Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (2)

July 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Family History, Religion | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

School was, apart from home, my security. I was good at my lessons, which usually involved rote learning of facts and passages. I was good at spelling, maths and Social Studies, and at Catechism. That was the ideal in the system – no questioning, just blind acceptance of what you were told. I was good at that, so I did well. I strove always to please and, mostly, I did.

The nuns schooled us in our religion, and we were expected to know our Catechism by heart. I can still picture the little green book we used that was set out in question and answer form (“Q: Who made the world? A: God made the world.”), and I knew every answer to every question. We were taught the importance of the Sacraments, and were prepared for receiving them at the appropriate age by the nuns. We made our First Confession just before receiving our First Holy Communion when we were about seven or eight. It was scary, having to confess my sins of fighting or being disobedient to Christ’s representative. I was always petrified that God would see me doing something bad, like sneaking a penny from my mother’s purse to go buy a lolly at the local shop. It didn’t always stop me from doing it, but boy, I sure enough felt so guilty about it that it was a long time before I did it again! I made sure I went to Confession every time too, so that I would be forgiven and not go to Hell if I died.

St Pauls Catholic Church 1959

St Pauls Catholic Church 1959

At about ten or eleven we were Confirmed by the bishop; in our case, Bishop McCabe of Wollongong. I took the name Bernadette as my Confirmation name because I loved the story of St Bernadette of Lourdes. We attended Benediction at the church every Friday, and visited at the day-long Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament[1] on the First Friday of every month.

The Latin Mass was an ongoing institution, and we attended every Sunday. We also went with our parents on Holy Days, like Ascension Thursday and All Saints Day, as if they were a Sunday. I think the kids from the state school were jealous that we had those days off school. On Sundays (and Holy Days), as we often didn’t have a vehicle, we went to Mass on a special bus. It cost sixpence (6d) per school age child and a shilling (1/-) per adult – 4/- for the six of us. Dad received about eight to ten pounds a week wages.[2] Our parents were also supposed to pay for our schooling. But, as we were poor, there were many times when Mum didn’t have the money, and we were treated as charity cases.

There were two money collections taken up at Sunday Mass – one assigned to the maintenance of the parish priest, and the other for the church and its operations. Everyone, no matter how poor, was expected to add coins to the collection plate. Whenever we saw a ten shilling note in the plate, we were amazed that someone had so much money to give away. From school, we also attended Mass on other special saints’ Feast Days, e.g. St Paul (as our church’s dedicated saint) and St Joseph (the nuns were Sisters of St Joseph).

[1] Exposition is a manner of honouring the Holy Eucharist (Christ’s body, in the form of the consecrated Host), by exposing It, with proper solemnity, to the view of the faithful in order that they may pay their devotions before It.

[2] One pound was equal to twenty shillings.

(c) Linda Visman

Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (1)

June 29, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Family History, Memoir, Religion | 5 Comments
Tags: , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

 

We were a fairly typical Catholic family of the 1950s. Migrants from England, we were steeped in the Church’s ancient traditions and guided by its precepts. We believed all we were told: that the Pope spoke with the authority of God; that the Bishop was his representative; that the priest acted for Christ in the Sacraments, and was a respected teacher who would lead us on the way to Heaven. Everything I learned reinforced all this as I passed through the primary grades of our parochial (parish) school in the Illawarra area of New South Wales.

 

When I look back, I see that much of our life was related in some way to the church and its activities, and to the people who attended there with us. Some of the hymns I loved were those that asserted our Catholicism, especially “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Faith of Our Fathers”. I was much chagrined when I later learned that other denominations claimed these hymns too!

St Pauls Catholic School 1959

St Pauls Catholic School 1959

 

Our three-roomed, red-brick Catholic school stood on a parcel of land at the edge of town, a water tank was attached at one end of the building. Between the school and the huge pine trees that lined the fence alongside the road, was a bare playground. In the same parcel of land as the school and not far from it, a the small wooden convent housed our three Sisters of St Joseph teachers. Beyond that was the two-storeyed presbytery for the priest. I could never understand why, being for only one person, it was so big. And finally, furthest from the school was St Paul’s church. This was a white-painted, brick building in the solid rectangular style, with a tiled roof. To me, it was a substantial reminder of the solidity of our Faith.

