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!

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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.

My Father’s Eyes

It was eight years ago that I first started blogging and so much has happened in that time.  Much of what I wrote on that first blog was about things that were happening to me at the time but there were also a lot of posts about what it was like for me growing up.

In recent times I have been scanning old photographs and it is amazing what memories are triggered.  Were the memories a reflection of the reality of what really happened or do those faded photos tell a small part of a much bigger story.

I have decided to start this new blog with an emphasis on those old photos and in documenting my own story and through it the story of my family.   I would love all of you who are related to consider picking an old photo and writing down the story it tells so I can add it here.   If you don’t there will oly be my perspective, my reality that may or may not reflect yours.  If you have visited I invite you to join the site as a follower and to leave a comment.

I’m going to start by re-posting the eulogy I gave at Dad’s funeral eight years ago.

On Saturday 14th August 2004 my father died. When I was told that Dad had passed away on that Saturday night I got angry and my immediate memories were of times that I would have rather forgotten. Of the times I’d go to work on school holidays with Dad and how inevitably we’d end up at a pub in the afternoon and he’s drive us both home drunk. Of the rows that were caused at home in those times. But then I started to think that those things weren’t all there was to Dad, and to talk only of them was to only tell part of the story. So if I may I’d like to tell you a bit more of the story.

Allan John Joyce was born at Vaucluse in Brunswick on 28th May 1928, youngest child of Bill and Alice and brother to Keith, Norma and Andy. Bill was actually the grandson of four Roman Catholic Irish convicts but in those days having convict ancestors wasn’t something you spoke about. And in later years that connection seems a bit ironic given the strict Protestant environment that the Joyce and Dunn families of those days were raised in.

The family lived in Mashoobra Street, Merlynston, surrounded by cousins and aunties and uncles. I think our family was unique in that way. When we visited Nana and Pa as kids we would spend the afternoon knocking on doors and visiting relatives who all lived within a couple of blocks of each other.

This was the shadows of the Depression and Pa Joyce in those times packed up his horse and cart and travelled the state as a tinker, selling ribbons and other things, in order to make ends meet.

Dad was attending Merlynston State School. He used to tell us stories of one of his teachers, “Daddy Egan” who it seemed was forever belting kids over the knuckles with the edge of a steel ruler. We’d often sit around the kitchen table as kids and ask Mum and Dad to tell us stories about the “olden days”.

Dad was probably a bit of a bugger even then – a trait that stayed with him all his life – so if he did get the cuts I suspect that there may well have been times when they were deserved.

Dad went to work as a window dresser at Snow’s Menswear in the City back in the days when there wasn’t anything wrong with being a window dresser and he won awards for some of the window displays he designed.

He was also a talented sportsman – playing footy for the Merlynston football club and being invited to train with Carlton on a couple of occasions. He told me he didn’t go down because he thought he was too skinny. He was a pacey wingman and an indication of that pace is reflected in the fact that he ran as a professional foot runner at the Stawell Gift meeting for a few years. In his last year there he was disqualified for telling the starter he was an effing idiot.

Dad met Mum at Daylesford on a holiday they were both on with their friends. They travelled back to Melbourne by train and Dad got off at Brunswick to walk Mum home. He went on another holiday subsequently to Perth but on returning to Melbourne asked Mum to marry him.

They married at the Brunswick Methodist Church on the 28th March 1953 and all the family gathered with Mum and Dad last year to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.

For the first few years of married life they lived in a bungalow at the back of my Grandprents place in Orvieto Street Merlynston, but around the time my sister Karen was born and I was 18 months old, moved way out in the sticks to a new estate in Box Hill South on former orchard lands.

The roads were unmade and the drains open ditches infested with weeds and rats. I knew there were rats because most weekends Dad would stand in Massey Street and pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain then light it with a match and the rats would often scurry away after the explosion. He was a bit of a pyromaniac and loved to build fires and burn leaves which I think was something he got from his own father.

I remember visits to our grandparents on Sundays and if we happened to be home Dad would meet the other blokes in the neighbourhood across the road at the Scott’s for a pleasant Sunday morning. They weren’t called longnecks in those days but just the same there were more than one top knocked off – always after 11 and it was followed up by roast dinners for lunch and a day in front of the telly watching World of Sport and the VFA on Channel 10.

Sunday night meals were often toasted sandwiches watching Disneyland.

I remember Dad getting very angry when our dog Noddy was poisoned.

