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Aussietrekker's memoirs (in many instalments)
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2016 2:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Continuing the "guided tour", the aforementioned pebbled courtyard led to the assembly hall, which could be identified some distance away by its little pointed pinnacle, which contained a skylight. It had the customary curtained stage, and a beautiful modern framed portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the wall. Hundreds of chairs were stacked by the walls. I liked these chairs, the seats were a woven plastic of a beautiful copper colour, and they didn't weigh much when we had to lay them out in rows for a function, or one of the numerous Masses. Next to the hall was the tuckshop. Like every other school, they were manned by the mothers on a roster basis. I remember it most for the excellent vanilla slices. Adjoining the tuckshop was a huge Home Econonics classroom, containing all the latest apparatus for cooking. I rarely went in there, and at no time was offered cooking classes.There were three "streams" or levels at St. Joseph's- Academic, Commercial and Domestic. I'd been placed in Academic, and preferred to learn those subjects. Dad was a bit annoyed about this. I remember him saying "and what are you going to say when your husband wants his dinner..."je ne sais pas?" Well it just so happens that my husband has been the beneficiary of my dedication to the subject...I did all the translating when visiting France a few years back, and that included swearing in French at the numerous beggars. And he missed me one day in the Paris Macca's, when he ordered a bottle of water and was handed a bag of chips!
That was the extent of the buildings at the time. Some distance at the back of the hall, there were some basketball and tennis courts. These I avoided like the plague, being naturally lazy where sport was concerned. I dreaded sports day, particularly competition events when the whole school was expected to participate. I would reluctantly go through the motions and fail miserably at relays and anything else, and spend the rest of the afternoon defecting unnoticed in the direction of the Chapel with Cherie and Sandra, gazing over the swampland and squandering the remaining time on the more productive pursuit of Gossip and Scandal.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2016 2:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The full-time staff in my first two or three years consisted entirely of nuns, and they all lived together in the adjoining convent. Sister John was the ancient Principal, teaching my own Form 1 class, and the other was taught by Sister Francis, who was also the Science specialist. Upstairs were the two Form 2 classes, taught by the two youngest nuns, Sisters Magdalen and Monica. They were great friends, and I enjoyed many a lunchtime yarn with them when they were on yard duty. Sister Clement taught Form 3, and the Irish Sister Dominic taught Form 4, which was a very small class. Sister Dominic was from somewhere out the west of Ireland, and was very proper- she was always pushing the point that as young ladies, we were expected to be graceful and elegant. Unfortunately, most of the girls were resistant to this expected transformation. Sister Charles taught the commercial and business studies, and was usually to be found in the typing room. She also came into our class a few times a week to teach religion. The only sisters who didn't have a specific class were Lucetta and Lucia, who taught sewing and music. It wasn't long before nicknames were attached to our teachers, though there wasn't much scope at first...most of the names were a bit ordinary, and followed the Australian penchant of tacking an "O" onto everything- Johnno, Clemo, Dommo etc., but thanks to certain TV shows, Charles became Charlie-Horse, and Lucetta was designated Lurch (from the Addams Family). Later on when the staff increased and we were more brazen, we had Fishface, Bumface, Mitch (which expanded to other irreverent rhyming variants), and Stanislaus who inevitably became Santa Claus. By the time the separate Junior School was built and my sister Colette had joined us, things were a bit more creative. They had a Sister Eucharia (Aquarius) and Sylvester, who became Sister Sock after the TV character Sylvester the Talking Sock.
If you met one of nuns outside class, the customary greeting was "Good morning Sister, God Bless You", and this would be reciprocated with your own name plus the God Bless You. By the time we were in Form 3 or 4 and harboured animosity towards some of our teachers, the "God Bless You" was faked, and uttered under sufferance! In my first year of 1965, I found all the nuns cheerful, approachable and benevolent. As the years went on, there were additions to the staff that had a variety of "issues", which were often taken out on the girls. This has happened among teachers in every school since Adam was a boy, but nuns, young and old, living in a closeted situation with high expectations from the Catholic community, are bound to present with additional stresses. At St. Joseph's, it was mostly the Junior School which had the problem teachers. For some reason, the younger girls were allocated a trail of older nuns from some of the regional primary schools, who had been notorious for wreaking havoc with canes, straps and other strange methods of physical and psychological cruelty. Although corporal punishment was forbidden at our school- and I never once heard of or witnessed it being dealt- I'm still hearing tales of one nun who "compensated" by grabbing pairs of misbehaving girls and banging their heads together.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2016 9:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was one novelty that came in once a week- Miss Keats. Miss Keats was an old lady who had the thankless job of trying to teach us elocution. She was always dressed in a tweed suit, with a matching pork-pie hat that she seldom removed in class. She spoke just like Mrs. Sharpshot from the 3AR radio show. She called Spotswood "Spottiswood" and Footscray "Footiscray", her pronunciation of the latter pre-dating the well-known TV commercials for ornate furniture by some thirty years. Almost every lesson she would say "Do you know, I was 18 before I cared about my voice?" If any of us were to live that long, surely there would be better things to care about. My own long-term goal in life at that point, was to live till 1986 so I could see Halley's Comet.
She taught us a little song to improve our diction, but in a high school class, it was laughable:
"A fairy found a farthing, a farthing, a farthing
A fairy found a farthing by a cottage on the hill.
She took it to a spider, a spider, a spider
She took it to a spider on a dusty windowsill" etc.etc. ad nauseum.
