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I Grew Up, but Never Forgot the Summers of the Sixties

Mostly, one’s earliest memories lie dormant in the back of the brain, rising to the surface when a lucid dream, a particular smell, or thought, dredges out a memorable or perhaps, traumatic, childhood event.

So when fellow blogger, “Snow,” wrote about her experiences growing up, it was my Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Total Recall” moment: solid and colourful memories, with all the accompanying regrets, long forgotten smiles and laughs, came flooding back to me. Especially so, the memories of those long, balmy summer days were all there in my mind. And most surprising of all, these memories had been triggered after reading a blog entry, from the far end of the world. But why??

Helskinki
Helsinki, Finland

The blogger from TheSnowMeltsSomewhere lives in Finland, a snow laden, Arctic place, thousand of miles from my own childhood home. Yet, we discovered that through one of her posts, that our formative years were spent, not just in the SAME country, but in the very SAME city, and almost, around the SAME time!

surprise
Surprise!

Years later, our paths crossed again in the blogging world! Serendipity? Fate? Whatever! Sharing memories of our childhoods is a great way of creating our own histories, and allows others to have an insight into what life was like –  “back in the day.”

Painted Traffic light control boxes

Summer in the 60’s was so carefree

School Holidays

Australia has its long school holidays at Christmas time – because, of course, it is summertime then. In the sub-tropical part of the planet, summertime means thunderstorms, of the torrential kind. Uncannily, nature always seemed to time the heavens to open, over MY school, at 3 pm – the exact time when classes finished for the day!

This meant my walk home, (yes, everyone walked to, and from, school every day), meant that within 10 seconds, of being in the rain, my body would be soaked through. An umbrella or raincoat was next to useless, as the wind accompanying the storm, would blow the torrent, side and every which way, ensuring the body could not escape full saturation! But I survived, (which is perfectly obvious as I wouldn’t be writing this, if I didn’t), and the storm always meant a cooler evening and relief from the heat!

A good thing, indeed.

The Australian Summer, felt almost endless – school was closed for 6 weeks and it seemed like an eternity, for the first week or so. Many of the families I knew, either owned, or rented, a small beach house at the Gold/Sunshine coast, for the summer period and sometimes, I was invited to go along. I would always return home as red as a lobster, from long hours of exposure outdoors [read: we called it sun-baking]. Swimming costumes were the obligatory uniform of the day for children! Over the next week or so, my newly acquired “suntan” would disappear, as the sunburnt layer slowly peeled off, revealing pink fresh skin, underneath.

The beach houses were quite basic, inexpensively built and often smelt slightly of must/mould, no doubt from being closed up for long periods of time.  Kids were left free to wander the street and go swimming anytime they liked. I would often see kids of 5 years upwards, dragging their inflatable ‘surf mat’ behind them, to the beach. This was a kind of inflatable forerunner to the modern boogie board.  There was, of course, no shark nets, to protect swimmers from Great Whites, at the beach in those days either! I don’t even remember sticking to the “swim between the flags” rule! We knew that we should stick to that rule, but couldn’t be bothered to do so.

We thought we were invincible.

To think that children wandered the streets and beaches, mostly unsupervised might be tantamount to negligence today, but this was perfectly acceptable behaviour for the time.

STradbroke Island
Adder Rock beach

If you weren’t lucky enough to have a family beach house, or the weather wasn’t great, children would create their own fun playing cards –  ‘UNO,’ Switch, 21 or Snap or, if one was feeling particularly mean: “56 pick up.” Did you play that one? Board games like Twister, Monopoly or Scrabble were also popular, but much more fun with a group.

Like other kids, I’d often walk to the public park, possessing as it did, a motley, weather-beaten assortment of arm-breaking, metal and wooden, ‘play’ equipment. There was the mandatory See-saw, the potentially leg-breaking, always dizzying, spinning Round -a-bout, but my favourite was the red-hot, all-metal Slippery Slide, rusted and polished smooth by the many children who, just like me, scorched their bare legs and behinds, sliding down the metal surface on 30+ degree summer days.