And I remember in the good weather having barbecues in the backyard with sausages and chips cooked to perfection over a BBQ made of bricks and a steel hot plate. That BBQ ended up in the back of my mate Ian’s Morris Oxford which went to the tip in Vermont when Ian and I decided to get rid of the old car one day. We didn’t know Dad had put the pile of bricks in the boot until after we got home from that adventure. But he found more bricks and built another one

I remember days spent setting up the cowboys and Indians he bought me and having a shootout with marbles with him, of drawing a chalk circle on a blanket and playing marbles with him on the grass in the backyard. I remember the tree house he built with an old ladder in the wattle trees in the backyard and the times we built cubbies with masonite sheets he’d brought home from work.

I said early that I got angry about some of my memories. One was when we had a sex education father and son night at Burwood High. We were late because Dad got home late from work and was under the weather. When we arrived at the hall and had to sit through a movie called “The birth of a red kangaroo”. I remember in the question time afterwards Dad got a lot of laughs because of the questions he asked while I cringed in my seat beside him. I can’t remember what he said but I do know my mates at school the next day told me what a cool old man I had.

It was a sign of how Dad was always the life of the party. Wherever we went he would wind up enjoying himself and making a bit of a spectacle of himself. He was gregarious and people who met him liked him and that was true right through his life. It always amazed us that he would run into people he knew wherever we happened to be.

We would often go on drives on weekends when we weren’t visiting the family. There’d be BBQ’s at far away places like the park by the Yarra in Eltham where the little train line still is today or to that distant place up Burwood Road called Ferntree Gully National Park. A lot of those times were spent with the Brown family and they were terrific fun. At the end of those days after a few sherbets Dad and Uncle Arthur would serenade Mum and Aunty Gloria with the Indian Love call and some silly song about being drunk like highland, lowland, Rotterdam and God damn Dutch.

We went on a lot of holidays. I can just remember one to Adelaide when Dad had his first company car – a mini minor – which was piled high with the five of us and a pack rack that doubled the height of the little car.

In those days Dad was working as a “Commercial Traveller” a sales executive it would now be called – for EC Blackwood, a paper manufacturer who had their warehouse in what is now South Bank. I remember the days he’d come home with a new company car – after the mini he graduated to a HR holden and had a few others after that. In the early 70’s he moved from Blackwoods to a competitor “Deeko” and was there for a few years before he was retrenched. Through all those times he was working a second job firstly at the Stackade Hotel in Carlton owned by my godfather Ivan and his Dad Hugh McNiece and later at the Riversdale in Hawthorn. When he left Deeko he went to work fulltime at Leonda Restaurant in Hawthorn and from there to Kingston Heath Golf Club and later Yarra Yarra where he worked till he was forced to retire at 65.

We went camping a lot as kids to Myrtleford and eventually found Corowa where we went every Christmas for years. Much of the attraction for the border town for Mum and Dad was the pokies, but for us kids it was the river, fishing, golf and the swimming pool. We were talking the other day about how Dad used to invite people he met back to the camp for a beer and dinner – it was also something he’d do at home for Christmas Day and other occasions – strangers to us kids would often be breaking bread with us.

His pride and joy was an old Ford Thames van and later his Datsun Homer, which were loaded to the gunnels with camping gear before we set off each Boxing Day. If we took someone with us –my Cousin Gavin or on occasions my mates David Palmer or Geoff Millist we’d set up a deck chair behind the passenger seat for them to sit in on the drive up. No seatbelt laws in those days and no danger of speeding in those old trucks either.

They were also good times which ended when us kids got jobs and had to work. I think one of the last years was the first year Lyn had arrived in the family. Karen, Gerry, Lyn and I, went up on Boxing Day to help set up the camp. We had to work quickly to pitch the tent because it was absolutely pelting down and after a while we realised Dad had disappeared. Lyn took something into the tent and found him in his y fronts and singlet about to climb into bed saying “I love the sound of rain on the tent.” Lyn had known him for two weeks at the time.

It was during one of these early holidays when dad’s illness first raised it’s ugly head – he spent some time in hospital. He had a form of travel sickness or agoraphobia or something that meant he had trouble going places. When our kids were born, he and Mum would take turns spending Christmas Eve with each of us. One year he decided on Christmas Day that he wouldn’t get in the car and walked home from Tecoma to Box Hill again in the rain.

But last Christmas he did get up to our place to be with the family and also got to his sister Norma’s 80th birthday earlier this year which we will all now be forever grateful for.

We often joked that Dad could have wallpapered the house with tatts tickets. He would always tell us not to worry about any financial problems because he was going to win Tatts next week. All that time he should have know he’d already hit the jackpot with his wife, his kids and grandkids. He was very proud of all of us.

There is an old Mexican Indian proverb that talks about us dying three times. The first is when our spirit leaves our body, the second when our mortal remains pass from the sight of human eyes and the third and final time when our name is last spoken aloud by our friends and families. Dad I’ll miss you and you won’t pass that final time at least until I am gone.