I first became acquainted with death around the age of six during the big nasty mouse plague of 1984. My little school was sandwiched between a wheat crop and a pig farm, so the playground was inevitably shared by a few furry friends. My mum worked in town at the time so had to drop us off pretty early. If we didn't hide in the trees or atop the monkeybars, the teacher would hunt us out and make us do jobs. Like weeding gardens, sweeping footpaths, or emptying the mouse traps.
I wasn't scared of a dead mouse, in fact I felt a little sorry for them. Instead I was terrified of getting my fingers snapped in the trap when I released the deceased. I'd run over to the edge of the playground, stand on tip-toe to avoid the barbed wire on top of the fence, gingerly holding the trap out into the wheat paddock.
"I'm sorry mousie, but this is where I have to leave you!"
"Ah, don't worry about it," the dead mouse would look back at me, its stiff little claws lifted into a shrug. "C'est la vie."
Then I'd shake him free and run squealing back to the classroom, "Urrrrrrghhhhhhh!"
My stellar experience with the mice led to me being put in charge of disposing of the school goldfish when it died. We staked out a nice spot in the playground and spent a few lunchtimes designing his resting place, digging the grave with a teaspoon, finding pebbles for a pretty border around it, constructing a cross out of two twigs and string. By the time we finally mummified him in toilet paper and laid him to rest, he was looking a little crusty. But we wrote him a nice poem and I'm sure he appreciated the trouble we went to.
I learned that death could be brutal, but fascinating in its brutality. It was a brown snake, four or five feet long, probably smaller than it seemed to my little eyes at the time, and it was swishing its way along the hopscotch lines on the playground.
"Snaaaaaaaaaake!" somebody screamed, "Snaaaaaaaaake!"
Big whoop, I thought, but dutifully trotted into the classroom where we were told to wait while the teacher Dealt With It. Noone cared about conservation then, and the Crocodile Hunter hadn't been invented yet, so all snakes were disposed of with a swift chop of the shovel.
All 27 of us students in the school were plastered to the windows, oohing and ahhing as the snaked swerved wildly. The teacher brought the shovel down. WHOOSH! Chopped in half. CHOP CHOP! And in half again! Soon there were half a dozen browny bits twitching along the concrete. From the head with the tongue still out right down to the tip of the tail, the diced snake jerked and shimmied like an over-zealous cheerleader. It seemed a full five minutes before the nerves were reduced to a slow shuffle. It was truly enthralling. The teacher scraped up the bits into a dust pan and dumped it over the fence into the wheat paddock to be with the mice.
Later on, I learned that sometimes people wish death onto other people. I witnessed pure evil in action. We had been left unsupervised watching Behind The News, a current affairs show made specifically for school kids. Every child in Australia knows about BTN and the horrid worksheets that followed. Nobody liked BTN. Or if you secretly looked forward to it in a nerdy little way you kept quiet about it, or else get clobbered at recess. It was impossible to concentrate on the stories, but you knew you had to because there'd be questions after it.
The host of the show at the time, Richard Morecroft, looked so smug and sadistic that I wanted to cry. But Melissa truly HATED Richard Morecroft. She took the opportunity of a teacherless room to let him have it. She stood on top of her orange plastic chair and hurled her pens and pencils at the screen. "I hate BTN!" she screamed, pegging a big yellow marker his nose. "And I hate you Richard Morecroft! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO DIE!"
The next Tuesday when the dinky BTN theme started and the credits rolled and there was no Richard Morecroft. He was GONE! Just like that! I was briefly horrified, thinking that she had really somehow killed the man. But we all cheered and crowded, no more BTN, hurrah!
Unfortunately he was replaced, by some guy with a moustache who's name escapes me and who was a hundred more times annoying. And awhile later Richard Morecroft appeared as the new anchor on ABC News.
I guess that's when I learned about reincarnation.