The place was Manly, Sydney, sometime in the late ‘50s, and we were off to see “The Wizard of Oz”. I remember my disappointment when it started. It was in black and white! Soon I became engrossed in the story and then, wonder of wonders, the screen filled with Technicolor.
I can recall dozens of “pictures” as we called them, from the first ten years of my life, which is remarkable as we mostly lived in the country and never attended the local Bowral Picture Theatre. However it was a family tradition to see as many as we could whenever staying in Sydney.
Before we left for the bush we visited the new Bass Hill Drive-In. This was very exciting, especially as we ate at the cafeteria before the show began. When we arrived a speaker attached by a wire to a post was passed through the slightly open window. As we only had a truck at the time we must have watched from an elevated position.
I can remember going to the picture theatre with both parents to see “The Man Who Knew Too Much” with Doris Day singing “Que Sera Sera”. “Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier”, inspired an unrequited desire for a Davy Crocket hat but all too soon the bright lights of Sydney were left behind.
My father and I would catch the steam train from Yerrinbool Station, arriving two hours later at Central Railway, Sydney. Carrying our bags down George Street we would check in at the Morris Hotel.
Disney movies like “Old Yella” and the Hayley Mills films, “Tiger Bay”, Pollyanna” and “The Parent Trap” were great favourites. Of course I loved the cartoons and we even popped in to see the newsreel when the Hunter Valley was inundated with flood waters.
There were the greats, such as “Gone With the Wind”. How I cried when Bonnie fell off her horse. “The Incredible Shrinking Man” had me mesmerized, especially the fight with the spider. As for “A Night to Remember”, it instilled in me the knowledge that a captain should always go down with his ship. “The Admirable Crichton” made me suspicious of all people who say, “the fact is”. You know then that they are not telling the truth.
Musicals such as “The Al Jolson Story” and “The Student Prince” were full of wonderful songs to sing on our road trips. “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” provided source material for endless discussions . My atheist father even took me to see “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments”.
One of my most vivid memories was of a science fiction film about an invasion from outer space by flying saucers. I don’t even know what it was called but at the end the invaders shrivelled up inside their space crafts. That night my father made sure I was in bed in our room at The Morris before heading out to Thommo’s to try his luck. I lay in bed looking out the wide open window at the stars. I was sure the aliens were coming to get me so climbed out of bed, opened the door and sat in the brightly lit hallway until my father came back. He was surprised and a little bit shocked by the event. I don’t think he ever told my mother.
By Lauren Williams The Daily Telegraph October 27, 2007
When we arrived in Yerrinbool in 1957 it was a complete contrast to life in Sydney. Our home was about half a mile from the one and only General Store, but my mother would put on her hat, gloves and heels and walk up the stony road to get the newspaper and collect the mail. The Post Office was housed in the General Store although it had opened in 1919, two years before the store was built
There was a corrugated iron village hall used for monthly church services, Sunday School, Progress Association and Bushfire Brigade Meetings. The local community had banded together to build this in 1938. It is now painted cream and green and has a few additions
The railway station, opened in 1919, was built beside the new line which replaced the Picton Loop Line. It was constructed from weatherboard, painted pale blue, with white gravel platforms and a profusion of fuchsias hanging in baskets from the awnings. The stationmaster took great pride in its appearance and it had won awards for being one of the most attractive stations in the region. His house was one of the more substantial buildings in town and even boasted a tennis court.
The first land sales in Yerrinbool were in 1919 and 1920 as a village was laid out after the opening of the railway station. The area had been known as “Little Forest” but the new town was named Yerrinbool, which was Aboriginal for “wood duck”. Nearby was the notorious “Bargo Brush” where, in the 19th Century, bushrangers would hold up the stage coaches travelling along the Great South Road.
Another half mile on from the station was the public school. The acre block was covered in bush except for a hard packed, stony playground at the front. Two toilets were situated some distance from the school building and from each other. On 20 August 1922, the school was opened with 30 students enrolled. Not far from the school was a service station which supplied the milk for the children, collected each day in a billy can by a student. In 1962 it closed its doors forever.
Less than a hundred houses made up the rest of the township. The waterhole opposite our property was an old gravel pit and was reputed to be very deep. The water was used by anyone who needed it and was much appreciated during a drought.
