Trying to Keep Warm – a memoir scrap

June 4, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, England, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Migration, Ways of Living | 14 Comments
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Before we came from England to Australia in 1954, we lived in a two-up, two-down in a row of terrace houses. These were built of stone, which made for quite good insulation in a Lancashire winter. We also had piped gas heating, an upgrade from the original coal fireplace. We could keep warm there, as well as dry the washing on rails that could be lowered to load then raised to get the benefit of the heat below the ceiling.

Our clothing and footwear were also designed to keep out the cold when we went outdoors in the ice and snow and the cold wind and rain. Although we girls had to wear dresses, I remember also wearing button-up soft leather leggings, woollen coats, gloves and socks and leather shoes.

In Australia, we lived for a couple of years in a tiny caravan before graduating to a tiny three-roomed cottage that Dad gradually added more rooms to. The cottage was constructed of asbestos fibro and weatherboard. It, like the caravan, was not insulated from either hot or cold.

Linda Confirmation.1958-350

Me on my confirmation day outside our house, 1958

For the first year or two, we didn’t have to wear heavy clothing for winter and we were rarely cold. However, as we acclimatized to the milder climate, we started to feel the cold of winter much more. We no longer had the thick jumpers, coats and leggings we had worn in England, nor did we have the warm gas heating we’d been used to there. Even more,  the wooden floorboards and the lack of insulation in the thin walls and ceilings allowed the cold to penetrate into every part of our home. It was darned cold, and there was nowhere to put in a coal or wood stove.

My parents did purchase a Fyreside kerosene heater, the name of which implied more heat than it actually produced. In the back of the heater, under the cover, was a thick glass bottle with a wire handle to lift it out with. You had to fill the bottle with kerosene from a tin you’d get filled up at the petrol station. You had to put the bottle in upside down, so that the kero would feed through to wick at the front of the heater You’d light the wick, then place the round piece with the coil in it on top. The coil would heat up and glow red. The heat thus generated would be reflected into the room by the shiny metal reflector behind the coil. All that was in theory of course.

The smell of the kerosene itself was bad enough, but once it was lit, the heater often generated smoke and fumes that would either make you feel ill or make your eyes sting. I’m sure it couldn’t have been very healthy, especially in an enclosed space. If the kerosene ran out and the wick went out, you had to wait until the heater cooled before re-filling the bottle (if you had some kero on hand), by which time the any warmth had been sucked out of the air.

Fyreside heater 1950-60s crop

The living room where the heater sat and kitchen were open to each other, so the area (even though not large) was too much to heat and anyway, much of the heat went up to the ceiling which had no insulation. The only way to feel any warmth was to stand right in front of it – and then it would burn your legs, but leave the rest of you cold. But there were at least six of us, and sometimes up to twelve people living in the house, so the kids didn’t get to stand that close. We still had to wear warm clothing and even coats inside.

The heater always had to be turned off at night, and any heat it had generated hadn’t reached our closed-off bedroom. I remember many a time going to bed with only two old, thin wool ex-army blankets and no upper sheet to cover me. I would shiver and never seem able to get warm. My brother and two sisters were the same. Then we would find anything we could to cover ourselves more – usually there was only our not-very-thick coat. We got used to being cold. Eventually, Mum could afford chenille bedspreads for us all.

I suppose the heater did make a difference, enough at least to stop us freezing, but I remember having chilblains on my toes for most of every winter. These heaters couldn’t be called safe, and caused quite a few house fires if left burning without supervision or if drying clothes were too close to the heater. Mum was always scared that would happen, so she only lit it when absolutely necessary.

With the cost of electric heating, these kero heaters were the cheapest source of warmth available at the time. Many people my age now recall them and their smell with a mixture of horror and nostalgia.

 

What kind of heating did you have when you were growing up?

 

(c) Linda Visman

 

 

Old Wangi Wangi Power Station

November 2, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Australia | 13 Comments
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Wangi Power Station 01

As we come into our little town from either direction, I always look across at the old power station. When we go for a walk up and over the top of our hill, the big old building is laid out before us, and I always want to stop and look at it.

Wangi Power Station 03

There is always something about it that draws out a strange feeling of familiarity and belonging – like seeing an old friend I have been missing for a long time but not knowing where I last saw them. I want to just gaze at it, bring it closer, work out what it is that draws me so strongly.

