Early childhood is such a vague area. Anyone who says that they remember too much about their life before they were at school is kidding or is it just me. most of what I remember comes from family gatherings and the constant banter that went on about the family.
I am told that I was a very placid child after birth I am told and I had spent two years pushing myself around on my bum (something youngest son Beau also did 42 years later) before I would risk my first steps or I played in the cot for hours on end.
It set the pattern for my life, as we were called ‘late developers,’ and certainly I did very little when I was supposed to throughout my childhood but thankfully bloomed in my late teens.
Back at home before school days, Mum kept me in a cot for most of the day so there was little stimulation for the mind and some theorists might argue that this set the pattern for my late maturing, but she had to survive as well when dealing with four children so I cannot criticise mum.
So at the ripe old age of four, my folks ‘bit the bullet’ and sent me to school. Somehow they got away by not showing my birth certificate when I was enrolled and for all of primary school I had to live the life of an incorrect birth date.
I have vivid memories of not wanting to talk about or celebrate my birthday at school so I wouldn't make a slip and give my real age. It was not until my twelfth birthday that I was able to have a couple of school friends come for a party because of that secret and the fear of being kept down a year.
It was a constant source of worry to me during those early years and was to lead to utter disaster in my high school years through social immaturity when it finally ended with my expulsion from Indooroopilly High in 1969 for being too immature to handle school.
My name is Brian Murphy and I am the fourth son of John an Irishman and Joyce with links to UK Murphy. We moved into Fortitude Street Auchenflower in 1945 and then into 29 Lima Street which was one street away from our original home when the family grew too big. Our Boomer family eventually had 6 children and like the rest of the nations after World War Two, families were big and new suburbs were needed to house them all.
Dad had returned from PNG in 1944 during the Second World War very ill with malaria. World War 2 servicemen seldom talked about the war but his family were aware that he did Australia proud because of all the parts of the world he fought in. We never asked questions and he never talked at all about his adventures. Joyce kept the peace when he lost his temper which was fairly frequently.
Mum loved the glamorous side of life and wanted for better things. Having six children changed all that and she became caught up in parenting more than she had hoped. I only hope that we gave her some enjoyable moments during all that menial work we created for her as children.
So they were my parents, both of whom had considerable influence on my life. Dad’s influences with his never say die attitude and mum’s tolerance but let’s start the story that I remember.
I was born at the Royal Women’s Hospital at Herston in Brisbane on the 18th April 1951– the year prior to Queens Elizabeth’s coronation. If I could remember my first sight when I entered the world, it would probably be those horrible stirrups that women had to put their feet into during birth in those days and a time when men were not allowed in the delivery room.
The Brisbane Women’s' Hospital was no place for the feint hearted as few women had birth education and freely vocalised how much pain they were feeling. The mums were given a week or so to recover after giving birth and then home and back to domestic routine. I feel sorry for Dad though as men did not witness births then and being present for the birth of my four children were highlights of my life.
Dad told us in later years of men who were at the hospital waiting for their wives to return home to have sex with them again in a world before the ‘pill’ and contraception. No wonder we had a baby boom then.
Dad was working shift work at the XXXX brewery at the time of my birth, after trying French polishing when the Returned Servicemen’s Program offered him training after the war but he did not like that trade. At home he did not help with the household chores so it was mostly Mum who ran the house domestically.
She set up a survival list of daily chores that allowed the home to function with some sort of precision. The day would begin for her by being out of bed by seven (or when babies demanded it in the early days) so she could prepare breakfast and lunches for the school kids, and dressing them before seeing them off. Depending on the shift he was working dad would be asleep or at work.
After we went to school the beds had to be made or stripped (if there had been unfortunate accidents or wet dreams), floors swept, dust and vacuum the house; mop the floors; polish the dining room floor which was the only room with exposed natural timber; do the washing in the huge ‘copper’, a large vat which was heated by gas and would boil the whites in hot water before putting them through the metal wringers, (a process I can remember well, especially the soapy smell of the freshly washed sheets that had been boiled in the copper and the fact that brother Noel’s arm got caught in one and he still bears the scars today); hang out the clothes with the old wooden pegs; prepare lunch for those at home; see to the fights between the young ones; bring in the washing; see the visiting vendors- baker, ice-man in the early days, the fruitier and a visit to the butcher and grocer and then back home to start preparing the evening meal. This process of meal preparation included shelling the peas, cutting up the vegetables, cutting the meat and placing it in pots on the stove.
The school kids would then arrive home so it was then a change of clothes from school uniforms, prepare some afternoon tea (that usually included some biscuits she had cooked during her busy day), and a glass of milk, and supervise homework. This remarkable woman then cooked the evening meal, washed up and then did some ironing and sewing. Finally at nine o’clock, she would drag her weary body into bed and sleep to prepare herself for the next day unless there was a sick child who needed attention throughout the night or a demanding husband wanting sex.
Her busy routine filled all our lives for twenty years with the exception being that the kids finally took on some of the chores as we grew older. Even then though, it was a constant struggle to get the jobs done without some aggressive encouragement from Dad and his strap. Dad used his belt or the ironing cord (I can still see the u shaped welts on our legs and backs where he whacked us) for discipline. He had one hell of a short temper due to the five years he spent at war but shift work and the accompanying sleep deprivation only made him worse.
