Entertaining ourselves in the 1950s and early 1960s (3)

May 4, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 13 Comments
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Playing Outside

Whilst we girls were always under our mother’s eye wherever we lived, we had lots of room to run around and play. Mum was always fearful of something happening to us or someone coming to hurt us. She always had an axe behind the caravan door in case anyone came when she was there without Dad. There were a few dangers, such as snakes and spiders; and water was another, but on the whole it was safe. I think Mum was so fearful because of the isolation, of being alone a lot and not having lots of family and friends around. It had been so different in England.

At Reed Park we had the sports field and pavilion area to play, as well as surrounding bush and creek close to the caravan. There were huge pine trees around the park and the smell of them has stayed with me very strongly to this day. I remember one day we were playing by the creek. Dad had told us not to try pulling out the coarse grass there, but my older sister did. She ran screaming to the caravan with blood dripping from her hand where the tough, razor-sharp grass had sliced deep into the webbing between her finger and thumb. With no doctor available on the weekend, Dad had to deal with it. I think she still had the scar.

 Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

Avondale made a huge impression on me. We lived right next to the bush there for several months. Dad worked on a new bridge, and then on a reinforcing wall at the coal mine. My brother used to take his dog, Patch, into the bush. Sometimes, they would come home with a snake they had killed and lay it out in front of the van. Mum used to hate that. I always wanted to do what my brother could, and didn’t think it was fair that girls were treated differently.

At Albion Park Rail we had to clear the scrub and a big tree from the block of land, as well as bulrushes down by the lake. We kids helped burn our rubbish too. The area close to home, which included the lake shore at the bottom of our block was free for us to play in, as long as we were careful of the red-belly black snakes. These were venomous, but fairly timid and would try to escape rather than attack.

With Mum such a fearful person, even after we moved out of the caravan, we couldn’t stray by ourselves more than a hundred yards or so either way along the lake shore – the girls, anyway. When we got a bit older (11-12) we would go and play in the small river oak (casuarina) forest a little farther along the lake shore. It could be scary there. The sun didn’t shine among the close-growing trees with their dense needle foliage, and there was little if any undergrowth; just a thick layer of dead needles. When the wind sighed mournfully through the foliage, it felt eerie and I imagined ghostly spirits wandering around.

Casuarina forest. The trees grew closer together in our forest.

Casuarina forest.
The trees grew closer together in our forest.

I had cowboys and Indians adventures there, or went exploring strange new lands. We also went for walks both ways along the lake shore for about half a mile each way. We couldn’t swim in the lake – we weren’t allowed to. It was shallow, and if you walked in the water, you sank into a thick black mud. We wouldn’t have swum there anyway because not one of us could swim. Mum was petrified of the water and never learned to swim. We caught that fear and, for my part, I was in my fifties before I was happy to go into deep water and learn to swim.

We never followed any kind of football, but cricket was big, especially when there was a Test Match, played in England or Australia between our two countries. We would often listen to the radio broadcasts, especially as we got into our teens. With constant mowing, the lake shore had become a lawn; a great place to play our own games of cricket, which we did on a regular basis. Even Dad and Mum sometimes joined us when they had time.

Backyard cricket (not us).

Backyard cricket (not us).

One of the things that seems to be a constant in the lives of most kids of my era was going to the pictures (movies) for the Saturday matinee. There would be a movie, a newsreel, cartoons and a serial, and from what I have read, these were great and memorable times, and kids attended almost religiously.

We never had that. The nearest picture theatre was in Dapto, I think – I am not even sure of that. But we never went. Public transport was poor then, but even so, Mum wouldn’t let us travel to the pictures on the train or bus. Money was always short when we were growing up. Dad worked long hours at his job and constantly adding to or re-modelling the house. Our parents even had trouble paying the fees to keep us at the Catholic school we went to. In late 1961 (that story soon to come), there was barely enough money to feed us.

Kids at a Saturday matinee

Kids at a Saturday matinee

The only movie I saw when I was a kid was “The Miracle of Fatima” a religious movie that the church approved. We may even have gone to it with the school – I can’t even remember that, though I do remember seeing the movie. The first time I went to the pictures with anyone – on a date – was after I had left high school, dropped out of university and was working at a newsagency before going to Teachers College. I would have been eighteen years old then.

Another thing that strikes me regarding the years when we were young children is how few friends of our own age we had. Both my sisters did have friends from school and church, but it was rare for them to come to our place. I don’t remember even having a friend at all until I was in third year high school, and it wasn’t until my final two years of high school that I found a real friend – an introverted outsider like myself.

(c) Linda Visman


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  1. These are wonderful stories, Linda. I also started out life in a town on a section of road with no other children. I was very young then.

    • Thanks for you encouragement, Lavinia, and I am pleased you are enjoying the stories.
      I find reading of other people’s childhood fascinating, as I compare what they did and had to what we did – mostly thankful for my parents and what they tried to do for us.

  2. You mention not being able to find a best friend. I was inspired by Anne of Green Gables and her search for a “kindred spirit”. I had a friend in highschool who left for another school in the second last year. I was devastated and alone when she left. Lesson learnt not to invest all one’s friendship in one person.

    • It seems that so many girls of our generation read “Anne of Green Gables”, and yet I have never even seen a copy of the book!
      The last two years of high school were better because I had someone to share with, but after that we went our separate ways. A pity.

  3. What do you mean by “caravan”? I’m curious because I’ve only ever heard it in regard to gypsy houses. It sounds like it was a really interesting childhood.

    • I suppose you would call it a trailer home, Alex. It was very small, and 6 of us lived in it for over two years. Dad found places to stay that didn’t cost anything. It was a rented van, & was returned to the owner once we moved into our tiny three-roomed house.
      If you look at my earlier Monday Memoir posts (they start in January), you will find the first part of the story. 🙂

      • Excellent. I’ll have a look! Now I understand. 🙂 Caravan sounds way better. 😉

  4. Actually, we introverted outsiders are in the majority, you know. The trouble being that it’s a silent majority because we don’t like talking about anything! I can find so many parallels here because I was a country child too, and friendships were scarce because in those days there was no-one around to play with.

    • You are probably right there, Frederick!
      Most of the time, I think I was quite happy alone or with my sisters, but it is good to have a friend too.

  5. Great retelling Linda. Lots I could identify with and I remember with clarity our weekly (we were very lucky) attendance at Saturday morning cinema showings. I’ve written about them somewhere, have to dig it out and get back to Monday Memoir. Thanks for keeping it alive. L)

    • Thanks, Linda. I’d love to see more of your Memoir stories too. It seems that we of a ‘certain age’ (even though I have 10 years on you) ha very similar experiences as children.

  6. How can I ever forget the Saturday matinee. We also had serials we followed every Saturday before the main film. Thanks once again Linda for bringing so many memories back. So much I could relate to in this post. 🙂

    • I am glad I have once more stirred happy memories, Don. 🙂
      There seem to be several readers here of approximately our ‘vintage’ – though we may actually be their elders. It is good to connect with those who share memories of childhood with us.

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