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Aussietrekker's memoirs (in many instalments)
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 9:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The interiors of the Wimpey houses were very similar in format. Some had two bedrooms, others had three, but I liked the built-in bookshelves which flanked each fireplace. Some of the houses I went into had carpet already, or lino, others had polished boards, which have come full circle in recent times, and a nation of carpet has been ripped up to comply with fashion. But in 1964, there were two ways of looking at this...one was the obvious economic advantage , the other was that carpet demonstrated a shot at affluence, and polished boards could be seen as a cop-out for people who were too poor to afford carpet. I remember a compromise in some houses where the boards had been polished, but a large carpet square had been added, leaving a perimeter of about 18 inches of floorboards. My Mum and Dad wished to repeat the wall-to-wall carpet system they'd had in Ireland, and sensibly had Hemburrows of Footscray come out to install carpet in one room at a time, as funds permitted.
The streetscape looked very bare for want of trees, which had yet to be established, and the nature strips and neighbouring paddocks at the edge of the estate still had native wildflowers such as Pimelea and little sprawling pink Convolvulus. Towards the Geelong railway line and Cherry Swamp, the ground was thick with Artichoke Thistles and African Boxthorn. The giant seed heads of the thistles were very pretty, and were good for making dried flower arrangements. A great many horses were agisted in these paddocks, and up the top of Grieve Highway there was a corral where rodeos were occasionally held, and later on, there was a riding school.
In the first few weeks of our arrival, myself and the brother and sister became quite excited at having a country railway line just beyond the end of the street.
As well as the beautiful blue and yellow engines that towed the passenger trains, there was a daily trickle of goods trains. With their stock cars, flatcars and oil tankers, they were our "cereal packet trains" come to life, and we loved to go trainspotting and count the endless carriages. There wasn't much else to do out in the "boonies" at the time. There were no playgrounds, and it would be two years before one would be installed in the reserve across the street. In the meantime, we had to make our own fun or die of boredom.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 06, 2015 1:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In mid-December, school broke up for the summer and we anticipated our first Christmas. I left St. Mary's, and couldn't wait to start high school, but it would be eight long weeks away. Eight weeks of scratching to pass the time, out in the sticks with no garden, and no public playgrounds nearby. There were no grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. We never had visitors, nor did we visit anyone else. Nearly all our toys had been left behind in Ireland, and their replacements were slow in accumulating, and we had no books to read except our schoolbooks, and the hallowed set of 1956 Collier's Encyclopedias that had migrated with us. Dad went to work at the refinery in rotating day and night shifts, and night-shift was something to be dreaded, as we all had to be very quiet "in case your Da gets woke" and becomes cranky. The whole scenario in those early months and even beyond, was a recipe for loneliness, isolation and boredom. We three children had each other, but in this atmosphere of "cabin fever", soon started to drive each other crazy. I coped by resuming the wanderings cultivated since early childhood. I took to the streets in this new neighbourhood, and made it my business to know who lived in which houses, and everything about them. I was a gregarious child, wanting to be friends with everyone but even in this fledgling estate overflowing with Baby Boomers, I found it very difficult. Although the houses had been occupied for barely a year, friendships had already been made and consolidated, and become exclusive. All the kids went to the same school at the bottom of the street and knew each other. There was little scope for an outsider to be included. So I wandered around and spoke to the children of all ages (with my brother and sister also in mind) wherever I went, with mixed responses. Children are the same around the world when meeting a newcomer. Some will be friendly, some not so welcoming, and some actively hostile to a perceived intruder. Some children are just born to be mean and obnoxious. One day I passed a newly-occupied house, and there by the window with its makeshift sheet-curtain, was a little blonde girl a bit younger than myself. She didn't smile back. She had a stuck-up little face, of the kind that perpetually looks like the whole world around her has just farted. She fixed me with a cold stare, then contorted her farty-face into an expression of pure venom, and stuck her tongue out as far as it would go. It was an ugly sight that haunted me for a long time, and I learned to avoid her in the street later on as her vocabulary of unprovoked abuse increased with every encounter. I suppose every neighbourhood has one of these princesses.
