What were they thinking???

I wrote in an earlier post about my first real bush walk but what I didn’t write at that time was why I didn’t think that I would enjoy it.

I was a cub and then a scout; a member of 9th Box Hill Troop. I’m not sure why, but the troop I belonged to was full of kids I didn’t know and I guess like my Sunday School experience, I didn’t really enjoy it. In fact I really went under sufferance and in many ways because I was forced to go.

I enjoyed some of the suff we did – chalk chases and some of the other games – I never really saw a lot of point in learning how to tie knots or do some of the other stuff that earnt competency badges and I put a lo of that down to an incident that happened fairly early on in my scouting career.

One weekend the troop headed off to Mt Ritchie for a camping adventure. Most kids had packs and sleeping bags, but not me, I carried a suitcase, complete with blankets and pillows. Anyone who has experienced the badge of outcast will know how stupid I felt having to lug a suitcase up a mountain track for a few miles until we got to the campsite. I have no idea what Mum and Dad were thinking sending me off like that. I’m certain they didn’t mean to humilaite me or to isolate me, and I know that we didn’t have access to things like proper hiking gear. No matter the reason it put me off wanting to hike for a long time.

A suitcase for crying out loud! What were they thinking?

Happy Holidays

Dad would always sing Happy Holidays in his best Bing Crosby voice as we’d pull out of the driveway on Boxing Day morning on the way to Corowa situated on the New South Wales side of the border on the Murray River. This was my life at Christmas time as a kid.

We started holidaying at Corowa sometime around 1969 after we had visited there one Easter when we had camped at Myrtleford. We camped at Ball Park, right on the bridge over the river and pitched our tent on sloping ground for the most part.
For us kids, it was a great place, we fished and swam the river, there was an Olympic sized pool adjacent to the camping ground and the golf course was about a 10 minute drive down the river. In most years, at least early on, the Brown’s came away as well. Dad and Uncle Arthur had grown up together and we regarded each other as family, spending a lot of time together, not just on holiday’s but on weekend barbecues and drives through the bush.
Uncle Arthur used to enjoy grabbing me by the big toe and dragging me out of bed in the morning so we could head off along the riverbank fishing. In the early years we caught a lot of redfin and there was nothing better than coming back to camp and cooking them up for breakfast. But later on the European carp began to take over the river and the edible fish were few and far between. Of course that may also have been a reflection of my skill as an angler.
I was lucky enough not to have to sleep in the tent because I had the luxury of Dad’s old Ford Thames Van, complete with a three inch foam mattress and terylene curtains to keep the mozzies out.
There was no possibility of speeding in the old thing because loaded up with everything we took away it was lucky to get over 45 mile an hour. When the Brown’s stopped coming away with us and I can’t remember why they did, I was able to bring along one of my cousins or a mate and they’d sit in the back of the van on a deck chair with the camping gear piled high around them.
The van went to God not long after this picture was taken but Dad then bought a Datsun Homer which was a distinct upgrade to the old Thames.
I’m not really sure why Mum and Dad chose Corowa, except that they spent a lot of time playing the poker machines which at that time were illegal in Victoria. Dad would get drunk and Mum would sometimes go over to the Bowling Club, create a scene and virtually drag Dad back to camp. We kids of course weren’t allowed anywhere near the clubs except probably once a holiday when we’d go over for a meal.
A lot of time was spent at the pool and we’d sometimes have a competition to see if we could swim the entire 50 yard length under water. Bombs and horsies were allowed, at least I think they were, I have no memories of any life guards wandering around telling us not to do those things. I do remember that one end was 12’6” deep and we’d play another game where we’d drop a rock on the bottom and have to duck dive down to grab it.
These were days before we knew about holes in the ozone layer and we tanned by lying on our towels on the concrete paths smothered in coconut oil.
When Karen got older and started to bring friends along and their interest in boys was developing, Mum used to lace up their side room on the tent to stop them going out. But tents didn have built in floors and it was easy for them to creep out underneath and go visiting other friends. I haven’t asked but I’m not sure Mum knew they were sneaking out or maybe she just turned a blind eye.
I think my aversions to New Years Eve began on those holidays because Dad would invite whatever stranger wanted to around for a beer, which usually became a dozen and often the night would end with blokes getting pissed on our campsite, in our space, with nowhere for me to hide. I expect that I spent a lot of time lying in the van on those nights reading by torchlight. For all that, they were fun times and I will treasure those memories of camping.

