Rex Newsome on his grandparents Arthur and Ellen Nunn
- Published: 11 September 2009 11 September 2009
Rex Newsome looks back on visits to his Nunn grandparents
Rex Newsome, (1932-2013) the son of Emily Nunn and Roy Newsome, recorded memories of his grandfather, Arthur Nunn, in an autobiographical book, Up The Stares, published in 2000.
Rex, a doctor of psychology, was a University of Queensland Senior Lecturer and Researcher, and life-time advocate for the disabled who was born with cerebral palsy.
Despite being denied formal education in his pre-teen years, he eventually blossomed into a fine academic. Rex passed away aged 80.
In 2009, he gave permission for two chapters of his book to be included in this family history.
A visit to Grandma’s
Grandma and Grandad, my mother’s parents, lived in Rockhampton, a city that was in those days of similar size to Townsville, but some 400 miles to the south. Each year or so I would accompany Mum to Rocky to see her family, which included Aunt Annie and her family, Uncle George and his large family, and Aunt Chrissie.
|Rex as a baby in his mother's arms.|
We always went by train which was an overnight and half-a-day’s journey. We would board the train with its varnished wooden carriages and its sweating steam engine at Townsville station at 6pm.
Mum would book weeks ahead to get a sleeper. However it would usually turn out that when we went in to collect the tickets, the man at the small window would shake his head and tell her that sleepers were all taken.
The story was that preference being given to nuns, priests, government officers, railway employees, friends, in about that order. Folk like us without inside assistance got whatever happened to be available. Without a sleeper there was nothing for it but go sitting up all night on hard padded seats.
When we would make our way through to the dining car for refreshments we would note that most sleepers would be empty. Sometimes a sympathetic conductor would manage to arrange it for us to get an empty sleeper.
Some years later when I got to travelling around with mates I discovered that the trick was to wave a ten-bob note in front of the conductor. Mum was too upright to consider bribery, even if she had known of the game. We would have to make do with sitting up, or by stretching out somehow in whatever way we could, on the seat, the floor, or wherever.
|The cover of Rex's book Up The Stares which
is available from Amazon.
Every time the train came to a station and its long, jerky stop, everyone in the compartment would groan and hope that there would be no interloper getting in to our compartment to disturb the arrangement. A sigh of relief would issue from everyone if the train started again without an addition. This routine would repeat itself at Ayr, Home Hill, Bowen, Mackay, and a few stops further on.
At St Lawrence everyone would get out for a cup of insipid tea and soggy baked-bean sandwiches at the refreshment room on the station, and stretch the legs.
After a tiring night of fitful napping, waking up for each station, I would eventually give up trying to escape the monotonous clickity-clack of the rails, and the chug of the engine up front by trying to sleep, and revert to staring out the window at the strange shapes formed by the morning twilight.
As the Sun rose the bush scene emerged from the darkened shadows as we rolled on. Shapes of animals and monsters would form out of the ever-changing landscape.
Soot in the eye
Sometimes, as we would go around a curve, I would poke my head out the window to catch a view of the engine, only to pull in again after getting soot in my eye. In the morning, every now and then we would pass a group of gangers, the men who worked on maintaining the line.
They would stand by and yell “Oi, Oi” for people to throw them newspapers and old magazines. A few hundred yards further on we would pass their camp which comprised either of canvas tents pitched beside the line, or of more permanent weatherboard huts which were grouped together in a section beside the railway line. In the latter we would see women working at washtubs.
The houses were hardly more than small sheds. It must have been a hard life for these railway women-folk. Occasionally we would see a house or a humpy through the bush. Some of these were made almost entirely of rusty galvanised-iron sheeting, which must have been unbearably hot in summer.
Not far to go now
I wondered who would live in such places so far from nowhere. Sometimes there would be a dog, or a few ragged kids standing by the line watching the train go by. Onwards we would go, past The Caves, a small siding station that told us that we were not far from Rocky.
|How Arthur and Ellen Nunn's Rockhampton house looked
in 2000, 60 years after Rex first visited from Townsville.
A short time later we would pass the State Orphanage, a big white house on the top of a small, denuded hill. It was some miles out of town and spoke of the social and official attitudes of the time to children bereft of parents.
