Of Chow Food and Other Things

Shopping was very different when I was a kid.  There were no large suburban shopping malls, no Friday night, all day Saturday nor Sunday Shopping.  In fact it was even hard to find a petrol station open on a Sunday or a milk bar open after midday if they were open at all.

In the sixties much of the shopping was done at local strip shopping centres.  For us that meant Bennettswood on the corner of Station Street and Burwood Road, well before it was divided and became Burwood Highway.  Everything we needed was there, a Foodland grocery store, a green grocers, a butchers, a newsagent, a milk bar, a fish and chip shop and a Chinese food shop.

There were no supermarkets.  Grocery stores were where you went to buy bottled, canned and packaged food and if Mum didn’t go to Bennettswood we’d go to Box Hill and go to what I think was Permewans in Station Street.   The groceries were brought home either in string bags that Mum had taken with her or in a box collected from a pile inside the store.

It was usually a bit of a rush because the shops closed at 6 O’Clock.  Friday nights were also Fish and Chip night which were always bought at Bennettswood in a store run by a Greek Family just as the Green Grocers was down the road a bit.   Always there was a visit to the newsagent and Mum would buy herself Best Bets and Truth for the form guides so she could study them and before putting her bets on at the TAB on Saturdays and we three kids would get a comic.   I loved going home and scoffing the fish and chips while we watched Zig and Zag on TV then curling up in bed and being allowed to read my comics before Mum would come down and tell us to turn off the light.

Sometimes we would buy Chinese (Chow) food usually just dim sims and spring rolls for me because that was in the days before I liked fried rice and other Chinese cuisine.  But in those days you took your own saucepans into the store for the cooks to fill up.

In the days before Dad went to work at Uncle Ivan’s Stockade Hotel as a second job, Saturday mornings were haircut day.  We’d drive down early park at the back of the shops near the Town Hall and then we’d have a footrace to the shops.  Me and Dad, just the two of us, him striding out like the professional sprinter he had been and me scurrying along flat out keeping up but always managing to beat him.  Thanks Dad for letting me win, but why did you insist I got the “college cut” haircut?

There was always a visit to the TAB in those early days too.  Later on when one opened in East Burwood on the corner of Middleborough and Burwood Roads we would head up there late on Saturday mornings.  Mum would usually also but Dad a dozen bottles of VB and herself a flagon of sherry in the bottle shop that opened near the TAB.  And if we were very lucky we might end up with another comic for the weekend as well.  As I got older and earnt some pocket money, or saved my lunch money from school [and that’s another story] I’d buy a few more myself, keeping in mind that they were only 15 to 20 cents back then.

I remember Dad getting very excited when the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet opened in Station Street Box Hill and sometimes we’d head down there and buy a bucket – no fancy burgers or wraps in those days, in fact, if memory serves me well, I’m  not even sure that you could get chips, so we’d also stop at the fish and chip shop and order a dollars worth there before coming home.  Dad would always say it was finger looking good.

At some time in the 70’s Dad decided to change fish and chip shops after finding a Chinese owned store in Canterbury Road near the Middleborough Road corner.   For some reason it seemed fresher, certainly the batter was different, fluffy and crunchy.  I think Dad may have supplied the store with paper when has was a commercial traveller (or a salesman for those unfamiliar with that term).   Even there though, whilst the food was encased in clean white butchers paper the outer wrapping was always yesterdays newspapers.

Butchers, were different in those days too.   They were the only place you could get meat, none of it was pre-wrapped and the floors were always covered in saw dust.   The cool stores inside the shops held whole sides of lamb, beef and pork.   If you wanted chops or a leg of lamb it would be cut straight of the carcass in front of you.  No hiding out the back, sliced or sawn off, wrapped in paper and carried out in a string bag.

Home deliveries were done.  You could get your groceries delivered at little or no charge, the Loys man delivered lemonade, Mr Peowrie delivered our briquettes.  At some stage in the 60’s, Mr Whippy appeared on our streets and we were often lucky enough to be given some money so we could rush out and get a choctop ice cream while the familiar tinny sound of Greensleeves was played over his loud speaker.  The doctor even did home visits in those days and I can remember Mum being laid up with migraine headaches and needing Dr Hewitt to visit and give her an injection.   On those days Aunty Hazel would sometimes look after us until Dad got home.

In October 1960 Chadstone Shopping Centre opened and it was at that time the first regional shopping centre in Melbourne and the largest in Australia.  Myer was down one end and Coles New World Supermarket at the other end of an open aired double sided strip of shops.   The thing I remember most about it was that it had escalators and they were the only ones outside the city.  At the bottom of them, up the Coles end was Tim the Toyman’s, imagine a whole store dedicated to toys.  Karen and I collected little ceramic Disney characters.  I also got cowboys and indians, match box cars and lego on occasions and Karen got clothes for her Barbie dolls.  As I got older I graduated to Airfix models, firstly model aeroplanes and later on plastic model soldiers which I would spend hours painting in my bedroom.

Life somehow seemed less hectic then.  We didn’t need 24 hour shopping.  We didn’t need to have everything in one spot.  You knew the local shopkeepers by name and could find what you needed when you needed it without having to rush, even though things weren’t open for as long.  Explain that one to me 🙂
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Summer Daze

Sitting here with the wind rising and facing another day of record rainfall across the state tomorrow after two decades of drought, got,me thinking about summers past.   I’m facing my first Christmas as an orphan, if a 53 year old man can be an orphan and the excitement of Christmas approaching is tempered with the knowledge that both Mum and Dad are gone now and this is my first summer without them.

