When I started to write this piece, I had no intention to reminisce – but, as my thoughts scrambled around, they began to lead me back to when I was about seven years old (can’t remember much before then). They were war years; Dad was working in an ‘essential industry’ delivering fuel – kerosine in four-gallon cans for home use, and big drums for others, and Mum was a home-body and, as well as looking after we three, also had the care of my grandmother who lived nearby.
I guess it was our recent lockdowns that started me thinking about those early years of my life – in a little four-roomed weatherboard and fibro house at The Basin (remarkably it’s still there!). Even the town name seems strange because although it’s part of the Dandenong Ranges it isn’t really surrounded by mountains. Never mind, that was my hometown, with Poulter’s General Store, a sizable Progress Hall, my Sunday School (where I started my long Christian journey) in a tiny room in the big Presbyterian church opposite the Bus depot, and my Primary School a mile or so down the road. It was several miles to the Boronia railway station and the local bus was an important service because there were not a lot of cars about (in those petrol-rationed days some even had weird ‘burning ‘gas producers tacked on the mudguard!).
My best mate and I sometimes walked all the way to the cinema opposite the Boronia railway station when, as a special treat, we were allowed to go to the Saturday arvo matinee. Being wartime, there were no night shows anyway, and we kids loved the cartoons and marvelled at the Newsreels of ships and planes and bombs and terror that was happing everywhere in the world, or so it seemed to us. Even all the windows of our house were ‘blacked-out’, the bedrooms permanently, the other two at dusk. We kids had special air-raid drills at school and I can recall helping to collect scrap aluminium pots for the war effort. We had a battery radio for news, no AC power then, with just kerosene lamps and battery torches, and Mum and Dad even had Ration books with coupons for food and clothing.
It seemed only natural and necessary that Dad would dig an enormous ‘pit’ in our quarter acre block, which became our never-used air-raid shelter! Our house was on a slope and the easy access to under the chimney base gave us a ready-made safe place to store our emergency rations: eggs that Mum covered with preservative ‘waterglass’, jars of beans (took ages to slice the beans and layer them with salt) and other sealed jars with flour and sugar and preserved fruit, and more…. we could have survived forever! There were always some vegies growing and it was often my job to help dig up the potatoes and carrots and swedes, and to cut-off and carry in the enormous pumpkins, and the pea and bean crops; there seemed always a job for me, including carrying wood. How I wished then that I had a sibling to share the load but, in the long run, it did me no harm; in fact, it helped me to appreciate the value of ‘work’ and interdependence, maybe resilience.
Our toilet, of course, was a tiny backyard hut with a little trapdoor at the back where Dad could remove the can to bury the contents deep, every so often down the back but not too close to the lemon tree! The laundry/bathroom was a separate shed, somehow tacked-on and partly under the back-door ramp. In it was a huge copper tub with a wood-fire under (I loved that job, tending the fire to get the water boiling). There was no shower, just a huge, galvanised bathtub we all shared, me first (privileged, indulged child!). And alongside the copper were two joined concrete troughs (later with a handwringer between them) and a wicker basket to carry the heavy wet washing out to the clothesline, strung between the gumtrees, propped in the middle with a forked tree branch!
What a lot of changes there have been in our lifestyles since those days!
……… See, my own dear children, I DO remember things, nothing wrong with my memory, yet…….