Usher Nazis and Choo Choo Bars

Nana and Grandad Smith lived at 25 Davison Street, Brunswick when I was growing up.  It was a single fronted brick terrace house with blue stone cobbled gutters on the street and in the lane that ran down the back of the house.

As with Dad’s family many of Mum’s relatives lived in the same general vicinity and so when we visited their were always other members of the family present.  When I was a toddler my great-Grandmother Janet Woolley lived there and I still have memories of playing hide and seek where she would let me hide my head under her apron. It was out of sight out of mind, if I couldn’t see anyone then obviously they couldn’t see me either.

Nana’s brother, Uncle Alf, who won the Military Medal in World War 1, had lung cancer and Nana nursed him until his death which seemed a long time coming at the time.  I don’t remember too much about him but I did inherit his 3/4 size bed [a bit smaller than a double] and thought I was a king when I got into it.  It was the bed I slept in until I got married in 1982.  It never occured to me at the time that it was the bed an old uncle had died in.   Incidentally the citation for his medal states that it was awarded when he entered the trenches and captured thirty Turks alone.  Must have been a pretty gutsy effort.

That bed had one other unfortunate accident.  At my 21st Birthday, Dad had invited a young bloke he worked with.  He was always bringing home people he’d met for meals and the obligatory sharing of the beer.  Unfortunately this bloke got absolutely paralytic and was put to sleep in my bed which he promptly wet.   Took days for the mattress to dry.

But as I sometimes do, I’ll move from the digression back to the topic at hand, which I should have said early on is about what we did in Brunswick on Saturday afternoons.  Often if we weren’t at the footy watching our beloved blues play at Princes Park, we would be sent off to the pictures at the Padua Theatre in Sydney Road, Brunswick.    It was a big deal for little kids to walk to those places by themselves in those days and generally there were at least four of us, Karen and I and our cousins Gavin, Kerry and Phillip at various times.

This was a typical art deco theatre of the time, the stalls down below and the expensive seats where the more well off could sit up top in the dress circle.

The Padua had been built by Hoyts in 1937 and was closed in 1968 much to our sorrow.   It was then leased to a couple of Itialian blokes Tony and Franco Zeccola who re-opened it in August 1969 as the Metropolitan playing Italian language films which wasn’t much help to us.    This continued until December 1981 when the doors closed for the last time before it was demolished in January and February of 1982.

A full page article in The Argus Newspaper in Melbourne was published on 23rd July 1937 announcing the opening.   It seated 2000 people, had such luxuries as foot warmers, air conditioning and a crying room for children.  The first weeks entertainment included Charles Rainsford and his Swing Orchestra on stage with screening of the Errol Flynn and Olivia De Haviland movie The Charge of the Light Brigade.   The paper also announced that there would be short screening of the Walt Disney Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Circus in full colour.

In 1954 a cinemascope camera system was installed which allowed the display of wide screen movies and I can remember one in particular that stuck in my mind.  How the West was Won was a mind blowing movie on the big screen at the time.

But I had other favourites that still stick in my mind to this day.   Such classics as Snow White and the Three Stooges.


The Black Knight

And what was a trip to the pictures without lollies. Favourites were White Knights and Choo Choo Bars which turned your entire mouth black and which would last almost the entire movie they were so chewy. And of course there were the boxes of jaffas. I wasn’t one for rolling them down the aisle, much better to eat them but maybe the reason for rolling them was in the hope that an usher Nazi might step on some and fall over.

When the theatre opened in 1937 The Argus reported that the entire work force was male.  Certainly by the time we were going in the mid sixties many of the usherettes were women.  I am pretty sure that they were women, but some of them had mustaches that would have made Groucho Marx proud, and voices that reminded me of the bad guys in the World War 2 movies.  “Feet off Seat” and “Quiet Down” were growled at the kids whilst London Blitz Spotlights were shone into our faces.  I truly thought they may have been Nazis in disguise and I feared for the lives of the kids who were occasionally grabbed by the ear and escorted out never to be seen again.  Woe betide anyone who was actually found to be in the wrong seat.  I was pretty certain that such a heinous offence must have meant the gas chamber or hanging for them.

