In a beloved book I read when I was twelve, a tattered piece of ancient crocheted lace becomes the means by which a young girl is transported through time from the 1980s to colonial Sydney. The book is called Playing Beatie Bow, by Ruth Park, and it is set in The Rocks, that sandstone coloured heart of Sydney, right down under the bridge.
Last weekend Sean and I stayed at The Rocks. We chose it because it was close to places we were going out and secretly, I was excited. Since reading Playing Beatie Bow when I was twelve, I’ve never had the chance to really explore The Rocks before, having passed through once or twice without the time to look around. As soon as we arrived, I felt my twelve year old self leap out of recesses of my mind and start piecing together what I remembered of the story. The spare time we had on the weekend became a kind of pilgrimage for me as I retraced the steps of fourteen year old Abigail Kirk, the novel’s time traveller.
In short, the time travel happens when Abigail, who has found a scrap of yellowed crochet in a box of fabric, comes across some children playing a game called Beatie Bow, in which they enact a frightening ghost story. It’s the playing of this game, and the possession of the piece of crochet that opens up the door to the past and Abigail soon finds herself trapped in the grimy, crowded slums of The Rocks in 1873, living with none other than the Bow family, and the game’s namesake, Beatrice (Beatie) May Bow.
They had turned into what Abigail did not immediately recognise as Argyle Street, though she had walked up that street a hundred times. The enormous stone arch of The Cut, the cutting quarried through the sandstone backbone of The Rocks, was different.
Below is the Argyle Cut (thanks to Pru and Drk for directions on Facebook – you were right. You can’t miss it!) through which Abigail follows Beatie Bow. It was kind of spooky to stand in there and hear voices echoing. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the slice through the rocks could act as some kind of link between past and present.
There are dark and evocative stair cases all over The Rocks. You look at them and think, they go up and down as they’ve always done but what they lead to now is not what they have always lead to. Everything around them has changed.
Although the area is quite touristy now, there are still dark corners, run down terrace houses and sign posts to a time when The Rocks looked more like this photo I found on Flickr thanks to the State Records NSW pages.
Sean listened to me as I recounted my memories of the book and he discovered this beautiful piece of historic Sydney with me. The book began my love of time travel stories and I have a whole collection of my childhood time travel favourites that I’ve managed to scrounge around and find over the years. I long to write one myself and in fact have an idea for one set a little closer to home, if only I could ever get the courage up to actually write one of these books I talk about. The history and ghost story obsessed little girl in me wishes I’d just find a way to write the kind of book she loved to read.
But for now, I’ve dug out the old copy of the novel and am reliving that childhood love all over again, loving especially the fact that crochet plays a central role!