With the commencement of the New Year (1950), whilst we were still living in the garage, I had commenced a course of instruction for my certificate of town clerk. The course lasted ideally for three years, but few people finished in that time. I found the accountancy and law extremely difficult to absorb after so many years away from school. I would go to the Sydney Technical College three nights a week direct from work. I walked from the College back to Central Station reaching it just before eleven o’clock. At this time, having had no tea, a packet of “Zac-a-Bag” chips from the stall that used to stand in the big square was very welcome. I would then hurry through the subway to board the eleven o’clock train, after which it was an hour’s run to Caringbah. Getting off there at midnight, with the last bus long gone, I would briskly walk the mile and a half back to Want Street. With the need to get up early in the morning to go to work, this timetable was strenuous and made one tired at times. Certainly I kept fit. I invariably walked to Caringbah station and back to save the bus fare, and at weekends, there was plenty of work in the garden. At Hurstville I worked for the most part at the counter, and was always dashing back and forth for rate accounts, subdivision maps, or valuation books. In the evenings, when not going to Tech, I sat in the garage and studied. This was all right in the summer. However, the garage was unlined and the eaves were not boxed in. I had filled the interstices with rolled up newspaper, but this was inadequate to prevent the draught coming in. Thus I got very cold, even though I sat with a heavy overcoat on that I had brought from England. On these occasions, Irene retired to bed to keep warm. When we got into the house, of course, the situation improved.
At this stage, we made further material progress. We threw out the old ice-box which we had been using to keep things cool and bought an STC refrigerator. It was the first refrigerator we had ever owned, and I wrote back home to England rather smugly to tell them about our acquisition. It cost us sixty-three pounds, which was about two months’ wages, and I bought it over three years on hire-purchase. We thought that now, with a house, a refrigerator, a carpet square, and a lounge suite, we were really making progress.
I passed the first part of the course, comprising various abstruse arithmetical calculations, commercial law, business methods and organisation, and commercial accountancy up to the dissolution of partnerships. (What good that would be in local government I never could fathom). I now commenced local government law and accountancy, which were far more demanding, and gave me a lot of trouble. My job as cashier at Hurstville offered me no insight whatsoever into accounting matters. Thus, everything I learned was theory, and I could not relate it to practice. Having reached a certain stage, and despite study on a regular basis, I seemed to get stuck. I realised that I would not have been allowed to undertake such a course of study in England due to what was deemed there to be insufficient basic education. Therefore, I had to see the thing through to the end, if only to prove to myself that I did indeed have the capability.
I was thirty years old. I found the task tremendously hard. But despite some setbacks in examinations and many disappointments, I slowly edged forward. I told myself that if I persevered, I would beat other people who did not have the same constancy of purpose. But I wished with all my heart that I had had the opportunity of studying these subjects twelve years earlier. By this time, I would already have been well ensconced as a clerk to my own council, and the world would have been at my feet. My time in England and the war had taken from me those precious years, and I would never be able to regain them. I had no alternative but to keep on and do my best.
Despite our worries, Irene and I really liked the Caringbah district where we lived. Even though it started to fill up rapidly with houses and the shopping centre down the road began to mushroom, there was still a country atmosphere about our area.
Mary, our neighbour across the road was a typical country woman, wide-hipped, motherly, always in a calico apron. She was slow of movement, broad of speech, but always very kind and considerate. It was she who first taught Irene and me how to bathe young Patricia when she came home from hospital. For the inexperienced, bathing a young baby is rather like washing a large piece of blancmange. They slip and they slither. You know you must control them, but you are afraid of hurting them or dropping them. Mary knelt beside the basin we had placed on the floor, carefully soaped and sluiced our little bundle of joy, dried her gently but firmly, then played with her for a few moments before putting her to bed.
She was an expert, having had innumerable children of her own. In fact, Mary had forced her husband to take up sleeping quarters in an old shed at the bottom of their garden thus espousing the simplest birth control system of all which says: “Out of sight, out of mind.” He was a ginger haired man, slow moving and with a sly grin. He worked on the Council, camping out on road jobs and only coming home at weekends. But when work finished and pleasure began, he was apparently a hundred per cent macho man, for Mary swore that she only had to look at him to fall pregnant. Her youngest child was a sandy haired boy of two or three years who was already the spitting image of his father. Before his birth, they had apparently sworn to have no more children. But one weekend Mary’s husband, feeling the pangs of loneliness, cunningly brought home in the pocket of his large overcoat a bottle of sweet wine to which Mary was particularly partial. She allowed a few glasses of the delectable stuff to seduce her, and before you could say “Jack Robinson”, they had popped into bed together, and another addition to their extensive family was on the way. They were friendly, uncomplicated and very kind people.
Just down from the Mary lived a woman of about thirty who made all the other ladies in the street jealous. This was because her husband used to do all the house cleaning and washing before he left for work, telling the neighbours that his wife was sick and not very robust. However, the moment he had gone, she would be up and about, dressed up to the nines, strolling around like a Hollywood film star. All the girls were jealous because there was no way that they could make their own husbands do likewise.
Next door to us but one lived old Jim and his wife. She was a strong, black-haired woman, and he a retired schoolteacher. He had gone back to do a bit of additional teaching, and also worked in the bush, coming home only at weekends. Old Jim wasn’t averse to a few glasses of plonk in the pub at weekends after the long, lonely week at work, and I often met him coming down Cook Street, merry of eye and garrulous of speech, carrying with him the faint aroma of fermented grape juice. He had two huge blocks of land with a small creek running through the middle, and the place was a mass of fruit trees, tree ferns and Christmas Bush. It was a sprawling, natural garden paradise where you could lose yourself. The big city seemed a thousand miles away. Their old weatherboard house had stood there for many years, but it was very comfortable. They were kindly, friendly Australians of the old school, not yet tainted by the fast buck philosophy of the twentieth century. When old Jim’s wife died, he married a widow from Wingham, where I had the pleasure of meeting him many years later, still firm and sprightly, though he must have been in his eighties.