What movies stick in your mind from your childhood?


2010 – The Year my Mum died.

It might be a bit of a cliche to write a New Years Eve post reviewing the year but if I don’t do my own year who will.

2010 began at Narooma like it had so many years in the past but may never happen again.  Raels didn’t have a good time, not only was it a reminder of my past life for her but she had to spend a fair bit of time working and with work comes stress and she couldn’t relax properly.

At the end of 2009 her two kids, young adults really, were living with us, my second son after being asked to leave the family home needed somewhere to live and my youngest daughter was with us every second weekend.   We have a small three bedroom house and had decided around Christmas time 2009 that we needed something bigger so on returning from holidays we spent every weekend looking for land and in late January put a deposit on a block of land in an estate called “The Avenue at Casey”.

At that stage we had decided we needed a 5 bedroom house and had signed with Porter Davis.   By March though Meg and Damian had moved out so we started to prevaricate over whether or not we would continue with the build or not and come mid year we had decided to down size a little and build a 4 bedroom house with Carlisle homes.  Our land eventually settled at the end of November and our slab is due to go down on 20th January.

Work continued and responsibilities increased throughout the first part of the year but started to sour a little around July when a number of people were made redundant and there was a distinct lack of consultation with me about my role and that of the people who were in my team at the time.  So I came to the decision in October that it was time to move on.   And so found myself in a new position with a new slightly rocky role that is still yet to be played out.  The next few weeks will be interesting as decisions are made and I may well find it could be time to make an early move onto something else.  More of that elsewhere.

In around March Mum was put into hospital after bleeding from the bowel but after tests showed no sign of anything other than a possible infection she came home.

Hospitals were a regular visiting place with Erin having her fifth operation on her diaphragmatic hernia which I will never stop worrying about.

Mum returned to hospital in late August and after a short illness passed away on 11th September and that will be the defining point of this year for me.

So it was a year of hard work, of excitement about the new house and in particular the new neighbours who will become part of our life, a year of sadness and reflection.  And most of all a year of surprises, some welcome and some not.  But that is what life is about isn’t it!

I wish all of you a Happy and Safe New Year. I look forward to hearing from you throughout 2011 and in following your progress whether on your own blog or on Facebook.   Thanks to everyone who gave me support during the year when I needed it most, particularly my lady and my family 🙂

The Ghosts of Christmases Passed

I loved Christmas as a kid.  The whole day was one big present.  The weeks of excitement and anticipation were fantastic and the memories are powerful and sunk deep into my psyche.   When my own kids were born we tried to make it the same for them and only they can answer whether it was or not and this post is about my reflections of my childhood Christmases.   The good times that lurk in the shadows and seem probably much better looking backwards than they did then, although they were pretty special.

Decembers were the time when the days warmed up and the north winds sometimes blew so hard they could suck the moisture from you as soon as you stepped outside the door.  This was the herald of Christmas in our part of the world.

The tree would go up in the early days of the month and it was a family affair – those very same decorations that lived on that tree year after year for more than half a century were lovingly wrapped in tissue paper each year by Mum and packed away, and this year when we were cleaning out her place after her passing we again unwrapped them and shared them amongst the three of us.  On my tree this year is a bird, one of three, that were the favourites of my two sisters and I, that we used to argue about who would put them where.

And with the winds and heat would come the Christmas cards.  Each of us kids received them from aunties and uncles and cousins, and how exciting it was to rush to the letter box after hearing the postmans whistle to see what he would bring.  They would then be hung across the windows on bits of wool and it seemed like there were always 100 or more each year which we would also reply to.   That appears to be one of the lost arts of Christmas, I guess social media, texting and emails have bumped that tradition aside.