Soon, a few houses would appear. These were different from the ones in Townsville. Rockhampton had its distinct character. The city was established as a city somewhat earlier than had Townsville and its stability, or perhaps, early stagnation, gave it a more uniform vernacular than the rag-tag collection of building styles we had in Townsville.
Nearing the end of our journey the train would enter the outskirts of the city and pass down between a long row of back- yards. Most of these had dunnies set by the fence along the railway line.
As we approached our destination, the wheels would screech and clunk in protest to the tight city curves. I would see housewives in their aprons standing in the back-doors watching as we went by.
Some would wave to the anonymous occupants as we clickity-clacked by. It was as though we were the first train they had ever seen. Eventually the screech of brakes would announce our triumphant arrival at Rockhampton Station. The main station was a great timber and tin shed with the roof arching over the tracks.
Porters in their black railway uniforms would be standing by, or shuttling to and fro pushing those large, double-ended luggage barrows. These barrows had a pair of steel-rimmed wheels in the centre and handles at either end to allow the barrow to be moved either way without having to be turned around.
The wheels drummed and grated on the concrete of the platforms as they were trundled along. If you could catch the eye of a porter your luggage would be loaded on a barrow and taken out to the waiting taxis, or to whatever other transport arrangement you had.
As we were rather tight on with the few shillings we had, we mostly had to rely on someone meeting us, usually Grandad, or one of my cousins.
Sometimes, instead of getting off at the main station we would continue on for a few hundred yards to the Archer Street station [actually Archer St station is before the main station when approved from the north]. This was only a block away from Campbell Street [they actually lived at 51 Kent St] where Grandma and Grandad lived.
|Rex's grandparents Arthur and Ellen Nunn.|
We could walk from the station with Grandad carrying the bags while I held on to Mum for support. Grandad worked as a gardener for the Rockhampton Council.
He was a gaunt man with a Henry Lawson type moustache. Typical of the style of the day, he always wore a felt hat whenever he went outside. Without his hat he was bald, except for a few wisps of hair carefully combed across his bald pate.
Of a morning I would find him in the kitchen reading snippets of the paper out aloud to Grandma as she bustled around.
The kitchen was fitted with a great cast-iron stove that, like most houses along the street, stood in a galvanised hooded alcove jutting out from the back of the house.
A thin chimney of galvanised tin piping with a tee-piece at the top took most of the smoke up and away leaving only occasional whiffs to seep out though joints and cracks. These stoves could smoke badly, especially when the stove was stoked with too much paper and the kitchen would be filled with a suffocation haze.
On each side of the stove stood cast-iron pot-racks on which were hung these huge, black pots Grandma used for cooking.
Grandma’s meals were very plain and basic, the legacy of a hard life from childhood where large families, poverty and scarcity were accepted as the normal conditions of living.
Except formal occasions like Christmas and Sunday dinners with the whole family, meals were in the kitchen with Grandad at the end of the table in his baggy, brace suspended trousers, usually in a neckless flannel shirt.
|Rex's grandmother Ellen Nunn,
nee Campbell, in 1953.
The rest of us sat on the pair of bench stools set at each side of the table. Grandad would take his place at the end in a large chair with his Dad’s cup to the right. Apart from reading the paper and giving his opinions out about this and that, Grandad spent most of his spare time in his garden alongside the house.
Here he had an amazing number of vegetables growing, all in carefully tended rows, raised by boarding from the narrow walkways between. I would crouch on my haunches and watch him as he worked away with his hoe between the huge cabbages and lettuces.
Every now and then there would be someone at the gate to buy something. A few shillings would change hands and a neighbourhood kid would be on the way home with a great armful of produce from Grandad’s garden.
Grandma was always going on about him almost giving it away, and how everyone took advantage of Grandad’s mild manner and undemanding prices. I now see Grandad as a secretive and hidden man, which was not of great wonder with a household dominated by Grandma and daughters.
It was many years later that Mum and Dad were entertaining guests when the conversation turned to parents and moral upbringing.
Dad appeared to have made some statement about children learning to swear from fathers, as I indeed had learned. Mum then said that she was still not used to hearing some of the words of invective one could now hear, as her Dad never swore. Dad’s response was immediate. “What,” he thundered, “of course he swore, he was famous for it.”
