Category Archives: childhood

Hide and Seek

I like to pick my granddaughter up from school each Wednesday afternoon.  I mix with the young mothers and other Nannas and Pops who are on duty to ensure that their little one is safely in their care.  

I am often amused by the other children who are smaller and must wait with their parent for an older brother or sister.  This week a little boy, still in nappies and with a pacifier, which was more an ornament than a necessity, was watching some other children as they ducked and dived into a bush which is in the garden just outside the kindergarten window.  

There was a hollow arch in the bush and it was a great source of fun for some little boys and girls who played hide and seek among the branches and leaves.  The small boy I had been watching, bent to look in the hole that had been made in the bush, he tentatively stood in the natural doorway and peeped in.

It was then that he discovered perhaps for the first time what a wonderful place it was to play hide and seek in.  As I watched him I was taken back to my own childhood in country Tasmania.  I was a railway child and the railway line was my playground.  

We had a very large back yard of course, but there was always a sense of adventure one had when playing away from home.  Along the side of the railway on one side was a hedge of hawthorn bushes.  As children we discovered very early what a wonderful play area it was, we played mothers and fathers maybe even doctors and nurses amongst the thorny bushes as the trains whistled and grunted along the railway line beside us.  

The hedge of hawthorn bordered a paddock where cattle and sheep grazed, they often came close and nosed into the bushes when they were disturbed by rustling and giggling, for they are inquisitive creatures and we were never frightened, the animals became part of our little bush house and we gathered long grass for them and hand fed them from the boughs of our cubby.

 The branches and leaves were so thick that down on the ground we were even kept dry when it rained, we never worried how we would get home, because our home was just over there, just across the railway line.  

Sometimes there were some old cattle carriages on a side rail that sat until someone claimed them and perhaps took them to Herrick or Scottsdale.  They smelt somewhat, but oh what fun we had clambering around inside, hiding underneath and always getting cattle dirt in our hair and clothing.

Another place on the railway line where we always liked to play hide and seek was a culvert under the railway line – it was so exciting to hide there – ostensibly from the train driver, and be excited by the sparks which flew off the railway line as the train wheels spun, there was also the smell of oils and burning which gave us a thrill, of course there was never any water in the culvert, and no one ever knew we were there.  

As children who had to make their own fun, hide and seek was played in many other places as well.  I remember quite clearly playing the game around the wood mill that was at the end of our street, after knock off time, when the saws were idle and the men had left after a hard days work, there were always great hidey holes to find amongst the piles of wood.   

We also played the game amongst the hay bales in the summer season when they were stacked under an iron roof with the sides open, what great fun and we never once considered that there were dangers in what we were doing.

It was a good thing that the little boy I saw peeped in first to see what awaited him inside the hidey hole in the school yard bush and his father kept a watchful eye from only a metre away.  

What careless parents we must have had in my day, they believed that as long as we were home before dark everything was fine.  The little boy probably went home in time to see Play School or Peppa Pig.

We got home in time for tea!

Janice Titmus.

For Violet – The Huon River

The frost had settled hard on the grass.  It was a cold, clear night and the moonlight lay flat across the absolute calm of the river.  The woman lay still.

It had not always been like this.  Winds had blown across her face as she sat in the sidecar of a bike as a young woman at the edge of her life.  The woman had braved this trip once before to meet her future mother in law, now she was making it as a bride.

They lay together in the calm of the night; there was nothing to hear, nothing to connect them physically, or she to anything or anyone.

nla.pic-an23752677-vHuon River at Franklin

Many times she would travel the road close to the river.  When she first began these journeys to her new home, she was filled with both hope and sadness.  She was sad to leave her family, but she hoped for a good life for herself and unborn child.

She made many trips over the years.  In time a car replaced the sidecar, but she would not drive it.

“Women shouldn’t drive cars,” she would say. “They are too easily distracted.”

You might say she was her own worst enemy.  By the time her granddaughter tried to teach her to drive, she was too stiff with arthritic pain.  She wished she had never travelled here at all, she longed for her home and her youth.

The road changed over time, from gravel and dirt to bitumen.  The young woman grew to be an elderly person who took very little interest in the passing scenery as she rode along beside the river.

