In the mid 1950’s Ocean Grove was a small town with a permanent population of 1000 -1500 people. In the summer it would swell by another 10,000 people. This meant that for much of the year the extra housing could be used to cater for the influx of European migrants.
After my father lost his job at the Warrnambool Woollen mills our family moved here too. It was here that I started my primary education under the firm care of Mrs Gow the “Bubbs” (Prep) teacher. The school consisted of a variety of buildings: one relocated from Steiglitz, an early portable type building and the ubiquitous wooden rooms in a row. The “oval” was a sloping piece of dirt that was bordered by bramble which was out-of-bounds. The problem was that this wilderness behind the bramble was the ideal place to play “cowboys and indians”. Our other occupation, apart from “pussy in the corner” on wet days, was marbles. We developed large a “marble course” between the cypress trees which engaged us for hours in intense combatitive activity.
Due to the cost of rent and the precarious nature of the rental market we moved around quite a bit: A flat in Hodgson street, a holiday house closer to the beach, an old dilapidated house near the river, a brief stint in East Geelong, The Avenue, Presidents Avenue, Orton Street and finally Epworth Street. We were evicted from Orton Street because I rolled a tyre down the driveway through the fibro back wall of the garage.
It was also during our time at Orton Street that I started my first paper round and “borrowed” some of my father’s cigarettes to experiment in addiction behind the outside toilet. This house also had a most fearful shower that would unexpectedly gush boiling hot water out of a pipe that extended above the rose. It still gives me nightmares.
Our family grew in 1956 with the birth of my brother. We were in our second house at the time. He was baptised by Professor Schep in a hut at the Methodist camp where the Reformed migrants held worship services.
My dad and later my mum worked at the Ford factory in Geelong. This meant being bundled up early, taken to another Ford worker’s home placed in someone else’s bed till as it was time to get up. The workers carpooled to Geelong.
Dad hated working in a factory and wanted to be his own boss. So in time he built up a fruit and vegetable round – particularly amongst Dutch migrants who wanted their unique vegetables such as : endive, boerenkool , dutch stringless beans, witlof and etc. This hawker’s round extended from Ocean Grove, through Barwon Heads to the northern suburbs of Geelong. When I was older I joined him on his rounds during the school holidays. In the summer we also sold fruit and veggies through the camping grounds.
The Reformed Church congregation created a piece of the familiar in a strange land. Some services were in dutch but these quickly changed to (broken) English. But it was a genuine attempt at recognising that we were now citizens of a new country. The services mirrored what they were used to in Holland. In time we met in various places – including our kitchen. It was the biggest room anyone had. Dad liked it when we had communion because he could keep the port left in the bottle – a rare treat in economically tough times. The church finally purchased land opposite the Ocean Grove Primary School in Draper Street and transported an old army hut to the site which we all assisted in renovating. This was closed down in the mid 60’s as many migrants had moved on to new places closer to work.
My sporting prowess, or lack of it, was tested in the Tennis club during the summer (C Grade) and the recently established Ocean Grove Football Club under 15s. In the first year of the U15s we were trounced in every game. I was equal top goal scorer for the year and only scored two goals. That says something about our ability. If we weren’t playing at home we would be transported to other towns in the back of Mr Skinner’s truck.
Summer times were great! The town came alive with visitors. This meant holiday work when we were a bit older. Henk’s Bakery was my first summertime job – working from 4 in the morning to noon. Then we had the rest of the day to ourselves – this meant going to the beach. In subsequent years this got better. I worked on the beach as a beach cleaner for 4 or 5 hours a day. I was later promoted to garbage collector and reached the summit with toilet cleaner. This meant cleaning 13 toilet blocks (over 130 toilets plus urinals and shower cubicles) twice a day. At least the money was good.
One of the perks of working for the Foreshore Committee was being allowed to drive vehicles, unlicensed, around the camp grounds – 5 or 6 kms of tracks and dunes between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. These vehicles included a Landrover, tip truck and tractor. I earned the wrath and appreciation of the boss with one incident. With the bucket of the tractor raised I drove through the overhead telephone wires. I snapped at least 50. Telephone communication to the outside world was broken – the boss was angry. However, as a result of my escapade the PMG (in those pre Telecom/Telstra days) put the cables underground – which the boss had been requesting for years.
One of the enduring memories I have of this time is “freedom”. Freedom to roam, freedom from adult supervision, freedom to go on long bike rides – whether to Barwon Heads or Point Lonsdale. This freedom is stark contrast to claustrophobic supervision of children today. It was a time when the street lights turned off at 12 am. I was able to walk home from friends in the evening without fear. It was a different time and place.
My question is: Is it that times were less dangerous then, or is it just that we have a greater apprehension of danger in our media soaked age?
We entertained ourselves. Whether we made forts and castles out of dad’s piles of fruit boxes, or wandered around the bush catching yabbies in the pond, or looking for adventures. I made a crystal set so I could get Geelong’s 3GL radio station. There was a time I kept calves so that I could save up money for a new bike. Boredom was not a word that crossed our minds – except maybe if the weather kept us indoors. Even then there were lots of board games to play.
He was a vicious predator who took every opportunity to terrorise me. When I went to collect the eggs I had to carry a stick to ward off attacks. My ankles, head, arms and legs were all attacked at some stage.
But whenever I told my dad, he just laughed. He didn’t believe me. A rooster wouldn’t attack a human. As far as dad was concerned it was just another example of my over active imagination. “Anyway son, Be a man!”
Then one evening my father was collecting the eggs in the hen-house and the impossible happened. The rooster flew and pecked my father on the forehead drawing blood. That was the rooster’s fatal mistake. In fit of rage dad grabbed the rooster by the neck and ended his career in terrorism with one blow of an axe at the woodpile.
I sighed a huge breath of relief and carried an inward smile. I was too “chicken” to say to dad, “I told you so.”
The Historical Walk