For weeks she tantalised us (threatened us?) with the prospect of a visit by someone called Lady Delacombe, so that she could showcase our wonderful progress. If we'd had to perform the Fairy song, it would have been more like a circus. It was hard not to laugh as it was. But Lady Delacombe never materialised. It turned out that she really did exist, and was the wife of the State Governor, Sir Rohan Delacombe. She probably had better things to do.
Apart from tradesmen still working on the school, and the odd rare visitor, the only male we ever saw was the priest. When the door knocked, and the nearest girl would answer it, and exclaim urgently "Sister, there's a MAN at the door!", Sister John would reply "it's a gentleman, dear, a gentleman."
About a week after the start of the term, the door knocked one day, and myself and another girl, Margaret from Werribee were called out of class. We were both very small, and didn't yet have a school dress. We were told to go with the "gentleman" who was from the uniform shop in Pier Street. He put us in a car, and drove us two or three streets away (we could have walked it) to a house in Grieve Highway where we were introduced to a lady with the peculiar name of Mrs. Beer. Apparently she was a dressmaker, and was going to measure us, and make the dresses herself. When we arrived, she was in the kitchen, baking loaves of bread. I was incredulous at this sight- the only time in Ireland that anyone I knew baked their own bread was during the Bread Strike in 1960, and it was such an event that Sister Teresa made us write a composition on it. And WHY would anyone make their own bread in Altona, when the second-best loaves in the world (after the ones my Granny bought in Belfast) were available (sliced!) in Noonan's?
Mrs. Beer had lots of children. They were all at school or work, with the exception of a little girl called Rosemary, who was about four years old. Her mother proudly told the Uniform Gentleman that every time they passed a church, Rosemary would say "Jesus". But when they passed a graveyard, she always said "Baby Jesus".
On the way back to school, the Uniform Gentleman stopped at Harrington Square and announced that he would shout us an ice-cream. I was puzzled..."shout" in my experience being a threatening word, and incompatible with anything good like an ice-cream. But I was about to learn a new Australianism, that the "shout" word meant to treat or buy something. It is mostly used in pubs, and "your shout" means it's your turn to buy the round of drinks. In the case of a frugal person who dodges his responsibility, he is saddled with the insult "E wouldn't shout if a shark bit 'im!"
A couple of years later, some new shops were built at Harrington Square, and Mrs. Beer opened a Haberdashers. She did a roaring trade in clothing repairs and alterations, and sold a few clothes and sewing supplies. She had that shop for so long, that when I'd grown up and wanted some retro clothes, the originals would still be there, in their cellophane packages, and even Made in Australia. I would often pop in for a yarn over the years, and ask after her daughters, who I knew well from being in the same church group for a time. When I last saw her in the shop, she was in her 70's and laboriously hand-sewing in the dark. She had for some time disconnected the power, with not even an electric light. She told me that her eyesight was going downhill. But she wasn't alone and vulnerable- behind a partition lurked one of her sons, a big solid bloke whose presence alone would guarantee his mother's protection.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 12, 2016 2:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my recollections of those first weeks at St.Josephs, I think first of the swarm of new classmates, mostly from outside Altona. At the end of the day, they would line up in certain spots outside the school and be collected by numerous buses, whose livery I learned to recognise very quickly. Calderwood's went to Williamstown, Blue Riband went to Werribee, and Sitch was the local Altona line, already familiar as it was the bus that had transported us to St. Mary's from the hostel, all those months ago.
On our first day, the only "homework" was to make a nametag. I decided to make something truly eyecatching and remarkable. In comparison to what the other girls were making that same night, it ended up looking more like a placard. I'd received a printing set for Christmas, which consisted of orange rubber blocks with individual serifed alphabet letters, and a range of smaller blocks of farmyard and zoo animals. And so, on a piece of cardboard four inches high and about a foot long, I fabricated my masterpiece. The purple-stamped name in the centre, and the perimeter with as many animal pictures that would fit. When dry, all the pictures would be coloured in with my new pencils. A couple of holes and a long piece of wool later, the whole contraption hung proudly across my undeveloped chest. I just knew the girls were going to love it! But they didn't. It might have impressed them in Grade 2 or 3, but we were at high school now, and there was no place for anything so babyish. They were polite but obviously underwhelmed, and when I looked at the simplicity of every other nametag pinned to each jumper, vastly reduced in size and with no more lavish ornamentation than two double lines underneath the name, I felt out of place. I thought they'd all been lazy...I'd spent all night on mine, and theirs would have taken little more than five minutes. But I didn't have the nouse to know that it was I who was, and would continue to be, the "odd one out" . My social treatment by these and other more advanced girls would for the next three years be dictated not by my academic superiority, but by my failure to be two years older. In the final glory-days of sixth grade, I felt included, but here in Form One I was no longer anyone's darling. My older classmates had bigger fish to fry and were moving on, but I would continue to stagnate much longer in pre-pubescence, becoming a juvenile embarrassment.
Que sera. The name tag may have been the first inkling of my impending disparity if I'd recognised it , but there was one saving grace...if it had been a year earlier, I would have told them that the printing set came from Santa!
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2016 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Within a few days of starting, I was was invited to my first Australian birthday party, thanks to a girl named Jill. Jill had the distinction of living closest to the school, and only had to walk up the short lane and round a corner. Her birthday was on February 17. She had some older brothers who had gone to a college out Hamilton way, and her mother retrieved their Year Books and proudly showed the class photos to the visitors. While the big girls gathered round in great interest, I discovered that there was a beautiful fluffy cat in the house. I started to play with her but must have got too close, and went home with a trail of blood oozing from my top lip. But I'd had a good time. Around June 13, I went to another party in Civic Parade, hosted by my friend Anne-Marie, but I don't recall any details.