Each year we would visit Father Christmas at Myer.  In those days the only store was in the city because it was well before any of the shopping malls were built in the suburbs.    Mum would dress us in our Sunday best and we’d trek into the city in her old Vauxhall, line up to see the magic in the Myer Christmas windows and then make our way to the toy department to see Father Christmas.  I was sometimes confused that he looked a little bit different each time I saw him but I knew that he would be visiting me on Christmas Eve.

We would then go and do most of our Christmas shopping in Coles and walk up and down the aisles picking out stuff we thought our cousins would like, because we would buy something for every one of them.  Guns for the boys, dolls for the girls, Enid Blyton and Biggles books, California poppy hair oil or brylcreem for those who were a bit older and for the oldest ones the old chestnuts socks or hankies.

And when the night came we’d leave out biscuits and cheese and Dad would insist on leaving him a bottle of beer, not sure whether it was for Father Christmas or the reindeer, but each Christmas morning it was standing on the hearth of the fireplace bone dry.   I remember the year we had the briquette heater put into the fireplace cavity I was really worried that he wouldn’t be able to get down the chimney so I insisted that Mum leave the front door open.

The sacks would be placed side by side on the hearth and we also found them at Mum’s place recently, faded and somewhat tattered but lovingly folded and kept as the echoes of our childhood continued to resonate with us.

Oh the excitement of Christmas Eve was unbearable.   I’d toss and turn for hours thinking I would never get to sleep and then suddenly it would be time to wake up.  I’d creep into Karen’s room and later Debra’s wake them both and rush up to the loungeroom.  Before we touched anything though we’d rush back down to Mum and Dad’s room yelling at the tops of our voices “He’s been!  He’s been!”

So what did we get?   Well it’s a little too long ago to remember these things in chronological order but some of the things I remember are a triang train set, a fort with cowboys and indians, a scalextrix car racing set.    Each year their would be a book and I still have two Tarzan and two Eagle Annuals that turned up in my sack on various occasions.   Always there would be some clothes, usually some sort of short sleeved shirt and shorts that I wore on Christmas Day and most years new bathers because on Boxing Day we’d be off on a camping holiday.

When the sacks were emptied we’d exchange our own gifts and then rush outside to see if the rest of the neighbourhood was awake.  There would always be kids out and about on brand new bikes or scooters.  Then we’d do the rounds of the neighbourhood with gifts for the other kids and collecting more presents ourselves.

Some time late morning after a few drinks with neighbours we’d be in the car and off to Merlynston for Christmas with the Joyce’s and then onto the Smith’s for dinner in Brunswick.   By the time we’d get back home on Christmas night we’s be lugging home a boot full of presents and be exhausted.  Usually Mum would be driving because Dad would inevitably be under the weather.

As Grandparents aged, and the days became to hard for them to host, we would have the lunch and dinner at our place in Box Hill, but as the cousins got older and partnered up the numbers coming gradually dwindled until the cycle began again with our own children.  And now I wait with some anticipation for the time when I too will be graced with Grandkids and have the wonder of Christmas rekindled.

Funny how little snapshots are appearing in my brain as I write this – the year I told Mum that I knew who Father Christmas really was and how I cried when I told her and she held me and said that it was OK there would always be a sack on the hearth for me as long as I wanted one, and there was until my little sister Deb finally fessed up to knowing the truth when I was around 17 years old.   I remember dropping my dacks and showing off my leopard skin jockettes, the first adult undies I had after years of white Y fronts and arguing that it didn’t matter who I showed because they were just like bathers anyway.    I remember the year Nana and Grandad Smith gave us Mark 10 guns, complete with spring loaded rocket launchers and grenades and how we ran around the back laneways of Brunswick.    One really hot day when a bottle of loys softdrink sitting in the sun outside exploded and a shard of glass cut my chin.   I remember waking to the news of Cyclone Tracy wiping out Darwin in 1974.

Mostly I remember how lucky I was to have been in a time and place when we lacked for nothing, when even the hardest times still saw plenty of food on the table and gifts under the tree.   I lived a privileged life.

I wish all of you who read this a very Merry Christmas and hope that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we also celebrate the birth of a special person who changed the world for the better more than 2000 years ago, and irrespective of what beliefs you hold you should remember that.