I continued to work in local government at this time by choice.
I might actually have had a job in a real estate office in Caringbah at a period when there were only two or three shops in the main street. On another occasion, I actually obtained a job in the personnel department of Ampol Petroleum, but turned it down at the last moment to stay with local government, even though things seemed static and unpromising at the time. My reason for not leaving local government was that after seeing so much poverty in London during the depression, security of income and employment were of tremendous importance to me. This was more especially so since I was in a strange country, and there was absolutely nobody to turn to for support should I fall out of work and be unable to look after my family. I knew from experience that when an economic recession hits, private enterprise jobs can be sudden death for a worker who has reached a certain age, whom his bosses are looking for an excuse to replace.
By the same token, if Irene was to stay at home and look after the children in the way that both she and I thought was essential for their well-being, then I had to earn not just a wage, but a better than average wage. To do this, and to have security too, I had to obtain promotion within the local government service. This I could only do by first passing my examinations, then be willing to travel around to different Councils. However, there was a time restriction. I could only do this when the children were young. Otherwise, their schooling and general upbringing would be disturbed.
There was another thing. The old dictum, (and it is true), says, “A rolling stone gathers no moss…….”.
So, I had chosen professionalism. But I still had to become a professional, then slot myself in somewhere within five or six years, and certainly before I attained the age of forty. This, then, was the way I had tried to rationalise our future in Australia, and was the plan I tried to follow for the benefit of the Foxon family.
I stayed at Hurstville Council for four years, and during that time applied on several occasions for a rise. Each time I was knocked back on the grounds of inadequate finance. I then began to apply for jobs elsewhere, but not too far from home. (Local government jobs were advertised on a weekly basis in The Sydney Morning Herald.) I was finally offered a job one grade higher at Sutherland Shire Council, headquarters of the local government area in which we lived. I accepted, and when I put in my resignation, my boss offered to lift me two grades if I would stay at Hurstville. I thought that I would gain more experience at Sutherland Shire, so I thanked him and refused. I have often wondered whether I did the right thing, because many changes took place at Hurstville over the next dozen years. However, it also gave me a secret pleasure to tell my boss, who had refused me a well-earned rise, that I now no longer needed his job. In addition, there is no doubt that by starting to move around, I was to enlarge my job experience in a way that I could not otherwise have done. Nevertheless, it was to give me some traumatic experiences as we went from one place to the other.
When I left Hurstville, I took my holiday pay and started straight away with Sutherland Shire. With the money thus saved, we bought our first car, a 1928 Austin Seven, with wire brakes and gravity feed of petrol to the carburettor. It cost us sixty pounds.
In four years we had seen nothing of New South Wales except a limited amount of the City of Sydney. Now, in the Austin 7, already a vintage car, even in those days, and with a top speed with safety of about twenty five miles an hour, we travelled as far as Gosford in the north and Wollongong in the south. Any one of these trips took us all day.
But our new mobility widened vastly our outlook and understanding of the area in which we lived. We began to appreciate the sandstone and gum tree beauty of the Sydney region, the extent of the New South Wales beaches, and the beauty of vast seascapes.
3 thoughts on “Ch10 Pt3 Owning our first car”
I think the excerpt says it all; that they had both been robbed of those war years but he “had no alternative but to keep on and do my best.” I think maybe this was true of most newcomers to Australia. The important words to me are “do my best”; that is to be satisfied that you have tried; that the measure of success is not someone else’s opinion, but a knowledge that you put the effort in.
“For the inexperienced, bathing a young baby is rather like washing a large piece of blancmange.” A wonderfully descriptive sentence – it took me back to those first days with a newborn. I couldn’t help but nod my head and laugh.
Reading this chapter, I can see Jim’s plate is certainly very full. He considers he is a late starter in life, and needs to run to catch up. He uses words like “tremendously hard”, “disappointments” and “persevered”, but it is his phrase “consistency of purpose” that fires his engine room to keep going. He navigates around his regrets and what ifs, and actualizes instead what he has. This is such a common denominator in Jim’s character resilience, built from adversity with a touch of humour. Using his gift with words and direct style, his descriptive observations of the original housewives of Caringbah, would be just as relevant now as it was when he wrote it. This highlights again his ability to archive the universal character of individuals.
It is gratifying as a reader to watch how step-by-step this couple gain a foothold in their new country. Each step like house, contents, job and expanding family, records with pride and exuberance a just reward for the hard slog and sacrifice they put in. Jim shows that Ollie and Alma’s choice, to support their immigration, was a good decision for Australia as well as Jim and Irena.
More thoughts from Trish
4 wheels gave independence to Jim and Irena in a country that was developing faster than transport could be provided. It also gave a freedom to discover at will the beauty and secrets of their new surroundings, driving at the speed of Miss Daisy, 25 kilometres an hour in an Austen 7.
It is the small things that often make us happy and feed our need to forge on: a fridge, carpet square, lounge, car, and finally a job which enabled choices for this immigrant couple to plan a future in Australia.
I love the way Jim observes his life and others by recording them in his stories. He writes directly and personally about ordinary lives, that are familiar and recognizable to us all. Mary and Old Jim are eternally captured in this descriptive microcosm of life in the 1950s. Jim also comes across as a man who processes his thoughts in prose. In this chapter he mulls over the’ if onlys ‘ and rationale for decisions made. You can see slowly how life for this couple is taking form and developing. They will not be “the rolling stone that gathers no moss”.