My first friend, eventually, was a girl called Julie, who had a sister the same age as Colette which worked out well. So we played at their house a few times then had to stop going there. As if things weren't bad enough, our family was suddenly quarantined. One by one, from the youngest to the eldest, all three of us came down with Whooping Cough.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2015 1:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Being afflicted with an ailment at anytime is a nuisance, but doubly so when it occurs in the school holidays. At first I blamed my sister for inflicting this calamity upon us, and then starting coughing myself. We were told not to go near any children for three weeks. That's a long time to lose momentum in trying to form friendships in a new neighbourhood. At least we weren't confined to the house, so we did lots of walking down to the main street and the familiarity of St. Mary's, where a new modern church was being constructed.
On one of these days when all three of us were walking past the convent, a group of three or four visiting nuns approached a short distance away. One of them, I think it was Sister Veronica, beamed when she saw us, and said to the visitors "This is the Houston family. They're all the way from Holy Ireland!"
The nuns were ecstatic. "ALL THE WAY FROM HOLY IRELAND!" they echoed, and proceeded to smother all three of us in hugs and kisses. We went into shock...who ever heard of a nun giving a hug and a kiss? The only thing nuns had given us in Holy Ireland was a daily whack with the cane. We couldn't wait to get home and report this marvel. Mum was rightfully amazed. "They would never have done that back home!" Dad was more cynical. "They'd kiss ye if your name was Flanagan", and he named one of our former parish's wealthy business families.
On another day while walking alone in the same spot, I beheld another marvel. I would never have taken notice of a new grey Holden driving past, except that the driver was dressed as a nun! I nearly collapsed on the footpath with laughter at this comical spectacle. A nun driving a car in Ireland was unheard of. But it turned out to be a real nun, Sister Lucetta from another convent at the new school in Altona West. I subsequently learned of something called the Motor Mission, in which the Sisters of St. Joseph ministered to regions where there was no church. Dad told me that Australia was still considered to be a mission country, and it remained so till as late as 1973.


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PostPosted: Sun May 31, 2015 1:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As Christmas grew closer, we started to welcome the familiar things, and contrast those that were different. The weather was the most obvious. Instead of waiting for the first snowfall that was never going to come, we learned to wait for the "cool change" or "southerly buster" that eventually followed days and nights of searing heat. There was no such luxury as air-conditioning in houses back then. The best thing available was a plug-in fan, and at first we made a lot of use of our BOAC-issue fans that had been given on the plane to use in the hot transit countries. The nights were the worst, and guaranteed a rough sleep to any family of pale-skinned Brits. We could have slept starkers and still been too hot. And night after night, our restless sleep was punctuated
by a distant high-pitched whine, which grew louder until a sharp pain on a random body part woke us up. This was followed by a relentless itch, which came courtesy of our new enemy, the female mosquito, or the "mozzie". Living between two swamps was to blame. Next morning there would be a number of raised blotches where the villain had sucked blood. And the itch would last for days. We went through a great deal of Calamine Lotion that summer, and didn't know that vinegar or cheap-and-nasty perfume brought the most instant relief. We burned mosquito coils, and we whacked the little beasts with fly swatters. On many a morning, there were numerous flattened dead mozzies on the bedroom walls, smeared with our own blood- which didn't do the new paintwork any good, and they had to be washed off sooner rather than later or the blood would permanently stain. Many sleepless nights were also caused by sunburn. It was worse for the paler members of our family, who would have roaring red patches on exposed limbs for days. This was followed by a new itch, as the fried skin became blistery, or turned to sheets of dry skin, which was fascinating to pull off. Many a time, Martin would say to me hopefully "aw, can I peel off your sunburn?" But that was an entertainment wanted all to myself. I was lucky, having skin like my Dad, which turned brown quickly, and I became very proud of my first and subsequent suntans.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 1:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A pre-Christmas tradition in Australia was the School Fete. These were held in November or December in almost every school. For weeks prior, Mums and Grannies would be engaged in knitting baby clothes, booties and other items. Cakes were baked, and craft items made from scraps of wool or fabric, and there was scarcely a house in Altona or anywhere else in the 60's, that didn't have a knitted coathanger in the wardrobe, or one of those knitted toilet roll holders with a fake Barbie doll through the cardboard centre. Another necessary staple was the homemade toffee, which sold at every fete for the fixed price of threepence. We'd already made them on the hostel canteen toaster, but the fete versions had hundreds-and-thousands on the top which were way more attractive. Less attractive was the sloppy variety, which went by the name of "Stickjaw". These filling-lifters were revolting, but popular all the same. Another popular stall consisted of decorated bottles. These were green or brown, large and ornamental in shape, and had previously held wine, port or liqueurs. They were sold in the stalls as vases, having been given a facelift with a mosaic of large coloured glass beads stuck all over the outside. If the school was Catholic, there would be a stall selling holy pictures and
various religious objects.
