After reading Bill Bryson’s book entitled “Thunderbolt Kid” about his boyhood experiences growing up in the USA, I was reminded of my own childhood experiences. I grew up in the picturesque small dairy farming town of Kyogle situated on the NSW side of the border with Queensland. The back fence was all that separated our house from fields of grazing cattle and the river; an endless source of entertainment and excitement for me. I was scarcely ever indoors, coming in only to listen with bated breath to the daily radio broadcast of “The Search for the Golden Boomerang” and other popular radio serials broadcast then. Radio, books, comics, making sling shots, bows and arrows, climbing trees or exploring the river banks kept us actively interested, I can never recall feeling bored. In later life when I watched the same radio script on TV I was sorely disappointed, actors and sets seemed surprisingly insipid and imprisoned on the tiny screen.
I loved the weekly visit to the movies. Afterwards we feasted on chips, smothered in salt and dripping with fat, wrapped up unceremoniously in old newspapers- mana from heaven to me. When I returned home it was time to re enact the scenes, embellishing the story line to make it more exciting whilst playing in the bush outside.
Supermarket shopping didn’t exist but there was a constant stream of merchants and visitors to our house, the milkman at first light filling your jug with fresh milk and cream, a baker carrying his basket under his arm of freshly baked bread exuding its enticing aroma, the postman’s shrill whistle, ice from an ice cart for your ice chest, an insurance man collecting the premiums and an occasional salesperson perhaps selling encyclopaedias.
Each week the faithful ‘Dunny man” had to carefully exchange your full dunny for an empty one which was an operation that required a combination of brute strength (as they were rather heavy when full) and skill to ensure you didn’t spill any of the contents out while lifting on to the truck. The contents were respectively referred to as “Night Soil”.
My best pal conveniently lived next door; he was several years older and the wrestling champion of the local neighbourhood. I soon leant that I was not going to be strangled and die when he engaged me in wrestling contests on our front lawn, surviving his favourite head locks. There seemed no point in complaining since my parents seemed totally disinterested in my dire predicament. The wrestling experience turned out to be invaluable when I went off to school, when dealing with an older school bully. He launched his attack on me on the way home; as he had promised and I thought, I was a goner but I would do my best. To my surprise and the small crowd gathered around to watch (fights were usually premeditated which gave everyone the chance to come along and watch) I managed to get a decent head lock on him and wrestled him to the ground. To my astonishment and relief it was soon over; as he heeded the chant of the crowd. He’s got you!! , He’s got you!! Give-up, Give Up!!
Christmas time was always an exciting time and receiving a Bike for a Christmas present eclipsed all known joyous experiences in my life up to that point in time. My parents sensing my excitement had laid a string throughout all of the rooms of the house and back down the stairs to be attached to the bike situated on the front lawn. Christmas morning at first light they invited me to follow the string and see what was on the end of it. Needing no encouragement I tore through the house and in a state of heightened excitement finally surveyed a wondrous bike. It was the singular most exciting thing in my life. I immediately hopped on and cycled away. It didn’t matter a fig to me that it was an old bike, painted and spruced up with a false “Malvern Star” sticker on it, it was simply the best thing that could have ever happened and I was far too excited and happy to notice or bother. It was only in later life when I recalled the details in my mind I could see the bubbly paint work, to cover the rust and the shiny bell on an old frame. Freedom is an elusive state but I never felt as carefree as riding that bicycle around in the country.
Australia in the fifties was very conservative, fiercely loyal to the Queen under the guiding hand of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. During Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation we all made up scrap books as school projects. When she visited Australia no one really knew why we should all be excited, it was as if we were all swept along with this national bout of infectious enthusiasm and delight for the Queen. The cheers of the schoolchildren echoed everywhere as the Queen was greeted with unanimous delight.
During this time there was migration under the white Australia policy where assimilation was the norm. Immigrants were expected to abandon their cultures and languages, to quickly assimilate into the mainstream of the Australian way of life as distinct from the present day concept of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is an acknowledgment of our differences, diversity celebrated together under the core values and institutions that bind us. Those immigrants then traditionally worked in the factories and where labor was scarce. Many set up innovative businesses and went on to become captains of present day industry. Migration changed the shape and feel of Australia by introducing other cultures and interests to help form an integral part of who we are to day. Australia has been enriched by their efforts. We are a multilingual. Multicultural society doing business with the entire world and no longer tied to England. Capital cities are centers of diversity, engaging in new ideas, and evolving as we speak.
This prosperity has not been shared equally; it has come at the expense of the traditional custodians of the land, our Aborigines. Aborigines are very forgiving people; all most ask is to say sorry about past atrocities and injustices. When I was growing up in the fifties I was blissfully unaware of the injustices, but I had no trouble in saying “sorry” just as I do now, “Sorry”.