Tags: 1950s Australia, Catholic Church, Catholic school, Sisters of St Joseph
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!
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
Tags: 1950s Australia, 1960s
Our childhood days were often anything but fun and games. Both Mum and Dad believed that children should learn early to help around the house. There were no free rides – at least not for the girls. Throughout our childhood and teens, we had our jobs to do and we couldn’t get out of them without good reason.
My sisters and I were expected to help Mum clean the house. We did a lot of the big weekly clean under Mum’s supervision. We didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. Instead, we used a stiff bristled hand (banister) brush to sweep the lounge room carpet on hands and knees. After that it was dusting the furniture, as well as sweeping and dusting the rest of the house.
One of the things I didn’t mind doing was polishing the brassware with Brasso. Among these were three or four round wall plaques pressed with scenes of sailing ships or old villages. Mum had worked in a large munitions factory in Accrington during WWII and, among other things, had filled the shells that the British fired at the Germans. Dad was a fighter pilot in the RAF, one of those who fired those 22mm shells.
On one of his leaves, Dad brought home an empty .22 shell casing; one that had been fired. That casing became one of the brass ornaments that lived in Mum’s china cabinet. I loved polishing that one. Many years later, after Mum had died, I noticed that the shell casing was missing. Despite enquiries, we have never discovered where it went to.
My sisters and I did all the washing up after dinner (we called it tea). We took turns clearing the table, washing up, and drying and putting away the dishes. With no hot water, an electric jug had to be boiled to start washing up the crockery, and another to heat the water up again for the pots and pans. We all hated washing up. There were occasional arguments when one of us ‘forgot’ which task we were supposed to do that night, or was late getting on the job – especially the washing up.
We had to make our beds of course – even my brother did that – and polish our shoes in the evenings for school or work the next day. When we were about nine or ten, we learned how to do our own ironing. The iron, although it was electric, had no heat regulator or steam. We had to turn it on or off at the power point to attain and maintain the correct heat – not easy to do, and easy to forget when distracted. Woe betide us if it got too hot and scorched the item of clothing we were ironing – especially if it was a white school shirt!
We also had to help clean the windows once we were a bit older. I remember the louvered windows and cleaning each one – each window had 10-12 long narrow panes. We had to wash each pane, on both sides, with wet newspaper then dry it with dry newspaper. You couldn’t press too hard on the glass or the pane could break in two. By the end of the job, our hands were black with newsprint. Sometimes we used Bon Ami, an abrasive paste that had to be spread evenly and thinly onto the glass. When dry we rubbed it off with a dry cloth. Every window in the house, apart from three, had louvres. So we soon got to hate the day that Mum decided it was window-cleaning day!
My older brother didn’t have many jobs to do – I only remember him doing one apart from making his bed and cleaning his shoes. Once we got a mower, he mowed the lawn and the bulrushes down the back. However, he left school to start work in 1960 when he was fifteen and had done his Intermediate Certificate, and he didn’t have to do it then. Other things happened that year too. When Dad contracted polio in October 1961 [that story to come] he could not do physical work for some time. I took over the mowing and loved it.
So, until we left home to marry, pretty well all the chores that Mum didn’t do fell to the three of us girls. My elder sister learned how to cook and I think my younger sister learned a bit of cooking too. They both did Home Economics at school, but I didn’t. I never did learn while I was living at home I wasn’t at all interested in cooking or sewing – I’d much rather do the mowing and other outdoor work.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: 1950s Australia, Albion Park Rail, basic living, independence, initiative, making do
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.
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.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: 1940s, 1950s Australia, childhood, cotton mills, Oswaldtwistle
This is the first of my entries for Monday Memoir. I am using the Monday Memoir logo from my friend Queasy Peasy’s blog. Thanks to her inspiration, I intend to post entries in this category each Monday.
My Early Childhood
I was born in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, England in 1948, and lived there until my family migrated to Australia in February 1954. The Lancashire climate is humid, and the cotton industry flourished there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When I say the climate is humid, I mean that it rains a lot there!
There were many huge red-brick cotton mills in and around the town, carding, spinning and weaving cotton products for domestic and overseas markets. There were also all the support industries, such as dyeing and maintenance. Streets of terrace houses had been built by mill owners for their workers. It was in such a terrace house, a “three-up-three-down built of stone, that I and my older brother and my two sisters were born.