The Power of Music

Having been scanning photos for the past week has lead to a trigger of memories where you can recall the actual time, place and circumstances surrounding the capturing of that particular moment in time and it got me thinking about other things that trigger memory such as smell and music. So I thought I’d write a little about some of the music that means something to me.

Elvis Presley – I remember arguing with some other kids at Primary School about who was better Elvis or The Beatles and I argued strongly for the former. I grew up watching Elvis movies and the first records I ever bought were his – Edge of Reality, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Don’t Cry Daddy. I knew them word for word and some might say that the famous Joyce snarl that appears occasionally on my face may have had it’s genesis some time during those Saturday afternoon matinees at the Padua Theatre in Brunswick.

The Eagles – around Form 2 we had an American exchange teacher at Burwood High School and he brought with him The Eagles album Desperado. We must have had a rainy day one day and stayed in the class room over lunch time listening to the sublime harmonies and ballads of these blokes on a concept album of all things. Something at that time that I’d never heard of before. I have remained a fan ever since. I remember when the album “One of These Nights” was released that there was a special on the radio which I taped. At that time my mate Fog and I were working over Christmas at a wire factory and we played it over and over again.

James Taylor – Fire and Rain, Carolina on my mind, Sweet Baby James and others were favourites. I had a group of friends and we called ourselves The Diggers. We were mainly mates from High School plus a few who we met through our university studies. Not a lot in the way of disposable income so we spent a lot of time sitting around houses playing guitars and harmonicas singing lots of James Taylor and Bob Dylan songs.

Little River Band – Harmonies every bit as good as those of the Eagles and for a while The Diggers mucked around with a band playing LRB songs. We called ourselves The Sentimental Blokes and were legends in our own loungerooms. We never had any intention of performing anywhere it was just a way of having fun and a lot of laughs.

At least three of those guys have passed away now but whenever I hear those songs I’m transported back to a simpler time and place and the boisterousness of youth, with the voices of mates still ringing loudly in my ears.

Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers

Talk to kids these days of Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers and they may well think they were three of your school friends but a long time ago they were synonymous with Guy Fawkes night. A celebration of the plot to blow up the British Parliament something I didn’t know at the time and probably something that didn’t really matter either because for us it was just an excuse to blow up letter boxes, stick sky rockets in milk or beer bottles and stand in front of a bonfire for hours with all the other families from the neighbourhood.

In the old orchard estate where I lived there were still plenty of vacant lots in those days and in the weeks leading up to Guy Fawkes night all the kids and most of the dads from the neighbourhood would spend every spare minute dragging whatever the could find into the middle of the lot and building a bonfire that seemed to stretch for yards into the sky. It didn’t matter what you threw on there either as long as it could burn – there’d be old furniture, mattresses and plenty of old car tyres that burnt with thick black acrid smoke. The blacker the better.

The nights would start with a gathering on the corner with the fireworks our fathers had brought home and we’d watch in amazement as the catherine wheels spun and the rockets burst high overhead and when ours were finished it seemed to be a signal for more to begin rising from other parts of the neighbourhood and the show would go on for what seemed like hours.

Do you remember the sound of penny bungers being set off in letter boxes or down drains and for days after the stacato sounds of a strip of tom thumbs being let off in the school toilets.

We were lucky in those days before fun was banned.

The way my mother dressed me

I spent a lot of my childhood in shorts. Even in the snow. Not that we went to the snow very often in fact this was my first experience of it at a place called Lake Mountain to the north-east of Melbourne. What was Mum thinking, letting me out in the snow in shorts, plastic gumboots and that hat, not that it was the worst hat I was ever forced to wear [and I’ll save that photo for another post].

