By Wendy, 71. Landsdale, WA
Next door to our house was a grocer’s shop which looked like a D’Arcy Doyle painting. It had big sacks full of rice, cereals, beans and dried fruits. The grocer scooped up the rice and weighed it on the scales, the rice on one side and weights on the other until the scales balanced. We bought some rice and carried it home in a paper bag.
In front of our house between the footpath and the road was a gravel area, with a large bay tree. Cars parked on that gravel area, and it was where the ice man delivered the blocks of ice for the ice chest in the kitchen, the baker’s van delivered bread, the milko’s horse and cart had cans of milk which he ladled into our jug on the verandah.
The gravel area really came alive for the bonfire on Empire Day on 24th of May. We let off crackers: Rockets, Catherine wheels, Mount Vesuvius, tuppenny bungers, throw downs and jumping jacks.
When I was five, I learned to write on a slate board, and I learned to pronounce my letters by using a lid off a jar as a mirror. When I was six, I used a pencil in a blue-lined book with lines to show how tall to make the letters. When I was seven, I used a pen with a nib, and blue ink in the inkwell on my desk.
By the time I was eight, gone were the stables and grocery shop, the milko drove a van and delivered milk with cream on the top in glass bottles. The streets didn’t flood anymore because the drains were better. The trees in the street were dug up to make the street wider. Empire Day was now British Commonwealth of Nations Day, but bonfires were banned. And soon, fireworks were banned, too.
We still walked to King Street Primary School, and I loved learning, and sewing, and choir. We listened to Music of the Air with Barbara Mettam every Thursday.
Tuck Shop Day at school was very exciting, and we could buy chewy toffees and chocolate crackles. We practised marching and dancing and I was in the Red Cross and wore a white uniform and white veil, and red cape, and went to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. The Brownies marched with the soldiers on Anzac Day.
We would go to Kogarah to visit Nana and Poppa. They had a scary bulldog and two big fishponds in the back yard. Sometimes we also went to Brighton Baths and ate salty hot chips as we drove home wrapped in our wet towels.
Each summer, we would drive to Armidale to visit my mother’s parents and we three children annoyed my father by singing songs in the car over and over. Our favourites were “My Friend the Witchdoctor” and “The Little Blue Man”. We played ‘I Spy’ and coloured-in and ate ham sandwiches and Christmas cake from the Esky. It took a whole day to get there. Dad really relaxed in the country, and we walked through the paddocks, picking blackberries in the fields and collecting mushrooms after the rain. Dad and Uncle Keith went spotlight shooting at rabbits. We visited Metz, Dangars Falls, Wollomombi Falls and had picnics at the Gwydir River.
Each summer, we would drive to Armidale to visit my mother’s parents and we annoyed my father by singing songs in the car over and over. [One of] our favourites [was] ‘My Friend the Witchdoctor’
I loved the house at Armidale and Gran’s back garden with large lavender bushes, and the plum tree at the side of the house, the chook pens and vegetable gardens out the back. She had a dresser in the back room with the bottom drawers full of toys. And she had a little nook near the side verandah where she sat for hours sewing dolls’ clothes and aprons for the church fete.
When I was eight, I would help my mother with cooking, cleaning, and washing and hanging clothes on the line. She let me help sprinkle the clothes with water and roll them into damp bundles to be ironed. I can still remember back to when she had a black metal iron she had to heat up on the stove.
My father bought a new Westinghouse refrigerator, instead of the old ice chest and the Coolgardie safe we used to keep butter in. My father never bought anything on Hire Purchase, and one day he saved up for a new car: a shiny pale green Holden Station Wagon – BYJ516. He would wash and wax it every Saturday afternoon while he listened to the races on the radio. The car held about a dozen little children. There were no seat belts then.
Botany Road was changing too. A Post Office was now where the pub used to be, and a shopping arcade replaced the movie theatre. There was a big new shop called Coles Supermarket, where you could buy everything. The other shops closed down one after the other- the Ham and Beef Shop, the Butcher, the Cake Shop, the Greengrocer, and my father’s toy shop started selling newspapers and greeting cards and school supplies. The toys at Coles were cheap, but they didn’t carry big toys like bikes, so dad’s toy shop stayed in business for several years until there was too much competition and dad got too old.
Today there are take-away shops like McDonalds and KFC, but in the 1950s, in Mascot, there was now a Chinese Restaurant as well as the Fish and Chip Shop. People had more money to spend and sometimes bought dinner instead of cooking it themselves.
I caught a bus to Sydney Girls High in Moore Park and discovered suburbs far away, that I have never even heard of. Mascot itself seemed so small now.
I looked on Google maps and was amazed to see the house and the front brick fence and iron gate looked exactly like they did when I was a little girl.
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Painting by D’Arcy W. Doyle. 1932-2001