 

We lived about five miles from the school, and caught a bus there every day. Our school used one local bus company and the state school used the other one, though both sets of owners attended the Catholic Church. I have a feeling that, as well as it being logistically a good idea, keeping the two sets of kids apart was one of the reasons for this. Actually, while there was some animosity between the Catholics (Micks or Tykes) and the other denominations (Proddies) in the cities, we didn’t see much at all. Sometimes we walked in class groups into town, for Salk inoculations against polio at the Council Chambers, or something similar. We had to go past the state school and, if it were lunch time, there would be some heckling and cat calls from the Proddy kids. I’m sure we gave as good as we got in spite of our holy escorts. However, it seemed to me, that we kids got more stick for being Pommies than for being Catholic. The chant, “Pommy-whackers stink like crackers!” often followed us as we walked by a group of kids playing on the otherwise quiet dirt roads.

 

(c) Linda Visman

Epidemic (3)

June 15, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Family History, Memoir, Polio epidemic | 16 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

Continuing the story of our family’s experiences during the polio epidemic that raged along the Illawarra coast of NSW, Australia, in 1961.

On a Tuesday, exactly two weeks after Dad became ill and four weeks after David had, my older sister Pauline came down with similar symptoms: nausea, weakness, difficulty walking. By then, Dad had managed to get his chest muscles working well enough that he was transferred back to Wollongong, although he was still in isolation. Not allowed out of our home, we couldn’t even see him.

I think that, at some stage during this period, David may have come home from hospital. I seem to remember him behind glass, crying for Mum, but, as we were still in isolation, it may be a false memory; we would not have been allowed out.

When Pauline was admitted, the doctors didn’t want Dad to know, as they thought it would retard his progress. However Mum disagreed and word was somehow got to him. As Pauline was also in the isolation ward, he was at least able to see her.

Pauline’s diagnosis had meant we had to remain confined at home another two weeks. Mum could not go shopping – we had no money anyway – and my younger sister and I ended up finishing the year unable to go back to school. Fortunately, Pauline had been inoculated with Salk vaccine, so she was only mildly affected once the initial sickness wore off. She came home after the two-week period of isolation was over.

Because all of us were isolated, Mum didn’t have even Peter’s meagre wages to bring in food. We lived on food parcels and other charity during this time. The local policeman, Sergeant Rose was great. He arranged to have money from the Police Benevolent Fund paid to Mum on a regular basis. He came to the house, in spite of the isolation order, to deliver it personally and make sure we were all right. The church and parishioners came to the rescue too. Father Greely, the parish priest, made an appeal from the altar, and two hundred pounds was raised. Mum was a great one for making pennies do a pound’s work, and that money lasted us quite a few months.

There were heavy rains around the region at that time, with roads closed due to flooding. David’s playmate Jeffrey’s father, went to bring Dad home from the hospital. He just managed to get there before floods closed the roads between us and Wollongong. After picking Dad up, they had to go a long way around to find roads that were still open and that would get them home.

Dad had been told not to try to walk, so he came home to a wheelchair. It was not a lovely padded and comfortable steel or aluminium one; I don’t even know where it came from. It was ancient, straight-backed, made of wood, with lattice-work seat and back. It had huge wheels, solid rubber tyres, and a flip-up footrest. I think a more uncomfortable chair could not have been found. The damage done to Dad’s nerves and muscles appeared to be confined to the whole right side of his body below the neck. My little brother was affected in his left leg, mainly at the ankle.

Dad’s and David’s crutches were the same basic style as this but much more primitive.

Dad’s and David’s crutches were the same basic style as this but much more primitive.

The specialist had told Dad categorically that he would never walk again. And that is what we all believed – apart from Dad. And again, the doctors didn’t reckon with Dad’s determination. Bill, the man who lived next door to us then was a boilermaker. He made Dad some crutches, the kind that has a handle and a wrist support. The crutches were made, not out of light aluminium, but out of heavy pipe steel. They were heavy, not adjustable for height, with only a rest for the forearm, not a grip, and with no padding at all. Using them, Dad forced himself onto his legs and feet again. Bill also made a mini-pair of crutches from the same materials for three-year-old David.

On his first return visit to the specialist, Dad used the crutches to get into the man’s office instead of using a wheelchair – he couldn’t have taken one up the steps and into the place anyway. The specialist castigated him for not following his orders to have complete rest. A few days later, Dad received a letter from him saying that as Dad was so unco-operative, he would no longer consider having him as a patient.