Despite the shorts, I don’t remember being overly cold on too many occasions, although I think the winters were colder than they are today. We lived on an unmade road and the puddles were often frozen over on winter mornings and frosts, in my memories at least, seemed to be far more prevalent than they are today. I have wondered whether it is just a heat island affect in the metropolitan areas or whether it is in fact a pointer to global warming [but that too will be a post for another day].

It doesn’t snow in the Melbourne metropolitan area except on some rare occasions on the Dandenong Ranges to the east which is where I live. And even there it is mostly limited to the higher hills. I have seen it only once in the foothills where I have lived for the last 25 years.

I think it was around 1969 when I got my first pair of long trousers, a pair of brown woollen checked pants that kids these days wouldn’t be caught dead in. It was some time after that when I was able to purchase my first pair of jeans – Amco Heavyweights, which had the catch phrase “Every Amco tells a story”. Cool but not as cool as Lee or Levis. I also have a vague memory of Stirling jeans, which had a checkered flag label and a special unique comb pocket on the side of the leg.

The challenge with those jeans was to wear them as low as possible so that the pubes on one side and the bum crack on the other were peeping over the top of them. What were we thinking? Still that was only a passing phase as well because around 1973 we were at the other extreme where the jeans were skin tight and high waisted. I bought a pair of staggers around 1975 and made the mistake of listening to the salesgirl in the shop who told me to buy them a size too small because they would stretch. I couldn’t move and despite trying a dozen times they didn’t stretch so I ended up passing them onto my sister.

Of course in those days the jeans had to be wide and long to cover the platform shoes we were wearing. Then there were the paisley shirts and checked flairs which we thought looked pretty good as well. And who could forget the other footwear – treads and kiaks. The former appeared to be made out of old car tires with a woven swead upper, whilst kiaks were off white, extremely light sort of nylon and plastic.

In fact, when I do look back at these things, Mum didn’t really dress me too badly after all.

Never Stand on the Windward Side

When I was in sixth grade at Bennettswood State School in 1968 we had a week long excursion to Tasmania, travelling via the ship “Princess of Tasmania” across Bass Strait on what we were later told was the roughest crossing in 20 years. Along with the huge seas we were also handicapped by broken stabilisers on the ship and there are several things that stand out in my memories.

Firstly, we did not have cabins and had to bed down for the night in a lounge seated in chairs. Anyone who has ever been seasick will know there is nothing worse for setting things off than watching someone else vomit into a bag. Feeling a bit queasy the first thing I did was turn my head away from the offending person only to come eyeball to eyeball with someone else in the same predicament. Then it was my turn.

I spent the night with several others on makeshift beds in the lounge foyer and eventually fell into a fitful slumber.

The next morning breakfast was free and needless to say I did not have any. David Palmer, however, made up for me and several others who didn’t eat by having three breakfasts – bacon and eggs, sausages and baked beans, and, a couple of bowls of cereal.

There’s one other vivid memory of the crossing and a lesson I have never forgotten. I went outside with Daryl Pryor to get some fresh air and we made the mistake of being on the windward side of the ship. There was a bloke above us who was obviously feeling as well as I was because he happened to let go of what was in his stomach while Daryl and I were beneath him. Fortunately for me it missed; Daryl wasn’t so lucky.

I have had one other crossing of Bass Strait by ship and that was on the vessel “Thala Dan” returning from Macquarie Island in 1980. If the Strait was at it’s worst the first time, it was at it’s best the second. To describe it as a mill pond on that occasion would not be an exaggeration.

School on Sunday??? What the….