I remember the long summer days at Richardson Street, the smell of cut grass, of apples fermenting on the ground beneath the two trees in the front yard, of the wonderful scent of petrichor as the summer thunder storms rolled in.   There was no daylight saving in those days, but we stayed outside late anyway.  No air conditioning, in the house, or at school, and in the cars we rolled the windows down, didn’t press a button to keep them up and turn on the refrigeration.

Summer meant a crate of Loys softdrinks home delivered once a week, the weekend visits of Mr Whippy and chocolate coated ice cream cones.   It meant some beach visits where we’d tie meat to a string to catch crabs in rock pools at Ricketts Point.

It was hours spent in the Clark above ground pool, dragging ourselves in circles to create a whirlpool.  Dad shifted that pool to half a dozen different places in the yard.  We had no filter so he’d spend hours out there himself scooping leaves out and dosing it with chlorine that stung our eyes.

And on weekends were Dad’s BBQ’s, burnt sausages and the best hot chips you’ve ever tasted smothered in salt.

Summer meant a race with my sister Karen to see who could get the best tan.  There was no slip, slop, slap campaign in those days.  Instead we’d coat oursleves in coconut oil and lie on our towels on the footpath slowly basting in the heat.  I generally won, and have had a couple of skin cancers cut out since to prove it.

The days were long and hot, the nights cool with the chirping of crickets.  The days were simpler then before the times that meant there were too many summers to remember.

When we were Hobbits – Mind Maps 1

I wrote in Home at the Golflinks Estate about growing up at Richardson Street and in The Five Longest Years I wrote of the first five years of my life.   Whilst when you are moving through the world at that age it seems a huge place, the reality is that our mind maps in those years are very tiny indeed.  Looking back I see snapshots of places I frequented, how I got to them is a blur and the strength of the memories is directly proportionate to the time we spend in each place.  Thus my home looms large in my memory and as I grow older the geography locked into my brain expands.
In those earlier posts I spoke at length about home – 24 years distilled into around 2,000 words which hardly seems enough to do it justice so in this post I want to explore how I came to know a bigger world.
The open drains running along Massey and Richardson Streets were a playground.  When I didn’t have to worry about Dad throwing gallons of petrol on the water and lighting it, or dodging the rats that ran from the conflagration I spent hours playing along the edges and in it.  Funny, it never seemed dirty, the water was just waste from the houses, the sink drains and the storm water runoff.  
 
There were myriads of fascinating creatures that lurked in the weeds that grew bigger than I was.   Caterpillars of all colours and sizes and the butterflies and moths that they later became.   There were spiders everywhere too, Daddy Longlegs, which we were told were one of the most poisonous on the planet but had a mouth too small to bite a human, even a little one like I was at the time.   Sad to say that the real story of the Daddy Longlegs is very different to the myth and if you want to know what it is you can check it out at Misconception Junction.
In the water were red worm type things that looked like singular anemone tentacles and I can say that none of them ever bit me either
I remember the warm, balmy nights of late spring and summer, and a young boy with skinny legs and baggy shorts listening with wonder to the song of the crickets somewhere beneath the ground. It amazed me that as I approached them attempting to find them beneath leaves or wherever they happened to be hiding, that they would fall silent.
One day I discovered that if I walked very softly I could locate the crickets burrow and with a quick stomp of my foot I could stop the song. This was a great game and the song nearly always began again. One day the grandfather of the girls next door was visiting them. He was obviously watching me creep around the garden stomping on cricket songs but as he was hidden by a screen of shrubs alond the common fence, I did not see him. Suddenly a deep gruff voice yelled at me across the fence.
“Why are you killing those crickets? What have they ever done to you?”
I was ashamed. I didn’t know that stomping on cricket sounds would kill crickets. I didn’t even know what a cricket looked like. From that day on, although the sounds still fascinated me, I tread warily near the cricket burrows and never stomped on one again.
Gradually the neighbourhood expanded.  Firstly the homes of neighbours were mapped in my mind and as we got older we were able to venture a little further afield.   Dinner time saw the Mum’s of the neighbourhood come to their front doors and call out in our case “Laurie and Karen.  Dinners ready.”   And no matter where we were we seemed to be able to hear it.
There was a vacant area along Eley Road which is now a park.  Back then though it was the dumping ground for the excavations of the houses and it was full of piles of clay.  It was a BMX track before there were BMXs and we spent hours riding up and down the piles doing jumps and generally racing each other around the various tracks. 
Winding through it was a creek which is now barrel drained.    It was actually a storm water outlet on the corner of Swinburne Street which eventually found it’s way into Gardiners Creek near the golf course on Station Street.  The outlet pipe was huge, at least to someone under three feet tall hobbit sized that we were and we explored it up the hill towards Nash Road.  Yeah I know it might have been dangerous, but it was fun and we all did it.  We could only force ourselves to go as far up there as we could as long as we could still see the light at the end.
The clay piles bordering the creek were also great places to have battles.  We’d break up into groups and toss yonnies and brinnies at each other like they were grenades.   Oddly enough I don’t recall anyone ever getting really hurt.  Falling off your bike caused far more scrapes of legs and bloody cuts and bruises.
Further down the creek near where the lane way came through from Roberts Avenue to Brook Crescent was a pond which filled up when the creek was raging and in flood.  It was surrounded by blackberry bushes and like Brer Rabbit us hobbits used to crawl through the brambles to the edge of the pond where we’d catch tadpolesto take home and keep in a bucket.  I managed to raise quite a few to frog hood and at one time Dad built me a small pond lined with plastic to keep them in.   Oddly enough as soon as they got legs they disappeared.  I always hoped that they’d find there way back to the creek eventually.
If we followed the creek further downstream towards the golf course we’d come across an abandoned farm house.  Of course it was a place we explored even though it was haunted by the ghosts of thousands of murder victims from past centuries.    There were plenty of times we scared the crap out of each other and ran all the way home as fast as we could.
So the world got a little larger when we were hobbits in a slow methodical manner.   More about the world beyond the neighbourhood to come.

