‘The best memories I have from my childhood in the 1950s’

Jun 06, 2020
From staying out and playing in the street until dark to building cubby houses with the kids in her street, Jenni remembers the fun she had as a child in the '50s. Source: Getty Images

When I was little our street was full of kids. There were at least two children in most of the houses in our neighbourhood in Victoria, Australia.

I lived at Number 7, with Mum and Dad and my sister Helen and brother Geoffrey. Next door at Number 5 was my best friend Wendy and her two brothers and two sisters. Two doors down were the Jensens. On the other side at Number 9 were the Lloydds with three kids. Across and up were the Pattersons, the Veiths, the Warinos, the Eleopolouses and the Gardiners. About 20 more kids. We had a life of our own away from the adults.

At the top of our street was the football oval and then paddocks. There were cows and sheep and farms until you reached the country town of Epping. Not much of Thomastown or Lalor in between. We used to drive to Epping to visit my great aunt and uncle for picnics sometimes after church on Sundays.

When we were very little, after church at Regent Baptist and then a roast lunch, if we weren’t going to visit our grandparent’s dad would put on his 78 of ‘Kilts on Parade’ very loud and we’d all march around the house like mad things. We’re not of Scottish descent, my dad just loved the bagpipes. I’m sure the neighbours loved it too.

A hardhat would get us anywhere when I was growing up. Dad worked as a salesman for Dowells and he travelled a bit for work. He had a collection of hardhats in the back of the car and whenever we went on road trips (which was quite often) we’d drive to places that we probably shouldn’t have. Dad would put on a hardhat and we’d wander around. I remember clambering around Hazelwood Power Station before it went online, and travelling up the workmen’s lift at Nauru House.

All the children played in the street after school, in our backyards and rode our bicycles all over the place. We only went inside to eat.

We played a game called ‘Countries’, which involved drawing all over the road with chalk, throwing a ball and running all over the place. I also remember playing ‘Whiplash’. Twenty or 30 kids would join hands and run, trying to whip the end ones off. Except for Wendy … She had warts, so no one would hold her hands. Miraculously one day the warts disappeared, and I often wonder if it could have been the milkweed we all collected and rubbed on them.

We built cubbies out of bits and pieces, dug tunnels in our backyards, made mud pies, played chase, jacks and marbles. We played with dolls, toy cars, Meccano and swap cards.

When I was about seven or eight, Dad decided to build a swimming pool in our backyard. It was to be about 10 metres long and 3 metres wide, built with Besser bricks and concrete. He and Mum were slowly digging the hole but it seemed to be taking ages. Down near Reservoir Station on Cheddar Road I’d seen a tractor in a house on the corner whenever we went past, so Wendy and I decided to walk there and ask the man if we could borrow his tractor to help.

After a very long walk we arrived on his doorstep and a woman answered the door. We told her that we needed to borrow their tractor. She called her husband and again we told our story. He put Wendy and I in the cabin with him and drove us home. Mum and Dad were very surprised when we got home with a very big tractor and probably a little panicked at the cost that might be incurred. The side gate was pulled down the tractor did the job and the lovely man said it was our Christmas present. We got our pool.

Mum and Dad bought a TV when I was four. I don’t remember a lot on for children until I was about nine or 10.

When I was growing up we watched Lost in Space, Star Trek, Scooby Doo, The Monkees, Dr Who, The Samurai and Disneyland. Disneyland was on at 6:30pm on a Sunday night. When I was about 10, Helen seven and Geoff six, we raced every Sunday afternoon at the Olympic pool. We got home in time for soup, toasted sandwiches and Disneyland.

In addition to Christmas, a highlight of the year for the kids in our street was Guy Fawkes Night. For two weeks before the night we dragged burnable stuff to the paddock at the end of the street and hoarded our pocket money to buy crackers. The adults and big kids helped us build all of our junk into a huge pile.

On the night all our families gathered at the paddock when it got dark. The kids were all in their dressing gowns and pyjamas. An adult would light the pile and our huge bonfire roared. The crackers we bought with our pocket money were let off with loud bangs. We had Catherine wheels, penny bungers, fizzers and sparklers. It was beautiful.

Lots of other good things happened when I was little, like family holidays, family birthdays, visiting our many cousins and grandparents, being a Brownie, going to the footy, calisthenics and buying sixpence worth of lollies at the milk bar. I remember that everywhere we went there were lots of kids.

While we were fairly free to roam when we were kids, and most of us remember this with fondness, there were a couple of injuries that stand out for me. I remember Wendy and I climbed onto the roof of a house up the street to look at the bushfires somewhere north of us, and Wendy slipped down the drainpipe and sliced her kneecap off. I was hysterical and couldn’t get off the roof and Wendy had to hobble home to get help. I also remember Paul from across the road finding a detonator on the oval at school and bringing it home. He took it into his garage, hit it with a hammer and blew his eye out. My dad took him to Panch then went to Dowells to get his father.

My prep teacher was Mrs Northey. At the end of the year she took our class to see the Myer Christmas window display and then we went back to her house for dinner. I think now that my memories of her involving kids in her life and family set the tone for my teaching years later. Of course, I can’t imagine too many teachers would do this with their students today.

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