There was the obligatory spinning wheel and numerous raffles, and other improvised fund-raising "sideshows". The worst I ever heard of was the "Spooky Tunnel", in a western suburbs primary school (which will remain nameless) about 1994. A number of the senior girls had been conscripted to arrange chairs in a winding column. These were covered with large cloths
and for 5 cents, an unsuspecting prep or grade one child could crawl through the dark makeshift "tunnel", and hopefully be scared by the older girls' hand-made drawings of spiders and the like. But in Altona forty years earlier, the entertainment was even less creative.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 7:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We started receiving our first mail in the new house, and it was weird having to go outside to the letterbox in the driveway to collect it, instead of seeing the letters on the hallway carpet each morning. The mail was delivered twice a day by a postman on a bike. With each delivery, he would blow a loud whistle, and this became the anticipation of my day in the long school holidays if there wasn't much to do, especially if he brought a letter from the Old Country. Our first Christmas cards soon started to line up on the mantlepiece, and again and again we would read the accompanying letters and look at the enclosed photos of the folk we'd left behind. These items became our lifeline as the years went by, and homesickness in varying degrees (or not) affected each family member in different ways. Even the envelopes were beautiful. There was nothing more exciting than lifting the letterbox lid to find an envelope with an airmail sticker. Every migrant will relate to this. A selection of foreign stamps, cancelled with a genuine postmark added to my childhood excitement. The prettiest envelopes came from Dad's sister Alma in the US, as they had colourful Christmas
stickers back and front. The annual photos from my aunt were an event in themselves, as they were in colour!
In a letter previously written to my Granny in Belfast, Mum had mentioned how much the kids missed her bread with the glorious burnt crust. These "burnt baps", courtesy of Mary Ellen Steele's tiny shop on the New Lodge Road, were the staple snack of visits to our Granny. Liberally smothered with fresh butter from a little cupboard in the yard (the nearest thing Granny had to a fridge) and accompanied by glasses of Ross' brown lemonade, it was a delicacy us kids were sorely missing. So Granny offered to post us a loaf....
One day a very exciting parcel arrived from our Uncle Harry in England. We'd never had parcels in the mail at Christmas, and being our first Christmas in "exile" it meant everything at the time, and for years after. I received a beautiful gold crucifix on a chain. It looked like real gold and was actually oxidised aluminium, but to this day it has not tarnished. Martin's present was a box of three soaps in the shape of astronauts. Even the box was a treat, and Martin let me keep it after the soaps were used. I treasured that box, with its artwork of an astronaut doing a tethered spacewalk, which was to become a reality in the following year. Colette's present I don't recall, but she recently mentioned soaps shaped like Disney characters, which in comparison with astronauts was probably not worth storing in my ten-year-old memory bank anyway.
Mum and Dad for whatever reason had decided to dispense with the practice of decorating the house at Christmas. Our beautiful tree and glass balls were not replaced, much to our dismay. Year after year, our entreaties were met only with "awk sure, it's not like Christmas here".
Christmas day itself was low-key, and only just broke the monotony of a regular weekday, and this became the blueprint for every other Christmas until I left home. There was no Santa, and no snow. We'd get up in the morning and rejoice in our presents, which had downsized in quantity with the exit of Santa. We'd drive down to church at St. Mary's, then come home to a nice roast chook for Chrissy dinner, which was our regular Sunday habit anyway. Apart from our new toy and book acquisitions, it was Christmas in name only. We didn't go anywhere. No-one came to visit, nor did we visit anyone else. I would listen to what other kids did on Christmas Day and feel robbed. We were far away from everyone we knew, and it was lonely. Each year a neighbour would ask Mum how Christmas went, and every year the response would be "it was a quiet Christmas".