There were four large apple orchards at each end of the village and a poultry farm. The rest of the population scraped a living from small farms or lived frugally on pensions in tiny cottages that lined the gravel roads.
Our teacher, Mr Scott, boarded with a family running a small farm. The daughter of the household was a few years older than me and used to handwrite all the school reports in her neat printing. She later became a teacher so it was good training.
At one end of our property was a viaduct running under the railway where the Hume Highway took a sharp turn in order to meet the railway at right angles. Every few months there would be a crash and we would see another semi-trailer come to grief. Sometimes the driver would be killed. Once a truck unloaded its contents of milk all over our paddock, killing all the grass and turning it black.Another time a truck caught fire and the large TOTAL sign written across the viaduct was blackened and ruined, never to be replaced.
Yerrinbool was a one horse town. The horse was named Sovereign and his owner, Mr Dowsett, used to take him to the Easter Show and ride behind him in a sulky around the Parade Ground. Great was our excitement when he trotted by us one day on our way home from school and offered us a ride. We would walk past Sovereign on our way to school and offer him handfuls of grass. To own a horse was my dream but it was not to be.
In what was a very ordinary little village there was something unusual. It was a Baha’i summer school. Looking for something to do one summer holiday, I wandered past and was asked if I wanted to join in. They were having quite a jolly time with singing and dancing so I visited them quite often and was impressed with their inclusive attitude towards other faiths.
The Bush Fire Brigade was an essential part of living in the middle of a forest of gum trees. Apparently there were bush fires the year we arrived although I can’t remember them. The 1950s were unusually wet but the extra vegetation must have meant that when they came the fires were even worse. Reading the history of the Yerrinbool Brigade I can see the familiar names of all the major families in the town, working together to provide trucks, equipment and storage facilities, while the Ladies Auxiliary ran street stalls in Mittagong an effort to raise money to buy a fire truck/tanker.
Sadly the numbers at the school declined, the Progress Association meetings, Christmas parties and Sunday School all stopped and only the Bush Fire meetings and once a month church service continued. It seemed everyone was getting old and no younger people were coming to live .
Since I left in 1968 things have changed considerably. The nearby coal mines brought new people and houses to the area. Although the population is now over one thousand the school was never reopened and children are bused to other towns.The school became a private residence and burned down in 1970. The railway staion is a shell of its former self.
The Waterhole is fenced off and the pump is rusting. Even our twelve acres at “The Waterhole” was subdivided, although our house is still standing beside the old and dying pine trees .
General Store taken by Linda Curry 2016
Yerrinbool Hall taken by Linda Curry 2016
Railway station email@example.com 1988
Yerrinbool School Berrima District Historical and Family History Society 1930
I was told at Sunday School to never leave the Christ out of Christmas so spent years writing the whole word. Fifty years later I have moved on and think how convenient it is to use the letter X so that C can be used for another topic.
There was Xmas before Yerrinbool and Xmas after. In Sydney I remember two, so must have been 4 and 5. The first one was memorable in that I was led into the breakfast room to see presents from wall to wall. I had never seen so many. I can only remember a doll’s pram, tea set, a doll, a toy sewing machine and a small table and chairs but it certainly was a bonanza that year. The next year we had a tree and the presents were draped over it. There was a Texas Ranger outfit with long trousers and a waistcoat with a plastic star, a popgun and a cap gun and a bright red toy MG.
After the move the presents dwindled to books and sensible underwear but as I grew older I enjoyed the trappings of Xmas more, hanging decorations from the ceiling and on Xmas Eve, selecting a branch from one of the pine trees and installing it in the lounge room. Being a tree branch it always had a tendency to lean over in one direction and had to be tied to the curtain rail to remain standing.
Xmas dinner (eaten at lunchtime) was always roast chicken and baked vegetables.
This was followed by plum pudding and custard which I only ate to find the threepences inside. To my annoyance the adults would sleep in the afternoon so I would read my new books or wander around impatiently outside until they woke up.
My grandmothers didn’t believe in spoiling children and as I was an only child they were concerned I might be given too much and take it for granted. Maybe that is why the presents became fewer as I grew older. Every year, without fail, there was a Readers’ Digest Annual for Children which provided a neverending resource of interesting information and added greatly to my knowledge of American culture.