Deb’s Home

So the challenge this week is about Richardson Street and where we grew up in Box Hill South. I’d like to firstly talk about the irony of that. When I married in 1987 to Andrew I became a “Richardson” and now we live in Richard Drive. People always comment on that – when I fill in an application form or put down a layby as if I have never heard the comments before and it is always a first! I always comment back that is was lucky I never called any of my 3 sons Richard.
So, where to begin? Richardson Street Box Hill South was a lovely neighbourhood to grow up in. Mum and Dad always mentioned that when they moved out there it was considered in “the sticks” and Nana and Grandad and Nana and Pa said that they would need a cut lunch to get there. Funny how in later years when I married and moved to Cranbourne, they gave the same comment to me and that they had used places like Cranbourne to visit and share a picnic.
We lived on a corner in Richardson Street, right next door to Massey Street. As Laurie has commented on previous blogs, our neighbors were our “Aunties and Uncles” and that was both sides, both Richardson Street and Massey Street.

Our house was a modest brick veneer and timber house. It had a lovely timber low fence but one of the outside features I loved the most, was the entry into the house, which was a small gate next to the letterbox that had two hedges growing either side of it that had grown over the top and formed a canopy. We had a little pathway then that wound its way up to the front porch. Our front porch was concreted in later years with a lovely verandah and we spent many hours on the front porch playing with Barbie dolls, talking or just sitting there with Mum and Dad. In years to come, our kids often sat out and played there with us. It did frighten me though when my kids came along as there were no posts or fences to stop them from falling over the porch. It was just a steep climb up and had two sets of stairs going down either side of it. I remember Karen & Laurie and Mum & Dad talking about when it was built and the rats that went running across the porch in their disturbance. Luckily, I’m pretty sure I don’t actually have the memories of seeing them.
Our garden had a couple of special things that formed part of it that I also loved. We had a magnificent tree in the front yard that Dad attached tyres to that we were able to swing in. It provided a beautiful amount of shade in the hot summers that we could sit under and that’s when we ventured off the porch onto the garden chairs of that tree.  It was also one of Dad’s bug bears as it dropped a lot of its leaves and Dad was always raking them up and then setting fire to the pile once he had enough to do so. We also had a gorgeous purple magnolia tree that sat to the side of the front porch; it was always one of my favourite flowers even though it was nude in winter. And then, right up the back of the garden was another of my favourite plants and still is today, an enormous Bird Of Paradise. I always thought that I’d take some of that plant when we left Richardson Street, but we were unable to do so.
The other part of my memories of the outside of our house was the vents at the top of the brick veneer right under the roof line. They lined the whole side of the house and we always had birds nesting in there. I often found baby birds that had fallen out of their nests. Some of them I was able to bring to a healthy age where they could fly away, others didn’t last the distance. But I often remember the shoe box, and the eye dripper that I would feed it from after digging up some worms in the garden as well. The shoe boxes were kept in the outside laundry that was attached to the back of the house as Mum wouldn’t let me keep them inside. She did however let me attempt to raise them, so I can be grateful of that. When it was Winter Time I would rug up the cold laundry and keep the door shut in an attempt to keep out the wind from getting to my creatures. I guess this is where I started my love affair with animals and birds.
So into the house we go. When you walked into the front door, after knocking (no such thing as door bells for us) you immediately entered the dining room to the left and the lounge to the right. A big open plan space. We had terrible brown swirled carpet that was there for as long as I can remember. I was told that Mum & Dad covered up the beautiful timber floor boards and I assume that is probably the first thing that the new owners ripped up in the house. We had white venetian blinds throughout the house. In later years they were covered by very bright, bright orange lace like curtains that sat over the front of the Venetians. It was a very 70’s style house and we were right up there in fashion. We had a gorgeous old brown leather lounge suite that consisted of two armchairs and a couch. They had timber arms, but it was really comfy and I think it would suite my house today if we still had it. The biggest expensive in the loungeroom was the “Parker” brand furniture. Mum was really proud of her Parker furniture and her and Dad gave me the bar when they moved out of Richardson Street. Even though she was dismayed to see that I had stripped it back and painted it (several times) I think she was happy that I had it. They had two bar stools in front of it that matched the orange curtains with orange cushions. Dad would spend many an hour sitting on those bar stools, drinking his VB at the bar. So much so, that for a joke one year he was given a horse riding helmet for the times that he would fall asleep and fall off the bar stools. This was so he wouldn’t hit his head, being that he was such a small skinny man. The Parker furniture continued into the TV cabinet that also was our crystal cabinet and we now have to decide what to do with that now Mum has passed away. We were very up to date with the Joneses and our new furniture.
One of the features of the loungeroom was our gas heater that replaced the old open fire. Again, I’m pretty sure the gas heater would have been pulled out by the new neighbours and returned to its former glory. Beside that we had an open cavity that we used to put all of our newspapers in that in olden days would have held the timber for the open fire. But above the fireplace was a beautiful timber shelf that ran the length of that wall. This was where we would show all of our cards for each occasion, birthdays, Christmas’s etc. And above the fire timber mantle was a painting that Laurie bought for Mum & Dad of an ocean scene. From memory he bought it out of his first pay packet as a special present for Mum & Dad. I remember it having a really heavy gaudy gold frame, but it was a richly painted scene of some waves splashing across rocks. I loved that painting.
Into the dining room and we had a gorgeous antique table that seated 6 of us, so plenty of room for all of us. This was surrounded by some gorgeous high backed chairs covered in an antique furnishing that was later given to Laurie. Also in the Dining Room we had my pride and joy – my Nana Joyce’s piano. Nana Joyce gave it to me on my 12th birthday, on the proviso that I learnt to play the piano. I did and learnt for around 5 years before I gave it up. Unfortunately I think mostly because my teacher was this old fuddy duddy lady living in a house full of antiques (and Toby Jugs that scared me) and if she ever heard me playing anything other than what she wanted me to learn, it was a quick wrap across the fingers and a stern warning to stop “jingling”. The piano is German, French polished, with matching antique brass candelabras. Unfortunately Mum thought it was a great place to hold all of her indoor plants of which there were many. This consequently lifted the French polishing and is still yet to be restored today.
From the Dining Room we had a servery into the kitchen. Underneath that window, we had a cute little hall stand that held our telephone – the old black, turn dial phone and underneath it held the phone books. It had a little stool on it that we could sit when talking to someone on the phone. This certainly wasn’t a time of mobile phones or hands free one’s. if you were having a conversation, you just had to put up with everyone else listening. Mum & Dad would always be spread out on the dining table doing their bets. They loved to have “a flutter” (their words) on the horses, so much so that every Saturday, Dad would be up with the sparrows, having had his breakfast at the head of the table, and then Mum would race up to East Burwood to put their bets on. I often went with her because I would go into the newsagency and buy a magazine.

