In 1922 we boarded the SS Niagara for our trip to Australia via Hawaii, Fiji, and New Zealand. The move should be seen in the sense of a new challenge for Mum and Dad. They had moved from the country of their birth to a new land where they would join many thousands of migrants from all over Europe and the United States, particularly those States which bordered Canada. Now after twenty or so years in Canada for Dad and about ten years for Mum, living in a number of different provinces and travelling through many others, Australia became the new frontier. I remember asking Dad why we moved from Canada and he told me that other people had told him that “there were no fleas in Australia”. That may have been honestly said but in reality Australia had as many “jumpers” as anywhere else. Still, no one in the family ever had any regrets later in life.
The S.S. Niagara was owned by the Union Steamship Company. Built in 1913 by John Brown and Co. she was of 13,415 tons and had a speed of 17 knots. Her delivery voyage from Glasgow to Sydney ended on 28 April 1913 and her first trip to Vancouver began on 5 May. The ship had accommodation for 208 First Class, 224 (us) Second Class, and 191 Third Class passengers. The Niagara continued her commercial Pacific service during the Great War and World War II, not having been “called-up”. On 18 June 1940 she hit a German mine shortly before dawn, after leaving Auckland for Suva and Vancouver. All aboard were quickly evacuated in the lifeboats and were soon picked up by nearby ships. The Niagara went to the bottom within two hours after having been badly damaged by the explosion. A cargo of gold went down with her and although she was lying in 70 fathoms of water, divers recovered 277 of the 295 boxes of gold over a period of 15 months during 1940/41.
Our trip on the boat was more peaceful with yours truly providing the only real diversion when escaping from the watchful eyes of the stewardess in charge of children. I managed to climb up on top of the ship railings. With the children and adults there in fear of my going over the side, it was left to an astute young seaman to quickly but quietly run up behind me and drop me back on the deck. My parents were not too happy about it nor was the Captain and my “near miss” got a reprimand for the “miss not near enough” to stop me. The Niagara called at Hawaii and Suva and again our photo album has some snapshots worth a look. We were three children with some locals in the botanical gardens. My only real lasting memory of any port of call was our joy at Auckland when we were given an ice cream, and a choice of flavours too.
On our arrival in Sydney we stayed at a hotel or hostel from where only one incident stays in my mind. We were playing on the bed when I reached over to the dressing table and knocked a glass down, and then fell head first into the broken pieces. When Mum came in from the next room I was a bit of a mess. Some first-aid cleared things up and I was soon downstairs with a bandaged head to show off, and a couple of cuts on my head to talk about. I do remember being out on the footpath in front of the hotel and a man asked me what happened. The scars on top of my head still remain but I must say that they are now much easier to find.
From Sydney we moved to a house with a few acres on the Liverpool Road about 5 miles past Liverpool, 21 miles south of Sydney. Here Roly was born on 24 December 1923. Cec went to Glenfield school in 1924 and I started later that year. I can remember us crossing the road from home, then going past some buildings which were part of an agricultural research station or farm (possibly Hurlstone Agricultural High School), and then crossing over the railway line to the school.
It was a one-teacher school. We hear so much today about teacher-pupil ratios and why we should have the perfect ratio, whatever that is. We hear little of the successes of pupils and teachers in those country schools where children of various ages enrolled in classes 1-6 sat together in one room while the teacher walked up and down helping, advising, and correcting the child’s work, as he or she mentally switched from one grade to another with several subjects.
The dedication of teachers in these schools was in marked contrast to today. Glenfield was such a school and the teacher taught the local children to read and write well and to add up properly and thereby preparing them for the road that would lay ahead when they left school. Glenfield was my first school and the foundation laid there for Cec and me helped us on our way. We never experienced any difficulty in any other school we attended. My one regret about Glenfield School is that I missed out on the 60th Anniversary celebrations some years ago when we were living in Darwin. However, when we went east in 1988 we went out to Glenfield on the train and I retraced my tracks around the town.
Other memories whilst living near Liverpool included going with Dad to the nearby dairy where he worked, and on to where we sometimes went to play near the big pond there. Our photo album has a snap of us on the backs of calves. I can remember riding with Dad in the milk delivery truck when he took the churns of milk into Sydney. The truck was a light Ford or Chevrolet with a flat back tray and low sides. There were no side curtains and in the cold weather of the early mornings I used to freeze as we delivered milk to hospitals and other Government and private organisations in the city area. I tend to doubt that we had a windscreen but could be wrong. At the time I thought it was fun.
