A House to Live in

March 2, 2015 at 12:09 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, History, Memoir | 8 Comments
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Sheelagh, Linda and Pauline, collecting wood to burn our rubbish. About 1956

Sheelagh, Linda and Pauline, collecting wood to burn our rubbish. About 1956

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.

On the Highway at Albion Park Rail. 1951: the Post Office and Moane's shop (From Illawarra Images)

On the Highway at Albion Park Rail. 1951: the Post Office and Moane’s shop (From Illawarra Images)

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.

Out the front of 73 Koona St. About 1957. Left to right: Aunty Mary with Jean; Dad and Mum behind us children: Linda, Sheelagh, Pauline and Peter. Cousin Christine is in front. Dad is very brown from working outdoors. Behind us is the Reids’ house, across the street. Mum made the summer dresses we three girls are wearing.

Out the front of 73 Koona St. About 1957. Left to right: Aunty Mary with cousin Jean; Dad and Mum behind us children: Linda, Sheelagh, Pauline and Peter. Cousin Christine is in front. Dad is very brown from working outdoors. Behind us is the Reids’ house, across the street. Mum made the summer dresses we three girls are wearing.

(c) Linda Visman

Our Caravan in the Bush (1955)

February 8, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, Memoir | Leave a comment
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This post was supposed to go out last Monday, the 16th February. For some reason, it didn’t respond to my trying to post it via my tablet whilst I was away from home.

 

Me and my younger sister Sheelagh

Me and my younger sister Sheelagh

 

About a year after we arrived in Australia, we were still living in the caravan at Reed Park. Dad and Mum had been saving money so we could eventually get something better. Mum was always very good at cost saving, and there was nothing left over for treats. I remember one day when I was still five, Mum came home with some groceries and unpacked them from the brown paper bags onto the table.

“I’ve brought some crackers,” she said.

I was really excited, because I thought she meant fire crackers but it was only Sao biscuits. She called them ‘cream crackers’ because that’s what they were in England. It was a real let-down! However, we rarely had biscuits of any kind, so Saos were a treat we had spread with butter and jam.

  Sao biscuits

Sao biscuits

Dad’s employers got a contract to do some work for Huntley Colliery, one of the many coal mines around the Illawarra area where we lived. It was to replace an old wooden bridge that had been damaged by the coal trucks with a concrete one. Dad had become their main concreter by then, so he was part of the work force to do the job.

Dad was asked if he would take the caravan and live in it there as caretaker of the job site. It would take several weeks to complete the project. So, we moved, with the van, to a spot just beside a dairy farm fence, a hundred yards or so from the bridge.

We were a few miles from Dapto, on a little back road in the foothills of the mountain range. Apart from the mine and a few small dairy farms, we were surrounded by bushland. The sandstone escarpment rose only a mile or so to the west. There was no bus service and Mum couldn’t drive. Dad worked from sun-up to sun-down.Sheelagh was five by then and went to school with the rest of us. It was too far for us four kids to walk to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Dapto.  A way was worked out for us to get there.

A Memory:  There is a big lemon tree near our caravan, with huge yellow lemons on it. The coal trucks go up and down from the mine and take the coal to the power house at Tallawarra. They are big and dirty and noisy on the dirt road not far from where the caravan is.

One of the truck drivers takes all four of us kids into Dapto every day so we can go to school, and he brings us back in the afternoon. We all sit up in the huge front seat of the truck next to the driver. The cabin smells of oil and coal and leather. I like it. We can see everything from way up here. He drops us off on the main street and we walk up the hill to the school. I bet nobody else gets a lift to school in a big coal truck!

 A coal truck similar to the one we rode in.

A coal truck similar to the one we rode in.

One day, when we got to Dapto, my brother Peter who was the eldest and had just turned ten, told us we didn’t have to walk all the way up to school – we could have a holiday instead. So we walked around the shops and played on the swings and slippery-dip in the park. The shop keeper who delivered groceries to Mum told her we had been playing truant from school.

A Memory:  Mum is very angry with us when we get home from Dapto in the truck, because the shop man told her we didn’t go to school. She gets out her wide green leather belt and gives us all a hiding. When we go back to school the next day, Sister Jude gives me the strap on my legs in front of the whole class.

Living was very basic while we were at Avondale. We had to carry water in buckets to the caravan from the creek that ran nearby. It was cool and clear because it came down from the mountains, and we got it before the dairy cattle messed it up. We used it for everything – drinking, washing, doing the dishes, cleaning. We didn’t have a bath of course, but washed at a basin of warm water with a flannel and soap. Mum washed all our clothes by hand. I look back and wonder how she coped at times. There hadn’t been much available money back in England, but she’d at least had hot running water.

Me with my bow and arrow - plus my two sisters, Dad’s work truck (left) & caravan (right).

Me with my bow and arrow – plus my two sisters, Dad’s work truck (left) & caravan (right).

Girls weren’t allowed to do many of the things boys could do, and my brother Peter had much more freedom than we three girls did. I don’t think my sisters worried about it, but I was a tomboy, and jealous because I couldn’t do the things he did.

A Memory: In the afternoons and on weekends, Peter takes his dog out into the bush. The dog is called Patch because he is white with a black patch on his eye like a pirate. He was a stray until Peter found him at Reed Park. Now Patch belongs to Peter. They go out exploring in the bush and sometimes find snakes. Peter scares Mum when he puts a dead snake on the ground in front of the caravan door. I sometimes think Mum doesn’t like living up here in the bush.

My brother Peter with his dog, Patch. (Caravan behind).

My brother Peter with his dog, Patch. (Caravan behind).

Did you have any experience living basic as a child? What was the situation? Did you have adventures like my brother?

© Linda Visman

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