The woman and the river had a long acquaintance.  Two children were born and the trips to the city continued.  Initially the trips were for practical reasons.  Twice they took her back to her home and family in Victoria.  On these she took her children.  Once was to bury her mother.  She always returned to her husband.  It was both a trip down into the remote country, and to the more immediate pain of isolation

The woman was sad.  The years of toil had left her financially comfortable but feeling trapped.  Her marriage was not happy.  Her daughter left home at seventeen, making her own journey past the river in a frenzy of excitement as she attempted to find a better life.

By this time her son had beaten his wife many times and she’d left him.  The woman had taken in her granddaughter but she resented her.  Her anger and bitterness had blinded her to anything positive in her life.

Her husband had a lover.  This had happened some thirty years after they married.  The woman lived with humiliation.  This added to her despair.

The trips to the city became fewer and in the end were only made to go to places like the hospital, or out of sheer necessity, for provisions or clothing.

The grandchild grew and became “too much” for the woman, or so she thought and it was decided that the girl should be placed in a home with the nuns.  The child was devastated. The woman’s desolation grew.

Her daughter would visit over the years with her growing family of three.  The woman would wait hungrily for these visits, waiting for letters.  All this activity passed by the river.

The river had been there a long time. It saw all these comings and goings in the woman’s life, such as changes from starting out to prosperity.

Perhaps the river should tell its version; it had seen the whole tragedy unfold.  The woman’s encounter with it was yet another variable in its existence.

As she lay in the stillness of the night, she felt no pain.  Her husband lay beside her.  No words were spoken. Nothing could be known of the windswept young bride or the tortured woman.

What could be known were their names and their respective dates of death on their combined head stone.

“For Violet: The Huon River,” a poignant story about her paternal grandmother,

by Janice Konstantinidis (Exter) was published in the National Museum of

Australia Exhibition “Inside Children’s Home: An Exhibition for Forgotten

Australians.” Janice was an inmate in Mount Saint Canice, Sandy Bar,

Tasmania, where she worked as an unpaid child laborer in the Good Shepherd

Sisters’ commercial laundry. Janice is a member of SLO NightWriters -The

Premiere Writing Organization on the Central Coast of California.

The New Washing Machine

Breakfast time was filled with an air of excitement. My grandparents were speculating as to what time it would arrive. Nana was quick to clear the table and begin the washing up.

janice granny  My Nana, Violet Exter, sitting outside the Wash House – 1960

“They’ll be here by eleven,” she said.

“If they’re lucky,” replied Grandpa, sipping his tea.

“I’ll get the dinner on the go,” said Nana. “I’d like to make a Queen Pudding,” she added.

“Going all out are we?” said Grandpa, grinning. Nana shot him a look.

The kitchen began to fill with lovely smells as Nana prepared the midday meal – dinner as it was known in the country back then. Her best dinner set, seldom used, was brought out along with her best cutlery set.

“Wedding presents,” she told me.

Along with the tablecloth she used when the visiting parish nuns came to eat with us. Cloth serviettes were used. I was in awe. Thoughts of the Queen coming floated through my mind. I’d have to wear my white shoes.

Time passed, the clock was checked. “They are running late,” said Nana. I had a momentary vision of ‘them’ running to our house and said as much. “Don’t be silly,” said Nana.

The sound of an engine filled the kitchen. Nana smoothed her hair and apron and went out to meet them. I hung back to watch from the kitchen steps.

A man and a woman got out of a white utility truck. Smiles and handshakes filled the next few minutes.

Grandpa walked up from the barn smiling a welcome. “I see you got here,” he said.

“Yes,” said the man, “we hit some traffic coming around the mountain road, slowed us down a fair bit.”

Grandpa said he’d thought as much. “You can’t get much of a move on once you get behind a truck,” he said. “It’s a two hour drive at the best of times.”

All eyes were on the utility. Grandpa helped the man take off the tarpaulin, which covered the tray of the utility. There it was – a brand new washing machine, standing proudly in all its white glory in the back of the utility.

The two men manoeuvred the washing machine down a ramp to the safety of the driveway, and wheeled it slowly to the washhouse.

Nana had been preparing for this and it was no trouble for the men to wheel the washing machine to the designated spot. Every one left the laundry to have a cup of tea.

washing machineThe new washing machine.