Most people see the building as ugly. It is long, high and basically rectangular, constructed with red brick and with rows of windows along its extensive sides – most of them now broken by vandals. Its three huge chimneys have been location finders and home-coming beacons for boats on Lake Macquarie since the power station was constructed in the 1950s.

The power station took ten years and 1,000 men to build, the last to be built by the NSW Government Railways before the main responsibility for NSW power supply was transferred to the Electricity Commission. It was also the last Railways power station to close. The plant poured its power into the electricity grid from 1956 to 1986.

Wangi Power Station & the adjacent colliery (Image 5163 -Lake Macquarie City Library)

Wangi Power Station & the adjacent colliery (Image 5163 -Lake Macquarie City Library)

A coal-fired operation, the Wangi Wangi Power Station drew its fuel from one adjacent colliery and others nearby. It was actually one of the first power stations to be sited adjacent to its supplying colliery and, for its first five years of operation, was also the largest power station in NSW. These factors are among the major reasons for the building’s heritage listing.

Wangi Power Station 02

Since the insides of the building were gutted of its furnaces, transformers and associated equipment in the 1990s, it has been left almost derelict – though its lawns, trees & shrubs are still kept in order. There has been talk for the last twenty years of the building undergoing retail and/or housing development, but so far nothing has come of whatever plans have been submitted to Council.

Regarding my strange attraction to the old red brick building, I recently had a realisation of where it has come from. I was born in a Lancashire cotton mill town and spent the first five years of my life there before we migrated to Australia. There were lots of spinning, weaving and dyeing mills still standing at that time, though most have since been demolished.

Stone Bridge Mill, one of Oswaldtwistle's cotton mills

Stone Bridge Mill, one of Oswaldtwistle’s cotton mills

The long brick wall of one of these, Rose Mill, ran along the alley behind our home in Oswaldtwsitle. Our home itself was in one of many stone-built two-storey terraces that were constructed to house the mill workers. Our terrace was built in the 1890s. When I was researching my family history, I discovered that my paternal great-grandfather had actually lived and, in 1917 during WWI died, in the three-up-three-down terrace home Dad had bought during WWII and where I and my then three siblings were born.

Roe Greave Rd, Oswaldtwistle 2014 - Google Earth

Roe Greave Rd, Oswaldtwistle 2014 – Google Earth

 

Where I grew up in Australia, and in most of the other places I have lived in since I was twenty, there were no large brick buildings. On the odd occasion that I go to Sydney, I love to see them there. But it is the power station that stirs my emotions the most.

I have a feeling that it is subconscious memories and feelings from my early childhood being drawn out by the sight of this building. And those buried memories must be happy ones, because I feel happy as well as nostalgic whenever I gaze on it.

The three stacks of the old power station, seen from the lake.

The three stacks of the old power station, seen from the lake.

(c) Linda Visman

Y is for Yearning

April 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Experiences, Family History, Mental Health, Philosophy, Ways of Living | 10 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]

 

 

I yearn for mountains

Yearning: noun: an intense or overpowering longing, desire, or need; craving (Collins English Dictionary)

 

I think we all, at times, yearn for something – a person, a place, a possession, a better life, more of something, to change the world. What we yearn for might be, or seem to be completely unrealistic, unattainable, or it may be something that just might be possible, given the right circumstances.

 

I have a dream

 

It is what we do with that yearning, I believe, that demonstrates to a large extent who and what we are.

One person has a desire for something and sets out to get it. He works towards it with all of his energy until he creates the right circumstances for the achievement of his desire.

My father was a man like this. Throughout his life, he strove to overcome the things that held him back from what he wanted. He yearned for a life free from the restrictions of the English social class system, for a land where there was freedom and opportunity. He tried for seven years before his application to emigrate to Australia was approved. He didn’t give up his dream, but did whatever he could to create the circumstances for it to happen.

 

Yearning -progress

 

Another person might think he yearns for something, but doesn’t put in a great deal of effort to attain it. He waits until things come together to make it happen, for something to “turn up”. That happens rarely of course, and one has to question the strength of a desire that is not worked towards. It to be appears to be more like “I’ll take it if it comes along, but I can’t be bothered to put in the effort myself”. It’s an airy wish, not a real desire.