By the 1950s, the cotton industry had been killed off by cheap imports from places such as India, and engineering had taken over as the major industry of our district. My father had been a moulder before World War II, but joined the R.A.F. in 1941. When he returned home after he was demobilized in June 1946, he hated being in a foundry and worked outdoors whenever he could.
I have very few concrete memories of my life in England, even though I was old enough to begin school there after the summer holidays until we left in mid-winter. I attended St Mary’s Catholic School with my older brother and sister. We walked over a mile there and back each day in sun and wind, rain and snow and sleet. The only memory I have of school is sitting next to a girl who had head lice; I didn’t like her.
Here are a couple of earlier memories that I do have:
Hospital – I was in isolation at Blackburn Infirmary, suffering from glandular fever; aged about 2-3 years.
I’m in a cot. I don’t like being in a cot. I’m standing in the cot and holding the bars, and looking at the door. There is a smell. I don’t like the smell and I don’t like being here. Mummy and Daddy are coming. I can see them. Maybe they will take me home today.
Toy Horse – I am about 2-3 years old
I’m on my horse outside the front of the house. The house is on Roe Greave Road. It is made of stone and is big and solid and dark from all the smoke. All the houses are joined together and there is a whole street of them with doors opening onto the footpath. The footpath outside the house runs between the front wall and the cobbled street. My horse is made of wood and has wheels. I push it along with my feet, but every time it comes to a nick in the footpath it stops, and I have to lift the front wheels over it. It is a bit heavy, but it’s good fun.
Leggings – I am about 3-4 years old
We are going for a walk. It is winter and here is snow on the ground. Mummy is putting on my leggings for me so my legs won’t get cold. I have a coat on over my dress. My leggings are made of thin leather and they are soft and brown. They cover my legs from my shoes to my knees. There are lots and lots of little buttons down the sides and Mummy has to do them all up. I love my leggings and all the little buttons, but I can’t do them up myself.
Buttercups and Bluebells
We’re all going for a walk up to the Top Reservoir, my Mum and Dad, my two sisters and my brother and me – Sheelagh is in her pram. Buttercups cover the ground, bright and golden and cheerful. When I pick one I hold it up to my face. When you hold them up to your face the gold shines on you. Little bits of yellow powder fall off the flower and cover my nose. We come to a glade. Farther on there are trees around, and under them are carpets of bluebells. The whole ground is blue.
When we get to the moors near the water, we have a picnic. Dad cooks baked beans and bacon on a fire. I feel good.
© Linda Visman
Tags: 1950s Australia, billy cart, comics.comic books, creative enterprise, iniative, opportunity
When I was in primary (elementary) school, my enterprising older brother decided he wanted to make some money. It was the second half of the 1950s in rural Australia, and Peter was about eleven or twelve years old.
Peter knew that kids who wouldn’t read books did read comics. He was an avid reader of books, but loved comics too. They were popular, but a little expensive for struggling families to buy on a regular basis. Peter decided he might be able to make a little pocket-money while also providing a cheaper alternative.
Somehow, he managed to get together a reasonable selection of used comics, and these provided his base stock. The idea was not to sell them – he would soon be out of stock if he did. No, he was going to exchange them – at a cost, of course.
Peter stacked his pile of comics into his billycart and took them out around the streets of our town and one a couple of miles away. Because both were small, but with many young post-war migrant families, Peter knew that there would be plenty of kids who would love to get their hands on the comics he could provide.
Depending on the size and condition of the comics he exchanged (both those outgoing and those coming in), he would charge between a penny (one cent) and threepence (just under 3 cents) for each one.
Peter did his arounds regularly for a while, but I don’t remember how long he kept it up and how successful this enterprise was, though I think it went well for a while at least.
Getting the whole story can be difficult at times, especially when he lives in another state and doesn’t have a telephone. However, when I think about his creativity and initiative, I realise there is a lesson in it:
Opportunities can be created when someone sees an unmet need and finds a way to fulfill it.
Have you seen examples of creative enterprise in a youngster? How did it turn out? Are there opportunities these days for the young to exercise initiative?
Were you a comic person when you were a youngster?
© Linda Visman 24.06.14