Trying to Keep Warm – a memoir scrap

June 4, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, England, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Migration, Ways of Living | 14 Comments
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Before we came from England to Australia in 1954, we lived in a two-up, two-down in a row of terrace houses. These were built of stone, which made for quite good insulation in a Lancashire winter. We also had piped gas heating, an upgrade from the original coal fireplace. We could keep warm there, as well as dry the washing on rails that could be lowered to load then raised to get the benefit of the heat below the ceiling.

Our clothing and footwear were also designed to keep out the cold when we went outdoors in the ice and snow and the cold wind and rain. Although we girls had to wear dresses, I remember also wearing button-up soft leather leggings, woollen coats, gloves and socks and leather shoes.

In Australia, we lived for a couple of years in a tiny caravan before graduating to a tiny three-roomed cottage that Dad gradually added more rooms to. The cottage was constructed of asbestos fibro and weatherboard. It, like the caravan, was not insulated from either hot or cold.

Linda Confirmation.1958-350

Me on my confirmation day outside our house, 1958

For the first year or two, we didn’t have to wear heavy clothing for winter and we were rarely cold. However, as we acclimatized to the milder climate, we started to feel the cold of winter much more. We no longer had the thick jumpers, coats and leggings we had worn in England, nor did we have the warm gas heating we’d been used to there. Even more,  the wooden floorboards and the lack of insulation in the thin walls and ceilings allowed the cold to penetrate into every part of our home. It was darned cold, and there was nowhere to put in a coal or wood stove.

My parents did purchase a Fyreside kerosene heater, the name of which implied more heat than it actually produced. In the back of the heater, under the cover, was a thick glass bottle with a wire handle to lift it out with. You had to fill the bottle with kerosene from a tin you’d get filled up at the petrol station. You had to put the bottle in upside down, so that the kero would feed through to wick at the front of the heater You’d light the wick, then place the round piece with the coil in it on top. The coil would heat up and glow red. The heat thus generated would be reflected into the room by the shiny metal reflector behind the coil. All that was in theory of course.

The smell of the kerosene itself was bad enough, but once it was lit, the heater often generated smoke and fumes that would either make you feel ill or make your eyes sting. I’m sure it couldn’t have been very healthy, especially in an enclosed space. If the kerosene ran out and the wick went out, you had to wait until the heater cooled before re-filling the bottle (if you had some kero on hand), by which time the any warmth had been sucked out of the air.

Fyreside heater 1950-60s crop

The living room where the heater sat and kitchen were open to each other, so the area (even though not large) was too much to heat and anyway, much of the heat went up to the ceiling which had no insulation. The only way to feel any warmth was to stand right in front of it – and then it would burn your legs, but leave the rest of you cold. But there were at least six of us, and sometimes up to twelve people living in the house, so the kids didn’t get to stand that close. We still had to wear warm clothing and even coats inside.

The heater always had to be turned off at night, and any heat it had generated hadn’t reached our closed-off bedroom. I remember many a time going to bed with only two old, thin wool ex-army blankets and no upper sheet to cover me. I would shiver and never seem able to get warm. My brother and two sisters were the same. Then we would find anything we could to cover ourselves more – usually there was only our not-very-thick coat. We got used to being cold. Eventually, Mum could afford chenille bedspreads for us all.

I suppose the heater did make a difference, enough at least to stop us freezing, but I remember having chilblains on my toes for most of every winter. These heaters couldn’t be called safe, and caused quite a few house fires if left burning without supervision or if drying clothes were too close to the heater. Mum was always scared that would happen, so she only lit it when absolutely necessary.

With the cost of electric heating, these kero heaters were the cheapest source of warmth available at the time. Many people my age now recall them and their smell with a mixture of horror and nostalgia.

 

What kind of heating did you have when you were growing up?

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

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More Olfactory memories

January 18, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in 1950s, England, Experiences, Memoir, The Senses | 16 Comments
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Last week I wrote about the smell of pine trees and the memories they evoked fifty-five years later. There are a few other aromas that also strongly evoke memories of my childhood.

