We brought your childhood imaginary friends to life

We asked for your stories of childhood imaginary friends and were inundated with tales of wondrous beings.

By Natasha Mitchell

The wolf pack that came to stay

Melbourne artist Anastaszia Ward is obsessed — in a good way. Last year she went to Iceland hunting for mythological sea monsters.

“I think I always have enjoyed that purgatory space in between what’s real and not real,” she says.

It started when she was a child. Her first obsession was with wolves. She created a whole clan of them that followed her around for years.

“I came home from kindy one day with my little hand outstretched, and my mum asked me what was in my palm. I said, ‘It’s a tiny baby wolf and he’s going to come home with us. We have to look after him.”

Anastaszia Ward has her three wolves tattooed on her thigh. Picture: Abby Drielsma

“Lumpy” had arrived on the scene, and grew into a fully-fledged grey wolf. “I was an only child and he was a brother figure and best friend,” says Ward, who moved a lot with her mother as a child.

“They were a creative outlet, but also a real and consistent friendship.”

“It caused a stir when I went to kindy and my mother said I needed to leave Lumpy at home. She went through the act of locking him safely underneath the house. I told everybody at kindy that I had a brother who my mum had locked up and wouldn’t let come to kindy with me. I neglected to mention he was an imaginary wolf!”

Then came Lumpy’s brother, Michael. “He was quite a gaunt, thin black wolf with shaggy fur, and really intense yellow eyes.

“I had this infatuation and romantic love for him.”

To make things hard for herself, Anastaszia also created a girlfriend for Michael who competed with her for his affections. “Yes, maybe a bit of self-sabotage there! Her name was Alenia de Cass and she was this very ethereal wolf with white fur.”

Everyone played along with Anastaszia’s wolf pack, especially her mother. “She would go through the act of buying football tickets for him. When we moved house and there wasn’t room in the back seat for the wolves, she organised alternate transportation for them.”

When Anastaszia moved from the Gold Coast to Melbourne to study, she had the three large wolves tattooed on her thigh.

“It represented my mum and my childhood. I think I’d been embarrassed by this connection that I’d had. I realised that they were really important to me and to my mum, they were central to our relationship.”

“I wanted them to be part of me.”

The wild horse within

Retired education consultant Rowena Harding-Smith was liberated by her childhood imaginary friend.

“I had this terrible, full-body, unsightly rash that leaked and caused my skin to crack and bleed. I got sick a lot,” she recalls. “It was a childhood where I didn’t feel free. I wanted to run, climb and play, and I couldn’t.”

The treatment was brutal too. “Basically my mother had to paint my entire body with black tar which was extraordinary painful and very, very itchy.”

Rowena was finally diagnosed with a milk allergy at age 48, and after years of agony her gruelling skin condition cleared up almost instantly.

From early on, Rowena had to find another way to cope.

“I used to watch horse programs, and there was a segment on Rawhide I remember well. Instead of mustering cows, they mustered horses, and for me this was sheer heaven; all these horses running.

“I imagined I was a wild horse. I could run and jump and feel the wind in my long, flowing mane and tail.”

Rowena Harding-Smith, left, found herself liberated by her imaginary friend. Picture: Rowena Harding Smith

“For me this was freedom in my own mind. I was no longer in the hospital room. I was free.

“I remember trying to recruit other children into being horses but they weren’t interested. They were mostly focused on being themselves.

“Learning to read opened the world to me and as the rash gradually disappeared, my imaginary friend externalised himself.

“I would look out the train window and see a wild, free brumby running past the houses, tail streaming behind. The day I read The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell, my imaginary friend disappeared into the book, which is where he is today.”

Leather clad and very little

Fiona Leverington was three years old when her family moved from the Goldfields to the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.

“I was born in Kalgoorlie and we lived in Laverton, so all I knew was the red dirt,” she says. “My brother had just been born. A new town and no friends — I think it was time to invent a friend of my own.”

“One day my parents said I started talking about ‘Tilbert’. Every time we stopped for petrol, Tilbert would also be getting petrol for his motorbike.

“Tilbert was an ant. He wore a leather jacket and rode a motorbike behind the car.

“My parents say he was around for about three or six months. After I settled into the new town, met some people and got used to having a brother, he just disappeared one day.

Fiona Leverington and her baby brother. Picture: Fiona Leverington

“We’re not too sure where he went. We thought maybe he was lost at the petrol station, or met another little person to follow.

“I don’t think I ever really forgot Tilbert. I’ve even named my current dog after him. Her name is Tilly.

“It’s pretty fun, especially talking to my parents about Tilbert. Straight away they remember all the stories. It’s nice for them to look back. My brother has a son now, so our parents have their first grandchild and I think they’re looking forward to having more fun with him.”

LISTEN: Natasha Mitchell explores the secret life of children on Earshot