1967 – My eighth home: Dennert’s Road, Hamilton.
I’m not counting the times our family has lived with grandparents, nor the times we were sent to relatives during mum’s pregnancies – sometimes she would be so sick she couldn’t look after us. At least once she almost died. That time the doctor accused her of trying to kill the baby. I’m only counting the homes I can remember. Although I do not have any photographs from 1967, we still lived at Walker’s Farm in 1970 when dad gave me an old Box Brownie camera. These photos were recently put on dvd from old negatives. The surviving photos are precious. I typed all the information on the back of each one with an old Remington type-writer when the photos were developed.
I turned twelve in February, 1967.
Before the 1965 school year, we moved from Balmoral in the Western District of Victoria (Australia) to Hamilton, where I spent Grade 5 at the Gray Street Primary School. Our rented house was a long house of only three rooms end to end. We were not used to being confined to a house block in a town, nor such a small home. That experience made our next house all the more wonderful. Another thing we hated was the bus. Since we were in town we had to pay to use the bus, so we walked quite a distance to school. If it was raining we had no choice but to use it, and if we had no money we would simply walk to school once the rain stopped. I think mum loved writing us school notes.
Before the 1967 school year began, we moved to the other side of Hamilton, a few miles out, renting an old farm-house on a sheep farm. We caught a school bus to George Street Primary School where I was now in grade 6. While we lived in this same house, I went on to complete three years of high school before we moved on to Muntham, a locality between Coleraine and Casterton.
My sister nearly drowned me in that dam beside the house. She was ‘saving’ me when I got out of my depth. I could have dog-paddled but she grabbed me around the neck! There was a tin boat dad made while we lived in Balmoral. I think that is it, bottom up in the dam near the edge.
The orchard had apple trees and a huge mulberry tree. There might have been other fruit, but I don’t remember. I made ink for my fountain pen from mulberry juice once.
This next photo shows the house from across the paddocks that we would walk through to pick up the bus with other kids near a cluster of houses.
You’ll notice in the photos the house painted white to only halfway up. Mr Walker could only reach that far. I think he had an old war injury and could not climb a ladder. It probably wasn’t painted in 1967. I don’t recall what colour it originally was, nor if the roof was painted.
I loved playing under houses but this one wasn’t much fun. I suppose I was getting too old for such games. In 1967, I made up a composition about meeting a snake under there. Just a half page story which ended with me waking up. I got away with not filling the page as normally I had a battle to stop at three pages! I loved writing stories.
I managed to get on the roof of this house just once, had trouble getting down again. I climbed every tree. We kids would have challenges to see how far we could travel across adjoining trees without touching the ground. I loved stringing up an old chaff bag hammock between trees. I would read all day during the school holidays if we were not doing fun stuff like playing cowboys and indians (we’d make our own bow and arrows from sticks and hay bale twine) practising high jumps for the school sports, skipping rope, playing hopscotch, marbles, and other normal stuff of that era. We would make cubbies out of branches, and sometimes sleep in them.
We had the run of the farm, but did most of our playing around the house or farm buildings except for the shearing shed where we were not allowed. Sometimes we went fishing in a little creek that bounded the very back of the farm property. I caught a huge redfin once and dad ate it for breakfast before I got out of bed next day. I was pissed off, he didn’t keep me any and I never went fishing there again.
During summer when there were snakes we had to walk around by the road and pick up the bus near the Hamilton Trotting Track. That used to annoy the bus driver because he would have an extra stop. The photo of the bus stop is a bit blurry because I didn’t want to be seen taking the photo. But you get an idea of the wide open spaces of the area. In winter, we also had to walk the long way round if the grass was too long and wet, else our shoes and feet would be soaked all day.
But I should be talking about the house. I loved it. It was a typical farm-house. A front and back veranda. Sometimes, the chooks would hang about the back verandah, leaving their droppings on the concrete path to the side gate. We would shoo them out of the yard. We always had one or two dogs and lots of cats. I remember once mum had a bitch on heat tied to the clothesline and a dog came along to take advantage. We kids goggled at the sight when they got stuck together. I’d learned about the reproductive process just the year before, from my younger sister.
The wash-house was behind the house (far left in the first photo). Mum would boil up the clothes in the old copper. There was a double wash trough and a clothes mangle. As well as the rotary clothesline we had a long one out back further. It was so long it had three props to support it.
The toilet adjoined the wash-house. It had a dunny can, which had to be emptied into a hole dug in the ground. Sometimes it would be left so long it began to overflow. I think that only happened when dad intended to nick a sheep. He did this now and then from around the district. He butchered it in the shed and hid the evidence under the dunny doings.