More than a dream

The night I wrote the last post about scattering Mum’s ashes Raels woke up during the night with the bed shaking and thought it was Ramsey, our Spoodle, scratching himself. When she looked, Mum was sitting on the end of the bed shaking my leg and she said “Laurie, why do those girls have to make such a fuss of everything. They should have just thrown me in the river so we could get on with things.” That was when she woke me up and told me 🙂

Funny that I’d written to Mum in the post that I had a visit from Dad after he died but that was at a time when I was living alone, not with someone who is attuned to these things.   Oddly enough when I told my sisters one of them had a dream about Mum that very night.  She said –

“Mum finally came to me in a dream as vivid as the one I had when Dad visited me and I woke up straight away wishing she had stayed longer. I was in my car with Shez driving and there was Mum’s old little white car driving in front – I said to Shez “That looks like Nanna” and with that she turned around, and it was her with the most amazing smile that lit up her entire face – I yelled out “Mum” and then I woke up. I now really do know that she is so happy, she has free movement ,is driving and obviously pain free.”

I am a natural sceptic and there was a time when I would have scoffed at these things, but now they seem to me to be more than dreams.  Has anyone else shared similar experiences?

The Scattering Again

Dear Mum

You probably already know this but I thought I’d let you know anyway.   We scattered your ashes today,as close to the place where we did the same to Dad’s back in 2004.    The river was a bit higher and running quicker than it was back then so your journey, wherever that may be will be quicker than Dad’s was.    Remember how amidst the tears we laughed back then when you said that there was some irony in the fact we were scattering Dad’s ashes in the river when he couldn’t swim.   He would have laughed at that too and we did chuckle about it again today.

Unlike back then there were no ducks around.  Remember they came in and scooped up some of Dad’s ashes as they floated on the water, eventually scattering them a bit further than we intended I guess.

You would have been proud of Deb, she read a couple of poems for you and said a small service around how we eventually return to the elements from which we sprang – from fire, earth, water and air.  I was glad that the air didn’t spring up and blow part of you up my nose because I’m still suffering a bit from hay fever and it wasn’t something I needed today.

Andrew and Gerry were there as well as Chase, Shez and Cal, Raels was home ill in bed and sends her apologies and the other Grandkids found it a bit hard to face, like they did with Dad.  Maybe they don’t fully understand how this ancient ceremony is yet another step along the way of recovery for grief.  But I know you’ll understand.   I know you will prefer them to remember your laugh and your raised eyebrow when you disapproved of something than a container of mortal remains.

Speaking of which, I carried them down from Karen’s house and I have to say that you weighed a fair bit more than Dad.  But you’ll know that too, becuase he did have a touch of the Mahatma Ghandi’s about him in the last few years,  “Fine as a sunny day” I remember him saying on more than one occasion.

We did have to keep watch because like the day we did Dad’s there were a few people around and whilst Deb was speaking Andrew, Gerry and I were keeping a lookout for anyone who may have happened along.  I remembered the time you told us about you and Uncle Phil and Aunty Nancy taking your cousin Lila’s ashes out to the cemetery and shoving them down a crack in the grave of her Mum Aunty Phyllis and Dad Uncle Perc.   You told us you were worried that someone would see and think you might be defacing the grave, but we all had a great laugh everytime you told the story.

Deb brought some yellow roses from her garden and each of us placed one on the river to follow you down. As the last one was placed on and the rain started to fall the sun came out giving that sense of renewal that comes with a new day.  A different day maybe, but a new one, and despite the sorrow, a reminder that there will still be many good things to come.

I hope you finished the book that we sent with you.  You were adamant that it had to go on the journey because you always finished any books you started even if you didn’t like them.  And I hope you managed to magic that toy horse into one that carried you across the fields of heaven like you said it would.

I have so much to thank you for, we all do and I’ll leave that to some future posts, but I do want to say a couple of things here.  Firstly, I remember how proud you were of Luke when he was presented as your first Grandchild.  You were actually the same age then as I am now and that’s a bit of a scarey thought because I thought you and Dad were kinda old back then.  Now I know differently of course.   And then you were given another 10 grandkids within the next ten years and everyone knew how much you loved them.