We called him the ‘white flash’, as he used to come racing out of his bedroom in his underwear, (Bonds singlet and undies), if we made noise when he was sleeping and chase us out of the house. We could not play on the front lawn as he was asleep in the bedroom a few feet away but kids being kids, meant that we often forgot so we got whacked for it. There are no permanent scars and all of us have the utmost respect for him because that was the accepted form of discipline in those days.
One of my regular jobs was ‘the shop’ as it was called but basically it meant walking around the corner daily with a net bag and a shopping list and purchasing a few items. It was not a popular job with my siblings so I went more than most, but I was aware that a few pennies left over could be spent on lollies without any trouble from Mum. I think she appreciated my placid nature as I seldom argued with her about going. It was only two minutes around the corner and I made that journey hundreds of times.
She also hated buying herself smokes, as it was not acceptable to her generation for women to smoke cigarettes openly, but I didn't mind asking. Mum smoked in the toilet and it was time out from her busy schedule. All of my trips to the shop included smokes for Mum and she was dead at 69 because of that habit, although like all good smokers in those days, she denied it to the last. Today's smokers are well aware of the risks I would think.
The other shopping trip was more involved. It was a ten-minute trip over or under the nearby railway line and up to Auchenflower Shopping Centre. There were no shopping plazas in those days, just a collection of small shops as the first shopping centre at Chermside still had not been built at that stage.
There was a grocery store there too but you always went to your local corner store then and we mainly used this centre for meat from the butcher and magazines from the newsagent, who also delivered our papers. Dad read them from front to back and I have picked up the same habit until Internet gave me instant access to news.
There also was a barber shop where ‘Gus’ the Dutch barber would rub his ‘old boy’ across your back as he walked around you, (a habit which brought great laughter to our family dinner table but would today have him arrested), a post office with two postal workers who knew everyone’s business, doctor’s surgery with a real family doctor, Dr Crouch, who was responsible for my successful entry into the world and Gainford’s chemist across the road from him.
It was also the Tram Stop for the Toowong tram that came from the city to the terminus at Toowong cemetery and many a time we caught a tram to town to do business or see a movie.
The larger community of Auchenflower used this centre more often than us for things other than groceries but we did not often like venturing beyond our neighbourhood around our home at 29 Lima Street- our world.
Other jobs for the kids included burying the food scraps and burning the rubbish which did so much to cause pollution in those days as every yard burnt on an open fire or, if you could afford it, in an incinerator. Anything that could be burnt was placed in a box near the back door and I enjoyed taking it to our fireplace and lighting it up at night. Food rubbish was wrapped in paper and went in a small rubbish tin under the house where it was collected by the Garbo ‘Whitey’ twice each week and he would carry it on his shoulder to the truck to empty. He was later to become my Under 21 coach at West's Football Club and was a great bloke.
Digging up the garden was an annual event at Lima Street because mum planted snapdragons each year, so the soil had to be turned, and of course everyone’s favourite job, mowing the lawn, happened quite frequently. Firstly it was done with a push mower and then a motor mower in the 60s. I was glad to see the end of ‘the pushy’ as it took a lot of work as it weighed a ton and there was always something sticking in the rotating metal blades that you would have to remove.
Then, of course, it all had to be raked up into piles and removed to the fire heap. It would take up your Sunday afternoon and even though we took turns it was never a popular job.
The motor mower was a different story as it was quite lucrative in that many of the neighbours required their lawns to be mowed and we collected some good pocket money with that enterprise so it was always in use.
My memories of the 50s are of a dreadfully boring and colourless world although very snug and secure because of the safe environment our parents had set up. Our family was typical for the post war era- large- six children actually. Michael John was born in 1945 as an immediate result of dad returning from the war, Rodney William in 1947, Pamela Anne in 1948, myself in 1951, Peter in 1955 and Noel Anthony, who was the last, in 1957. Peter and I missed out on second names because by then Joyce and John were too busy to even think about it.
We were a close family in that we shared our clothes as pass me downs, got each other birthday presents and sang ‘happy birthday’ to each other annually. We had a holiday each year at Kirra on the Gold Coast in the early days. We would catch the dreary old steam train down to Coolangatta, past the very hills that I now live in at Mudgeeraba and into Coolangatta. We then walked a couple of miles to our destination carrying our suitcases.
We were full of excitement as we walked those miles to our flat from the railway station along the beach as this was a real break in routine for us all. Some of the names are still there at Bilinga, Two Views and Yarrum, but most flats have disappeared. They were great holidays because we spent two weeks surfing, walking on the beach, gathering shells, watching fisherman drag in catches of migrating mullet onto the beach and, generally, we rested.
One year my brother Rod found a whale on the beach and his photo was in the local rag. But we seldom left our neighbourhood there either. We spent hours on the beach each day because Kirra Beach would have sand castle competitions in front of their huge pavilion, where the sand castle maker was awarded a snow cone for the best decorated. There were surf-o-planes for hire and we would take turns for a one-hour hire time and ride the waves to the beach.
There was a small shop around the corner from us on Golden Four Dve and you could buy sweets and magazines when you were bored. It was frequently visited during the day.
We looked after each other and stirred each other as families do. I can remember running around and around the passageway of our small home at 29 Lima Street, chasing someone who had hit me or being chased by someone who I had hit. The house was like a rabbit’s warren with small rooms and little space but there was always activity.
I was in my sister’s room until I was eight but as she began to grow up, my parents decided she needed her privacy. We were very close though and I loved to give her presents for her birthdays with some cheap dog or fish ornament inside, but with chewing gum or lollies wrapped in the paper, so she would get an extra surprise as she unwrapped it. She was always a tough one and I guess you had to be in a house full of boys. She learnt to give as much as she got and many a time she belted us with her hairbrush if we upset her.
