My Early Years

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  Just a Kid

Getting to Sutherland

my dad- Lieutenant Robert Hawkins Buchanan

Once upon a time I was a kid. My formative life started in Sutherland north; what was then an outlying suburb of Sydney.

Although I was born in the United States now my earliest memories are around this house in Sutherland. It seems strange now that as a man entering old age I am reflecting on these early years. As I start this trek down memory lane with this writing, memory snippets of those many years gone by are coming back to me. I might add not in any particular order or relevance. They may pop into my mind in bed, or at Dinner or right now as I am writing to you.

Brochure- on BCPA , plane which we came to Australia

My father grew up in Westfield, New Jersey and my mother came from San Francisco, California. Both parents lived in well established communities with services and facilities unimaginable to what Sutherland must have been like in those days. My father had visited Australia during the war years as a young Lieutenant with the U.S. Navy. My father’s reasons for bringing his young bride to Australia were basically to start a new life. Although he wanted to be here it would not have been easy for my mother who whichever way you look at it was only here because she was married to dad.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in August 1946. My sister Beth was born in Texas. In 1949 my parents with Beth and me came to Australia with the new airline called BCPA. This airline was created by the Australian government to be in competition with PanAm. Airfares were $685 per person according to their brochure with children under 2 travelling free. This fare too didn’t include the 15% US government tax. I guess I was half fare and Beth who is 2 years younger was would have been free. Crikeys that is a lot of money being probably equivalent to a year’s wages per adult traveller. By the middle of 1949 I was living in Sutherland.

My memories of those earliest years emerge into my life in a not too distant time.


Our House in Sutherland- 25 Auburn Street

Our Sutherland home – before Dad made some changes. Looks like me on the front fence

Our house in Sutherland was my everything. But now when I see it I can’t imagine why it so seriously occupied the centre of my world. Our house was not very impressive. A fibro house with two bedrooms, a back enclosed back verandah, an outside dunny and a minuscule garage on one side of the house.

Much of my formative years happened in this house. Our house had a front entrance with a hall way going past my parent’s room and then the bathroom and at the end of which was a second bedroom. Doors to the right as you went down the passageway would take you into a lounge room and the kitchen.

our house as it looks today

Mum and Dad’s room had beautiful windows with special hot pressed rounded glass in each of the top sections. The front door and lounge room windows had same arrangement. This glass only came into vogue in the post war years. (The so-called Art deco style windows). They are still there today and would now probably be irreplaceable. But that was where the luxury ended. The floors were covered with dark green felt. Feltex was the winner for wall to wall floor coverings in our house. Surprisingly the front fence was made of brick with a metal wrought iron gate in its middle. The brick fence always seemed to me to be somewhat ornate and incongruous in its solidity with the fibro look of the house. A footpath connected this gateway to the front of the house.

Our house was in Auburn Street. Auburn Street was a dirt street with no gutters and ended just past the school which was across the road. This was to become my school when I grew older. My earliest memories of that school though were of a single building with two rooms and an outdoor area where assemblies were held. Later it became much bigger. Where Auburn Street ended the bush started. It is hard to imagine now just how much wild untamed land we had around us. It seemed at the time that the bush would always remain the bush and be my playground. In those days no one wanted it and thus we had it all to ourselves.

Starting Out

mum, me and dad at the front door before renovations

My life started in Sutherland. I knew no other. But somehow I did sense that our family was different. Yes we were emigrants but not like the other lots. Our family came from the States; we spoke English and as Dad had a job we had food on the table. For us children there were few reminders of my parent’s lives that we were aware of in those early years. Dad had a few war service ribbons, some starched shirt collars with the gold attachment pins and a navy cap from his war years which he kept in the bathroom cupboard. Dad had a book on the Navy with lots of pictures of war time carnage which we tried to understand. And later Dad’s mum came to visit us but that was much later.

But by and large we were on our own. Other people in our streets seem to have relatives or more relationships. But we were we and that seemed enough most of the time.

left-right Denis, Barbara, Robert, Beth

But maybe my story is getting out of order. Because when we came to Sutherland Rob and Barby hadn’t even joined our team. Just Beth and me. I was the oldest and I guess that gave me the head start. (I am the born, then Beth, Rob and Barby each separated by 2 years)

I have trouble remembering the house as it was when we moved in as Dad quickly got to work making some changes. I don’t remember sleeping in the back room. That was for the girls. They had the big trunks which came from America and the Navajo rugs on the floor. We loved those rugs and the patterns were always wondered at for no one else seems to have these. My earliest sleeping arrangements were in a room that I presume Dad made by cutting off part of the back verandah. We had bunks with Rob on one and me on the other. I guess I must have been on the top bunk.

Perhaps we were moved gradually to the back of the house as we got older. Babies were generated in the front room and stayed a little in a bassinet and then to the back room and finally separated into boys and girls as we grew up.


My Earliest Memories

My earliest memories were around the house. Lots of climbing adventures in the trees immediately adjacent to the house some of which we could get to by climbing out of our bedroom window behind our bunks. As kids I remember so many games we played on the back verandah. Monopoly, snakes and ladders, picture drawing, card games, checkers, Chinese checkers… and whatever. Mum seemed to encourage us as Dad was probably at work. It must have been hard for mum with a large mob of kids, Dad at work, few friends, shops a long way away… But on rainy day she always figured something for us to do.

Which happened first…?


Mum with her boys

I guess when I was four and before I could go to school mum decided I needed more structure in my life and took me to the local kindergarten. Well it wasn’t that local either. You have to realize that even though we had a car or I think we did we didn’t use it very often. So to take me to kindergarten would mean that she had to take Beth and baby Rob along as well. Unfortunately for someone kindergarten didn’t last long. I was already an expert climber and I think I only went one of two days before Mum was getting calls to take me away. You see the school had a playground with small swings and safe things to do but just outside the high cyclone fence was a full playground with proper swings, climbing bars and a roundabout. So I climbed out.

Ear aches caused me lots of problems when I was this age. I don’t know why it was only me but my ear would ache so much and the only relief seemed to be a hot water bottle with a cloth next to my ear. I would always end up in mum’s bed with the hot water bottle. Many hours it seemed to take until the abscess broke and the ear stopped hurting. Most often this happened in the early hours of the morning. It must have frightened my mum and dad as I think they sorted help on many an occasion from our family doctor. Somehow advice was given that maybe if my tonsils were removed things might improve. So I had my tonsils out at a hospital. I remember the hospital and a big red crane or truck that they brought to me as I was recovering. I don’t remember the operation or the hospital visit as being particularly difficult certainly nothing compared with the pain of ear aches.

I don’t think the operation really did much for the ears. I just grew out of it and maybe learnt how to remove the wax buildup before it caused an ear ache.

Dad’s super duper toy – the Shopsmith

Dad used the garage as his work shop. He liked making things and had Uncles who had influenced him when he was growing up. He bought a Shopsmith from the US. This was a magnificent wood working tool in its time. A multipurpose wood working tool with attachments to make a lathe, a planer, a jigsaw, a circular saw and drill press. It took pride of place in the workshop and Dad made tool boards to put all the paraphernalia in the right places. (These were also transported when we moved house except for 1 which I noticed on the wall when we visited the old house some 50 years later!) This machine became part of our destiny and followed us for many years eventually finishing up with Rob in New Zealand. Dad obviously refined his skills on the machine. He made all of us useful things using including jigsaw puzzles, baseball bats, furniture, and bassinets for Barby to name a few things.