 

1. Bacon and baked beans

 

All my life I have loved the smell and taste of bacon and baked beans. Whenever I have had it, I think of being on the moors back in England when I was little. I didn’t know why this memory always came with this aroma until Dad told me (when I was in my fifties) that he and Mum used to take us for walks out on the moors of Oswaldtwistle. When we were there, Dad, a former Rover Scout, would light a fire and cook up bacon and beans for us. It was a special treat that we didn’t have very often.

When we go camping now, we have eggs and baked beans, with either bacon or sausages, at least once during the trip – my husband has always loved it too.

 

Sausage, egg, b.beans camping

On one of our trips

 

 

2.  Cut grass on a warm day

 Occasionally when I have been driving in the country, I have come to places where council slashers have been busy cutting the long grass along the sides of the road. Sometimes an aroma hits me, and I am taken back to my early childhood in England. I have discovered that the right smell is only there when the cut grass is long and dry, and the air is warm but not too hot. I didn’t know then why this wonderful smell affected me so much – I love it, it brings me a great feeling of happiness.

Whilst visiting Dad over Christmas in 2005, I mentioned it to Dad. He said he always loved the smell of new cut hay in the fields back in England. It was then that I realized what the odour was. Haying time was a great time for kids then. I had picked up those feelings, along with the aroma of hay being cut on a warm day in autumn before I was five years old. They have stayed with me all these years.

 

Cutting hay in meadow

Cutting hay in a Lancashire meadow today

 

 

3. An Isolation Hospital

 When I was about three years old, I had glandular fever and had to go into the isolation cottage at Blackburn Infirmary, where I spent some weeks. It would have been about 1951. I remember being in a cot and wanting Mum and Dad to come and take me home. They weren’t allowed to come in, and I could only see them, and they me, through a window.

There was a smell there that, when I come across it today, always takes me back to that memory. I’d always thought the smell was chloroform, but that wouldn’t be right. It is more likely to be the old kind of cleaning alcohol that was used when giving injections. The modern alcohol cleanser doesn’t seem to have the same smell.

 

Blackburn & East Lancashire Royal Infirmary early 20thC

The isolation ward was in a cottage at the back of the main hospital

 

Because of a later association with this odour, another memory also springs to mind. It is of walking past a mobile medical facility that used to occasionally park in the area in front of the shops at Albion Park Rail when I was probably about 10 to 13 years old. I think it was the TB testing unit.

 

 

Linda Visman

 

 

 

 

 

Some Memories of My Yesterdays

January 4, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Experiences, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Reflections, Ways of Living, Writing and Life | 21 Comments
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I have written just a few memories here in the form of an acrostic, using the above title. They are from my first thirteen years, and are limited by the letters I had available to me. They are also very brief, though I have already, or will in the future expand on some of them in other posts. It actually wasn’t that easy to do this self-imposed exercise!

 

School days at St Mary’s, St John’s, St Paul’s, St Mary’s & Dapto High

Oswaldtwistle, where I was born, and left when I was five

Making my own bows and arrows to play Indians

Entertaining ourselves with simple toys and games

  

Mowing the lawn at twelve

Easter rituals at Church and school

Mum’s green leather belt when we were naughty

Ordinary – that is how I saw my life; nothing special at all

Reading to find worlds of adventure

Ironing before heat controls or steam and burning my white school shirt

Earning a few pennies by opening & closing the railway gates for motorists

Singing old songs from England with my parents, uncle & Granddad

 

 

Odd one out – the middle child of five who didn’t fit anywhere else either

Finances always strained, with no money for extras

  

Milk – our milkman came around with a horse and cart

Yearning for I knew not what, but something more than I had

  

Yelling at my sisters & brother when I was angry – too often!

Eating Mum’s trifle at Xmas & New Year with Grandma, Uncle Fred & our families

Sitting at the kitchen table on stools that Dad had made

Taking Peter’s canoe onto the lake when I was forbidden to

Eating tough mutton chops & being unable to swallow the over-chewed meat

Radio serials like Superman and Tarzan that we listened to after school

Dad, David & Pauline hospitalised with polio

Accident, where I fell onto a joist when Dad was building an addition to the house

Yearly tests and trying to beat the two boys who were my main rivals

Songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s that we listened to on the radio

 

What memories would you write if you did this acrostic exercise?

