Recollections of Childhood

Douglas Graeme Brack

I was born in 1928 and life in the period from 1932 to 1939 was not easy for many families; Australia was in the grip of the worst depression the country had experienced. Fortunately my family was better off than most; although my Father was made redundant in 1932 he managed to find employment at a lower wage.

My Mother didn't have it easy, there were very few appliances available, the only luxuries we had were an ice chest and a four valve radio. Mum had a set routine. Monday being laundry day was probably the hardest working day of the week; there were seven in the family so she would start the washing at 5 am. I can remember her sweating as she lifted clothes with a large stick out of a boiling copper and putting them through a mangle; very dirty garments had to be cleaned on a scrubbing board. After washing, the clothes were hung to dry on an open wire line supported by wooden clothes props.

Regularly a horse drawn cart with clothes props passed the house with the vendor calling: "clothes props." Another horse and cart passed the house once a week with the driver calling out "Rabbito; " I think rabbits cost four shillings a pair and the seller skinned the rabbits while you waited; it was the only meat some families could afford.

On Tuesday Mother ironed the clothes, a tiring job as flat irons had to be heated on the gas stove. Wednesday was set aside for cleaning and mending. Even running a bath was a chore as a chip heater had to be lit to heat the water. We all bathed in the same water one after the other and by the time the last of us bathed, the water was rather dirty and soapy.

The baker delivered twice a day, bread sold for five pence a loaf.There were only about five varieties of bread, one sliced loaf was wrapped in waxed paper. Butcher shops spread sawdust over the floor to soak up any blood and juices and meat was cut on a large wooden block. When the meat was purchased, it was first of all wrapped in a piece of white paper then in newspaper. Fish and chips were wrapped in the same manner; today I still think that fish and chips taste better if they are wrapped in newspaper.

We went to school in bare feet, only wearing shoes to Sunday School and on special occasions. Some classes had as many as forty-four pupils and lessons were in large rooms with bare floorboards and windows so high we couldn't see out unless we stood up. On dark wintry days a single sixty-watt globe provided the only illumination. School lunch wasn't very appetising, jam or peanut butter sandwiches and a small apple brought from home and a small bottle of warm milk supplied by the education department. In kindergarten we were taught to write using slates and spent the first hour after lunch lying on mats for a sleep.

In first class our teacher Miss Richards showed us how to write using pencils and in second class we were taught to write with pen and ink. The pens were awkward to use, there were three holes along the nib holder and over these holes we placed the thumb and first two fingers. Each class had to make its own ink supply with a mix of ink powder and water and there were two ink monitors whose job it was to replenish the ink wells on each desk. Girls with pigtails were at risk, many of them had their pigtails knotted or worse still have the ends the ends dipped in ink by the boy sitting behind them.

The headmaster, Mr Davies, taught fifth class and ruled with an iron glove. The bright pupils sat near the windows, and the slow learners sat on the dark side away from his desk, as he couldn't be bothered with them. Having hearing or eyesight problems was a distinct disadvantage; pupils who were hard of hearing were accused of not paying attention and caned. I felt sorry for the boys who were left-handed; their left hands were caned to encourage them to use their right.

There was no television or hand-held game machines and we made our own fun. Sometimes we got into trouble and accepted punishment without question, that is, we accepted responsibility for our actions. Most boys in pre-war days constructed a "billy cart" from a fruit box mounted on a length of 4"x 2" timber. At the rear a crosspiece was fixed with an axle and two iron wheels; at the front another cross piece was mounted and fixed to the frame with a bolt to enable steering, this cross piece also supported an axle with iron wheels. A piece of rope from each end of the front piece was used for steering and a lever attached to the rear of the cart provided some sort of braking. Having iron wheels was a bit scary as the cart tended to skid around corners. The Rolls Royce of billy carts had pram wheels and of course did not skid but had a habit of capsizing.

We also made canoes from second hand corrugated iron. The sides were bent upwards and a spacer was placed half way along to hold the sides in position. The corrugations were flattened at both ends with piece of wood placed between the flattened portions and nailed. The nail holes in the iron and the bows and stern were sealed with tar scraped off the side of the road; of course this was only possible on a hot day. The canoes weren't known for their stability; however we had a lot of fun with them.