As I grew older my roaming increased. The street was explored. I had friends. Ian Webber and Danny Rogers and later Ken Wright. The vacant land next to our house still hadn’t been built upon yet. Our back yard seemed enormous and dad built giant swings and a climbing rope for us. This may have come about with my unsuccessful enrolment in kindergarten.

Mr Jenkins the Car mechanic lived next door. He had a large ramp made of bricks and mortar which you drove up so that he could work under your car. I don’t actually remember him doing much work or inviting me over so I expect he must have been quite old. Mrs Cropp was next door to him and could also be approached from our house by climbing over her fence and finally down the back were the Applebys. There were two generations of Applebys. Mrs Appleby lived in the old house next door to Mrs Cropp and the younger Applebys were in a more modern house at the bottom of our block. Applebys is a good name really though they didn’t grow apples to my knowledge but had a big market garden and grew flowers as well.

That was our block on one side. Below the Applebys was a creek that became a river in heavy rains with often deep holes in the creek bed making traffic impassable. Opposite Mrs Cropp’s house was the Rooneys whose family became entwined with ours over the years. John Rooney was the dad and Evelyn the wife. John was a civil engineer and his call to fame in my memory bank is the large concrete silo that he made in his back yard. Above the Rooneys on the opposite corner to the Jenkins was another vacant block. I can remember playing I think with the Cropp daughter on this block when I was very young. Sue introduced me to Daisy chain making.

Also on the opposite corner of Auburn Street from the Jenkins was another vacant block of land. This was also a market garden and was worked by the man who lived next door. He grew good spinach which mum often bought off him. The soil wasn’t that great in Sutherland yet his land always seem to prosper. As he was also the dunny man collector I was always somewhat dubious about eating his spinach. I couldn’t help thinking where did all that shit go to.

Dunnys like they used to be

Talking about dunnys (toilet to others maybe) we had to be careful not to be sitting on pickup days. Dunnys were not a very pleasant ideological building in those days. And dunny stories in many places have now become the basis of Australian folklore. Our dunny was a genuine dunny. Don’t expect any luxuries in this room. A real spider covered area or worse with a strong aroma of you know what especially on a hot day. And no soft toilet paper (remember the jingle “what’s the gentlest tissue in the bathroom you can issue”) in those days. Bum wiping was usually a newspaper or an old telephone book hanging on a nail.

Outside the dunny between it and the garage were the choko vines along the Jenkins fence. I haven’t eaten too many chokos in my life since leaving Sutherland but it seemed in those days it was a staple on our food menu. Sort of tasted like a squash i.e not much flavour. Whilst at the back of the toilet and running across the house yard was a small retaining wall. The wall was roughly made and it was where our mint came from. Besides these two items I don’t really remember growing anything in Sutherland.

Beats the hand mangle –

The house had a path from the dunny going the back of the house and up a few steps. The washroom was at other end of the verandah to our room. Clothes washing days used to be just that. In the beginning mum did the clothes washing in a double cement sink. A mangle divided the sinks and water could be rung out by passing the clothes through this mangle and turning the handle at the same time. Mum eventually got a washing machine with an agitator and mechanical wringer attachment. You had to be quite involved to do your washing in those days. An often us kids would take a go at the wringer being careful to only put our clothes though and not get our hands caught. Mum also had a mangle which was made of corrugated glass for rubbing the clothes against to get those stubborn stains out. I think she also had a copper but I don’t remember her using it. All the clothes were then hung on the Hills Hoist. This clothesline swung out over the retaining wall. Sometimes we hung onto it and swung around and over the ledge. I am surprised it survived our assaults.


My memory improves or more about nothing


Sutherland was my world. Us kids never really understood what was over the far horizons as most of the time we concentrated on the local horizons. I guess that is what happens as you grow older – you look further and further afield.

Our biggest journey was to the city by train. Mum loved going to town but it wasn’t a regular occurrence as she had us nearly always in tow in those early days. We knew about the city and in those days if you went to the back of the school yard you could see the tallest buildings and the Harbour Bridge. Yes you could see the Harbour Bridge. That view as long gone with the tall buildings and smog giving at best a hazy skyline.

So mum would walk us to the station. Baby Barb in the pram with the rest of us toddlers trying to walk. It was a long walk too from Auburn Street via Target’s shop to the Railway road and then past the shopping centre and finally the overpass to the station. I can remember visits to David Jones from St. James Station. I can’t say I was enamoured with mum’s choice of shops but we loved going. I do remember it seemed to take so long to get there and back that I often fell asleep on the way home. Sometimes when I was a little older mum would leave me at the playground near the Domain Art Gallery. I think that may have been when she had lectures at the Uni. Hard to imagine that happening today.

In summer on weekends sometimes as a family we would go to Cronulla for a swim. I am not sure I was a good swimmer in those days as water in my ears would often be the cause of ear aches. This meant that I had to swim with my head out of the water. (Not the best way to learn the Australian crawl or freestyle as it is now called) But I did love it and especially the treat of a strawberry ice-cream which we used to get from the north end of the beach just below the Cronulla Hotel. I think we used to swim in the baths there too a lot. And if we were really lucky we would get to go on the Merry-go-Round located in the arcade that took you to the Station. This Merry- go-Round was so beautiful with carved horses that went up and down brass posts and real music coming from some pianola or something. Everything in it seemed to be connected to something else. It really stirred me up to see this exciting creation.

The other thing we used to do in the Cronulla area was visit the sand hills on the way to Kurnell. This may have been at a later period in my life but I will include it here. Dad made skis for us out of moulded wood. From memory the toe was curved up and pointed. You only had one ski each and it was about six feet long. About two feet from the front were straps to lock your feet in and at the back was a small block of wood to sit on. We would have to wax these skis before using them. Now the sand hills were where companies were excavating the sand for construction. They were not locked in those days and you could just walk in. Some were very steep and I imagine in this day and age would be regarded as a dangerous place to be. But for us it was a great adventure. We would climb to the top and find a slope that had dried out. Then we would position ourselves on the edge and lean forward or be pushed over the ledge and down we would go. You didn’t really have much chance of steering and I think the main objective was to make it to the bottom.


A little older – starting school 1951 say

left to right : Danny’s brother, Denis, Danny and Ivan

I would say my two best friends were Danny Rogers and Ivan Webber. I felt very close to Danny and Ivan and often wonder why they disappeared from my life when I started school.

Danny lived not far from the Applebys. His house was a Federation home with a semicircular brick open verandah. I don’t remember much more about the house or his mum and dad but I remember the difficulty in visiting him. Danny had a very vicious dog perhaps a German shepherd but more likely it was just a mongrel dog. Whilst the front fence wasn’t particularly high the dog wouldn’t jump it to attack you. However if you entered the property then the rules changed. Many a time as I entered the dog would spot me before Danny came and I would make a beeline for that front verandah.

Danny and his brother were intrepid cubby house builders. There cubby houses made me green with envy. I remember one that they had built high up in a tree with a rope ladder to get to it. The tree was enormous; not a native but some very leafy species with prickles on the trunk. So without a ladder it was difficult to get to the cubby house. They had made it with off cuts from a nearby timber yard.

Danny had a great sense of humour. I think he may have gone to a Catholic school as I don’t remember any adventures at school that included him.

Ivan Webber came from a big family maybe eleven children. He lived in a tin shanty about a block away. Actually it wasn’t much of a house and had dirt floors. Ian didn’t seem to mind and the family were proud. I visited one day and Ian’s mother offered me tea and Sao biscuits with Nasturtium leaves. I didn’t get this at home.