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2015 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The new year of 1965 got off to a shaky start, courtesy of whooping cough. I'd been greatly looking forward to joining the council's school holiday programme at the Youth Club in Civic Parade. This should have been my big break for making new friends, and my deliverance from loneliness, but now it was out of the question. I would have to wait a whole year till the next summer. We'd been in the new house for only 5 or 6 weeks, and it was boring.
I went down to the Pier Street shops every day, and quickly got to know every shop and their occupants. I found the counter staff very welcoming, and it meant a lot in those early weeks to be accepted by these ladies, in the absence of any peers to communicate with. But I was 10 going-on-40, and was articulate enough to relate more to older people in conversation anyway. I particularly remember the friendliness of a curly-haired lady in Mellett's Self-Service. And serving in another shop was the pleasant Norah from the hostel canteen and it was good to see someone familiar.
There were three "self-services" in Pier street...Mellett's, Moran and Cato, and National. They would eventually become known as supermarkets. There were two bakeries, the sacred Noonan's, and Smith's round the corner in Queen Street. There were some milkbars/coffee lounges, and some very smelly shops called delicatessens. These catered for the European migrants, and the stink came from the dried-out strings of long, slender sausages with revolting names like bratwurst. An old bloke called Ernie ran one of these "delis", and could be regularly seen hovering in the window, smoking profusely over the cabana.
A closer but smaller shopping centre was Harrington Square. It was very bustly in those days, with two milkbars, a Foodland self-service which was run by the Buttigieg family of Williamstown, a State Savings Bank and numerous other useful shops such as a newsagent's and chemist's. Many of them are still there, though the managements have changed several times, and the bank is long gone. In a little vacant block there still exists the monument to Altona's brown coal mining industry. It's hard to believe that there was once a railway line that went to the mines, which were located roughly where Mount St.Joseph school now stands.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 1:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When the construction of housing resumed after the Christmas/New Year break, we discovered a new and very profitable pastime- collecting empty lemonade bottles. The tradies drank like fishes in the hot summer and when they quit at the end of each day, the siblings and I would do the rounds of every partially-built house and loot the "empties". The one saving grace about living in the remote part of the estate, was that we could get to the bottles before the other neighbourhood kids. Life has its compensations! Dad built us a billy-cart (known as a guider back home) and it made our collecting more efficient. We would quickly fill up the cart with large and small bottles, mostly Tarax, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Marchants and Schweppes, but there were other obscure brands such as Eck's, Boon Spa, Cohn's and Mosley's. We never saw any cans. There was always a ton of beer bottles, but we never bothered with those. They only paid a fraction of the soft-drink bottles at tenpence a dozen, and the other kids were welcome to them. They were a bloody nuisance. They took up SO much space in your backyard, and disposal was tedious. It involved getting your Mum or Dad to ring the local "Bottle-Oh", (and we didn't have a phone, nor was there a public phone box in the district for years) and providing you had a minimum quota stacked up against your back fence (about the height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the lower rungs harbouring all manner of crawly insects), the Bottle-Oh would come round in his horse and cart at an appointed day and relieve your grateful parents of the clutter from the yard, in exchange for a couple of shillings. It just wasn't worth the grief. But the soft-drink bottles were gold, at 3d. each for the smalls, and 6d. each for the large. We made a killing that first summer, and it continued on a regular basis for two or three years, till they started building on the other side of Grieve Highway, and the bottles for some reason became scarcer.
We would take our bottles a few at a time to the two milk bars at Harrington Square. It was a bit of a walk, but one milkbar sold Peter's ice-cream, and the other sold Toppa, so it was a productive outing on a hot day. The bottles supplemented our pocket money, and kept us in lollies, ice-cream, Tarax and lucky dips (the sixpenny bag, no less!). The obscure brands of bottles were more difficult to get rid of, and were only taken by certain far-flung milkbars, in or beyond Pier Street. There was a funny little shop across from the Homestead in Queen Street that sold the non-commercial brands if you were heading that way, but it wasn't worth a special trip as the large bottles only paid 3d. One day I came across a yellow wooden Schweppes crate in a half-built house. I lugged it all the way to Harrington Square and was astonished when the milkbar owner gave me three shillings! That was wealth unheard of. They were good times, and were a great compensation for our loneliness and inactivity in those long, hot weeks before school went back in February.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 3:01 am    Post subject: Empty bottles Reply with quote

You have just reminded me of my time at Bunnerong Hostel in 1960/61
We lived at the beach in summer. As kids do, we scoured Maroubra beach for bottles. There was always good pickings. Then we wandered up to the shops at the back of the seafront cashed them in and straight round to nearest fish and chip shop. Usually got chips or potatoe scallops.