The kitchen was quite tiny and awkward. It continued the terrible brown swirl carpet into there. I was never quite sure why we did that as the carpet was always filthy from the kitchen cooking. It had laminated cupboards that Mum painted several times over. I think they started out a green colour and then eventually were painted a light brown. There were a few overheads so we did seem to have plenty of storage space. We had an upright fridge, I think it might have been a Westinghouse, and it was black. A very groovy colour that again, I wish we had today. The oven was a standing oven, electric with electric hot plates and I always hated bending over to get things out of the oven. I strongly recall Christmas days where Karen, Shirley and I would be in the kitchen using the mix master to mix up cream for the desserts. I can’t tell you how many times the cream got curdled because we talked too much.

The kitchen had a small verandah off it going out the backdoor and again down a set of (timber this time) stairs into the back yard. When we had our birds, they would always hang outside the kitchen door during the day and then be bought in to live on top of the fridge of a night time.
After leaving the dining/lounge room, we had a door that entered the hallway. Off the hallway was Mum & Dads room to the right, with Laurie’s room to the left. Next to Laurie’s room was the toilet (a separate one) and then the bathroom. Opposite the bathroom was the room I shared with Karen until she got married and then I was old enough to buy my first double bed and have a room to myself. Again each room had venation blinds in them with a lace type curtain over the top. I find I’m struggling to remember the colour in our bedroom, but I think it was green. Karen and I had matching single “Queen Ann” beds – very pretty timber old fashioned style. We also had a matching Queen Ann dressing table that sat in between us with a mirror and two drawers, one for each of us. We had matching green coloured quilts that sat over the top of our beds. In later years Mum bought me a whole new set of linen that was Laura Ashley, pink, frilly with lots of flowers and cushions that I fell in love with. I remember thinking our green quilts were pretty daggy. Our bedroom had floral wallpaper as a feature wall. It had large pink flowers on it. It was a very girly bedroom. When we would spend our childhood years going to the show every year, I would always come home with a doll on a stick and I would hang them from the venation blinds for show. We both had a double wardrobe each, which was pretty roomy, although again I’ll mention I probably spent more time in Karen’s than mine.
Bamby our gorgeous poodle would sleep on my bed every night with me. I had a sliding door to my bedroom to save space and he would “bail up” anyone that tried to pass the door of a nighttime in protection for me. Mum told me he wouldn’t let Grandad Smith go to the toilet one night as he was almost passing my door.
From our bedroom we would go out the back door to the outside laundry and down another set of timber stairs and into the backyard. I won’t mention too much about the backyard as I think Karen and Laurie have already talked about the famous BBQ that Dad would always cook. But aside from that, we had a shed a Hills Hoist clothes line and every Summer an above ground pool for our entertainment. We also had an outdoor fold up table and umbrella and we would venture out there and spend our days in the sunshine. Especially Dad, who would again, enjoy his VB in the sun, and fall asleep in his white singlet (funny they have made a come back hey kids) and with a tied up in the corner handkerchief covering his bald head so he wouldn’t get sun stroke. He did however also have a spot of Savlon on his adams apple placed on almost every day as he was convinced he had skin cancer. Probably as a result of falling asleep too many times outside.
Our friends were always welcome in Richardson Street. They were allowed to have sleep overs and visit whenever they wanted and I think Mum & Dad enjoyed a house full. Christmas was always at our house, with our spindly little Christmas tree, filled with buckets of presents underneath it and always with the spare one’s “in case” we had extra visitors we didn’t know about.
At the same time, growing up also had its fair share of some sad moments. Mum and Dad were notorious for arguing. Big, loud, strong arguments that would send me to bed with a pillow over my head as they would yell so much. Mostly it was about Dad drinking too much. I was always scared that I would wake up and find that Mum had murdered Dad over night over one of their arguments. She certainly ruled the house.
Then when boyfriends came along, they would go to bed reasonably early to ensure we had some privacy. But it was only a matter of time, before Mum would decide that they had been there long enough, and we had been on our own long enough, that would start the knocking on the loungeroom/her bedroom wall. We would have to excuse ourselves and go down and see what she wanted. Inevitably we were told “that’s enough now, it’s time for so and so to go home”.
Mum was a very strict Mum in Richardson Street. We had curfews even though I ignored most of them, particularly when I became a policewoman and tried to tell her I had grown up enough. Dad however, would always ensure I had money. He would follow me out to my car, whenever I was going out and put his hand out and hold mine and slip in a $10 or $20 note. He would tell me that he had “had a win love, here’s some petrol money!” These were the wins that he wouldn’t tell Mum about.
By the time Mum & Dad were moving out of Richardson Street, the place was falling around their ears.  It was hard to believe that a lifetime of smoking had seriously changed the colour of the walls and ceiling. They were cream when they should have been white. Again, days of smoking inside were totally acceptable.
As pensioners they had no money to do the much needed renovations, rewiring should have been doing, plumbing fixed, a bathroom and kitchen renovation that was never going to happen whilst they still lived there. So they sold up and moved into Karen & Gerry’s. Little did we all know that instead of the $110,000 they got for the sale of Richardson Street, would have turned into nearly a million dollars had we have waited and held onto it. Who knew Box Hill would have graduated that far?