There were some very nice girls in my first class. They were still at the age before the inevitable would happen; when a certain category that exists in girls' schools the world over would become "skanks" and "bitches". That was a year or two away. There was a Scottish girl, Carol who was always pleasant, and had been in my class at St. Mary's. She was one of the oldest girls, and may have already turned 14. Carol went to Mass every morning on her way to school, as she thought it was a good way to start the day. I went to her house near the corner of Miller's Road a few times. Her mother was dead, and her father, who I thought looked very sad, raised the children. A couple of years later, a house in the same spot had burned down, and I feared it was Carol's, but she'd already left school. She only stayed a year or two, and told me she was going over to England to become a nun.
There were a few older girls who left at the end of Form One. The school-leaving age in 1965 was 14, and it was not considered viable or necessary for girls to continue beyond this age, if they could be put into the workforce. Males were a different matter, particularly in the Technical schools. Sadly, most of the casualties of a solitary year of high school were from the ethnic communities. I remember asking some Maltese girls on their last day what they planned to do next, and they all said the same thing. "Stay home". This would suit the parents, who would be provided with additional domestic and child-rearing help, until the girl was married off at an early age through a bargain struck between the parents and prospective in-laws. Occasionally I would see one of my former classmates working in a local milk bar or self-service...if they were lucky. I often wonder if there was a migrant-male-pride factor in the equation-
if the father himself had a low (or no) education, it just wouldn't do for a female child to surpass him. I know of one sad story of a girl whose father managed to convince a nun that his daughter needed to repeat Grade 6. He tried it on again the following year in order to avoid her elevation to high school, but the nun told him where to go.
I remember sitting next to a girl called Deborah, who was besotted with Normie Rowe, and made friends with a new girl, Lynette who came from Wangaratta, which to me was the ends of the earth. Lynette lived in Bracken Grove and had a load of brothers, but only stayed at school for a term or two then moved back to Wangaratta. This was to become the often-repeated story of my childhood- I'd make a good friend, then she would move away. I went round to her house to say goodbye, and her brothers were busy with shovels, digging a giant pit to fill with their final rubbish. In some distant future, archaeologists will discover a haul of "life in the 1960's" artifacts in the backyard of a brick-veneer house in Bracken Grove, Altona.
One day I was walking in the corridor at lunchtime and met a classmate, Dorothy who had two books in her hand. She said "you want these?" What she wanted rid of to the first person she saw, was a pair of Cole's Stamp Albums. One of them had a picture of a plane on the cover, and I liked it instantly. So I gave the collection a good home, and became an obsessed stamp collector myself. It was common for children to collect stamps in those days. From such humble beginnings, this hobby has provided me with a lifelong interest and general-knowledge education, and has relieved me of more dollars than I would like to admit.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2016 7:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I greatly enjoyed learning in the new high-school environment, and showed an early aptitude for French. In spite of my Father's reservations about its usefulness in life, it has been a definite asset when travelling over the years- whether translating for tourists in the lobby of a New Orleans hotel, or telling a wannabe Romeo in Florence that he didn't have a hope in Hell. I wasn't a huge fan of poetry unless it was humorous and rollicking, but took a fancy to a morbid poem called "A Lyke-Wake Dirge", which was written in the Old Scots dialect and meant "A Corpse-Watching Dirge". Another was an Australian poem called "The Mandarin from China", which was the tale of a Scotsmen and a Chinaman who travelled together, probably around the gold-diggings, and the wonderful amalgamation of culture that develops between them. There was a novel I liked called "Bush Holiday", which was about an English teenage boy visiting Australia for the first time, and all the strangeness he encounters. I could certainly relate to his journey at the time, but being in the city, was at least spared the warning of the fictitious "Hoop-Snake"! Would you believe, Australians still love to frighten unsuspecting British visitors with the Hoop-Snake, and its relative, the Drop Bear.
We had a very nice nun, Sister Lucia, who taught us singing. Some songs were better than others. We sang "My Curly-Headed Babby" which would probably be banned now, and an awful Irish song called "A Little Bit of Heaven". I doubt if its composer had ever been near the place, much less had to walk to school in the snow and ice, and be stoned by rival children on the way. There were happy songs from a new crop of movies: "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Mary Poppins, and a selection from The Sound of Music. My favourite song of the whole lot was "Land of Hope and Glory". As time went on, we learned "good wholesome" songs by a new local group, The Seekers, and did some critical analysis of the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel in Religion class. Much later on, we were invited to submit our own preferences. One girl suggested "Lay Lady Lay" by Bob Dylan, but it never made it into the repertoire.
I loved learning History and Geography, which at Form One level focussed mostly on Australia. There were loads of new rivers and mountains with names like Murrumbidgee and Kosciusco, new creatures that I'd never heard of, natural resources like Iron Ore, Gold and Bauxite, which had been absent in Irish Geography lessons. Some of the outback mining towns had funny names such as Iron Knob. Fair enough, but when I burst into uncontrollable laughter one day at the mention of a place called Humpty Doo, Sister John was cross with me.