Dad was on his own – and glad to be. He didn’t want anything to do with the specialists, seeing them as stuck-up know-it-alls who actually knew nothing at all. Dad believed that he had to keep his muscles working if he wanted to get back any semblance of normality – if you don’t use it, you lose it. He wouldn’t let idiots tell him he had to do nothing. Unknown to us at the time, the work of Sister Kenny with polio patients had strongly supported this approach with great results. From then on, Dad worked at getting himself mobile with only the help of his family, a couple of friends, and his steely resolve to walk again.

The newspaper article, with Dad and David.

The newspaper article, with Dad and David.

In December, shortly after Dad came out of the hospital, with David also at home by then, the local newspaper, the Illawarra Daily Mercury sent a reported to interview him. Being the only family in the district with three members of the family affected by the polio epidemic, the paper decided it would make a good human interest story. Dad was interviewed as he half lay-half sat on a bed in the living room. The story was accompanied by a photo of Dad and David, Pauline was still in the hospital I believe, and wasn’t included.

But Dad still had other problems. Because of his debts, we were very close to losing the house that Dad had mostly built by himself. He had taken out a couple of mortgages on the place to finance the building and, I believe to keep his business going. He owed the bank a few hundred pounds – a fortune to us then. We were on the verge of being evicted from, with no place to go, when we heard from the head of the Royal Air Forces Association in Sydney.

The Association was set up to assist ex-servicemen who had belonged to any of the Allied Air Forces in WWII. The president had somehow seen or heard about the “Mercury” article on Dad and the dire financial situation he was in. As Dad had been an R.A.F. fighter pilot in the war, he arranged to come down and see him. The Association offered to pay off Dad’s debts. However, it was on condition that they be allowed to take over ownership of our home.

The alternative was homelessness. Dad couldn’t work to support his wife and five children. Here, he was being offered life tenancy of the house even though he could never own it. There was no other option for him but to take up their offer. We all lived there until we kids married and left home. Mum died in the house in 1984, and Dad lived there until his death, just before his 92nd birthday in June 2013.

That epidemic changed our lives. It took months before Dad was granted a T.P.I. government pension as being totally and permanently incapacitated. It was the charity of the church and friends that kept us going until then. There wasn’t much in the way of material gifts for us that Christmas, but our family was together again, with the promise of a more secure future than we could ever have expected. That was a priceless gift.

© Linda Visman

Epidemic (2)

June 8, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Family History, Health, Memoir, Polio epidemic | 10 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

There was a recession in the building industry in 1961 Australia. At that time, Dad worked as a concreting contractor, and was sub-contracted to a company that was building a large number of houses on new estates. The company went bankrupt owing Dad, among many others, several hundred pounds (a lot of money in those days). Dad had no savings, and could not pay his own suppliers. He couldn’t meet the mortgage he’d drawn on to build the house. At the height of the epidemic, he was on the verge of bankruptcy.

We all felt a responsibility, whether financially or through helping around the house (though we’d always been expected to do that). My brother, Peter, at sixteen the eldest in the family, had already left school the year before the polio hit us. Pauline had also just left school aged fourteen and was working. Then came another blow.

Exactly two weeks to the day after David fell from his stool and was admitted to hospital with polio, Dad was driving his truck to work. He began to feel very unwell, so he turned back and went to the doctor’s surgery instead. The doctor strongly suspected polio. Dad was kept away from the other patients and an ambulance called.

By the time it arrived, he could barely walk or sit up. He was taken to Wollongong Hospital, where David was still a patient. I do not know just when Mum found out that Dad had come down with the disease, as we four kids were at school. The doctor had probably called her. Perhaps she even went to the hospital with him in the ambulance, though I suspect she wouldn’t have been allowed to.

During the night, Dad’s condition worsened. He was having difficulty breathing, and the doctors decided to transfer him to Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, where there were machines called iron lungs that helped people to breathe when their muscles wouldn’t work. On arrival, Dad was assessed by specialists. With the muscles of his diaphragm and chest affected, he struggled for breath. The specialists wanted him to be put into an iron lung to assist him to breathe. Dad said no.

iron-lung

“Leave me overnight,” he said. “If I can’t make it through on my own, then you can have your way. But I have to do the best I can first.”