Home at the Golflinks Estate

I thought I’d start because my memories go back further than Karen and Deb’s.    Mum and Dad moved to the Golf Links estate in Box Hill South in around 1959.  I was approaching 2 and Karen hadn’t long been born.

The house was pretty trendy for the time, flat roofed, vertical pine weather boards and was one of the first in the area.  Unfortunately the builder went bust at some stage during the build and the things that were supposed to finish it off and make it a bit more unusual were never done. 

On the South side there were floor to ceiling windows for the lounge room, Mum and Dad’s and Karens bedroom.  They were supposed to be french doors that opened onto a full length covered veranda that stretched all the way down the side of the house and then around to the front door.   But with the builder bankrupt it was never finished and for a long time we were unable to use the front door as an entry because it stood around three feet off a mound of dirt piled on that side of the house.

That dirt mound became the starting point for my pedal car, our bikes and later on a red go cart that was given to me by my godfather Ivan McNiece.  Dad always said that he’d put a motor in it one day but, probably luckily, never did.   Apart from pushing it aroud the front yard, we’d also put it on the foot path out the front and go hell for leather down the hill in Raichardson Street to the intersection of Wellard Road.  Looking back I’m not sure how we survived really.

In those early days the garden out the front was pretty spartan.  We had a couple of apple trees that used to fruit a lot by the time I was around 10 and it was a common sight to see the starlings and miner birds staggering around the front yard drunk on the fermented and rotting fruit that fell to the ground.

As I said in the earlier post, the roads and footpaths weren’t made.  When going through Mum’s stuff over the past couple of weeks I’ve found letters from the Golf Links Estate committee of management demanding several pounds for the construction of the roads because the Box Hill Council at the time said they had no money to construct them.

That front yard saw plenty of birthdays which were always celebrated with our cousins and aunties and uncles from both sides as you can see in the photo above.   We had a small white fence along the front boundary and spent hours running around and jumping over it.   In summer the footpaths out the front became the place where Karen and I would sunbake, smothered in coconut oil and racing each other to see who could get the best tan.

For most of those early years the backyard wasn’t fenced off.  It was only when Mum and Dad got enough money to bick veneer the front of the house and finish off the front veranda that we got a roller door on the driveway side and a back gate.  We also got the paths concreted at the same time.

As you can see in the picture of Karen and I, before that we had the remains of packing crates laid on the ground in the back yard that lead to the outdoor dunny and to the back steps that lead to the kitchen.  There was the obligatory hills hoist in the backyard, a make shift BBQ that Dad had up in the back corner at which we shared many burnt sausages and the best chips you’ve ever tasted.

The sewerage came through some time before Deb was born and I have a weird memory that the piles of dirt you see in the next photo lay around for months.  I remember the hole being really deep and we were very excited that the days of having to use the outdoor dunny were going to be over.

As well as the old packing crates Dad used to bring home sheets of masonite and we spent hours building cubby huts like a stack of cards around the front of the house, complete with secret tunnels that we could crawl through and at times, before the front was bricked I could actually crawl underneath the boards and beneath the house where our dog Noddy had scraped a hole.

Deb said in her earlier post that Noddy was a golden lab, but the truth was she was a Heinz 47 variety bitzer and one of the best dogs you could ever wish for.    In those days dogs roamed free around their homes and she’d chase our old vauxhall up Richardson Street when we left the house.    When we’d return home she’d always be there to greet us and run laps around the house because she was so excited to see us.   She died when she was only about 8 years old and Dad swore that she’d been poisoned.   Her bones still lie in a grave near the back fence.

We had other dogs after her, Billy Jack, a dalmatian cross who unfortunately caused a few problems because he took a disliking to a woman who lived around the corner and rushed her everytime she tried to pass the house.  I think she might have been a bit of a lunatic but one day when I got home from school when I was around 16 Mum and Dad told me that they’d taken him to the vet who had found a home on a farm for him.   It was only years later that I learnt that they’d had him put down.   We also had our poodle Bamby who became very possesive of Deb and later, when I was about 19 my Aunty Norma gave me Chai, a German Short Haired pointer, who lived until he was seventeen and moved with me to Tecoma when I got married.