 

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

Christmas Day, 1950s

December 21, 2015 at 2:00 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Religious rites, Special Occasions | 8 Comments
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Going away for a holiday in summer – or at any time – was unheard of in our family when I was growing up. However, the Christmas holidays were always a wonderful time of the year, as they were for all kids. Christmas Day was, for us coming to Australia from England, so different that we may as well have been in another world.

Good-King-Wenceslas-Christmas-Card-sent-by-Royal-Doulton-in-the-1950s

Good King Wenceslas Christmas card sent by Royal Doulton in the 1950s

 

 

I still remembered the grey, drab, cold and usually wet days in Lancashire. Sometimes it did snow too. On Christmas morning, we would be rugged up in a coat and hat, with leggings and boots, and a mackintosh, to walk the mile or so to St Mary’s Catholic church for Mass.

How different was the two-mile walk to 7am Mass in Australia. We would set off, without breakfast, just after six o’clock. Our little home was in Albion Park Rail, but the hall where Mass was held was in Oak Flats. Almost always, the day would be clear and bright with no sign of drizzle or smog, and no smoke-blackened stone buildings. Instead of wet or icy stone footpaths, we walked along long, dusty streets that were usually hat as well.

Mum and Dad wore their Sunday clothes, as did we, but instead of the heavy clothes of England, they were light cotton shirts, or dresses (usually made by Mum) and sandshoes (usually freshly whitened by Dad). I remember skipping along the street, light-hearted and happy. The lake was on our left as we walked to church, and the new-risen sun shone from a blue sky onto its still waters, making it gleam and glisten. Everything looked fresh and clean.

There were few houses along our street, and hardly anyone was about so early. But whenever we did see someone, we would call out “Merry Christmas!” and they would respond with a smile and a similar greeting. This made the day even more special.

 

Aussie Xmas greetings

A wide creek marked the boundary between the two little villages and the halfway point in our walk. An old wooden bridge, missing many of its planks, spanned the creek. We thought crossing it was an adventure, but Mum always called out for us to be careful. It was later replaced by a higher one, still of wood and but with handrails on the sides. We’d stop in the middle and watch the ducks swimming in the water – how many would there be there today?

Mum and Dad would catch up with us at the other side of the creek and we’d climb the steep rise to the road above. This took us to the centre of Oak Flats village, where Mass was held in a small, community hall made of fibro.

Mass was still said in Latin then, but we would follow it with our Missal, that gave both the Latin and English words of the priest and altar boys. It was often boring on other days, but on Christmas morning there was a special joy and reverence that was missing on normal Sundays. I loved listening to the story of the birth of Jesus in the manger, the coming of the shepherds and the wise men.

The walk home included anticipation of breakfast, but also of what we would find under the Christmas tree we’d decorated with bits of tinsel, crepe paper streamers and a star made from cardboard covered with silver paper from Mum’s cigarette packet. With little money to buy presents, we usually received home-made gifts, or clothes we needed for going to church. There were no large items like bikes or doll’s prams.

However, one Christmas, Dad made wooden scooters, one for me and one for my younger sister. Another year, she got a cowgirl outfit and I, being a tomboy, received a cowboy outfit. Apart from the scooter and the cowboy outfit, the best present I ever received as a child was two children’s books of adventure stories. They were the first books I ever owned and I treasured them for many years.

Those years, from age six to ten, were the happiest of my childhood, and the best Christmases that I can remember.

Best wishes from me in Australia to all you lovely blog visitors for a wonderful Christmas, wherever you may be in the world.

Aussie outback Xmas greetings

© Linda Visman

Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (6): Some Things I Learned as a Catholic Child

October 26, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1950s, Catholic doctrine, Catholicism, Education, Memoir | 8 Comments
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Religion – the Catholic Church – was always an integral part of my daily life until I was in my mid-teens.