I moved into the same room as my brother Pete and Noel who were on bunk beds after that. It was crowded but you only used the bedroom for sleeping. At night it would be dinner, a bath or shower, some homework, a half-hour watching TV if you finished and then off to bed. It really depends though on what time of my life you look at as I was a teenager before we had TV in the house. Before that it was listening to the radio at night and of course we didn't have a shower before my teens.
Lima Street was a work in progress for mum and dad and they did what they could to extend it as they could afford to. In the earlier years we were never in the house but outside playing mostly with other kids rather than with each other.
Mike and Rod had their own rooms, although Mike’s was between the kitchen and the bathroom so everyone took the shortcut when he wasn't there, instead of going around through the lounge room, so there was little privacy. In the early days our Uncle Kevin was in that room. He was mum’s youngest brother, who had come to assist when mum had a serious liver complaint, after Noel’s birth, they thought she would die.
The operation that saved her was a first so we were very pleased with that outcome. Dad did not want to split up the family so her younger brother Kevin came to stay and help Dad. He fitted in well and helped around the house but married after a couple of years and left. He had a piano-accordion which he was learning and he nearly drove dad mad with it as he practised almost daily. Mike moved into that room when he left.
Eventually I saved the money from a Xmas job and Ted Shepherd’s dad who was a carpenter built me my own room under the house. Considering the fun I had in it as a teenager in later years, it was the best investment I ever made.
In daylight hours it was outside to play and in wet weather under the house. It is probably why we are all so opinionated now in that we were living on top of each other and you had to be vocal to be heard. We all spoke our minds and had no trouble telling people what we thought of them. That is the way we were raised but it has got us all into all sorts of trouble over the years. Not everyone wants your opinion especially if they don’t ask for it.
We had a lot of fun together with learning to ride pushbikes, pets that ‘disappeared’ overnight when Dad took them for a ride in the car and abandoned them (he had no time for animals) and haircuts from him that were done with a bowl on our heads so he could keep a straight line. We did not have a lot of money but we had enough and had a very happy childhood. We were all proud of the family’s achievements and until I went to school there were lots of them.
My brothers were great sportsmen and played football, tennis and cricket at school and even today are great golfers. My sister loved music and played on the piano daily and she also went to dance school The three siblings above me were also very academic at school and the expectation was high for those who followed. I let them down badly I’m afraid.
I was not that close to my brothers because of our age difference but we have always got along. I do not spend a lot of time with them even now as we have different interests, but I will always be there if they need me. Over the years we have had lots of fun reminiscing about Lima Street and the Murphy clan in general at our family gatherings. My parents were very generous and much loved by us all.
Mike being the eldest was the most scrutinised by us all and the one we looked up to. He was always the achiever and being quite handsome, he was also very popular with the girls. Dad was harder on him they the rest of us as he was the first. Dad wanted us tall to have a good education that he missed out on so the pressure was always on us about school.
In his social life which was full on for the early teddy boys, Mike was a winner and had great interest from young ladies so we listed to all dads’ questions at the table about what he was up to with them. He started to wear his hair like a teddy boy and had the curl protruding at the fringe but dad soon cut it off. Then Mike began smoking at an early age and dad found him doing so under the house which caused much drama.
Mike was always a saver though and any money he earned form pocket money or jobs went into the bank and he therefore always had money. He was later to have a trip overseas riding a motor bike around Europe as a young man after he decided on a teaching career. All the family looked up to him as number one.
Rod became a public servant with the Tax Department, Pam dabbled in a few jobs before deciding on teaching, Peter was a good actor for a while and also tried teaching before finding Scientology and Noel worked with Australia Post. I also chose teaching in those early years because of the big brother influence.
Our neighbourhood was an interesting place– the Auchenflower to Milton railway line in Brisbane, the Brisbane River, Moorlands Park, (which is now the Wesley hospital) and Schultz’s canal, which flows into the river and divides Milton and Auchenflower, bordered our world. The canal caused havoc with flooding over the years, especially in the 1974 flood, which had dirty floodwater in our back yard for the first time. Many houses in our neighbourhood went under in that flood, even the shop on Lang Parade, but our house thankfully was on a hill and out of harm’s way.
Within those boundaries, we had our house and the family houses of dozens of kids we knew who, on occasions, made our yard theirs. Suburbia was alive and well and the Boomer children were everywhere.
There were the Sampi's five houses down, the Shepherds on the corner (Ted Shepherd is became a Councillor on the Gold Coast City Council), the Pearns (John became a Professor with the Brisbane Children’s Hospital), the Gipps (Howard became a reporter on A Current Affair on Channel Nine), the Stokers (Peter is a Psychologist at Toowong), the Ledgerwood's who owned the little store on Lang Parade, the Gays over the road( with Mr Gay sitting smoking daily trying to recover from war trauma) and a host of other identities that were ‘Our Neighbourhood’.
Athol King, our homosexual neighbour, Mrs Chapman and Miss Brown on the over side, (sisters who lived for cats), the flats at the back that had a host of tenants (but a stand out was Mrs Reeves who knew everything that happened because she sat staring out her window all day long), Mrs Foxlee over the road, Mr Pickwell up the road, Old Woodsy flats down the road and the one arm Mr Toombes diagonally opposite who amazed us by being able to drive a car with his disability.
