Paddling Peter’s Canoe

May 18, 2015 at 12:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Discipline, Family History | 14 Comments
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I wrote this story a few years ago about one aspect of my childhood – a combination of where I lived; what I wanted to do; what I wasn’t allowed to do; what I did do; and what I was punished for doing.

We lived right beside Lake Illawarra when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. We played cricket on the shore outside the back yard (into the water was six and out), explored its shoreline and adventured in its casuarina forest. Several fishermen plied their trade in the deeper waters, catching mainly bream and mullet, and prawns in season. At night, the lights of the prawn boats and waders looked entrancing from our bedroom window. The lake wasn’t very deep in our bay, but we didn’t play in it because you sank to your ankles in sticky black mud when you walked in it.

ErnThompson &boat Dapto Abt1956 001

Dad with one of his boats. About 1955

In his spare time, Dad made boats for sale out of plywood. My older brother Peter wanted a canoe, so Dad made him one. It was flat-bottomed and had both ends enclosed on top. There was a seat at the centre, so Peter could put his legs into the front section for a foothold. For safety, because none of the family could swim, there was a small outrigger to prevent it tipping over. The craft was painted black and so was the paddle Dad made for it. Peter could now paddle off across or around the lake on his own adventures.

I was three years younger than Peter, about nine years old. A tomboy, I was jealous that, because he was a boy, he could have a canoe and go off on his own, whereas I, being a girl, couldn’t. One day, I decided to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake for a short paddle. It was just to see what it was like. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t: I would be careful; it was easy to paddle; and I didn’t even think about the possibility of capsize – Peter never had so it wasn’t an issue.

I carefully and quietly pulled the canoe down to the water’s edge, then pushed it out and climbed in. I began to paddle away quickly, so that I wouldn’t be seen from the house. I followed the shoreline to the south and, as I got into the swing of it, my confidence grew.  Deciding I didn’t have to go back straight away, I set about enjoying myself – just for a little while. I was sure nobody would miss me. So I paddled on, imagining myself as an intrepid explorer searching out new lands. Then decided it was more exciting to be Hiawatha, paddling down a raging river in his Indian canoe. I had a wonderful time, but eventually knew I must paddle back home.

canoe_outrigger

An outrigger canoe

I had not realised I’d been out a couple of hours. My absence and that of the canoe had been noticed. Mum was waiting for me and she was in no mood to be understanding. I had been disobedient and, in spite of the canoe having an outrigger, she, fearful of water herself, had been afraid I would capsize it and drown. As soon as I’d put the canoe and paddle away, I got the sharp end of her tongue and a thorough hiding with her green leather belt. Then I was sent to the room I shared with my two sisters.

As I’d been approaching home in the canoe, I’d noticed that I was developing a headache. After I went to my room, it got worse and worse. Soon I was throwing up violently and feeling terribly weak. It had been a warm sunny day and I had been out on the water for some time. We only wore a hat to church – we had no others. As a result, I had developed sunstroke. This was a natural consequence of a few hours in the sun, but, to my young Catholic mind, it was really God’s punishment on me for disobeying my parents. The illness I suffered, and my own guilty conscience, were much more effective than any hiding Mum might give me, and I was never again tempted to take Peter’s canoe out on the lake.

Linda Visman

Finding a Place of Our Own

February 22, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Family History, History | 8 Comments
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We lived up at Avondale until the bridge job was finished, then went back to Reid Park. Mr A, the farmer who owned the property next to which we’d been living at Avondale, had taken a liking to Mum (she was quite beautiful). After we moved away, he started to come around to the caravan and pester her. We’d only been back at the park for about a month, but Dad immediately decided it was time to find a permanent and safe place for us to live. I think this was late 1955 or early 1956.

One day he drove off in his work truck to Albion Park Rail, about five miles south of Dapto. Albion Park Rail was then a little village on the Princes Highway, with the main town of Albion Park a couple of miles to the west in dairy country. It was so named because the railway station was there and had been for about sixty years at that stage. Tommy Totten, the real estate agent, had several blocks of land available, but most were too expensive for us. However he did have three blocks by the lake on Koona Bay, each priced at ninety pounds. Dad checked them out, decided on one and put down a ten pound deposit then and there. It was Lot 8 (later #73) on Koona St, Albion Park Rail.

