A Letter to my Grandchildren

August 3, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Experiences, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 10 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

June 2005

My dear Grandchildren,

Remember when you’ve been to the museum, where you saw old carts and other old things. You thought that it was very old, and that those days were very long ago. Well, we used to have our milk in one of those old carts

My Mum and Dad and us kids had come out from England when I was five. We didn’t have much money, even though my Dad worked very hard. He did manage to put a deposit on a block of land. Back then, not like it is now, the area was all bush, and our land was on the shore of the lake. There were five or six houses within a few hundred metres of us, and a little store over on the highway. Dad rented a caravan, and we lived in it on our block of land. There was no electricity, but the water was connected to a tap at the front of our block of land.

I remember how we all helped Dad to clear the land, and how we played in the bush around our house and on the lake shore. The only thing we had to watch out for was snakes.

Anyway, back to the cart – well, in a roundabout sort of way! How do you get your milk? In plastic bottles from the supermarket I’ll bet! Well, we didn’t. There were no supermarkets then. There were no plastic bottles either. And, where we lived, there weren’t even any glass milk bottles yet!

Our milk was brought around early every day by a man called Max. Max had a trusty old horse named Fred (now, isn’t that an original name for a horse!). Old Fred was very well trained. Max and Fred and the cart would come along the rough dirt road with a big tank of milk sitting on the back of the cart. As they went along, the people would come out of their houses with their billycans. Max would give a whistle, and Fred would stop, right outside the house – or caravan in our case.

Milk cart&horse

Each of us kids always wanted to be the one to take out the billycan to have it filled up from the tank. At first, we were all a bit wary of Fred the horse, because we weren’t used to such big animals, but we soon got to know that he wouldn’t hurt anyone. It was exciting to give Max our shilling and see the creamy milk splash into our billycan. When our can was full, and we had exchanged a word or two with Max, he would give another whistle, and off Fred would plod to the next house. We had to be really careful carrying the billycan of milk back down to Mum, so that we wouldn’t spill it.

Now, don’t you think that’s a more interesting way of buying your milk?

Mum would put the milk into an icebox because we didn’t have a refrigerator – or even electricity. But that’s another story!

With love from

Grandma

This started off as a letter to my young grandchildren– written over ten years ago when the first of them was only a year old, even though I pretended that he was a lot older. I wrote it to describe how we got our milk when I was a child,

I wanted to show that it wasn’t really so long ago that things were so different. But perhaps I’m having myself on. Even a child of seven or eight would think fifty years (as it was when I wrote it) WAS a heck of a long time ago. It just doesn’t seem that way to me, and now it is sixty years ago!

Anyway, it’s interesting to look back on those changes.

Would you like to share an example that illustrates the changes from when you were a child to now?

©  Linda Visman

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An Orange Treat

June 17, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Australia, Family History, History | 7 Comments
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Group of oranges

Mum loved oranges. When we lived in England she would occasionally buy the Australian ones. They were the best to be had, large, sweet and juicy, something to put in a Christmas stocking, a real treat.

Dad made the decision to come to Australia when he returned from the war in 1946. He first applied to migrate in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1954 that families were allowed to have assisted passage.

Assisted passage adMum would have seen Australia, then a British colony, as many others did – rough, raw and wild. I’m sure it was Dad’s enthusiasm that drove the emigration; Mum was more reluctant and full of anxiety. Leaving the soft English country farms and moors and even the dank, dark and soot-stained town was a step into the unknown for her

One of the things that may have softened the anxiety she felt at leaving her home, her mother and all that was familiar to her, was the thought of those beautiful Australian oranges. She could enjoy them any time, instead of only when they were in season) and available from the local Oswaldtwistle greengrocer. That was in the Australian winter, summertime in England.

Orange export label Leeton 1940s

To Mum’s great disappointment, those big, sweet and juicy oranges were not even available in Australia. All the best of them were exported, mostly to England. What was available in Australian shops was the second and third grade fruit.

bad-orange-003

What a let-down!

Have you ever got your hopes up over something and had them dashed when you got it?