You knew them all and they knew you. Dad counted twenty-six kids on one such day playing an assortment of games in our yard before he scattered them with one of his mean looks. Neighbourhood kids were your life and you played relentlessly. Go-karts were built using pram wheels and left over wood bits from around the neighbourhood and were raced down the steep hill on Lang Parade, but there were some great spills and injuries to add to the excitement. Not too many cars to worry about them.
I tore my calf open one year when Purdi Sampi and my brother Rod were pushing me up Lang Parade on a tricycle. A nail was sticking out from the pedal and every time it turned, the nail gouged further into my leg. They thought I was crying out in joy, not pain. It required sixteen stitches which never set and reopened. The wound is one of many scars from those years as I was forever kicking my toe or grazing my knees. We were so active. I still shudder when I think of mum ripping off a bandage or having to bathe one of my knees because it had gone pussy or bled, and the bandage had stuck to the sore. Pain!!!
Honestly, life was just so easy. Monday to Friday it was off to school with my siblings. We would walk barefoot for half an hour to Milton State School where the teachers and administration ran it like a concentration camp. We were caned for being late for goodness sake!
The journey home was much more pleasant with a walk down the dark tunnels of Schultz’s Canal pipes, or along the railway line with our ears tuned for the familiar toot of the steam trains as they lumbered past, shooting out steam and hot coals. The sleepers were often left burning from the coal.
I remember Judith Wright’s poem ‘Night Train’ when I recall my childhood, because every night the goods trains would wake me as they rumbled across the bridge near our home in a seemingly never-ending rattle before it stopped and sleep claimed you again. Her poem is about such trains carrying goods during the war.
Now and then there would be big neighbourhood drama as the trains claimed a life such as our good neighbour Mrs Foxlee’s husband when running for the train on a wet day. He slipped and fell under the train leaving her to a lonely life in number 30 Lima Street that was one day to be my ‘Lima Cottage’. I would often weed her garden for pocket money and she was always friendly. Who would have guessed that she would eventually sell me her home and all the furniture in it.
All these neighbours were a part of our lives and they came into and left our lives frequently. Many migrant families entered Australia in the fifties. The Sampis were one family who came from Finland and they grew up with our family and went to the same schools in Milton State and Indooroopilly High School.
I recall a Dutch family who had a large home opposite ours with views to Brisbane city. They had the first TV in the street and it was so exciting to be invited to watch something like the ‘Thin Man’, with Peter Lawford of the American Rat Pack fame, or one of the afternoon kid’s shows with Jim Illiffe who ran the Channel Niners Show. Jim only died in 2005 but you realise that time is getting on when your childhood heroes pass on. The Dutch immigrants were more aware of business opportunity than we were and they sold in the early sixties to allow the first block of units to be built in Lima Street.
Another Italian family moved in opposite the shop in Lang Parade in the 50’s and their son, Dino, played with us for a while but they quickly moved on.
Today the Sampis are the only family still there, although Mrs Foxlee's home ‘Lima Cottage’ is still standing, dwarfed by the many units. Sadly even 29 Lima Street is now units.
Let me tell you more about our neighbour park. Once we reached the safety of Dunmore Park when walking home from school, we were in paradise. That park over the years was the home of cubbies, sport, and fireworks on bonfire night, fights, meetings, bike lessons and generally good fun. It was the local meeting place. It was also my second home and we played blissfully there until dark each day after school, when Dad’s piercing whistle would warn us that it was time to hurry home before he lost his cool.
Dad never really got over the War and was fair but firm with his discipline but we knew he meant business. I would meet the neighbourhood guys there after school and we would pinch a cold soft drink off the Kirk’s trucks that had been loaded for the next day’s delivery of drinks to shops. They would be parked all along Lang Parade and we would take it in turns to grab a drink. We didn't do much else that was naughty as there were high expectations that you didn't but a free cold drink was too tempting for a child.
Naughty kids were sorted out with the ironing cord or strap in those days, as I mentioned earlier, so we were aware of our limits with him. Many the times I came home late and he would wait behind the door with the strap until I came in. My usual trick was to cry BEFORE I went in so he might take it easier on me.
But play we did. The Stokers, the Shepherds, the Gibbs, the Ledgerwoods, the Sampies and the Murphies and many others, all headed for our yard. We had six children so it didn't take long for the yard to look crowded when others joined us.
My first neighbourhood friend was Roy Barrett who later moved to Sydney with his family early in the sixties. The Shepherds moved into their house and Ted and I played for the next two years flat out. We just hit it off and we could play any game using our fertile imaginations in those days before television took over. It was mostly soldiers though, as it wasn't even twenty years since the end of World War Two.
We had absolutely epic war battles under my house in the dirt with the landings at Dunkirk, the fall of Singapore and other World War 2 battles relived over and over. If it wasn't plastic toy soldiers and army resources such as tanks, trucks and field guns that fought these epic battles under our generalship then we would use bottle tops as substitutes to create the numbers needed. Coke bottle tops were the good guys and the rest were the bad guys. Even then we knew that ‘Things Go Better with Coke’.
On other occasions in our imagination we were soldiers jumping out of a plane from the porch on my back steps and landing in enemy occupied territory somewhere in France. We then had to fight our way out to allied held towns. Our imagination gave us unlimited scenarios.
