggressive swooping white and grey birds with allegedly sharp claws – I found it was no fun at all being pursued and shot at, or sometimes wrestled to the ground, by the bigger boys in the white hats.
I decided then it was not really much fun being an American Indian.
©August 21, 2002 John Martin. All Rights Reserved