According to Dad, Grandad was known at the Rockhampton Gardens as Foulmouth Nunn. All my poor mother could say is that she had never heard him. Nor had I. Apparently my Grandfather, poor Arthur Nunn, in true Victorian style, had been entirely successful in keeping this side of his personality hidden from his family. What other elements of his life have remained hidden away from us and unknown?
Aunt Annie lived about three blocks away in a large house with veranda wrapped around three sides. That house however, once one got inside, was quite compact as it was the veranda that gave it the appearance of being large.
My small size probably added some comparative effect to the impression. I always enjoyed visiting Aunt Annie, especially as I got to play with my cousins. The oldest of Annie’s boys was named Leslie like myself (although, in my case, the first name is never used). He was some ten years older than myself and was considered a technical wizard who did things like making a working wireless set.
Later he joined the armed forces as a signals operator and died while in service. One means of travelling about Rockhampton in those days was by the French-made steam trams. These were small in comparison to the electrically driven dreadnoughts that once graced the streets of Brisbane, or the trams of Melbourne. They did, however, extend by being fitted with a carriage.
|Rex's uncle George Nunn with
his wife Winnie.
As a small boy I was, like most small boys, fascinated by these contraptions. The driver stood in the front. Behind him was an upright boiler with its chimney poking through the roof and the passengers sat, toast-rack style, in rows of seats.
A running board ran the length of each side for passengers t o climb aboard, and for the conductor, clinging on to the side, to work his way along while collecting fares.
On boarding, there would be a whistle to signal the start, and off we would go, chug, chug, chug. The trams were replaced in about 1939 by diesel buses and were sadly missed. It was at Grandma’s that I had my first experience of the miracle of wireless.
In the formal dinning room, in the far corner was a mysterious piece of apparatus. It sat on a small cloth-draped table and consisted of a cylinder of cardboard held between two pieces of wood on which was wound a coil of fine copper wire.
Attached to several terminals was a set of headphones. If one put the headphones on, slid a slider on top of the coil along the coil, and jiggled a thing called a “cat’s whisker” (although I couldn’t understand how the had managed to get Pussy to part with one), suddenly there would be music coming through the headphones, or a man’s voice.
The sound was all very high-pitched, but if you listened intently, you could make out what the man was saying, or the tunes that were being played.
This fascinated me greatly, but I could not understand why the set was not plugged into the wall. I thought that all electrical things had to have a source of electricity and then the explanation the electricity came through the air from the radio station failed to satisfy me.
I had to wait many years before a satisfactory understanding of how a crystal set could work (The headphones were indeed driven by electricity coming through the air, as electromagnetic bundles of energy sent out by the radio station. Given that your apparatus was close enough to the station, and that you had sensitive headphones, your ears could hear the minute signal quite clearly, but, of course, with an amplitude that is quite unknown to those youngsters of today who have been reared to the sound of ghetto-blasters).
At Grandma’s, the other concession to technology was the console gramophone in the parlour, or formal sitting room.
I think this probably belonged to my maiden aunt, Aunty Chrissie, who had developed a minor business career and who had money. The gramophone was an old HKV windup with the famous dog on the front. One had to wind it up with the handle at the side and fit a new steel needle out of a small tin box for every change of record.
Putting a record on was quite a business. The acoustic head was swivelled back to allow the fitting of a needle. After wiping the record with the green velveteen cloth, the spring of the gramophone had to be wound up. When that was done the tonearm was swung over the record and the needle set gently into the first grove as the brake was released.
There would be a lot of needle scratch and some music accompanied a hollow sounding, strangulated voice from somewhere lower down in the cabinet. At first, I could not work out how they got a man in there. There were many records, all in brown paper, in the several shelves at the bottom of the cabinet.
|Rex's Deakin cousins Neville, Les, Bernice and John with
their mum Annie, nee Nunn.
These had coloured centre labels, which I could not read as the print was too small for my young eyes. As a special treat, on Sundays after Grandma and Grandad returned from evening church, the gramophone would be wound up.