As well as Sunday Mass, there was regular Confession, attendance at special rites and rituals, and saying the Rosary – that last one was every evening especially in the bad times. A statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus) always stood in a prominent position. It had been a wedding present to my parents (I think it was from Mum’s parents), and I have it now as part of our family history artefacts.

The Sacred Heart statue that stood in my parents' home for 72 years

The Sacred Heart statue that stood in my parents’ home for 72 years

We all had our missals (Mass books) with the words said by the priest and altar boys in both Latin and English. The congregation did not respond to any of the ritual in the Latin Mass. We also had the Green Catechism, from which we learned by heart the basic dogma of the Church, in the form of questions with answers. Eg, Q.1: “Who made the world? A:”God made the world”.

Latin-English missal

Latin-English missal

We were instead taught to accept everything the Church told us as irrefutable Truth. This dogma, well learned and integrated into young lives, was aimed at creating good Catholic children who would do good in the world and eventually carry the word to others. Here are some of the things that I learned and accepted:

The green catechism

The green catechism

  • God was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
  • The Pope was Christ’s representative on earth and the repository of God’s truth, therefore infallible; the priests & nuns  were the teachers of this Truth to their, with the priests (bishops, etc) being the only ones who could forgive sins on God’s behalf.
  • We are all born in a state of original sin due to the sin of Adam and Eve.
  • Christ died for us, but it was our obligation to live a pure life; we would go to Hell when we died  if we weren’t pure or committed a mortal sin that we didn’t confess, or to Purgatory if we had small sins on our soul.
  • Satan was always there to tempt you to sin and you had to stay away from ‘occasions of sin’ so you would not be tempted to do wrong.
  • We were given a Guardian Angel who we should always ask to help us stay away from sin. It was nice to think a lovely, white-robed angel with big white wings would always be there to help us, but I never felt really protected.
Guardian angel

Guardian angel

I always had feelings of inadequacy because I was not perfect; I wanted to be like the angels and saints, but thought I must be a bad person because I often sinned by getting impatient or angry or fighting with my siblings or disobeying my parents, etc, etc. I feared Hell but desired Heaven, whilst believing I was not good enough to go to Heaven.

Saint Michael the Archangel Vanquishing Lucifer by Francesco Maffei

Saint Michael the Archangel Vanquishing Lucifer by Francesco Maffei

  • God’s Word in the Bible was to be interpreted for us by the Pope. We had only short readings from the Gospels and Epistles within the Mass, and were never taught what the Bible actually said apart from that. The Pope was the one from whom the Word of God came down to the people.
  • If babies died before being baptised, they would go to Purgatory because they were in a state of original sin.
  • Non-Catholic Christians could not enter Heaven because they did not conform to the original teachings of the original Church. I think they went to Purgatory too.
  • Those who did not believe in our God had no hope of Heaven and would, instead, spend eternity in Hell.
  • If we prayed to the Virgin Mary, she would always help us. She was a powerful ally and would speak to Jesus for us.
  • If we said lots of prayers for the souls in Purgatory, and made little sacrifices for them, they would be allowed into Heaven more quickly.
Virgin Mary holy picture

Virgin Mary holy picture

We were constantly told of God’s love, but I at least always lived in fear of committing a sin. I didn’t question, but somehow lived with the inconsistencies of what we were taught. Also, because we were not to question any Catholic teaching, I never learned to question anything.

Our lives were focussed on religion – church, school, praying the Rosary at home, at school & at church, reading the lives of the saints. The only movie I saw until I was in my teens, aside from those on TV, was “The Miracle of Fatima”, based on the appearances of the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917. I wanted to be one of those children, even though they were treated badly by the authorities. I firmly believed the Miracle of the Sun had happened and that Our Lady had truly appeared to those children – and to Bernadette at Lourdes.

Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the three children

Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the three children

Making my first Confession and First Communion were special days that I believed would make me holy. I loved getting holy cards with pictures of Jesus, Mary, the saints, angels, etc. These would be given as rewards for doing well at school, for good behaviour and for doing special, extra things to help the nuns. I felt guilty if I missed Mass, even if I was ill,

Looking back, I have often realised that my Catholic upbringing had both positive and negative aspects. The major positive influence was the inculcation of a moral code together with development of a strongly developed conscience. I do not regret that aspect.

However, my religious learning was mostly based on fear, and what that created (in many others besides me) was a child ridden by guilt who had no ability to question what I was taught. The constant striving for perfection against the forces of evil, and especially the guilt of not achieving what I felt I should, adversely affected me in many ways and for many decades. But that’s another story.

(c) Linda Visman

Rites of Passage 2: First Communion

July 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Posted in 1950s, Catholic Church, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Religion | 7 Comments
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I had made my First Confession. Now, my First Communion Day had arrived. Like the other kids, I was full of excitement, and more than a little nervous. I was hungry too, because we had to fast from midnight until after Mass. We weren’t allowed to have Holy Communion if we’d eaten; that would have been an awful thing to do. This was the first time I hadn’t been able to eat breakfast before Mass, and it was already nine o’clock.

First Comm catechism

Mum had fixed up my older sister’s white dress for the occasion. I had new white socks, and Dad had freshly whitened my sandshoes. Mum had cut my straight blonde hair short, so it wouldn’t get in the way of the white veil I had to wear – that had been Pauline’s too when she made her First Communion two years before. I felt very special in my white clothes, and I was very careful to keep everything clean.

There wasn’t much room in our little Triumph Safety 7 car when we all piled in. The four of us kids had to squash up in the back seat. Mum held on to my veil, and the elastic and bobby-pins to fit it on with, until we got to the church. I tried to keep my dress from getting crushed, but it was useless. When we got out, I saw that someone’s shoe had made a mark on my clean shoes. I tried to brush it off.

“Don’t worry about that now,” said Mum. “We have to go over to the school with the other children. Sister wants you to line up ready to make a procession into the church. Come on.”

The boys wore navy blue shorts, white shirts and the school tie, navy blue with yellow stripes. They also wore knee-high grey socks, held up with elastic garters, and black shoes. Some parents wanted to hang around and help, but the school headmistress, Sister Mamertus, shooed them off to find their places in the old, white-painted stone church.

“Make two lines,” Sister ordered us. “One for the boys and one for the girls. Hurry up now, we mustn’t keep Father waiting.”

Each girl took the hand of the boy in the other line, giggling.

“Stop that and make your line straight. Remember, Jesus is watching, and you will soon be receiving Him for the first time.”

Thus, suitably chastened and demure, we walked across the grass to the church door. Sister lined us up again so that, when we got into the church, the boys would go to the pews on one side and the girls to the other. Someone must have given Mrs Harris warning, because, up in the loft at the back of the church, she launched into a hymn, though I cannot remember what it was.

The altar was a mass of flowers, and Mrs Harris had probably helped the nuns to arrange them. The first two rows of wooden bench seats on each side of the aisle were decorated at the ends with big white satin bows and flowers. This was to show that the seats were set aside especially for us. It’s a pity the red aisle carpet was worn and patchy, but everything else looked beautiful to me

We joined our hands together in front of us, as if in prayer, and walk to our seats quietly and sedately. Each of us genuflected before we turned into the pew, respecting the presence of the Lord Jesus in the tabernacle on the altar. We tried to keep our heads bowed to show we recognised the miracle that was about to happen. Receiving the Body of Jesus Christ was a momentous thing at any time, but the first time was extra special.

The Mass began and Father Greely, brightly vested and attended by several altar boys, launched into the usual Latin prayers, along with other special ones for us. Later in the Mass, his sermon was all about the importance of this day and the difference it would make in our lives. He reminded the older people of when they had made their first Communion, and asked them to re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Then, the ringing of the bell accompanying his movements, he consecrated the Host. It was time for us to fulfil the preparation we’d been undergoing for the past few months.