We also became entrepreneurs one year when we had a neighbourhood puppet show. Ted and I wrote, directed and acted in it with puppets we had bought and we made two pounds from memory, which was a fair sum in those days. It was great fun for as soon as we collected the money at the door of our little theatre then we would run around to the back of a sheet we had hanging up so we were back stage and ready for the performance. Then we would manipulate the hand puppets as we talked our way through the performance script until interval when we would race back out to the audience to sell lollies and drinks before returning for the Act 2.
The other big event we shared was Cracker night, commonly known as Guy Fawkes Night. Ted and I would organise the neighbourhood to give us material that we could burn on the bonfire in Dunmore Park. It was a huge bonfire made up of wood, old furniture, garden clippings and tree branches that we would spend a whole day dragging to the park from all over the neighbourhood, but someone would always light it up before we got there after our dinner with our box of fireworks. The park was alive with families setting off their Roman candles or skyrockets and throwing bungers, which would explode with a nerve-shattering bang. Every year different ones were invented and they were more sophisticated and more spectacular in what they did, once alight.
The next day, at the crack of dawn, Ted and I would jump out of bed and race down to the park to gather the crackers that didn’t go off, due to wet wicks or being dropped in the dark. You would be amazed at the collection we gathered and they would last us another week. The night was eventually banned in Qld as kids were injured when fireworks were thrown without thought or skyrockets pointed at people. The odd cat lost a tail and letter boxes where blown apart all over the neighbourhood as well, which caused some negative feedback in the media.
During those long hours of play, I was the ‘Sergeant Major’ as my brothers labelled me and Steven Stoker, brothers Peter and Noel, Ted Sheppard and Max Ledgerwood were my troops. They had to do what I commanded and I would be disappointed if they hadn't enjoyed it as much as I did. We had a ball in our neighbourhood and there was always something to look forward to.
Families celebrated every holiday; Xmas presents were proudly displayed to friends; letterboxes were blown up on cracker night and candy eggs exchanged at Easter. There was probably only eight years in it but I have fond memories of this time in my life as a happy and adventurous time, in the spirit of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ I guess. Ted and I would go on long bike rides to Toowong or Mt Cootha and fished for yabbies in the creeks there.
We did our jobs, had lots of fun, played our games, talked about neighbourhood events and families, went to school and grew up with a fantastic group of people. Strangely, the friendships never lasted, as the next stage of life was more serious- puberty, high school and lifetime friendships made in our teens. Kids can play with anyone, have fun and move on. I believe quite strongly that this is natural and kids should have a childhood filled with memories of happy times and I have focused on that for my children. We all know that adult life is filled with drama and stress, so let the children have fun.
On the weekends, we went to flicks on Saturday afternoon for the matinee at the Toowong Elite Theatre. You had to walk two miles, but it was time out for Mum and Dad so if they offered to let us go so we took advantage of it. Somehow Dad would find the shilling entrance fee.
What a great time that was when Glenn Ford and Audie Murphy entertained us with films that we relived for the next twenty-four hours. We became the cowboys or the soldiers that had been portrayed on the big screen. Hours were spent playing the roles on the way home and well into the next day until the memories faded.
I had my first and last cigarette there at the Elite. Oh, the excitement of buying my first packet from the shop on the way to the matinee one Saturday arvo- the adrenalin rush, the forbidden smell of tobacco and the excitement of lighting up but for whatever reason smoking did not appeal so that was the end of my contribution to the tobacco industry. That decision probably saved me thousands of dollars and perhaps even my life.
On Sunday, it was Sunday school and every Sunday morning we journeyed to Auchenflower Presbyterian Church, up the road from the shops, for structured lessons about the Bible. I still remember the stories of Samson holding up the pillars as the temple collapsed, Moses leading his people out of the wilderness and David defeating Goliath with a slingshot. It was never drummed into us, just a few songs each week and a story, and certainly Mum and Dad never asked what we did.
I regard myself as a Christian though, not because of those lessons but an inner, spiritual belief. I live by those beliefs but I also believe that most of the world does too. Most of us don’t go to church anymore but I think it is important that we have some spiritual contact. I call it the Universal religion and it's core goodness is in every religion and one that does not rquire you to listen to the sermons of others unless you feel you need it.
All my children have had some through school religious instructions, which I am sure will do them no harm, and I have purposely mentioned God in their lives often. ‘Good night, God Bless and Sweet Dreams” will be remembered by them all as a ‘Daddyism’ of mine. I have also encouraged them to say prayers as I still do very often, usually when I go to bed.
I saw my father find religion again six months before he died and those who don’t find it do not seem to die peacefully. He had lost his faith during the war because he saw too much devastation and death. We would all like to think that we will see our loved ones again in another life and just because we can’t prove it, doesn't mean we shouldn't wish for it. It helps me prepare for death at least; the thought that I will see my Mum and Dad again and eventually be joined by all those loved ones I leave behind.
Sunday school picnics were a real event on the annual calendar. We would meet at the church and walk in classes to Toowong Memorial park. I remember the big tents all set up, egg and spoon, sack, and three-legged races and the prizes for all. We had lots to eat and drink and everything was served on enamel plates and drinks poured from enamel teapots. We would get some cardboard and slide down the steep slopes of the park where West’s Rugby Union is now situated.
Going to Sunday school each week and keeping the money intended for the church plate to buy lollies on the way home, were some of my better memories of those days. Then more play with friends on the way home and into the backyard for the weekend finale. Mum and Dad would always have friends over Sunday morning while we were away and it was exciting to arrive home to find a couple of Aunties and Uncles visiting and delicious ‘pillow’ biscuits or ‘Ice Vo-Vos’s on a plate in the kitchen.