(c) Linda Visman 17.06.14

I Remember When …

August 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, Society, Ways of Living | Leave a comment
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Prop clothesline

I remember when…

The lake shore, the farms and the local streets
were all places where children could safely roam;
And we played pirates, and cowboys and Indians
and wandered ‘til dark in the bush near our home.

I remember…

The milk and bread being delivered to our door
on a cart with a horse that knew when to stop;
When it was exciting to travel on a steam train
and a penny bought four lollies at the local shop.

milk cart

And I remember…

Walking three miles to church on a Sunday
With my family and wearing my best frock;
And the joy of reading a library book
or of being allowed to stay up until eight o’clock.

Aah, the memory of…

Our excitement when Christmas morning arrived
and we couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought;
When the family came together to share a meal
and we sang the old songs that we’d all been taught.

Do I want to remember…

Going outside down the path, in sunshine or rain,
to the backyard dunny with its newspaper and pan,
in daylight or dark, with the smell all around,
hoping they’d not come when you’re sitting to pick up the can?

Dunny can

I also remember…

The long hard hours Dad worked to get enough
for the basics of life and a deposit on some land;
And Mum, never knowing if ends would meet
or if there’d be enough money to go around.

And the polio that changed our whole way of life
when it struck down my brother and sister – and Dad;
How Mum coped with all the worry and stress;
Her fears we’d never keep even the little we had.

But the things I remember best are these…

the love that our family had for each other
and the strength this gave us in bad times and good;
the joy we took in life’s simple things;
the hard work that was something we all understood;
the respect that we knew was earned and not bought;
and the strong moral lessons that our parents taught.

Maybe rose-coloured glasses have changed my perspective,
But I believe that our past is always subjective.
What we do with our memories shows who we’ve become –
So let’s use them to help us in times that will come.

(c) Linda Visman

First published in “I Remember When” an anthology compiled and edited by Julie Athanasiou, Legacy Books, Melbourne, Victoria, November 2006.

Birthing Characters

November 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Australia, History, Writing, Writing and Life | Leave a comment
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I used to wonder where authors got their inspiration for their characters. Now that I write my own stories, it is other people who ask me where my characters come from.

My recently published novel, Ben’s Challenge, is a case in point. My eldest son recently asked me to write to him (he doesn’t have a computer, and lives in Japan), to explain where Ben and the other characters in my novel, set in the 1950s, came from. He said they seemed very real to him.

Strangely, I really had to think deeply about that question. You see, when I began to write the story, Ben was already there; and the other characters appeared just when they were needed. It was as if they had existed in their own world all the time, and I had simply taken part of their life and written about it. Indeed, at times, they didn’t seem to want to share their story, and I had to wait until they allowed me to re-enter their world.

I must admit that some of the characters demonstrate certain similarities to people I know and have known, during the last 60+ years of my life. Others are an amalgam of traits and characteristics I have absorbed from the numerous people who have crossed my path over those years.

I think that Ben was inspired by a combination of my older brother and myself as youngsters. Peter was able to do the things that Ben did – like going into the bush with his dog and catching venomous snakes -but I, being a girl, could not. I always wanted to be a boy, so I could do them. Ben, of course, is himself, a person in his own right, not Peter and not me; well, perhaps just a bit of us.

Ben’s father, Karl, although not alive, is a potent character in the story. He has a little of my father and my grandfather in him. He has wisdom, love for his family, and a sense of both responsibility and fun. Ben loves his father as I love, admire and respect mine.

MV "Skaubryn" arrives in Sydney, bringing European migrants.

What about Joe, who becomes Ben’s best mate? Well, I had my childhood in 1950s country Australia, the era in which the novel is set. That decade saw a huge influx of migrants from Europe. They lived in the towns nearby, and I went to school with some of them. I have not based Joe on any individual at all, but on what I might reasonably expect of a young lad coming from war-ravaged Europe to the promise of a new life in another land.

