Early in 1928 we drove out of Sydney and headed for Adelaide via Melbourne. Our Model T was a product of the Henry Ford philosophy that the customer could have any colour they wanted, so long as it was black. It was built like a square box and had only two doors as I recall. The chassis was well clear of the ground and we really had to climb up to get in. Mum and Dad and four kids and a heap of odds and ends made up the load which the Model T was to carry on a 1,500 mile (2,415 km) trip lasting about nine or ten days. There was a little rhyme about at the time which went like this:
A piece of tin and a piece of board,
Go together to make an old tin Ford
We had heard it yelled out to us quite often as we motored around Sydney so the occasional repeat performance on our trip did not worry us much. In those days we would have been happy just being mobile. Most people did not have cars and never cried about it. The completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was still four years away when we left. My last view of the Bridge was the pylon on the North Shore side of the harbour. After leaving Sydney we went through Liverpool and past the farm where we had lived five years before. I can recall no more of the first stages of the journey until we stopped for lunch at the top of a hill near Yass. Lunch over, we packed up again and got on board. We were all set to go when the Ford Model T gave a “sigh” and we felt a bump. We then climbed out and Dad had a look underneath. The axle had snapped. Later on in life, when the story was retold, I better understood what could have happened if the car had been going down the hill. Every time I see a book about the cars of the really old days I look for the Model T Fords and think back on our escape at Yass.
Our next main stop was Canberra and I think we may have camped there overnight. I remember having meals on the bank of a river and battling with mosquitos there. Later in life when I used to visit Canberra often, I found that it was the Molongolo River. Our parking spot was at a bend in the river where the exposed river bed was covered with flat and round pebbles good for skimming across the water. I remember how quiet and peaceful it was and how I enjoyed being in the bush.
From Canberra we went across to the coast and then to Melbourne. We stayed in the city, possibly at the People’s Palace, or maybe a hostel. I was awakened very early indeed by much noise down in the street below. When I looked down from the window there was a big flock of sheep being driven through the city. The men were whistling and calling out, the dogs were barking and the sheep were bleating away. The sheep probably came from the Newmarket saleyards north of the Yarra and were being driven along King, Collins and Swanston Streets, and over the Princes Bridge towards Hastings which was on Westernport Bay.
After two nights in Melbourne we headed off for Adelaide. Our first big town stopover was Mount Gambier where we went up to the Blue Lake. I can still see that lake in my mind but remember it more as dark coloured rather than blue. Perhaps it was a dull day. We went through Millicent and then straight ahead for Robe. I saw something that looked like a wallet on the road but thought about it for too long as Dad did not want to turn back to check. When we got to Robe we were asked about a wallet and told them. We continued on to Kingston where we stayed for the night.
The next day we travelled alongside the Coorong and this was one of the interesting parts of the trip. We saw the water and the birdlife that goes with it. I can remember Dad being pleased with the performance of the Model T when we ran into sand drifts along the Coorong. The car just kept going through them when many other cars would have had a difficult time. Since the replacement of the broken axle at Yass there were hardly any problems along the way. The greatest delight of all was our meeting with the circus caravan steadily making its way between Adelaide and Melbourne. Camels and horses were pulling cages on trailers and it seemed that any animal that could help out with a tow was on the job. The elephants were walking when we saw them. There were some motor vehicles as well. We stopped close by them at the roadside spot where they halted the caravan for lunch. After our short stop we went on through Meningie and Murray Bridge to Mount Barker (SA) where we stayed for the night before going on to Adelaide the next morning.
When we arrived in Adelaide we went straight to Kent Town where the Eureka Mfr Co had arranged good accommodation for us at No. 86 King William Street (likely the T&G Building, 82-88 King William Street). Later we moved into the corner house, No. 2 Dequetteville Terrace (if correct, the building appears to still be standing). It was handy to Dad’s office on the ground floor of 89 Grenfell Street. There were four storeys. We went to a local school in Kent Town. It was easy to walk into the city through open parklands where dairy cattle used to graze.