Then there is the one whose yearnings for something or somewhere else is strong, but they can see no way for it to happen. He becomes discouraged, yet still dwells in that impossibility want, unable to see the possibilities in the life he could be leading in the present. He yearns for a past or a place where he believed he was once happy. That is nostalgia. It is unreality.

 

Nostalgia

 

That was my mother, especially when things weren’t going well in life – financially, health-wise, or when undergoing some other difficulty. Her yearning was to go back to the place where she was born and grew up; where she’d met my father and where her first four children were also born. But financially it always seemed impossible.

In the mid-1970s, my father received an unexpected bequest from a deceased aunt. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to allow them to go back to Oswaldtwistle. They took a six-week holiday and travelled through Lancashire and Yorkshire as well. When the train from London arrived at Oswaldtwistle station and they got out, Mum looked around. She saw the dank, black-sooted stone buildings, the drizzle and the grey skies, and turned to Dad. “I want to go back home,” she said.

 

You can't go back

 

Returning after twenty years, she’d discovered it was not the place she remembered. Distance had sentimentalised the place and made it rosy. She only then realised how different and how much better was the clean, bright and sunny place they lived in Australia to this dreary and closed-in place she has focussed so much of her energy on. Her constant yearning had been completely misplaced.

 

There is no past we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the best as the past withdraws.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

My life-long yearning to write was impossible until I simply began to write. Now I am doing what I always wanted to do.

Yearning has both positive and negative aspects to it. We are much better off if we work towards our dreams of a better future, whatever we see it to be. To yearn for something in the past, something that is impossible to have, will often taint the present and destroy the future.

 

make a new beginning

 

Have you ever felt a yearning for something, to be someone or something else? How have you responded to it?

 

© Linda Visman  29.04.2014  (698 words)

 

Review of “Ben’s Challenge”

October 4, 2011 at 4:21 am | Posted in Writing | 2 Comments
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It is wonderful when a reader thinks enough of a story to let the writer know  how it has affected them. Carol Rose, who I have not met,  read a  copy of the book that her friend had purchased from the local store, where I left some to be sold on consignment. Carol sent her comments via the email address she found on the inside cover.

I am pleased to publish this unsolicited review of Ben’s Challenge.

                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is a well-crafted story that remembers the pace and values of ordinary life in 1950’s rural Australia.

It’s a good read, much of the pleasure is in being taken back to a world that I recognise. It’s a book for adults who were children in the 1940s and 1950s, rather than the kids of the fast-paced aggressive computer worlds of Carmageddon and Grand Auto Theft, of paved city streets, skateboards, tiled chlorinated swimming pools, and instant “communication”.

It’s a good reminder of how our values were forged. For example, the notion of paying your way comes out of a slower life, and a more austere, yet more egalitarian society, where even if we could pay for modest necessities on a weekly basis at the grocery store, we had to save for something we wanted. If you received credit it was likely to come out of compassion, from someone who knew you, and the circumstances of your family.

Our values came from a world where you could go overnight camping (if you were a boy!) with a jumper, a piece of canvas for groundsheet, a small sack of food, a box of matches – not the sort of “lifestyle” that the Contemporary Camping Shop would have you adopt.

It’s a book that explores the growing moral sensibility of a young person, intent on uncovering the truth about his father’s death by hit-and-run driver. It’s about loyalty and truthfulness between friends who come from quite different places.

This world is one in which children were children, but capable of taking on adult responsibility within the household; a world in which the polarity between boys and girls appeared later in life; a world in which bullies could change and soften; a world in which an older man could provide friendly guidance, support, and touch to a young boy, in which it was possible to imagine mutual trust and respect between generations. 

How refreshing a comment on the new rigidities, rapidly changing codes, and shallow betrayals of contemporary society! The 1950’s weren’t “the good old days” (there were bullies, injustice, crooks, poverty, snobbery, some speedsters…atom bomb tests, persecution of aboriginal people and  “communists” and those who wanted to escape suffocating family values…) but mostly they moved at a human pace, and this pace invited reflectiveness of a sensitive, perceptive young person. The speed at which many people move and “communicate” in 2011 leaves less room for circumspection or thoughtfulness.

This is a story that resonates with truth, and I thank L.M. Visman for giving me the opportunity to review my life, its formative influences, as lived in country Australia, specifically Cessnock and Wangi Wangi, in the 1950s.

Carol Rose

~~~~Click on the book title at top right of this page to purchase a copy from Amazon~~~~

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