Strangely, about the only thing I remember about receiving my first Communion was how the thin wafer of Host stuck to the roof of my mouth; my mouth was dry I suppose, from nerves. I kept poking at it with my tongue, trying to loosen it. I did wonder if I was doing something awful to Christ’s Body, and when the Host did finally come loose, I made sure not to touch it with my teeth. I didn’t want to be accused of chewing His Body! The hymn that Mrs Harris played and the congregation sang was “On Your First Communion Day”.

At the end of Mass, we were presented with a silver medal, which we wore about our neck, and a certificate, attesting that each of us had made out First Holy Communion on that day at St Paul’s church. My sisters still have their certificates, but mine has been lost somewhere along life’s way.

After the priest announced, Ite Missae est (Go the Mass is ended), we processed down the aisle and out of the church. As we had not yet eaten, having had to fast from the previous midnight in order to receive the Sacrament, there was a Communion breakfast after Mass, at the school. There our families joined us to celebrate our special day. I, along with my schoolmates, tucked into the food, enjoying the sandwiches, cakes and cordial more than anything else.

A first communion group

A first communion group

Although I have copies of both my sisters First Communion photos, there isn’t one of mine as far as I know.

© Linda Visman

Paddling Peter’s Canoe

May 18, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Discipline, Family History | 14 Comments
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I wrote this story a few years ago about one aspect of my childhood – a combination of where I lived; what I wanted to do; what I wasn’t allowed to do; what I did do; and what I was punished for doing.

We lived right beside Lake Illawarra when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. We played cricket on the shore outside the back yard (into the water was six and out), explored its shoreline and adventured in its casuarina forest. Several fishermen plied their trade in the deeper waters, catching mainly bream and mullet, and prawns in season. At night, the lights of the prawn boats and waders looked entrancing from our bedroom window. The lake wasn’t very deep in our bay, but we didn’t play in it because you sank to your ankles in sticky black mud when you walked in it.

ErnThompson &boat Dapto Abt1956 001

Dad with one of his boats. About 1955

In his spare time, Dad made boats for sale out of plywood. My older brother Peter wanted a canoe, so Dad made him one. It was flat-bottomed and had both ends enclosed on top. There was a seat at the centre, so Peter could put his legs into the front section for a foothold. For safety, because none of the family could swim, there was a small outrigger to prevent it tipping over. The craft was painted black and so was the paddle Dad made for it. Peter could now paddle off across or around the lake on his own adventures.

I was three years younger than Peter, about nine years old. A tomboy, I was jealous that, because he was a boy, he could have a canoe and go off on his own, whereas I, being a girl, couldn’t. One day, I decided to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake for a short paddle. It was just to see what it was like. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t: I would be careful; it was easy to paddle; and I didn’t even think about the possibility of capsize – Peter never had so it wasn’t an issue.

I carefully and quietly pulled the canoe down to the water’s edge, then pushed it out and climbed in. I began to paddle away quickly, so that I wouldn’t be seen from the house. I followed the shoreline to the south and, as I got into the swing of it, my confidence grew.  Deciding I didn’t have to go back straight away, I set about enjoying myself – just for a little while. I was sure nobody would miss me. So I paddled on, imagining myself as an intrepid explorer searching out new lands. Then decided it was more exciting to be Hiawatha, paddling down a raging river in his Indian canoe. I had a wonderful time, but eventually knew I must paddle back home.

canoe_outrigger

An outrigger canoe

I had not realised I’d been out a couple of hours. My absence and that of the canoe had been noticed. Mum was waiting for me and she was in no mood to be understanding. I had been disobedient and, in spite of the canoe having an outrigger, she, fearful of water herself, had been afraid I would capsize it and drown. As soon as I’d put the canoe and paddle away, I got the sharp end of her tongue and a thorough hiding with her green leather belt. Then I was sent to the room I shared with my two sisters.