Once a year, "Vocation Week" was declared. This was designed to encourage the girls to consider becoming a nun. We didn't actually learn anything about the life of being in a religious order, nor were we offered a tour of the mysterious out-of-bounds convent, but the atmosphere over the week was always more relaxed, and the nuns seemed to be in a better mood than usual. That's about as far as it went, except for the posters displayed everywhere. These featured idyllic Julie Andrews lookalikes with captions such as "Going My Way?", and others which simply read BE A NUN. I can think of three girls who joined assorted Orders, but eventually they all left. By the time they were old enough to question their early decision, the advent of Womens Liberation in the 70's was the most likely wake-up call.
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PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 12:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I enjoyed the periodic visit from the Inspector, Sister Antonene. Her chronic grin, which was just like Gerry Gee's from the Tarax Show, would light up the classroom. The spiel was always the same, and could have been a recording. She'd greet us with a drawled "G'd after-noon, girrrrrrrls!" And then, all in one breath, "I hope you're all working hard, girrrrls, you've got a lovely school HAVEN'T THEY GOT A LOVELY SCHOOL, SISTER!". After Sister Whoever had agreed, it was on with the inspecting, then she would implore us to continue our good work before departing with another "G'd after-noon, girrrrrrrls!". When I went home, I would entertain my Ma with the event and in a short time, had Sister A's accent down to a fine art.
I don't know how the Inspector felt about the poor dyslexic girrrrrls and underachievers, but Sister John was becoming exasperated. She was very ancient, and nowhere near as progressive as her successor, but she wanted St. Joseph's to have Standards. Maybe she'd spotted the lunch order bag from a 13-year old girl which read "One Salled Roal". Anyway, the end of the year brought the declaration that no new students would join the 1966 intake without passing an Entrance Exam.
At the end of June, it was my turn to host a birthday party. I had turned 11 and invited six classmates. Every one of them brought me a box of hankies, or a birthday card containing hankies. Oh well. There was nothing I wanted so badly from my parents than a telescope, and when the day came, it was a beauty. No common old plastic toy, but a real one from a camera shop. I've kept it in good condition. For weeks and weeks, I had bored anyone who would listen about this forthcoming telescope, and couldn't wait to show it off at school the next day. But like the name-tag a few months before, the girls were underwhelmed, and some were downright disrespectful. They passed it
around hastily amid mocking giggles, and I was afraid one one of them would drop it. One popular and well-spoken Italian girl, who fancied herself as very sophisticated, grabbed it and put the lens-end on her arm. "Ow, let me look at my protoplasm!", she pontificated to shrieks of laughter. The fool didn't know the difference between a telescope and a microscope, and I was disgusted. I saw her in that moment as not at all clever or refined, but as an ignorant eejit. But I did have my moment of glory after seeking out Sister Francis. As the science teacher, she had shared my weeks of anticipation, and was thrilled to see the materialisation of my birthday present. I was so excited, and she appreciated my telling her that I'd seen Mars, and the craters of the Moon. I wish I'd been placed in Sister Francis' class with Cherie. Cherie was no pushover, and would have torn strips off anyone who dared to deride me.
Just as my classroom-peers were tiring of my 11-year old naivete, I was becoming tired of them and their inane conversations. Even as a young child in Ireland, my attention-span with a group of playmates at someone's house would die off quickly, and I would frequently defect to the kitchen and have a yarn with the mother. And so it was at St. Joseph's. I felt more at home having a fluent conversation with whatever nun was on yard duty. About this time, I somehow gravitated towards the company of some of the Form Four girls. I started spending a lot of lunchtimes with two new friends, Mary and Marie, who were Italian and Polish, and came from Newport. They left at the end of the year but before they did, Marie bequeathed me her giant stash of project material. Some of the girls used to write away to government and business organisations, and receive large envelopes full of booklets and brochures, which would be cut up and stuck into project books. So by the end of Form Four, Marie's inheritance was formidable.
The only excursion for the year that I recall, was an end of year picnic to Mordialloc. It probably seemed like a long way from Altona, but was only another suburban beach on the other side of Melbourne towards Frankston.The whole school, nuns and all, assembled at Altona station where we departed for Mordialloc on a Red Rattler.
To sum up my first year of high school, it was pleasant and I enjoyed going there each day. The ostracisation I was starting to experience (which would later evolve and worsen) was far outweighed by the joy of learning, and the kindness of the nuns, who knew I was different. My end of year report was glowing, and at the bottom, Sister John had written "Judith is a very promising young student".
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Back in the street, we were getting to know our neighbours. New houses were quickly being completed, and every weekend brought new families moving in. The vacant blocks at our end of Brook Drive and the adjoining courts were becoming increasingly occupied with a new builder's "dunny", and a sign at the front with the name of a local builder. Simonds, Peisl, Dewar and Noordenne were among the most popular.
I was meeting many neighbours through walking home from school. Being the only student from St. Joseph's, the first school of its kind in the region, I attracted a lot of interest from mothers in our street, curious about the new school and its curriculum. They would stop me and ask what subjects I had learned that day, and many other questions. The majority of the children in the estate were still at primary school, or kindergarten. Unfortunately, there were no children of my age at high school, so the friends I was beginning to make still went together to the state school at the bottom of the street, and I was always going to be out of place. Colette "got lucky" early on, as one of her
classmates lived nearby in Belmar Avenue. She had two brothers in grades 5 and 6, and I spent many happy hours, playing marbles with them and swapping stamps. They had a dog called Kim, who was the best breeder in the district, so there were always puppies to play with. One time when there was a fundraiser at school, I asked for two puppies to raffle. They resulted in loads of ticket sales, and one of them ended up in a farm in Werribee.
My poor brother was worse off than myself in making friends, as the groups of eight-year old boys in the established end of the street were a "closed shop" and would not be infiltrated. He was making friends at school, but they all lived far away.