We would then listen to tunes and songs popular in the earlier part of the century such as “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before Ye” as sung by Harry Lauder, or “Tramp, tramp, tramp, along the highway...’’ by Australia’s own Peter Dawson.
These voices were particularly popular as they were able to withstand the strangulated acoustics of the steel needle and the folded cabinet horn. After Grandad died Grandma came to live with us for a bit. She and I, by that time, used to fight like anything. She always reckoned that I knew too much for what was good for me.
Having my say
She was probably right, but then I was different, as I had not suffered the rigorous suppression of the State primary school system. I was garrulous and opinionated and wanted my say.
Grandma expected me to listen to her wisdom and accept it. What used to upset me most was the way she went on and on about “them Catholics”. According to her, the “catholics” were conniving their way into every aspect of society and public power for their own purposes and advantage.
I felt that what she kept insisting could not be right. Dad had always drummed it in to me that one should adopt a fair attitude towards everyone and that you should take people as they come. Besides, the few Catholics I had come across and played with seemed just like anyone else. Finally Mum could take no more of our fighting and persuaded Grandma to return to Rockhampton. She lived on for another twenty years and became very potty before she died.
That stay with us, however, left me quite determined never to let traditional religious prejudice interfere in my judgements about people.
Twenty years later I inherited that crystal set. To my present chagrin, not respecting historical value, I pulled the thing apart to use for the materials for some project or other.
The set would now be valuable as an example of an early form of home radio. It was primitive, but to my grandparents, it represented an expensive step, for them, into the world of technological wonder and luxury. Although 1 would have liked to, I never did get my hands on that gramophone. For my sins, I also inherited Grandad’s baldness.
All the long days
How does one describe someone you have known for so long, so long that their character is accepted as a ‘given’ in one’s life? Mothers are of this class. One problem in describing one’s mother is that mothers are always there from the start. They are therefore taken for granted.
Their habits, characteristics, exceptions and foibles are encountered only so gradually that there is no sudden relevations or discoveries which can mark special and notable characteristics of that person. It is also likely that many of these characteristics are absorbed into one’s own character and become values for judging other people. Since such values are neutral to their source, they cannot be used to judge your own mother.
|Arthur Nunn holds grandchildren Les Deakin and Mavis
Collins, respective children of his daughters Annie and
Jessie. The picture seems to have been taken at the
Rockhampton Botanic Gardens where Arthur worked.
What I remember of my mother from that time is a small woman, thin, of olive complexion, with dark hair turned out at the edge all way round.
Modest and frugal
She had worn glasses since her early twenties and squinted when she took them off to clean them with her apron. Her family background was modest and frugality was the order where few airs and graces were ever allowed.
Grandad was gardener and, at the insistence of Grandma and in her company, a good Presbyterian [Baptist, actually*] churchgoer. In her very early years her family lived in a hut with a dirt floor [at Bluff*] covered with scraps of linoleum. She was born on April Fools’ day which, for her, was not fortunate.
*Warren Nunn's added notes.
On her fifth birthday her older sisters decided to play an April fool trick on her by pretending to give her something she had always wanted, a doll of her own. The doll turned out to be a broken bottle dressed up in rags. Caught up in the excitement and illusion she hugged it tightly to herself, only to have her hand cut open by the jagged glass.
Although her sisters got a thrashing from their mother, it seems probable that the bitter disappointment, and the pain from getting something she had no right to expect, being from only a poor family, scared her deeper than just wound in her hand.
I believe that Mum’ s schooling ended about the age of 12 and she took work as a shop assistant in Rockhampton until she married Dad. She described their courting days as somewhat casual.
As I know what Dad was like, I can well imagine it. For a start, with the Newsome boys it was a matter of first in, best dressed. Dad was one of eleven boys in a household and resources had to be shared around. He was always rather unhurried at the best of times and an inveterate talker.
Discussions with his mates, for Dad, had a habit of turning into arguments. Although these were always good-natured, it could be an hour or so before the unfortunate opponents could get away.
By the time he would arrive home, all the useable shirts would have disappeared and there would be the problem of washing and ironing something to wear.
As always, Emily would be stoically waiting when this Roy would finally turn up. Eventually, Roy Albert Newsome and Emily Nunn married and set off from Rockhampton for an uncertain life farther North.
