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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The Old Year Ends – a look back at 2015

December 28, 2015 at 2:00 am | Posted in Australia, Making History, Migration, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Social Responsibility, Society, War and Conflict | 8 Comments
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2015 Behind the News ABC

Apart from my lovely family and friends, I must admit that I have not enjoyed 2015. Not on the state, national or international level. There hasn’t been very much to enjoy in the world of politics, religion, economics, international relations, terrorism, whatever.

With one of the defining images of the year being the body of a little refugee boy washed up on a beach, how could it have been a good year for anyone who looks beyond their own safe little bubble? I for one wouldn’t mind having another go at it to see if we could somehow change how it all went. Failing that, is the hope that last year was as bad as it will get.

TOPSHOTS Kurdish Syrian girls are pictur

Children among the destruction in Syria

I started to write a list of the nasties that happened through the year:

  • the terrorism in the name of religion that is not a religion;

  • the racism and violence in many countries across the globe;

  • the lack of support in many instances for the millions of people displaced by war;

  • the ineptitude, idiocy or corruption in too many governments in too many countries;

  • the failure to address global warming on a global scale;

  • the brain-dead far right-wingers who would prefer the whole world to collapse rather than help those less fortunate than themselves;

  • the destruction of our valuable, even precious, environments and wildlife, to feed the greed of multi-national corporations;

  • the extremes of weather – excessive cold and heat, floods, droughts, huge wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, the melting of the polar ice caps;

  • the extreme polarisation in politics, race and religion, and the fear-mongering among our so-called leaders;

  • the overwhelming power of the arms industry, the far right press, and corporations in deciding national and international government policy.

Need I go on?

Of course there were good things happening too:

  • the rise of people power through social media, demonstrations and actions to show their displeasure at where the world is heading;

  • the rise of a pope who, against those Catholic extremists who would prevent him, speaks for the people, the environment, and the cessation of war;

  • the countries like Germany who have taken in tens of thousands of refugees;

  • the individuals who stand up for right when they see wrong.

not-in-my-name

We need the good so much, but it is demonstrated by individuals and small groups in small and seemingly insignificant actions and interactions, whereas the bad is overwhelming in its ability to create a sense of despair, depression and hopelessness.

However, I must concentrate on those small things and the ordinary people like me who do them, and hope they will add up to more than the bad stuff and overcome it. I must do what I can for my own sanity, but even more for the sake of my grandchildren. I don’t want them to live in the kind of hateful world that seems to be all too possible right now.

I must cling to the hope that springs eternal from the human heart. If it didn’t, I would end it now. So I hope with all my heart that, through good people standing up to corruption and violence, hatred and destruction, at least some of the horrendous problems we’ve had in 2015 will get better in 2016.

(c) 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
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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

Emigration to Australia (2)

January 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, England, Family History, History, Memoir, Migration | 6 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

Today is Australia Day in my adopted country, where I am a citizen. How appropriate is seems that it is the day to post the Memoir entry about my family’s first arrival here.

The ship New Australia was a rebuilt and re-named steamship originally called the Monarch of Bermuda, owned by the Shaw-Saville Line. After WWII, it became both a migrant ship and a troop ship, carrying British migrants from England to Australia, and then transporting troops to the Malayan Emergency and to the Korean War. It then returned to England to pick up more migrants.

S.S. NewAustralia Harbour Bridge 1955

Dad told me that on the ship, most families were split up, with boys staying with their fathers, while girls and all babies stayed with their mothers. Two families often had to share a cabin. However, our family had one of only two six-berth cabins on the ship to ourselves. It was situated on the poop deck, at the rear above the main passenger decks. Its location meant we had good ventilation in the hot tropical latitudes, whereas those on lower decks often suffered from the heat. Mum, Dad and Peter (8) slept on the three top bunks, and Pauline (almost 7), Sheelagh (almost 4) and I (5) slept on the lower bunks.

Children were expected to eat at a separate sitting to the adults, but Mum and Dad wanted us all to stay together, so they simply brought us to the adult dining sessions. We were all well behaved and nothing was ever said about making us eat with the other children. Dad told me that, though there were play areas for the children and most children played there, although we did go there once or twice, we all preferred to stay with our parents. They entertained us with books, stories and games.

All except Dad were very seasick as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay, which is on the western side of France, and Dad became our nursemaid. Otherwise we were well.

On our voyage from England, we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t know if we stopped at Malta or not, but from the Med, we passed  through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. My brother Peter reminded me that, as the ship passed along the deep canal, our deck was at ground level, and we saw Arabs travelling along beside us on their camels – that would have been really exotic to the sheltered and inexperienced children that we were.

