My mother’s memories of Sydney 12



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Long before I was a twinkle in my father’s eye, he was introduced to Mum through mutual friends when Mum was 19 and Dad was 33.

They married in September 1945 and in 1948 they moved to a tenement row in Paddington. All were divided into flats. The rent was 28 shillings a week. Mum made a deal to clean the hallways and bathrooms and collect the rents, so they only had to pay 20 shillings. Dad got a job in a hide store; he smelt so bad by the end of each day that people would visibly shun him on the tram ride home.

Their flat was lower-ground, with steps leading down from the street. Mum said it was more Barkingham than Buckingham Palace; sharing a bathroom with other tenants would have been a nightmare. Mum also had to do her cooking on a slot stove that stood on the cement outside their front door. One shilling in the slot would cook the evening meal.

One couple that lived in an upstairs flat would fight like cat and dog. Fred would come home drunk and bash Alma senseless. The poor woman refused to go to the Police; she would just say she loved him and he was a good man when he didn’t drink – but he did drink. She had the mindset that it was “her lot”. She was always running to my parents for help.

Mum got fed up with Fred’s behaviour and Alma refusing to contact police, so Mum convinced her the next time Fred came home drunk, she needed to get in first before he had the chance to hit her. A couple of nights later there was a hell of a racket upstairs. Mum looked out the door to see everybody watching Alma chase Fred out of the flats and down onto the street, hitting him all the way with a straw broom. Mum said it cured him – he never hit her again after that.

Two years later my parents moved into a house in Rozelle. Dad was able to get a job working on boat repairs at Cockatoo Docks. I remember little bits from Rozelle, which is surprising to me because I was only 4 when their housing application was accepted. It was for a property 10 miles away in a western Sydney suburb. Having a car, they were able to drive out and watch the completion of the house. It was on a 40 year payment plan and cost £3,200.

Pop died during the time we were there; I don’t really remember him. What I have since been told about him has never been good, but I also realise that happens a lot after some people die: the memory either gets built up or knocked down.

Mum asked Nan to sell up and build a granny flat in our backyard. She was a very talented woman with her crochet work and her cooking was all old school. Her vanilla slices (made with Sao biscuits) and sago puddings were to die for.

She never volunteered much information about herself, but she was very judgemental when it came to other people. I didn’t care because there was always something good to eat in her fridge.

When Dad retired, my parents decided to sell up. There was exactly $3,200 owing on the house. Needless to say, they made a tidy profit and were able to buy a nice brick house to retire in.

Mum started researching her family tree when she was about 75. She was beyond mortified when she discovered her parents were never married. Nan never divorced her first husband and her brother was actually her half brother.

If only people realised it’s far better to tell the truth rather than live a lie your entire life, because it all comes out eventually.

Do these childhood memories resonate with you? What do you remember of your parents and grandparents from that young age?

Christine Meehan

  1. My grandparents worked in various mines and would collect charcoal from the fires to sell. They had nine children and my grandma had to work herself very hard. Mum said she couldn’t cook when she was married because it wasn’t her job at home. She did all the ironing, her older sister did the cooking another sister did the washing and set jobs were allocated to all the children

  2. The comment about the half brother made me smile, not because it was funny but because I could relate. My dad died when I was 9 years old, in the weeks and months after naturally I was distraught. I was daddy’s girl.We were all my grandmothers house and they sent me outside to play with a friend. I went past the backdoor and I heard my grandmother say something about my sister and I not being sisters, well I thought I was adopted and it broke my heart and my little 9 years old friend was certain I was adopted too. I said nothing for about a month , but I would not even talk to my sister during that time. But it turned out my mother had been married twice..3 times before she died and my sister was my half sister. But to me she was always my sister. There was never any half about it

  3. Mum and Dad came from Holland after the war but there were many stories about their childhood and the difference to our Australian upbringing, which was also a bit different from those around us

  4. My mother often spoke of her widowed mother moving her and her nine siblings from country NSW to Sydney in 1939 at the outbreak of WWII so that she and her children could find work which had become plentiful because of the war effort. By 1942 Mum had left school at the age of 14 and 9 months and was employed in a company makeing parachutes for the war. She often shared stories of her hard working mother and the comraderie of family dispite the austerity or war and had very fond memories of growing up in Sydney.

  5. I often heard one of my Aunties say that was “her lot” about her abusive husband,thankfully we have come a long way since then.

  6. I remember when an Uncle died, in the death notice it said “dear friend of (insert Aunt’s) name. We learned that as Aunt had been married before they were unable to marry, even though she was divorced from a man who badly abused her. Uncle raised her children and was loved and valued by the whole family. Good sense prevailed when his brother, a clergyman, insisted my Aunt come to the front of the church as his family. Thank goodness we live in gentler times.

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