We never went anywhere else as there was no car and few people visited us, as our relatives were country folk from the Monto region, near Bundaberg. We visited them maybe twice in all those years as we had too many children to stay with them. Uncle Ted Neuman stayed with us one time as he was receiving hospital treatment and after wearing out his welcome somewhat was told so by brother Rod. We were siting having a farewell dinner when Uncle Ted said to Rod, “Well I suppose you will be glad I am going tomorrow Rod,” and he replied, “No Uncle Ted but Mum and Dad will be”. The innocence of youth.
Such innocent but definitely conservative times they were, encouraging everyone to ‘toe the line’ and be part of the status quo or risk being ostracised. Be a good boy, do your jobs around the house, do well at school, behave yourself and don’t cause your family any embarrassment was the message loud and clear. Be seen and not heard when adults are around and do what you were told at all times. There was little creativity and even less innovation. I was a good boy, son, brother and friend.
We had our rituals though, and one was listening to the radio. Before television, we used to sit and listen to ‘Greenbottle’ and ‘Dave and Dad’ which were two of the many serials on at night. You had to look up the radio shows in the newspaper just as we now do for TV, and Mum and Dad would listen to the game shows and then we had our shows before we went to bed. Homework had to be done before the show or you missed out.
The other ritual was going to the Ekka. Each year we would save our money, check in the paper for show bag contents and have a day at the Show. There was enormous excitement as the train chugged into the Ekka grounds and you could hear, feel and see the vitality of Sideshow Alley.
The noise was deafening but it had your adrenalin pumping. You would spend a few hours on the rides and then walk to the animals and then, show bags. Show bags that were full of samples or new products at first but in later years full of junk like they are today. The number of bags depended on how much you had saved up for the Ekka by doing jobs like cleaning the blinds or painting the fence.
By 6 pm you would be seated by the ringside oval if you could find a seat, or on the grass and watch the trotting races and the wood-chop before a fantastic fireworks display would end the night for us and we would head home. It was always the same and the routine was comforting.
The Roman candles fired out the different colours in the Main Arena and the announcer would encourage the children to call out their favourite colours. I can still hear him now, ‘blue, green, blue’ and we would be shouting back with our colour. It was all good, clean fun and family entertainment.
A very tired family would tumble out of the train at Auchenflower station and trudge home before devouring the contents of our show bags. Pam always seemed to have some left for weeks but mine were quickly emptied.
One could not possibly regret these times with family and neighbourhood support and they are a constant source of happy memories to me. I learnt many social skills during this period and I learnt the concept of love and caring.
They were the foundation that I needed to build my life on. They were the Boomer years and all of us should be eternally grateful for the simplicity of our upbringing and the many opportunities that were provided for us.
School days were challenging for me that's for sure. I was enrolled at school at age four. My first recollections are of Auchenflower Infants, a little school in our suburb that was established for the first two years of school life. For the life of me, I can’t remember anymore than playing, except for one day when I ran into a kid and hurt my head badly. The game was to close our eyes and run across the school yard- smart hey! Must have been a good knock because I can remember the fuss and the pain as I was lead into the sick room dazed. The school was closed soon after which, I might add, was not due to my doing but an education decision to put the infants into the primary school grounds.
One of the earliest photos of me was on the steps of Auchenflower Infants with my class- I look aboriginal. I was only four, and even though it was compulsory to be five to enroll, it seems mum was doing it hard looking after four of us, so when brother Peter was born in 1954 it got too much for her. I was a pretty placid child and I spent two years pushing myself around on my bum before I would risk my first steps or I played in the cot. It set a pattern for my life as I was called a ‘late developer’ and certainly I did very little when I was supposed to throughout my childhood, but thankfully, bloomed in my late teens. But Mum needed some space so it was of to school.
It didn't help that I was a year younger at school, particularly socially. Friends were always hard to make so I spent a lot of time on my own at school and therefore didn't think much of the place. It was in Year Eight that I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and wag school.
I would take off at lunchtime on Sports Day and walk to the hill overlooking Dunmore Park near our home where I would climb a large fern tree. I could see my dad leave home for his afternoon shift-work and he would walk across the park and off to the XXXX brewery then I would head home and raid the cake tin.
My primary education at Milton State School was painful but worthwhile. There are mixed memories of those years but mostly happy ones.
The teachers all had such an influence on our lives but for me Miss McCabe was the best. She was my Year Eight teacher and we were the last ones to do Year Eight (or Grade Eight as it was known then) at primary school and the first not to have to sit for the Scholarship exams that were part of the state public education system.
My older siblings all did well in the exams and went into academic strands at high school. Things were not looking so good for me as I struggled in those earlier years but that final year was a great year and Miss McCabe finally gave me some confidence after years of tears and frustration trying to cope with failure. Memories of other teachers bring back what a struggle it was to cope with the constant jibes of ‘you are not as good as your brother or sister’.
Nothing was too much for Miss McCabe though and she encouraged all of us to do our best. Each day was a learning curve as she went over Grammar rules, Social Studies, Maths and English, as if there were no tomorrow. I can even remember the odd Science lesson with real Science equipment.
For the first time, I achieved. Never top of the class but above average, which was so good for my ego. I was so enthusiastic that for playtime on weekends I ran a school under the house at Lima Street, and the neighbourhood kids were given sums that I would mark. I will be eternally grateful to Miss McCabe for the tables and our grammar rules and mental arithmetic absorbed under her watchful eye as these rules have stayed in my mind throughout life and have been very useful. As a teacher in later life I taught the same things to my students and watched them achieve as well.