Dad knew that, once in the iron lung, he would soon lose any control over his muscles that might still be there – the iron lung would take over. That could mean a lifetime locked in a machine, unable to do all the things he’d been able to do. He was always strong and active, tall but wiry, a determined man for whom major problems were simply challenges to be overcome.

The specialists reluctantly agreed, but kept a close watch on him through the night. He made it through, though they wondered how. But they didn’t know what Dad was made of. The constant hard physical work Dad had done since we’d come to Australia over six years previously, had probably helped him in his fight against the fatal effects of the disease. But his determination was his real strength.

Through all of this, Mum had to cope. She now had a son and a husband in hospital, the latter in a critical condition. She couldn’t visit either of them, one in Wollongong and one in Sydney, widely separate hospitals, and had to look after the four of us at home. Council health officials said that we were still not allowed to go out in public areas or attend school. The whole family was quarantined at home for at least another two weeks – after the two weeks we’d already been quarantined after David was diagnosed.

At that time, it wasn’t known just how polio was transmitted. Because two people in our home had come down with it, officials from the Health Department thought our place must have been dirty. They sent a team, masked and gowned, to fumigate our whole house with some sort of white gas or powder. The men who came said they were surprised at how clean and tidy it was.

There was now no income, and not likely to be for a long time. The telephone was cut off because she couldn’t pay the bill. Worse than that, Mum had not been immunised, so there was always the fear that she would come down with the disease too. It was a very stressful period. Mum had always been a worrier and easily upset. However, during this time her inner strength came to the fore.

We waited anxiously, not knowing what to expect.

© Linda Visman

Epidemic (1)

June 1, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1960s, Australia, Family History, Health, Memoir, Poliomyelitis | 8 Comments
Tags: , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

Epidemic (1)

On the 21st of June, 1961, on the Illawarra coast of New South Wales, the first case of the disease commonly known as infantile paralysis was reported. We now know it generally as poliomyelitis.

Polio raged through the many small communities around Lake Illawarra and farther south for the next six months. By the end of October, fifty cases had been reported, five of which had been fatal. The peak month was September, with twenty-two new cases reported.[1]  From about then, the epidemic began to ease, with fewer cases reported each week.

Those numbers tell a story, but only a tiny part of it. They do not tell of the fear and the worry and the heartbreak that this dreaded disease caused to individuals and families as it swept through the Illawarra and South Coast that winter and spring. They do not tell of the lives torn apart, the futures of young and old forever changed by a tiny unseen virus. Some people avoided going into public places or visiting family and friends. Everyone was afraid they or a loved one would be next.

We were a part of that largely untold story, and three of my family are included in the case statistics. Salk vaccine, administered through injection, had already been available to all children who attended school, and had already been immunised against the disease. I remember walking with the other children from my school down to the Council Chambers to stand in line to be given the needle. Of the five children in our family, four of us had been vaccinated in the school programme.

As the epidemic grew and spread through the community, the vaccine was made available to all by the local Council. Because of the huge demand for inoculations, our local immunisation centre ran out. Because of that and probably other reasons too, Mum, Dad and David, my three-year-old brother, were never vaccinated.

David was too young for school, and often played with four-year-old Jeffrey from two houses away. One day, we heard that Jeffrey’s younger cousin, who lived nearby, was in hospital. It was polio, the diagnosis nobody wanted. We were really sorry that the little cousin, only fifteen months old, had been struck down. David continued to play with Jeffrey as usual. My older brother and sister, aged sixteen and fourteen, were working at that time, while my younger sister and I were at school. I was near the end of my first year at high school.

One Tuesday in early October, David was unwell, so he stayed inside. He was playing with his little boats, kneeling on a stool at the kitchen sink. When he went to get down from the stool, he fell. Mum lifted him up but he couldn’t stand. I think Mum knew right away what was wrong. We were fortunate to have a telephone and she rang the doctor, who said to get David up to his surgery right away.

I don’t know how Mum got him there, whether she pushed him in a stroller the mile or so, or if there was somebody around to take them in a car. The doctor checked David and called an ambulance. He was admitted to the isolation ward of Wollongong Hospital. We couldn’t go to visit him until after the incubation period of two weeks was up. As it turned out, we wouldn’t be able to see him for another four weeks.

© Linda Visman

[1] These figures come from various news reports in the “Illawarra Daily Mercury”, November 1961.

