It was almost a perfect summer’s day. That interlude of lazy days between Christmas and New Year.
The waves gently caressing the shore and the tourists out on stand-up paddleboards, kayaks or paddle boats. The number of pink inflatable ponies bobbing around in the water adorned with small children, an indication of what was on sale at the retail stores prior to Christmas. It was idyllic.
The Moth broke the comfy serenity by saying:
“This looks just like that scene from Jaws.”
Only of course, thankfully there was no shark reeking havoc amongst the bathers. But it did bring to mind what many friends from overseas have told me. They live in fear of a shark attack if they go swimming in Australia. Some refuse to even paddle in the shallows for this reason.
Yet if truth be told, you are much more likely to drown than be attacked by a shark in Australian waters. You only have to watch a few episodes of Bondi Rescue if you don’t believe me.
On average, 87 people drown at Australian beaches each year, (SLSA 2010), yet there have been, on average, only 1.1 fatalities per year from shark attack over the past two decades. It is clear that the risk of being bitten or dying from an unprovoked shark attack in Australia remains extremely low.
Shark attacks, in Australia, has been well documented since colonial times and the number of reported attacks during the 20th century seem to fluctuate in line with changing patterns of water-based recreational activities, (such as swimming, surfing and sailboarding), public awareness and shark netting operations.
We will never completely eliminate shark attacks, unless the species most likely to attack humans in Australian waters: ie.the White, Tiger and Bull sharks disappear from our waters. Extinction of animal species is never a preferred option.
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??
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!
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.”
Summer in the 60’s was so carefree
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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……
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.