Illness and life-struggle have kept me away from this place for a while. I am glad to be back. It seems sometimes almost a duty to keep on sharing.
When you are old, above the average life span, it is hard not to think of the past. Old friends who seemed eternal pieces of the establishment are no longer with you. They keep tapping you on the shoulder and softly saying, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?”
There is “Abba” for instance, an old mate from the distant past to the almost present. A fellow teacher he was, like me destined for New South Wales classrooms. A shearer’s son whose courage, determination and acquired wisdom made him eventually the principal of a big Sydney high school. We shared “National Service” (Conscription) too, in 1951. The light of his laughter in later times still lingers. We claimed to have prevented a bigger war at the time. No conflict would have been feasible with soldiers of our ineptitude.
There is Nanny too, my Grandfather, who enlisted in the Eighth Division at the age of 60 (declared age 45) and was captured by the Japanese at Singapore. He taught me to count in Japanese when he came back, weighing six stone seven, in 1945, after helping to build the infamous Burma Railway.
And George, a recent demise. Another teaching colleague. I need advice of his no- nonsense kind, and I long for his companionship today. A life-member teacher unionist and primary school principal, George still reaches out to me with an awareness of so many things I could have done better in my early life.
So there they are – old friends. Let them be for now. Let them rest with Don Bradman and Pete Seeger and Humphrey Bogart and Richie Benaud and all the others. They’ll be back whenever a thought demands it.
Other memories are here now. Age gives you a big data base of recollections. In the Thirties and Forties you were a child of the British Empire. In cinemas you stood up before the feature film, for the national anthem. It was “God Save The King” until February 1952. In those young days you loved the “cracker night” of every Empire Day. Catherine wheels and double-bungers and throw-downs and rockets and the big bonfire made childhood gloriously exciting. You learnt in Fifth and Sixth Class (primary school) that all the red countries in your atlas were part of the “Empire on which the sun never sets.” Nothing to do with communism.
Memories now of that BIG war. From 1939 to 1945 Russians were “goodies.” You liked them and you hated Hitler and Tojo, drawing spiteful pictures of the “baddies,” sometimes on your desk. During that war life was threatening. Even though you were merely a child, the memories remain strong.
The gun flashes out to sea off Cronulla were like sheet lightning. The city of Sydney seemed to have lost all its lights. Cars had funny metal things over their headlights with just a small slit for the light to come out. Some had big boxes on their roofs burning stuff as substitute for petrol. Food and clothing were rationed, as was petrol. During a film at a “picture show” you were asked to buy War Bonds to help beat the enemy. You were also warned that the enemy was listening behind walls so you mustn’t speak about war secrets. Chewing gum disappeared in those war years. It must have been reserved for soldiers and other war personnel.
All the railway stations had their names taken down. There were steel piles on the beaches to stop invasion forces. Fighter pilots were heroes and you could see them training overhead.
I knew their names as later I knew sporting names: “Paddy” Finucane, “Bluey Truscott, Clive “Killer” Caldwell … I loved watching the Hurricanes skimming the waters of Yowie Bay and the rest of Port Hacking. As a non-war excitement, I was also enchanted by the Tiger Moths that stalled and spun far up in the sky over the Port Hacking/Sutherland area where my first home was. Those non-war pilots were adventurers too. You don’t see arial games any more like those ones. The sky is needed by the commercial aircraft companies, the air force and the police. No one flies under the Harbour Bridge now either.
Back to the war. The searchlights practising at night and piercing the World War II sky are also unforgettable recollections. Anti-aircraft practice was noisy, but no enemy ever bombed lucky Sydney. Perhaps that is one reason we participated willingly in later wars.
I remember too, aeroplanes towing practice targets a considerable distance behind them on a long lead. The pilots of the planes doing the towing now seem to me very brave in their fearless disregard of the possibility of friendly fire disaster.
My parents’ newspapers provided other entertainment for us “kids”. There were “Bluey and Curley” exploits of mischievous soldiers, “Boofhead” tales of the funny idiot, “Ginger Megs” who was one of us, “Saltbush Bill” on Eric Jolliffe’s farm, my hero Buck Rogers who foretold the future, “Dick Tracy,” Brick Bradford and “Prince Valiant”. Then there was The Phantom or Ghost Who Walks, who left the imprint of a skull on your jaw when he knocked you out. You could buy the skull ring for your own pretended belligerence. Best friend of all for me was Mandrake the Magician, who gestured hypnotically in Mum’s Women’s Weekly that came out every month.
The modern wonder of the cyber world might give you a chance to share my remembered comic fun here.
There was no television in my childhood. The radio was king. I used to sit up close to the set to listen to “The Search For The Golden Boomerang.” Tuckonie the youthful indigenous adventurer was my hero. I loved the introductory music too. I think it was “The Dance of the Flutes” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”. Fancy a tale of a hero such as Tuckonie in the era of the White Australia Policy! There were other heroes too: First Light Fraser, Biggles (who still makes me sizzle sausages), Hop Harrigan, Superman, Tarzan, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger. “Hagen’s Circus” is also an exciting memory.
As with the “Golden Boomerang” music, the “Dad and Dave” theme is also strong in my memory. It was “Along The Road to Gundagai,” music and Lyrics by Jack O’Hagan. It was played between scenes at different speeds according to the excitement pitch of the moment. It also introduced and ended each episode.
Laughter was easy to get from the radio too. Rex Dawe’s “ Yes What” is forever funny. “Dad and Dave” with Dad’s “starve the lizards Mabel” and Dan Agar’s “Mrs ‘Obbs” still bring me pleasure and I still hear Lou Vernon’s whistling of “Annie Laurie” (I think) as he introduces his serial episodes with, “Hello. Aye it’s me, Doctor Mac.” Mum listened frequently to “Portia Faces Life,” “Martin’s Corner,” “Big Sister” and “When A Girl Marries.” Radio drama has been accurately called “Theatre of the Mind.”
Well there you are. Your past stays a part of you in spite of the intrusions, the retroactive inhibitions psychologists refer to. I could ramble on further about radio because it was embedded so firmly in my childhood mind.
If you would like to learn more about those experiences, you might enjoy a visit to here.
As I said before, the past seems to rear up at you when you get old. I hope my words suggest that it is not always an enemy. “Nostalgia” seems to sum up the situation pretty well: Greek nostos – return home; algos – pain. But what’s in a word? Meaning as well as beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.
Time is so valuable these days. I don’t mean the money-grabbing television time. I mean the real stuff. I’ll end by going back again, just a little way.
Until next time, soon I hope,