They always tasted extra good. Probably as we had been swimming for hours after walking for miles to the beach...and generally having not eaten since breakfast. Funny that ..can't go that long without food these days!? Laughing
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 3:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was a lot of other fun to be had in this clandestine playground that was the construction area. Every house being built had its own "builder's dunny" (portable toilet hut), and if it was new and had not yet been installed with a "dunny can", it made a great cubby house, even for just one day. I'm sure many an exasperated tradesman would arrive the next morning, and find the hut decorated with little girls' makeshift playthings, in my case, endless daisy chains made from the abundant yellow Oxalis flowers, which had the bonus of having stems that could be sucked and chewed. A dunny "on active service" was to be avoided, and could be identified by a putrid stench accompanied by a swarm of buzzing blowflies.
There was always a supply of freshly-cut timber offcuts of all sizes, and they smelt beautiful. Many a "creation" was made from these pieces of treated pine.
Long, thin edging strips were great for making swords and daggers (for playing "war"), and the lids from the empty plaster buckets made perfect metal shield accompaniments.
A mountain of newly-dumped sand could provide hours of entertainment. Again, the tradies would be welcomed next morning by a large sandpile hollowed out with a network of roads, tunnels and cities, where we'd spent the previous evening or weekend playing with our marbles and "wee motors".
Some days it was too hot to play outside at all. We'd be grounded during a heatwave that could last for days, until the cool change arrived. We'd lie on top of our beds, fanning ourselves in a vain attempt to offset the relentless heat, scratching our mosquito bites and complaining. Mum said we must expect issues with discomfort until we became "acclimatised", but how long was that going to take? She was much worse for wear than the rest of us, and her catchphrase every summer was "I hate this oul clammy weather". How Dad got by at work in the hot, smelly oil refinery I'll never know. There was always an eerie silence on the days when the mercury reached 90-100 degrees, as if the world had shut down in protest. Even in the house, all you could hear was the droning of the fridge, and the buzzing of any flies that had sneaked in. We would be on red alert for the radio message that declared a day of Total Fire Ban. This meant that no fires could be lit in the open across the state, and that included barbecues and our backyard incinerator.
On the hot days, Mum always had a supply of cold cordial that came in a range of terrifying lurid colours, and we loved it. Even better was the nuclear-waste-green ice blocks that Mum made with some commercial powder mixed with water. She would freeze this brew and cut it into blocks that would fit nicely into the square wafer cones that came in a box from the self-service. Eclipsing even these ice blocks, was a cone containing Mr.Frozo ice-cream. This came in large, round tins and was made in a factory in some neighbouring suburb.
As dusk approached and the air became cooler but still balmy, people came out and sat on their verandahs. The lower, more occupied end of the street would come alive, with children playing and spraying each other with the garden hose on their nice neat lawns behind the uniform low, white fences. We may have had not a blade of grass growing in our own house, but I loved going for a walk on these balmy nights. I got to know which gardens had rotating sprinklers, and it was just heaven to stand on the footpath and wait until the nozzle did its circuit, and be showered with beautiful cold water.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2015 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another highlight of those summer evenings was listening to the radio. We had no TV for a while. During the day, Mum continued to follow her dreadful talkback shows on 3AW- Norman Banks, Ormsby Wilkins and so on, where all the "poor me" types, mostly bored women would ring up and broadcast their miseries. They were totally the wrong sort of programmes for someone who was prone to depression but Mum loved them in a morbid sort of way, and it gave her some insight to the vocabulary and lives of these Australian women. She also enjoyed listening to the iconic and everlasting serial "Blue Hills". Dad only ever listened to classical music on 3AR, which was an embarrassment of its own, just like the records that were still played on the dinosaur radiogram from the Footscray Auction. Sometimes we listened to a funny programme called "The Village Glee Club". The whole tone of this presentation sounded like it was being broadcast from someone's drawing room at the time of the Boer War. It consisted of some lengthy waffling by an old chook named Mrs. Sharpshot, her sidekick Wilberforce, and sundry other genteel and geriatric bores. Between the waffling and reminiscing, a tune would strike up on the piano and they would all sing. And we would all laugh. Us kids got a great kick out of imitating the 'posh' accents of Mrs. S. and her cronies. The whole thing sounded ridiculous and dated, but so hilarious that eventually we looked forward to it each week just to have a laugh. We were easily pleased in those days.