We were often wondered how we could make a little money. On Saturday mum often gave us sixpence to go to the movies which we loved. But extras like money for birthdays or Christmas had to be sourced over a long period of time. One job I do remember is the man around the corner said he would pay me to clean out his chicken shed. Well I took a barrow down to his place and did a very good job. I found customers for the manure and kept going back to get some more. Well I sure got rid of all the chicken shit plus a great deal of the soil underneath. Now that I had found a source of income I needed more manure. Well in those early days there was an old farm with a few cows on it. The farmer must have let me help myself so then I went into cow manure for a few days until that ran out too. This old farm was below the school and to my knowledge was that it was the only one left in the area. It had seen better days too and I think the old house may have been abandoned. We had a lot of fun exploring that farm. I may have even sneaked a little green corn that was growing there.



School was just across the road. No problems getting there.

At our school uniforms were not required and thus our clothes were just that – they clothed the body simply. I remember not always wearing underpants and at times went without shoes. Chesty bond singlets were common. Thongs hadn’t been invented and black lace shoes were for best. All our clothes were made of cotton or wool. There were no synthetics in those days. I was the oldest and hence usually got the best deal unless they were hand-me-downs from a neighbour. Yes clothes were pretty basic and uniforms didn’t exist in any form. I can remember one time the teacher chased me around the playground as I didn’t have a shirt on either. Knitting and sewing were pretty common among the mums which was probably a necessity as there wasn’t even an Op shop in those days. Some mums would even undo an old jumper to knit the new one. The best mums could make woollen sock. Oh yes socks weren’t thrown out when they got a hole. Mum would put an orange inside and darn them up. I reckon Mum was kept very busy repairing our clothes especially us boys from the rough usage we gave them.

But it seemed like great fun to me to be at school and I think I would have been very sick to have missed a day. When I started there was only one building. It was a real two room bush school with wooden cladding; a steep roof and a full length verandah in front where you could leave your bag or raincoats. Assembly on fine days was on the bitumen in front of the verandah. I can still remember Empire Day. We were all on show having come to school neat and tidy with hair combed and of course shoes on. Square dancing or something similar and the National Anthem which was God Save the Queen. All of us with a little placard on our shirts with crossed flags or England and Australia.

It was good going to school. I loved the projects such as making hardcovers for the National Geographic which we would stencil with patterns made from potatoes. Somehow I wasn’t a good reader. Mum seems to think it was due to my ear problems but I don’t really remember having difficulty hearing things unless of course I didn’t want to. Actually I liked reading certain things like Dad’s popular mechanics and books on planes. But writing was a different game. Sentence construction defied me with prepositions, adverbs, adjectives etc all too complicated. Spelling wasn’t too good either. I think I may have been dyslexic as I would get things like lettuce and cabbage terribly mixed up. So much so that if mum asked me to get say beans I may have come back with peas. They sort of looked the same to me so I couldn’t really rationalise what the difference was and even if I did I would forget what rules I had employed to remember this the next time I went out. Maybe Dad was a little stern and the pressure of it all got to me. But I liked my maths even then. How much would you pay for three apples at 1/3½ each plus 2 tennis balls at 5/- was a fun task for me.

I liked drawing and lots of my pictures would have planes or shootings in them. Remember we were post war and there was much ado about fighting and victory in the comics and books we read. Obviously my side were the victors.

In the later years I spent some time in the new classrooms. I can remember the teacher reading to us as we all sat around her on the carpet. I think nearly everyone was of Anglo –Saxon origin in those days. Religious teaching also occurred by readings once a week. I must admit I wasn’t very sure about the Bible as we had no religious teach at home. In Australia at that time you had to have a religion. If you filled out a form it would ask what religion you were. You couldn’t say “none” so you said C of E which meant Church of England. I was always a little unsure how I came to be of this religion and of course never got to go to church. Sometimes I wonder why I had to miss out especially when I had no friends to play with as they were going to that place on Sundays.

Nib-pens take some getting used to

slope and height had to be right. Ink pen writing is now a lost art

Later we had to learn to write. At first I learnt with a pencil generally called a “lead Pencil”. We always thought they might be dangerous to suck as they were made from Lead. But in reality they were always made from graphite which the early discoverers thought was a form of lead. Later we moved into more serious writing. Script writing was done using a dip pen. The ink came in a powder form and was mixed every day and some put in each inkwell for which there was a round hole in each desk. The dip pen was made by attaching a nib to a holder made of wood. The nib was dipped into the well of ink and then you could write with it refilling by re-dipping . To get a script right we practised on lined paper. All sounds well in theory but there was one major obstacle and that is I was left handed. Writing with wet ink from left to right leaves one exposed to smudging even the use of blotting paper couldn’t save me. If you look at most left hander’s they would write with their hand over the pen and that is fatal. I learnt to write with my hand beneath the script and thus escaped some of these problems. Dip pens are still used for calligraphy and once you get used to them they become part of your personality. The angle of the upstroke, the thickness of the line as it curved at the top and the evenness of your script remember top and bottom had to be level were interesting skills which I had to fathom out. One more anecdote that comes to mind is left hander’s in those days were considered an abnormality and should be changed over to right hander’s. Conforming was all the norm in those days and as you can see I was often the odd man out.

Lunch was good too. We never went home for lunch. Sometimes my lunch might have been a bit soggy but I think I was always too hungry at lunchtime to let it go to waste. And on special days we were able to order lunch from the tuckshop which was run mostly by the mothers. Peanut butter, vegemite , bake bean or spaghetti sandwiches were the cheapest choices. Unlike my siblings I never got to like vegemite.There may have been salad sandwiches but people were not fussy in those days. Oh yes I forgot meat pies, sausage rolls, chocolate crackles, Arnotts arrowroot biscuits with icing. Yes those were the days. Mum sometimes worked in the tuck shop which wasn’t much more than a lean to shed. No one to my knowledge ever got sick from the food but it would certainly not pass the over regulated OH&S laws that exist today. Perhaps mums wouldn’t even be able to work in a tuckshop now.

A third of a pint of milk delivered every day

Not straight away but perhaps in my second year of school free milk was delivered to the school. The government was worried that children were not getting enough nutrition. So milk was delivered in ⅓ pint jars and left on the verandah until morning break. No refrigeration in those days and often the chosen position for drop-offs was a sunny position. As a result lots of kids grew up with mixed experiences over having to drink milk that had gotten hot and perhaps gone off.

Much more happened at school in successive years. Both me and the school were growing. During the four to five years that I was there much building was going on. I remember the Parents helping raise money for various activities. I don’t remember what formal sports we played. There certainly weren’t any competition type sports between schools. There was a Catholic school in Sutherland proper and another Primary and High school there too but we had no involvement with them. We made our own fun.

Dinky Toys were collector items amongst us kids – collecting and trading were carried out daily

Dad made the school some baseball bats and we played with them at school when we were older. I don’t remember cricket being played but I guess it was. After school we flew kites in the back yard of the school. We formed a club called the Blackhawks. We made the kites out of thin sticks and glued paper to the strings which were tied around the sticks. I think mum helped us get it right. The kites got bigger and the tails longer as we became more experienced. Also we would paint our logo on the front of the kite. One of our games was to attack another kite that was in flight. To do this we tied razor blades to the tails. As the kites passed each other the tails would cut into the enemy kite. We had a lot of fun kite flying especially on windy days.

As the building of the school went on we got lots of off cuts from the builders which were left lying around the school yard. We used to play in one section of the yard where we would sit for lunch on some benches under the gum trees. I remember this area well as it was near Arcadia Street. Looking at Google map I can see that the school has gotten bigger as the school then used to back onto houses in Waratah Street. I remember the tall gum trees with the resin oozing out of the trunk. I always wondered what we could use this resin for.

