Chapter 1: Beginnings

Memory grasps the present and spreads it out into a vast canvas. You know this landscape because you have been there before.

In order to write about life, first you must live it.

Ernest Hemmingway

What is childhood but a recurring dream?

The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day. 

John Milton

Today for me my first days are like a dream that never leaves you. With it you feel less alone. Without a past there is no present.

Mum and Dad: Edith Emily Marjory Levi (neé Treverrow) and Alexander Cecil Royce Levi.

Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.

William Blake

You don’t remember your birth or the midwife but you remember your birthplace: Iolanthe, a big, white house overlooking Yowie Bay – a part of Port Hacking south of Sydney Australia. You celebrated your twenty-first birthday there. It’s gone now, that big white house you could see from the top of the bay. Developers’ fodder.

Half a mile away, down Kareena Road and along Matson Crescent was the little house where you grew up. Your father built it from fibro, timber and tin.

Tin roof. The rain beat drums on it. I felt upper class later when we had a different home with a tile roof.

Separate toilet. You remember the smell. You vividly recall looking in at the maggots writhing around. And then there was the lavatory man moving at a brisk trot bringing an empty pan and taking the used one on a pad on his shoulder. Mum gave him a present every Christmas. Once a week the dunny van used to interrupt our cricket matches on Matson Crescent. The stink drove us away.

In the house, you can’t forget the ice-chest and the iceman cometh carrying a big block of ice with his big pincers. Sometimes the butter from the chest tasted funny. The milkman had a horse and cart and measured out his milk of human kindness with a metal container into Mum’s milk pail. There was just one kind of milk – straight from the cow. Mum use to heat it and skim the cream off. I loved jam and cream on fresh bread.

The baker visited you as well, with his big basket of unsliced bread: “Bake-o-oh.”

The laundry was separate too. A big copper with a fire under it. Mum used to stir and extract clothes with a broom handle. There was a hand-driven wringer by the washing tub. That woman’s work certainly was never done.

No telephone in the house. Not even a phone booth in Matson Crescent.

It was long before television too. So the radio was worshipped.

I was always fishing for something on the radio. Just like trains and bells, it was part of the soundtrack of my life.

 Bob Dylan

I grew into Lorna Bingham’s “The Search For The Golden Boomerang”  and my indigenous hero Tuckonie, “The Air Adventures of Biggles,” “First Light Fraser,” “Yes What,” “Dad and Dave,” “Martin’s Corner,” Dan Agar’s “Mrs Obbs,”  “Superman,” “Tarzan,” “Hop Harrigan,” “Australia’s Amateur Hour,” “ the various “hit parades,” the ABC News, broadcasts from ships at sea during World War II, “The Quiz Kids” with Quizmaster John Dease,  and cricket broadcasts after 1946.

We are lucky in 2018. Modernity has given us detailed records of radio history to download. If you are interested in downloading a good radio history you can press  this link .

Three radio personalities were larger than my little life for many years. They were Jack Davey, Bob Dyer and Roy Rene “Mo McCackie.” Not even television or time has destroyed those memories.

School Days

I never let schooling interfere with my education.

Mark Twain

I don’t recall the years before Second Class. My teacher then was Miss Rogers who was not keen on nonsense. She would get very angry at times. I remember those times. One day I put threepence right up my nose and nobody could get it out. Tweezers were the solution. Funny things you remember. I remember other people too.

The Fun Doctor would visit the school once a year. He seemed quite an old man. He could juggle, and especially to our delight, balance a chair on his nose bridge. It cost sixpence to see him.

There was Mr Manuel, the Headmaster (Principal today). He was a tall, thin man with white hair. He had a long rose garden. We boys used to love weeding it. He taught me in Sixth Class (Year Six today). He told me because of my test results I could go to any high school in Sydney.  I owe that man so much. Like so many of my teachers he led me towards faith in myself.

Education is the kindling of a flame not the filling of a vessel.

Socrates

Mr MacDonald was the Fifth Class teacher for me. He was quite round and fat. He wielded the stick menacingly but had a willingness to laugh. I recall taking a mug to school and Mr Mac at recess filling it with milk from a big metal container.

Mrs Jurd was my Fourth Class Teacher. She taught us the song “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes” and liked my composition. Here is a page I still have:

My Composition

The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day.

John Milton

 

I’ve worked out my list of schools.

