‘Neighbours and neighbourhoods today are so different to when I was growing up’

Sep 15, 2021
Gay remembers the days when neighbours would greet each other in the street and chat about the state of the world over the back fence. How things have changed...

Unless you lived an isolated life, one can assume we’ve all had our share of good, bad and indifferent neighbours. As a young girl, I can certainly recall the many different neighbours we had.

For a short time in the 1940s, I lived with my nanna and grampa in Richmond, Victoria. I remember the the streets were full of kids. I loved it! There were the occasional bullies, but one bully didn’t stand a chance against a group of six or more kids coming together in the name of safety.

It was a period where catching up with your neighbour over the fence for a chat was common. Of course, there was the other side of things too (don’t ever think children don’t know what’s going on). I remember one neighbour we had back then would become violent and abusive towards his wife and kids after he’d spent the day out at the football filling up on booze. We all saw the bruises, but nothing was ever said about it.

One day I was in the wash house, fascinated with a flash gift from my uncle to my nanna. It was an electric washing machine complete with mangle. It was so interesting to see Nan just touch the rollers and in went sopping clothes to be dropped into a basket flat as a tack.

Nan was having a nap, Grampa was out, my mum and dad were both working, so I went to the forbidden fruit. The washing machine was turned on and when I touched the rollers it sucked in my hand and arm. Thank goodness the safety switch worked and sprung the rollers, but I still couldn’t pull my arm out. I was trapped!

I started to cry and my cries were heard by my neighbour. Bearing in mind I had only ever heard him going off over the fence, it therefore came as something of a shock to see him come over the fence to my aid. He prised the rollers apart and treated me as though I was precious China. He took my poor arm, which was now quite sore, and carried me inside the house so I could be taken care of. I’m lucky there was no serious damage done. It was also a lesson on the evil effects of alcohol.

A few years later, we moved to a country town (the first of many). Your neighbours wee more than just good friends, they became something akin to family. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. If a loved one was unwell or had died, kitchens would be packed with food for family and visitors by your neighbours.

One of our next door neighbours was a widower. He had chooks and geese, and he fed the magpies. I wasn’t particularly keen on the geese, but he taught me the value of a gumboot to fix that problem. As a nine-year-old, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The kindness of neighbours is so rare these days. Most people shuffle off into their houses, closing the door tightly behind them, when they get home from work or school or from doing the grocery shopping.

As a young married woman, I found comfort in having a close friendship with my neighbours. I was barely 20 when I had my first child and my neighbours looked out for me and my baby. As I had more children, my neighbours become valued members of my life. They were always so nice to my children, who called them Aunt and Uncle. If it was about to rain, they’d check my line for washing and bring it in for me if it was dry. There were other kindnesses that were a blessing. I miss those days.

Now I am an ‘old lady’ I find I am again grateful for my neighbours. One one side there is a wonderful lady and on the other live a family I’m sure my mother would have called ‘as rough as guts’. Both have been there to help me out when I’ve been in need, including scaling the dividing fence to help rescue my cat.

It’s a shame there aren’t more like them around me, especially since coronavirus reared its ugly head.  A friendly face popping up over the fence for a cuppa and a chat might be just what society needs right now.

Do you know your neighbours? How different to today was your neighbourhood and your neighbours?

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