Tags: Albion Park Rail, Christmas Day, Christmas in summer, Oak Flats, Oswaldtwistle
Going away for a holiday in summer – or at any time – was unheard of in our family when I was growing up. However, the Christmas holidays were always a wonderful time of the year, as they were for all kids. Christmas Day was, for us coming to Australia from England, so different that we may as well have been in another world.
I still remembered the grey, drab, cold and usually wet days in Lancashire. Sometimes it did snow too. On Christmas morning, we would be rugged up in a coat and hat, with leggings and boots, and a mackintosh, to walk the mile or so to St Mary’s Catholic church for Mass.
How different was the two-mile walk to 7am Mass in Australia. We would set off, without breakfast, just after six o’clock. Our little home was in Albion Park Rail, but the hall where Mass was held was in Oak Flats. Almost always, the day would be clear and bright with no sign of drizzle or smog, and no smoke-blackened stone buildings. Instead of wet or icy stone footpaths, we walked along long, dusty streets that were usually hat as well.
Mum and Dad wore their Sunday clothes, as did we, but instead of the heavy clothes of England, they were light cotton shirts, or dresses (usually made by Mum) and sandshoes (usually freshly whitened by Dad). I remember skipping along the street, light-hearted and happy. The lake was on our left as we walked to church, and the new-risen sun shone from a blue sky onto its still waters, making it gleam and glisten. Everything looked fresh and clean.
There were few houses along our street, and hardly anyone was about so early. But whenever we did see someone, we would call out “Merry Christmas!” and they would respond with a smile and a similar greeting. This made the day even more special.
A wide creek marked the boundary between the two little villages and the halfway point in our walk. An old wooden bridge, missing many of its planks, spanned the creek. We thought crossing it was an adventure, but Mum always called out for us to be careful. It was later replaced by a higher one, still of wood and but with handrails on the sides. We’d stop in the middle and watch the ducks swimming in the water – how many would there be there today?
Mum and Dad would catch up with us at the other side of the creek and we’d climb the steep rise to the road above. This took us to the centre of Oak Flats village, where Mass was held in a small, community hall made of fibro.
Mass was still said in Latin then, but we would follow it with our Missal, that gave both the Latin and English words of the priest and altar boys. It was often boring on other days, but on Christmas morning there was a special joy and reverence that was missing on normal Sundays. I loved listening to the story of the birth of Jesus in the manger, the coming of the shepherds and the wise men.
The walk home included anticipation of breakfast, but also of what we would find under the Christmas tree we’d decorated with bits of tinsel, crepe paper streamers and a star made from cardboard covered with silver paper from Mum’s cigarette packet. With little money to buy presents, we usually received home-made gifts, or clothes we needed for going to church. There were no large items like bikes or doll’s prams.
However, one Christmas, Dad made wooden scooters, one for me and one for my younger sister. Another year, she got a cowgirl outfit and I, being a tomboy, received a cowboy outfit. Apart from the scooter and the cowboy outfit, the best present I ever received as a child was two children’s books of adventure stories. They were the first books I ever owned and I treasured them for many years.
Those years, from age six to ten, were the happiest of my childhood, and the best Christmases that I can remember.
Best wishes from me in Australia to all you lovely blog visitors for a wonderful Christmas, wherever you may be in the world.
© Linda Visman
Tags: 1961, Albion Park Rail, Dapto, polio, Wollongong
I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I wasn’t particularly happy that I had to leave St Mary’s College in 1961 after the polio epidemic. I was even less happy to be going to Dapto High – our nearest state high school – even though both my brother and sister had earlier attended there for between one or two years.
I hadn’t made any friends at St Mary’s, although I did talk with some of the girls at breaks. I always travelled to and from Wollongong alone as there were no other pupils from my school on the train, and nobody to accompany me on the half mile or so walk to and from the station at Wollongong. However, I hadn’t been unhappy there. I was comfortable with the school and its religious context, the learning style and how I was progressing in class.
The months of not being able to attend school due to the polio epidemic had been unsettling for all of us, and we’d been glad when the restrictions on our movements were lifted. But it had not been in time for school, and Dad was still struggling to get on his feet – literally. It also took a while before Dad was granted a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) pension. For many weeks, we’d had no spare money. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the charity of the church, the police and a few friends, we wouldn’t have had anything at all.