The woman showed Nana a book with a photo of the washing machine on it. They talked about this over their cups of tea and fruitcake – Nana liked to serve fruit cake to guests. The man was talking to Grandpa about the machine as well.

After they’d finished their tea, we all trooped down to the laundry. Hoses were attached, the newly installed electrical points checked and the water was turned on. The machine began to fill. The woman had a packet of “Lux Flakes” with her, she showed Nana how to mix them with some hot water in a container before adding them to the machine. The water in the machine became very frothy. Slosh slosh went the new agitator.

Nana had a cream woollen blanket ready to be washed. The woman showed Nana how to put the blanket in the washing machine, and then turned it on. The agitator began to move the blanket this way and that. My grandparents looked on, amazed.

The woman and man demonstrated how to feed the clean blanket through the wringer, into the waiting laundry trough. They showed my grandparents how to drain the water and then refill the machine with clean water. The blanket was rinsed and hung on the line to dry.

My grandmother thought it was too good to be true. She went on to tell about the years she had boiled her washing in a kerosene tin on a fire in the early years of her marriage. She’d graduated to a copper boiler over a fire in the washhouse, where she’d stir the washing with a stick, and then lift it into the rinse trough. Years later she’d been able to buy a hand wringer.

She looked at the blanket on the clothesline with great joy. Her hands had been greatly affected with a crippling form of arthritis over the past couple of years. She was happy to think she could manage her washing again.

Dinner was a great success. The woman and man praised my grandmother’s corned beef, and the Queen Pudding was pronounced the best they’d tasted.

The man and the woman talked more about the washing machine and had more tea and cake as the afternoon wore on.

“We’d like to be back in town by five p.m. “said the man. We waved goodbye to them as they drove out the drive and over the hill on their way back to Hobart. It was all part of the service.

exter roadExter Road, Dover (named after my Grandparents)

Nana and Grandpa took the blanket inside to air. They were very pleased with their purchase. Nana’s washdays were much easier from then on.

I managed to get my fingers caught in the wringer just once. But Nana had been watching when the woman had shown her how to release the wringers.

No harm was done to my fingers, some to my ears as I was told how I had almost given her a heart attack.

It was 1955.

by Janice Konstantinidis (Exter)

Unlikely Mates

When I was only 6 months old, my parents moved to a hippy commune near Elands in northern NSW.  Elands is an inland town south of Port Macquarie and is perhaps best known for the nearby Ellenborough Falls. At 200 metres, Ellenborough Falls is one of the longest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere and a popular tourist attraction.

xvjftWe lived at the commune together until I was around 16 years old, and it was an interesting place to grow up, with many interesting people but there is one man who I remember best.

He was a local farmer named Preston. His farm was near the commune so he was fairly well known to everyone at the commune.

Preston was not a very good farmer. He lived there with his elderly parents and was incredibly lazy.

He was the crustiest old bachelor you could imagine. He didn’t spend any time tending to farm maintenance and over time, grass grew long and fences rot and fell down. When the cows escaped he would send his Mother out to collect them.

The house too began falling apart and Preston did nothing to maintain or repair. It was literally falling down around them. Preston was a confirmed bachelor, never having a girlfriend and very few friends.  Eventually both his parents passed away and Preston was left to run the farm on his own.

Preston didn’t drive a car. He had a tractor. Once a week he would ride his tractor along the highway into town. The tractor was loud and slow, and at the commune we could hear him coming along the road for hours. One day, he drove his tractor into town, it took him 2 hours to get there. He bought his beer in town and began drinking it as he drove back home. Not far from home, he realized he had drunk all his beer so turned the tractor around and drove back to town to buy more beer! Needless to say, we heard his tractor chugging at a snails pace along the highway all day long.

One day a Frenchman named Jacques arrived at the commune. He was a long way from home, looking for a new home. He told everyone he was a builder and had fought in the French Resistance during WW2 and I don’t think anyone doubted this was true. He told how his job was to lay ambush mines for Germans soldiers. This was towards the end of the war when the German army were recruiting the Hitler Youth. On this one day, he saw that the German soldiers he was targeting were all 13 or 14 years old and he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

Jacques found a piece of land he liked and camped there. He soon decided it was a good place to build a small house and began building around his tent. He did not know that he was living on Preston’s property.

Now, because Preston was such a lazy farmer, it took him six months to realize Jacques was squatting on his property. By this time, Jacques house was half built!