As I’d been approaching home in the canoe, I’d noticed that I was developing a headache. After I went to my room, it got worse and worse. Soon I was throwing up violently and feeling terribly weak. It had been a warm sunny day and I had been out on the water for some time. We only wore a hat to church – we had no others. As a result, I had developed sunstroke. This was a natural consequence of a few hours in the sun, but, to my young Catholic mind, it was really God’s punishment on me for disobeying my parents. The illness I suffered, and my own guilty conscience, were much more effective than any hiding Mum might give me, and I was never again tempted to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake.

Linda Visman

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

Entertaining ourselves in the 1950s and early 1960s (2)

March 30, 2015 at 11:00 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family, History, Memoir | 2 Comments
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One of the things we did a lot of as children was making things. Our parents had little money to spare, and if we wanted toys, we often had to create them ourselves. I’ve already mentioned making bows and arrows and guns.

We also made dolls from the appropriately named dolly pegs, with varying levels of skill (Mum had a job keeping enough pegs for hanging the clothes on the line!). A wooden cotton reel, a few small nails and some wool made us a loom for French knitting.

French knitting   Dolly peg doll

Here are some of the other things we used to make for ourselves (or that Dad made for us).

Things Made From Paper

i) Aeroplanes: There were a couple of tried and true ways to make paper aeroplanes. One of them I have never seen anyone else other than my family use.

ii) Party hats and sailing ships: the party or pirate hat is an easily folded bit of newspaper, and most people know it. The sailing ship was a development on that, and I cannot remember now how it went.

iii) Kites: made from a cross of two sticks and brown paper. The tail consisted of string with paper strips tied to it at intervals. Often they were too heavy, or not strong enough, or not big enough to fly, but we kept trying. Occasionally, one would fly quite well.

Simple kite

iv) Dolls’ dresses: Another thing that we sometimes got on cereal packets was two-dimensional cardboard figures. You could cut them out and make paper clothes for them. You could also get a book of paper dolls with fancy clothes that fitted on the figure using flaps of paper that extended from the costume itself. They came in all kinds of period costume, so you could make up stories from the past. I only saw those once.

v) Christmas decorations: Crepe paper and newspaper made chains and twists to hang on the walls and on the tree we’d get from the bush. Silver paper from inside cigarette packets would cover a cardboard star (cut from a cereal box) to put at the top of the tree.

Things Made from Wood

i) Scooters. Dad worked with wood in his shed. When we were little we didn’t have any spare money. One Christmas Dad made wooden scooters for me and my younger sister. The whole thing was made from wood except for the wheels. We thought they were great! (Ten years later, Dad made my little brother a scooter in steel, using the footrest of an old motorbike for the base)

ii) Cars and boats: I used the off-cuts from Dad’s shed to make myself cars and boats. I was always fascinated by the circles of plywood that resulted when Dad drilled a big hole in plywood and I used to use them for wheels on my wooden block cars and trucks.

wooden wheel

Dad made a canoe for Peter when he was about 13-14. It was made from plywood and had outriggers for safety. Peter used to paddle around on the lake, exploring all the bays and creeks. I was so jealous that I couldn’t have one – indeed, I wasn’t even allowed to set foot in that one.

Things Made from Shells

One of the things we loved to do was go to the beach. We didn’t go to swim – none of us could! We went to play in the sand and at the water’s edge, and to see the sea creatures in the rock pools along from the beach. And we went to collect shells. Mum loved shells and did so all her life. Kids love shells too of course, and Shellharbour, where we went, still had a multitude of them along the beach and the rocks. There are only little ones now, and none of the larger ones we used to get.

Mum used shells to decorate around picture frames and mirrors. When I was about twelve, I made two wall plaques. They were a map of England and one of Australia, in-filled with small shells on plywood backings that Dad cut out for me. I lacquered them when they were done. The one of Australia has disappeared, but when I was looking for something for Dad in his cupboard, not long before he died, I found the one I made of England.

Shell map England re-sized

Reading, Writing and Drawing

My brother and I especially loved reading, and we belonged to the local public library from an early age; I also used to get books from school. Primary schools received the School Magazine from the NSW Education Department. There were separate ones for different grades, issued each month during the school year (ten per year). I loved these too. If I were lucky, I would get a book for Christmas or for my birthday. I remember one Christmas – 1958 I think – I got the first books of my own. I spent a lot of time as a child and a teenager with my head in a book. I loved adventure, and read as much as I could about it, I also wanted to write my own stories. I began many but didn’t get far with them as I just didn’t know how to do it.