One day, I was spoken to by a mother on the way home, and was delighted to hear an Ulster accent! It was the first I'd heard since leaving the hostel, and I raced home to tell Mum that there was an Irishwoman in the street. Her name was Patsy Murray, and she'd come to Australia a few years before with husband Fred, from somewhere out Portrush way. They had two beautiful children with snowy hair, Jacqui who was 3 or 4, and baby Craig. Patsy quickly became my favourite neighbour, and was friendly and welcoming to the point where I could call in any time, and so No.28 became my "halfway house" on most afternoons. She was very kind, and whenever she got mail from "home", she always saved me the stamps. I would visit them regularly for years when I grew up and drove a car, but sadly, Patsy was taken by cancer in the 1980's, way too young. I will always miss her, and sometimes when in Altona I call in on Fred, who is still in the same house.
Three doors away from the Murray's lived an old Scottish couple, Mr.and Mrs. Nicol. They had a kitten called Cheeky, who grew up to be an enormous fat cat. They were always working on their beautiful garden. I asked Mrs. N. how long she'd been in Australia, and was stunned at her reply "37 years". I couldn't comprehend such a long time to be away from Scotland....they would have left on the year my Dad was born. No wonder they were so ancient. Mrs. Nicol loved reading romance novels. Many years later when visiting Altona, there was a fete at the state school and when I went in, there she was with an armful of Mills and Boon paperbacks and with the other hand, was industriously hoking through the remaining M&B mountain. I helped her sort them but when offering one title after another, she would mostly say "ach, I've read that one already".
She went blind later on, but managed to live alone in the same house till her advanced 90's. She was very well taken care of by the neighbours, and was lucky to have Mrs. Spinks across the street to look in on her throughout the day.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2016 4:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mum was also getting to know a handful of neighbours. Although she mostly kept to herself the entire time we lived in Brook Drive, she once attended a Tupperware party hosted by Mrs. Banks who lived near the corner of Ford Road. Most of the other guests were a lot younger than Mum, and had babies or pre-school children, and they were greatly into the spirit of the party games. Although it wasn't Mum's scene at all, she did enjoy herself on that solitary occasion.
A house was soon built on the other side of ours, and was occupied by the jolliest of Scottish neighbours, Mary and Jimmy Broadley and their teenage son, Billy. They were from Glasgow, and had a revolving door of relatives and visitors from elsewhere in Altona and other parts. They were a bundle of laughs. When they got a new puppy, they gave us their budgie, Jocky. Jocky was our first pet, but he managed to die three weeks later. We were devastated. So they bought us a new one, a baby the same colour as the dead one, in whose memory we renamed Jocky the Second. This new bird was very intelligent and alert, and in no time, we had him talking. We taught him to say "Jocky's a bird-brain". We'd let him out for a fly around the kitchen, and he loved to land on Dad's glass of beer. He would take a swig, then another, then one gulp after another, then he would sit on his perch all evening with his feathers fluffed out, talking gibberish like an old derro. It didn't do him any harm. A couple of years later, we got him a friend, a green bird called Paddy. And he never spoke to us again.
The new puppy next door was a tiny Australian Terrier, named Crackers because she was born on Cracker Night, the 5th. of November. Mary was hopelessly devoted to her, and called her "Mammy's Wee Lassie". Mary used to have newspapers sent over from Scotland, and would pass them onto us. We looked forward to receiving the "Scotch Papers", as they were somewhat reminiscent of the old life in Ulster. We read the Sunday Post and the Govan Press, and I particularly loved reading the comic strips, which in Australia were called "The Funnies". The Broons, Setterday Sanny and Oor Wullie were my favourites. Last year I was in an op shop in England, and there for 75p was a hardback reproduction of comics from the Sunday Post. I brought it home, and my husband declared it impossible to read without subtitles, and he was right. But even after 50 years, I had no trouble, as most of the dialogue consisted of words and phrases used in our own house- remnants passed down from the Ulster-Scots settlers over hundreds of years, and still in use.
Jimmy had a great sense of black humour. One time, the Jehovah's Witnesses were doorknocking, and there was an attractive young girl accompanying an old bag. So Jimmy says to the old bag "YOU CAN'T COME IN." And to the young girl he said "YOU CAN!"
We may have had no language problem with our Scots and English neighbours and their multiple dialects, but the minority of Europeans in our housing estate could be a challenge. There was a Macedonian family who built a house right on the far corner of Charles Road, within a whisker of the horse corral where rodeos were held. The house had the luxury of a brick garage, but it never housed a car- it was used as a dining room! On any evening, in any weather, a passing neighbour would see the whole family dining, accompanied by the waft of exotic cooking odours. The mother- dressed from head to toe in Mourning Black (which was very common around Altona), would often pass our house in the daytime. Dad had planted a range of vegies, in an effort to break down the tough clay soil, and if Mum was in the garden, Mrs. Sarros would be full of admiration and say "very nice tomato". But one day she said something weird. She fixed Mum with a stern gaze and said only one word. "SNACK". She walked down the street for a few yards and returned, repeating the word SNACK. Mum hadn't a clue what she was on about. Then she expanded to "SNACK. THREE FEET. NO GOOD FOR CHILDREN. NO SHOES AND SOCKS. SNACK!"