After my father died Christmas was usually spent with my grandmother Kay, Uncle Claude and my mother at The Waterhole. This is a photo taken in 1968 of the newly decorated lounge room, all orange and brown, my mother, grandmother and the Scots pine branch Xmas tree.
When we had roast lamb for dinner the leftovers were never wasted. The next day they would be cooked up with sultanas, some vegetables and Vencatachellum Curry Powder. Vencatachellum was the brand name for a spice mix imported from India. Typical of the 1950s was that food was never wasted. The Sunday roast chicken became soup on Monday. Corned beef became rugged racehorses the next day (slices of meat dipped in batter). Another use for left over lamb was Shepherd’s Pie. We never had pork as my mother couldn’t stand the smell of it but she did cook boiling bacon which was as good as ham on wholemeal bread for school lunches. T-bone steaks and chops were commonly on the table along with three or more vegetables.
My father would cook now and again. There were only two meals in his repertoire but they were greatly anticipated and enjoyed. One was his misnamed spaghetti bolognaise as it consisted of a whole chopped up chicken cooked in a homemade tomato sauce and served with spaghetti. The other was salmon pie which was tinned salmon in a white sauce with a potato and cheese topping.
Food deliveries made life easier for people living in isolated towns. Eight miles to Mittagong seemed a long way to go for groceries! The butcher from Bargo delivered meat, the milkman (named Billy Cairns) filled the billy hung on the gate, the fruiterer arrived in his truck once a week with exotic vegetables called zucchini and eggplant which my mother enthusiastically cooked along with the more mundane varieties.
Dessert was an essential part of every evening meal. My mother would cook rice puddings, pasta puddings and bread and jam puddings. Every summer we sweated as we laboured, filling Vacola bottles with peaches, plums and apples from our orchard and submerging them in the large green preserving unit full of boiling water which sat on the fuel stove. Blackberries from the back of the property made the most wonderful jam. Apples and blackberries dripped through muslin in the laundry to make clear jellies. Green tomatoes were combined with banana passionfruit to make unusual jams or used on their own to make pickles.
The only cakes my mother made were fruit cakes and as for pies of the pastry variety, they were never on the menu. Canned food was rarely used and considered a luxury.
Although I had no Aunts or Uncles my grandmother Kay had a younger brother called Claude, who lived in Victoria. He had been a sickly child, missing large amounts of school and slow to achieve the milestones expected of him. As a result he grew up unable to read or write. Sometime in the late 1950s Kay must have had news from her relatives that he was living in reduced circumstances so she dispatched my father to Victoria to find him and bring him back.
This was a big adventure because I was going too and we were to catch the Melbourne Limited Express and travel in a Sleeping Car. Inside the compartment were two fixed sleeping bunks, one above the other. A pull down handbasin with brass face plate, a mirror and varnished timber walls added an element of luxury .
After a night’s sleep we were up early for we had arrived at Albury Station on the NSW/Victorian border. Because NSW and Victoria had different sized railway gauges our train was unable to travel any further. Breakfast at the station cafeteria was eaten before we climbed aboard the famous Spirit of Progress to continue our journey to Melbourne.
The next day saw us on the train to Terang where my great uncle worked on a dairy farm. His room was small and dark and he worked long hours milking and carrying out farm chores. What the farmer thought when my father arrived and demanded that Claude leave with him I will leave to your imagination. I can’t remember if we had a sleeper on the way back but do remember his first night at our home where he must have felt very strange.
Uncle Claude lived with us for many years, first in The Stone Room built from convict brick and then in the Long Room (a converted shed). Eventually Kay bought him a tiny house across the road, hired a builder to add a kitchen and called it Lock Cottage.
Claude did odd jobs around the property, fed the animals when we were away and rode his motorbike for recreation. He was kind and gentle, with a slow drawl and a love of animals, motorbikes and roll-your-own cigarettes.
Water was always a scarce commodity and was carefully conserved. Although we had the waterhole across the road to fill our dam we relied on tanks for drinking water. They were a breeding ground for mosquitoes so we usually had their larvae at various stages of development swimming around in our glass. I fished them out with a spoon although most adults drank them regardless.
Our small bathroom boasted a chip heater with a shower over the bath but it became unusable after my father experimented with using coal instead of small pieces of wood. From then on we had to light a fire under the copper in the laundry and carry the water in buckets up the back steps to the bathroom. Consequently baths were not taken more than once a week and were shared by the family. The rest of the week I was given a bowl of hot water, soap and a washer with instructions to “wash up as far as possible, down as far as possible, and then wash possible”.
