My earliest memory takes us back to a small, white, weatherboard home in Teague Street, Niddrie, a northern suburb not too far away from bustling Melbourne city, but honestly, you could have been in the outback! There was not a lot around us, but we did have the most superb willow tree in the back yard. Dad rigged up a swing for us — it was wonderful!
I don’t recall a lot about this house, but unfortunately I do remember a madly patterned carpet in the lounge room and hall — grey with wild burgundy cabbage roses. The bedrooms were carpeted with something ‘more serviceable’. Beats me what it was, but it looked like corduroy and burned the skin off many a hapless knee. My brother Clive and I, one year apart, shared a bedroom. I had the wall side, he had the window side.
I remember having German measles at Teague Street. I remember having mumps at Teague Street too. I remember the mumps especially because Mum forced Clive into kissing me goodbye before he went off to school as I was allowed to while the day away in Mum and Dad’s big bed. We hated it, and didn’t know why she would make us do such a thing! (We do now!)
When I was seven, we moved house. It was a new ‘estate’, not that there was such a term in those days. There were dirt roads, paddocks, gum trees, kookaburras and magpies, with an ‘All Saints C of E’ church and vicarage dropped in amongst the greenery.
About a half-hour walk down a dirt road from our house was a milk bar, a fish and chip shop (sixpence worth of chips wrapped in newspaper would do for a family of four in those days), a newsagent, a greengrocer, a butcher and a hardware store. The one butcher shop, run by the amiable red-headed Bert, was a good place to be around at Christmas time. He always threw a bit of bash for ‘special customers’ and the big freezer housed many cartons of beer in which to indulge. Out the back of the shop were large flagons of claret and some bottles of scotch. Eventually it was ‘fire up the barbie’ time, grab the steaks and snags, slice up a huge ham and chunks of ‘pork German sausage’ (strazburg), and ho ho ho for one-n-all into the night.
Tony, the Italian fruiterer who owned the neighbouring greengrocers, would provide the salads for Bert’s do. Still wearing his brown leather apron with the stubby lead pencil in the top pocket, Tony would be ‘a good Aussie’ and match the guys beer for beer, then finally turn to his flagon of grappa. As the night wore on, his accent would regress to his native tongue until he was virtually incomprehensible, and emotions would spill over while dancing solo on the sawdust floor in Bert’s shop. It must’ve been pretty hard being the only Italian in the area in those days. We all loved him!
Mum and Dad would finally stagger home up the dirt road carrying us two sleepyheads, plus a large white paper-wrapped parcel of rump steaks, lamb chops and a dozen sausages.
Television came to Australia along with the 1956 Olympics, but we didn’t get one till Clive and I had been at primary school for quite some time. The first show I remember seeing was the Mickey Mouse Club, and we all fell madly love with certain members, me especially with Annette Funicello, after whom I named my first bride doll. (That’s a story for another time!)
Clive and I used to race home from Doutta Galla Primary to watch ‘Jet Jackson, the Flying Commando and his side-kick, Ichabod Mudd’. Rin Tin Tin (“C’mon Rinnie” we used to yell,
slapping our thighs). Hopalong Cassidy, Rifleman, The Lone Ranger (“High Ho Silver!”), Lassie, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best. Not all American … Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men and Andy Pandy were English I recall.
We did finally get some Australian content, but it’s hard to remember now because the ’50s and ’60s blur. Mr Squiggle? The Happy Show Princess Panda and Happy Hammond? Ron Blaskett and Gerry Gee? The Magic Circle Club? But always Disneyland on Sunday nights to venture off to Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and transport us wearily to bed.
We children were firmly tucked in and lights out because Mum used to say: “Our adult shows are coming on”, whatever they were. All I remember is hearing the Coronation Street music before going to sleep. I’d recognise it to this day.