It was a good spot here as we had it to ourselves out of school hours. In those days we were avid collectors of Dinky toys. All the boys had them. We would enter our make believe world in the dusty ground near the lunch room seating area. We would use the off cuts to make garages, roads and whatever and the dinky toys would be parked in the buildings that we created. The imagination must have been good as I don’t remember that the building were anything special. Dinky toys were a very valuable and tradable item. Condition and models were carefully examined and deals were negotiated.

My last episode of school is just after we left to move to Kensington. I don’t know why we were visiting the school but I took the opportunity to put my name in the wet cement of the steps leading to a new school building. Maybe I just wanted to be remembered but I didn’t go back for a long time to check how my artwork was received.


Sutherland North is a good walk from the railway station and the main shopping precinct. In those earliest years I wouldn’t be allowed to go there. However my mum would let me go to McTaggert’s shop in Glencoe Street. Glencoe Street in those days didn’t go much beyond the Applebys. Glengoe Street has the distinguishing feature of being a divided road with houses on either side having their own road and a strip down the middle. I think the strip existed because a dry rivelet ran down the middle. Palm trees grew in this divider strip opposite McTaggerts.

Anyhow we were allowed to go to McTaggert. McTaggert was a very important part of our world not just for me but for the community at large as it had the one public phone box in the area. When we came to Sutherland not many people had phones and for emergencies or whatever this box was our connection with the outside world. McTaggerts was also important as it had all the essential foodstuffs but certainly not like a shop would have today. Inside the shop were two counters at right angles to the entrance. On one side he sold food and on the other commodities such as sweets, combs, fountain pens etc.

Arnott’s Biscuits were delivered to the Shops in Big Tins

He was a busy man as his stock came in bulk. Nothing was pre-packaged in those days. The Arnott’s biscuits were delivered to him in tin containers with a label on the outside. These were kept on a top shelf on the commodities side. Flour, rice, sugar all the basics were delivered in big hessian bags or the like. His job would be to repackage the flour for example into one pound paper bags, sugar into the same size bags and so on. We would buy what we wanted and take it home in those paper bags. No plastic bags in those days. I think he also sold ice blocks and sometimes mum would give us enough that we could get an ice block to eat on the way home. I remember that Mr. McTaggert also sold seconds in the biscuits. These were the biscuits that presumably got broken in transit. We would get a bag of those when he had them.

Remember the milk man and the bread man.

Bread and milk would be delivered to the house. The bread man had a horse and cart to do the rounds every day. No traffic problems then and his life was made much easier having a horse to help him. As he walked from house to house he would whistle the horse and the horse would move to where he was then.

The same applied to the milkman. Mum wasn’t so happy with milk in the early days. Each house had a place where you left your milk can. Ours was through a hatch located in the bathroom. You would leave your can there with a note or payment when it was due and it would be filled each day. The milk man came early each day as the milk cart had no refrigeration. Mum reckoned the milk was the cause of much tuberculosis in Australia as it wasn’t pasteurised. I am not sure how we got around that problem. Some houses also had ice delivered but we were not one of them as we had a refrigerator. It was fun to watch the ice man cut up the ice with his ice pick and carry it into the house on his shoulders with just a hessian bag underneath.

As I grew older the boundaries got bigger. Sometimes I would go up to the shops in Sutherland proper. These are the shops I remember most. There was a Fish& Chip shop not far from the railway crossing. The Fish & Chip man would buy newspapers from us kids. I would collect them from who knows one and clean them us as necessary and he would weigh them and pay me accordingly. He also sold great chips and potato scallops. I could never see the sense of buying the fish when the chips etc were so much nicer. Sometimes we could buy the scrap bits too and they were very crisp.

Stamina trousers in shorts or longs were our standard attire for many years. Grey only!

There was an electrical repair shop just a few doors down from the Fish & chip shop. This was an important store as you didn’t buy new when something broke. In to those days you had it repaired. Electrical jugs made of porcelain would require a new element, the hot plate on the stove would need replacing or the valve on your radio would give out. With electrical appliances ever increasing in popularity he had a very busy business. Do you remember Admiral TV’s , Kreisler or AWA radios, Westinghouse or Hoover washing machines and so on. When television came out he put a television in the front window of his shop. On a Sunday there was a movie put on sponsored by Caltex and he would turn it on. The crowds would be three deep and of course you could only just hear it.

Near to him was a clothing store. Mum would take us there sometimes to get new trousers of the Stamina brand. I don’t think there was another choice.

A Mayfair Car -somehow got stuck in my memory as a classy car I would like to own

On the corner was an old garage. I can still remember a Mayflower sedan on display and thinking what a beautiful car it was. This garage used to service my dad’s cars. Not sure why Dad didn’t use Mr. Jenkins. Later on a more modern drive through garage was built across the road. I remember this garage well as it had a vacant block next door. I was walking through this block one day eyes on the ground as usual scrounging for lost change when I found a five pound note. Five pound in those days was a fortune. When I came home and told mum I didn’t know what to do. Should we go to the police station and hand it in? Mum reasoned that someone would definitely claim it or it would disappear. So I was allowed to keep it.

Up in Sutherland was a toy shop. After careful deliberation some of the money went to buying a model aeroplane. Actually it was made of balsa wood and had to be assembled. The motor was two twisted elastic bands which as they unwound drove the propeller. And it actually flew. I can’t remember what I did with the rest of the money.


When we came to Sutherland I don’t think Dad had a car. Sometime I even think he hitch hiked to town if the trains were not running. It was in this way Dad met Carl Plate. Carl was a modern artist with a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle whose family lived in Woronora on the other side of the railway track. Quite a job it must have been for Dad to get to work. First a 20 minutes’ walk to the station, then a train to Central and finally a bus to the University.

The Ford Anglia

But then Dad bought a Ford Anglia. He must have used it to go to work as it would have certainly shortened the time he spent travelling. Our garage was quite small and this car would have just fitted in it. I can remember polishing it with Dad on the weekend but don’t have much recollection of going anywhere in it.

The Ford Anglia was an English Car which were the dominant suppliers of cars to Australia before and during the war. It was probably assembled in Australia. Cars were not really affordable then. For example this car cost £309 in the UK and probably a little more in the A£. (The £ pound was Australia’s currency before the Dollar which came into existence in 1966). Just to give you some idea as to how much a car was worth relative to today in terms of wages the average factory worker earnt £300 if he was a male and as a female only £147. So buying a car was at least equal to a workers annual wages.

Australia’s own car – the Holden

The next car we owned was Australia’s own car the FJ Holden. This was the first Australian car ever produced and was accepted by the public with great glee. Waiting lists were long from the moment it came on the market.



Sumptuous fittings inside so we thought but no heater or radio- they were options

I must have been almost 7 by then and I remember Dad driving up and stopping it outside our front gate. The car looked fantastic to my young eyes. I climbed up onto the red bench seat at the front to examine the setup. The lion rampart on the steering wheel horn is still etched in my mind. The dashboard was all metal blue same as the car and the instrument panel to modern day drivers would seem too simple. I don’t think the car had heating and certainly not a radio. These items had to be purchased as optional extras. This was the beginning of our love affair with Holdens. And this was certainly a car that would fit all of us in.





