Our Caravan in the Bush (1955)

February 8, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, Memoir | Leave a comment
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This post was supposed to go out last Monday, the 16th February. For some reason, it didn’t respond to my trying to post it via my tablet whilst I was away from home.

 

Me and my younger sister Sheelagh

Me and my younger sister Sheelagh

 

About a year after we arrived in Australia, we were still living in the caravan at Reed Park. Dad and Mum had been saving money so we could eventually get something better. Mum was always very good at cost saving, and there was nothing left over for treats. I remember one day when I was still five, Mum came home with some groceries and unpacked them from the brown paper bags onto the table.

“I’ve brought some crackers,” she said.

I was really excited, because I thought she meant fire crackers but it was only Sao biscuits. She called them ‘cream crackers’ because that’s what they were in England. It was a real let-down! However, we rarely had biscuits of any kind, so Saos were a treat we had spread with butter and jam.

  Sao biscuits

Sao biscuits

Dad’s employers got a contract to do some work for Huntley Colliery, one of the many coal mines around the Illawarra area where we lived. It was to replace an old wooden bridge that had been damaged by the coal trucks with a concrete one. Dad had become their main concreter by then, so he was part of the work force to do the job.

Dad was asked if he would take the caravan and live in it there as caretaker of the job site. It would take several weeks to complete the project. So, we moved, with the van, to a spot just beside a dairy farm fence, a hundred yards or so from the bridge.

We were a few miles from Dapto, on a little back road in the foothills of the mountain range. Apart from the mine and a few small dairy farms, we were surrounded by bushland. The sandstone escarpment rose only a mile or so to the west. There was no bus service and Mum couldn’t drive. Dad worked from sun-up to sun-down.Sheelagh was five by then and went to school with the rest of us. It was too far for us four kids to walk to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Dapto.  A way was worked out for us to get there.

A Memory:  There is a big lemon tree near our caravan, with huge yellow lemons on it. The coal trucks go up and down from the mine and take the coal to the power house at Tallawarra. They are big and dirty and noisy on the dirt road not far from where the caravan is.

One of the truck drivers takes all four of us kids into Dapto every day so we can go to school, and he brings us back in the afternoon. We all sit up in the huge front seat of the truck next to the driver. The cabin smells of oil and coal and leather. I like it. We can see everything from way up here. He drops us off on the main street and we walk up the hill to the school. I bet nobody else gets a lift to school in a big coal truck!

 A coal truck similar to the one we rode in.

A coal truck similar to the one we rode in.

One day, when we got to Dapto, my brother Peter who was the eldest and had just turned ten, told us we didn’t have to walk all the way up to school – we could have a holiday instead. So we walked around the shops and played on the swings and slippery-dip in the park. The shop keeper who delivered groceries to Mum told her we had been playing truant from school.

A Memory:  Mum is very angry with us when we get home from Dapto in the truck, because the shop man told her we didn’t go to school. She gets out her wide green leather belt and gives us all a hiding. When we go back to school the next day, Sister Jude gives me the strap on my legs in front of the whole class.

Living was very basic while we were at Avondale. We had to carry water in buckets to the caravan from the creek that ran nearby. It was cool and clear because it came down from the mountains, and we got it before the dairy cattle messed it up. We used it for everything – drinking, washing, doing the dishes, cleaning. We didn’t have a bath of course, but washed at a basin of warm water with a flannel and soap. Mum washed all our clothes by hand. I look back and wonder how she coped at times. There hadn’t been much available money back in England, but she’d at least had hot running water.

Me with my bow and arrow - plus my two sisters, Dad’s work truck (left) & caravan (right).

Me with my bow and arrow – plus my two sisters, Dad’s work truck (left) & caravan (right).

Girls weren’t allowed to do many of the things boys could do, and my brother Peter had much more freedom than we three girls did. I don’t think my sisters worried about it, but I was a tomboy, and jealous because I couldn’t do the things he did.

A Memory: In the afternoons and on weekends, Peter takes his dog out into the bush. The dog is called Patch because he is white with a black patch on his eye like a pirate. He was a stray until Peter found him at Reed Park. Now Patch belongs to Peter. They go out exploring in the bush and sometimes find snakes. Peter scares Mum when he puts a dead snake on the ground in front of the caravan door. I sometimes think Mum doesn’t like living up here in the bush.

My brother Peter with his dog, Patch. (Caravan behind).

My brother Peter with his dog, Patch. (Caravan behind).

Did you have any experience living basic as a child? What was the situation? Did you have adventures like my brother?

© Linda Visman

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