At the back of the house were two black wattles and at one stage Dad put an old wooden ladder around 12 feet up in them that was laid horizontally between them and became my tree house from which I could actually climb onto the roof of the house.   Up there I felt like the king of the world and would just sit there looking down across Box Hill Golf Course for what seemed like hours at a time.    The roof was asbestos sheeting and back in those days no one saw any problems with that.  I scrape my name in it and blow the dust away with no idea that there may have been any risk involved in that.

In the late seventies when I was at Uni and got interested in native plants I spent some of my money planting the garden out with natives.  If you drive past the old house now you can still see the Iron Barks I planted in the front yard although the new owners took out some of the other stuff I planted along the fence line that screened the house from the road.

In my younger years we had bare floorboards.   There was only one thing to sit on in the loungeroom which was what would now be called open plan and attached to the dining room.   That seat was an old divan.

That piece of furniture saw all my childhod illnesses – mumps, measles, german measles and chicken pox. It even saw the days when my sisters or I faked illness in order to get out of school. And it was the place of choice for those Sunday nights in front of the TV watching Disneyland. It was there when we woke to find Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny had come. It saw the block fences around zoos and farms and the villages of lego and the fort full of my cowboys and indians, and my sisters games with their Barbie Dolls.

It was there when the log rolled out of the fireplace on a still night and burnt slowly through the floor of the house. It rested the weary bones of my four grandparents and accepted the jumps of young kids for years. At some time in the late sixties or early seventies, probably not long after that photo was taken, it was replaced by a three piece vinyl lounge suite, which as the years wore on also collected the creases of my family’s life until it too passed to someone else.

If you look in the photo at the left which shows us on that old divan you’ll notice a convair heater which burnt briquettes andone of my jobs in winter was to cart them in from the old wood box outside the back door.   That was later replaced by an oil heater and then when ‘natural gas’ came through the area a gas heater – instant warmth was great after the cold of floor boards.

In the dining room was an old laminex table and stainless steel yellow padded chairs later they were recovered in brown vinyl to match the new fleur lounge suite that was Mum’s pride and joy.   There was many a Sunday night spent sitting watching the Sunday movie with my mate Fog as we got older.

My bedroom became my refuge as I got older and the cowboys and indians and matchbox cars were replaced with Airfix soldiers that I spent hours painting and then war gaming with another school mate, David Palmer.    I’d spend hours sitting in the room or lying on my bed reading comics, drawing and enjoying my science fiction books.  When I got to Uni and started working part time I spent my money on buying an amplifier and turntable and listening to records – the Eagles, Jack Browne, America, Phil COllins, ELO, Elton John, Neil Young to name a few, all of which I still have by the way.

Saturday afternoons Mum and Dad would occupy the kitchen table and listen to the races following and generally losing on their many bets, whilst consuming beer and sherry.  Aunty Hazel would often join them and I’d retreat to the bedroom to listen to the footy on the radio.  I’d rule up an exercise book and take stats from the radio call and if Carlton lost I’d sulk and maybe come out on Saturday night to watch the footy replay.

I’ll no doubt remember more as we work through this exercise but that’s my instalment for this week.

The Five Longest Years

One of the most visited posts on this blog is “When an old man dies a library burns down” and even now more than three years after I wrote it people still visit.  Google those words and my blog appears as number one in the rankings for the phrase which is interesting for me if not for anyone else.  But the sentiments the words express are one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place, so that one day, my kids and their kids may know a bit about me through what I write.   

Woody Allen said that some people seek immortality by creating great works of art or writing great literature, he preferred to achieve immortality by not dying.   But for me this is no yearning for immortality.  It is more about the frustrations I have had as I’ve grown older about not asking my ancestors questions when I had the chance to.  So here hopefully lie some of the pages from the library that is me that may survive that inevitable burning down.  And in the first follow up to Deb’s story let me fill in some of the gaps.

We moved to Box Hill South when I was around 18 months old.  It was a time when we still had an outdoor dunny and a potty under the bed for those night time wees that sometimes were needed.  We didn’t have any electricity to the toilet so a night time visit needed a torch and most of the time it didn’t work.  Far safer to use the potty because there was always plenty of spiders around as well.

The roads weren’t made and the gutters were open ditches full of interesting things to collect and look at.  In spring and summer the grass grew head high and there were all sorts of caterpillars, butterflies and moths living in the tufts.   The water in the drains also had weird red worm like things waving in the current like little sea anenomes, but the biggest critters were the rats and Dad used to stand in Massey Street and pour a few gallons of petrol into the drains followed by a match.  The resulting whhoofff would see the rats scurry from the grass and scatter across the road.  I think the only thing it really did was drive the rats under the house.

In summer the grass yellowed and dried and in winter the puddles in the potholes froze.  We’d often put on the gumboots and go trampling through them splashing, making skid pans and generally getting filthy.

The world was a much smaller place in the years before I turned five.   It consisted of our house and one or two each side of it and a couple across the road.    There were the Hoogens across the road, Anthony around my age and Frances was Karens and I recall spending a lot of time playing with them.  There is a photo of the four of us in our back yard with buckets on our heads playing Zig and Zag [a couple of TV clowns for those too young to remember].   They moved away when I was about five, I sort of remember the time because I know Anthony went to St Scholasticas Catholic School on Burwood Road and I don’t think I had yet started school.  I remember standing at the window watching them drive away and being devastated because my best friend was moving away.  In fact, at that time he was my only friend.