I don’t have fond memories of Sunday School. My sisters and I went to the Methodist Church in Station Street, Box Hill. Mum was Catholic and it was a huge thing for her to marry into a Methodist family, but whilst she didn’t continue to practice she couldn’t quite bring herself to attend a Methodist church on a regular basis.
Dad’s mother was a very straight laced pious woman from a strict Irish orange background. The families men were Mason’s and many of the women Sunday School teachers so when Mum came into the family she was given a hard time. It was like a Martin marrying a McCoy.
Dad never showed any great interest in Church, for him Sunday mornings were spent pleasantly at Andy Scott’s place across the road where the neighbourhood men would gather and knock a few tops off some long necks when the sun came over the yard arm. At least that’s what I was told. I never understood the nautical term until I realized that the as the bottles were drunk the blokes began to talk like pirates with lots of arrrrghhhs and squints of the eyes.
So while that was going on it was Mum who drove us to Sunday School. We were usually dropped off out the front and left to find our own way in. I guess Mum thought that she would end up in purgatory if she set foot inside the door of a rival faith. Sure she wouldn’t go back to her own Church but there was no way she’d enter a building for fear of being struck down by lightning.
I don’t remember a lot about what we actually did there – I can remember a sandpit and being told the old testament stories, like Noah’s Ark and Samson and Delilah – but I do remember that I hated going. Getting up early on Sunday morning having to wear good shorts and a bow tie wasn’t my idea of fun, particularly when the California poppy was spread through the hair.
One of the issues was that we didn’t know anyone. None of the kids we went to school with went to that church so we only ever saw these kids on Sunday mornings and if I sit here now I cannot remember a single name or face of any of them.
And there were days when Mum or Dad were late picking us up, not often and not really very late, but I do remember feeling stressed if they weren’t out the front waiting for us when the session had ended. I think I felt pretty early on that they were a bit hypocritical in making us go to church when they wouldn’t.
For all that I grew up as a god fearing kid. Said my prayers every night on my knees beside my bed and if for some reason I forgot I’d sometimes get out of bed when the light was off and complete the ritual. I can still remember the words now –
“As I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Then I’d ask God to bless my Mum and Dad, my sisters and our pets, and all my cousins and friends. I don’t think I realized the gravity of the words I said until much later.
Some time in my early teens we were no longer forced to go to church and the sky didn’t fall and I haven’t yet ended up in purgatory. One day I’ll learn if those Sunday mornings of ritual boredom were really necessary or not.

LJs School Days

Bennettswood State School was typical of those built in the 1950’s in Melbourne. Grey besser brick, asphalt quadrangles, and weather board shelter sheds. I arrived there in 1963 in the typical school uniform of grey shorts and grey shirt along with a class full of around 40 other 5 and 6 year olds.

Sitting here now more than 40 years after it is a little hard to sort through the memories and to put them into chronological order so this will be a broad brush jump around tour of my memories of the school and things we did and of some of the characters who crossed my path.

The school was around 2 miles from home and I think that most of the time in those early years I must have been driven. Mum had an old Vauxhall and I have vague memories of being driven to school in that, brown leather satchel hooked over my shoulders. Around grade 3 or 4, perhaps at 8 or 9 years of age I began to walk home.

School days always seemed hotter or colder than now. There was neither heating nor cooling in the class rooms and schools seem to me to be much more of a community these days than what they were back then.   There were no school concerts and I can’t really recall any open days.

At the back of the school was a paddock usually covered in long grass in which we would tie together grass traps then lie back watching as kids who ran around tripped over as there feet caught.

When it rained we created skid pans and would slide in the mud inevitably falling over and laughing as we did so each recess or lunch time not worrying about tramping the dirt into the class rooms as we returned after play time.

We played british bulldog and humpo bumpo in the quadrangles and games of slaggar which could last for days. The latter in some other places may have been called tiggy and tag but the rules were pretty much the same with people who were “it” having to signal thumbs down if the got within a couple of yards and those who weren’t giving you the thumbs up. They were all anarchistic with no captains nor foot soldiers, everyone one was equal, and the winners were those who displayed cunning and fleetness of foot.

We also used to play brandy, a game in which we lined up against the brick walls whilst someone through a tennis ball at us – if you got hit you swapped places. One day a number of boys including myself decided we’d play with oranges and we all laughed as we got splattered with the pulp and orange skins. Unfortunately we were caught by the teachers and marched into the headmasters office where we all got six belts across the hand with a yard long ruler. It was my bad luck that the head master, Mr Allsop, had come from a school at which my Uncle was head of the School Council, so I also copped a lecture about how ashamed he would be off me.