Rundle and Grenfell Streets ran to the edge of the parklands. We could walk or catch a tram. The trams used to run through the parklands from the city to places like Rose Park, Kensington and Norwood. We sometimes used to get a free ride to the home side of the parklands when we had “lost” our penny fare.
My mother and another lady were giving me lessons on the piano and practice was usually after school. Football in the park was more to my liking and I used to escape out the window into the garden and then race across the road to the game. Boys then were not too wrapped up in playing the piano as it was seen to be more something for girls to be doing. Mum did not press me any further but I must say I wish she had. The parklands are now known as East Parklands and include Rymill Park where many amenities have been built.
Dad’s job kept him pretty busy but we were always able to go up to his office when Mum took us into town. When we all went to the Adelaide Show we were able to make the Maytag display our base to come back to for a rest and something to eat. The appliances on show were the Maytag washing machines and Eureka vacuum cleaners and the new Toastmaster electric toasters. Some toasters were quite large, perhaps twelve or more slices, and these were sold to hotels and other food outlets. The trip we made to the Show was probably in 1928 and would have been in August or September.
Early in 1929 we moved to Norwood and opened a new shop or took over an existing business. It was on The Parade (like at 161) which is a road that runs from Kent Town to Norwood and then further east through Norwood to Kensington. The street number of our shop was in the 160s and it was possibly number 168. I think there was accommodation upstairs and we lived there. The shop entrance had a battery-powered bell which operated when the floorboards at the door were walked on. It was a mixed business with Mum and a paid assistant looking after things. My mother had a slight English accent still with her and I remember her telling me that because she was English some people used to pass our shop by and go to a shop run by Europeans from the other side of the English Channel.
The Norwood primary school was in Osmond Terrace, a couple of blocks up from the Parade. I can recall the large bituminised play area and the fact that the school was right next door to the Norwood Oval. I became a barracker for the local team and on their training nights used to go in and watch for a while.
Boys I knew at school included the Hancock lads. Their father was a butcher and had a big factory in behind the group of shops that we were in. Mr Hancock employed a sausage maker from Germany and he was supposed to be Adelaide’s top man in his trade. We used to get free samples now and then when we were all playing in the open yard areas where the butcher carts and trucks used to park. Several fig trees grew in the factory yard and we used to pick the figs off and then climb up on top of the factory roof where we opened the figs out and spread them to dry. When we went back later we brushed the ants off the dried figs and ate our fill.
The Fancy Dress Ball was a popular form of entertainment for the whole family when we were young. The variety of costumes that could be dreamed up by parents seemed to have no limits. For me it was always Charlie Chaplin. Our home wardrobe always seemed to produce the baggy trousers, the tight coat, the white shirt and black bow tie, and the bowler hat and big old boots. Add a cane to that gear and I was always ready for the big parade. It was a winner one night at Norwood school or the local hall. Though I had won prizes for dressing up as Charlie before, the only night I can clearly remember getting a prize is the one at Norwood. The clothes were lost in the passage of time but I had the bowler hat right up to the Second World War.
While my mother ran the Norwood shop, Dad continued on in his job. Maytag washing machines were not cheap, being imported from the United States. Buyers included prominent people in the city as well as farmers and business people in the country. In one or two states the laundries at Government House had Maytags installed.