Paddling Peter’s Canoe

May 18, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Discipline, Family History | 14 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

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

Share Your World – 2015 Week #11

March 19, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Posted in Australia, Family History, Gratitude, Share Your World | 8 Comments
Tags:

Share Your World -blog badge

Here are my responses to Cee’s Share Your World questions for Week 11. Thanks again Cee.

List 2 things you have to be happy about?

  1. The hot weather has been tapering off and the humidity isn’t so high now that we are into autumn. That is such a relief!
  2. I am getting a new (albeit basic) kitchen this week. The sink and counters I have had to work on for the past 10+ years were above height, and I am not very tall. It has been difficult at times to prepare food and wash up at the high sink. In a couple of days, I will have counters that will be comfortable for me to work at, and not so painful!

Do you prefer ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise?  

I don’t often use condiments, pastes or sauces. When I do, it is Australian tomato sauce on sausages. Otherwise I don’t use any really.

If you were to paint a picture of your childhood, what colors would you use?

There would be red for the blood of Catholic martyrs and for my short temper; blue for the Virgin Mary and the beautiful Australian skies; green for the trees and the Australian bush; yellow for the heat of the Australian sun and sand; and black for my depression and feelings of isolation and lack of friends.

Do you prefer a bath or shower?

Definitely a shower. When we came to Australia from England in 1954, we lived in a caravan for 2 years and didn’t have access to either shower or bath – or even a decent toilet. Once we had our tiny cottage, Dad eventually set up a shower in a lean-to attached to the back of it that later became the laundry. That was my first experience of a shower.

We never did have a bath in the house at all, so I grew up with showers. We have a bath now that I have never used in the ten years I’ve been in this house. I get cold in a bath and anyway, I always feel much cleaner after a nice fresh shower.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I am very grateful that the huge branches that came down in our back yard in the short sharp and violent storm we had on the weekend didn’t do any more damage than destroying half our rotary clothesline.

This weekend coming up, we are going camping in the bush, away from the world and its problems. I so want to just relax, away from people, and just BE! This is my chance to do that.

Linda Visman

Building Rooms as the Family Grows

March 8, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Culture, Family, Family History, Gratitude, History, Memoir, Migration | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

I have been away, and set this post to be published on Monday the 9th March. It didn’t work for some reason. Now I am back home, here it is.

 

 

monday-memoir-badge

 

By the end of 1957, we’d been out of our four-berth caravan for about a year, and were living in the tiny three-roomed cottage Dad had bought and set up on our block of land. He had also built an extra room onto the back of it during that time, a bedroom for us four kids. At last Mum and Dad could have their own bedroom. But it was to be for only for a short time.

Mum’s brother and family had come from England to Adelaide in South Australia . My uncle visited us from there about 1957, and decided there was plenty of work for him in the Illawarra region of New South Wales and that he would leave his job in Adelaide and bring his family there. They would move in with us until they had a place of their own.

So Dad again had to get busy building a small two-roomed ‘garage’ next to our little cottage. Its front room served as a very basic kitchen, the back one as a bedroom, into which Aunty and Uncle moved with their young daughter. Their older son joined us four kids in the new bedroom. By that time, our total household amounted to ten people – and Mum was pregnant with twins.

This sharing of limited resources with extended family was not an unusual situation for the times. In the late 1940s and especially in the 1950s, Australia’s population grew very quickly, due to both post-war immigration and the baby boom. A great many migrants began their lives (once they had left the migrant camps to which many had come) with the purchase of a block of land and very little else. From there, they would build their own ‘garage’ that would house their family until they earned enough to build their own house.

When I say ‘build their own garage/house’, I mean that literally – many, if not most, did indeed build with their own hands. They couldn’t afford the cost of having it built by someone else. The 1950s was a time of great energy and enthusiasm, a reaction to the horrors of six years of war, a grasping of the freedom European migrants were offered in a new land. It was a time of economic growth, when most people were willing to put up with hard work, long hours and difficult living conditions in order to make a better life for themselves and their family than they would have had in post-war Europe.

Post war migrants arriving in Australia

Post war migrants arriving in Australia

In mid-1958, after a difficult birth where Mum came close to losing her life, our baby brother joined the family. His twin sister had, unfortunately, died at birth. It was about then, with their only two children in Australia, that Mum’s parents decided they would come too. When Grandma and Granddad arrived in late 1958, Mum and Dad moved out of their newly regained bedroom so her parents could have it, and went back to the night-and-day in the lounge room.