After a brief spell in Mackay where Dad went into a plumbing business partnership with another bloke, they moved on. Mum always said that Dad was diddled by his partner as he was too easy going and trusting. Dad next took a job as a bridge-painter at a railway crossing of the Burdekin River some 70 km west Of Townsville. They then moved to Townsville as, by then, Mum was carrying me.
The story of the next half-dozen years or so has been told elsewhere. After my days at kindergarten and the excitement of travelling into town every day on the bus, post-kindergarten days were a let-down. There was no place for me in the local primary education system after kindergarten, and therefore I was kept at home.
Except for lessons administered by Mum with the aid of correspondence school papers, I was left pretty much on my own for most of the day. Most of those days were spent playing about the house, either under it, on the front lawn, or on the verandah.
Under the house was always a rich source for play things. Boxes, planks, tins, a variety of tools, a somewhat battered wheelbarrow, and many other bits and pieces Dad had accumulated. Such articles tended to collect because it never occurred to Dad to take anything to the dump. In contrast, Mum always hated to have anything in the house that seemed surplus to needs.
|Historical 1930s image of Purrey steam tram in Rockhampton.|
Thus, all these great objects collected by my Dad, and by me, were rubbish to her. Dad had taught me that much of what Mum considered rubbish could be useful. If there was anything to be fixed he would wander around for a while, seemingly aimless, turning over pieces of timber, rummaging in a pile of odd objects, until suddenly he would dive on something. Maybe if cut in half and bent a bit, it would be made to work _ frequently it did.
Other things to play with included a few larger and more robust toys that had withstood disassembly, and a Meccano set. Mum used to despair at my habit, whenever I was given a new mechanical toy, of immediately proceeding to pull it apart.
Her idea was that a toy was f or playing with. Mine was always to discover how it worked! Many wind-up toys of those times worked by ingenious use of the small gears and various levers.
The fascination of a new toy, for me, was its intricacy, and how it was put together. Once I had analysed its actions and how it had been made, I was satisfied and the toy was of little further interest. My parents finally worked out that it would be better to give me something that I could put together rather than pull apart.
Thus I finally got my meccano set, a number 5. The set grew progressively over the years as I accumulated bits and pieces from other lads in the district who had lost interest in theirs.
These girders, rods, wheels, nuts and bolts, and gears became my pride and joy for some years until teenage interests turned elsewhere. While to look back on those days suggest even to me that life must have been pretty boring, I guess they were not actually so.
There was plenty of things happening around that broke the monotony. Because Mum was the main person around for most of the time it was with her that most of my communications were carried out. While other children were around they were below school age and thus were younger than me. Their age, therefore, was not particularly conducive to what I considered to be intelligent play.
There were also neighbours, particularly Mrs Bishop across the road. Most of the time however, there was just myself and my imagination to create whatever fun one might have all those long days. Mrs B accepted my visits always with good humour. It was always Mum’s nature to be meek, self-effacing and accepting, although she also could be persistent and very determined.
As a cook, she was basic and cautious. There were few frills on her meals, and no fancy presentation. As she said, she never had the opportunity to develop a skill for arty things. She could not draw beyond a childish standard and most things, like sewing, were done for strictly practical reasons and the results were functional.
That was it. Decorating food was also beyond her ken. To her food was prepared to be eaten. Whatever she cooked was simply put out in heaps on the plate, and that was that. About the only attempts to garnish would be a sprig of parsley stuck in the dollop of mashed potato. However, I must say that any alternative to such style was not encouraged by cooking conveniences.
|Rex's mum Emily as a young woman.|
Until the mid 40s cooking was on a Lighthouse wood stove, a contraption made of cast-iron that stood in a galvanised iron alcove shoved off the back of our house. While it was great for warmth in winter, its efficiency as a room-warmer tells of its inefficiency as a device for concentrating heat where it aught to have gone into the pots and pans on top. Wood had to be carried in from a woodheap around the back to keep the fire going.
Dad would chop a pile of wood each morning or so and, if suitably threatened, I would carry a bucketful upstairs where it was stacked ready for the blackened monster. The wood-fired oven gave Mum little chance of developing or displaying any finesse at the culinary art, not that she much penchant for doing so.