Dad was full of ideas and in his spare time would think out ideas for improving the family finances. While we were at Norwood he had an idea for making and bottling an ant poison which he called Rid-Ant. The idea may have come easier than the finished product. The cellar under the shop, normally used as a cool store for the shop’s goods, was pressed into service as a mini-factory. The workers were Dad, Cecil, and me, with the younger kids doing their bit as well. We mainly worked after school, or at night for a little while after tea, and sometimes on weekends. The formula escapes my memory but our job was to crush the borax by rolling it with a kitchen rolling pin till it was a fine white powder. Dad would then put in the liquids, whatever they were. The mix would then be poured into the small bottles. We would cork the bottles and then label them. Dad did the distribution and some of the selling as an after hours sideline to his main job. It should be pointed out that our “Rid-Ant” product should not be confused with the Victorian-made (1925) “Ant-Rid”. Our product did the job but had a shorter life as Dad took on something new later whereas “Ant-Rid” is still going strong at the time of writing. Recently I saw it advertised in the New Idea.
Later in the year we were on the move again when we moved to Malvern in the Unley area south of the city. Mum and Dad set up a new venture and this time it was the U-Bag Laundry at 293 Unley Road. They installed several Maytag washing machines and offered the public the opportunity to leave their washing on one day and have it delivered the next. Special container bags were offered to regular and new customers to enable easy handling. It is not easy to remember the charges but a guess would be 2/6 (25 cents) a bag. We were in a good shopping area. A good bootmaker was next to us on one side and a draper on the other. I can remember going into the bootmakers to get shoes repaired and recall how I used to like looking at the leather goods he worked on, particularly harnesses for horses. There was a doctor on one corner just up from us who had apples and pomegranates growing in his backyard and we used to take an interest in them from time to time.
The new business meant a new car and soon we had a Ford Model A panel van. It was bought for the laundry deliveries and the Model T traded-in. The old car had many memories for our family but the new van soon took top place with all of us. It was good for weekend tours around Adelaide and I remember the Easter when we all went up to the Great Eastern Steeplechase meeting held at the Onkaparinga picnic racecourse at Oakbank. We went through the Adelaide Hills and Bridgewater to get there and I can recall looking out the little windows in the back door of the van trying to count the cars coming up the hill behind us. We watched the race from a corner of the track where there was a difficult corner to approach and the horses had to jump three big logs. There was a fall in one race and I am fairly sure that a jockey was killed.
We went to Unley Primary School where the Headmaster was Mr Tuck and my teacher Miss Eastwood. I can see Mr Tuck as elderly, with grey hair and a small beard, and Miss Eastwood, clear in my mind. The school was a few blocks north of the shop and our house on the corner. Apart from the teachers mentioned, the only other thing I recall is that on our homework we had to do a drawing or tracing of a food product label or packet. I chose Willie Weeties for my drawing and coloured it in on my homework page. How I have that piece of information in my memory bank is beyond me. At my age moving to a new school meant changing football team loyalties and I switched from supporting Norwood to barracking for the local team Sturt. I still keep check on their progress.
It was at Unley that Cec and I first learnt to play Bridge. After tea Mum and Dad would get out the cards and try to teach us the game. I can remember sitting in the lounge and making up the four when I would rather have been somewhere else reading the comics or the latest Champion or Triumph. We learnt enough to be able to play the game when we got older, so that was worthwhile. We used to go tripping around on most weekends for a short Sunday break. The Adelaide Hills area was a favourite destination as were the beaches. We often visited Port Noarlunga for a picnic and a swim.
I am not sure when Dad stopped working for the Maytag people but it could have been when the stock market crash came in the latter part of 1929. The crash had far-reaching effects including severe restrictions on the import of overseas goods. Luxury items were soon affected and Dad’s firm closed the Adelaide office when stocks ran out. Outstanding monies had to be collected but this was difficult. One farmer settled by giving Dad two trotting horses.
Decisions for the future had to be made and the laundry was sold early in 1930. Mum and Dad had decided that we would move on to Melbourne, so off we went with our goods and chattels and the two new horses. I do not remember any details of the trip but I think we went by train. The Ford A stayed with the laundry.