These were the glorious pre-plastic days, after all!

Early instrument of torture in Playgrounds during the 60’s

Cubby Houses

As children, we never knew anything as technologically advanced as an ipad, Game-boy or x-box; so we had oodles of time to play with the things we found around us, in our world. With my brother, I’d build go -carts or “cubby” houses. I use the term “house” very loosely. Not having the resources to purchase a finished piece of wood from a Bunnings/local hardware store, children of the sixties and seventies, scavenged  instead for remnant pieces of wooden fruit packing cases, sourced from a pile of rubbish, behind the local fruit shop.  This wood was roughly sawn and full of splinters, and  might be nailed haphazardly together in some kind of semi- triangular shape, in the fork of a tree. We’d consider that project:- done! Cubby house walls were always optional extras!

What I always wanted my Cubby house to resemble..
What my Cubby house was like..   Nothing like the luxurious constructions seen in a Millenial’s backyard.

 

I always had grand designs in my head for a luxurious  ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ type of Cubby house, but I soon discovered that life isn’t like the movies. Our “Cubbies” turned out to be more like a workplace health and safety nightmare, resulting as they sometimes did, in broken arms. Falls from trees were a fairly frequent occurrence amongst the neighbourhood kids. Again, how did any of us not fall twenty feet to the ground and break our neck? Or drown rafting in a flooded creek?

Raft making in the 60’s with bits of tin in the flooded creek

We loved to explore the suburban wilds – intent on any adventure. It was not unusual to ride a bike for many kilometres into the surrounding rural farming area, just to see what was there, or, make rafts out of washed up walls of a Council work shed, or to swim where ever a body of water was found.

Swimming Pools

In our neighborhood, everyone had a swimming pool in their backyard. Big or small, they had something.  As there were no child-proof fences in those days, we just swam when we liked, completely without adult supervision. It was a given that kids in my area, knew how to swim.

swimming pool1
We never wore sun protective sun shirts in the 60’s like these kids did!

I recall one day, I went swimming, on my own in my neighbours pool; it was deeper than our pool and I could do back flips without fear of hitting the bottom, and back flip I did, for a half hour or so, until one back flip went slightly wrong.  I misjudged the angle of entry to the water, came up short, and scraped my nose on the side of the concrete wall. It could have been a lot worse than a mere scrape! O.M.G – as a parent, I think about this and wondered how on earth I made it alive, past the age of 13 years, without inadvertently killing myself or, at least, incurring a spinal injury of sorts???

But the safety of children was not a serious consideration, until the eighties, it seems.

Cars

Until 1972 seat belts weren’t even compulsory in cars.  This would mean that primary school aged kids were, more often than not, jammed, like sardines into the back of station wagons, (cars weren’t called hatch backs then).

The sardine troupe would often be ferried to a local pool or skating rinks by a lone parent. That same parent would proceed to unload the kids from the station wagon, and then drive off, only returning to pick up the troupe, hours later! This was the freedom of life in the 60’s and 70’s.  My kids think it is unfathomable that my life was like this!

 

Television

Television arrived in Australia in the late fifties, and by the sixties it had invaded our home too! It was the one electronic screen we had;  a Black and white TV, a little Astor model, (colour TV arrived in the late seventies), and I occasionally watched shows, such as, “The Jetsons.” The seven-year old me always thought it would be so awesome to have a robotic maid, like Rosie; was that really her name?

 

My brother was somewhat addicted to watching programs like:  The Land of the Giants, Lost in Space and perhaps the cartoon, “Gigantor”, too. It was just as well TV programming commenced in the late afternoon, otherwise he probably would never have gone to school at all.  [TV showed only screened for part of the day in Australia in those times, otherwise a black and white test pattern with awful background music was the only thing visible.]

And I do wonder why it is that I can still remember the name of the characters from those TV shows, as well as every child in my school class from those early years of school, and yet I find it so difficult to remember where I put the car keys, just two minutes ago?

