I Remember When …

June 22, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Family, Gratitude, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 10 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

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.

 

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 while you’re sitting to pick up the 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 had 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

This poem was first published in “I Remember When” an anthology compiled and edited by Julie Athanasiou, Legacy Books, November 2006.

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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

Mementos of Childhood

March 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, Making History, Psychology | 5 Comments
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I possess very little from my childhood; not the only doll I ever had, that the dog chewed up, nor bits of the wooden scooter Dad made one Christmas. I don’t even have the things that I was really keen to hang on to, that were important to me then; things like my Missal (Mass book), my First Communion and Confirmation medals and certificates, and especially the books I loved.

In the 1950s, we were a struggling English migrant family of seven (five kids), living in a tiny three-roomed house in a tiny village in rural Australia. Dad added a room to the house when our uncle and aunt and two cousins arrived from England to stay with us until they could get their own place, and another when our grandparents followed them.

My little brother, the fifth child, was born not long before they arrived. There was little room for thirteen of us, let alone old toys and papers, and that sort of thing didn’t ever seem that important to my parents anyway. It didn’t worry me at the time either; I was only a kid. But times have changed since then.

My home in 1965

I would love to have the books I treasured as a child, examples of my writing or school work, anything at all in my handwriting. The only original things I do have are a few report cards, my references from secondary school, and the three certificates I received during my education – one on leaving the convent primary school where I was female dux, one at the end of my third high school year, and my high school matriculation. The only example of my writing that I have consists of one article, printed in the second annual magazine of our high school, in 1963.

In 1969, I went back home for a visit after I had married and was teaching far away. I do not remember seeing anything of mine in the house; not my book collection, including Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, nor the WWII model aeroplanes (Dad had been an RAF fighter pilot in the war) and model vintage cars that I’d had in my bedroom. Strange as it may seem, I never asked where my things had gone.

My school in 1959 (I was in 5th grade then)

Another strange thing: when St Paul’s, my old primary school, celebrated the centenary of the St Joseph sisters in 1983, they produced a booklet about the teachers and the school. There were only three teachers, all nuns, when I attended, though it is a large school now. Daybreak, the Centenary booklet, contains quite a few old class photos. Both my sisters and both my brothers are in there, but I am not – and we could never afford to buy school photos.

Similarly, at the state high school my husband and I had attended for five years, many student records were destroyed in a major flood about twenty years ago. The only records lost were those from the exact years we were there, 1961 to 1965. It is as if we had never been there – apart from my name in the school magazines I was able to buy.

In many ways, I feel like I have lost a major part of my childhood. Most of my ‘history’ has gone. It doesn’t help that I also have only a fragmented memory of those times.

Perhaps as a result of all this, I tried not to throw anything out that belonged to my five children. I don’t know what they still keep from these items – all 5 being boys, and movers about the country to find good careers, I suppose they haven’t bothered – and somehow, I only have a few of their things myself.

Thirty-five years ago, I began researching and putting together the family history. I have written a book, in two editions, about our family antecedents, including historical and social conditions of the times. It focuses in greater detail on the individuals since about 1850. Years of research made me well aware of the importance of records in establishing the life of any individual in any time.

But to know a person, we need to have more of them beyond bare genealogical details. And that has led to my being designated as ‘family historian’. In order to save what I can of us as individuals, I have become a hoarder of my own memorabilia and anything associated with my family. I have only a few of my parents’ small possessions – which are virtually all that remain of their lives, apart from memories that fade over time. These too will be lost as my generation and our children die out.

My published novel, Ben’s Challenge, and its sequel, Ben’s Choice, my current work-in-progress, are based on childhood memories and experiences in the area in which I grew up. I wanted to pass on the knowledge of those times to the children of today, especially to my own grandchildren. Instead, I find that the first book has ignited memories in older folk who lived during those times, and they have enjoyed being taken back to their childhood.

I think the books may also be a search for my own past. Perhaps I have never gotten over the loss of what was really my own childhood identity.

What items do you treasure from your childhood?

© Linda Visman,

Review of “Ben’s Challenge”

October 4, 2011 at 4:21 am | Posted in Writing | 2 Comments
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It is wonderful when a reader thinks enough of a story to let the writer know  how it has affected them. Carol Rose, who I have not met,  read a  copy of the book that her friend had purchased from the local store, where I left some to be sold on consignment. Carol sent her comments via the email address she found on the inside cover.

I am pleased to publish this unsolicited review of Ben’s Challenge.

                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is a well-crafted story that remembers the pace and values of ordinary life in 1950’s rural Australia.

It’s a good read, much of the pleasure is in being taken back to a world that I recognise. It’s a book for adults who were children in the 1940s and 1950s, rather than the kids of the fast-paced aggressive computer worlds of Carmageddon and Grand Auto Theft, of paved city streets, skateboards, tiled chlorinated swimming pools, and instant “communication”.

It’s a good reminder of how our values were forged. For example, the notion of paying your way comes out of a slower life, and a more austere, yet more egalitarian society, where even if we could pay for modest necessities on a weekly basis at the grocery store, we had to save for something we wanted. If you received credit it was likely to come out of compassion, from someone who knew you, and the circumstances of your family.