Like most kids, we drew pictures and coloured them. Mostly what we used in the early days was the creamy white paper that meat from the butcher came wrapped in. We occasionally had drawing or colouring books too. On rainy days, when I wasn’t reading or doing jobs, I’d settle down with paper, coloured pencils and (usually) Peter’s set of compasses. These circle flower designs were one of the things I loved making. I made other designs as well as this one, but I loved the symmetry of this one and it was my favourite. These two colours, blue and yellow, were also my favourites then and I loved using them together.

Circle flower design

(c) Linda Visman

Entertaining ourselves in the 1950s and early 1960s (1)

March 23, 2015 at 11:22 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Culture, History, Leisure activities, Memoir | 16 Comments
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Apart from the little ride-on horse I have mentioned before, and my older brother and sister’s trike, I cannot remember any play activities in England. However we did often go for walks in the countryside, over the local moors.

My sisters played with dolls, but I was never interested in them like they were. Dad had made gollywogs for my younger sister and me from fabric blanks he got when he worked in the weaving mill in Oswaldtwistle. Mine came with me to Australia, and I have a photo of me holding it, taken at the caravan at Reed Park, Dapto.

Me with my gollywog on the caravan step; my elder sister with her doll.

Me with my gollywog on the caravan step; my elder sister with her doll.

Making My Own Wild West

I was a real tomboy and wanted to be an explorer, a cowboy or an Indian. Inside certain cereal packets were small plastic toys to collect. For me, the best of these were the cowboys and Indians and horses for them to ride. The packets also had cut-out wild west buildings on the back that fit together. You could collect these and make your own town. It was mostly me who played with them.

CowboyAndIndianFigures

I often made bows out of the shrubs and thin branches that grew around the place, and string. My arrows I made from a green weed that grew long straight stalks and dried off in summer after seeding. Though light, they made fairly reasonable (straight at least) arrows. I made my quivers for the arrows out of newspaper.

Here I am with my sisters, posing with my home-made bow and arrow.

Here I am with my sisters, posing with my home-made bow and arrow.

I loved the poem “Hiawatha”, which I’d read in an issue of our NSW Education Department school magazine when I was about nine. The poem mentioned the type of wood, ash, that Hiawatha used to make his wonderful bow with, and I decided to make a bow for myself just like Hiawatha had. I asked my brother Peter if there were ash trees around. He laughed and said, “You’ve been reading ‘Hiawatha’, haven’t you?” I was embarrassed and denied it. He said “Anyway that’s America. We don’t have those trees here”. I was very disappointed.

It was rare for us to have ‘real’ toy guns. We would make a pretend gun from a dolly peg, a matchbox and an elastic band. Mum used dolly pegs for hanging the clothes on the line (no spring pegs then). Sometimes if the clothing was too thick, the peg would split; leaving the top part and one ‘leg’. We would use this broken peg and, with a doubled rubber band, fix a matchbox, sitting upward and end-on to it. The head of the peg became the handle of the gun, and the matchbox was the barrel. If you fitted a half-match with the rubber band stretched around it, between the box and the peg and then depressed the matchbox with your finger as if firing a gun, the match stick would fly off like a (slow) bullet. Mum would find that more of her pegs than she thought had suddenly lost one leg!

Gun& Holster set 1950s

A gun and holster set from the 1950s

As many kids did, we made rifles from odd bits of wood that had the right approximate shape. One Christmas, when I was about eight, I received a cowboy set – chaps, vest and a gun-belt with a toy pistol. It was just what I wanted, and I thought it was great – except that my skirt would get in the way of the chaps, as we girls weren’t allowed to wear pants then. My younger sister got a cowgirl outfit, so we played together sometimes, but I thought she was too girly most of the time.

(c) Linda Visman

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