Can you pick me out from the crowd?

Encyclopedias

Back in these days, there was no such thing as Google, or a computer, for finding the latest fact, unless you were talking about those brilliant female minds, who worked tirelessly, (without due recognition), for NASA’s early space program. A child of the sixties and seventies had to look things up in a book, either at the library, and few did that, or at home in an encyclopedia. Our nearest library was about 15 kilometres away.

Encyclopedias mysteriously arrived at one’s door, in a complete boxed set, from A to Z, usually presaged by a visit from a travelling salesmen, who would canvass would-be owners, door to door, with sales deals that “could not be believed!”

I think the Britannica clearly had it all over the Funk and Wagnells……

Sundays

Recently, I drove past my Grandmother’s former home with my youngest child – she is at that stage of life when she is learning to drive a car. In my day, we had to wait a mere three months, to sit the test, for a driver’s license, now they have to wait at least 12 months and complete 100 hours of supervised driving. This is a good thing, I think.  An improvement from the sixties! When I showed my daughter, her Great-Grandmother’s former property, it felt like I’d lived an entire childhood of Sundays in that place, as our weekly visits occurred, without fail.

The house that exists there now, is the same, but different. No longer recognizable, my Grandmother’s house has been raised up and another floor has been built-in, underneath –  in what feels like my space!!

My space: The space where my brother and I would spend hours forming roads for toy cars in the dirt, underneath the house. The same space that held the tank water tap where we used to quench our thirst and where you would find the old grey concrete tubs and gas fired boiler, where my Grandmother would wash her clothes and boil the sheets, stirring the pot, with a big wooden pole. Maybe that is why her sheets were so white!

I notice that the front yard, is still there. I feel like it is MY front yard, like I still have some kind of stake in it, having played in it, worked in it, and run around in it, for over ten years. I pulled and pushed a lumbering, old, metal push mower around that yard, every other Sunday, in summer. It was an ancient hand mower, that had a reversible handle, like the one pictured below, so you didn’t have to turn it around to mow in the opposite direction.

That was really the coolest part of it, I think.

mower

My Aunt and Uncle lived next door to my Grandmother, and as my Uncle was a retired war veteran, he didn’t do much except smoke and drink to excess, but he did breed budgerigars and chooks at the end of his enormous yard – that same yard that seemed ever SO big to me.

bird

I remember one year, my Dad killed one of the Uncles’ chooks for our evening meal. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too good at chopping its head off cleanly and it ran around the yard, half dead! As a town girl of 8 years, I was absolutely mortified.  I had never seen anything so raw and so cruel, yet my favourite meal was chicken, so clearly I managed to reconcile it somehow, in my child-like mind. Afterwards, my ‘Ma’ plucked the chook, showing me how to do this, by dunking it in hot water, to make the plucking process easier, yet I noted with slight revulsion, that a few tiny feathers remained on the carcass.

Cedar Creek, Australia

It seemed to me that Sundays at my Grandma’s house went by, ever so slowly, with nothing much, for a kid, to do. The adults sipped tea, ate Orange cake and Iced Vo-vo’s biscuits, talked and talked and talked, and when my brother, cousin and me were sick of playing in the dirt under the house, we would wander down to play in the nearby creek, catch tadpoles and make small banks to dam the water, just to see what would happen.

Iced Vo-vo biscuits

Today, the creek is the same, but different.  Flood mitigation has spelt the end of the rushing torrent this hapless stream would become after a summer thunderstorm. The trees on the littoral fringes have now grown so tall that no kids play in these waters now. Instead they seem confined, whether by their own volition or not, to their own backyards or, even perhaps, indoors with technology for company.

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By contrast, our days were very simple, we simply made do with the world around us.

To be continued/…… there is so much more to ponder about.

Thanks to Snow for inspiring this post.