One year I had roller skates for Xmas, so I became very familiar with that concrete. I’m not sure exactly where that old Humber car came from. We used to play in and on it.
My three brothers slept in the front bedroom. In 1967, my baby brother would have been in the cot in mum and dad’s room. I slept with my sister in a double bed in the other front room, the one with the window over the verandah. It was handy for climbing out and running off down the back to avoid hearing mum and dad arguing. Once, when dad was beating mum, we three elder children flew into the house, swore at him, and ran out again. He was so shocked he actually controlled himself better after that. Mum said at least it was better for her on the bed than the kitchen floor.
Our electricity was supplied by a 32 volt engine that ran on petrol. Dad had to crank a handle to get it started. One day, his hand slipped and the crank smashed into his mouth, scarring him. No-one else would start the plant, so when dad was away and the batteries ran down, we used lanterns, lamps, or candlelight. I can remember reading by the light of the open fire in the lounge until mum bought in the light from another room , at least until mum caught me.
We did not have television when I was twelve, though we had it not long afterwards. It must have been a special 32 volt one.
When dad was away working, we would gather around the fire by the firelight and mum would tell us stories about her childhood. Usually stories about her and her brother being naughty, stealing fruit and ringing church bells. We loved hearing the stories over and over. I think she loved it when we would ask for the story of meeting dad. She would tell us the Once in a Blue Moon story. Dad asked her how often she went to the pictures. On her answer, he said there was blue moon coming up and asked her out. Corny. Sometimes that story would then turn into the Rich Beau story, the dairy-farmer fellow she left for dad. The one that had The Tree Chopped From Under Him.
Mum’s mother, Grandma, kept dairy cows on her town common, and she gave mum a cow. We had plenty of milk to drink those years and mum still has the bones of a thirty year old. Mum would have the cow put with a bull and she would sell the offspring, sharing the money with the bull’s owner. The cow was called Blackie and dad sold her one day without telling mum. Grandma was furious when she found out. Grandma didn’t like dad much and only let mum marry him because she pretended she was pregnant. Grandma wanted mum to marry better than a mere labourer.
Dad grew lots of vegetables in the garden. I love radishes to this day.
Almost forgot to mention our race horse – ha ha. A bay gelding, he was a pacer, not a trotter. He ran in those races where they pull a sulky and never won an official race until Dad sold him. Joh was in mum’s name, dad having a criminal record and all. The colours were red silk with yellow diamonds. My sister used to ride Joh, but I was scared of him. The bugger would make out he was going to roll, until I got off.
Mum always kept us and the house clean though I suspect I needed to have my long hair washed more than once a week. Mum would wax the floor and we big kids would tow the littlies around on old blankets to shine up the lino.
We bathed in the bath once or twice a week, depending on how much water was available. We had to light the chip heater for hot water. (Chips being the little pieces of wood left over from splitting wood with the axe.) We had a wood stove for cooking and one of my jobs was to collect sticks and chips for kindling the fires. Getting the mornings wood, that was called. We used to have bucket baths the other days, to save water. Of course we always washed our face and hands before school and cleaned our teeth.
We always kissed mum before we set off for school. If we missed the bus I would walk to school. I loved school and besides, this was the first year I had a boyfriend — sort of. I was a foot taller than him. He barracked for St Kilda Football Club, they had won the Premiership the year before. I had never taken much notice of football until this boyfriend, so naturally I barracked for that team, too. I continued to barrack for them until recently. The year before last, I ditched them for Port Adelaide. (And that had nothing at all to do with the Saints failing to win another grand final since 1966. )
There was a drought one year while we lived in this house and I was sent down the well to see if there was water. Our water tanks were dry. I had to clean it out and I think the spring underneath trickled in but the water was brackish. You couldn’t drink it.
There was a big walk-in pantry off the kitchen. Mum used to preserve fruit and vegetable in Vacola jars. Once my brother and I took some swigs from dad’s sherry and spent some time in there, laying on the top shelves, drunk and giggling. We thought it was hilarious when we kept falling off. We were lucky we never hurt ourselves. Dad never found out.
I hope you enjoyed my reminisces about where I lived when I was twelve. I enjoyed telling you about it. This house no longer stands. I hope it has been relocated and renovated and another twelve-year-old will grow up with fond memories of their home. I get a lovely warm feeling when I think of living there.
Written for Writing 101, Day Eleven