The fort is probably something that looms larger and more perfect in memory than it was in fact. But even if it was half the establishment we think it was it remains something quite creative and even formidable. At least in the eyes of a kid.
The aforementioned shelter at the base of the fir (not a Douglas as annotated but a Deodar) needed protecting but it soon vanished under the wall of timber we hauled around it from all over the plantation, weaving as best we could the branches and logs into something insurmountable. Oddly enough discussions in the schoolyard during the week somehow evolved into a conversation about what ‘teams’ would come and attempt assaults on that wall of sticks on Saturday. A polite conversation of planning and picking sides ahead of an impolite fight. For our part we would collect pine cones (solid, unopened) and prise clods of clay from the bank at the front of our house and store them in boxes. Stones, by unspoken agreement, were not acceptable. No stones, but bottles filled with water. And those huge solid batteries from the post office that we used to collect from the rubbish tip. I suspect the rule about stones came from the fact that everything else was quite unwieldy. But most of us could peg stones with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Oh, and to have to report you were throwing stones was never going to be as bad as confessing you were throwing batteries or clay. Come Saturday there were would be an assault of sorts, a defence of sorts, lots of projectiles thrown, no real injuries to speak of, lots of noise and energy expended.
As a result of these raids the fort evolved from a single wall which flanks could never be properly covered, into a more comprehensive and more readily defended complex. The wall of branches was extended to cover the flanks. The back wall was a high mesh fence that opened onto an open paddock. Somehow the unspoken rule was that no attacks would occur from that hemisphere. A gate was hung between two trees which swung well and could be locked closed. A further evolution, which I attribute to too much Louis L’Armour, was the creation of a catwalk (built from more pine planks hauled down from the saw mill) which stretched behind the wall of timber, and ascended up and then over the gate. It gave great advantage but was too exposed to ‘enemy fire’. The remedy was to string rabbit mesh fencing above it. A couple of strands actually. This caught the majority of incoming projectiles but a gap of a metre or so allowed projectiles to be flung from inside the fort. It was very effective.
A fundamental weakness proved to be a V shaped (twin trunked) radiata pine only a couple of metres from the front gate. If the attackers could reach that pine with a box of ammo there was precious little we could do about it if we wanted to remain holed up in the fort. Worse, a design flaw meant that the catwalk passed over but in front of the gate. Attackers soon learned they could duck from that pine to the front gate and be out of our fire. They could then proceed to dismantle the gate all the while immune from our missiles. At some stage the neighbouring church hall (Clark Hall) was reroofed (the lead from that proved handy pocket money, mainly for Rob) and we took a discarded piece of down pipe and inserted it into the tree above the gate, and passed it through a hole in the catwalk. Atop the pipe we built a small platform protected with more rabbit netting (a similar wrapping sat high in the deodar as an early warning platform, the kid up there who was playing cockatoo protected from anything flung at him) and sat one of our team up there with 5 gallons of water. I only recall it being used once but the idea was to pour the water down the pipe onto those trying to dismantle the gate. It worked, but no one got wet – the gurgling sound of the water making its way down the length of open pipe alerted the attackers to what was coming and they bolted, the water sloshing onto the ground in front of the gate a good few seconds after they had departed. It was a one shot wonder – there was far too much effort to get the water lifted into the tree in the first place to try and reload the bucket in the heat of battle.
In any event our secret weapon was Rob. Long drawn out defences were not his forte and, as many recounted at a school reunion in 2001 or thereabouts, they, the attackers, were always in fear of the moment the front gate would be flung open and he would charge out brandishing the air rifle (how we got away with firing that at attackers I will never know) shouting and running at them. He could really only get one pellet away but that was always enough and I have recollections of many ‘fights’ ending with the other side vanishing down the slope into the rhododendrons with Rob on their tail. Attack after all is the best means of defence and Rob understood that far better than the rest of us, and far sooner. It was, of course, always hilarious.
It was not always about battles though. The fort had a life of its own in our imaginations. Wild West stories were played out there. We built three quite large box shaped huts, each with a roof that was connected by walkways, not only to each hut but also to the catwalk. Of course, in a scrap those walkways allowed us to quickly respond to a change in the threat direction. I wonder now if some of our sensibility around military manoeuvre had its roots in that fort.
Next Recollection (8)
Previous Recollection (6) The Plan(tation)
Start at the Beginning (1) Guts for Garters