Ch10 Pt4 Moruya and the toy car

Whilst still working at Hurstville, and as an additional task, as if the Clerks Course wasn’t enough, I built a thirty foot glassed-in verandah and extra bedroom on the back of our house at Caringbah. I did everything myself, from the concrete and drainage to the roofing, window-flashing and floorboard cramping. Once again, although it might have been amateurish in many ways, it was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar and never leaked anywhere, which was more than might have been said of some houses put up by professional builders. I thought that I was beginning to learn some of that good old Australian versatility, and was mightily pleased with myself. The glassed-in verandah with its huge six-foot louvres was intended for Patricia to play on as she grew up. The extra bedroom was for our first son, Peter, who was born at Kogarah hospital in 1954. (After the experience at the Jacaranda Private Hospital where Irene had actually been left by the doctor in the middle of delivery while he went to attend to a call elsewhere, I had grown wary of private hospitals. I had come to realise that a modern hospital with all the best equipment and ample staff available for every emergency was a far better proposition from the patient’s point of view).

After Peter’s birth, Patricia and I went to the hospital one day, Patricia being just old enough to toddle around and hold my hand. We had our first glimpse of Peter through a glass screen being held up by a nurse. He was a red-faced little fellow with screwed-up eyes, and a huge red nose, just like his old man, poor little chap. Never mind, son. All the better to smell with. Subsequently, of course, Peter’s face gained more normal proportions. Patricia and I went upstairs to see Irene, and I blundered into the maternity ward just as the mothers were feeding their babies, and was roundly told off by the nurse in charge. However, the new mothers all seemed very proud of themselves and didn’t mind a bit. As for me, well, I know of no more beautiful sight on this earth than a mother nursing her child. Irene was also very pleased with herself. She now had a son as well as a daughter. Moreover the birth had been very much easier. 

“I’m quite pleased with him, quite pleased with him,” she kept saying, grinning like a Cheshire cat, and sounding as if she had won the lottery.

However, Peter was not long to inhabit the little room I had built for him. They had promised me a rise of one grade to “B” grade at Sutherland Shire after one year of satisfactory service. After a year, I asked for the rise, but was refused. I thought this was very rude of them, as I had never had any complaints about my work, and again took to consulting The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturdays, when the local government advertisements were published. Within a month I had been offered and had accepted a job as “A” grade clerk at Eurobodalla Shire at Moruya, on the coast, some two hundred miles to the south of Sydney. We sold the house for three thousand two hundred pounds, and I moved down to Moruya, while Irene stayed in Caringbah to finish off details of the sale and organise the transfer of our furniture. Before I left, however, I bought a second hand Morris 8/40 motor car, 1939 vintage, from a man I knew at Sutherland Shire and thought was my mate. 

Alack and alas!! How many times have I told myself to trust nobody, and how many times have I failed to take my own advice! The cylinders of this wreck of a car were dreadfully scored, and on the way down to Moruya from Sydney, it seemed to consume voraciously equal parts of petrol and oil. As we put-putted along, we left a technicolour trail of blue smoke behind us.

That car gave me untold trouble. I was booked the only time in my life when the exhaust fell off, just as I had to rev up to start on a steep hill at Narooma, amidst a bottleneck of tourist traffic. I put my foot on the accelerator, let the brake out to get away, and there was a sound like a rocket blasting off. Naturally this happened at the exact spot where a tough looking police constable was monitoring the holiday traffic. He jumped six feet in the air, like a startled acrobat, then came at me waving his arms and wanting to know my name, rank and number. The position was exacerbated because on this day of all days, I had left my driving licence at home. That little episode cost me ten bob.

It was a dreadful car.

On another occasion, when Irene, I and the children were travelling in the direction of Eden towards the Victorian border, we stopped for a breather and just happening to glance at the rear of the car, I noticed that the differential housing had pulled apart and I had lost all my oil through great gaping gaps. When I put my hand on the diff, the metal was hot enough to fry an egg on. 

To resume my story, I left Irene up in Sydney, and went down to Moruya to start work. I once again left my old job on Friday and started at Moruya on Monday, thus saving a year’s holiday pay to help cover the removal expenses.