Our values came from a world where you could go overnight camping (if you were a boy!) with a jumper, a piece of canvas for groundsheet, a small sack of food, a box of matches – not the sort of “lifestyle” that the Contemporary Camping Shop would have you adopt.

It’s a book that explores the growing moral sensibility of a young person, intent on uncovering the truth about his father’s death by hit-and-run driver. It’s about loyalty and truthfulness between friends who come from quite different places.

This world is one in which children were children, but capable of taking on adult responsibility within the household; a world in which the polarity between boys and girls appeared later in life; a world in which bullies could change and soften; a world in which an older man could provide friendly guidance, support, and touch to a young boy, in which it was possible to imagine mutual trust and respect between generations. 

How refreshing a comment on the new rigidities, rapidly changing codes, and shallow betrayals of contemporary society! The 1950’s weren’t “the good old days” (there were bullies, injustice, crooks, poverty, snobbery, some speedsters…atom bomb tests, persecution of aboriginal people and  “communists” and those who wanted to escape suffocating family values…) but mostly they moved at a human pace, and this pace invited reflectiveness of a sensitive, perceptive young person. The speed at which many people move and “communicate” in 2011 leaves less room for circumspection or thoughtfulness.

This is a story that resonates with truth, and I thank L.M. Visman for giving me the opportunity to review my life, its formative influences, as lived in country Australia, specifically Cessnock and Wangi Wangi, in the 1950s.

Carol Rose

~~~~Click on the book title at top right of this page to purchase a copy from Amazon~~~~

What to do with reviews of my book?

October 3, 2011 at 11:27 am | Posted in Writing | Leave a comment
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I have received two reviews for Ben’s Challenge in the last couple of days. One was unsolicited and quite unexpected; the other I had requested.

They have some similarities, the main one being the reviewers enjoyment of the book, and their view that Baby Boomers will love the nostalgia aspect of the novel.

One says modern kids should like it, and has loaned it out to one; the other says it’s not for modern kids with their high-paced techno lives, but for those who grew up in the 1940s-1960s.

Both reviewers say it is well written and thoughtful, and that the characters, issues and relationships are real and engaging.

But what do I do with the actual reviews?

Do I take out the sentences that really give a great, or at least a good view of the book and use them to promote it? Or do I publish the reviews in full (with the writers’ permission, of course)?

Do I use the best bits for my novel’s cover? Include them, for now (until a new issue is printed) as an insert with each book, to create interest in those who may buy it?

Should I publish the reviews, or excerpts from them, on my blog? On Facebook?

I am not really sure what is the right thing to do. I will have to chat with a few people and get other opinions. But I would love to show that intelligent readers do really like Ben’s Challenge.

(c) Linda Visman

Nostalgia

May 2, 2010 at 8:04 am | Posted in Philosophy, Society | Leave a comment
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Last night, my husband and I, and several friends, went to a club about 45 minutes away from home, for dinner and a show. The dinner was the usual bistro meal, adequate but nothing special. The show was absolutely great. It involved a quartet of (not-too-young) men who pay tribute to three groups from yesteryear. They call themselves “The Three Bs”.

The show was in three parts, and the group dressed to match the particular “B” they were imitating in each part: the Bee Gees; the Beach Boys; and the Beatles. So, what’s special about all that? Well, firstly, they were very good. Their singing, stage presence and enthusiasm really had the crowd involved. The dance floor in front of the tables was continually full of enthusiastic dancers, whose ages ranged from about eighteen to their sixties (I was one of the older ones actually on the floor). The seated audience covered the same lower age range, but a higher upper range; some people would have been near eighty. I suppose the biggest thing that struck me was how much this show, and its audience, illustrates the huge surge in nostalgia as the Baby Boomers age.

So, what is nostalgia?

Nostalgia: n, a longing and desire for home, family and friends, or the past. (The Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd revision, The Macquarie Library, Sydney, NSW, 1982.)

Nostalgia has always been a part of the human makeup, but why does it appear that this post-World War II generation is particularly noted for its nostalgia – in fact, so much so, that the emphasis is now seen to be on the second part of the definition, “a longing and desire for the past”, rather than on “the home and family”? I think there are a couple of major reasons for that, though there are probably others too 

The first reason is that, in general, Baby Boomers had an easy life when they were growing up. The nineteen-fifties were a time of high employment and financial security. For the first time, children didn’t have to – indeed they couldn’t – go out to work at a very early age. Families could afford to buy their own homes, a car, labour saving devices. Children had access to levels of education their parents could only dream of. They were now more likely to be “white-collar”, rather than “blue-collar” workers.

The second reason is the huge changes that have occurred in technology and society in general in the post-war period, but especially in the last twenty years. Many of these changes came as Baby Boomers were reaching their forties, and have continued through their fifties and up to their sixties. They would, in earlier times, expect to be settled in their employment, having raised their children, and be looking forward to retirement. Economic and social changes, caused by technology and changing attitudes, now mean that many feel nervous rather than secure. Change has happened too quickly; no other generation until theirs had ever been faced with such enormous and continual change.

It is no wonder many Baby Boomers wish to return to the days when there was a sense of freedom and opportunity – along with a sense of security, when confidence was strong and the world was their oyster.

© Linda Visman 2nd May 2010

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