 

47 thoughts on “I Grew Up, but Never Forgot the Summers of the Sixties”

  1. You ‘ve just triggered my memories of those long lost years. I found my own memories flooding back to me.Thank you Amanda 🙂 🙂

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    1. Oh I am glad you liked it, Effie, and that it triggered happy memories for you! Those were great days and I will be writing another post later, as I feel there is much more to write about that time. Perhaps you too might write a post about your early memories?

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  2. What a great reflection Amanda. You triggered many memories for me. Definitely safety was not an issue. I remember driving around in the back of my dad’s yellow station wagon, lying down in the rear with my two sisters….no seat belts for safety, just a lot of fun memories!

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    1. Thank you, Lorelle. This is what it was like. Freedom but also an element of risk. I love the visual of the yellow station wagon. Nowadays we have to plan the car pooling statements more carefully to ensure all have a seat belt. Did you grow up in Sydney?

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        1. I was in Melbourne for the first 5 years of being alive! Then we moved to Brisbane. I had it in mind that you were from Melbourne but somehow Sydney seemed to pop into my head! I guess life in Melbourne was similar? Except less paddling in the creek , perhaps?

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    1. Robyn, I feel like you would have treasured memories of those times and the freedoms. How lucky your daughters were. It was like a golden era, in so many ways. Do you feel nostalgic about it, Robyn? Or rather, think that modern times are infinitely better?

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      1. Each era is unique. I love what technology offers now but also loved riding for kilometres and hours on bikes or ponies. The only rule was be home by dark. Are there greater dangers now? I don’t think any more than those relative to population size. Responsibility came with that independence. We handled tricky situations from a young age. I think this is something helicopter parents should consider.

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        1. The responsibility you mentioned, was gained in a gradual independently-learned way. We developed better problem solving and street skills from having to make decisions on the fly. The mobile phone has both good and bad aspects. One can easily call parents for help, if necessary, but also, it is tempting to call more frequently than needed and ask for an answer to a problem. This also means parents have the responsibility deflected back to them for longer. Which some like and others perhaps don’t. The long term implications of this are yet to be fully seen and realized, I think.

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  3. Wow that’s one hell of a blog, Amanda. Brilliant. I can relate to much of it. I guess there are many similarities between life in the UK and life down under. Are Australian chickens green and yellow or is it a budgerigar? He bred both. Have a nice Sunday, Amanda.

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    1. Thanks for comment, Dai. It means a lot to me that you think that of my writing. Did I make a grammatical error in the post? Or chickens, or at least the kind Uncle Kevin had, were white. The Budgies were green and yellow!! So sorry for the confusion! I guess it is funny to think of green and yellow chickens. At least they would be in the colors Australian sporting hereoes wear!!

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  4. Oh darn it! Why must you bring these memories up for us as well? Heheh…
    We recall trying to spin around as fast as possible to the point that we could be flung off…!!! Yep – crazy right? But back then, it was also when homes did not lock up their front doors… that’s different now

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    1. Oh, I so remember being flung off the Round a bouts! But we also had the Hills Hoist to be flung off. I will edit the post to include a photo (meme) of one! I spent some many hours spinning on Mum’s backyard clothes line!! And my parents used to lock the doors when they went out, but they would leave the windows open and my brother and I would just climb in that way!!! Problem solved!!!

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  5. Wonderful post, Amanda! So many memories…so similar to mine. The only thing is that we never had any swimming pools! But in the winters we all built our own skiing “hills” in our gardens… During summer we biked down to the local swimming pool (we were one of the few lucky villages that had one), and every summer we got the same “tan” as you show in your picture.
    When you write about all those things on the playground – everything comes back to me as well. Now every toy must have EU standards stamped on them – and they are all plastic. My children were born just before this plastic and IT era, so they have at least some memories of the old “freedom” times.
    Looking forward to your next post – just loved this one♥♥♥

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    1. Thanks Anne -Christine, It seems that some things are quite universal and that in a way is reassuring. We are closer in more ways than we are different. I think all or plastic play equally equipment comes from Europe!! The biggest difference I think, comes as a result of the weather. Skiing hills versus swimming in creeks and pools. I can’t believe that you got sunburnt in Sweden!! That is amazing. But you obviously did as you can relate to the peeling phase!! Have you made a post about your childhood?