I also want you to know that Raels really appreciated the last things you said to her – that you loved her and that you told her to look after me.  She will and I think you know that.  Thanks for finally accepting her, I know it wasn’t an easy thing for you to do.  But we both are really grateful for that and Raels for being able to come to know you over the past couple of years.

Did I tell you that a few months after Dad died he visited me one night.  I felt him sit on the end of my bed just like he did so many times when I was a boy and he’d come home from work and come down and say goodnight.   We couldn’t talk but just let him know that I’m OK and I love him deeply.

I still feel you around Mum.   I know that wherever and whatever Heaven is, that you’ll watch over all of us no matter how long you have to.   I can hear you telling Dad and Nana and Grandad and the others there with you now how I “turned around and said”.   And I know that when you disapprove of something I do, and there probably will be things you don’t like before we meet again, that your eyebrow will rise and the cheeks will puff out and you’ll let me know exactly what you think.  Just like you always have.

So Farewell for now Mum.  I will always love you.

Your son

Cemeteries, Dairies and Nut Trees – Merlynston Part 1

So my earliest memories of space are of the immediate neighbourhood in Box Hill South.  If I may digress before I even get into this post, I found out this week that one of the blokes I now work with lived around the corner from me and in fact knew some of the kids I went to school with.  It is a small world.
And back then it was even smaller.  Childhood memories sometimes play like incomplete scenes in a movie and different days run into one another so we end up with an amalgam of images rather than distinct chapters and such are my memories of Merlynston.
Most people in Melbourne have never heard of this tiny suburb north of Coburg and on the edge of the Fawkner Cemetery.   For a time my Grandfather was a grave digger there and a Chapel is named after my Uncle who for a long time was on the Board of the cemetery trust.
I was born not far from there and Mum moved back into a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place at 55 Orvieto Street after I was born whilst they were saving for their own home.   They had been living in a flat at Mordialloc for a few years. 
But my memories of Merlynston don’t stretch back quite that far, they in fact begin on any one of dozens of weekends when we visited Nana and Pa which seemed to be at least fortnightly, usually on a Sunday.  Now here my cousins may in fact say that my memories of Orvieto Street may well differ from theirs but for me they are very vivid.
Pa would generally meet us on the front porch and usually he’d have a 2 shilling piece to give us.  Pa had his voice box removed after getting cancer of the larynx the year I was born and it was a source of grim fascination that he had a hole in his throat covered with a gauze square.  He sort of talked with a wheezing croak that was really hard for me to understand.   I wonder what his voice was like – did ne sing, did he have a baritone or tenor?
On the wall in the foyer was a crushed velvet belt containing badges that Pa had collected during his time with the New Zealand army in the First World War.  On a cabinet at the end was a photo of my Uncle Keith in uniform and I have this vague recollection of a photograph of the Queen.   On the side wall was a portrait of Nana’s Mum and Dad.
But it is the smell that stays with me mostly.  Nana would inevitably be baking and the smells of fresh scones and roasting meat would greet us as we walked inside the front door.  I loved the scones piping hot from the oven covered in melted butter and smothered in vegemite.
The lounge room to the left had a piano and Nana would sometimes sit down and play it for us and my favourite part were the big club chairs which I would perch myself in and read from the set of encyclopedia from a bookcase against one wall.   In later years Nana had a huge 26 inch black and white TV with a hard wired remote control.  I remember being fascinated by being able to actually sit in a chair and change a channel or turn the volume up and down.  It was to be years before we had one at home.
The back yard had a lemon tree which legend had it was well watered by the men of the family.  At the back of the yard was a wood shed and a chook house and if we were lucky, Pa would allow us to go down and collect the eggs.  There was a massive nut tree – walnuts I think – that dominated one corner of the yard and my cousins Paul and I spent a fair bit of time climbing it.
But the magic place was Pa’s garage which we used to sneak into and poke around.  It was full of tools and the cut down wagon that Pa used to push around the streets of Coburg whilst he collected beer bottles for return to the brewery.  I still marvel at him as an octogenarian with one leg shorter than the other because he got blown up in France in the First World War, and no voice box because he had it removed as a 72 year old, pushing a cart laden with hessian sacks full of beer bottles for miles oblivious to the traffic he was holding up.  In 1974 Pa was the first of my Grandparents to pass away and I have always counted myself lucky that I had all of them with me for so long.