Preston’s reaction on discovering Jacques was not as you might expect. Preston could see that Jacques was a decent builder and had an idea. He invited Jacques up to his house and made him a proposition.

He would allow Jacques to live on his land, and to finish building his own house if Jacques repaired and maintained Preston’s house. A deal was struck. No solicitors, no contracts, just a verbal agreement.

And so it was. For many years the two men shared the land and became unlikely friends and constant companions. In fact they lived together for decades until Jacques was put into a retirement home by his daughter Veronique.

Preston and Jacques, unlikely and lifelong mates.

by Brad Lucas.





A Life Lesson Learned

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.”

Thanks Dad.

Hard Work

Hard Work by Carol Titmus

Violet, Mother’s favourite flower.

It’s your turn, would you just go and do the dishes please!

No one seems to know the meaning of the words “hard work” any more. It is no wonder then that my generation loses patience with their children and grandchildren who constantly cry “It’s too hard” and they are only washing the dishes!  There is nothing now that is harder than it was in my mother’s time.

I see her now with the great wooden pot stick in her hands, wisps of damp hair clinging to her reddened face as she plunged up and down in the clothes trough.  This was after she had rubbed the more grimy areas on the glass ribs of the washboard.  The clothes bubbled and squeaked in the sudsy water made ever so hot by the burning coals that were underneath the gigantic copper urn.  The sticks for this little fire had to be cut by our father who kept a running supply for the copper, the chip heater in the bathroom and the fuel stove as well as the open fire.  He always seemed to be cutting sticks, they came and they went like the birds that perched on the back fence waiting for the chickens to turn their backs so they could swoop on the seeds of wheat scattered in arcs from my mother’s apron.

Back to the washing in the laundry, the clothes washed, my mother would proceed to put them through the hand wringer, and then the linen was dipped in a trough of clean water that had been turned a pale shade of blue by the use of the blue bag.  Up and down again with the potstick and back through the wringer.  Mother sang all the while and she sang in time to the sploshes of the clothes against the stick” Walter, Walter Lead me to the Altar.”  Our mother was a Gracie Fields impersonator.  And we knew all the words to all the songs that Gracie and our mother sang.

Gracie Fields

The clothes were then poured into the oval metal container with the handles on either end and taken out to the clothes line which was a good way down the garden, negotiated by a path among the weeds.  The clothesline itself was a long string of heavy wire that wriggled and jumped, each end looped on a post and in the middle was a long piece of wood with a notch in the end, this braced the clothes line and lifted it up so that the clothing and linen could blow in the breeze.

Mum would stand hands on hips and survey her work, using the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her brow, then wiping her hands on her apron, she would make her way back to the laundry for more of the same.  Later in the day the clothes were brought inside and mother did an interesting thing called “damping down.”  This was done via the use of an old glass cordial bottle that had a screw in top that had small holes in it.  The bottle was filled with water and mother sprinkled the clean washing to be ironed with water and rolled up the item tightly and laid it in the washing basket, eventually there was a huge basket of rolls of clothing piled on top of the other– this was Monday, and this was hard work.

One day a week Miss Erb came to lunch.  My mother provided a meal for the old spinster in return for her talents at mending and patching.  While she mended, my mother ironed.  The table was always the best place for this chore, over the end of the table she placed an old army blanket and some old folded and patched sheets and smoothed out the area ready for the garment.  The flat iron was face down on the top of the burning fuel stove.  She spat on the base of the iron to test its readiness to iron.  She had two irons, the plan being as she used one, the other would be heating up.  She would then wipe the base of the iron with an old cloth in case there was some blacking off the fuel stove and then after laying out the item, she would press and the iron would send steam into the atmosphere of the cosy kitchen, this was called pressing and mother hummed along to a Gracie Fields tune, because she did not want to interrupt the chatter from Miss Erb, that might be seen as being rude – it was Tuesday and it was hard work.

Meanwhile Miss Erb merrily chatted away, her fingers holding the needle went up and down, it didn’t look to be hard work, but when you came to mending overall pockets and seams, it could be difficult.