Mum was none the wiser, and Mrs. S. was becoming frustrated. In a last desperate attempt, she shouted "SNACK! THREE FEET! ME SICK THREE DAYS!" Finally the penny dropped. She'd been bitten by a three-foot long snake, and was concerned for the barefoot children running around and being vulnerable. Mum finally understood, and could be sympathetic, but it took a mammoth effort.
It was hard enough being a migrant and trying to integrate, but for non-English speakers it was way worse. Some tried harder than others, but there were many more who made little or no effort to learn or improve their English, and this antagonised the Australian community, and led to a lot of resentment. In the local factories for miles around, it was common for workers of all ESL (English as a Second Language) nationalities to be surrounded by their compatriots, and have no need for English in the workplace, nor in the neighbourhood enclaves which established in places such as North Altona, Sunshine and parts of Footscray. The parents -often from peasant backgrounds- would rely on their schoolchildren to bring the mainstream culture to them, and even after 20 or more years, the command of English could be well-flawed. When I was first married, we rented a house in Footscray, where our next-door neighbour was a delightful Serbian woman named Maria. This was in 1986, and she'd been in Australia since 1967. Her novel expressions still make us laugh, and would fill a dictionary. She was a fantastic cook, and I still drool at the memory of her stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls. But we were glad not to be offered Pigeon Soup. Her "Brother-Long" (brother-in-law) would visit now and then and slaughter one of her chooks, or bring a pigeon to make soup. Then there were the various "Sister-Longs" who worked in useful factories and the meatworks, and would keep Maria in everything from cabana to washing powder. Some of the spoils would come our way, and she'd say "Judy, you never have to buy cabana again!". We accepted with good grace, even though it was revolting. But the best laugh was the day she wanted to show my Bruce some vegies in the back garden. She said "Come with me Bruce. I have round backside!"
Never was a truer word spoke.
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2016 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="Susan Gillet"]Keep it coming Judith.[/quote]

Hello Susan
I wonder if you remember the Mackie family? We were 8 in all Mary and Dave, then the kids, myself, Linda, Ann, Jane, John, David and Margaret?

I think you were a friend of my sister Jane? though not sure, my Dad whisked us off to New Zealand when our two years were up.

Linda Mackie-Marieskind
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Looking for Pat Sanderson and David Soames who were at Altona Hostel in 1963 when we arrived on 1st April.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 20, 2016 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another new house was built three doors from us, at the corner of Brook Drive and Charles Road. When walking past one day, we saw the most adorable tiny puppy. He was black with large silky ears like a dachshund, but his chest was speckled like a Blue Heeler. He was wearing a red collar, miles too big for him, and from the first moment we met, we were mates for life. He followed us everywhere, and would be waiting on our front doormat of a morning. His name was Skipper, and he was the nearest thing to having our own desperately-wanted dog. His owners were Doris and Jack Barber, who were English and Welsh, and had recently moved from Seaholme. They had no children of their own, and "adopted" us, and said we could call them Auntie Doris and Uncle Jack. In the absence of relatives, that meant a lot to us. We could drop in any time and be welcomed like we were family, and all three of us spent many happy hours in their company, playing with Skipper. They always had lodgers who occupied two of the bedrooms, using one as their own lounge room. They had Jeff and Jill at first, then Kay and Max from Bacchus Marsh. Kay and Max had a beautiful Boxer puppy called Jessica. It was the norm back then for the newly-married to board somewhere till they got on their feet and saved for their own house. Expectations were more modest in those days, with credit cards virtually unknown, and four-bedroom houses with en-suites and family rooms unheard of. Doris and Jack stayed in the house till early 1967, when to our great sadness they announced that they were returning to live in England. Doris wrote to my Mum frequently, and I sent letters of my own. Over the next few years I would write all sorts of teenage nonsense, and she said my letters were a tonic, which apparently meant something positive. Our families became lifelong friends, by mail. I had the pleasure of reuniting with them on my first trip "back home", and they paid us a visit in 1988, when travelling to Australia for a Locksmiths' Conference. Jack had become the European President of the Locksmiths' Association. They never missed sending a Christmas card, then in the early 2000's, the cards came to an abrupt stop, and I became concerned. I knew that Doris was by then in a home suffering from Parkinson's, and that was the last we ever heard. I had no closure on this valued friendship till 2008, during a family visit to England. I insisted on spending a few days in Devon, to find out their status, totally expecting to hear the worst. We drove to their house in Bideford. There was no-one home, but a toy Dalek on a window ledge confirmed my fears that there were new occupants. I started doorknocking, and finally a nice neighbour called Jenny brought me in and told me that Jack had passed away three years before. We spent an hour or more reminiscing our mutual neighbours, and may God rest their souls. They were good people, and I will always miss them. It's shame they didn't have children of their own as they would have made wonderful parents.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2016 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speaking of dogs, there was no shortage of them, running riot through the streets of Altona. They'd come out in force on Bin Day, and many a mother would find her nature strip strewn with rubbish the following morning, after the hounds had indulged in their Eldorado of knocking over one metal bin after the other. The breeds were many, and in infinite combinations. There was neither speying nor neutering, and boy-dog would meet girl-dog at any old place. I once asked a friend's mother what breed the dog was, and she said "A Bitsa". This was no new gourmet Australian breed that was unknown to me, but it meant "bitsa this and bitsa that". I've also heard a proud parentage described as "her father was a Wanderer, and her mother was a Good Sport".