In Melbourne we lived in Beaconsfield Parade, Northcote. The new house was down near the Merri Creek end of the street. Our new school was Thornbury which was the ninth or tenth school that Cec and I had attended. We had a fair way to walk each morning going up the Parade and crossing to the east side of St. George’s Road, then we walked up to Hutton Street to the school. It is not hard to remember how cold the Melbourne winter was in that year. We only had shoes for going out and went barefoot to school. I can still remember standing in the school assembly parade and looking at my feet which were blue with cold and, occasionally, complete with chilblains as were my fingers. Still, we all survived as Mum kept us as fit as possible. We were fortunate that our sandwiches for school lunch had tasty fillings even though times were not as good for us as they were before the “Big Crash”. Some other kids had their bread just spread with dripping.
Thornbury School was a two-storey building, as I recall it, with a bitumen quadrangle and large grassed playing areas. I remember saving the nicest girl in my class from the burning school but there is nothing new in that as most schoolboys have had the same dream. One of the real things that happened was the “Cherry Bob” boom when the school trade and barter currency was cherry pips.
Kids invented many kinds of games of chance and competitions in which cherry bobs were the stake. Winners were paid in the same currency, sometimes at odds of ten to one. My “game” was a piece of strong cardboard on which I drew a face and then cut out holes in the eyes, nose, and mouth positions. The players had to throw a cherry pip at the card. Odds of evens, two to one and four to one were paid for a “right on target” shot which sent the pip through the mouth, nose, and eye holes respectively. Other kids would dig a hole in the ground and set a throwing mark and a successful toss resulted in a payout in cherry pips. The challenge to think of a new idea was always there but most kids would copy other ideas and it was a matter of who gave the best odds. I was ten years old at the time. I only remember one boy from Thornbury school. His name was Duncan Gray and we played football together at the school. I recall when I first went to that school that I walked by a room where the kids were reciting tables like 9×9 are 81.
Back on the home front we moved a couple of blocks around the South-West corner of Beaconsfield Parade into a cross street which saw our new home backing onto the Merri Creek. On the other side of Merri Creek, which provided the turf for the MCG if I recall rightly, was the John Lysaght works. Just west of the bridge over the creek was Brunswick and, joy of joys, the Giant Brand Licorice factory, where we used to get a few free samples.
The house was of Victorian design and two-storey. It had been built quite a few years ago apparently but it did have plenty of yard space and room for our two horses.
If we follow the tram route towards the city, it was: Northcote, Fitzroy, Collingwood, and then Richmond, closer to the city but a little further east. The football teams we all followed were Northcote in the Association and Fitzroy in the VFL. Nearly 60 years later I am still following Fitzroy.
Late in 1930 a decision was made to go to the West and we booked early December passages to Fremantle. Our family and the two horses were to be accompanied on the M.V. Westralia by the Bill Gibaud family and their smart mare, Little Edna. She used to pull a milk cart during the week and race at Richmond when the meetings were held. She thrived on this system.
My last week at the Thornbury School speeded up the seasonal “crash” in the “cherry bob” business. I had amassed a fortune in this useless currency and over the last week at school the whole lot was given away or recklessly staked till I had no more pips.
My last day at school was different to any other departure from my earlier schools. When I was at Darlinghurst school I think they changed me from writing left hand to right hand. I was lucky that I was ambidextrous for I appear to have adjusted without much trouble. Right through life, particularly in sport, I have been what you might call in harness racing, dual-gaited. In cricket I bowled left hand and batted right hand. In football I kicked both feet in a natural way. In boxing at gym training I was a southpaw. The point of this information is to show the way to what happened on my last day at the school. After a little farewell speech about my going to Western Australia, the teacher asked me to write a goodbye message on the blackboard. The trick was that I had to write the message twice using both hands at the same time. I remember standing up at the blackboard quite happily with my two hands writing away as though I did that every day. In later years I tended to favour the right hand for writing but on any occasion when a sore finger or hand put me out of action the left hand never let me down for dashing off a few lines. I went back to Thornbury school in May 1988 and took a few photos.