Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The iceman cometh!

Today is my 60th birthday and my life is flashing before my eyes. There's no reason why I shouldn't share some of it with you! :-)

When I started primary school, my family was living with my grandmother in her house at Annerley - the house my father grew up in. Actually, we were never sure whether to call it Annerley or Thompson Estate, but Annerley seemed to win most of the time. I still have very fond memories of the house and the neighbourhood despite the decades that have since passed. The house is no longer there - the land was subdivided and two dwellings stand where our house used to be at 73 Baron St, in what is now known as Greenslopes. This picture (below) was taken within a few fences from where I lived, and I'd say that I probably climbed most of them; rampant choko vines and splinters not being a handicap to an agile boy.
According to the accompanying records, this photo was taken from the back yard of 64 Earl St, Thompson Estate (the next street to Baron St), so our house was just to the right of the houses at the back of the picture. Our family would have known most of the people who lived in these houses at the time this photo was taken in 1952, although I was only a toddler then. I can remember some of the neighbours - the Blows, the Howletts and the Gleig-Scotts. There was a man who lived further up Baron St towards Victoria Terrace who had a miniature train set (not a model - one you could sit on and be towed along by a steam engine) in his back yard. (Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #127848)

What do I remember about life at that time, less than ten years after the end of WWII? Well, I remember the two sorts of clothes lines that are evident in the photo. Ours was the old-fashioned kind, where wire was run between two uprights, and clothes were pegged to the wire. If the wire was sagging too much, you needed a clothes prop (a long piece of wood with a fork in one end) to prop the line up and prevent the clothes from dragging on the ground. Clothes props were sold by a man who drove around on a horse-drawn wagon calling out "clothes props, clothes props". The more modern Hills rotary hoists that can also be seen in the picture gradually became the norm.

I remember that houses mostly had fresh water tanks that collected rainwater, and we had one on a stand behind the house. After running around the yard in the heat, there was nothing better than a drink of cool water, straight from the tap at the bottom of the tank. Water tanks fell out of favour for health issues, but the recent prolonged drought has seen them become essential to residences once more.
We could play cricket with a tennis racquet and ball in our back yard, but our house was directly across the street from a large park and sports ground, useful for group games of cricket or tiggy or red rover. Before the days of power mowers, men used to come and cut the grass in that park by hand, using huge scythes that they swept around their body like a golf swing.

I remember being with my mother at the next-door neighbour's house one day, and dropping something through the back steps. I squeezed my head and shoulders between the steps to retrieve the object (I'm not sure now what it was), but then couldn't pull my head back through the steps. I called to my mother and our neighbour, who had become such a close friend of my mother's that we called her Aunty Vee. They were having a cup of tea in the kitchen, and came out to try to release me from the steps. After several minutes it was apparent that I was well and truly wedged in there, and Aunty Vee announced "I'll go and phone the fire brigade - they'll have to come and saw the steps". I don't know which of the words "fire brigade" or "saw" did it, but my head then came straight out! My big head has been the butt of family jokes ever since.

I remember that not all houses had refrigerators, and those that didn't kept their food out of the Brisbane heat in an ice chest. Huge blocks of ice were delivered daily, and brought into the house by men wearing gloves or using giant pincers to hold the ice, which was placed in a compartment in the ice chest to keep the food cool. Below is a photo of some female ice deliverers taken at Woolowin in 1942, but I don't recollect ever seeing any "ice-men" that were not in fact men. Must have been a luxury accorded to those on the north side of town!
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #22136)

I remember the time my little sister fell off a tricycle onto a cement path, sending a tooth straight through her top lip. She had to be rushed to hospital for stitches, and there was so much blood I wondered whether I would ever see her again. Fortunately she made a full recovery. Then there was the arrival of our puppy Lassie, who was to be a faithful companion for many years in a few different locations. She had to have a "ladies' operation", we were told one day, and when she came home she hid under a bed and wouldn't come out for a couple of days. My photo, below, shows a much older Lassie, aged about twelve, taken with my first ever camera in 1966. We were on a family outing to the Oasis swimming pool complex at Sunnybank, and she was tied up because her border collie instincts would have had her rounding up all the kids who were playing by the pool.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

I remember a trip home in a taxi one day when the driver let me sit on his lap and steer the car down the hill on Juliette St (in the opposite direction to today's one-way traffic flow) towards Baron St. The steering was so heavy that I couldn't quite manage the right-hander into Baron St, and I thought I was going to steer us straight into the big house on the corner that was owned by Mrs Nissen of the FW Nissen's Jewellers family. Of course, the driver had his hand on the steering wheel too, and we made it around the corner without major calamity. Can you imagine a taxi driver asking a little boy to sit on his lap and steer the car these days? I think not! How many laws would that break? And not only the road rules, either! :-0