On the little farmlet itself, life was fairly normal. We had birthday parties and celebrated Xmas in the front room or on the verandah. I liked the nice man who used to bring presents to the house during the year and at Xmas. It was some years before I found out in talking to Mum that the fellow was a commercial traveller who had our house on his regular run. Sometimes our ignorance is bliss. The only other event that I clearly recall is when one of the horses broke through the hessian wall of the feed shed and gorged himself on bran and pollard and chaff. He died the next day. His bloated carcase told the story. We certainly enjoyed living on our farm from where we sold eggs and chickens and had many a laugh helping with the baby chicks under the kerosene brooder which kept them warm. After we left the farm we heard that the house burnt down and the owner was killed.
In 1925 we moved back to Sydney to live in Enmore which is on the south side of Stanmore Road close to Marrickville, Petersham and Lewisham, and a little farther from Erskineville. We were to have some involvement with all these neighbouring suburbs and later with Darlinghurst. Mum and Dad were in business first and then worked for baking firms till Dad went into electrical goods.
A new home meant a new school and soon after settling in, Mum took Cecil and me down to enrol at Enmore primary school. I remember the headmaster speaking to us in his office and his name, Mr Elston, comes easily to mind. Cec was fixed up first and he went off with someone to his new class. Then Mr Elston said, “and this little fellow is for the bubs, I suppose?” Well! Well! Yours truly was hurt enough, even at six plus a few weeks, to come to life and promptly chip in and say, “I’m going into the second class”. They took a bit of convincing, according to Mum, but they compromised and put me into the lower second class for a few weeks and I remember being pleased, as small boys are when their world is put back in order, when I soon went up into 2A.
In Enmore we lived in a two-story house of good style. It was built of red bricks and had a nice veranda and garden. The front door had a coloured leadlight glass inset. I recall it as a nice house to live in. My best memory of living there is of Xmas Eve in our first year there when we three older children crept down the stairs and parked ourselves on the half-way landing and peered through the banisters (the stair rail and its supports). I heard Mum say to Dad, “This is for Doug” and she showed Dad a toy that was held in the hand so that pressure could be exerted via the handle to cause a flint to be struck continuously to throw out sparks. It was called a sparkler and these toys are now back in our shops in more space-age designs.
I am not sure if Mum and Dad were both working or just Dad. They could have been connected with their own shop or with Adams’ the cake-makers who had their own retail shops and could also have supplied other smaller shops. I can remember the Adams’ shop where we children seemed to go regularly. The shop was on a busy road and may have been in Belmore but if not there, then on a road connecting with Stanmore Road, which was a concrete road running through Enmore and Stanmore. I recall Stanmore Road well because it was the scene for me of one of those escapades that young boys get involved in. I had a trolley cart made out of a wooden box attached to a ‘chassis’ consisting of a four-foot-long piece of wood fixed to the two cross pieces for the axles and wheels. The front-wheel steering was controlled by the driver with a heavy cord which had its ends firmly tied to the left and right ends of the axle. The cart could have had a brake of some sort.
I was hurtling down the hill in Stanmore Road when a passenger bus came out from a small street on my left. Luckily for me it was not travelling very fast so pulled-up quickly. Brake or not the cart was in full flight and I shot across the front of the bus just missing going into it and under it, finally crashing into the street corner kerbing. The cart overturned and out I went. While the bus driver and people crowded around me, my most urgent worry was the whereabouts of one front wheel which had broken off and rolled on down the hill. I can recall looking down the road and wondering where to look for the wheel. I think I gave it up as a bad job and dragged the cart home for Dad to do a repair job on. I was not hurt in the crash. Lucky boy.
In the 1926/27 period Dad went to work with the firm in Sydney which marketed the American-made Maytag washing machine and the Eureka vacuum cleaner, both real luxuries in their early days in Australia. The inventor of the washing machine was Eric? Maytag who was born, like Dad, in Iowa (NOTE: incorrect, the Maytag company had many innovations including an aluminium tub and the ‘Gyrafoam’ with its vaned agitator. Frederick Louis Maytag was born in Illinois and founded the Maytag company in Iowa). I am not sure whether this connection was the reason for Dad changing his occupation but the new job did change our lives somewhat. It was to lead to the family moving to Adelaide early in 1928 when Dad was appointed to run the South Australian branch. The immediate effect on the family was another change of residence, this time to Darlinghurst where we moved into a shared house in Darlinghurst Road, probably one of a pair of flats. We now had a new school in Darlinghurst Primary which was fairly close to home. I was sent a copy of the school’s 1983 100th Anniversary celebration book.