Washing clothes was also a complex task. The fire under the copper was lit and the clothes dropped in the boiling water with Sunlight soap. They were swirled around with a stick before being dragged into one of the tubs full of cold water. From here they were pushed through a mangle, which consisted of two rollers connected by cogs and powered by a hand crank. The sheets went in the first wash and were accompanied by a “blue bag” which kept them white. The washing water, when cold, was thrown over the lemon tree as it was supposed to deter bugs.
Our property was known at “The Waterhole” because of the gravel pit across the highway. At the front of the property was a small fibro shed with The Waterhole written in large letters across the gable. It had been used for selling fruit to passing travellers so it became my job to sell our Wickson plums at the weekend. They ripened around February when we were inundated with thousands of plums. I have never seen them anywhere since and cannot attest to their flavour as I was heartily sick of them.
When I first compiled my list of A to Z topics I immediately thought of the booklet that gave me a huge amount of pleasure in my primary school years. It was the Commonwealth Trades Alphabet and like the A to Z Challenge, each page was devoted to a different letter, in this case representing an Australian Industry. It may sound rather dry and boring – a booklet where the only splash of colour was on the front and back cover, but it was interactive in the best sense of the word. Great was the excitement when, once a year, Mr Scott would unwrap a parcel containing enough copies for every child in the school.
I recently started Googling “Trades Alphabet” and didn’t find much information, except a for few copies available on eBay. It was then I knew I had to buy one. Now I have it. My very own copy in pristine condition! Inside I found an article on the origin of the “Alphabet” by Robert Westfield, who founded it in New Zealand in 1913. By 1959 it was issued in seven countries and four and a half million copies were printed a year. I don’t know when it stopped publication but I do know that it fulfilled its aim “to bring to children…a knowledge of their own and other countries’ industrial and cultural development.”
The key to its success, apart from the simple stories in pictures told by the advertisers was that every product supplied an address to write away for extra information. That meant that we received mail in a continuous flow for weeks or even months. Colourful booklets, charts, maps, sets of cards, projects and best of all, free samples would arrive at the local General Store cum Post Office to be collected on the way home from school. Here’s where our teacher’s letter writing fetish bore fruit as we all happily wrote our “Dear Sir” and “Yours Faithfully”. The most popular advertiser was Actil. The project material they sent considted of little samples of cotton at each stage of production, from fluffy balls to yarn to sheets and terry squares.
Australian primary and secondary industries, many no longer in existence, were well represented, along with imported products. CSR Sugar, Balm Paints, Crusader Cloth, Davis Gelatine, Exacto Cotton, Eta Peanut Butter, Commonwealth Savings Bank, Stamina Clothes, Wrigleys Gum, Pelaco Shirts and Rinso were some of the advertisers.
As today is the day for the letter “T” I will end with the Trades Alphabet contribution for that letter.
Just in case you think this is all too male oriented here is their page for girls.
Did you realise, as I just did, that they had their headings mixed up?
Who’ll stow his white collar and put down his pen.
We’ll blow down a mountain and build you a dam
Much bigger and better than Old Uncle Sam.
By William Lovelock
The Snowy Mountains Scheme was the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. Begun in 1949 it employed men from thirty countries and is an integrated water and hydro-electric power scheme diverting the snow fuelled waters of the Snowy River to the Murray/Darling Basin.
On one of his business trips to Cooma my father had a few days to kill. He booked a three day Pioneer Bus Tour of the Snowy Mountains for us both and so at the age of eight I was able to see tunnels, dams and power stations of this great post war enterprise. It was not yet complete and so the huts used by the workers were still on site. We visited Cabramurra, the highest town in Australia, and Khancoban, another town constructed especially for the scheme. What captured my imagination were the towns inundated by the rising dam waters, Jindabyne and Adaminaby. Some buildings, mainly churches, were moved brick by numbered brick to the new town sites. Others like the hotels, sank below the waters and could be glimpsed from above at times of low water.
Our driver taught us all four verses of Snowy River Roll as well as The Pioneer Bus Song which followed the tune of The Road to Gundagai. Instead it was the “Road to Eucumbene”.
