Freedom to choose where to go and what to do was the essence of play in the 1950s. Beyond the township of Yerrinbool was the Bargo State Conservation Area leading down to a tributary of the Bargo River. It was a magical place, with sandy beaches, overhanging caves carved out of the sandstone and large rocky areas leading to small waterfalls and deep pools. When I was younger I would be accompanied by older children from the local farms as we explored the untamed bushland. Later I would explore it on my own or take a friend to show them the secret places.
Our property had a large grove of Scots pine trees about thirty year’s old. They were excellent for climbing and from the top I could see across all our paddocks to the busy Hume Highway and the Sydney to Melbourne train line. I placed a “memory box” at the top of one of those trees. It is probably still there.
At night we would listen to serials on the wireless including Smoky Dawson, with his horse Flash and his sidekick Jingles. In conjuction with Kellogg’s Cornflakes we all joined the Smoky Dawson Wild West Club and received our Deputy Sheriff badge in the mail.
Influenced by the Famous Five books my friends and I would always be looking for adventures, often snooping on some of the lonely characters living in their huts on outlying farms. One day an older boy from school arrived with his home made bow and arrow and suggested we go hunting rabbits. We were unsuccessful, although we saw a few as we scouted the paddocks. My father nearly exploded when he found that the “arrow” actually had a nail embedded in the end. Poor Jimmy was sent home after an earbashing.
As well as tomboy activities I also adored dressing up. Pre-loved dresses, hats and gloves discarded by my mother and grandmothers were great adjuncts to journeys of the imagination. My playground was a yard full of strange objects, such as the enclosed back of a truck which made a great cubby house and wooden shelves under the trees for storing pipe fittings which acted as a boarding school for my dolls and teddy bears. Pets were roped in as pretend dolls and suffered being dressed up and wheeled around in prams.
There were a few toys like the Bilda-brix set of red and white bricks for making houses and the Pick-Up Sticks where the black one had to be retrieved without moving the others.
Zorro was very popular for make believe as a black cape, sword and mask could easily be made. I loved my Zorro jigsaw which was something like this one.
My greatest desire was a real doll’s house with proper wooden furniture so I didn’t properly appreciate the home made version with matchbox furniture made by some unknown friend of the family.
Pogo sticks were all the rage. I tried to make one with a spring and a piece of timber but it didn’t work. I didn’t get a bicycle until my teens but bought an old scooter for 15 shillings from a girl at primary school. I then proceeded to wear out the sole of my left shoe as I rode it along the gravel road to school each day.
As an only child I was never bored. If I had no friends to play with I invented them. The imaginary ones were usually much more accommodating than real life people which probably accounts for some difficulties I had relating to others in my High School years.