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.

 

 

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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

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W is for Woodwork

April 26, 2014 at 8:54 am | Posted in Australia, Family History, History, Ways of Living | 13 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]

 

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DVD shelves Dad made in 2003

I love trees, and I love the wood that comes from them. I love the look, texture, smell of it. I love the variety and colour, the density of mulga or the softness of pine, and all between. I love how it can be fashioned and worked and used in so many ways, for practical, decorative and artistic purposes.

As long as I can remember, my father made things from wood. Often, it was the only material he could afford to use. In England, he carved a lion for my brother out of wood, and while he was in the RAF in WWII, he carved enemy planes and hung them in the Mess hall.

When we first came to Australia from England in 1954, we had hardly any money. To supplement his income, Dad began building wooden boats. No matter that he had never done such work before; if he wanted to do something, he found out how to and then did it. They were small rowboats with a keel, and Dad built them from plywood in his sister’s back yard.

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Dad with one of his boats

Two years later, when we had our own house and yard, he expanded to building small rounded caravans as well as the boats. This was in addition to his regular day work as a concreter, and it meant that he could then go on and extend the tiny cottage we started with – using wood and the then popular asbestos sheeting.

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Through the years, Dad made tables, wooden deck-chairs and many other objects – including the scooters he made for me and my sister. He built a hovercraft before there was much known about them, and made the frame out of wood.

ErnThompsons Hovercraft Abt.1967

Dad’s hovercraft at a show, c.1967

Once he retired though, he had the time to extend his knowledge and scope, and began using his wood-turning lathe much more. He created wonderful things for the house for Mum and for his children too, as we were all married by then with children of our own.

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Lathe-turned goblets Dad made well after his sight began deteriorating.

After Mum died in 1994, Dad’s woodwork became the major focus of his activities, in spite of gradually decreasing vision due to macular degeneration. He loved to create things that amazed those who saw them, even when he had very little sight left.

 

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After my divorce, I became the fix-it person and the builder, roles which I really loved. I built chook-houses and pens and wooden fences where we lived in Central West NSW and then in remote communities in the Northern Territory. When we moved to South Australia to our own house, I did the same.

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My shelf with rubbish bin holder underneath. The old cupboards were also covered with wood from fruit cases.

I went further, making shelves, a table and other things we needed around the house. Then Dad gave me his old scroll saw. Because of his failing eyesight, he could no longer safely use it – although he did still used his big band saw and the lathe!

With the scroll saw, I began to make small items that I could sell – I was on a disability pension at that time. I collected old fruit crates that I could cut and sand easily, and started making animal shapes and other designs into fridge magnets.

Linda's fridge magnets 2001

A few of my fridge magnet designs, 2001

From there, I graduated to also making somewhat larger items, like pen holders and key racks. I really enjoyed it, and sold quite a few too. I was lucky I had Dad, on the phone and when I visited him, to support me in what I was doing. Both of us were committed to wood, but we didn’t buy any unless we had to. Because my items were small, I always used scrap wood from the fruit boxes or other recycled sources.

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One of Dad’s segmented-work bowls.

 

 

On his lathe, and doing segmented work, Dad made bowls, jewellery boxes and many other amazing items from used wood that others were throwing away. Then, whatever scraps were left went into his wood burning heater in the house.

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Another of Dad’s creations.

One of my sons loves making things from wood. I hope he can get a place of his own one day that will provide him with enough room to set up his own little woodworking shed. That will make three generations of workers in wood in the family.

Does anyone in your family do woodwork? Are there any artistic or other creative interests that have been passed down in your family?

(c) Linda Visman  26.04.2014  (753 words)

 

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