The most exciting thing about the tour, however, was the presence of another girl on board. She was a couple of years older than me and we sat together on the bus talking non-stop. I think my father was a little jealous as he commented that I wasn’t observing the surrounding scenery as closely as I should.
I kept in touch with Jennifer by mail until she finished university, married and moved to America.
In the northern hemisphere Easter heralds the coming of Spring, but in Australia it occurs in Autumn and what better time to showcase the produce of the previous summer than over the Easter break.If Empire Day was the most exciting day of the year then the visit to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney came a close second.
Even getting there was exciting. The first stage was catching the train to Central. Then we would join the queues waiting for the buses to the showground at Moore Park. Entering the gates there was the thrill of expectation. Rides, showbags and displays were anticipated with great enthusiasm.
The dilemma was whether to buy the showbags early and avoid the crowds or leave them until last and so avoid carrying them around all day. The showbag was the proof you had been there and was something to look forward to once you arrived home. Examining the trashy, rubbishy items within and nibbling on the cornucopia of normally banned sweets was a rare treat indeed. One year my father decided that showbags were a waste of money and bad for my teeth so we didn’t buy any. My disappointment and outrage was prodigious but to no avail.
There were other attractions of course. The sideshows and rides were exciting. As a small child I was content with the merry-go-round, the ferris wheel and the ghost train. We saw and occasionally went into tents showcasing Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Troupe, Smoky Dawson and a variety of illusions, magic acts and death defying feats. A man called S John Ross made a silhouette of my childish profile with great skill. He worked quickly with a pair of small scissors, cutting a portrait from thin matt black card. He then mounted the portrait on white card.
The prime purpose of the show was to showcase the best of the state’s primary and to a lesser extent secondary industries. The District Exhibits competition consisted of displays from four NSW areas and also South East Queensland. Large diaramas using wool, wheat, fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, cotton and preserves were judged on their originality, quality and aesthetic appeal. This was compulsory early viewing as well as the Arts and Crafts section, the cooking and preserves, the crochet, smocking and knitting. Then it was on to the animal displays where we saw prize winning cats, dogs, birds, fowls and even rats and mice.
The men in the wood chopping arena swung their axes, show jumping horses cleared hurdles in the main arena and neverending lines of horses, cows,sheep and dogs participated in the Grand Parade. I loved the show at night when all the lights came on, culminating in fireworks after which I sleepily headed for home.
The Easter Show has now moved to Homebush but still continues the traditions of its 193 year history.
My father was a gambling man. Whether it was on the racecourse or in Thommo’s Two-Up School in Sydney he was always looking for that lucky break. He taught me to play poker almost as soon as I could read and passed the time that way on many a train journey. His most ingenious invention was not intended to make money but reflected his love of cards. For every card in the pack we had a secret code. Linden would pull up at a country hotel on one of his business trips, order a beer for himself and a raspberry and lemonade for me and then proceed to amuse the locals. He would produce a pack of cards, ask someone to choose one and then ask me to name it. Only once did I make a mistake and that was when he fed me the wrong information.
It worked like this. The code word for the suite of hearts was “mummy” or “mother”. It would not seem unusual to mention my mother in general conversation. As it was eight miles to Mittagong from our home my father might say, “Linda’s mother will be shopping in Mittagong today”. I would know that the card was the eight of hearts. Unfortunately I can’t recall all the codes nowadays as it is fifty five years since I last performed these tricks but the card numbers reflected how many dogs, cats, sheep or hens we had, the distances to various places and some aspects of our garden and home.
Staying in country or city hotels was a regular way of life for us. My father called me his “Shiralee”* and insisted I was getting a far better education travelling with him than attending school. In fifth class I missed fifty eight days of school. I learnt how to calculate the winnings on a bet in a horse race and discussed the possibility of life after death. My father didn’t believe in it but said if it was true he would get in touch with me after he passed on.
We sang songs, recited poetry, discussed how Harry Houdini escaped, examined the meanings of proverbs and talked about Henry Lawson’s short stories as the truck rattled and bumped its way through Boorowa to Cowra. I didn’t believe it at the time but I think he was right. My education with my father complemented and enriched what was learnt at school. I am so lucky to have spent time with him, especially as that time was so short.
The Shiralee, by D’Arcy Niland is a novel about a swagman who tramped the towns of Western NSW with his four year old daughter.