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      1. Universal sounds good. And our summers can be rather hot as well. Our skin is used to cold winters and the strong sun in summer hits hard when you suddenly have a summer holiday. Temperatures between 20 and 35 and sun…that makes you red skinned.

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        1. Summer temps of 20 + sound idyllic, Anne-c. I really was born in the wrong end of the earth!! But it is reassuring, at least, to hear that our childhood was quite similar.

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  6. What a lovely post, Amanda!! 🙂 I’m so happy to have read this, I chuckled all the way through it! Loved your writing style.
    As a new parent, I think I’ll need to tune into a bit of that carefree attitude from the sixties! But not too much, hahah! Some of it sounds pretty scary, like swimming by yourself at 5 y.o. The currents and all – not to mention Great Whites, yikes!
    I remember that by the time I was living my Australian childhood there were already lots of warnings about burning your skin, and a catchy tune on a TV ad that went something like “slip on a hat, slap on some sunscreen, and…” something else. Maybe you remember it? 😉 There was an animated bird, I’m pretty sure.
    Your memories seems so vivid! Like mine were, too. I can just picture you playing on your Grandma’s lawn… (maybe somewhere in another dimension, you still are? 🙂 hmmmm…) Funny to think that we are still the same people we were as kids, though it seems so long ago and long forgotten.
    I’ll be looking forward to your next post(s) eagerly!!! Thank you for mentioning me!

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    1. Thanks so much Snow! I am really happy that I could make you smile. We do leave all sorts of imprints on earth so perhaps you are onto something with an alternate dimension? It does one ‘s head in thinking about what the small child inside us was like! That was us!! It seems like another world altogether!
      You are absolutely correct Abbott the sunscreen campaign. I think it was “slip, slop, slap” – it is indelibly fixed (read brainwashed) into my head. “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap in a hat.” I think it must have been one of the most successful ad campaigns ever!! But it worked – generally. I still see some kids without sunshirts or hats at the beach, but the majority are very aware of the damage excess sun exposure can do. I guess they see my generation with skin cancers, and sun damage. We are a wrinkly old bunch here compared to say, Englishmen of a similar age!

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      1. That’s it 😄 Slip, slop, slap! The idea brainwashed into my head, too! Over here in Finland, general awareness came much later. Even now some people seem oblivious. There’s less sun, too, but Finns do travel…
        Ps. Your school photo looks so similar to mine! Wonder where all those kids are now…

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        1. I guess Finns on holiday, in the mediterranean, would be at risk if they were not aware.
          It could even be the same school photographer you had. They generally traveled around from school to school. Rangling kids for photos!! What a job!!

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  7. How did we ever survive. And ‘Gigantor’, I can’t remember the show at all, but the words and tune of the theme song came to mind readily. And then fast forward to the 70s – Sunday sessions, and no booze buses. Over the limit – what on earth did that mean. Yes, how on earth did we survive….

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    1. So true, Chris. I do wonder if we had more luck on our side than skill back in the day. The population, of course was smaller then, but I feel horrified remembering the times I drove a car home after a few drinks at the Pub as a teenager. Goodness! I would never consider doing that now!!!
      Thanks for your understanding comment, Chris. Really. Thanks!
      Now I’ll be singing, Gigantor, Gigantor, Gigaaanaantorrrrr!” In the shower tonight Lol!

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  8. Hi Amanda. Loved reading this post. As a child I always wondered how life of children in other countries looked like. Although I didn’t grow up in the sixties, I had so much fun reading it. Sounds like it was a lot more carefree back then. Similar to what we have in Nepal until today haha. I am glad you made it out okay after the pool incident. Sounds like you had fun making the cubby house even though it didn’t turn out like you wanted 😀 I think many people from the first world are revolted by the picture of slaughtering an animal for food, but it was kind of a part of my childhood, although I used to get revolted too, at the beginning. Regardless of where in the world, it’s the same things that children like isn’t it..