Lot’s of things were home delivered, the dunny man would come and hoist the pan on his head and carry it out to his truck.  The best part of that visit was that for a short time, until the pan started to fill, the flies were a bit less thick around the back yard.   I have a vague memory of the smell but there was always a bottle of phenyl beside the sit that was liberally poured over the expulsions.

Mr Peowrie delivered our briquettes.   I remember him being a really old bloke in a really old truck who was strong as an ox and he’d bring in 10 or 12 hessian sacks of briquettes and pour them into a wood box Dad had built outside the back door.

Bread and milk were delivered separately by horse and cart.  It was exciting some morninggs being up early enough to listen to the clip clop of the horses as they trotted down the street, the milkman running from side to side collecting empty bottles and delivering full ones.

In summer there was the Loys lemonade man and Mr Whippy who were regular visitors.

The postman came on a red bike twice a day and if I remember correctly he also came on Saturdays.   At Christmas time Dad always left tips out for all of those who home delivered stuff to us.  For the men it was usually hald a dozen bottles fo beer, for the paper boy a few bob in an envelope.  He always said that if you looked after them at Christmas they’d look after you during the year.

The backyard was one playground and the old hills hoist was used a swing unless Mum caught us in which case it was used for drying clothes.   We had pedal cars and bikes and spent a lot of time riding them in circles around the house.

It’s funny how five years back them seemed so much longer than five years now.

Unlike Karen and Debra, the latter of who didn’t arrive in the family until I was seven so is absent from this tale, I had my own bedroom.   Mum and Dad put vintage car wall paper on my wall and I remember learning to count the cars on the patterns.   Funny I can also clearly remember the dust motes dancing in the sunbeams as they streamed in my window in the mornings and at night time I could hear the train whistles on the Box Hill line and the steam that came out of the factory at Bowater Scott up on Middleborough Road.

I have this vague memory of going for a walk with Pa Joyce and watching the fires in the Dandenongs in Melbourne’s east.  We must have walked up to the Eley and Middleborough Road intersection because that is the only place we could have seen them from.

After I turned five the world expanded but that’s a tale for another day

Deb’s early years

Well the challenge went out to my sisters to start telling their story and what they remember and it’s interesting for me to see what Deb has been prompted to write about.  So I’ll post hers first, Karen’s will come at some time and me, being the oldest will try and fill in some of the gaps as we work through this exercise.   This is for our kids, so we can give them the echoes of our childhoods before they fade as echoes do.

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Debra Richardson

The first 5 years

So the challenge is about the things I remember in my first 5 years of life!
Well, that’s a hard one to remember back over 40 years.


The first thing that comes into my head is remembering sharing a bedroom with my big sister. I loved that. Although I’m sure she didn’t! as I go older I did such things as going through her wardrobe and borrowing her clothes and trying to make out that I didn’t. I’m sure that didn’t endear me to her.

I remember living in Box Hill and sharing the house with Mum & Dad and my brother Laurie and my sister Karen.
Our house was quite modest, had been painted and wall papered by Mum – which is I guess where I get that talent from.

I remember having our dogs although I can’t remember how old I was when we got our miniature poodle Bamby who I loved desperately. I do recall being told about Noddy, our golden Labrador and how he would sit under my pram and mind me every time I was placed outside. I’m not sure though that I have actual memories of that.

I remember being ill several times in the first part of my life. I remember vaguely being minded by my cousin Cheryl and getting really sick and taken to Fairfield Infectious Diseases hospital. I asked Mum only about a year ago why did I go to an infectious diseases hospital. She simply replied that I was really sick running a temperature etc and I was taken there. I asked her but why infectious diseases and she said “just because!”. I still find that weird for instance why wouldn’t I have been taken to simply another hospital like the Royal Children’s hospital?

I clearly remember going to hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I was about 3 years of age and Mum took me to hospital, I think it was Box Hill Hospital where I was born. I remember Mum sewing me a new nighty and dressing gown it was blue with pretty flowers on it and lace around the collars and hem and she also made one to match for my white teddy bear which I took everywhere with me. I remember the Doctors holding a mask to my face and telling me it was fairy medicine and I would go to sleep and dream of fairies, which I’m pretty sure I did. I remember Mum picking me up and driving me home in the old car and stopping at a milk bar somewhere and she went in and bought me banana flavoured toothpaste and a new toothbrush.

I went to Bennettswood Primary school, but don’t have a lot of memories of my first year. I do remember some of my primary years and some of my friends there. One notable memory was of a girl there Giovanni who no-one liked and everyone was teasing her because she was a “wog” – I took her under my wing and made sure she had people to talk to and play with. Even then, kids were cruel. I also remember one day down at the oval playing sport, when suddenly the teachers yelled at all of us to “get down, lie down, lie down” – we were getting swooped by magpies, it must have been breading season. Unfortunately one of the boys, Kevin Bond got swooped and pecked in the back of his head. He was bleeding everywhere and had a fairly large hole in the back of his head. I am still very wary of magpies now as an adult and it must have been due to that incident. Kevin Bond was a kid who’s great-grandfather (?) was the captain of the Titanic. I remember Kevin had a locket with his grandfather’s photo in it.
I remember walking to school, although I’m not sure if I did when I was that young. In later years I certainly did. I remember two things about that, one was that I had to walk down a lane way to get to Eley Road and it frightened me all of the time. So much so, that I imagined people jumping out and getting me and often ran the length of that laneway to get to the road. The other thing I recall when I was in primary school was walking home one day and seeing some UFO’s. I was with other children and there were quite a few flashing objects in the sky – from my recollection about 6 or 7 of them. They definitely weren’t planes and they appeared for several minutes. Many of us just stopped I the street and stared at them. In my excitement, I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mum and Dad that night. It was in the papers the next day – I don’t know what they said, but I obviously wasn’t the only one that saw them.
I remember getting home from school and making myself a snack of Vegemite on toast and being excited about Mum getting home from work. I always met her at the front door or on the porch when I heard her car. She would always say “let me get in first”. She would then take off her coat, put her bag down, start dinner and then have the time to ask me about my day. I wondered why she seemed flustered by my greeting, but realize as an adult, my kids did the same thing and I often heard myself saying “let me get in first”.

