Schooldays Downunder - Australia in the 1950s
Primary School - Croydon, South Australia
And look! No school uniform! At this moment in time, I had no idea how much I would appreciate this until I started High School, and had to wear my charming school uniform every day!
But the smells. There was the 'new' smell to everything I carried and wore and used - that was memorable. Who could forget the particular smell of my little leather school case - especially made for me by a 'luggage-maker' friend of the family. Now that was definitely memorable. And, once opened, the fragrance wafted out of brand new exercise books for writing those first 'oh so difficult' letters and then words; and all those freshly sharpened pencils. That raw timber smell made the nose twitch.
And here was some special magic for a brand new schoolgirl - my Dad, the butcher, sharpened my pencils almost everynight - beautifully faceted with a sharp, broad lead so I could use one edge for writing and the other for shading drawings. All shaped with his huge, REALLY sharp knife, which, in turn, had been honed to a razor edge with his sharpening steel. I still can hear the sound, and see the speed and glint of his amazing actions. Can you just imagine if he could see some of the cruel and ugly uses that knives like his are being put to today?
Of course, waffling through all the other 'new' smells would be morning recess snacks and lunch. An apple or an orange, home-made biscuits or cake, and of course THE sandwich, filled with one of my favourites. There was cheese and Vegemite; cheese and pickled onions; cheese and tomato sauce; cheese and Mum's home-made mustard pickles - and my other, almost equal favourite - Fritz plus any of the condiments mentioned (except Vegemite - that was a treat on its very own).
IF you aren't Australian (in particular South Australian)...you probably don't know what Fritz is! (oh-h-h...sad!) Well, it's a large cooked sausage usually containing several types of pork, basic spices, and a binder - that you eat sliced, in salads or sandwiches. And if you aren't Australian, you probably don't like Vegemite at all! Ah well - maybe you have to be born to the taste?
It's called 'The Land Downunder' - ...by 'Men at Work'
First released in 1981...can you believe that? (Well, I can... I was released a lot earlier!)
The clothing may produce the odd 'hoot' - but there are few Australians who don't know and love the tune and lyrics.
'Milky Bar' Kids?
From when I first started school, all students were given a small glass bottle of milk every morning at recess time - apparently part of a free milk scheme designed by the Australian Government in the belief it would ensure and enhance the intelligence and physical prowess of young Australians. In researching this lens, I discovered that many kids found exciting 'explosive-type' possibilities about opening the little silver tops with your thumbs (not officially allowed for hygiene reasons!) - or piercing them with the straw provided, which could also produce some spectacular results. No doubt I gave it a go - but I can't remember that.
What I do remember is carefully smoothing out each and every silver top, to save for Christmas decorations. Pushed down over a lemon squeezer, they would form a little 'fluted mountain' shape. Then to nick some of your Mum's knitting wool and a darning needle, and thread them on with knots each side with a certain space between (maybe a tiny little hand-width space?) - and voila - pretty garlands to string up everywhere for extra decorations.
I also discovered this school milk drinking was voluntary, and that parental permission had to be given for participation. Well-ll...I never knew that! Just as well I loved the stuff, and didn't live in tropical Queensland. Apparently they had a real taste sensation with the cream rising to the top and curdling....oh, yuk! (Knew there were benefits to being a SOUTH Australian - well, I was never in doubt, actually!)
My husband, Kanute tells me that this program existed in Denmark, too, but there it was obviously because food was not plentiful. So much was still rationed after the war and the milk (and porridge) 'ration' was to ensure the children had at least that much in their tummies to start their day.
Dogs in doorways
...can prove obstructive and obtuse.
Every day, coming home from school I entered through Dad's butcher shop to get some fritz and a hug, and a kiss, and chats with Dad and his customers about my day. My path led through the shop, work area, office, and the door straight into our house. And here the whole talk/eat fest would be re-enacted, but this time with my Mum, and her biscuits and/or cake, and a glass of milk. (I should have been a butter-ball, but just too active I guess for the fat to get a grip!)
Dad's butcher shop had a set back doorway, with a tiny porch - enabling a large display window across the front, promoting his choicest cuts of meat and his specials.
One day, aged 5 and in my first school year, a large German Shepherd dog was lying across the doorway, patiently waiting for his owner to emerge from inside the shop. After kind pats and a little intelligent conversation, I ordered it out of the way.
Unimaginably (to me), it ignored me - so I simply took hold of its collar to move it away. Well...this was NOT in this dog's realm of previous experience, and I was definitely NOT its owner, and so it turned on me and closed its mouth completely over my hand! It didn't bite me, but it did leave a ring of teethmarks right around my wrist (obviously a warning!).
