Although I lived in several houses in Mildura and Sydney, 35 Edgerton Street, Lidcombe is the first home I can remember. Situated on a large corner block it was a weatherboard house with an imposing brick verandah across the front.
The owner had divided it into two flats and another family lived in the other half. It was in a semi-industrial area with a clothing factory next door and normal suburban houses over the road. It suited my father well as he was gathering second hand steel and piping with a plan to sell fencing and gates to farmers and graziers. In the backyard was a cement swimming pool, sadly now empty but useful for riding my tricycle. My father was never one to pass by a bargain so the block was littered with finds that might bring a good return one day. It was a wonderful playground for small children in the neighbourhood. Our favourite game for a time was locking each other in a disused fridge and seeing how long we could bear to stay in the pitch dark without begging to be released. Fridges in those days had external handles and so could not be opened from the inside. It was only later when I heard of a child suffocating in a fridge where they had been left too long that I realised what a dangerous game we had been playing.
When I was five and a half I started school. Why I started in September I don’t know as it would have been usual to start at the end of January. In those days there were no orientation classes to prepare children for school. I arrived after the school holidays in the last term of the year while all the other children had been there for two terms. Auburn South Infants School seemed large and frightening. When I got into trouble I was made to eat my lunch with the boys. I never understood why I was in trouble. It often had something to do with Folk Dancing.
One day my mother decided I could order an Oslo Lunch from the school canteen. The Oslo Lunch was a Swedish invention which consisted of a cheese and salad sandwich on wholemeal bread with fruit to follow. It was found to considerably improve the health of children who ate it for six months. To get my lunch I had to walk across an enormously wide playground, a daunting expedition for a small child. I remember there was a whole tomato with the lunch which I could not bring myself to eat. Not knowing what to do with it I hid it under the seat. More trouble ensued and more lunches were spent sitting with the boys.
Living in Sydney in the 1950s was a time where the bread was delivered by horse and cart, the toilet was out the back and emptied by the dunny man, mumps and measles were rites of passage for children and immunisation was a terrifying experience as one waited in long lines outside schools or health centres for the dreaded needle. Visiting the dentist was also deeply traumatic as teeth were pulled without regard for the effect on subsequent spacing and alignment. My fear of the dentist began when aged about five I was asked to take a tablet before the extraction. I drank an entire bottle of orange drink and still the tablet would not go down. My mother had to hold me down screaming as the dentist pulled and pulled.
My father was keen to move away from Sydney as he had recently been declared bankrupt and wanted a fresh start. One rainy, foggy day we travelled to the Southern Highlands to inspect a derelict guest house. The low, L-shaped building had stag’s heads on the walls and a dark, cavernous kitchen. In the overgrown garden was a maypole. A piano sat forlornly in an open sided outhouse. I was familiar with maypoles from my nursery rhyme books and could imagine what fun people must have had in days past. We didn’t buy this property but it wasn’t long before we were to leave Sydney forever.