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    1. Thank you for responding to this, Pooja. For I too am equally as interested in what other children’s life was/is like, especially in the third world and especially in Nepal. And it is wonderful to think children like the same things the world over and are not so different from each other. I think I have told you that I am particularly fond of hearing about life in Nepal as I was a visitor there in 1986 and met quite a few locals. I can clearly remember the butcher’s street in Kathmandu with all the animal’s carcasses hanging up for sale. I remember a fair bit of blood draining out into the street. That didn’t really worry me though, nor did watching the slaughter of the live goats at nearby Dhakshinkali. But of course, I was an adult then and not a young child. It is a great point that you make about becoming accustomed to the killing of animals. Children are very accepting of familiar things. I think it is a great thing that Nepal is still free in the sense that things are not as restricted. In many ways, Australia had become too much of a nanny state with too many regulations and laws. Some are good and some are bad.
      Really appreciate your insightful comment, Pooja! Thank you. Perhaps you might post about your a child ‘s life in Nepal one day. Let me know if you do!

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      1. Hi Amanda. Wow I cannot imagine how different Kathmandu was back in 1986. I think you visited it at the right time, before it got all crazy polluted and overcrowded. I remember a group of Dutch high school students who were so amused at seeing butcher shops with carcass hanging inside in Kathmandu. I couldn’t relate to it then, but now that I’ve lived in Europe for all my adult life I can see from their point of view.
        You gave me a great idea for a blog post. I might write something about my childhood one day, but I’ll need to ask my family in Nepal to scan the physical photos and send them to me online from Nepal hehe.
        Well some rules and regulations are of course good but many Western countries I feel go overboard with it these days..

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        1. Oh. It makes me happy to know that you understand what I saw in Kathmandu in 1986. And that you would like to write about your childhood! I can’t wait to read it so I hope you will let me know when you do! Sometimes pingbacks dont’ seem to reach notifications.
          About the regulations of government: it seems that they don’t trust us to think for ourselves. Common sense seems non- existent, but then the fear of litigation of negligence or perceived negligence drives a lot of regulations!! Thanks for coming back to me on this.

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  9. I found this in my backlog of posts I was behind on. What a great post for bringing up memories. There was a lot more freedom and less worry during those years. I think it all started changing here when people started suing others for accidents. The more lawsuits, the more laws. My children’s father put seat belts in the 51 Studebaker I bought from him and was fastidious about their use so it became part of our normal to always wear them and keep the children in them as well. I do remember that awful playground equipment and did get hurt on a couple of pieces. By the time I had my children, I was a serious hover mom. They were almost never out of my view even though they were not aware of being watched. 🙂 How wonderful that you could go back and revisit your grandparents home. It adds perspective to life. Thanks for sharing your photos and memories.

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    1. Thank you Marlene. Kind words and an accurate summation of life then. Less worry indeed. You sound like a great Mum. Responsible and available. I think you are right about the litigious society of today, too. The lawsuits gave people the idea that there is no such thing as an accident. It is okay to blame someone else for their misfortune. This results in a reward for them abrogating responsibility for themselves and their children. It gives the feeling that we are guaranteed a long and pleasurable life and if not, someone has to pay!! A lot of problems can stem from this and media has a role in elevating and publizinging this.
      Australia is way behind the USA in this respect but fast catching up. When a child feel of the playground equipment at primary school, and broke their arm, one parent said, “You are going to due, aren’t you?” How many children broke their arms in falls when we were young, almost 1in 2, I would say!!! Kids have accidents. It is part of learning to maneouvre their bodies and spatial awareness. In terms of damaged playground causing injury, the laws can be useful for children hurt on playground equipment in those instances, I think. An accident is an accident.

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      1. An accident is also a learning experience for both parent and child. I am so tired of people suing at the drop of a hat. We need to bring attention to faulty products but using that to pad our vacation fund will in the end be counter productive.

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