Because I had grown up with such a large dog as my Kim was, I had no fear, and instead, just got REALLY mad and kicked the dog as hard as I could in its rear end and yelled at it to go home. Amazingly, this is exactly what it did (in shock, no doubt)!
My Dad and all the people in the shop, rushed out to rescue the poor little child they thought was under attack from the dog! I really couldn't understand why everyone was SO excited - the dog was in far greater need of comfort and attention than me - ! I was just really cross that a dog had failed to obey me! 'Bad Dog'.
What's a little concussion
One day at school, I was running fast, and instead of watching where I was going, looked back over my shoulder at friends chasing me, and crashed into a steel goal post, striking the full length of the side of my head and knocking myself unconscious, apparently. The next thing I remember was being held by teachers over the long drinking trough where there were heaps of taps in a row (we kids were most generous with our germs - but survived anyway!). I was having my forehead and temples bathed with cold wet cloths - and to my great surprise, my Mum and Dad arrived.
As I had no idea of what had happened - or realisation of the time that had passed, I couldn't imagine why they were there, looking all white-faced and worried - or indeed how they had arrived so quickly. So I was taken home, the Doctor was called to check me over and prescribed rest for 24 hours, but no sleep during that day, as I might slip into a coma! All I knew was that I got pretty annoyed with my Mum keeping on talking and making me stay awake when I felt so sleepy!!
I should mention here that this particular 'good old family doctor' was the self-same 'quack' (my choice of name - he really was fully qualified) who predicted I was twins prior to my birth. And how come he had the coldest stethoscope known to the human race? And how come he never 'huffed and puffed' on it to take the chill off, like later good medicos did?
And he, it was, who removed my 4 large 'double teeth' - at home - on the dining room table, covered with a blanket. I seriously believe my claustrophobia about confinement and anything over my face, began with his 'ether mask' , held over my face to anaesthetise me. My Mum was peeping through a door whilst he 'operated' and nearly became hysterical because of the amount of thrashing about I was doing. I was later able to reassure her that It was not from pain - I was 'dreaming' I was tightly embracing a log, rolling down a churning river, and I would drown if I didn't keep turning over! You see what I mean about this Doctor - causing nothing but more pain and suffering! Serve him right if I gave him a bad time!
After School Playtime
What a saga to play at each other's places after school - (let's take the scenario of say my best friends, Judy and Bev wanting to play at my place). Firstly, all filed in through Dad's shop so we could all get a slice or two of Fritz - then in to ask Mum if Judy and Bev could come to play - and if I could go with them to ask their Mums - and could we have a biscuit? ("OK"). Next, all to Bev's place to ask her Mum if she could come to my place and could we have a biscuit? ("OK"). Last stop before home again - all to the shop where Judy's Mum worked to ask if she could come to my place ("OK"), and then to Judy's place to drop her bag and this time help ourselves to biscuits! Finally, it was back to my place, in desperate need of a drink of cordial and just maybe we could fit one more biscuit...and now, at last, we were ready to play!! (no wonder none of us was hyperactive in those days....no energy left!!)
Neighbour's kids would come and play, as well as friends from school - but all found it hard to go home because I wouldn't want them to go. I'd stand in our driveway with my arms out and weaving sideways, telling them they couldn't go home because "I haven't finished playing with you yet". Instead of just pushing me out of the way, they'd try every negotiating tactic - even bribery - until all that was left was to call out to my Mum for help, telling her that "Christine won't let me go home". (What wimps ...when you consider I was smaller than most of them!!)
Our games were many and varied - mostly relying on the degree of imagination we brought to the task. In those days, it was a lot!
Of course, there would be the obligatory hopscotch game drawn in chalk on bitumen or concrete slabs; eternally climbing trees and taking a few tumbles - can't remember any serious injuries - mainly restricted to scrapped knees and elbows.
A ripper to climb was a huge boundary hedge at Rosemary 's place. It was a hedge so broad that we could sit on top of it (someone kept the top cut flat), and from this towering viewpoint spy on all who walked past; and drop 'coins' tied onto cotton thread behind them, (and flick them up again really fast) so they thought they had dropped some money, and would go scrabbling all around, as we had silent hysterics, far above them.
Grade 3 - 1953
The schooldays continued, and it happened that I was a good student, achieving my best grades in - well, what might we expect?
English, English Expression, Spelling, Creative Writing, Acting, etc.etc..
Arithmetic? Oh yes - adequate! (And to this day, numbers do NOT 'sing' for me. I'm still perfectly adequate to any mathematical task, but definitely to be avoided where possible)
Talking - well YES! How many report cards would extol my virtues and then end with the 'disclaimer' - 'She's a sweet little girl, BUT she talks TOO much'. (Little has changed in the next 60+ years - family and friends will attest to this).