Similar layout to our kitchen

Our kitchen didn’t really enjoy a great aspect. It was totally enclosed by the other rooms. The only window looked out onto the enclosed verandah and the doors opposite each other led to the dining room or hall way. I think the opening to the dining room was double width. The kitchen was of a U-shaped design with the Kooka stove right next to the door opening into the hallway and the porcelain sink below the window. Cream coloured benches with cupboards above completed the fitout. The floor would have been covered in Linoleum.

the old Kooka stove- with the picture of the Kookaburra on the oven door. Last forever but not great for cooking

Cooking in that kitchen must have been very difficult. The Kooka stove had electric hotplates which were very slow to heat up much less cook with and this coupled with the fact that power outages were very common in the evenings. Mum tells me that she became very adept at cooking on a primus stove and not relying on the Kooka.

I remember that meat was much more available than chicken. We only had chicken on special occasions such as Christmas. Australia was very Anglo Saxon in those days and variety wasn’t what it became in later years after the influx of other European nations. Mum however already had a few twists to what was still primarily a country with an English diet having come from America. We had Silver Side, pot roasts, hamburgers, lambs fry and of course sausages. Vegetables were common including spuds, cabbage, silver beet, peas and beans. No frozen foods in those days. Just a very small freezer shelf in the Kelvinator fridge. Peas were podded by us. Beans were not stringless in those days and had to be removed before cutting up. Spuds were washed, peeled and cut up into whatever before meals. Mum loved her pot roast and added lots of carrots to it.

the Family brick. Not really enough ice-cream for our lot. But never the less a treasured treat.

Desserts some no longer familiar were common if we ate our dinner. Do you remember junket tablets or flummery? I think the flummery was made by whipping cooled jelly with evaporated milk and rechilling. Dessert of custard, jelly or plum puddings or other steam pudding also come to mind with perhaps canned peaches or apricots. Occasionally vanilla or Neapolitan ice-cream would be an added treat. (in waxed paper boxes). The freezer section of the refrigerator was very small and would only hold a tray of ice-cubes and a brick if you were lucky. For special treats mum would make pancakes with log cabin syrup. The syrup wasn’t maple syrup but was made I think from caramelised sugar. Later on we got a waffle machine which I still have. And on rainy days when we were getting on mum’s nerves she would let us all help her make fudge. The best fudge which we could hardly wait to eat. Cut into squares it would soon disappear down our gobs; all of us watching to make sure we got our correct share. I think that’s when I learn the right way to cut up things fairly. The technique is simple and goes like this. One of us would cut up the Neapolitan ice cream into equal portions. The test of fairness is this; the cutter up gets the last choice.

Birthday parties meant crackles, cupcakes and fizzy drinks or orange cordial. Kelloggs Cornflakes or Wheatbix for breakfast with a glass of apple or pineapple juice from a 1 gallon tin. Mum and dad seemed to drink mainly Chicory. I don’t remember tea being very prominent then.

There were not many adult parties that I can remember. However I do remember one cocktail party that my parents put on for I guess Dad’s university associates. We had never seen a party like this before so perhaps that is why it became etched in my mind. Cocktail frankfurters (the little red ones) with tooth picks and tomato sauce. Cheese cubes and Jazz biscuits with gherkins sliced maybe. Wine wasn’t popular in those days so the ladies had sherry and the men had beer. The big bottles in those days which were poured into a glass. Mum and dad dressed up to the nines for the occasion. Dad had his tie and suit on and mum wore a dark green silky dress and high heels. Us kids sneaked looks at this unusual spectacle occurring at 12 Auburn St. Sutherland.


Willow aka Mrs Williamson

Willow came into our lives when Barby was born. Willow was a old time resident of Sutherland who had had a large family. Thirteen kids. Willow lived in Sutherland proper on the other side of the Princess Highway. She came at first to help mum out with the ironing or whatever to give mum a break.

Dad must have asked Willow to move in with us and become a permanent helper. Willow didn’t have a house of her own and her husband had died many years ago. Somehow she succumbed to this idea and so Dad built her a room next to our home.

A single room with a small kitchenette from memory. There was no bathroom so she must have used our bathroom. Much of the time I think she hand washed herself in her room. And of course no one had sewerage so the dunny remained supreme. Willow always seemed to smell nice. ( Was it a lavender fragrance that I remember?)

It was a nice extension with a paved verandah and connecting patio to a side door in the living room. I don’t think plans were required in those days but the design looked like something we might see in one of the US 1950’s beautify your house designs. The patio made the side of the house very private and in the corner was a BBQ which we used a lot. At that stage there were no neighbours on that side although a Latvian couple with a boy named John Grantham started building a couple of years later.

Willow had a photo of her husband on the wall inside her room. Her husband died possibly from colon cancer. In those days Social Security didn’t exist at all. So Willow must have struggled to raise her large family and then to look after herself. Willow tells the story of her life in the Depression. They had a house in Sutherland then an a truck which her husband operated as a business. When the depression came they couldn’t make a living and had to decide which they would keep. They settled for the truck and headed for the country. All the family on the back of the truck and sleeping under it at nights. And then going from farm to farm looking for work in exchange for food.

Willow had a much bigger job helping to raise my siblings. I was already out of control and only marginally under her control. I remember swearing at her one day and forever thereafter feeling ashamed of myself. Willow was a proud woman who dressed in similar flowery dresses with buttons down the front and a broach by way of jewellery on her lapel. Not a big woman but one you just had to respect.

Comfort for passengers.

the Stratocruiser

The coming of Willow marked a certain change in our lives. It started with Mum going back to America with Barby on a Pan Am Stratocruiser. Mum was very home sick in those days and we hadn’t had anyone visit us up to then. The Stratocruiser was the ultimate in airplane luxury with upstairs rooms for each passenger to sleep in.

I think Dad was concerned that mum wasn’t that happy. Not so difficult to imagine now when you see how much had changed for her in leaving San Francisco and coming to such a remote environment which Sutherland was at that time. I surmise that Dad thought if Willow lived with us then Mum could go back to University and get her degree. Getting a degree probably wasn’t Dad’s primary reason for wanting mum to go study. I expect dad thought getting her out of the house and into the mainstream of Sydney life would ease the tension they were experiencing in their personal lives.

Dad’s Smith Corona. He typed his Phd on this. It is hard for me to imagine typing without making any mistakes.

Dad was also doing his PhD with a lot of writing at a desk in their bedroom. Actually their bedroom was where we often started the day. Mum and Dad with their cup of Chicory. All sitting on the bed or under the covers depending on how cold it was or how quick you were to get a best position. Dad had a desk in the office where he did a lot of writing for his thesis. I still have his old Smith Corona typewriter and for that matter his Thesis. I wouldn’t like to type that way anymore. When you consider the features of the Computer and Word with the ability to correct I am impressed that one could type that way.

So much was going on for them in those years that my memories of family events seems to be vague. I suppose in writing this that things will come back to me as they have been doing these past few days.
One thing I remember is starting a Shell collection. I think Dad made the box which we painted white and it may have had a glass top. Mum was studying invertebrates and we made lots of trips to Cronulla and there about where we collected molluscs for this collection.


My life in Sutherland was full of doings. Sometimes people who come here to Eureka Farm wonder how we get on in such a quiet location. The same question could be asked about my life in Sutherland. But I was never bored there. The following are just a few stories of my doings.

Blackberry Picking

Later in the summer the wild blackberries started to ripen. We had one very good patch just below the Appleby farm. There was no real road there then with it trailing out at the junction with Waratah street.

I could get to this patch just by walking through our back yard and cutting across the Appleby’s garden.
The patch had lots of berries as it lay alongside a creek bed of which there was a roadside track cutting across it to the other side and back to Waratah Street. There didn’t seem to be blackberries in the natural bush only near areas where cultivation went on.