When Dad's work-roster made the car unavailable on a Sunday morning, Mum, Martin, Colette and myself would make the long trek to church at St. Mary's, and that's when the fun began. Starting with Skipper waiting loyally on the front doormat, we would be followed by a trail of dogs picked up along the way. The residents included Kim, Rosie, Freckles, Whiskey, Terry, Crackers, Tiger, Candy, Nigger, Skipper's housemate Jessica, and a guest list of whatever strangers were roaming on the day. Most of them would discontinue their company at some point, but Skipper was always waiting outside when Mass was over. Mum didn't like the dogs jumping on her, and didn't appreciate their friendly greeting. She nearly had a seizure one morning on the way home, at a house on the corner of Civic Parade and David Street. As we passed by, we heard unprecedented barking, growling and snarling behind a six-foot fence. Then four menacing heads appeared and hung over the top, and sounded like they would eat us. They belonged to four Great Danes, who were the size of a Shetland Pony. From that Sunday on, a detour was required.
Skipper also followed Martin and Colette to school each morning, then found his way home. One day, he came right into Martin's Grade Four classroom, where the ancient Sister Denise was standing on the platform, chalking up the day's lessons on the blackboard. Skipper waltzed right up, burrowing through the bottom of her long dress until he disappeared. After having a good sniff at this new Foreign Object, he eventually resurfaced and went out the door. Sister Denise had no idea of what had happened and continued writing, but when Martin came home with the account of this comical violation, he was a hero!
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The occupations of our new neighbours were almost entirely of the blue-collar variety. The major employers in the oil and petrochemical companies provided good salaries, with plenty of opportunity for extra shifts, and all sorts of useful fringe-benefits. My Dad, who worked at PRA, the Mobil refinery, got a discount on petrol not only during his working life, but also in retirement. He was also at an advantage whenever there was a petrol strike, and the service-stations had dwindling supplies. Industrial strikes were common in those days. Everything from the trains to the postal deliveries would frequently come to a halt.
Almost every family in our surrounding streets had a father or a neighbour who worked at PRA, APC, Carbon Black or Union Carbide. The numerous factories from North Altona all the way up to Footscray provided countless jobs for the skilled and unskilled, and were a blessing for new arrivals who spoke little or no English. Some of these factories put out a ghastly smell- Smorgy's, and Borthwick's Meatworks, PRA and the Skin and Hide factory were among the worst offenders.
Many of my new friends' fathers were skilled tradesmen- fitters, welders, toolmakers, boilermakers etc., and the booming building industry guaranteed plenty of work for plumbers, plasterers and bricklayers. In effect, almost every male in the district was employed in the manual labour sector, and their
families thrived. White-collar professions were less common. One father in our street was in the Air Force, and two were policemen. There was a little girl whose father was supposed to be a doctor, but I didn't believe it, even when good neighbours referred to her respectfully as "the Doctor's daughter". I was a snob, and in my limited life-experience of ten years I knew (didn't everyone?) that doctors lived in a nice house in a sedate part of town, with a brass plate by the front door: not "slumming it" among new migrants, first-homeowners and factory workers! There were not many retired or elderly neighbours- they could be counted on one hand.
Most of the mothers were at home full-time, caring for the families, but a great many were full-time in the workforce, and this fledgling "double-income" advance of the mid-sixties would have a profound economic and social impact (good and bad) on my own, and future generations. I remember, in the late 70's and beyond, feeling very angry when I had several teenage friends who had difficulty finding employment in a competitive market, but had both middle-aged parents in full-time work. It didn't seem fair. Financial and material prosperity, previously unheard of, became the norm in homes where both parents worked. The needs quickly went beyond just "making ends meet", or paying off a modest two or three bedroom house. Not all children benefitted from the long-period absence of both mother and father. The lucky ones would come home from school each day into the care of a neighbour, who was glad of the extra few dollars and would provide a comfort-zone close to the child's own house. But the majority of kids in our estate would come home to an empty house, and get into all kinds of mischief till Mum and Dad came home at tea-time. These were known as "Latch-Key Children", because they went to school with a house key on a string around their necks. I can think of young boys from two families who were in this situation, going home to teenage high-school brothers at the end of the day, and missing their mothers to the extent that they would wander the streets and become a menace to other children. My own mother was very sympathetic towards the children who came home each day to "an empty house, and no Ma". She steadfastly refused to go out to work, although it would have been beneficial to her socially, had she worked somewhere part-time. She looked forward to greeting us after school and hearing of the day's events, and always had a snack waiting- a bowl of soup, a pie from Noonan's or some "wee buns" that she'd baked. When she shopped in Pier Street and it coincided with playtime at St. Mary's, she would buy two extra cakes and pass them onto Martin and Colette in the schoolyard on her way home. These are the little gestures that children remember fondly.
Not everyone's father worked, but this was unusual. I knew someone whose father stayed home all day, because he'd hurt himself in an accident at work. So I thought they must have been very poor, and told my Dad about their misfortune. But I was puzzled by Dad's response- instead of feeling sorry for the poor bloke, who had to provide for the family with something called "compensation", he looked very cautious and said very little. As the years went on, I was to hear of so many similar stories, where newly-arrived European migrants were over-represented in workplace accidents, and once an amount was settled upon, would build a new house and/or retire early on "compo". It is a fact that industrial safety was not what it is now, but the Australian community became very cynical of what was to become known as the "Mediterranean Back Syndrome" and even in the 1990's, I heard the name applied in a derogatory fashion towards a certain opulent Mansion Estate in Melbourne's West.