Our new home was not free of the odd incidents that go hand-in-hand with a family of four children. When we got to know the kids next door and roundabout we soon got into trouble. I remember us being talked into tagging-along with some of the older kids who lived nearby and trespassing on the building sites for a number of new houses being built behind our flats. The new houses had been fitted with WCs at the back of their yards and with easy access from the unfenced backlane the bigger kids set about using bricks to smash the porcelain pedestals in the toilets. I think we smaller kids were merely spectators but I can remember what the damage looked like. There was a big row and official people came out to make enquiries of what we had seen or done. What happened to the ringleaders is uncertain.
Another day Cec and I with the Brown kids from next door, and some others, headed for Bondi beach on our bikes which were our tricycles of various sizes. I do not recall anyone having a two-wheeled bicycle except older boys and men who rode them to work. Some of us did not get as far as the beach and returned home about teatime which was good thinking on our part. I can remember sitting on the brick fence letterbox pillar and parents and other people asking me questions about our travels during the day. The other boys were still missing after teatime and the police were informed. When an abandoned bike was found on the Bondi beach there was some alarm but the boys arrived home soon after and all was well. Everybody was glad to see them back safe.
Our family used to go to the beach at Bronte, and occasionally to Manly on the ferry. The bluebottles gave me a stinging reception at Bronte one day when they went for my ankles. The rubbing of sand on the wounds did not help and I remember crying all the way home on the tram as I sat on Dad’s lap. The pattern of the sting marks, evenly spaced on my ankle, has always been fresh in my mind.
Darlinghurst School was of the same style as most near-city schools. The play areas were of bitumen and surrounded by low stone walls. A nearby park may have been used for some leisure activities, for one day another boy and I were walking back across the road at the park when he was hit by a car and killed. It seems that we were holding hands when we crossed so I can count myself lucky that I was not hit or hurt. I may find time to look through the Sydney papers of the day for some reference to it.
Our home in Darlinghurst Road was one of a pair of brick flats. The children’s beds were in a sleepout and it did not have its own light. Elder brother Cecil, now ten years old, was our child-minder for one night and it was no help to him when we all persisted in kicking up a fuss when we should have been asleep. He came out to see what was wrong and, to make it easier, he lit a couple of matches to see what was going on. A curtain caught alight and flames ran up the wall. We all got out with no harm done but the sleepout was badly damaged. Mum and Dad were not too happy about it but as none of us were hurt it all ended there and then. No spankings.
One tends to remember accidents and escapades more than going to school or playing games around the house so despite our anxious moments, and there are more to come, I should say that we had a happy family life with plenty of good times. Mum and Dad were both good cooks and we had good meals limited in quality only by the economic circumstances of one year as against another.
We moved across the road from the flat over to a double-storied maisonette after the “fire in the sleepout” incident. It was probably an older building but would have had more room. It did not take me long to get in trouble here. The wrought iron fencing that divided one front garden from another was topped with the Prince of Wales feather design and their close setting was my downfall late one afternoon when we were playing chasey over the fences. I slipped and caught my foot between two feathers, one of which impaled my right foot, and I hung there yelling my head off till Dad came out. With a bit of help he got me off the fence and wrapped my foot in a towel then ran with me to St. Vincent’s Hospital which was only a few blocks away. We had no car then. The foot was stitched up and after a couple of days or so I was hobbling up for out-patient treatment. There are so many things that Mums and Dads do for their children which get lost in the passing of years but I feel sure that love and appreciation for them is expressed at the time. The scar on my foot is still there and it often reminded me not to have a casual approach to fences.
Alice had her first day at any school when she was enrolled at Darlinghurst primary school and for the first time three of us were going to school together. Roly was only three then so he had two years to go before starting school at five, the N.SW. starting age. The year was 1927 and its highlight was the arrival in March of the Duke and Duchess of York on the HMS Renown. In May the Duke was to open the first sitting of the Federal Parliament in Canberra. Alice was to remember 1927 and the Renown, forever.
