By Jill Wild
Memories. If we’re lucky, we can tap into them at will and recall times long gone. Some we won’t care to remember; whilst others will fill us with a deep sense of joy. Memories of our families, our schools, our homes, our pastimes; they’re all there, locked away somewhere within us, just waiting for us to breathe life into them.
Number eleven Conifer Avenue Brooklyn was the house I was brought home to many moons ago. Built in the mid-1950s, it was a two bedroomed white weatherboard with a garden that was my parent’s pride and joy. With perfectly manicured front and back lawns and a row of immaculately pruned red rose bushes at the front, our home rivalled any out of Home Beautiful. Our backyard had two enormous gumtrees that created havoc when they constantly shed their leaves, and the centrepiece was my mother’s hand built rockery; the must have feature of the 1960s garden. Many a Saturday afternoon mum would spend at the local quarry with my auntie, fossicking for rocks and boulders, the pair of them like kids in a lolly shop. Exhausted from their haul, they would drive home late into the afternoon with their newly claimed booty, in cars groaning from the weight of the rocks.
My sister Janette and I also had our pride and joy, our cubby house, Office 11. Built by my dad from packing cases, its features included a tin roof and a little louvered window that always jammed on opening. The interior featured well worn floral carpet and state of the art shelving for our board games. Office 11 played host to a swag of neighbourhood kids. We played monopoly from sun up till sundown and had the most outrageous fights over who was cheating. Kids would storm out, slamming the door, vowing never to return. Alas, they were all back the next day.
Our cubby was also where our creative talents were unleashed. On Saturday’s we were up early waiting for the The Sun and The Age to be delivered. Both papers had colouring and word competitions. The Age paid the best – a grand prize of $2 for the winner of the colouring competition, with Corinella paying the princely sum of 25 cents for a win. It’s hard to believe, but back then, winning $2 and seeing your name in print as a winner was such a thrill for any budding young artist. Janette and I both had ‘wild’ imaginations, so we came up with the idea of forming a club. From humble beginnings, The Black Cat Club was born, with weekly meetings taking place at Office 11. Mum made us little black badges to give to our handpicked members with the number one criteria for membership being… must love cats… preferably black ones. Our black cat Tammy became the unofficial president.
As if all of that activity wasn’t enough for us, being the little entrepreneurs that we were, we decided on the idea of having fetes in our back yard. Under mum’s guidance, we took over the kitchen and churned out a variety of goodies to sell.
We raided the linen cupboard for old tablecloths and set up little stalls of honey jumbles, chocolate crackles, sticky toffees and patty cakes. Word got around and the neighbourhood kids rolled up with purses full of loose change ready to sample our wares. If we made a dollar each for our day’s activity we were on cloud nine, and mum, bless her heart, did all the cleaning up in the kitchen.
When mum wasn’t overseeing the baking for our garden fetes, she was cooking up a storm herself. Rock cakes, jam buns, yo-yo’s, Anzac biscuits, lamingtons, cakes and slices of all descriptions. Boy did her Sunbeam mixer work overtime.
Like most 1960s Aussie neighbourhoods, ours was an extremely close one. Perhaps a little too close at times. We were on a first name basis with our postie, our baker who delivered the bread, our ‘milko’ who collected the milk money on Sundays, and even our ’dunny’ man, although with him I think we kept our distance for obvious reasons.
Jeff drove a little blue Tip Top van and would arrive every week day with a wicker basket laden with freshly baked rolls and bread. If mum wasn’t home he would leave a wholemeal loaf on the back table under the veranda. A loaf cost 19 cents so there was always 1 cent in change from the twenty cent piece left. Paul our postman was a character. He knew everyone’s business and spent more time chatting to people at their letterboxes than delivering the mail; but that’s how life was back then.
Summertime was definitely our favourite time of year. If we weren’t in Margaret or Donna’s pool, we were at the local Baths. We took it upon ourselves on hot days to slip into our togs, grab a towel and our zippy board, and head off to whoever was home at the time. No invites, we just fronted up. The only protocol back then was to stand at your friend’s back door and shout out their name. If Donna was home she appeared and joined us in HER pool, if not, it was plan B, off to Margaret’s, to check out her pool scene. We would spend the whole day there, never thinking for a moment that we were overstaying our welcome.
The next best thing to our friends’ swimming pools were the famous Footscray Baths. We would pack our bags and set out mid-morning, collecting any friends on the way that cared to join us. Two dollars would be more than enough to cover our bus fare, entry fee and money for chicko rolls and potato cakes for lunch. We would spend all day in the pool with a million other kids and sunbake on the boiling hot concrete till we looked like lobsters, with not a tube of sunscreen in sight.
Janette and I always had our jobs around the house and garden to do. Setting the table, drying the dishes, feeding the cats, raking up the gum leaves, collecting the briquettes for the heater, all fairly tedious, mundane tasks. But there was one job that we jumped at, riding around to the local shops to pick up some supplies for mum.
There were only ever two or three items to be bought, that was all we could fit in to our baskets on our bikes. Being an avid knitter and cook, quite often the New Idea for 15 cents was on the list as was our favourite biscuits, chocolate wheatens, straight from the big tin containers, with a few broken ones thrown in for free. We were always allowed to spend the change. A Donald Duck or Pineapple Pete icy pole for 4 cents, or maybe the ultimate, ten cents of mixed lollies; with sherbies, musk sticks, lolly bananas, black cats, chocolate freckles, and milk bottles always in the mix.
When we weren’t colouring, or baking, or swimming or playing monopoly, we were pestering our dad to make us another kite. Dad, being a master cabinet maker, made what we considered the best kites in the world. Coloured, glossy paper attached to a huge wooden diamond frame and a massive tail at the end. We would pile into the car when the masterpiece was finished and head to the open parkland for the launch.
The wind had to be blowing a gale to get it off the ground and into the sky. Sometimes it took forever and we would get impatient. Dad always knew that anything he produced would deliver the goods, so we stood by him in anticipation. The feeling of running around with the wind in your hair holding this simple thing that is bobbing and gliding through the air like a bird is just magical. To anyone who has never had the experience, put it on your bucket list… Go fly a kite.
At the end of 1971, we sold 11 Conifer Avenue and packed up our lives and moved to the beach, to begin the next chapter. And so ends my trip down memory lane, for the time being anyway. In life, we have our ups and downs, we have our good times and bad times and people we love and cherish will all sadly leave us one day; then the only thing we have left, if we are lucky, is our memory of them. I feel so blessed to have had the most wonderful childhood ever, and to have the ability to remember it like it was yesterday, is quite simply, priceless.
The pics are of my sister and me on the steps of 11 Conifer Avenue, and in the rockery outside Office 11.