Mum had little time for doing anything with her hands other than basic, pragmatic things. Mum was, however, very good at making fruit cake as it mattered not too much if the oven got too hot and the cake was burnt a little. Actually, I loved eating the crisp, burnt bits when these were cut off to repair the cake. There were also the biscuits she made.
These were blobs of mixture on a greased tin tray that would spread and harden into nondescript shapes. Sometimes in attempt to decorate, the blobs were pressed down with the back of a fork to give a striated top.
It was not until we finally tossed out the wood stove and had a modern electric stove installed that Mum was able to attempt a sponge cake for the first time. While Mum provided the staple fare, to me it was Dad who was the real cook. On the rare occasions that we could-persuade him to cook something, it was basic, but simply scrumptious.
He was a king at dampers. Although damper is very simple to make really, poor Mum could never get it right. To her, everything had to be done by recipe. Two cups of this, a teaspoon of that, and so on.
Dad would never measure anything. A handful of this, a dob of that, a tip of some of the contents of a jar, and that would be it - out would come the most mouth-watering, golden crusted loaf, just right throughout.
Mum’s attempt would be flat and a sod inside which would leave her infuriated. I still use Dad’s approach to cooking, which basically is to go by instinct rather than measure. For me, as it was for Dad, the results have been most successful, even if a little variable. Mum’s main recreation was reading.
She would bring home a pile of novels from the local library and have them read in a few days. Mum loved books with humour _ those by P.G.Wodhouse and similar authors. Dad preferred nothing too long and stuck to short stories out of Man magazine, mostly of war-time adventures with air aces zooming around in biplanes shooting up the Red Baron once again. While I also read quite a lot, novels did not appeal to me.
My taste was for the descriptive and the technical. To complete the image of the life of a housewife in those times, besides the somewhat primitive kitchen, by today’s standards at any rate, there were the tradespeople to attend to.
There was the milkman who would fill your billy from a special measuring jug, and the ice-man who would deliver a half-block every day for our ice-chest. The butcher would call in the afternoon and would pull up in a convenient spot. Women would appear and gather around the butcher’s truck.
Sides of beef
|Rex's mum Emily (top) with two of her three sisters Chrissie
(left) and Jessie.
The doors of the box on the back of his truck would be flung open to reveal sides of beef hanging on hooks ready for slicing according to customer’s needs.
Later George, the Chinese fruiterer, would arrive in his canvas-topped horse-drawn cart. He had a strange cry that brought customers out of their houses. I could never work out what it was; perhaps it was a Chinese word, or his equivalent of “hoy”.
He had a big, heavy face, which remained blank and inscrutable. What his real name was I guess no-one really knew. Everyone called him George, but perhaps customers in other parts of the town called him something else.
Whenever I heard the grind of the cart wheels on the gravel I would run in to Mum to see if we wanted anything. If so, Mum would grab her purse and a basket. I would follow her out to the cart.
By that time several others from across the road would be there. They would stand alongside the big cart-wheels while George would crouch on his haunches amongst the large wicker baskets of fruit and vegetables.
George’s horse would snort and stomp impatiently while the ladies would argue with George over the prices.
Everything was either counted, or weighed in the ancient set of pan-scales hanging from the roof-frame of his cart and go straight into the basket from the pan.
There were no plastic bags or fancy packing in those days. If there were many items to be added up to determine the account an abacus would be brought out. George had his way of being non-comprehending of English whenever anyone tried to complain or bargain.
There was always a particular strong smell of his cart, fruity but different from anything else I have experienced. It was a smell sometimes mixed with the earthy smell of deposits made by the impatient horse. Every month there would be the Watkins man with his suitcase of wares, vanilla essences, pepper, and spices. A few shillings here and there and he would be gone for another month.
There was also the insurance man each week to collect one-and-sixpence and gave a receipt. All such documents were carefully put away in a tin-box in Mum’s dresser.
Mum kept all important documents in this small tin box. After some twenty years of one-and-sixpences the policy matured to pay out around a hundred and twenty pounds. While that amount constituted a tidy sum when the policy was taken out, representing about a third of the cost of our house, at payout it barely amounted to several months’ wages.