The following day my mother would clean the fuel stove.  It would be allowed to become cold after the morning porridge had been made , the doors and vents opened to help cool it down. Later in the morning my mother would apply a blacking substance, rubbing it in hard.  Then when it was dry she would polish it off and admire the gleaming finish (much better than Mrs, Kerkhams).  She cleaned the front where the oven doors opened up at night to give a wonderful red and orange warmth and where you could see animals and birds in the shapes of the coals that sat there as you toasted your crumpets or stale bread.  Mother did the flue and the vents and the legs and the sides, she was very proud of her fuel stove, and got a great deal of satisfaction out of its finish, she sang the whole time she was working and the stove got a good rendition of “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.”  It was time to get dinner, mother stood back with hands on her hips and admired her work – this was Wednesday and it was hard work.

The following day was floor day.  It was always held on a Thursday – one never new why in particular, but my mother was a creature of habit, certain things were done on certain days and no bones about it.  The floors in the kitchen and dining room had linoleum on the floor I love that word “lin ol e um”.  The kitchen floor was cream and green squares and the dining room was green and cream squares just to be different.  Mother would sweep, mop and wash the floors getting down on her knees with a hard wooden scrubbing brush and velvet soap. Round and round in circles she would go making a design on the floor like dollops of marshmallow.  When the floors were dry she would take the rubber mat she knelt on and with a tin of beeswax in one hand and an old pair of my fathers undies in the other, she would apply the polish with one cloth and polish it off with another.  She sang as she worked “The Biggest Aspidastra in the World”, and her trills mingled with the lovely fresh smell of the creamy yellow polish.  Then there was the lounge floor to do, this was made from polished boards and had a fancy mat in a Persian design that squiggled all over the floor and was perfect for running little cars on the self made tracks.  The mat went out onto the line and my mother literally bashed it with the straw broom, sending the chickens squawking , the cat flying and dust rising into the still air, and when the sun caught it, it was like a thousand tiny stars rising to the heavens.  Back inside mother would mop the floor of the best room, replace the mat, and stand back and admire her work – this was Thursday and it was hard work.

The next day mother attacked the bedrooms with zeal – under the beds she would go uncovering all our treasures, our uneaten school sandwiches, our lost socks and our hand me down toys.  She sang as she worked and we got a great rendition of ‘I Took Me “arp to a Party’. She straightened the beds which were covered in patterned cotton bedspreads that had tufts missing pulled out by tiny fingers in the dark when it was scary and the blind flapped against the window, and there was no kerosene lamp to light – definitely not in the bedrooms!!  She flicked the duster on the side tables and adjusted the blind that went up and down on a roller. Then she moved into the parent’s bedroom, that sacro sanc area wheret we children were never supposed to be without a jolly good reason.  Here she patted the bed cover, ran her hands over dad’s old coat, kicked the boxes back under the bed, the boxes that held her special going out shoes, and things that belonged to her mother.  On the top of the wardrobe she could see the dust on the top of the hat boxes that did not contain hats anymore but she couldn’t quite reach to dust, you see my mother was petite, 5’3” and 7stone wringing wet. She dabbed some polish on the doors of the wardrobes that had seen better days, and fingered the beautiful crystal dishes and clock that had been wedding gifts.  She put her hands on her hips, stood back and admired her work then closed the door.  This was Friday and it was hard work.

The next day was the start of the weekend.  Mother always prepared for the following day. She went out to the jungle garden where we played and where my father grew every vegetable known to man or so it seemed, and various fruits which hung down like Christmas lights from the trees bordering it or popped out of bushes, fruits like gooseberries and raspberries.  Mother selected vegetables for our roast dinner the following day.  She would dig the potatoes, pick the peas, pull the carrots and parsnips, pick the silver beet, and pull the onions and wash them in the cold water from the coiled up hose that lay in circles like a spring at the edge of the garden.  She sang as she worked and you could hear “Will you love me when I’m Mutton, now you do that I am lamb” rising into the clear air of the countryside where we lived.  My mother was often called upon to entertain at the local concert or a party, so she practised all the time, just so she could be better – but she was already the best, so it didn’t really matter. Mother podded the peas, peeled the other vegetables and chopped the silver beet.  She checked the leg of lamb which was sitting in the wire cooler in the pantry, it was very large because there were six of us including my old nan, and even though she ate like a bird, mother always wanted to have left overs for sandwiches, and a curry, and maybe a shepheards pie – yes it was a very large leg of lamb.