Dad was busy building rooms again. The kitchen, which in 2014 still had its original small cupboards, would be extended to a new outer door, and the little L-shaped cottage would become a rectangle, with two more bedrooms filling in the space. 1958 was a year of high rainfall in New South Wales and Dad was often rained off the building projects he worked on as builder’s labourer and concreter. During those down times, Dad worked on our house. He says he did more work on our house in those days than he did on his regular work, even in the rain.

Late 1958. The last two bedrooms are still under construction. My lovely grandmother stands at the doorway. On the grass are me (second from right) and my two sisters and our baby brother, with our two cousins. My older brother isn’t in the photo.

Late 1958. The last two bedrooms are still under construction. My lovely grandmother stands at the doorway. On the grass are me (second from right) and my two sisters and our baby brother, with our two cousins. My older brother isn’t in the photo.

Granddad had never helped my parents with a penny the whole time they were with us. Grandma slipped a few pounds to Mum from time to time when she could. She also gave us grandkids a shilling a week pocket money. We thought it a fortune, as we’d never had our own money before. In 1959 I think it was, my uncle bought a block of land close to the railway station with finance from Granddad. Granddad also helped to finance the building of a house there. Once it was completed, my uncle, aunt and cousins, and my grandparents too, moved in. At last, our family of seven had our home to ourselves.

For us kids, life was pretty good back then. We didn’t have much in the way of toys and possessions, but we had fresh air, plenty of room to play, lots of interesting places to investigate, and few worries, apart from our schooling and household chores. However, when I see the burdens my parents carried, I realise how difficult it must have been for them. I also believe it made us all stronger, both individually and as a family. Our parents gave us five kids a good start in many ways and we had much to be grateful for.

(c) Linda Visman

A House to Live in

March 2, 2015 at 12:09 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, History, Memoir | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

Sheelagh, Linda and Pauline, collecting wood to burn our rubbish. About 1956

Sheelagh, Linda and Pauline, collecting wood to burn our rubbish. About 1956

In 1956 Dad managed to buy a tiny three-room cottage from Dick Brooks, the builder he was working for. Mr Brooks had built the cottage in 1948 when he had arrived in Australia from England. He was now becoming more prosperous and had built himself a larger house to replace the cottage. [Years later, I saw the second house he’d built and was surprised at how small and basic it was.]

Dad had to cut down the big tree in the middle of the block to make room for the little cottage. He used only an axe and ropes. I am sure I have seen a photo of him standing on the big fallen trunk, cutting off a branch, but either the photo is lost, or it is just in my imagination. He did have some help from a couple of men when he needed it, but did most of the work himself. Once the tree was removed, Dad leveled the ground, dug foundations and put up brick pillars for the house to sit on. Again, he used only hand tools.

The cottage came on the back of a truck. We kids thought that moving a whole house was an amazing thing to do. I don’t remember it actually being put in place – we were probably at school on the day. Dad connected the water to the kitchen sink and when it was all set up we moved in.

After living for so long – about two years – in the caravan, we thought the cottage was huge. All it had were one bedroom, a lounge room, kitchen and front verandah. All of them were really tiny. You can still see the outline of the old place in the original ceiling beams today, and I wonder now how we could ever have thought the place was big. But to us then it was our castle.

We four kids slept in the bedroom, all together in a double bed. My brother and sisters slept side by side at the top and I slept across the bottom. Mum and Dad bought a folding divan for the lounge room, and every night had to make it up into a bed for themselves. Of course, it had to be stripped and the bedding packed away again every morning, but they were used to doing that in the caravan.

There were two little shops on the Princes Highway (a narrow strip of tarred road that melted in summer) less than half a mile (one km) away. One was owned by the Moanes and the other by the Packhams (I think Packham’s was also the Post Office). Mr Packham was also an electrician and Dad arranged for him to connect power to the house. At that time nobody ever locked their houses. One day, while Mum was out doing the shopping, Mr Packham came and wired up the cottage. Before Mum came home, Mrs Reid from the house across the street came over and turned all the lights on so that Mum would have a lovely surprise when she returned and found the power connected.

