Can you remember the first time you became aware that the black squiggles on pages represented the spoken word? I can still recall that lightbulb moment well before I started school but it was quite a process before I could read confidently myself.
Reading in the 1950s was taught using phonics and sight words and by the use of school readers and work books. There was a lot of repetition and very little variety in the stories as Wendy, Sue and David ran, jumped, skipped and played with Nip. By the end of second class we completed Travelling On and were ready for the School Magazine.
The magazine shown here reflects the excitement of Australians anticipating the arrival of Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty and Prince Philip were to enter Sydney Harbour in the Royal Yacht Britannia while the adoring public waved flags and sang “God Save the Queen”.
I wasn’t a precocious early reader and can still recall at the age of seven struggling to read Seven Little Australians aloud to my grandmother, Ella. She would take over when I grew tired but would only read selected parts, such as the death of Judy, which reduced me to tears every time.
Despite our isolation in the country my father would occasionally take me to Sydney to visit Greenwood’s Second Hand Bookshop in Castlereagh Street. I was allowed to buy about half a dozen books which would last me until the next visit and be read many times. A Little Bush Maid and the subsequent Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce were great favourites.
What Katy Did, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women were devoured. One of my early books was The Adventurous Four by Enid Blyton. Of all her Famous Five, Secret Seven and Malory Towers books, this one remained my favourite.
Our one teacher school had a very small library. It was only a bookcase of five shelves but the Department of Education sent a new box of books once a month. The downside was they had to be returned on time and we were not allowed to take them home. Too bad if we were halfway through a book when it came time to pack up the box.
Comic Books were popular but because my father didn’t really approve of them he bought me Classics Illustrated. From them I became familiar with The Tale of Dorian Grey, Around the World in Eighty Days and The Man Who Laughs, to name a few.
Two little second hand books I adored were “Flower Fairies of the Autumn” and “Flower Fairies of the Wayside” by Cicely Mary Barker. The plants and weeds were English but where I lived in the Southern Highlands of NSW they were quite common. I matched the fairies with my friends but the one I picked for myself was the Blackberry Fairy. Not only did I love blackberries but I thought I looked a bit like her with my mop of dark, curly hair.