I don’t remember much about TV in my early years, other than the fact that we had a black and white telly and it used to be fuzzy a lot. I also recall the “test page” appearing on TV after dark, when the telly stopped of a night time. I do remember one of my favourite shows being “Treasure Island” – but I don’t know how old I was. Mum entered me into a competition and as a prize I was sent out postcard/photos of the crew and they had all signed it. I thought that was fantastic. I wish I still had them.

We lived opposite our “aunty & uncle” Aunty Hazel & Uncle Andy. I always thought they had a beautiful house – a little white one that was always immaculate. We always walked through the back door, to get into their house which took us through the kitchen. I don’t remember why we never went through the front door of their house. I was friends with one of their Daughters Judith and we had several trips away over the years with Mum and Aunty Hazel. Most notable were the trips to Bonnie Doon and the Star Glen ranch where Mum and Aunty Hazel would stay inside all day by the open fire and Judith and I would go trail riding on the horses. I rode a beautiful ex-racehorse Madam a big black girl, who would play up on everyone except me when she took riders out. Uncle Andy worked for a lolly place and every time I went over there he would give us bags of lollies to take home. I loved that! Judith loved horses and I have a memory of her running outside to cuddle a horse one day who was riding down the middle of our street. She was hurt as she cuddled its backside and it kicked her in the head. That didn’t stop her from still loving them. I also remember Judith unintentionally hurting me too one day. Again I don’t remember the age I was, but we were playing in our backyard on the swing set when I stopped to go inside and get us a snack. As I was walking back to the swings, I was telling Judith to stop swinging whilst I was walking up and she didn’t. I was consequently struck in the back of the head by one of the steel posts that you put your feet on. I needed stitches in the back of my head.
The other “aunties and uncles” that lived next door to us where “Aunty Claire and Uncle Bill”. They also had two daughters – one closer to Karen – Annette and Joanne was closer to my age. They had a lovely house in Massey Street and I was jealous that they had their own rooms. I remember Aunty Claire did a lot of cooking, there was always something cooking every time I went there. Especially at Christmas where they made many things. The thing about Christmas that I loved a their house was that they used to hang chocolate decorations to their tree and every time I came across I was allowed to “take one” home with me.
I remember Summer time with friends and family – always in the immaculate outdoor above ground pools that Dad kept immaculately clean. He spent many hours outside cleaning and would then encourage us to get in and create “whirlpools” so that he could scoop up any leaves etc.  I remember outdoor BBQ’s – again Dad’s domain as he was the “outdoor king” firing up the Barbie, cooking the snags and sunning himself in his white singlet and handkerchief hat.
Birthdays – I definitely couldn’t say I remember any from under 5 years. I have however seen photos so am a little unsure as to whether my memories are real or those perceived from looking at photos. I do however, think that I was given my first “walking doll” – she was a beautiful doll with black hair, a bride, and you held her hands and she walked. Nana gave her to me and it was either for my birthday or Christmas. In later years I remember thinking she wasn’t as beautiful as I had thought when I first got her. Her hair was very wiry and I guess they simply improved the production of dolls over the years.

The Unknown Blog Visitor – Who are you?

I grew up in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Box Hill South.  Although only about 11 miles from the city in the early 60’s it was an outer suburb only just being carved out of the orchards that stretched out to the then holiday hamlets in the Dandenongs.   But that has nothing to do with this post.

Every couple of days someone visits this blog after doing a google search for “Laurie Joyce blog” or “Laurie Joyce midlife”.    Coincidentally that person has an IP address of Box Hill.   I wonder whether it is the same person each time or a different person from the same area.  If it’s the same person why don’t they just save the blog in their favourites.  Maybe the answer is it’s not a favourite.

Here’s a challenge, introduce yourself.

The Unknown Blog Visitor – Who are you?

I grew up in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Box Hill South.  Although only about 11 miles from the city in the early 60’s it was an outer suburb only just being carved out of the orchards that stretched out to the then holiday hamlets in the Dandenongs.   But that has nothing to do with this post.

Every couple of days someone visits this blog after doing a google search for “Laurie Joyce blog” or “Laurie Joyce midlife”.    Coincidentally that person has an IP address of Box Hill.   I wonder whether it is the same person each time or a different person from the same area.  If it’s the same person why don’t they just save the blog in their favourites.  Maybe the answer is it’s not a favourite.

Here’s a challenge, introduce yourself.

The Unknown Blog Visitor – Who are you?

I grew up in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Box Hill South.  Although only about 11 miles from the city in the early 60’s it was an outer suburb only just being carved out of the orchards that stretched out to the then holiday hamlets in the Dandenongs.   But that has nothing to do with this post.

Every couple of days someone visits this blog after doing a google search for “Laurie Joyce blog” or “Laurie Joyce midlife”.    Coincidentally that person has an IP address of Box Hill.   I wonder whether it is the same person each time or a different person from the same area.  If it’s the same person why don’t they just save the blog in their favourites.  Maybe the answer is it’s not a favourite.

Here’s a challenge, introduce yourself.

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