I was very sad to say goodbye to Miss McCabe in 1963 when I left Milton State School and regret many years later not going to see her when she was at a Milton State School reunion organised by our former neighbour Dr John Pearn who was head of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. It was just after my divorce in 1990 and I was too fragile to go into the school and instead stayed in the beer tent on the oval drowning my sorrows.
At least I met a few old classmates including Janice Guy, who was one of two girls who played with me every lunch hour in Grade 8 as I didn't play sport like the other boys did. The other girl’s name was Margaret who lived at Bowen Hills and used to travel by train to school. She is significant in my story as she was the first girl I looked at as the opposite sex.
I wrote her a letter after school finished and told her I loved her but she never wrote back. I cannot remember why but I was unable to make many male friends at school in any year. My only excuse comes from the age difference- I was not ready for them socially. I did have my neighbourhood friends though and would have friends to walk to and from school with but you never played with kids from younger grades as it was an unwritten law of the playground.
In the younger grades at Milton, I remember it was all just daily routine. We would go onto parade in the morning at 9 o’clock, form into girls and boys lines and listen to Mr Garskee, the deputy principal, talk to us from a balcony on the first level of the school. The National Anthem ‘God Save the Queen” as it was then would blare out of the speakers.
Then he would rant and rave and kids would faint from being in the hot sun too long before they were carted away by teachers. From the balcony he would call certain villains out for a caning if someone wasn't paying attention or skylarking. Then the music monitors would switch on a record containing marching music and it would play from speaker boxes placed around the parade ground. The classes would march into school to the sound of da- dum, da, da, da, da da, dum– God knows the name of it but it was an old army tune that the troops marched to in the war.
In turn we would march up one of the numerous sets of stairs and along the long dark corridors and into our rooms. The school was a huge red brick structure that looked like a castle and had two storeys with a red tiled roof. It sat on the corner of Baroona Rd and took up the whole triangular block with three street frontages. A little shop opposite was for morning tea and lunches, except for Fridays, which was tuckshop day at school. My mum couldn't be there in the early years but as Pete and Noel grew she became a regular. The joy of getting a hot dog from your own mum was overwhelming.
On one side of this enormous building in a separate section were the Infants School with their own grounds and play area. You would work your way over an eight-year period from there to the top floor of the school. There was always great excitement on day one of the school year as they called the names for each class out as there were certain teachers who were popular and some who weren't. Several teachers in the early years were frustrated old bags and really made your life difficult. I would usually find a teacher who had taught a brother or my sister and, as they were good students, the teacher expectation of me was high.
In between the two areas was the Manual Arts Block where Grade Eights prepared themselves for high school with carpentry, metal work and domestic science training. All I remember about manual arts was the embarrassment of not getting my measurements right or cutting the wood on the wrong side of a penciled line and having the teacher finish my bookshelf or dust pan. At least I found out at an early stage that I was never going to be a tradesman or for that matter a handyman and I have lived up to that to this day.
The Milton girls did what was called Domestic Science there as well and they always had some sweet smelling desert wrapped in a tea towel to take home every Friday as other schools used it on the other days during the week . Sister Pam often brought home some type of pineapple or apple pie, which was quickly devoured by the family that night.
Interestingly enough even some of my future classmates at Indooroopilly High had come by bus from Ironside, Indooroopilly and Taringa State Schools to do their industrial and domestic training at Milton.
On the Milton Road side of the school was the school swimming pool near the Milton Ten Pin Bowl.I saw that building erected and marveled at the crowds that went there to play this new exciting game of ten-pin bowls. Our family could never afford it in the early days but I got a few games in as I grew older. It was one of the first parts of ‘Americanising’ Aussies and was very exciting as an alternate sport. We lived for football in the winter and cricket in the summer in those days and few played other sports.
Beside the Bowls Club were the Milton Tennis courts, which meant that all roads in the vicinity were packed with parked cars during the Davis Cups challenge matches Up to 50 000 people would put on their cardboard hats and watch those events ,with Ken Rosewell and Rod Laver and Margaret Court ruling world tennis while we were sitting right next door in school.
Rosalie Shopping Centre was around the corner from the school and Lang Park just over the hill. Trams that rattled by to their destination at Rosalie or Rainworth used the main road Baroona Road, just to turn around and rattle back to town. It was also the route to Government House so when the Queen came to town, we would stand on road and wave our flags. Her motorcade barely slowed but we were always hopeful that she might stop. There would be kids lining the road from the XXXX brewery, on Milton Road, to Government House and we cheered enthusiastically as Queen Elizabeth flashed by even though you could barely see her face.
At the school each pupil had his or her own desk and that is where you stayed all day- at your desk. You did not move for fear the teacher might attack. Some used rulers, some sticks and some threw dusters and chalk. Those who couldn't do it themselves sent you to the office where you were caned. Mostly it was the boys who were caned because girls behaved in those days. I even got caned one day for being late for school. The more you were caned, the more of a reputation you earned and the more the teachers picked on you. But you never told your parents because dad would give you another hiding for playing up.
We had a small bottle of milk at morning tea each day which were delivered to the school. It was a privilege to be asked to be a Milk Monitor, although I suspect that only the hard cases got the job so the teachers could have some time out from them. You would carry the crates to a certain area where classes filed out and took a straw and bottle, then you would clean up. That job, or Music Monitor for parade, meant that you missed plenty of schoolwork. In summer the milk was left in the sun and tasted horrible and it always sent some kid to the sick room after vomiting it up.