Danny Rogers and I would often get there early and start picking. A billy can each and a couple of planks were essential tools. You had to watch out for snakes particularly as it warmed up later in the day. But with a bit of noise we never did see many after we started picking. Of course the best blackberries were just out of reach and hence we had to plough deeper into this labyrinth of bramble to get to them.

A bucket full of blackberries and then back home for breakfast. Those blackberries never lasted long. I loved having them with my Wheatbix. Adding the milk on top and watching it go purple as the fruit juice mixed in is the memory I still hold.

The Bush

Auburn Street was a dirt road in those days. Next door when we moved in were the remnants of two old horse carts. They would probably be regarded as collector’s items these days but no one wanted them then. The world was changing and the car would soon become king.

Auburn Street going north petered out at the corner of the School and Moira Street. True there were a couple of houses further on but the end of the road could be clearly seen then. Once I reached the corner I just took a left and there the path cut down the side of a house and entered the bush. When I stood at the corner or climbed a few gums that were still standing at this corner I could see this bushland valley. This was my first bushland and it extended to the north to Jannali and all the way to Como. It was all bush then and as it was a valley not even the railway from Sutherland to Jannali was visible.

We mainly explored the area between us and Jannali. In the valley the creek from the Appleby’s flowed again and as we followed the creek down there were water holes where we could swim. This was my haven and I can remember mum coming once to see where we played. We would take our clothes off and have a dip when it was hot. And nearby we would explore the bush for places to hide and sometimes even take to track to Jannali where there were just a couple of stores near the railway station.

Getting around wasn’t a problem. The feet worked well. We never lit fires in the bush as I think even then we knew it was dangerous. But we knew the rocks and where the biggest trees were and which tracks would take us where. There were lots of banksias around. We discovered an old farmhouse at the far end of the valley and imagined how the aborigines would have lived. I don’t remember ever seeing a Kangaroo but there were lots of birds around.

I used to walk a lot and still do for that matter. Mum seemed to accept this wanderlust nature in me and I don’t think she worried too much about where I was provided I got home before dark.

Our home paddock

These Butterfly Chairs seem to me to be in my family for decades

I loved making cubby houses. On rainy days we would gather all the furniture in loungeroom and rearrange them into a cubby house. Blankets would be taken off the beds for the roofs. Dad had made a kidney shaped fitted table in one corner and mum had butterfly chairs. And mum has just reminded me of the Webbed chairs which were symbolic of the post war period. I expect Barby and then later Kara were influenced very much by this these memories.

Closer to home we had a big back yard where all of us kids could play. One day we made a big tipi using the Feltex floor coverings when they were pulled up from the house. It was so hot though inside that it didn’t remain in use that long. We used to use mum’s silverware to have picnics in this tent. I imagine mum didn’t always get it all back. But she never seemed too disturbed over this though I now shudder to think what happened to all that beautiful sterling silver tableware.

Shadow- my mate. He and I were soul mates

Robert and Beth with our Goat

We must have had cats but they were not my favourite. I loved my dog Shadow. He was a Dalmatian which in itself was unusual as no one else had this variety where we lived. He didn’t have very good hearing and we this felt the name Shadow was appropriate as he was always at my side. Shadow I guess was always with me as my sidekick. Dalmatian’s are a breed which suffers from deafness. Apparently the less spots the more Albino the breed and thence an increased likelihood of deafness. The plot sort of thickens with Mum having mastoid problems and no hearing in one ear, me with ear aches and now Shadow.



Mum had mastoids when she was very young. She was about 12 years old when she had her operation. I mention her condition because she was always conscious that if she got her ear wet say swimming it could get sick again. Not a good thing to have when you are with a bunch of kids who like playing in the water.

Dad build big swings which I also told you about further back and then later we built a shed for the horse. This would have been around about 1954. Lucky was the name of the ex-milk delivery horse. When he came to us he was basically retired from the milk run which was gradually changing over to motorised transport.

Lucky seemed enormous to me at first until I got used to him. A big brown horse ( technically a bay horse of perhaps 15 hands) with a nice mane and tail. Not particularly well groomed but good with us kids. A bit of a worn spot on his back from his working days but otherwise a pretty fit horse. We kept him in the back yard. There must have been enough feed for him as I don’t remember buying any in.

We had a saddle and bridle but sometimes I liked to show off and ride him bareback up and down the street. I guess I was imitating the Indians I saw at the movies. But I never really became a good horseman except that I could stay on Lucky most of the time. I never had lessons and probably would have been too stubborn to accept them. So galloping was a hair raising experience but one that was necessary if you were showing off.

We tethered Lucky in the back yard. I remember one time when I got my leg caught in the rope. Lucky bolted when I was brushing him down or something the result being that I got injured. The school was having a fun raising that night and had a television on hire in the classroom. Of course I wasn’t going to miss that and went using a broom as a crutch! Another story was when Lucky and us kids visited a friend of mine (probably Ivan who had moved to a house alongside the Princess Highway). On the way back we all decided to sit on Lucky’s back. Good natured Lucky put up with it for a while and then bucked us off.

Lucky stayed with us many years. Actually I use the term loosely as Lucky was a free spirit and seemed to get younger with the years. When we did finally move we took Lucky with us to Bundeena. No question of a horse float we just rode him. Right through Sutherlands, down into Audley in the Royal National Park and thence to Bundeena. Dad acted as the support vehicle with the rest of the family inside. A few stops on the way but we did finally make it. The road to Bundeena when you turned off the Princess Highway was dirt then. And there were no rules about horses in the National park as there are today. Lucky soon became a wild horse and joined up with many other horses who roamed the national park. What a way to enter Nirvana!


Beth, Barby and Rob with their Cyclops Car

Cyclops was the biggest maker of tricycles and scooters. All were made in Sydney close to where I was to live one day. No plastic in their construction. Made to last and handed down from kid to kid as you grew up and moved on to bigger things. I had first a three wheeler and later a scooter. The three wheeler was mainly used on the footpaths around the house or on the main street. Not so good though where the paths were rough.

My earliest memories of bicycles were being a jockey on a neighbour’s bike. What happened was this… These older boys lived up the road two blocks away on the corner. As well as having a very good Dinky toy collection they loved racing up and down Auburn Street on their bicycles. Eventually they made chariots which they attached to the back of their bikes. I became one of the jockeys and got thus to ride with the bigger boys. So we then started races up and down the street.

We also had billy cart races down the hill in front of their house. I can remember one race where we had to see if we could get to the bottom with a blindfold on. I think I finished up in the gutter just behind the ice-man on one occasion. He was cutting up ice at the time for one of his customers when I nearly knocked him over when I crashed behind him.

My Speedwell Bike –

Dad must have recognised that I longed for a bike. It must have been a birthday (1952?) when I got a brand new blue metallic looking Speedwell bike. The best present I could imagine. My eyes lit up when Dad took me out onto Auburn Street in front of our house. So Dad helped me onto the seat and gave me a push. I don’t think I went far and then fell over. But soon I had the idea and off I went. Going straight wasn’t too bad but on turning I fell over again.

I loved that bike and used it for many years. I don’t remember too many problems with it and I think it came with us to Kensington. But that’s another story.

One adventure I had on my bike was when we were going to south Sutherland looking for another place to pick blackberries. A couple of us went and I had a girl friend on the seat of my bike. We went over this hill and were heading down when the chain came off. I was unable to stop as this bike had back pedal brakes and over we went on the gravel road. I am not sure what happened to the girl but I remember that my leg was abraded by the gravel and that an ambulance came and took me home. I was definitely a sorry boy from that experience and remember lying on the bottom bunk waiting for mum to come home.