1938 Kindergarten Miranda Public School (Now demolished for Miranda Fair plaza)

1939 First Class Miranda Public School

1940 Second Class Miranda Public School

1941 Third Class Miranda Public School

1942 Fourth Class Miranda Public School

1943 Moved for a short time to Woollahra then to Cobar Primary

1944 Fifth Class Blackheath Primary

1945 Sixth Class Blackheath Primary

1946 First Year Katoomba High School then Sutherland Intermediate High

1947 Second Year North Newtown Demonstration High

1948 Third Year North Newtown Demonstration High Intermediate Certificate

1949 Fourth Year Fort Street Boys Hight School

1950 Fifth Year Fort Street Boys Hight School Leaving Certificate

My time at Fort Street High (1949-1950) was distinguished by cricket rather than study. I was chosen as an opening batsman for Combined Sydney High Schools against a NSW Cricket Association team. Here is the badge.

CHS 1949

Some Other Things That Happened In My School Days

1938 Hitler invades and annexes Austria (Kindie)

1939 World War II begins (First Class)

1940 Hitler’s blitz of London (Second Class)

1941 Pearl Harbour is bombed by Japan (Third Class)

1942 The US : Battle of the Coral Sea (Fourth Class)

1943 Mussolini falls from power (School interrupted, trip to Cobar)

1944 D Day: the Allies land in Normandy (Fifth Class)

1945 Peace: VE Day and VJ Day (Sixth Class)

1946 US and French Atomic tests (First Year{Year 7})

1947 The Marshall Plan (Second Year{Year 8})

1948 Mao Zedong sets up the Chinese Communist Government (Third year{Year 9})

1949 Germany is divided (Fourth Year{Year 11})

1950 Joseph McCarthy’s “un-American activities” purge (Fifth Year {Year 12})

Things I Remember About The War

We school children were naive and innocent but some of the (largely distant) war rubbed off on us. When it started I remember asking Mum if they would drop bombs on us. At school we were invited to help the War Effort. We had a penny line around the playground to buy comforts for the soldiers. We also brought metal materials and silver paper I assume for use as war materials.

I remember playing with gas masks and wearing tin hats. One of the reasons was that my grandfather and four uncles were soldiers.

Nights were dark. Blackouts were the norm.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.

Dylan Thomas

I cannot forget the search lights cutting the darkness up and occasionally illuminating a friendly plane. No enemies in our area. I remember daytime training devices for the anti-aircraft gunners: a plane towing a target a safe distance behind it.

My boyhood heroes were fighter pilots: “Bluey Truscott, Clive “Killer” Caldwell, Paddy Finucane.

Now that I have moved through life’s stages, I understand how brave these young men were. Lucky me. Via the whims of fortune and time, such deaths could have been mine or yours.

Show me the country where bombs had to fall,
Show me the ruins of buildings once so tall,
And I’ll show you young man with so many reasons why
There but for fortune, go you or I.
There but for fortune, go you or I.

Phil  Ochs with Joan Baez

I loved in my childhood watching the fighter planes (Hurricanes I think) skimming the waters of Port Hacking and then sweeping up into the sky. Other war planes I remember are the doddering old Avro Anson, the Lockheed Lightning with its two fuselages, the Lockheed Hudson bomber, the Wellington Bomber, the American DC3, Tomahawk and Kittyhawk, the Spitfire and the Australian Boomerang.

We kids knew the enemy planes too, such as the Messerschmitt 109, the Stuka dive bomber and the Japanese Zero. That last enemy was made by the zaibatsu conglomerate Mitsubishi, the same source of many of the cars that now inhabit Australian roads.

My grandfather, Sidney Isaac Levi, “Nanny,” in his sixties worked on the Japanese Burma Railway. I missed him during those years of my schooling. I missed the stories he told me when I sat on his knee.

If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.

Alfie Kohn

I was in 6th Class at Blackheath when the war ended and my family task was to listen to the BBC’s broadcast listing survivors from England or the Empire countries being repatriated in Singapore. I shouted to everyone when I heard “Nanny’s” name.

War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

Bertrand Russell (attributed not verified)

That survival was very exciting for us all. A remarkable achievement for one so old. When Sidney Isaac came home on the hospital ship Manunda, he weighed six stone seven.

My Uncle Vic, “Nanny’s” son, also worked on that Railway. Father and son  actually met. Uncle Vic survived too, had quite a distinguished career later in the New South Wales public service, and lived to be 99.

My uncle Jim Spencer was a Rat of Tobruk. He came home very traumatised, often losing his control with loud noises or a storm. He overcame the post traumatic illness pretty well. He lived next door to the big white house where I was boarding from time to time with my Auntie “Bib,” “Nanny’s” daughter, and we would often share late night cups of tea. That tea itself was quite traumatised, resting in the big pot for hours.

Uncle Jim’s wife, my Auntie Thel, lived to be 108 – 57 years longer than her husband. She now lies by his side in Sutherland Cemetery.

Three other relatives were away during that war. Uncle Sid Levi and Uncle Jack Treverrow were in New Guinea. Uncle Jack sent us butterflies wrapped in cellophane. Uncle Jack Finn was also in the army and on a ship that was torpedoed.

