A Life Lesson Learned
A memoir of P.M. (Phil) Green
“Cymru am byth” (“Wales Forever”)
“It was in that moment that Phil learned about quiet strength, loyalty, steadfastness, love, and how to be a man”.
In the late 1950s, Russell Totham and Phil Green lived at Heybridge, almost beside the Blythe River, which flowed to Bass Strait, between Burnie and Penguin on the North West coast of Tasmania.
It was a small hamlet of around 30 houses, with one general store at the junction of Cuprona Road, and what was then known as the Bass Highway. This store was owned and operated by the Brewtnall family, comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Brewtnall, their three boys, Andrew, Jamie, and a slightly disabled boy, and a daughter, Julie.
The one garage, was on the opposite corner from the general store, and was owned and run by a Mr. Dick, who would recharge 12-volt car batteries for three-pence each.
Russell’s home was on the corner of River Avenue and Anne Street, while Phil lived directly to the rear of Russell’s house. At that time River Avenue was the Bass Highway, and Anne Street was a cinder-topped lane known as King’s (or Kelly’s) Lane because of King’s (Kelly’s) Trucking at the far end.
The boys were about 14 years old, and had been best friends since Phil’s family had moved there from Sheffield about 5 years previously. Prior to that Phil’s mother, Rose, and older brother, Chris, had migrated to Sheffield from Cardiff in Wales, in December 1953, to join the husband, and father, Bill or Will, Green, who had been preparing their new life for them since about eighteen months previous to his family’s arrival.
In Sheffield, Bill had worked as a store-man driver for the Don Company, a general merchandiser. On moving to Heybridge, Bill worked in the Sales Office of the Australian Pulp and Paper Mills in Burnie (APPM), and Rose was in sales, in the “showroom” of the Don store in Russell went to Ulverstone for his schooling, while Phil went to Burnie for his.
They were carefree times for these boys, and both were decent lads, who also knew how to do things of which their parents would not approve; and they had the knack of not getting caught doing them.
In summer, they would play in the Blythe River, swimming, and diving from a large rock. They used the nearby railway bridge as a jumping platform, and would walk out on it to a position high above deep water.
The train-drivers would sound their horn, and curse at them, as they jumped off just before the train passed beside them.
Russell didn’t swim really well, and would gasp and splutter as he came back to the surface, and then dog-paddle back to shore to do it all over again. They sometimes hitchhiked to Burnie to play beneath Jones’ pier, climbing around and exploring in places where they were unseen.
They were not doing anything actually wrong, but it could have been a dangerous pass-time, as they may have slipped, banged their head, and been drowned beneath the timbered pier without anyone knowing.
In the evenings they would regularly climb out of their bedroom windows after having been sent to bed, and would cross the lane to wake each other for the evening’s antics, and then climb in again when they returned safely home.
Having met up, they would hitch-hike to the small group of houses at Chasm Creek, three miles to the West, and then hitch-hike from there to the somewhat larger hamlet of Sulphur Creek, which was a further three miles to the East from their homes. They would do this, back and fore, many times each evening until they eventually tired, and returned to the security of their beds.
Sometimes, during the day, and apart from playing with their toy cars in the ditch-gutter, and climbing trees, they would walk up into the bush on the hill to roll tree-bark in newspaper and then try to smoke it as a cigarette – it was profoundly unsuccessful enterprise!
On one or two occasions they had somehow obtained some cigarettes, Phil thinks he may have stolen them from Bill, his dad. A half-completed house further up the lane was an excellent hide-away, and they would go there in the evenings to sit on the bare joists to smoke the illicit cigarettes.
Naturally, they coughed and spluttered, but they thought they were so very clever and grown up. Russell never did take up smoking, but Phil did when he was sixteen and had commenced his printing apprenticeship at The Advocate newspaper’s commercial printing section in Burnie.
On other evenings they would hitch-hike to Burnie, and depending on where they had been dropped off by the generous motorist, would jog down to Best’s Billiard Parlour above the book-makers’ rooms on the corner of Wilmot Street, and Alexander Street.
There they would play snooker and billiards on the seemingly enormous, slate-topped, green-felted tables, before hitchhiking home again later in the evening. The billiard parlour was a dusky, smokey, and somewhat dingy, environment, and they were never questioned as to their age by the proprietor.
Mr. Best merely wanted their money for their playing of the tables. With the benefit of hindsight, the boys now realise that they could easily have been abused or worse.
The social times then were very different, and people were much more trusting, open, and indeed, somewhat indifferent, to any dangers, either perceived or real. The individuals who patronised Mr. Best’s establishment were ‘salt of the earth’ type men from backgrounds of working occupations such as stevedores on the Burnie wharf, and machinists and labourers from the Burnie Associated Pulp and Paper Mills, the Titanium Dioxide plant, or miners from the West coast.
However, the parents of both boys would have considered this place to be a particularly distasteful ‘den of iniquity’; but their parents didn’t know they were there, as the boys were trusted to have been safely asleep in their own beds.
Somewhat perversely, that address is now the site of a “Christian Book Shop”.
Phil attended Burnie Primary School, which was opposite the then Star theatre in Mount Street. While in Grade 6, sometimes at school lunchtimes , he and two other boys, ‘Tank’ Britain, and Stuart Metcalf, would run to the billiards parlour a block away from the school.