In the evenings, things lightened up with some "decent" Top 40 music, via the Monday to Friday request show on 3AW. This was presented by DJ John Bright, a very jolly person who had great empathy with his listeners, and would read out every letter like it was from an old friend. Often the same "regulars" would write in for a request. It was great to hear the latest records from the British bands we had left behind, and lots of new ones like Herman's Hermits, The Kinks, and my all-time outright favourite, the Moody Blues. We heard some good fledgling Australian bands, headed by the likes of Billy Thorpe, Ray Columbus, Ray Brown, and then there was the nearest thing Australia ever had to Elvis: Saint Johnny O'Keefe. Some of the requests would have been more at home in a Sunday school. Every night without fail, someone would want to hear "Will the Circle be Unbroken", or "You can talk to Jesus on the Royal Telephone." After every few songs, JB would read out commercials plugging various Melbourne shops and businesses, but there was one he flogged relentlessly- land for sale in a new estate, Woolamai Waters on Phillip Island. It sounded idyllic and probably was, if you were Robinson Crusoe, as it was so far away with little or no facilities.
After a few weeks of this enjoyable nightly timeslot, I asked Mum if I could send in for a request. So I wrote the letter, roughly following the format that the other listeners used, including "would you please send me an autographed photo". I had requested "Saturday Night at the Movies" by the Drifters, and waited. Then one night, my letter was read and the record was played. I felt famous! A few days later, the autographed photo arrived in the mail. The invisible John Bright was no longer a mystery, but he was no hunk either. He looked older than my Dad, and had about as much hair that you could count on one hand.
He must have been at least 40.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2015 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

After our first long, hot summer of mosquito bites, collecting bottles and standing under other peoples' sprinklers, an exciting new chapter was about to begin in my short life- the commencement of high school. I was only ten years and six months old, but academically was well ready for it, and the day couldn't come quickly enough. The whole business was an unknown territory for my parents. Not just due to the eldest child starting the next rung of education in a new country, but because the school was brand new, having only been opened in April the previous year. As I was the first child in the housing estate to attend St.Joseph's Girls' College, there were no neighbours that could be consulted- all the other children went to Altona High or Altona North Tech. I was going to be the "odd one out" all over again.
For my parents, it was the beginning of a long and arduous drain on financial resources. Back in the UK, there were neither school fees nor textbook expenses- everything including exercise books was provided. Any optional stationery extras, or items of school uniform were available at low cost at Woolworth's in Main Street. Attending a Catholic or private high school in Australia was a different matter, and was to provide one costly shock after another. The modest fees we had been charged at St.Mary's were peanuts compared with secondary school, but the additional outlay of uniform and textbooks was astronomical. The school had not existed long enough to have a secondhand uniform shop, nor could books be passed down.
One day, a booklist arrived in the mail, and I was so excited. It was a very official-looking typeset strip about 15 inches long, and came from Campion Press in Kew. I read through the list again and again, and spent several days wondering what the books would look like. The box of goodies eventually arrived, and it was monstrous. The books were all hardback and sturdy. There was a dear little maroon-coloured item called "The Living Parish Hymn Book", which became an early favourite. I leafed through it, rejoicing in the many familiar hymns I knew from Ireland, and anticipating the learning of the new ones. There was the inevitable Bible (Knox Version) which was sturdy enough to survive Armageddon, and is still in our bookshelf. There was a very nice poetry book with a lemon cover, and "Junior One-Act Plays of Today". I also remember "Phillip's Comparative Commonweath Atlas", but the greatest surprise was a French book. So I couldn't wait to learn French, and it turned out to be my favourite subject over the years.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 08, 2016 1:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

With the arrival of the book package, there followed a ritual that would herald the start of each school year until I left in 1970- the fun of covering the books and gathering new stationery. In Ireland, it was commonplace to cover our textbooks with offcuts of wallpaper, which made a very pretty variety of coverings. Wallpaper was the norm at the time, and if each room was papered in a different pattern, there would be a good selection of scraps to choose from.