The school holidays of summer 1961-62 meant that my younger sister and I had a lot more to do at home. Our older brother and sister had managed to get work again and were gone all week. Sheelagh and I helped as much as we could, not always with the best grace, to help Mum with the housework. We also had our little brother, three-year-old David to look after and keep occupied when he wasn’t at medical appointments. He had to wear a calliper on his leg to support his polio-affected ankle and foot, though I’m not sure just when he was fitted with that.
Anyway, when the time came to go back to school at the end of January, it had been decided that the only school I could attend was Dapto High. My sister still had a year to go at St Paul’s Primary. I don’t remember any details of being enrolled at Dapto, nor of getting a summer school uniform. I don’t remember catching on the train for the first day at the school. Nor do I remember walking the half a mile or so from the station at Dapto up to the school with a bunch of kids whom I neither knew nor wanted to know.
What I do know was that I was resentful, sulky and as unco-operative as a usually obedient, religious thirteen-year-old could be.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: Albion Park Rail, Dapto, Illawarra, Illawarra Images, milk co-operatives, school, transport in 1950s, Wollongong, working
I thought I would show you a few photos of three places in Albion Park Rail where I grew up – two of which led to the growth of our little village.
Albion Park Rail Post Office & Moane’s shop
This is just how the shop looked when we first lived in Albion Park Rail about 1955/6. Moane’s shop was a small business, situated on the main highway (the Princes Highway) that runs all the way from Sydney down into Victoria. Although the road was tarred, it was just a narrow, two-lane thoroughfare. You can see it at the front of the photo. Apart from the highway, all the streets of the village were dirt, with lots of potholes.
The shop sold basic necessities like bread, milk, canned and packaged goods, some fruit and vegetables, newspapers – and lollies.
The Illawarra Co-operative Dairy Association Milk and Butter Factory
This factory was on Creamery Rd Albion Park Rail, situated next to the railway line crossing in the early 1950s. As a dairying area, plenty of milk was delivered to the factory. At that time, farmers poured their milk into steel cans and took them to the farm gate. From there, they were picked up and carried to the factory on the back of flatbed trucks. Each cans had an identification stamp for the farm it came from.
You can see a truck there, and some of the unloaded cans of milk. The factory workers wore white, and you can see two of them on the rail platform.
At the milk factory, the milk was pasteurised (not homogenised then) and then much of it sent in tankers by rail to Sydney for bottling. From there, it would be sent to milkmen and shops all over the state. The rest of the milk made into butter at the factory and sold under the trade name Allowrie.
The railway gates next to the factory were always supposed to be kept shut in case a train came. Whenever anyone who lived between the line and the lake (that included us) wanted to go through, they had to get out of their car, open the gates, drive through, and then get out to close them again.
The neighbourhood kids would sometimes open and close the gates for the drivers, hoping the drivers would be generous and give us a penny for doing it. We weren’t supposed to, but most kids didn’t get pocket money in those days, and it was a source of a few pennies that would be eagerly spent on lollies at Moane’s shop.
Albion Park Railway station
Albion Park Railway station is located at Albion Park Rail (which is how the village got its name), just off the Princes Highway. Although the photo dates from a few decades before we lived there, it is almost identical to how it still was then.
The trains ran mainly for the workers, a large number of whom worked at the Steel Works and other supporting industries in and around Port Kembla. The timetable was geared to take them to and from their three daily shifts. You could pretty well set your watch by them.
Others, office workers, shop assistants and so on who worked in Wollongong, our nearest city, caught trains that ran to another timetable. As there was no local high school, students also had to catch the train to either Dapto or Wollongong. In 1961, I caught the train to Wollongong to attend St Mary’s Catholic College. After the polio epidemic, when I had to change schools in 1962, I had a shorter train ride to Dapto High school.
(c) Linda Visman
Photos from Wollongong City Council’s collection, Illawarra Images.
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: Albion Park Rail, ice chest, Lake Illawarra, milkman, piuoneers, sanitation, washing in the 1950s
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.
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.
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.
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.
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