Mother had bought it the day before from our local butcher, he wore a white coat and had a navy blue apron with stripes and other things on it.  Other things that clung to the surface, and he brushed them off and they fell into the sawdust that covered the butchery floor.  A leg of lamb, some tripe, mince and sausages – and I mean the ones he made himself – all made their way into mother’s shopping basket – I don’t know how she ever carried it home, the leg of lamb must have weighed 10 pounds, and it was fresh and it didn’t have a bright pink stamp on it, and you knew it came from up the road.  Mother would struggle home on foot with the wicker basket weighing her down so that she walked lop sided and hoisted it up onto the table when she got inside with a 1,2,3.  The potatoes lay in the clear water, two each and extra for dad and my big brother, the peas were in the bowl and looked like pearls you could thread and wear around your neck.  You could smell the onions ready for baking, and the carrots and parsnips lay together in a saucepan, rings of cream and orange, and I could stick my finger in the pot and try to arrange them so that an orange piece was next to a cream piece.  Mother wiped her brow as she bent into the cupboard to bring out the big roasting pan, it weighed a ton and was nearly as heavy as the leg of lamb that went into it.  This was Saturday and it was hard work.

The next day the church bells rang and we were up and dressed in our one best outfit and ready for Sunday School.  We walked there and back and mother always made sure we had a penny each to put in the plate.  We sang Hear The Pennies Dropping, Listen as they Fall, everyone for Jesus, He shall have them all.  We thought Jesus must have been a very rich man.  Our Sunday School teacher was Miss Pitchford, she is still Miss Pitchford and she played the organ beeyootifully.  After Sunday School it was our job to clean the silver cutlery, it had to be cleaned before we could use the pieces to eat our Sunday roast that hissed and bubbled away in the fuel stove oven.  My sister who is the eldest had the job of putting the silvo on an old rag and rubbing it on the knives, spoons and forks making sure that she got between the prongs.  It was my older brother’s job to rub the Silvo off and also make sure he got between the prongs, and it was my job to wash them in a basin of sudsy water.  The cutlery glistened and gleamed, it shone in the light and we made faces in the mirrors on the backs of the spoons, we sang a continuation of Hear the Pennies Dropping Listen As They Fall, and we stood back and admired the cutlery lined up like so many soldiers. This was Sunday, and it was hard work.

So stop moaning about it and go and do the dishes like you were asked!

Learning to Drive

My Dad was an excellent driver. The best. He drove public transport buses in Sydney, then Canberra, for 40 years and never once in that time did he have an accident.

He never scratched another vehicle, never received a parking ticket or a speeding ticket. He was a cautious and courteous driver who was well respected amongst his peers.

He kept every car during his life (and he had a few…) in pristine condition. Inside, outside and under the hood. He was a perfectionist.

I remember when I was a kid, my Dad was giving my older brother driving lessons. Needless to say, he imposed extremely high standards.  He expected us all to be impeccable drivers, and learning to drive an automatic was not an option, we had to learn on a manual gearbox.

Dad expected my brother to change gears so smoothly that his passengers didn’t even feel it. To test this, during the driving lessons, my Dad would ride in the backseat and put our black kelpie dog named Snoopy on the front passenger seat.


Snoopy would never sit when he rode in a car, he always stood up looking out the window. So Dad would sit in the backseat and watch Snoopy as my brother changed gear.

If Snoopy stumbled, or worse, fell at the gear change, Dad considered that a massive fail and the two men would be cranky with each other for the rest of the day.

If Snoopy stood comfortably during gear changes, Dad was satisfied. Not happy, not proud, just satisfied.  This might sound harsh, but if a perfectionist is satisfied with what you have achieved, you know you’re doing pretty well!

As for Snoopy, he just enjoyed going for a ride in the car!

Stuart Maxwell.

a close call

Sydney, 1982.

I recall a time when I was 8 years old, living in the Sydney suburb of Glenfield.  Back in 1982, things seemed a lot different to nowdays… my sister and I were given free reign to roam where-ever we liked.  The only rule was to return home by the time the street lights turned on, which was around sunset.

glenfieldMy sister Angie was 7 and liked to hang out with my mates and I, just mucking around and playing.  We would go visit the nature reserve behind our house and wander through the bush for hours, making up our own games.