Remember the News when you went to the Movies

Dad made a radio/record player console for the family. It was placed in the loungeroom. I don’t think the record player part lasted very long but I always liked listening to the serials on the radio. There was Superman Tarzan, Dad and Dave. You didn’t need visuals the mind did that for you. And for the oldies there was Jack Davey.

No TV for us until we moved to Kensington although our neighbour old Mrs Appleby was one of the first to get a television. Of course we tried to get an invite to watch anything and I remember we did get to see the odd showing of Captain Fortune. In those days television was truly live and not scripted.

Dad also read to us classics like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn; Treasure Island by Robert L. Stevenson and Swiss Family Robinson just to name a few. Dad was a good reader and just like the serials I fully lived these stories in my mind.

Hopalong Cassidy – my idol

On Saturday Mum would often let me go to the movies. Terry Cropp took me under his wing and I think maybe Sue came too. It was 6d into the movies and on Saturday you got a full afternoon of entertainment. When the lights went out you stood up when the Queen appeared on the screen and remain there while the then National anthem “God Save the Queen”played. This was followed by the News then a couple of cartoons usually Donald Duck or some other Walt Disney production. Then a serial or a b-grade movie before the interval and finally the main movie. In those days serials seem to be often cops and robbers with invariably a high speed car chase. The movies that I remember most were cowboys and Indians such as Hopalong Cassidy. He was my favourite. Mum must have told Grandmother B about my likes as she visited us when I was about 7. And she brought me an amazing cowboy outfit complete with pearl handled guns and holster.

“Of the royals and entertainers who visited Australia in 1954 – Queen Elizabeth, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ray and Gypsy Rose Lee among them – only the squeaky clean American cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy can claim to have been mobbed by thousands of children and their parents on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, and to have almost caused a riot.” S.M.H

One year Hopalong Cassidy came to Australia with his white horses. mum and dad took us to see them perform at the main arena at the Royal Easter Show.

Down the back of the property overlooking the Applebys we had an angophora. I don’t remember seeing them in many places but yes there was one here. It was easy to climb and often my mates and I would climb up into the limbs and relive these stories.


Travelling Treats

the Penny Slot Machine

As I grew up on Wednesday afternoon in the summer’s weather permitting a bus would pick us up at school and take us to Gunnamatta Baths. To get into the baths you had to go into the main entrance where there was a games arcade and change rooms. On the opposite side a tunnel took you to the beach in front of the bathing enclosure. I must have been able to swim as they let us go out where the pontoons were located and you could swim a length.

In the entrance area there were several varieties of these gaming machines. The one I remember using here had a slot where you put in your penny. Remember the penny is much bigger than any coin we have these days. The object was to get the penny to roll down through a maze which could be tilted left or right without it dropping into the side and thus being lost. When and if you got your penny to the bottom you got it back. So I suppose that is why it was allowed to be there as you couldn’t actually win money.

We also had our Annual School party at Gunnamatta Baths. Just outside of this entrance pavilion up the hill there was a large open pavilion where you could have your picnic. So all the classes settled in here and as the day went on games were held such as bag races, three leg races, carry the egg race and tug of war come to mind. I think the mums’ brought lunch sandwiches, boiled eggs, cakes etc.

Another adventure was taking the ferry to Audley and return with Mrs. Rogers and Danny. I remember the sandwiches well. It wasn’t my mum as we had raisin sandwiches with mashed bananas on it as well. Mum never would have concocted this recipe. The ferry wharf was below the weir and enclosed swimming area.

Sutherland as you know is not near the sea and only by walking to Como or taking the train to Cronulla did we get to see it. In those days the train also ran to the Royal National Park above Audley. Visitors would then walk down to Audley with their picnic gear.

In those days Audley had a hotel. Like many places around Sydney guests would come to escape the city. Audley had boats for hire above the weir and the water was fresh there. I am not sure why they built this weir as I don’t think the water was used for any purpose. Probably the weir was built as a roadway. We swam in the swimming area below the weir which was just ok as you often had jelly swim as companions.

On the way home we had a peek in this hotel. But as we were not guests we were only allowed to look in the foyer. From the hotel it was a long walk up to the railway station at the top of the hill. But with a Chocolate Heart to eat on the way we walked that distance in good spirits.


I am putting this in a separate category although it was obviously a form of entertainment. To start with I think we only got papers on the weekend. But the Sunday paper was the most important. I think it was the Sun-Herald. In those days though there was a three page section just devoted to comics.

Whilst there was the Phantom and Dick Tracy comic strips which I think were American many of the cartoons were Australian. Fatty Finn, Ginger Megs, The Potts and Bib & Bub were some of my favourites. Just like the movies comics had a very puritanical air. Even in these family type stories there was an emphasis on good behaviour where if you wanted to get on in the world you had to behave in a certain fashion. When the paper arrived we would jump on Mum and Dad’s bed and all grab the part of the paper we liked best.

Norman Rockwell’s drawings on the Saturday Evening Post always fascinated me with their detail

The Women’s Weekly was Mum’s contact with the outside world and we all got something from it.

Mum also liked the Women’s Weekly. In those days it came out weekly hence the name and it had a lot of info in it including stories, and the cartoon Mandrake and lots of pictures. It would be difficult for anyone to imagine today what it was like then. But think of a world without the internet, without TV then a magazine helps to see what is happening in the outside world. We also got Life Magazine which was an American magazine and gave us a pictorial insight into America. I also remember Saturday Evening Post used to come somehow. Maybe Grandmother B sent it.


Yep- Comics definitely were an early attraction for me.

I guess I was Superman and Rob was Davy Crockett

I loved my comics too. I was a particular fan of the Disney Donald Duck Comics,The Phantom, Batman and Superman titles all of which came from America. Boy’s Compendiums were also given to me but Comics certainly were king at that time. Mum made me a superman outfit which I loved wearing and re-enactments of exciting sections of the comics or the movies was a constant feature. At one stage Mr Grantham started having his house built next door on the vacant lot. When the builders went home it was another place to play. It is a wonder we didn’t kill ourselves jumping from the incomplete stud walls onto the sand heaps below and other such escapades. Where were you mum?


Cigarettes came in Slide packs at one stage and we collected them.

I did mention starting a shell collection with mum helping me. But well before that I collected cigarette packs. These were the sliding boxes type that held 20 cigarettes. We would flatten them in such a way that the inner held the outer flat. Not sure now how we did it and researching this topic can’t see how anyone did it. But we collected Craven ‘A’, Camel, Benson& Hedges, Capstan and Players. I don’t think I ever smoked except some rolled up newspaper but even at that early age I couldn’t see the attraction. But we had a lot of fun walking the streets looking for boxes and trading them. No one at that time really was worried about the bad effects of smoking which was probably understandable when compared with the bad effects of war.

I may have started to collect stamps but didn’t really develop into a craze until I moved to Kensington and met Jimmy Noble who was an avid collector from way back.\


The Brownie Box camera – my first camera

Dad’s Camera- with the front bellows that folded out

Dad had a folding camera probably a Kodak which when opened the lens came out on a bellows. I am sure that many of the early family shots were taken with this camera. When I was about 7 Dad got me a Brownie box camera. These cameras took a large format picture (3″ by 3″) but only 8 pictures on a roll. My one I think produced rectangular pictures so it had a viewfinder on top and another on the side. After the film was used it had to be developed and you took it to the chemist for processing. Films and processing were expensive and one had to be careful what you took as you didn’t get many goes. And then you waited for the results. Often for me they would be disappointing and so long after the event that you couldn’t remember what you might have done wrong if they were no good.