The HMS Renown was anchored in Rushcutter’s Bay, which is just alongside Elizabeth Bay and close to the naval establishments at Garden Island. Cecil, Alice, and me were down at Rushcutter’s Bay as part of the crowd that wanted to see what was going on. Alice was pushed off the jetty and not being able to swim was soon in trouble. She was saved by a sailor from the Renown who dived to her aid from a navy boat passing by on its way between the ship and the jetty. The sailor got her back on the jetty landing where other people helped her to the top. We tried to help her recover with a drink of water but all she could say was that she did not want any more water to drink. Alice remembers the sailor saving her and the vital feminine fact that she was wearing a dark-green crochet dress at the time.
Dad bought a Ford Model T later in 1927 to meet family and job needs. Dad supervised the sales staff and helped them get to contacts for in-home demonstrations of Maytag washing machines and Eureka vacuum cleaners. These appliances were regarded as luxuries at the time and most of the prospective customers were well-off. Dad was busy driving across suburban Sydney one wet day when a dog ran across the road causing Dad to brake hard then skid and hit the kerb, rolling over a couple of times and finishing upside down. There is a photo in the EDC collection of the crashed car on the footpath with a good gathering of some spectators. I think the Sydney Morning Herald published it and ran a news item on the crash alongside the picture. Dad received a few cuts and bruises but recovered quickly.
The car was repaired and we were back on the road. On weekends we would pile into the car and take off for the beach or the country. One trip I remember well was to the Blue Mountains, Katoomba and Jenolan Caves. We stopped at the guest house in Katoomba, saw the Three Sisters and went to the caves. I recall going through the caves and coming to the pool into which visitors were encouraged to throw coins and quickly put my hand in to pick up a coin and found it so cold that my hand came out just as quick as it went in. By that time Dad was on to me and we all had to then look without touching.
Darlinghurst days came to an end late in 1927 when we moved to Lewisham. Our new home I remember as a two-storey house where we had enough room in the backyard to grow peas and beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and sweetcorn. Our Canadian background has ensured right through life that our family had plenty of corn on the cob and, if I might add, lots of pancakes Canadian-style with plenty of maple syrup.
Lewisham had quite a few memories for me, for as I grew older and bolder, and I look back on them fondly. It was in Lewisham that I first made money following horses. My working tools were my billycart and a small shovel and with these I would walk the local streets in the track of the horse-drawn carts of the milkman and the baker collecting the contributions dropped by the worthy steeds. A billy cart load of horse manure would earn me sixpence to a shilling from people with gardens. Good business?
Goat carts were a short-term part of my life. Dad took me out to the goat races one night and the next thing I was popped into a cart like a small sulky and went off down the track. I do not remember where it was but I seem to associate it with Maroubra, the Sydney motor racing track, but it could have been somewhere like White City. I think the drive was a oncer. Goat racing was also popular in Queensland and Western Australia in the 1920s. A 1926 photo of disabled “Cobber” Wright, a well-known Perth man right up into the sixties, shows him riding in a goat-drawn cart. He later ran the newsagency just over the Beaufort Street bridge.
Another way of earning a bit of pocket money was selling garden seeds from door to door. The seeds we would buy and sell were from Gilmour and Murray, as I remember the name, and packets would sell at threepence and sixpence. Mum and Dad naturally provided our regular needs for a few pence to spend, remembering that even in 1927 a penny bought you lots of tasty things. You could buy a halfpenny’s worth of sweets, a penny ice cream, or one Nestle’s wrapped chocolate bars from a slot machine. Put in a penny and pull out the slide tray. 3d bought a bagful of broken biscuits. The biscuits were still fresh but broke up in the tins.
Our local shop was about a block up the street from our house and it supplied us with a few favourites when we had a few pennies. My special was a “yellow cab” at two a penny. They were shaped like the taxi cabs of Sydney and coloured yellow. They were made of the same confection as the small yellow bananas we find packaged at our present-day sweets counter. I remember the shop having a big lolly jar full of jelly beans in the window as part of a guessing competition in which you had to guess the number of beans in the jar. It cost a penny a guess, for money or goods prize. Such competitions were quite common but I do not remember anyone in our family winning one. Our local shop played the game fairly, but there were shops where the storekeeper would put a cardboard cylinder in the centre of the jelly bean jar to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to guess the number.