One time, during a hot summer day, we went walking far from our house, to near the Georges River.  There were four of us there, Angie, two of my good friends and myself.

The water down at the river was fast moving and we didn’t know how to swim very well, so we just played on the riverbank where it was nice and cool.

georges riverWhile we were there, we encountered a strange old man, who was walking with a large backpack.  He offered us some softdrink which we was carrying in his pack.  The cans were warm but drinking Coke and Lemonade was such a treat in those days, we didn’t mind a bit.

We all got to talking to this guy, and he told us that he lived on a boat by the river, which he offered to show us.  We had not seen a boat when we were there earlier, so we excitedly accepted his offer.

We all walked down there and he showed us his boat… well, actually it was a raft and he had two of them.  One had a tent on it, the other was covered in pots and pans… as well as other supplies.  We were really impressed with his rafts and he offered to take us for a ride down the river.

We were really keen to do this, but by now the sun was pretty low and Angie wasn’t happy.  She kept telling me that we had to leave and go home.  Of course, I knew she was right, but my friends and I didn’t want to leave, we were so fascinated by this strange man.

The man said that if we came back early in the morning, he would take us down the river on the rafts… but only if we promised we would not tell our parents about him or the planned trip.  Of course we promised… and looked forward to our great adventure!

By the time we set off, the sun was setting so we really had to hustle to get home before we were in too much trouble.  All the way we talked about how great it was that we would have a big adventure tomorrow, and promised each other we would not tell our parents.

When Angie and I got home, it was dark and we got into huge trouble for being so late.  It didn’t take long for my sister to crack under the pressure and she told our parents about the strange man.  My parents went mental!  They were furious that we would talk to, accept gifts from, and go off with a stranger.  They called the parents of my friends to alert them to the danger of this stranger and then grounded me for a week.  I was so angry at my sister for breaking the promise.

After a week had passed, I went down to the river again (even though my parents had banned me from going there again…) and looked for the man.  My friends had told me he was already gone and his rafts were nowhere to be seen but I needed to see with my own eyes.

At the time, I was really upset and disappointed, feeling I had missed a great adventure.  Now, as a parent, it scares me that I could have been so stupid to go on a one way trip with this stranger.

If I had gotten onto the raft with that man, I doubt I would have been seen again.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, my little sister Angie did me a great service.  In fact, she probably saved my life!

Thanks Angie.



the day the music died

December 9th, 1980.


Just 12 years old, I was riding the 412 bus home from Melba High School by myself.  It was quite safe in those days, and anyway I was so shy, I would never talk to strangers.

Driving up William Webb Drive, we were nearing the bus interchange behind the local shop at Spence.  I would buy a chocolate paddle pop and then it was only a short walk home to watch some telly with my brother before our parents got home from work.

The bus driver turned his radio up loud.

Did he turn it up so that his half dozen passengers could hear, or because he could not believe what he was hearing?

John Lennon shot dead.

The bus fell silent.

It didn’t make any sense.

Rock stars died in plane crashes or from drug overdoses.

Shot in the back 5 times.

Dying in a pool of blood.


The bus pulled into the interchange.  Still no one said a word.

Not stopping at the shop, I walked home quickly, desperately wanting to see my big brother.  Wanting to hear him tell me it wasn’t true.

I found him in the shed and asked if he had heard the news.  He just looked at me, and looked away.  Not a word.  That told me all I needed to know.  It was true.  It really had happened.

I couldn’t understand it, and 34 years later, I still can’t understand it.  A man who dedicated himself to spreading the message of peace and love, shot in the back 5 times as he walked from his car to the door of his building.  A violent death.

We lost our innocence that day.  The world had changed in that moment.  The unthinkable had happened, and nothing would ever be the same again.

I never say his name, the man who did it.  Today, my own children talk about John Lennon often, like a member of our extended family.  I tell them about his life and his music.  His art and his philosophy.   I tell them honestly of his death not shying away from the truth.   If John Lennon had to live through it, we have to face it too.  And I never, ever say the name of the man who stole Lennon from us. When they are old enough they can seek out information about that man if they want to, but I will not waste a single breath on him.

One of my sons is proud to have been given the name of Lennon and, at least in our household, John Lennon lives.

Image of John Lennon, uploaded onto Photobucket by JDHathaway99Kitty Phelan

Tasmania 2014


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