When I was at Woollahra Primary in Fourth Class, three Japanese midget submarines, with two-man crews, came into Sydney Harbour. There was considerable loss of life – 21 dead on the requisitioned Harbour ferry Kuttabul and four Japanese sub-mariners.

I remember seeing one of the submarines on a wharf near the water’s edge and paying sixpence to look through the periscope. The day before the submarines entered the Harbour, the attackers sent a seaplane into our airspace on reconnaissance observing especially the US cruiser Chicago. Because of my interest in aircraft I noticed a very different sounding engine. I feel sure that I heard what was the Japanese plane.

Other Memories Of The War

The future, the present and the past walked into a bar. Things got a little tense. 

  Source:  https://onelinefun.com/life/  27 Oct 2018

My father built an air-raid shelter on our Matson Crescent property. It was a wide hole under a very big rock, held up by timber, down by the water’s edge.

Petrol, food and clothing were rationed during the war and for some time after it. We had ration tickets for these products. I remember some cars with funny boxes on top burning petrol substitutes. These were producing gas via charcoal.

Rice was hard to get during the war. I remember my school friend Conan Chen giving me some for Mum to cook. You couldn’t buy chewing gum either.

We were winning the war most of the time in movies. Propaganda in the films was plentiful. The enemies were invariably ugly, violent mobsters.

I remember Errol Flynn in The Dawn Patrol. Although it was set in World War I, it somehow related to the war of my childhood. We kids rallied around Errol Flynn. This, even when swords replaced guns as the main weapons in other films.

You can count on Errol Flynn, he’ll always let you down.

David Niven

The 1938 production of that war movie was a smart money-spinner in view of Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria. War was certainly the flavour of that month.

My Uncle Jack Treverrow got into a fight with American soldiers near the Texas Tavern in Darlinghurst, Sydney. I remember he came, covered in blood, to our unit where we were staying for a time in that part of the city.

I remember too that Australian soldiers often clashed with Americans who had plenty of money and stole the girls. Newspapers told the stories. It was well known that the Australian pay was “five bob a day.”

Other wartime conditions we children noticed were quite dramatic. I remember the shellfire out at sea, often causing  flashes on the horizon. On all of our beaches steel rods sprang out of the waves to prevent invasion. The names on railway stations disappeared, I assume to remove whereabouts clues for enemies. There were signs on walls everywhere warning against careless talk on war topics. 

England’s troubles were on our minds constantly. All the news and newsreels focused on the Blitz and military events.

Every day and every night for weeks now, London has been bleeding and hiding its wounds with impressive dignity.

Source unknown

I remember sending food to England. Auntie Thel knitted sox and jumpers for our soldiers, and sent other knitted garments to England.

Events I Recall Still Quite Clearly

I remember so much, in spite of the years. I loved the Newsreel Theatres, little places that showed newsreels all day. You got up and walked out when your first item came round again.

I remember Pearl Harbour. Pictures of all the ships destroyed; tumults of smoke:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Midway Island…

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area…

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

Franklin D. Roosevelt  The White House, December 8, 1941

I remember seeing pictures of the German V-2 missiles: September 1944.

I remember the newsreels about the death of F D Roosevelt: April 12 1945. I was very sad because to the child he seemed a very good man. Everybody seemed to think so.

I remember seeing Mussolini’s dead body hanging above an Italian street: April 1945. Newsreel coverage.

I remember the Hiroshima mushroom cloud in newspapers: April 6 1945.

Listen to me. I know something else. It will begin again. 200,000 dead and 80,000 wounded in nine seconds. Those are the official figures. It will begin again. It will be 10,000 degrees on the earth. Ten thousand suns, people will say. The asphalt will burn. Chaos will prevail. An entire city will be lifted off the ground, and fall back to earth in ashes… 

Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour.

I remember the excitement of VE Day (Europe). Vivid radio coverage.

I remember the excitement of VJ Day, (Japan): September 14 1945. Mr Little, headmaster of our Blackheath Primary, had us Sixth Class boys ringing the school bell all afternoon to celebrate the peace. We drove from Blackheath to Sydney that night and were stunned by the galaxy of joyous bonfires on the plains west of Sydney. There were many celebration points on the streets of Sydney too, involving stars of radio, stage and screen. Excitement in the air. Strangers shook hands. Lots of kissing too.

I remember wondering how to pronounce Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations: 1946.

I remember how important Australia was at the beginning of the United Nations, largely through the work of Dr H V Evatt. I can never forget the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. I have referred to it many times in my later life.

There you are. End of the first chapter.

A book is like a man – clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

John Steinbeck

As you can see, like Albert Camus

 I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.

***

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