In Altona and elsewhere, everyone covered their books in brown wrapping paper, bought by the roll in Coles or the newsagent. If your mother read the Women's Weekly, there would be a lift-out of colourful school book labels each January, with Australian wildflowers etc. In years to come, we'd prefer the labels that came with TV Times, which featured our favourite pop stars or soapie celebrities. It was an exciting and messy time, covering each book and sticking the labels on with "Clag". As for stationery, the staple was the "Embassy" brand of exercise book, exclusive to Coles. It was also the cheapest.
Biros were banned in every school at the time, so it was necessary to have a dip-pen or fountain pen in working order, and a bottle of Swan Ink. Coles also provided everything else, from rulers to sets of cheap-and-nasty coloured pencils. The more affluent children would have the superior Derwents. No high school blazer was complete without the fashion accessory of a ten-cent wallet and keychain. These came in various colours, and were made of plastic with a fake-crocodile appearance. The wallet would sit in your blazer pocket, and had a long chain which attached to the buttonhole by a little piece of leather, which would become progressively mangy as the year went on. The inside of my
own wallet was never eroded by the presence of notes, and the few coins never ever stayed longer than lunchtime, but I got the best mileage out of the little plastic window on the outside. It was there that the teenage girls would proudly display a photo of whoever they were in love with, usually cut from one of the TV magazines or Go-Set.
Items of my new uniform were gathered, commencing with the schoolbag. It was of the characteristic airline-bag shape used in every school, and was dark brown with yellow piping. On one side was the school emblem, featuring a lily with the school motto "Virtue Courage". The uniform colour was a pleasant change from the blue that was standard, ad nauseum, in all three of my Catholic primary schools. The blazer was bottle green, with the lily-emblem on the top pocket. The jumper was somewhere between pink and brown. The dress was tan and had an unusual woven checked pattern, with little thread knots at each intersection. We were told that the material for the dresses was imported exclusively from Japan, and wasn't even available in Myers! We wore brown shoes, tan tights and matching gloves, which were mandatory at all times in the street and school bus, even on days of extreme heat. Prefects on the busses would enforce this regulation militantly. The whole summer uniform was very attractive, and was topped by a beautiful tan straw boater hat, with a bottle green ribbon. It was also required to be worn at all times to and from school, and the nuns would always know if a girl had removed the hat and gloves in transit. You always wondered if there was some divine telepathy at work, or espionage among the parishioners looking out of windows.
The winter uniform was more spartan in appearance, and consisted of a dark green tunic, a tan shirt, and a green tie with yellow and tan thin stripes, matching the ribbon on the green velour hat. We were expected to wear a light green pinafore to protect this hefty investment.
In general, both summer and winter uniforms were modern and attractive. There was only one thing that let it down- the archaic sports dress. This weighty white monstrosity was the bane of my wardrobe. Not only was it guaranteed to show every bit of dirt, but it was just downright ugly. The material was rough cotton, almost as thick as a canvas tent. Pure, thick cotton does not iron well. It was open at the neck with buttons down to the waist, below which was about 50 pleats which were in a perpetual state of being wrinkled. I dreaded having to iron each one before sports day, it was a penance, and no matter how hot the iron, they always looked hideous.
Mum was unable to buy a school dress in my size. I suppose the school hadn't counted on a tiny Irish ten-year old joining the intake. The generic blue and white Coles dress worn for a few months at St. Mary's had to improvise in the meantime. And so it was, in a motley collection of official and unofficial apparel, I proudly stepped out of 62 Brook Drive and headed off to a new life at St. Joseph's Girls' School in Maidstone Street. The date was the seventh of February, 1965.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2016 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The walk to St. Joseph's was a breeze compared to St. Mary's, and there were no vacant blocks containing hostile goats. Once the main road, Civic Parade had been crossed, a little shortcut was discovered in a gap between the houses in Phair Court, thanks to the presence of the Coal Mining Monument, which led into Harrington Square. The busy Maidstone Street had to be crossed with caution, as there was no crossing supervisor. In those days, they were provided only to State Schools.
