My Rose-coloured Childhood

December 21, 2015 at 1:00 am | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Leisure activities, Memoir, Mental Health, Nature, Philosophy, Society, Ways of Living, Writing and Life | 9 Comments
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I sometimes wonder whether my childhood memories are as authentic as I believe them to be. There have been times when my siblings have reminded me of  an event that occurred which illustrates an alternate version of those times, one that I may have pushed aside or interpreted in a different way.

I know that people can focus on aspects of their youth that colour and reinforce a version they have become used to. Sometimes, that version is a happy one, sometimes a negative one. I know of two brothers who see their experiences in a way that makes it seem they lived in different worlds – one seeing a society accepting of migrants and the other seeing discrimination everywhere. That has to be related to how their personalities have been shaped and to their natural optimism or pessimism I think.

Of course, there are some who really have endured awful family backgrounds,  situations that could  break them if that is what they focus on. And it does break some – but  paradoxically makes others, even in the same family, stronger and more resilient.

We had a pretty good family, where we were loved and cared for, but during which we also endured some pretty tough times. I do remember those hard times, but I also remember the good times. Perhaps I have created a world that was somewhat better than it actually was, but at least it helps me to focus on the good stuff. Here’s a poem I wrote that does that:

 

 

In spring, summer and autumn,

we walked along muddy creeks,

along lake shores and ocean beaches,

over expanses of sea-side rock,

dotted with crystal-clear pools,

our bare feet tickled by weed and grass,

salt water and sand.

 

We collected driftwood and shells

and wave-smoothed stones

and carried them home

in bright red or blue or yellow buckets.

We spent hours sorting them

by shape and size and colour,

and days making sea-drift sculptures,

shell borders for photo frames and mirrors,

shell pictures and maps.

 

We strolled through wetlands,

dense with melaleuca,

wary of spiders and biting mosquitoes,

through lakeside forests of casuarinas

with their wind-eerie sounds,

and through paddocks and gullies

studded with eucalypts & blackberry bushes,

wary of red-bellied black snakes.

 

We collected sheets of paperbark

to make three-dimensional pictures,

flexible green sticks to make

Hiawatha bows

straight-stemmed

dry reeds for arrows,

and bulrushes for spears.

 

 Our Christmas decorations

were made from strips of crepe paper

that twirled across the room;

the star on top of the tree was

a piece of cardboard covered in

silver paper from cigarette packets.

 

From the huge pine trees

that bordered our school yard

(long gone now)

we fashioned their thick bark

into serviceable pistols, or dolls,

and their pinecones sawn through

created wide-eyed owls.

 

Inside, on cold or rainy days,

a sheet of newspaper could make

a ship or a plane or a hat,

or a row of dancing dolls.

A block of wood

made great cars and trucks;

large circular off-cuts from

holes drilled in plywood

made wheels for them.

 

Making our own entertainment was normal,

a stimulus to creativity and independence.

Not for us the electronic wizardry

of television or video games,

of computers or mobile phones.

We made what we could out of what we had

and enjoyed a childhood

rich with stimulation and experience.

 

 

What was your childhood like? Are your memories pleasant or negative?

 

© Linda Visman

 

 

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

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