   Koona Bay on Lake Illawarra

Koona Bay on Lake Illawarra

The block of land backed onto the western shore of Lake Illawarra, south of Wollongong. That evening, with the purchase sorted out, Dad took us in his work truck to see it. When we arrived, the full moon was just rising out of the lake to the east. As we admired the view, a fisherman standing in his clinker-built boat, rowed right in front of the face of the moon. The scene couldn’t have been choreographed any better.

Dad asked Mum what she thought of the place. “Oh Ernie, it’s magic!” she said. He hadn’t told her about buying it. When he said, “This is ours”, Mum cried.

Windang St

Windang St

Wingang St is the road from the highway that we came down towards the lake. The gates are on the lake side of the railway line that we have to cross. Turn right at the end, where the truck is heading, on to Koona Street and a couple of hundred yards further along was our land, by the lake. That wooden cottage on the right-hand corner is still there, over sixty years later.

Within a day or two Dad moved the caravan to the block of land that had one huge tree about one-third the way down the block, with scrub to where bulrushes grew along the lake shore. Two houses stood side-by-side directly across the street from us, but there were hardly any other houses nearby. On our side of the street, there were none on both sides for quite a way along the lake shore. I have no photos of our caravan, or of the early years we were there.

The street was a wide, unsealed, rutted and pot-holed track. We had no electricity and just one water tap outside – but at least mains water was connected. We had the caravan, with the same equipment as before – a kerosene lamp and the spirit pressure cooker that Dad usually pumped up because Mum was scared of it. Mum still did all the cooking for the six of us on that little two-burner stove.

Dad also erected a heavy army disposal canvas tent so that we had more living room. The kids slept in the van and Mum and Dad out in the tent. As well as his day job, Dad began working out a way to get us a proper house to live in. However, the essentials had to be dealt with first.

There was no sewerage in the area, and it was far too expensive to put in a septic tank. So Dad did what everyone else did there. He built a little outhouse in the back yard, where we could go to use the tar-coated can. The “dunny-can man”, also known as the “sanno man”, came in a truck every week and exchanged the full can for an empty one. You didn’t want to be in there doing your business when he arrived! However, primitive as it was, that was the only facility of its kind we were to have for the next twenty years.

        

An old back yard toilet

An old back yard toilet

A ‘sanno man’ carries a full can to his truck

A ‘sanno man’ carries a full can to his truck

Washing clothes was always a hard job. Dad built a stand for concrete double wash tubs and set up a wood-burning copper. All our water had to be carted in galvanised buckets from the tap up near the road and poured into the copper. The fire under the copper heated the water to boiling, and all our clothes (they were cotton) apart from the woollens got a good wash.

Once ready, the clothes were fished out with a stick – usually part of a wooden broom handle – and dumped into the concrete rubs that we’d filled with cold water to be rinsed. Attached to the divider between the tubs was a hand wringer. The clothes would be swished around in the water to get rid of as much soap as possible, then squeezed between the rollers to remove that water and fed into the second tub.

There would be a second rinse and wring, then the clothes, sheets, towels, etc, would be carried out in a large cane basket and hung on the rope line Dad had strung between a tree and a post in the back yard. A long wooden prop held up the middle of the line to prevent the washing from dragging on the ground. After the washing was done, it was the kids’ job – just the girls of course – to scoop out the cold, jellified washing water from the copper. That was a job we hated!

We still used a bowl or bucket when washing ourselves. There was no shower until Dad could build a bathroom, and that took about a year. Mum had a hard job all through those early years, but hardly ever complained. And now, at last, she was happy we had a home base.

There was an ice chest in the caravan, for which we bought a big block of ice from the ice man every week. It kept our milk and meat cool. We didn’t get our milk in bottles or cartons then. The milk cost a penny-ha’penny for a pint and we had a quart (two pint / one litre) billy-can. The baker also used to deliver, but he had a truck (later on, the milkman did too). He would place the uncut and unwrapped loaves (no sliced bread then) into a basket, which was covered by a clean cloth, and bring them down to the van.

An old milk cart

An old milk cart

A Memory:

The milkman comes around on the dirt road past our place every day. His cart has only two wheels, and is pulled by a horse. The milkman has a seat up at the front of the cart, but he doesn’t sit up there much. He walks along, and makes clicking sounds to the horse when he wants it to move along. Usually the horse just keeps walking along slowly and stops when the milkman walks round the back of the cart to fill up our billycans with milk. The cart has a big tank on it, with a tap where the milkman gets the milk out. We all like to take the billycan out to get it filled up with nice creamy milk, and give the milkman the pennies to pay for it (1955/6).

© Linda Visman

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