The iron gates identified with the words "St. Joseph's Girls' College" led into a nice little courtyard, which flanked by the main office, library, and music room (music shoebox!) at the front- the main double-storey building containing the classrooms on the right, the assembly hall on the left, and there was a see-through wall made from the ultra-modern Besser Bricks. The perimeter path enclosed an area of white pebbles, and the whole vista provided a pleasant first impression to all students and visitors.
The first thing I remember is being mustered in this courtyard, and being surrounded by lots of very tall girls in the strange new uniform. A handful of the girls stood out, like myself, for still wearing their primary school dress. I sought out my friends from Altona, then joy of joys, I found
Cherie and Sandra! Nearly all my classmates from my first school were there, and I recognised some of the older girls who had been transferred the previous year from Grade 7, and were now in Form Two. I saw a group of them point in my direction and declare solemnly "There's that brainy kid from
Williamstown".
St. Joseph's was the first regional Catholic high school south of the Princes Highway, and was closely followed by the construction of a similar school for boys, St. Paul's in North Altona. Both schools catered for the parishes of Altona, Williamstown, Newport, Spotswood, and Werribee, as well as the RAAF families of Laverton and Point Cook. Three years later, St. Joe's would augment its intake with the girls from Yarraville, Kingsville and Footscray.
At the courtyard muster, by selection criteria unknown, we were divided into two groups. One would be taught by the Principal, Sister John in Form One Gold, and the other by the science teacher Sister Francis in Form One Blue.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My allocated classroom was on the ground floor nearest the entrance. I will never forget the beautiful smell of that room, containing a mixture of everything possible in mint-condition…the polished timber desks, the books and stationery, the uniforms, and the newness of the building itself. The individual desks were of solid timber and were very wide and deep, to accommodate the mountain of textbooks which would annually increase. They were arranged in pairs, in four or five columns. I was placed next to a quiet Italian girl from Spotswood, named Joanna. To my great annoyance, Cherie and Sandra were in the other class. Sister John took most of our subjects in this room. Science and Needlework had their own magnificently-appointed classrooms, with the very best lab equipment and sewing machines.
The main building was two-storey, with the Form One classrooms downstairs, and Form Two upstairs. Both upper and lower corridors had a wall of windows which looked out onto the "Quadrangles". Running the length of the corridors below the windows were a row of benches, with multicoloured slats. This is where we would eat our lunches each day, before heading outside.
At the end of the lower corridor was a doorway which was not entered by the students. This led to the Convent and Chapel. We were free to visit the Chapel, but it had to be accessed by a back entrance. All the nuns lived in this new convent. It had a built-in garage, which to my surprise contained the grey Ford that had caused me so much laughter in the holidays. It was apparently driven by Sister Lucetta. There was a sticker on the back window that read "Dusting's of Burwood", wherever that was.
To the left of the mysterious doorway were the senior classrooms, for Forms Three and Four. That was the limit in 1965, with the final two levels to be added in 1966 and 67. There was a great emphasis on Commercial Studies for the older girls, in preparation for the workforce. Shorthand and Typing, Book-keeping and Accounting and all office procedures were taught in a large double-classroom partitioned by a glass wall, which was always occupied by girls on numerous typewriters. Girls in that era had very few options when leaving school, and according to ability and performance at high school, each girl's fate would be sealed by the leaving age of 15. Office work in all its forms would employ the majority of female Australians, and some would continue to fine-tune their skills at a Business College in the city. For those who were academically inclined, Teacher's College was the usual destination, unless an affluent family could afford University fees, which were generally out of range for regular working parents, until the fees were abolished in 1975. If a girl didn't become a teacher, secretary or nurse, there were any amount of shops and factories where employment was plentiful. For most teenage girls, work was a temporary situation for up to five years, by which time most would be married with babies and a mortgage. The workforce was compartmentalised, and regardless of the horror that today's professional women would view this situation, everyone belonged to a niche, however humble, and work was plentiful and secure.
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