We had swimming lessons twice a week, where you had to strip off in the dressing shed and get into your trunks, walk though a cold shower and jump into the pool. I could not swim and every day this occurred, I stressed. I was always late in changing because the longer I took, the less swimming I had to do. There was also the added embarrassment of changing in front of the other boys. Even then we worried about the size of our penis and grew progressively paranoid about it.
I wish I had learnt to swim though, I nearly lost my life twice because I didn't. Once on a hot Sunday afternoon during summer holiday when I went with brother Rod and Purdi Sampi to Toowong Council Pool on Coronation Drive. I was 12 and thought I could swim by then so I dived in the deep end to show them. Purdi pulled me out as I went down for the count after panicking.
The second time was at Currumbin in my surfing days in the early 70’s. We did not have ankle straps attached to the surf board so when you lost your board, it would go in with the wave to the beach. I was tired after a good night out boozing and not fully fit. I caught the wave, wiped out and lost the board. I tried to swim but felt too tired and weak and started to see my life pass before me. Luckily, I was not prepared to give in and told a guy on a board beside me that I was drowning. He gave me his board and swam in while I caught the next wave. Thanks mate, whoever you are.
School had it all. Games, fights, school balls and end of year class parties were all part of it. Everyone seemed to play sport and we were all lean and mean. No take-away food then and meals were all meat and three veg, and we walked to and from school, four miles a day. Kids in those days were fat mainly only if they had medical problems. If you look at any photos of the era or home movies, it is amazing to see the square jaws of the boys and the thin faces of the girls, and, I might add, their parents as well. Diets were so much healthier then.
For sport at school, I tried soccer because I could not get a look into league, as most of our players were weekenders with West’s Rugby League Football Club- the Paddo Panthers based at Gilbert Park for the juniors and Lang Park for the seniors. The Twist boys, Jack, Ritchie and Keith, went to Milton State and Ritchie was eventually to play for Australia. I was to meet him a few times over the years and as a player he was just awesome. At our last meeting on the Gold Coast in 2003, he told me that he never really appreciated how good he was. To him it was just a game of footie, but I told him the great joy it had given my family to watch him in action.
So forget rugby league, as there were too many good players at our school. It was a choice between soccer and hockey, but soccer was less rough and I was no hero, so soccer got the nod. I even played a couple of games at Dunmore Park next to my home but Mr Lawson my Grade Five teacher and school soccer coach only wanted those who could play well so it never became a passion with me. You were either in the school team or back at school playing with the losers who couldn't play sport. The teacher would take the remaining kids on to the oval for baseball or ball games as they were called.
Then there were the annual school balls held at the City Hall on a Thursday night in October. It was one hell of a night with all the kids in costume and parading past the judges in grade level groups. The winners were given prizes and it was a lot of fun for kids but the parents had to sit in the second level and look down on the happenings. We would do dance displays after weeks of practice and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, although one year I got the dreaded chicken pox and could not go. It broke my heart, as it was one event we all loved.
I can remember Mike as Roman soldier one year and Rod as a Garbo with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Pam also went as a ballet dancer but she did that in her own time after school so she used one of those costumes with big green leaves on it for the school ball, and that particularly sticks in my mind.
The final thing I remember about primary school were the fights. For seven years I had not even looked like getting into a fight. I hated them and was afraid of bullies. Every lunch hour we would go out onto the vast oval behind the school and play. The girls played with skipping ropes and the boys mainly played marbles, cricket or red rover.
Red Rover was the game where you had someone in the middle and people on both sides of the marked soccer field. On a given command everyone started to run for the other side and those in the middle had to catch them. If you were caught then you were in the middle. It was like that game at the Infants school when I ran into another lad except we kept our eyes open. Although, from memory they did not want to change the rules at first. It caused all sorts of fights, as some of the guys would not cooperate. The teachers then tried to keep us under trees on the oval and banned the game but boredom set in so they would relent.
In Year Eight I was under the trees playing when I accidentally ran into a kid by the name of McGregor-Lowndes whose family owned picture theatres around Brisbane and were wealthy. He was only in Grade Seven but a big kid with a stocky build. He took off his watch which I knew meant he did not want to get my blood on it and proceeded to beat the crap out of me.
It was humiliating and to top it off my girl friends Janice and Margaret went for help and a teacher thankfully intervened. For the rest of the year I hid and never saw him again until he did a TV ad for the Liberal Party when Fraser beat Gough Whitlam in 1975. Trust him to stuff up my life again after all those years as I was a GREAT Whitlam fan but he lost to Malcolm Fraser in the elections that year.
Those marble games were fun though, and we would go to school with huge bags of marbles and draw a circle in the dirt and other boys would join you. If they could knock your marble out of the circle by firing it as a projectile, using your thumb as a trigger, then the marble was yours. Eventually steel marbles came on the scene and the owners cleaned up.
There were fads every year- frozen ice blocks, hula hops and yo- yo's, when Coca-Cola would invite American champions to tour the schools and show you how they worked. I was very uncoordinated and by the time they had finished showing what could be done I was no longer interested. Walk the dog and moon doggie were two I can remember but they were very talented and could do all these tricks.
Primary schooling was never boring but complicated. I was glad to leave it behind in 1962 and head off to new adventures in Boomer High Schooling but I was very apprehensive about the future.. and so I should have been as high school was a disaster...