There is much more to write about Merlynston and that will come shortly.  I have asked my sisters and cousins to make a contribution as well and will post them as they come.

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.

School Daze Part 2 – Bennettswood State School

The corridors of the school were always busy during the breaks.  Then as now we had hooks outside our classroom where we hung our bags.   Inside were desks at which two people could sit.  There was a lift up lid invariably covered in penned notes like John Loves Betty or Mr Stafford has a pig face.  Sometimes they were carved with knives and if you did that the trick was to smudge the new carving with lead pencil or ink to disguise the fresh cuts in the wood.   You were dumb if you wrote something like Loz was ere so that people could identify you but even then if you had a clever tag you could always deny it was you.  Foo was here was one I used to use together with the face that now I think of it looked like a penis drooped over a fence.

We started writing with pencil but some time around Grade 2 we graduated to fountain pens.   We were constantly reminded not to make a mess.  With Fountain Pens?   Were they kidding, you couldn’t help but make a mess.  I dunno what blotting paper was supposed to do but it didn’t clean up spilt ink.
The front of the class was dominated by a huge blackboard and some teachers were particularly good at drawing all sorts of wondrous things in multi-coloured chalks.  Others simply used it to denote what the days lessons were going to be.  There really were times when some of us had to write “I’ve been a naughty boy” just like Bart Simpson.

Above the blackboard were two things – a world map much of it coloured in pink to denote the British Empire’s extent and the other a PA system over which the famous lunchtime message about Mr Stafford used to blare.

History was British in those days.  We were taught about Julius Caesar and the Roman Invasion, about the Vikings and the Angles Saxons and Jutes, of Alfred the Great and William the conqueror, the Spanish Armada, and the conquering of the new World.  Never mind that Christopher Columbus was an Italian in the employ of the Queen of Spain, he had an English name, in fact I even had a few Christophers in my class.
I clearly remember when Francis Chichester became the first person to sail solo around the world in the Gypsy Moth IV because Mr. Stafford used to teach us for an hour each day and he would keep us updated on his voyage.   It was a triumph of Empire and Chichester later became Sir Farncis, just like Sir Franics Drake who famously played bowls whilst the Spanish Armada approached.   Here was British chutzpah at its best, brave men doing monumentally brave things just because they could.  I think most of us dreamed of being a knight in those days.  We of course had no idea that the Empire was in fact on its last legs and Great Britain was in the process of losing the adjective great if not the name.

Australian history was made to look boring.  We didn’t learn anything about the convict era other than the First Fleet and even then the story was about Arthur Phillip and John McArthur rather than the thieves, trollops and charlatans that were the true founders of the country.   We learnt of the Rim Rebellion and little about Eureka.  Of course the explorers featured heavily in what we were taught, Cook, Blaxland Wentworth and Lawson, Bass and Flinders, Burke and Wills, and always in the context of the valour and heroism of the British.    Now it’s unfashionable to teach these things, the black armband view of history may have perhaps taken things too far the other way.    But at least now more of the truth is taught.

Every morning we had an assembly where we’d line up in our classes and say the Creed –
“I love God and my country, I honour the flag…”and I’ll be buggered if my brain can actually remember the rest of it.  And then, just before we’d March off to the drumming of side drums and the thump of a bass drum we’d all sing God Save the Queen at the tops of our voices.
In Grade 6 I was one of the reserve drummers, not good enough to be in the permanent band I was only called upon to step in when someone was away sick, which wasn’t all that often.