On the Highway at Albion Park Rail. 1951: the Post Office and Moane's shop (From Illawarra Images)

On the Highway at Albion Park Rail. 1951: the Post Office and Moane’s shop (From Illawarra Images)

I can imagine how wonderful it would have been for Mum to have a house at last, no matter how small; to have power and water and an electric stove (a ‘cooker’ as she called it). She no longer had to fight with that horrid and scary little pump-up burner every time she had to cook. Now she had an electric jug to heat water for a cup of tea, for washing up and for ablutions. There were electric lights instead of the kerosene lamp. We all had a solid roof to sleep under. What heaven!

One day, not long after we’d moved into the house, there was a fire farther down the street from our house. Along the lake shore to the south of us blackberry bushes grew in profusion, and the fire took a fierce hold. The breeze drove it towards our new cottage. The only person with a telephone was Mr Rogan, who lived across the street next to Mrs Reid. Someone went to ask him to ring for the fire engine. He refused – the fire wasn’t threatening him!

Someone then had to race round to Moane’s shop and call from there. The fire was getting closer and closer and we were very worried. The fire engine soon arrived, but their water tank was empty and they couldn’t find a hydrant. Luckily, Dad knew there was one across the street, and the fire was eventually put out just before it reached us. Those blackberries never grew back; I think people made sure of that after that fire. It was a pity though, because we kids loved to collect those fresh juicy berries. We had to go farther afield to find any after that.

Out the front of 73 Koona St. About 1957. Left to right: Aunty Mary with Jean; Dad and Mum behind us children: Linda, Sheelagh, Pauline and Peter. Cousin Christine is in front. Dad is very brown from working outdoors. Behind us is the Reids’ house, across the street. Mum made the summer dresses we three girls are wearing.

Out the front of 73 Koona St. About 1957. Left to right: Aunty Mary with cousin Jean; Dad and Mum behind us children: Linda, Sheelagh, Pauline and Peter. Cousin Christine is in front. Dad is very brown from working outdoors. Behind us is the Reids’ house, across the street. Mum made the summer dresses we three girls are wearing.

(c) Linda Visman

Finding a Place of Our Own

February 22, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, History | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

monday-memoir-badge

We lived up at Avondale until the bridge job was finished, then went back to Reid Park. Mr A, the farmer who owned the property next to which we’d been living at Avondale, had taken a liking to Mum (she was quite beautiful). After we moved away, he started to come around to the caravan and pester her. We’d only been back at the park for about a month, but Dad immediately decided it was time to find a permanent and safe place for us to live. I think this was late 1955 or early 1956.

One day he drove off in his work truck to Albion Park Rail, about five miles south of Dapto. Albion Park Rail was then a little village on the Princes Highway, with the main town of Albion Park a couple of miles to the west in dairy country. It was so named because the railway station was there and had been for about sixty years at that stage. Tommy Totten, the real estate agent, had several blocks of land available, but most were too expensive for us. However he did have three blocks by the lake on Koona Bay, each priced at ninety pounds. Dad checked them out, decided on one and put down a ten pound deposit then and there. It was Lot 8 (later #73) on Koona St, Albion Park Rail.

   Koona Bay on Lake Illawarra

Koona Bay on Lake Illawarra

The block of land backed onto the western shore of Lake Illawarra, south of Wollongong. That evening, with the purchase sorted out, Dad took us in his work truck to see it. When we arrived, the full moon was just rising out of the lake to the east. As we admired the view, a fisherman standing in his clinker-built boat, rowed right in front of the face of the moon. The scene couldn’t have been choreographed any better.

Dad asked Mum what she thought of the place. “Oh Ernie, it’s magic!” she said. He hadn’t told her about buying it. When he said, “This is ours”, Mum cried.

Windang St

Windang St

Wingang St is the road from the highway that we came down towards the lake. The gates are on the lake side of the railway line that we have to cross. Turn right at the end, where the truck is heading, on to Koona Street and a couple of hundred yards further along was our land, by the lake. That wooden cottage on the right-hand corner is still there, over sixty years later.

Within a day or two Dad moved the caravan to the block of land that had one huge tree about one-third the way down the block, with scrub to where bulrushes grew along the lake shore. Two houses stood side-by-side directly across the street from us, but there were hardly any other houses nearby. On our side of the street, there were none on both sides for quite a way along the lake shore. I have no photos of our caravan, or of the early years we were there.

The street was a wide, unsealed, rutted and pot-holed track. We had no electricity and just one water tap outside – but at least mains water was connected. We had the caravan, with the same equipment as before – a kerosene lamp and the spirit pressure cooker that Dad usually pumped up because Mum was scared of it. Mum still did all the cooking for the six of us on that little two-burner stove.

