Secondary School (2) Leaving St Mary’s

October 12, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Education, Family, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Polio epidemic | 6 Comments
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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.

Paper Clipping

Dad and David, just after Dad came home from hospital. Illawarra Daily Mercury, Dec.1961

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.

Me with my little brother in 1962. Dave is wearing his caliper.

Me with my little brother in 1962. Dave is wearing his caliper.

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

Three Important Local Facilities in 1950s Albion Park Rail

August 24, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Australia, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 49 Comments
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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

Moanes shop&PO APR 1951

Albion Park Rail Post Office & Moane’s shop, Photo dated 1951

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.

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The Illawarra Co-operative Dairy Association Milk and Butter Factory

Albion park Butter Factory 1950s

The Illawarra Co-operative Dairy Association’s milk & 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.

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Albion Park Railway station

Albion Park railway station c.1914

Albion Park Railway station c.1914

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.

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

A New Life in Australia

February 2, 2015 at 11:54 am | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, History | 7 Comments
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When we arrived in Dapto, NSW [part of the Wollongong Council area], we stayed at 53 Yalunga St, with Aunty Mary and Uncle Eric. We travelled down from Sydney with Uncle Eric who had met us. However, our luggage was coming by a later (steam) train and didn’t arrive till late that night. When it did, Mum and Dad made up beds on the floor with our blankets, as there were no actual beds or matresses for us. Mum and Dad slept on a bed frame with no mattress and only newspaper and a blanket between them and the springs. My cousin Christine was a toddler at the time and we kids slept in her room.

I remember Uncle Eric taking us for a trip up to the Wombeyan Caves not long after our arrival. The road was dirt, very narrow and winding. [Even today, the road from the east is not good] There was room for only one vehicle to pass at a time, so, when a car came the other way, Uncle Eric or the other driver had to back up the car to where a wider section had been graded into the hillside. The road itself was rather scary too with steep drop-offs, which made Mum very frightened – she wasn’t used to roads like that; it made an interesting and enjoyable trip for us kids though.

When winter came, we didn’t feel the cold as we had come from a much colder climate, and when everyone else was rugged up, we were just wearing light dresses or shorts. It took a couple of winters before we needed warmer clothes in winter.

Pauline, Linda, Peter, Sheelagh at Aunty Mary's 1954

Pauline, Linda, Peter, Sheelagh at Aunty Mary’s 1954

We stayed with Aunty Mary and Uncle Eric for a couple of months. By that time things were getting a little strained ‘with two women in the kitchen’ as Dad put it, and Mary eventually suggested it would be a good idea if we were to find a place of our own.

Dad wouldn’t have us staying where we weren’t welcome, and he later told me that at 7.30 on the morning after she said this, he took Mum and us kids to the Catholic convent and left us there for the day while he went to Albion Park Rail, about five miles away, and arranged to rent a caravan from Bob Stevenson, who had a van dealership on the highway there.

Dad also got permission from a farmer to park the van on his land, which adjoined the football ground at Reed Park, on the western side of Dapto. By that evening all was arranged, with the van in place ready for us. Dad came to pick us up from the convent. The sisters had already given us an evening meal and asked Dad if he had eaten. As he hadn’t eaten all day, they insisted on feeding him too before he took us to the van, our new home.

 Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

Reed Park in the 1950s. Photo taken from about where our caravan would have been located.

 

The caravan was parked in some trees beside the creek, and we had to go across the park grounds to the sports pavilion to get water, carrying it to the van in buckets. We used their toilets, but Mum and us children didn’t use the cold showers there. Instead, we washed in a bucket of water that Mum heated on the primus stove. It ran on methylated (white) spirit and had to be pumped up to pressure. Mum hated that stove! She always thought it would explode on her.

There was always a strong smell of pine all around us from the huge old trees that were planted along the roadside end of the park. It is a smell that has stayed with me through all the six decades since then.The three of us girls slept together on the bed in the caravan and Peter slept on a mattress on the floor. Mum and Dad slept on the fold-down table.

Linda&Pauline T abt 1954

Me and my older sister with our dolls at the door of our caravan. I was six years old.

Being so close to the creek had its dangers. There were big rains in 1955 all along the east coast of NSW:

A Memory: We are in the caravan next to the creek at Reed Park. It is the middle of the night and its very dark. It has been raining and raining for days. The creek is flooding and we have to get out of the caravan because the water will come in. It’s very scary. Uncle Eric has come in his car to help Mum and Dad carry us kids out of the caravan through the water to the road, and take us to his house for the night.

None of us kids remember how long we lived next to Reed Park, but, all up it must have been close to two years. Dad worked as a builders’ labourer for a company called Brooks and Wright. Dick Brooks and Ken Wright lived just across the creek from us in identical, small, three-roomed cottages. Dad mostly did the concreting work for them, but also helped build the wooden framed houses. He had never done that sort of work before, but he soon learned, and was always good at what he did.

 

© Linda Visman

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