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

Ship sailing through the Suez Canal

At the end of the Red Sea, the port of Aden was the ship’s last stop before we sailed out into the Indian Ocean towards Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

A memory: We are on a big ship on the way to Australia. We are in a port (Port Said) and there are little boats crowding all around the ship. There are brown people in the boats wearing funny clothes, and they are selling things to the passengers. I can see all different kinds of fruit and other things I don’t recognise. They haul them up in baskets to the ship by long ropes. The passengers send down the money to pay for them. It is very strange, but bright and colourful and noisy.

Port Said "bum boats" selling to passengers.

Port Said “bum boats” selling to passengers.

We reached Fremantle in Western Australia first, and were allowed to land and go for a walk. The bunting that had been put up everywhere for the new Queen’s visit shortly before we arrived was still flying. I remember many years ago Mum saying that they spoke to several people who had come from England years earlier and who thought Australia was a good country to live in. We all got tired on our long walk, as for many weeks we had only the decks to walk around on.

From there, we carried on towards Adelaide and Melbourne, sailing along the southern coast of Australia and the Great Australian Bight, where we could see the great sandstone cliffs far to the north of us. We had been told the Bight could be very rough and Mum dreaded the thought of being sick again, but the weather and the sea remained lovely and calm.

After Melbourne, we rounded Cape Howe and were in the Tasman Sea, sailing north towards Sydney along the east coast of the continent, where we could occasionally see land and sometimes smoke from bushfires. My older sister Pauline had her seventh birthday on that final leg of our voyage.

Everyone was excited when the ship arrived in Sydney and went under the Harbour Bridge, but it was night time so we had to stay on board until morning. We disembarked on the 10th of March, 1954. It was six weeks since we had left England in deep snow. When we arrived in Australia, the temperature was in the nineties, fahrenheit.

SS 'New Australia' sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

SS ‘New Australia’ sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Most other immigrants went to various hostels, but we never had to set foot in one. Dad’s sister Mary and her husband Eric had sponsored us and were giving us somewhere to live until we found a place of our own. I can’t remember it, but I know that, after six weeks aboard a ship, we had to find our land legs again.

We also had to go through the process of immigration, but I remember nothing of that. Like the details of the new life ahead of us, it was Mum and Dad who had to worry about that. Like my brother and sisters, I was looking forward to getting to Aunty Mary’s house at last.

© Linda Visman

Emigration to Australia (1)

January 19, 2015 at 11:51 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, England, Family History, Migration | 7 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

Dad had first applied to migrate to Australia in 1947, a year after he left the R.A.F. He had joined up in mid-1941, and had trained as a fighter pilot in Canada. He served in the Defence of Britain, in fighters and fighter-bombers around the coastal seas. The only time he was on duty overseas was when he joined a special operation just before D-Day, dropping spies into France. Whilst in the RAF, Dad met many Australian pilots, and liked their carefree approach to life. He learned a lot about the country from them, and decided that Australia was where he wanted to raise the family he knew he and Mum would have.

 

Mum & Dad with eldest son Peter, about Oct. 1946.

Mum & Dad with eldest son Peter, about Oct. 1946.

 

From that first application, it took almost seven years before he was accepted. At first, Australia was only taking single men for particular industries, like coal mining. Dad talked with a friend of his younger sister, Mary, about the opportunities available to anyone who was willing to work. The friend applied, and emigrated soon after.

Then the conditions were relaxed to allow married men with no children. That’s when, sponsored by the friend who was now living and working there, Mary and her husband, Eric, also applied to emigrate. By the time they left England in 1952, Mary was pregnant with their first child, though they didn’t tell Australian Immigration that.

It seemed that everyone Dad spoke to went off to the “Land of Opportunity”. However, with four children, he was still ineligible.

Linda,Peter, Pauline,Sheelagh 1952

 

Then in 1953, the conditions were relaxed even more, and families were at last allowed to emigrate, as long as they had a sponsor or a job to go to. Dad re-applied with Mary and Eric as sponsors. As an ex-RAF fighter pilot, Dad was eligible for free passage, so we were not the “ten pound Poms”  that many people talk about.

In January 1954, Dad received a telegram advising him that our family had been successful in our application and that there was a six-berth cabin available to us if we could be in Southampton the following week.

Dad ‘sold’ our house to Mum’s brother, lock, stock and barrel (my uncle just took over the payments and Dad put the house in his name). Dad gave notice at his place of work and he and Mum packed up whatever they could take with us. We caught the train from home in Oswaldtwistle on a cold and snowy January day in 1954. After staying the night in London we caught another train to Southampton, where we boarded the steam liner the S.S. New Australia.

S.S. New Australia

S.S. New Australia

 

We were off on a voyage half way around the world to a country we kids knew little about, and leaving everything and everyone we did know behind us.

 

© Linda Visman

 

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