No thanks, not today
Other callers included various religious groups, each offering salvation and a religious tract such as The Watchtower. Mum would gently refuse the offering with a “No thanks, not today.” The scissor-sharpener would arrive about once a year with his oil-stone and files. If there were no scissors to be done Mum would take pity on him and set him to work to sharpen the lawn-mower for five-shillings.
In the days before the almost universal family car, it was not easy for the housewife to pop around to the local shopping centre for the week’s supplies.
When Mum went shopping it was a case of walking to the nearest shop. In our case, about half -a-mile. Groceries had to be carried home in a basket hung over the arm. In those times it was probably convenient that so many things could be obtained from itinerate vendors.
Besides, it provided the lonely housewife with a continued variety of daily events and a chance to catch up with the local gossip with women.
No funny business
Often the vendors would pass on various bits of gossip and other titbits to maintain customer rapport. In spite of the usual jokes about the availability of the milkman’s sexual services, I doubt if anything of the sort ever went on. There were always too many watchful and prying neighbourhood eyes to allow for any funny business to take place. The woodman would come every few months with a truck.
We would wave him around the side of the house, as he would back up along the side fence. Once in position he would climb up into the tray and start throwing pieces of log off onto the heap.
These were hard-wood sections of tree stumps to be split by axe before use. Besides providing fuel for cooking, such wood was also used for the copper in the wash-house. Where a washing machine is now used, then one had to rely on old copper boiler.
One started by pouring about four buckets of water into the copper receptacle and lighting a pile of wood underneath.
When the water got reasonably hot in would go the clothes and some bar-soap shavings. The boiling action of the water provided the washing action now supplied by a washing machine paddle.
An essential piece of washing day equipment was the poker. This was a wooden stick of about a metre in length to poke the clothes down as they boiled up above water-level. The stick was also used to fish the well-stewed article out for transfer to the rinsing tubs.
No locked doors
Mum would go into town to shop every week or so. I accompanied her until I was old enough to stay at home by myself. When we did go out together the house door would simply be pulled to. In those days no-one would lock doors. In fact, we did not even have a door key to either the front door or the back.
When we went out we would simply pull the door shut, as did everyone else in the neighbourhood. If a neighbour went away for a few days and asked us to feed the cat, it was simply a matter of letting ourselves in, and feeding the puss.
On most week days, there was a tussle between Mum and me over school exercises. Given half the chance, I would be off downstairs. There, with my collection of toys, or tools, I could happily spend the day playing or carving. Mum, on the other hand, thought there was some point in education.
Downstairs I had bits of wood collected from everywhere stacked carefully away until a need, or an idea came to mind. When I did get an idea I would attack by saw, chisel, or perhaps an axe, until the piece took on the required shape. Sometimes the piece on which I was working would split the wrong way and spoil intentions.
After a while I became skilled in understanding the nature of the wood by examining direction of grain, knots, and its propensity for yielding correctly to my treatment.
|Rex Newsome's aunt Annie
Deakin, nee Nunn.
My main working position was on the concrete floor with the article held between my feet in much the same way as one sees in pictures of primitive carvers. As my aim was never too good, I would often cut myself, or end up with bruised knuckles from banging them with a hammer.
Once, in an attempt to split a piece with one blow from a cane knife the result was a mighty gash in the left hand instead.
My hands became toughened with layers of scar tissue building on other scars. As I worked away there was always communication between Mum and me, even though she was upstairs and I was down.
Snatches of songs would occur to us at the same time, and we would remember things to be done simultaneously.
There were divergences however, and these grew as I became older and unsharable personal experiences and secrets accumulated. Whereas Mum hated to do anything too complicated with her hands, I revelled in making complicated things with my Meccano set, even though it sometimes took me what seemed like hours to coax nuts onto the tiny bolts.
When I finally became independently mobile with a bicycle, I finally escaped and drew away from Mum’s orbit.
To her, I suppose, I became different and rude, for I no longer wished to share her gossip and accounts of her adventures at the women’s bowls club. My attempts to relate my adventures with other boys were, to her, crude and I soon learned to keep these to myself, or to share them only with Dad.
After I left home, the distance grew greater.
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