The PA system was not only used for making announcements like rainy day timetables or short lunch times which occurred on rainy days so that we could get let out early, but it was an educator in it’s own right.  The ABC “For Schools” program broadcast all sorts of things, many of which were slanted towards our British History.   Before Anzac Day every year we were told the story of Gallipoli and of Australian heroes like Simpson and his donkey, we weren’t told of the disastrous decisions of the British High Command who sent thousands of young Australians to their deaths.  We were told about the Rats of Tobruk but not of the disaster at Singapore.    Australians fought for King and Empire and we were living free because of it.

Apart from the pink on the map we also knew of the Iron and Bamboo curtains behind which lurked enemies who were hell bent on destroying our way of life.   We were told to fear the yellow peril we were shit scared of the specter of nuclear war and were never sure when the Red Chinese or the Russians were going to launch an attack on us.  But even if an A Bomb fell all we needed to do was close our eyes, cover our ears and hide beneath the school desk.  Buggered if I know what we were supposed to do if at happened when we weren’t at school.  But it wasn’t a constant fear, life went on normally, we only got scared when we got told about it.    We were the lucky generation who grew up in the aftermath of a world war at a time of great prosperity and whilst we were told we had enemies that only made us stronger.
And we were also fed religion over the PA every Easter as well.  We walked with Jesus as he shouldered the cross, we sailed the Ark with Noah and learnt of the baby in the bull rushes and how he lead his people from Egypt.   We were scared by the story of Sodom and Gomorah and booed Judas as he betrayed the Lord.  Religion wasn’t force fed, it was simply part of the school year at those times when it was deemed important.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom we also had singing lessons.   We sang songs published in an ABC song book distributed to us each year and we were delivered school papers which contained stories, poems and songs for us to learn on a weekly basis.  We learnt such classics like Click go the Shears and sang rounds of Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree and Row Row Row your Boat.  I don’t think there were any songs under 50 years old that were in our repertoire.  But we learnt the same stuff our parents had learnt before us and for all I know what my grandparents had learnt as well.

And that theory was born out by the early reading books we had.  We all learnt to read with John and Betty – “This is John.   This is Betty.   John can run.    Betty can run too.”   It’s a wonder any of us learnt to love reading.  But sometime in around Grade 3 or 4 the teacher came into the class with a big box of puffin books that we were allowed to borrow and take home.    I can remember one book in particular “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” and the author Henry Treece who wrote historical novels.   And it was then that my love of reading began. 

Part 3  in a couple of days but here’s a challenge in the meantime.  Some of you know me now as a grey haired old bloke so let’s test your powers of observation – pick me out in the photos and leave a comment with the year and the position I’m in.  🙂

…what has gone before.

I know that a death in the family causes one to confront their own mortality.  Whilst I feel young the use of the word  “one” in the previous sentence might point to something different.  Looking through my eyes out into the world I don’t relly feel any different to how I did 30 years ago.  Sure a lot of water has gone under the bridge.  I became a father with all the responsibilities that entailed.  I got married and divorced.  I shifted house a few times, changed career 6 times, and all the while my body aged and I didn’t even notice.

Sometimes though, in the past few weeks, I’ve looked in the mirror and seen an older bloke looking back at me.  The skin isn’t as elastic as it was, the sock lines on my ankles at night seem to take a long time to disappear.  I need glasses to read.  My hair is thinning and turning white.  So the trappings of age are appearing way too quickly.

In preparing the slide show for Mum’s funeral I found photos of her and Dad with my oldest son Luke, their first grandchild, who is 26 as I write this.  And I don’t see old people in those photos.  In fact when Luke was born in 1984 Dad was only three years older than I am now and yet he has already been gone six very quick years.  And sometimes that face I see in the mirror is my Dad looking back at me, and when I look down at my hands which are starting to show the wrinkles of age, I stare at my father’s hands.

I don’t want this to sound melancholy because I know that it is way better than the alternative.  But sometimes, when I start to think about it overmuch, it scares me that there is now less time ahead of me than what has gone before.

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?

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