At home Mum played the piano to entertain us but when we got a pianola we were able to have a turn at sitting on the music stool and pressing the keyboard levers that set the roll music going. It was a lot of fun for us all as we were able to join in singing along with many popular and oldtime songs. My favourite song was “Valencia”, a stirring piece, great on the pianola which was a very expensive piece of furniture in those days.
Another form of entertainment for us was the Saturday afternoon picture show. The great heroes of the silent film serials had us there Saturday after Saturday till we went one afternoon with our threepenny bits to find that the worst had happened. It was now sixpence to get in and Cec and I and the other three boys had only twenty pence between us. We decided to forget about the pictures and bought some lollies and a coconut, but then the problem of breaking the coconut open. A helpful taxi driver did the job for us with a tyre lever. Other attractions for us were trips on the ferries to Manly and the Zoo.
The little girl who lived next door to us sometimes created her own fun. She liked to get hold of the family loaf of bread and scoop out the centre then fill it up with butter before sinking her teeth into it. Writing about food reminds me that we used to be given lunch money when going to school. Cec and I used to save this money for other things and make ourselves peanut butter sandwiches for school lunch.
What did we use the money for? Well, we were readers of Dad’s favourite magazine the American Popular Mechanics and were attracted to the advertisements of Johnson Smith & Co. of Racine, Wisconsin, U.S.A. The firm’s catalogue took us into the world of novelties and jokes and I can recall some of them. The first “The Amazing Ventrilo” was to help you throw your voice and surprise your friends but I think the only one I surprised was myself. There were “Snake Eggs“ (NOTE: advertisement shows them as Serpent’s Eggs” and the idea was to put a match to them and you could watch them twist and writhe as they grew. I think we bought International Reply coupons from the Post Office to send our small sums of money to Johnson Smith & Co. The firm was advertising many years later, maybe they still are.
Guy Fawkes Night was something we always looked forward to for it meant crackers and sparklers, skyrockets and Catherine wheels and coloured matches. We would gather fuel for a footpath or kerbside bonfire, not too large, and keep an eye on it over the last few days to the 5th. Guy Fawkes could have been unknown to us, despite his notoriety for plotting to assassinate the King in Parliament on 5 November 1605, but we did know how to bring a “guy” back to life for our Bonfire Night. It was a time for getting old clothes out of the cupboard and filling them with straw then putting shoes on the feet and an old hat on the head sitting over a face mask. The guy, complete and ready for work, we would take him up to the local shop and sit him up against a wall nearby and wait for the shoppers to come by. We had printed a cardboard sign “BONFIRE NIGHT. A PENNY FOR THE GUY“ and called out the same message when anybody came within range. It used to work well for the pennies and silver coins added up over the last few days before the 5th and we were able to have enough fireworks for a good night.
It was at Lewisham that I was involved in one of those escapades that are adventurous at the time but in the passing of the years makes you wonder. Sydney has a network of stormwater drains fed or filled by roadside inlets. There are main tunnels and smaller side tunnels in which the standing height varies. One fine day in summer several boys including me squeezed ourselves through a roadside inlet in our street and set off walking through the tunnels expecting to surface somewhere pretty soon. I remember walking through the first tunnel and walking on all sorts of rubbish as we felt our way along the tunnel walls. We had some sort of a small light which helped a bit but it seemed ages before we saw some daylight ahead. We had come out into a main open channel but the sides were steep and we could not get out. We had to go through another tunnel or two before finding a way of climbing out and then finding ourselves a fair way from home.
When we got back to our street all our parents were waiting for us having been told by other kids that we had gone into the tunnels. We had been away more than an hour and a half but, as the weather had been fine and no signs of a summer thunderstorm, they had decided to wait out our return. The result of it all is not filed away in my memory bank so it could be said that sometimes our memory recall is selective.
At Lewisham we attended Petersham primary school which was a few blocks away from our house. It was a matter of walking straight up our street, past the shop and around the corner. I can remember only one person from the school and it was a classmate of mine named Keith Chisolm. I wonder what has happened to him since those 1927 days? I always did well at school and I remember that at Petersham I finished the 5th class tests and merited promotion to 6th class but they told my mother that they could not put me up to the upper class because I was too young then, being eight years and a few months. They agreed that my test results in writing, reading, sums and similar units were quite satisfactory but they apparently had reservations about the memory type units like history and so on. Luckily, the situation was resolved for me because in early 1928 Dad was transferred in his job to take charge of the Adelaide branch and I went into my higher class in the first school I went to there.