In case you are wondering, I'm the fourth from the right in the front row - the 'prissy little missy' with hands clasped in between knees, and ankles crossed most demurely - looking like butter wouldn't melt in my mouth...HA!
My Mum and Dad were always taking family & friends on outings and drives and countless number of picnics, in their big shiny black 1947 Plymouth sedan. How well remembered was the slow, stop/start progression on the inevitable old single lane, winding highways leading to the most popular 'day-tripper' destinations on holiday Mondays, or Easter, or school holiday weekends.
Mum's huge 'bake-ups' were legendary - full tray Vegetable Pastie slice; Egg and Bacon Pie; Salad Platters; Apple Pie; Biscuits; Biscuit Slices; Cakes, thermoses of tea and coffee, bottles of cordial. All of this would be arranged on a tablecloth, diagonally angled over a picnic rug, around which we could all sit. And ALL would include our family of 6, plus whichever boyfriends, girlfriends, relations, friends were with us at the time. Some would add a few edibles to the 'feast', but Mum would have made almost everything.
The only 'bought' items would be cream (for the pie), (because you couldn't carry it with you in those 'pre-cooler bag' days), and maybe some beautiful fresh crusty bread from the local baker wherever we were. Even any sauces and pickles would be Mum's home made varieties. What simple innocent days they were - filled with the family spirit of togetherness and pleasure in each others' company.
...today known as The Sound System!
This was in the sleepout - a long room that ran across half of the back of the house, and was our 'play-room' - that kind of grew with us. With it's shining polished wooden floor, it was perfect for learning those first 'toe-crushing' dance steps from someone older. Because I was so much younger, all of my early 'ballroom' dancing was performed with my feet on top of my Dad's - or one of my brothers'. They'd take it in turns to keep me out of mischief - and laughing... always laughing!
And the music? Ah-h-h, THAT came from the 'latest' vinyl records played on our beautiful 'antique' gramophone in its highly polished rosewood cabinet on elegant carved 'cabriole' legs. There was a special hole on the side that a handle fitted into for 'winding up' the records - can you imagine it was not electric and not battery powered? That's really how it was. And you have no idea of the trials and tribulations provided by this manual action. You would be in the very midst of relaxing and being swept away by the beauty of the music when the 'player' would start to slow down - slower - and - s-l-o-w-e--r--r - until someone jumped up and quickly put in the handle and started winding up the machine again - so that music came back - f---a---s--t--e--r - and - f--a-s-t-e-r - until it was 'back on track' again. (Ha!...maybe that's where that expression came from - the grooves in the record that the needle ran in to produce the sound, were called 'tracks'). Whatever, now the sound was perfect again... until the next time.
A particular favourite of mine was called 'Riders in the Sky', with wondrous noises of many hooves galloping in the background of the music.
According to Wikipedia - 'The song tells a folk tale of a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the spirits of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways, he will be doomed to join them, forever "trying to catch the Devil's herd across these endless skies".
What vivid mind pictures those stirring words created in a fertile imagination!!
Celebrations? - ...well - just a few!
How many birthday parties? I believe I had a party for every single birthday from sometime in pre-school years.
Mum must have gone 'all out' to make them so special for me - party hats, candles, fairy bread (buttered bread triangles with 'hundreds & thousands' on top), countless biscuits & little cakes & lollies, & balloons & streamers & take-home fold-out baskets filled with lollies for all the party-goers - & of course, photos, & songs, & games. and all of us dressed in our very best party dresses.
(Do you get the feeling that my Mum and I were kind of 'special' to each other? You would be SO right.)
(Do you also get the feeling my beloved Dad took this photo - in his usual 'heavy-handed' style? You would be SO right - AGAIN!)
(What you couldn't guess, is that the little blonde next to me, also stroking the cat, was one of our bridesmaids when Kanute and I married in 1965. Owzat?)
...can be a worry!
Big sister, Jenny, was having a rare night out with a boyfriend. I must have been excited about this, too - and been sleeping lightly in the front bedroom we shared. Consequently, I woke up when they came home, put on the bedroom light, and pulled the blind back on one side to try to see them. Out in the darkness? And, in my innocence (and eagerness to have a peek), never gave the slightest consideration to how clearly they could see me.
Many, many years later, Mum told me (in confidence) a great story about this - Jenny came in crying, to tell Mum she thought she may be pregnant!!! (can we imagine my Mum's quivering reaction?) -
"WHAT exactly did he do to you?"
"He kissed me - on the mouth!!"
Well-ll-ll - what can we say? - except maybe 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more' You see what I mean about females being a worry!
The other worry was when she would come to bed early with me and we'd snuggle up for her to read me a bedtime story. Except who kept falling asleep, and who had to keep digging her elbow into her big sister to wake her up again? Hmmm... and I still read in bed - for hours, sometimes.
© 2010 Christine Larsen