This parlour was at the rear of Cameron’s Furniture Store in Wilson Street, about 100 yards south from its junction with Cattley Street. The three boys would play snooker, and billiards, while also eating their lunch sandwiches. They would then run back to school in time for the afternoon school-starting bell.
The site of that pool-hall was nearly opposite the current Post Office, and is now the location of the Burnie Council Chambers.
In Heybridge, the unsealed road to Cuprona traversed the hill at the rear of Phil’s house. In addition to making cubby-houses in the depths of the coarse Tea Trees on the hill, Russell and Phil had discovered a ledge some two inches wide, about two feet long, and about twenty feet up the cut-away of the hill on the first hairpin bend in the road.
It was fun, and exciting, to slip-slide up the nearly vertical face, to where they could sit with their bottoms perched uneasily on the tiny shelf. From there they could look down upon, and watch, the passing traffic. If their parents had known, they would have both been smacked, as it was an extremely dangerous thing to do, for if they had fallen, it would have been directly under the wheels of any passing vehicle.
In spring, high-loaded, open-sided trucks, carrying pea-vines, would trundle down the unsealed road, raising billowing clouds of white dust. These trucks were carrying their load of peas, still on the vines, to the Edgell factory in Gawler, for separation from the vines, podding, and canning.
The boys would hide in the scrub, or ditch at the side of the road, and as the trucks dustily manoeuvered down the hill they would run out to the back of the truck from where they could pull armfuls of vines from the load without being seen by the driver.
As this method of “pea liberation” worked well, they improved their ‘catch’ by tying ropes to garden rakes, throwing the rakes into the open back portion of the load, and snagging off more peas than they could do simply by hand. Those bundles of pea vines were taken home, to the enormous delight of their mothers. The peas would be separated from the vines, and podded, at the kitchen table.
Phil’s mother, Rose, would say, “That’s very naughty of you Philip, but never mind, let’s pod them and cook them right now”.
She would cook them in boiling, salted water and dish them up in bowls, to eat them steaming hot with spoons, and with lashings of butter. Phil’s father, Christopher William (Bill or Will) always picked the first of any crop from his garden for Rose. She especially delighted in cooking Bill’s “new” potatoes, again, with nothing else but loads of butter.
One bright summer’s day, for some unremembered reason, Russell and Phil chased Brian Beswick, who lived further up the lane, along with some other boys, into Brian’s backyard. These two friends had always had a running feud going with the Beswicks and their friends.
There was no particular reason for the feud; it was something that just seemed to happen in the world of ‘us against them’.
Brian and his mates threw something, probably stones, at Russell and Phil over their own back fence, which prompted Russell to pick up a piece of tree-branch probably 10 inches long and 1½ inches thick that was lying on the ground, and throw it towards the other boys, and, as it happened, it hit one of Brian’s legs.
Phil and Russell immediately realised that they would probably be in trouble for that, and quickly raced back to the refuge of their own homes about 100 yards away down the lane at the rear of the other houses.
Russell darted inside his house, and as Phil didn’t know quite what else to do, sat in his driveway and commenced drawing circles in the dust.
It was not very long before Mr. Beswick made his entrance, striding along the lane from the back of his house toward the front of Phil’s house. He walked with strong, firm, and definitely resolute, steps, and arrived at Phil’s house just as Phil’s father came out to stand at the front, in the sunshine, while taking a short rest from his building of their weather-board home.
Bill’s trousers were held up with a length of baling twine because he would not spend money unnecessarily on belt or braces when it was more important for the family to have food than for him to have a belt.
As he stood there in the dirt driveway about six feet from Phil, Mr. Beswick arrived and said to Bill, “Your son threw a piece of wood at my boy and hit him with it”.
Phil’s dad looked down at Phil sitting in the dust and asked, “Did you do that Phil?”
The boy shook his head and said, “No Dad”, because to his young mind it was not actually him that had thrown the stick, so for Phil, it was a truthful answer to the question.
Bill looked at Mr. Beswick with a strong, quiet, face, raised his eyebrows, and cocked his head, as if to say, “That’s that then”.
Mr. Beswick said, “Well then, he knows who did do it”.
Bill looked at Phil and said, “Do you?”
Phil said, “Yes Dad”.
Mr. Beswick said, “Well who was it?”
Again, Bill looked at Phil quizzically, and said, “Are you going to say who it was?”
Phil said, “I don’t want to say, Dad”.
It was abundantly obvious to all in the district, that Phil and Russell were always together, and that if it hadn’t been Phil, then it must have been Russell who had thrown the wood.
With that, Phil’s father spread his arms from his sides, palms up, shrugged, and looked at Mr. Beswick, again with an open, blank, but understanding face, which clearly indicated that the conversation was over.
Mr. Beswick made a sound like “Harumph”, turned on his heel, and walked off in the direction from which he had come.
Phil’s dad half turned, looked down at the boy, winked, and without another word, walked leisurely back up the drive to their house.
Phil’s dad never mentioned the incident again.
“It was in that moment that Phil learned about quiet strength,
loyalty, steadfastness, love, and how to be a man.”