Government Services

Weekly deposits into our Commonwealth Savings Account at School

At school once a week the Commonwealth Bank came. Nearly all kids had a Passbook Savings Account which we took to school. Each time we went mum would give us say a shilling which we deposited in the account. The amount would be duly entered and signed by the visiting teller. Once a year we would also get a manual entry showing the amount of interest that had accrued. In those days the bank was run by the Government. Yes we were encouraged to save.

The war was over and money was not freely available. You wanted something the Government told us you had to save today and maybe tomorrow your dreams would be satisfied.

Nearly all our essential services in those days came from the Government or Government related authorities. Take the electricity for example. The authority for Sydney was the Sydney County Council. Power consumption was growing. Coal powered power stations were being built and the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme commenced in 1949 and finished in 1974.

Water supply was also Government established and maintained by the State Government. No meters in those days. Warragamba Dam was commenced in 1946 and finished in 1960. Post office, telephone and telegram services all government run.

What are these to do with my story you may ask. It’s just that my life evolved in those early post war years when infrastructure was being developed mainly under the Governments initiatives. It is true to say that often these bodies could be very bureaucratic but in their favour it is highly unlikely that a private enterprise would have shown such initiative. Whilst I can’t say that these bodies had much remembered effect on me they did affect our way of living very much.


Polio was a dreaded disease – and everyone had the Monkey vaccine when it came out

Like Government services the Government also took an interest in our health. Whilst private health insurance schemes were starting to evolve in the 50’s they were not commonplace. Our local doctor was always the same. The doctor was a very experienced older gentleman who was well settled into the community. He would do home visits and accepted that not everyone would have the cash up front to pay for his services. Locums were unheard of in those days.

However the 50’s were the era when great medical advances were taking place. During the war and afterwards sulpha drugs were the first with anti-bacterial properties. But by the mid-1950’s a range of new drugs and vaccines started to become available.

The Government then mobilised itself to conduct mass vaccination programs. Anyhow I didn’t have much to do with hospitals except the tonsillitis operation which I have already mentioned. However I should mention the Polio program , other vaccines and the scourge of tuberculosis.

In 1950 the Polio vaccine program was started. Australia had had a recent epidemic with over 10,000 people being affected. To have a cure like this was considered a miracle and everyone had the vaccine. Up to that time there were not many treatments except for the infamous “iron lung”.

I never saw one of these directly except on the big screen but I was well aware that I wouldn’t like to be trapped in one of those machines . I did however see kids with legs in braces and who had difficulty walking. Mum took us lot to the town hall where we all got our vaccine. I can remember us queuing for our needles. I think later we had to get boosters.

Tuberculosis or consumption was another disease with affected Australians in the 50’s. People in those days disappeared for a long time into what was called a Sanatorium. I guess I thought this might be the same place that mad people were sent. There were no real treatment and rest was considered the best solution. Quite contagious so isolation was also necessary. Again the advent of anti-biotics led people not needing to go to Sanatoriums and these also disappeared from our lives.


My Parents & me

You have now had a glimpse of my early years growing up in Sutherland. The bush and simple lifestyle that existed in my world meant that pleasures had to be earned as they were not given on a plate. I didn’t mind those terms at all.

It would seem that I spent a lot of time outdoors and was reasonably content in my own company. In writing about this period of my life I now wonder why this was the case. So some of what I say now is somewhat hypothetical and readers more in the know are welcome to correct me.

As I said before it wasn’t so easy for Dad and mum to settle here. Dad though had his Phd studies and his work at the University and emerging work as a consultant in some of the chemical industries. Dad had also definitely come to Australia to start a new life away from what he considered the hurtful influence of his mum. Mum also became very isolated in the comparatively remote place she was now forced to live; coupled with all the demands of all us kids. And more than that Mum felt cut off from family support and her friends in San Francisco.

My Mum and Dad to my knowledge hardly ever argued. I expect this was more for our benefit than the fact that they never had anything to bitch about. I gradually came to know that my Dad could have mood swings. Sometimes he would be great to be with and at other times you were better off avoiding him. In reading Dad’s side of the story he obviously had some trouble dealing with me. He quotes one of these times when I said to him at about age five “you can’t make me behave and I dare you to”. At five years of age those words seem a little strong and unbelievable but they do tell of a troubled father.

I have always felt that I was getting mixed messages from my parents. I suspect Mum was just too young to cope with Dad’s personality. And Dad was in perpetual anguish over what he felt as an unloved child growing up with his mum. These are not really my words but are what Dad has often told us in later life. But at that time nothing was said to explain their actions. Nothing as they didn’t want us to know just how confusing it really was all becoming for them.

Now that I am old I reflect a lot about my growing up. This story of my early life has given me a lot to think about too. To reflect on my early life and the events that happened to me has been very interesting. I have also the added knowledge that I have gained in growing up, getting married and having and raising my own family. I have been able to reflect on how I behaved as a husband and parent and in so doing can compare it with my early childhood.

I know now that it is difficult being a father. Fatherhood happens when you are learning so much. In my case I have left my family home, I was trying to be successful in a working career , I was married and learning what relationships really mean and then there are your kids. Somehow you muddle through it all and in hindsight meaning once you have grown older you may think to yourself I wish I could have another go. But isn’t that the thing about life and experiences; just when you are getting the hang of it you have moved to the next ‘passage’.

All of that has helped me to see my mum and dad did a pretty good job getting us started in life. Sure I have a few gripes and what kid doesn’t complain. I would have to say I was lucky to have such an eventful life. Some things I wish could have been different. Maybe I could have had a better relationship with my Dad but then again maybe a different set of circumstances might have been even more troublesome. Dad dealt with his problems as best he could and agonise over what he couldn’t change in himself. But all in all I was very lucky having parents who always wanted the best of us kids.

Thanks mum; thanks Dad.

Finally it is time to say goodbye to Sutherland and hello Kensington


I don’t want to make interpretations and hope readers get some idea of what my life was like. I just wanted to talk about the way I was growing up. I loved the outdoors, I loved adventures, I loved the intensity of collecting and just doing things. I didn’t hurt people but I didn’t relate well either. It wasn’t just getting my hearing sorted out. It may be that I just didn’t want to hear. But as it was I often did my own thing.


(BCPA), B. C. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ford Anglia E304A (1939-1948). (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Holden FJ (based on 48-215 series). (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Radio National -Verbatim. (2011, November 21). Retrieved from ABC: interview with Jocelyn Plate

Tuberculosis sanatorium regimen in the 1940s: a patient’s personal diary. (n.d.). Retrieved from Journal of Royal Society of Medicine:




























About Denis Buchanan

Once upon a time I was a Chemical Engineer now I am a born again Farmer. The transition was really quite easy with the major change that the life of feasibility studies has ended and any experiment that I wish to undertake is at my peril.


My Early Years — 3 Comments

  1. Dear Denis,
    I’ve stumbled on your fabulous life story regarding growing up in Sutherland, and hope you may be able to assist me by providing any information regarding the old ‘Hands Timber Yard’, on the corner of Glencoe Street and the old Princes Highway. Anything you recall may assist me. I grew up in the house next door to the timber yard. Sadly, this house, like the timber yard, is long gone.
    My mother, Enid, delivered milk by foot around the streets of Sutherland every morning before school. Her family name was Jeff. She married Vic Lambeth. I’m their youngest child.
    I’d love to hear from you. Can you (or anyone with links or memories re the old timer yard) please, please contact me.
    Thank you in advance!

    • thank you for your comments and our very enjoyable follow up call. It has been a very busy fruit season and I haven’t done any more in regard to your questions. A good winter challenge!!!

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