It struck me that as I was writing about my memories of Ocean Grove that these recollections are inextricably tied to “growing up”. My years in Ocean Grove covered those influential childhood and teenage years. By the time my family left for a farm in the Western District, I had moved to a university in Melbourne.
In the 1960s the Scout movement was still popular so I joined the 1st Ocean Grove Scout troop. It was called the “first” but in fact it was the only one. There I learned a lot of practical skills and some less so. Tying knots, starting fires, putting up tents and rope bridges were some of skills we learned. There were others: smoking, making your own cigarettes with toilet paper and paper bark, practical joking (which now would be called bullying) and other life altering skills. I never smoked again after the paper bark episode. The camps we had at Eumerella just outside Anglesea were a highlight – out in the bush with very few amenities. Eumerella Jack with his dog wandering about at night looking for unsuspecting little boys to devour – or so the legend goes. We had leaders – great and not so great. Some were like kindly uncles or big brothers and others were there to feather their own nest. A saving scheme was introduced where we would bring 2 shillings a week to build up a bank account. It was only many years later that I realised that we never saw our money, or the originator of the scheme, again. I advanced through the ranks and became a ‘Patrol Leader’ which my mother with her Dutch accent pronounced as ‘Petrol Leader’.
The school bus also deserves a mention. When I started high school in Queenscliff we were transported in an old rattly Ford bus. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and always draughty. I am sure it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the safety gurus today.
My first paying job, in contrast to being an unpaid slave for my father, was as a paper boy. I was in Grade 5 at the time. We were paid 15 shillings a week for a paper round that took a little over an hour. We had to memorise the addresses as well as which newspaper each customer got on which day, by heart. I remember that Wednesdays and Saturdays were horrendous as The Age with its classified sections was at least 2 or 3 inches thick and I had a number of highbrow customers who wouldn’t be seen dead with the Geelong Advertiser or the Sun. Then there were the customers who also received the poorly named “Truth” and the pink Sporting Globe. I didn’t always get the orders right which lead to an unhappy boss and annoyed customers.
Another job, which a friend arranged for me, was to work at Henk’s Bakery. Henk Petersen was a Dutchman who supplied bread and other pastries to the local community. During the summer he was extra busy with the influx of visitors. I would start at 4 in the morning and prepare all the orders for the bread carters. One had to know one’s Vienna loaves from the Milk loaves and High tops and whole meal.
It was the newspaper thing all over again – there was so much to remember and I didn’t always get it right, especially at the start. Wholemeals were mixed with Viennas. Who could blame me in the poor light. On other occasions I helped with making the dough for the next day’s bread and filled pies and pasties.
The Ocean Grove beach in the 1950s
However, the following summer I started with the Ocean Grove Foreshore Committee. After an interview with Ernie Storer, while he was having a shower, I was appointed as beach cleaner. Seven days a week my mate and I would scour the beach and sand dunes for rubbish. We also collected bottles which became the source of our bonus at the end of the season. Another lurk we cottoned onto was that if Mother Nature was kind and there was a strong westerly wind after a busy beach day the day before, change which had fallen out of people’s pockets could be found protruding out of little piles of sand. So we made it our first priority to “clean up” any money. We could make up to an extra $4 or $5 a day this way but the wind had to be just right. This was a good bonus when the wage was about $40 per week – the basic wage at the time. (We had changed to decimal currency in 1966).
In subsequent years I was promoted. First came toilet cleaner – we had to clean quite a few toilet blocks between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I estimated that we cleaned about 80 toilets and 80 shower cubicles per day. This job included being teased mercilessly by older women who could see my embarrassment at cleaning women’s toilets. Then came the peak promotion – garbage collecting.
I was consistent here as well because once again I made my share of mistakes. Probably the most infamous one was bringing down the Telephone lines between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I was driving the front end loader with the bucket raised in an area where I shouldn’t have. There was a cacophony of pinging sounds and the writhing of wires as I sliced through the multiple overhead lines. I believe this episode led to the phone lines being placed underground in the camping area.
I worked for the Foreshore Committee well into my university years. The pay was good. One other job I had in my later high school years that went throughout the year was doing odd jobs on a hobby farm owned by a Melbourne stockbroker. This involved wood chopping, mowing, feeding cattle as well as hay bailing. During the drought in the late 1960s I hand watered a recently planted avenue of trees which I am pleased to note haven’t been cut down with Ocean Grove’s urban expansion.
Being profligate, all this work didn’t make me rich but it helped get me through university and played a role in shaping my character – or so I wish to believe.