A Bleary Road


1969 and this album was on high rotation. There were only three school terms in those days so the holidays were usually around May and September and that year was my first at High School. Mum was working full time, my sisters were being baby sat by the neighbour across the road and Dad must have agreed to take me to work on a few days.

He was a “Commercial Traveller” and at that time worked for a company called E.C. Blackwood’s who were paper merchants and their warehouse was on southbank in the days when it was an industrial area a long way from the riverside boulevard and café precinct that it has become. The railway line and the river were the true boundary of the city. In fact the river was disdained and in lot’s of ways Melbourne seemed embarrassed by it in those days – the river that flowed upside down, a sewer.

The southbank was an industrial area, warehouses, factories, cobbled laneways, narrow streets, trucks, and that was where I headed with my Dad on those school holiday mornings.

Dad had a company car and it was updated annually. The first one I can remember him driving was a mini minor and that must have been around 1964-65 because we went on a holiday to Adelaide in it – five people plus luggage piled high on the roof. After that though, the company began to supply Holden’s and in 1969 I’m pretty sure he was driving a grey HR Holden sedan like the one in the picture.

Amazingly for us, this car had a radio and it was that which became my friend those long afternoons when I went to work with Dad. Usually the mornings were spent seeing clients, driving all over the city, taking orders and selling new paper products. Most of Dad’s sales were in paper bags – no plastic bags in those days, wherever you went, grocer, greengrocer, milkbar, bottle shop, everything was put into paper bags.

But inevitably come lunchtime, there would be a rendezvous at a pub somewhere with some mates. Now as I think back on it, these dates must have been set up earlier because there were no mobile phones or pagers in those days, so it all had to be pre-planned. I didn’t think too much of it at the time if Dad would say, I’ll just pop in here for a while.

I was a kid of course, and kids weren’t allowed in bars, so I’d have to stay in the car and wait for him to come out. Usually he’d bring me out a lemon squash or something to drink, maybe a small bottle of tarax lemonade, and maybe a sandwich. But looking back I guess there was no real concern about leaving a kid in a car in a car park of a pub alone for a few hours, while he was in there drinking with his mates. I don’t suppose there was any real danger in those days, I survived, but we’d be pretty critical of anyone who did that to kids these days.

So the radio was my friend and that afternoon Abbey Road was on high rotation and that meant that the top 5 songs on the chart were played every couple of hours or so. When Dad was in the car the radio was tuned into the horse races but when I was sitting there by myself I could listen to 3XY or to 3AK “where no wrinklies fly”. I clearly remember even now the words of “Bang Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Come together” and “Octopus’s Garden”. Look at this list of some of the other top hits of 1969 –
1. Aquarius, Fifth Dimension
2. Sugar, Sugar, Archies
4. Honky Tonk Women, Rolling Stones
5. Build Me Up Buttercup, Foundations
8. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, Tom Jones
13. Hair, Cowsills
16. Crimson And Clover, Tommy James and The Shondells
18. Suspicious Minds, Elvis Presley
19. Proud Mary, Creedence Clearwater Revival
22. Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond

I’m betting everyone of them was played while I sat there waiting for Dad. But I don’t know how long I used to sit alone in the car on those afternoons. It was hours, I know that, because Dad was usually under the weather when he came out some time later. Funny, this particular day that keeps popping into my head was sunny, not hot, but not cold either. The sky was blue with light whilte clouds drifting slowly past. I can remember that we were somewhere on the Hume Highway, near Broadmeadows, the pub was in an industrial area, a large car park, with not a lot of traffic in it.

Looking back it’s really hard to imagine how socially acceptable drink driving was at the time. Dad was clearly pissed on those afternoons but thought nothing of driving home and showed less concern about driving home with his son next to him. The only way home from that pub on that day was down Sydney Road, through the city and then out Riversdale Road to home. We could follow the tram tracks. I guess it wasn’t possible to speed on that route so maybe that was how we got home safely every time.

I actually enjoyed being with Dad on those days, until we got to the pubs.

I know I keep returning to things about my Dad here and the reason is that there are so many of my midlife issues that keep pointing back to my Dad’s alcoholism. I will never say that I had a deprived or bad childhood, I didn’t, but I need to put the things I regard as my weaknesses into context – communication skills, inability to make friends and maintain friendships, self esteem, inability to express emotion, desire to run from and avoid conflict. I’m trying to understand why a father would do that to a son. I know there are people who have been treated far worse. But why did Dad think it was acceptable to leave a kid in a car in a car park of a pub for hours while he was inside drinking with his mates? Different times I guess. Just different times.

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