We went through regular fads, playing marbles in the dust, or walk the dog with yoyos [coke ones were definitely better than fanta] and even hula hoops at one stage.

I struggle to remember the faces of my teachers. In fact I cant remember who I had in Grade 1. In Grades 2 and 3 I had Mrs Cannon, a tough lady, who did dish out a whack over th had with a ruler on the odd occasion. Miss Gash was my Grade 4 teacher and I have no real memories of her. In Grade 5 it was Mr Nicholson and his son was a World Champion bike rider and I remember him speaking very proudly of that – from memory the next year his son John won a silver medal at the Mexico Olympics. In Grade 6 I had Mr Fulton and the odd thing about that was that his son Ian was also in my class.

The school had an oval – albeit a small one, which baked hard in the summer sun and turned into a mud pile in the winter. Spiros Tamarus, a year ahead of me was in the school football team and could kick a goal after kicking out when a point was scored at the other end. That won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t know a thing about Australian Rules, but it is an impressive thing to do even on a small ground.

The oval had been excavated into the side of a hill and the embankment was planted with succulents to prevent erosion. We always used to laugh when an announcement would come over the PA system just before lunchtime reminding anyone who played on the oval to please keep off Mr Stafford’s pigface – he didn’t want his precious succulents trampled.

Mr Stafford was Vice principal and in around Grade 5 he would come in and teach us each morning giving us updates on lone sailor Frances Chichester’s solo voyage around the world.

Music lessons consisted of listening to ABC school radio and singing songs from a book that was given to us at the start of each year. My first reader was John and Betty – how boring was that – but as we got older we graduated to puffin books which were all packed into a box of sorts through which we could search and choose what to read. I learnt to love the roman adventures written by Henry Treece and discovered the science fiction of Robert Henlein. Reading remains a joy to this day.

School canteens carried pretty Spartan fare in those days, pies, party pies and sausage rolls, sunny boys, razz’s and zig and zag icy poles. But still it was a treat to be able to buy lunch. Most of the time we brought vegemite and cheese sandwiches and an apple. Occasionally Mum would make me tomato sandwiches but I hated the way the bread went soggy. There were no plastic bags in those days so the sandwiches were wrapped in grease proof paper and placed into brown paper bags, which we never had a shortage of because Dad worked for a paper merchant.

Just before morning recess we were always given a third pint of milk. It was always better drunk cold in winter than after being left in the sun for an hour or two on a summer’s day. Being a milk monitor was a privilege and there was always a competition to see how much milk we could drink from left over bottles.
The toilets were unroofed and boys being boys we would stand at the urinal and see if we could piss over the top of the wall. It was bad luck for the kids who were bending over to take a drink from the water fountains on the other side if someone did manage to reach the top of the wall and beyond. Gross ladies I know, but boys wil be boys – to the best of my knowledge no one died from it.

Of Creeks and Creatures

The suburb we grew up in was probably best described as middle class. When we moved there from Merlynston the houses were springing up in an estate where there were no made roads or footpaths [they were to come later on].

Funny when you look back on childhood how the summers always seemed hotter, the winters colder, and the rain heavier.

Richardson Street where we lived was covered in pot holes – in summer it was dusty, in winter, wet and muddy, and on those really cold mornings the puddles in the potholes would freeze. There were no gutters, instead open drains which were a constant source of fascination. In the spring they were lined with waist high weeds in which lived caterpillars of different sizes and colours and the water that flowed constantly down the hill fed by the drains from houses had weird red worms that lived in it. And of course there were rats, which used to scarper when Dad would pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain and then light it with a match each weekend.

Along Eley Road there was a paddock covered with piles of clean fill probably dumped from the housing estate. It was an adventure playground for us kids – great trails to ride the bikes on great places to have yonnie and brinnie fights with the other kids in the neighbourhood. For those who don’t remember what yonnies and brinnies were, they were stones, of all shapes and sizes and it was great fun hiding behind the mounds of dirt and chucking hand grenades at the other kids. Remarkably no-one ever really got hurt, the odd bruise but no broken bones or hurt eyes.