Dad also erected a heavy army disposal canvas tent so that we had more living room. The kids slept in the van and Mum and Dad out in the tent. As well as his day job, Dad began working out a way to get us a proper house to live in. However, the essentials had to be dealt with first.

There was no sewerage in the area, and it was far too expensive to put in a septic tank. So Dad did what everyone else did there. He built a little outhouse in the back yard, where we could go to use the tar-coated can. The “dunny-can man”, also known as the “sanno man”, came in a truck every week and exchanged the full can for an empty one. You didn’t want to be in there doing your business when he arrived! However, primitive as it was, that was the only facility of its kind we were to have for the next twenty years.

        

An old back yard toilet

An old back yard toilet

A ‘sanno man’ carries a full can to his truck

A ‘sanno man’ carries a full can to his truck

Washing clothes was always a hard job. Dad built a stand for concrete double wash tubs and set up a wood-burning copper. All our water had to be carted in galvanised buckets from the tap up near the road and poured into the copper. The fire under the copper heated the water to boiling, and all our clothes (they were cotton) apart from the woollens got a good wash.

Once ready, the clothes were fished out with a stick – usually part of a wooden broom handle – and dumped into the concrete rubs that we’d filled with cold water to be rinsed. Attached to the divider between the tubs was a hand wringer. The clothes would be swished around in the water to get rid of as much soap as possible, then squeezed between the rollers to remove that water and fed into the second tub.

There would be a second rinse and wring, then the clothes, sheets, towels, etc, would be carried out in a large cane basket and hung on the rope line Dad had strung between a tree and a post in the back yard. A long wooden prop held up the middle of the line to prevent the washing from dragging on the ground. After the washing was done, it was the kids’ job – just the girls of course – to scoop out the cold, jellified washing water from the copper. That was a job we hated!

We still used a bowl or bucket when washing ourselves. There was no shower until Dad could build a bathroom, and that took about a year. Mum had a hard job all through those early years, but hardly ever complained. And now, at last, she was happy we had a home base.

There was an ice chest in the caravan, for which we bought a big block of ice from the ice man every week. It kept our milk and meat cool. We didn’t get our milk in bottles or cartons then. The milk cost a penny-ha’penny for a pint and we had a quart (two pint / one litre) billy-can. The baker also used to deliver, but he had a truck (later on, the milkman did too). He would place the uncut and unwrapped loaves (no sliced bread then) into a basket, which was covered by a clean cloth, and bring them down to the van.

An old milk cart

An old milk cart

A Memory:

The milkman comes around on the dirt road past our place every day. His cart has only two wheels, and is pulled by a horse. The milkman has a seat up at the front of the cart, but he doesn’t sit up there much. He walks along, and makes clicking sounds to the horse when he wants it to move along. Usually the horse just keeps walking along slowly and stops when the milkman walks round the back of the cart to fill up our billycans with milk. The cart has a big tank on it, with a tap where the milkman gets the milk out. We all like to take the billycan out to get it filled up with nice creamy milk, and give the milkman the pennies to pay for it (1955/6).

© Linda Visman

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

Helen Armstrong - writing on the move

I write when I travel but not always about travelling. It doesn't have to be a quiet corner...

Rosella Room

Socio-cultural comment on a range of issues, including literature, music and mental health

Myricopia

Exploring the Past to Improve the Future

Foxgloves and Bumblebees

A Nature Journal

L.T. Garvin

Eclectic blog: short fiction, poetry, humor, occasional dreams and wild book schemes.

Echidna Tracks

Australian Haiku

irevuo

art. popular since 10,000 BC

Colleen M. Chesebro

Novelist, Prose Metrist, & Word Witch

sketchings

Thel's Sketchings: Art, Photography, Musings & Short Stories

Learn Fun Facts

An Archive of Curious Facts for the Curious

backstorypress.com

A blog about writing and reading

roughwighting

Life in a flash - a weekly writing blog

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

The Curry Apple Orchard

A blog designed to remember the past and celebrate the present.

barsetshirediaries

A site for the Barsetshire Diaries Books and others

Cee's Photo Challenges

Teaching the art of composition for photography.

Leigh Warren :: Country Music Outlaw

The ramblings of Leigh Warren about himself, country music and maybe... well who knows

Diane Tibert

~ writer -