I remember the fairly long walk to Junction Park State School that I made by myself in Grade 1, and then with my sisters as each of them in turn started school. It probably wouldn't happen today - it seems that the family car delivers most kids to the school gate. At school we learned to write on a slate with a special slate pencil. How prehistoric is that, looking back from these days of computers and mobile phones! My younger sister is a left-hander, but she wasn't allowed to write with her left hand. The teacher would smack her on the recalcitrant left hand and make her write with her right hand. However, my sister was tough, and she had endurance too. She stuck it out and remains a left-hander to this day. My teacher in both Grade 1 and Grade 2 was Miss Masterson, and she was very nice to me, even on the day I marched out to the front desk with my school port and announced that I was going home because my mother was sick. Mum was at home in bed after coming home from a stay in
hospital caused by a respiratory problem. There was an oxygen cylinder next to her bed, and she had to place a scary black mask over her face to breathe oxygen from time to time. The whole process was very frightening to a child, and stressful for all of us. I think I was actually allowed to go home on that day, too. I first learned to swim in the infants' pool at Junction Park State School. One day we were just learning to kick, and we had to kick our way across the pool to the other side, hands out in front like Superman flying. Evidently my left leg had been affected by Kryptonite, making my right leg more powerful, because I never reached the other side - I had veered almost 90 degrees to the left, and was steadily kicking my way up towards the deep end of the pool when I finally ran out of breath and had to stop. There I was, in the middle of the pool, unable to reach the bottom and too tired to paddle to the side. The female swimming instructor had to rescue me, and I was the butt of jokes in the boys' dressing room later. Grade Three kids can be so cruel. :-(

In our yard was a tasty loquat tree, a pretty frangipani tree and a prickly bouganvillia, all surrounded by a wooden paling fence complete with the ubiquitous choko vine. Our house had a name-plate next to the front door - it was called "Maroon" after the town of Maroon, south-west of Brisbane, where Dad's family came from. We pronounced it to rhyme with moon (as I assume they do out there), but State of Origin now has it rhyming with bone. The house was a typical Queenslander, raised high on stumps to create a magical area that we called "under the house" in reverent tones as if it were another world (like you would say "up on Mars!"); and there, on days when it was too rainy to go outside into the yard, we had
a swing to play on, as well as lots of space for cowboy forts or games of marbles, or twirling hula-hoops, or skipping, or playing hopscotch. We were usually outside the house during the day, playing something physical either at home or elsewhere. We wouldn't come inside until dark, when we could listen to serials on the wireless (the old-style radio, which wasn't actually wireless at all!) until dinner time. My favourites were Biggles, Hop Harrigan and Tarzan. I loved The Goon Show too, but I usually wasn't allowed to listen to it - it was considered too adult for me. "Yes, what?" with Bottomley and Greenbottle was also hilarious, but once again, my parents thought that it encouraged children to be rude, and so it was a struggle to get to listen to that one as well.
Upstairs in the house were hardwood floors with a rug in the lounge room and lino on the kitchen floor. There was a hallway down the middle of the house with rooms off to each side (bedrooms at the front, kitchen and bathroom at the back), and a verandah or "sleep-out" that provided much needed extra room for a family of three adults and three children (at that time - a brother and another sister arrived after we moved!). The roof was corrugated iron, and the sound of rain from a Brisbane evening storm drumming on the roof was a frequent lullaby.

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Next: Hallowed grounds


  1. Great memories and a great story. How times have changed. I enjoyed your childhood reminiscence. It was not that much different from mine growing up in Switzerland.

  2. Thank you, foto fanatic, for your reminiscences. When I started at Junction Park Infants' School I was living at my grandparents' house in Annerley -- the house where my father had grown up. I remember well the clothes-prop man, his call, and his horse and cart.

    I guess those ice women lost their jobs when the ice men came back from the war.

    I turned 60 a few weeks back.

    Peter Marquis-Kyle

  3. Hi Titania - Thanks for your comment. I guess it's true that we aren't too different wherever we come from.

    Hi Peter - Thanks for your note too. Pertinent point about the female ice deliverers during the war. Maybe we were classmates - were you in Miss Masterson's class?

  4. The 60th birthday will do it every time, won't it :) It is like going to your primary or high school reunion, dragging out the old photos and remembering important places that were pulled down decades ago.

    Thanks for the link
    Art and Architecture, mainly

  5. Hi, I remember the ice being delivered too, but they always left it on our bottom step, never brought it inside. And the props man used to walk up the middle of the road here (Highgate Hill) calling out: "Pro-o-o-ops" in a long drawn-out way. (An ex-Junction park student too)

  6. Hi, As a child I lived across the other side of the park in Pine Street. How well I remember the iceman Mr Scroggins who was also the local SP bookie. He would come around every Friday night to collect the bets. We had a dairy across the road in Ernest St and I worked on the milk run for about a year. The milk horse's name was trigger. I also learnt to swim in the Junction Park School pool. They must have forgot to tell me to breathe and I almost drowned. When I was about 4 I experimented with a box of matches and ended up setting fire to the whole park. After the firemen had put it out, they came looking for me. The first place my Mum looked was under the bed, and sure enough that's where I was. Wonderful memories.

  7. Hi Douges
    Great childhood memories. I also nearly set fire to our house whilst playing with matches one day. I couldn't get the garden hose to reach the fire under the house and had to call my mother. She passed the hose through the timber battens at the front of the house and was able to extinguish the fire.
    Like you, I wasn't very popular either!


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