Between the mounds was “the creek”. It had no name flowing out of large pipes where Swinborne St met Eley Road. The pipes were good things to explore too and it was a challenge to see how far up them you could get before being spooked and rushing back out again. The creek wound it’s way through the dirt mounds until it eventually joined Gardiners Creek at the Box Hill Golf Course. There was all sorts of rubbish dumped in it and along it’s length, old cars, bits and pieces of machinery, you name it.

At one point there was a large pond which filled when the creek flow increased with heavy rain. This pond was surrounded by blackberry bushes but you could crawl through tunnels beneath them to get to the banks of the pond. That was another magical place, filled with tadpoles that I’d catch and take home to keep in a bucket. I’d often raise some until they grew legs. At one stage dad built a small pond, that couldn’t hold water and had a few rocks which we tried to keep them in. They kept disappearing and I always thought they’d made their way back to the creek.

Eley Road was lined with Water Gums [Tristania Laurina] and in the spring they were populated with Emporer Gum Caterpillars and I also used to harvest them and keep them some of which spun their cocoons and emerged as Emporer Gum moths.

As I got older the vacant paddocks were filled with houses, the open drains were piped and the roads made. Even “The Creek” was piped in and the mounds of dirt flattened so that it became a “proper” park complete with kids playground. But you know what, with the disappearance of the disorder went the fun. No more yonnie fights, no more screaming through puddles on your bike, no more tadpoles or catterpillars, or trips up dark pipes. Do kids really have more fun these days. I doubt it!

It was Home

There are so many paths I could take with this photo.   It was taken at Karen’s 5th birthday party in the backyard of 10 Richardson Street, Box Hill South, where we grew up and where many birthdays and other events were celebrated until Mum and Dad moved out in the mid 90’s.

There’s Uncle Arthur skipping around the circle of kids playing drop the hanky.  Mum sits to his left clapping her hands as they wait for the music to stop.   Dad sits smiling at Arthur’s antics on the right hand side of the photo and the kids are a combination of neighbours and cousins.   I have no idea who took the photo but I’m guessing like the other adults in the picture they too have now passed on.

Karen is sitting there in her party dress, short black hair watching Uncle Arthur.  I think it’s our cousin Helen on the swing at the back of the yard with our other cousin Barbara beside her.  I think that’s me sitting beside Dad with cousin Phillip beside me with his hands to his mouth.

In the back left hand corner is the outhouse and I have three memories of that, the smell, the blow flies and the night cart man who changed the pan over and walked out to his truck after hoisting the full pan onto his head.   It was a great day when the sewerage went through and we ended up with an inside dunny for the first time.  No more pans under the bed, no more trying to find a church at night if you needed to go outside.

In those days our path was made from broken up packing crates thrown down on the weeds.  It would be some years before we had concrete paths poured.

Karen’s birthday was three days before Christmas which for me meant that the big event of the year was just around the corner.  I always felt sorry for her having to wait so long each year before her birthday came only to have the Christmas celebration follow on closely behind it.

Still, Mum and Dad, always made an effort to make the same fuss about her birthday as the rest of us and for most of our early years we had a party every year.  Tarax lemonade, cocktail frankfurts, party pies and sausage rolls and bread sprinkled with hundreds and thousands, party hats, blurters and games, drop the hanky and pass the parcel, all of those things marked birthdays for us.  There’d be dozens of cards arriving in the mail and most of those are still in a box I inherited when Mum died a couple of years ago.

That yard saw a lot of good times that I like to think still echo around the fenceline.  Lot’s of laughs, the smell of Dad’s barbecues, the playfulness of our dogs over the years – a couple of them Noddy and Bamby are buried up against the back fence.  That same fence saw us standing on it and talking across it to the Helliers who lived behind us.   The trees in the back right were black wattles and Dad built me a tree house in them made out of an old ladder.  When they got bigger I was able to climb them and walk across a branch onto the roof of the house where I could sit and look out to the north over the Box Hill Golf Course and the Gardiners creek Valley.

It was home.

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