The shopkeeper, the bully, the two policemen, and others in the story are representatives of the variety of personalities one might find in a country town during those post-war years. Each has his/her own history, genetics and experiences, which have helped to form them.

I am pleased that many readers have commented upon the reality of the characters, the setting and the story in Ben’s Challenge. That was always my aim; to bring to life a time that is so different in many ways from the present, but which was home to people who are no different in their hopes and fears, loves and hates, and in the kinds of challenges they face, to those living and growing up in the present.

Ben’s Challenge is available as both a print and e-book here.

© Linda Visman

Review of Ben’s Challenge

October 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Posted in Making History, Reading, Writing, Writing and Life | 3 Comments
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I mentioned that I had received two reviews of my novel, Ben’s Challenge. Here is the second one – and I am pleased that Marian was so honest in her assessment of the book:

Review of Ben’s Challenge by Linda Visman

I want at the outset to declare two things. I am a 50’s baby and I know the author. This provides me with a bit of a challenge.  I grew up on diet of meat and three veg, respect for the Queen, a quiet uncomfortable awe for the name Robert Menzies, church and Sunday school, 10 shillings in a card from grandma at birthdays, the rote learning of the names of the rivers of northern New South Wales, an uncomfortable struggle with the notion that girls couldn’t behave like boys, but a freedom to run and play with friends without adult supervision.  You behaved yourself because mum would invariably find out and then you’d be in for it.  Like many before me, I’m starting to feel that the past, even with its dark stories of abuse and betrayal, is tending to look a bit more simple and authentic than the present.

I’ve known Linda Visman since the early 80s and though it’s been a friendship marked by distance and other lives it is still a friendship built on affection and respect.  Usually, in the selfish consumption of fiction, the author per se is not considered. It is plot, character and good descriptive dialogue that keeps the interest. To not like a book when you have no affinity with the author is neither here nor there. When you do know them and they have written about a time that is etched into an affectionate part of memory, the simple process of reading becomes complicated. 

To be honest, I was afraid I wouldn’t like Ben’s Challenge. I was prepared to be disappointed by the writing, prepared for the possibility of poor dialogue, unconvincing characters, forced plot.  It was in fact a good read, and within two chapters I could let go of my doubts, relax and trust Linda Visman’s handle on the craft of good uncomplicated writing and simply fall into the story: its characters, its descriptive nature and of course the many things that consume the mind, body and summer days of Ben Kellerman. 

Bens Challenge is a number of things: a good mystery story, simply but effectively told, a journey into the language and mores of an Australia that is fast disappearing, a relevant and current examination of the emotions of children who, having faced the loss of a parent, now experience the uncomfortable realisation that mum or dad, the memory of whom is an emotional touchstone, can and probably will be replaced.

There were a few elements of the writing that caused a slight hesitation. In the initial stages I wasn’t sure as to whether the book was too heavily centred on the language and memory vignettes of the times- we all too well knew of teachers, usually men if you went to public school, nuns if you went to catholic school, who caned too hard and too often, but the ‘mystery aspect’ of the story soon became the focus of the story and Linda Visman builds it convincingly.

For me, it provided a wonderful excuse to take to the couch and just keep reading one wintry wet afternoon.  The resolution of the mystery surrounding the bike and the tone of his brother’s confession was a bit stylistically unsatisfactory and the story also ended a tad abruptly.

Ben had been challenged and had undergone a journey in which he had faced physical and emotional duress. He emerges at the end of the novel a stronger and more perceptive boy as a result and for me the closing of the book would have been enhanced with a more reflective focus.  But, as I have said, these are slight aspects of what is essentially an excellent book for children and for a ‘50’s baby’ to read and enjoy.

I have lent the book to an inquisitive 8 year old, who gets jokes and loves i-pads and digital technology. He also loves reading. His dad, also a child of the 50’s, is reading it with him at night. It will be interesting to see how Liam engages with Ben and his story, and how his dad responds to a setting which is very much a reflection of his own childhood. I’ll let you know.

Marian Grant

*** You can purchase a copy of the book in print form from Amazon by clicking on the book cover at the top of the page ***

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