When the children in our neighbourhood left school- usually at 15- the boys mostly became apprentices or worked in the Public Service, (aka Pen-Pushers) which was known back home as the Civil Service. Girls generally became office workers (typists, stenographers, secretaries etc.) and in the Red Rattlers travelling to Melbourne from Altona each morning, the well-dressed teenage working girls were as thick as fleas. Within a year or two, the fashionable outfits would be augmented by an engagement or wedding ring. Those who did not work in offices mostly became nurses or hairdressers. The few who went on to higher education would inevitably become teachers. This was the working-world of my childhood and though we may recoil in horror nowadays at various aspects, my world in the tiny corner of Melbourne called Altona, felt secure and well-ordered.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2016 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I continued to make some friends in the street. Usually they were a bit younger than myself, and all of them were still in primary school. I became more and more aware that I was a precocious anomaly, and just had to bite the bullet. Everything comes at a price.
I sometimes played with a very friendly Yugoslav boy named Frank, who had a very nice older sister, Anna. I liked going into their house, because their mother had a fascinating gadget in the kitchen. It made tiny bows, hundreds of them, of the kind that is sewn onto bras and nightwear. Mum did "piece work" from home, probably for a lingerie factory. She let me have a go one day, and I was thrilled to make a bow from pink ribbon.
I made friends with a German boy, Bernd, who moved into one of the courts. He'd only just arrived in Australia, and as his English was on "L-Plates", I was happy to point him in the right direction in conversation. I was amazed that he and his sister were allowed to bring all their numerous toys from Germany, as well as their bikes. We used to play table soccer on a device that had a row of handles with the players attached. It was a lot of fun. His stamp collection was magnificent- no old shilling Coles albums there- they were all beautifully-bound stock books. I still have many of the
stamps we swapped, in my current German album.
My closest friend from that early time was an English girl named Tonia who lived eight doors away. Tonia was an only child, and her family had come from Devon several years before, and had lived at the Altona Hostel much earlier than ourselves. She was the most well-mannered girl I had ever met, and a total credit to her parents. She had a big white Samoyed
dog called Candy, and the following year had her own horse. One day she announced that Candy's birthday was coming up, and she was going to have a party. She bought some party hats and we had such fun rounding up some of the local dogs, putting hats on them and dealing out bowls of dog biscuits.
Tonia and I were good friends for maybe three years, and then my "Friend Curse" happened yet again, and she moved away to Western Australia. We wrote regularly for many years, until soon after her early marriage at 17. We sent each other Christmas cards and photos, and she surprised me with the news that she finally had a baby sister, named Cindy. The family had joined a church, and Tonia met her husband there. He was a few years older. In the late 70's, I heard from a neighbour that she was back in Melbourne, and I couldn't wait to visit her. I made the long drive to Surrey Hills, where apparently they were involved in the local church. She was very pleased to see me, and by then, had a beautiful baby girl of her own- but the visit was tainted. We had not a second to speak freely between ourselves, nor to do any reminiscing. The husband, in his suit and tie, was present like a hovering helicopter the whole time, monitoring everything we said, and frequently interrupting with his born-again slant on every topic. I was a guest in his house and as such, did my best not to take offence nor "rock the boat". Tonia was as polite as ever but there was none of the old laughter. I felt for her. It was impossible to tell whether or not she was happy, but I had difficulty wanting to remain in an atmosphere where every attempt at conversation was deflected by a third party, and going nowhere. We said our cheerful goodbyes, and so ended an era. I never saw my friend again.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Probably the most lasting friendship I made in Brook Drive was with an older girl, Christine. When I'd be walking home from school on Fridays, I would pass a house that had pop music coming from a transistor radio. There, on a bench in the driveway, was a 15-year-old girl in an unfamiliar school uniform. It belonged to the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind in Burwood. Chris, who'd been blind since birth, boarded there during the week, and came home on weekends. She lived two doors away from the Irish Murray family and in fact, the two families were such good friends, that they'd "emigrated" together to Altona from Yarraville, where they'd previously been neighbours. Chris had a much older brother and sister, they were both married and had moved away. And so my Friday routine included a pitstop to number 24, and a yarn on the bench while we listened to our favourite music. When a new record shop opened in Railway Street, I would collect the weekly 3UZ Top 40 chart each Saturday morning from a pile on the counter, stop at Chris' on the way home, and sit for ages reading it out to her. We'd do a "critical appraisal" of its contents, expressing opinions ranging from joy to disgust at the songs and artists, and even the DJs. This happy ritual went on for years, and passed the time for both of us. Chris was the most dedicated Beatles fan I ever met. My Ma was always saying "awk, it's a terrible pity of poor Chris" but she needn't have worried- being blind didn't bother her because she'd always been that way and was well-adapted,
well-loved and always cheerful. She looked forward to her birthday each year more than anyone I've ever met, and even in her 30's and beyond, if I called in with a card on the day, she would relate the day's events and presents with the excitement of a little girl.
When her Dad died (a great Bulldog's supporter), there was just herself and her Mum, Edna. They were the best of mates, and knew how to have a good time, going on outings and frequent holidays to the Gold Coast to visit her sister and family, and one time the pair of them went to Las Vegas. Eventually they moved to Queensland near the sister. Last time I saw them was about seven years ago. I was walking down the main street of Geelong and who should I see but Chris and a slightly tipsy Edna, in the company of two other women who turned out to be a current and an ex-wife of brother Ron. It was so good to see them. They'd been to the pub for lunch, and were heading to the hospital to visit Ron, who unfortunately was in the final stages of cancer. Two years ago, I was surprised to hear that Edna was in her advanced 90's, and was living it up with her now 60-something daughter in a Gold Coast retirement home!
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