I was renting a large old house next to the Council Chambers in Campbell Street, Moruya. Most weekends, while Irene was still in Sydney, I would sleep on a camp bed until half past two in the morning Saturdays, then rise to the shriek of my alarm clock and catch the bus to the rail terminal at Bomaderry, about a hundred and thirty miles north. We arrived at six o’clock in the morning, and I would catch the steam train to Sydney, generally finishing up in Caringbah a little after midday. I returned Sunday nights to Bombaderry, then caught the early morning bus back to Moruya. They were whacko weekends all right, and I always went to sleep very early Monday evenings, absolutely exhausted. I had taken the old Morris car to Moruya, but parked it in the shed behind the Council Chambers, and did not use it very often because of its unreliability. After about three months, Irene came down with the furniture and the children. A furniture removalist had agreed to shift our stuff down in his lorry for a hundred pounds, which was not unreasonable, considering the distance to be travelled. It was a special trip, and he was taking advantage of it to bring his girl friend down. On their way back to Sydney, after our furniture had been removed, the van would be turned into a love nest for the amorous couple. Neither Irene nor I cared what they did afterwards, as long as they delivered our furniture safely. When they eventually made the trip, the weather was thickly foggy, and Irene has horrific recollections of sitting in the cab with Patricia and Peter in her arms while the driver drove down Bulli Pass, probably one of the steepest and most dangerous roads in the State at that time, with visibility of about three feet. They eventually turned up safe and sound. We transferred our furniture to the big old house at Moruya, and settled in.

At Moruya, I worked harder than at any time in my life before. The Statements of Accounts were years behind. Everything was done by hand; mechanical aids, even like simple adding machines, were conspicuous by their absence. I gained an enormous amount of experience, but I wondered why, if this was local government, I had not volunteered for Siberia. Eric, the Shire Clerk, was a very nice and understanding bloke, but he was understaffed, and we were all overworked. In addition it was winter, and suddenly I felt the cold. We warmed our bath water with an old-fashioned chip heater. Our fire was fed by timber from a heap of mill offcuts I chopped in the back garden. Since our house was right next to the Council Chambers the temptation to bring work home or go next door and do it was irresistible, particularly as there was such an enormous amount to do. Jack, the Deputy, who had come at the same time as I, and who was Peter’s godfather when he was christened at the local Church of England, gave up after a few months, and took a job elsewhere. An unqualified Deputy came from Sydney, and as this blocked my own promotion and things were starting to get me down, I thought that perhaps we ought to move on. There were eight hundred people in Moruya at that time, and the small town atmosphere after the big city was very difficult for both Irene and me to accustom ourselves to.

I had now begun to do the balance of my course by correspondence through the Sydney Tech, and one way and the other had no time for leisure or my family at all.

At this time, a haemangioma, or superfluity of blood vessels on Peter’s eyelid began to worry us. He was born with it, but now could not shut his eye properly, and when he eventually went to sleep, one eye remained partially open, giving the impression of a villainous, perpetual wink. We secured an appointment with an eye specialist in Wollongong. Eric insisted on filling our car up with petrol from the Council pump, and one dark evening at midnight, after having left Patricia with a friend, I drove off northwards. Irene was at my side. Peter slept peacefully in a basket on the back seat.

I doubt if I shall ever forget that ride. The performance of the car was always uncertain, but I knew that I absolutely had to get Peter and Irene to the specialist at nine o’clock the next morning. Huge semi-trailers seemed to bear down on us out of the darkness every few moments. I hated the wretched car that I was driving, and was conscious of my responsibility for that young life in the basket on the back seat. Neither did I forget Patricia sleeping peacefully back in Moruya. Every two hours I stopped and by torchlight refilled the sump with oil from bottles that I carried. It was a nightmare drive, but Peter slept peacefully through it all. I was very pleased when dawn came up as we entered Nowra, and for the first time I was able to top that wretched sump up with oil without the necessity of balancing a torch to do so.

The specialist in Wollongong examined Peter benignly without turning a hair, and informed us that any fears we might have were groundless. A haemangioma such as this was not at all uncommon and would right itself of its own accord within a few years. If there was no improvement by the time Peter was four or five, we should come to see him again. Much relieved, back we went to Moruya. But before leaving Wollongong I bought a toy pedal motorcar which Patricia and subsequently Peter got quite a bit of fun out of. It might have been some sort of sublimation. I had always longed for such a toy when I was a kid, but my family had never been able to afford such extravagance. Now my kids enjoyed it!

Ch10 Pt3 Owning our first car

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.