Just some of my scratchings about various incidents and people to fill in some of the gaps for the family.
Anne and I continued to live in the worker's cottage at 1 Ada Lane in the Sydney inner city suburb of Erskineville after we had surprised our families with one week's notice before getting married (but that's another story). I had completed my Dip Ed and had applied for permanent employment as a primary teacher with the NSW Department of Education. While I was waiting, I registered for casual teaching but, as we had no phone connected, a neighbour, Gladys (Glad) Hammond offered to take calls and convey messages. Glad's house had a back gate that was opposite our front gate so it was quite convenient. Also opposite us in the lane was the factory where Glad worked assembling skate boards. It was one of the few manufacturers of these in Australia and the demand varied greatly with cyclic fads like yo-yos, scooters, marbles and knuckle bones. This arrangement worked well and I was able to get a range of classroom experience, which the Dip Ed teacher training I had done was sadly lacking. Then an appointment came mid-year and I enjoyed the respectable salary of a full-time teacher plus the regular income from performing with the Reedy River Bushmen. The bank acount was getting quite healthy.
Meanwhile, Anne was keeping Honey Log manufacturers in business and working as a clerk for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She too was putting money aside.
Though she was by nature quite shy, she seemed to find it easy to chat with the neighbours, especially Glad. Once she came home with some gardening advice about home grown passionfruit. Glad thought that the best plants came from seeds that had been through the human digestive system!
One day, quite out of the blue, Glad asked if we were interested in buying a house. It turned out that a house not 50 metres down the street had become available. The previous owner, a retired musician, had died and his brother who had inherited it was keen to sell it. Glad did the introductions and we were invited to have a look. Tom Broue didn't expect anyone to want to buy it and when we inspected it we could see why. The toilet was out the back, the laundry was an old style copper, the bathroom was filthy and had an old chip heater, the kitchen had just an old sink with a cold tap, there was only one power point in the whole house, the walls were painted with pink kalsomine and that many years previously, there was accumulated rubbish in every room and the tiny backyard, whatever carpet was on the floor was way beyond its use-by date.
But.... the walls, floor, ceilings, and roof were solid, and there was a dilapidated shed with many fine woodworking tools, and there were several exquisite furniture pieces including some made by Tom's father, who owned the tools. And there was a nice iron framed piano albeit in need of tuning for Further, it was close to Sydney Uni where Anne had enrolled to do a part-time BA.
So we agreed to buy it! The purchase price was $13,000. When we raided the piggy banks we totaled about half of this. The National Bank, with whom I had banked since childhood, and the Teachers Credit Union, that I had just joined, both clearly lacking vision, took one look at the property and declined us finance. Anne's mum, Valerie, who had been working for some time as a clerk in the city and become a woman of independent means, came to our rescue with a loan of $7500.
On the 15th June 1976 we put down the $1300 deposit and soon after paid the balance. Tom Broue forced a twenty dollar note into my hand "To help get rid of that old furniture."
We stayed in the rented cottage while we did enough cleanup and renovation to make the new house habitable.
"A hundred dollars and it's yours." I couldn't believe my luck. The old bread van had been parked on the street near our semi in Erskineville for over a week. It was an English made Morris J van and had a rather distinguished working class pride about itself, though someone had given it a rough black coat of paint.
"I wonder who owns it", I mused to Glad Hammond, the neighbourhood wikipedia.
"That'll be Bert Smith. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering if it was up for sale."
"Try him down at the Erko if you want to ask him. He spends most of his time there."
She clearly didn't have a high opinion of Bert and that meant he was probably operating on the wrong side of the law.
But I was game enough to ask. He could only tell me to bugger off at worst.
Parked outside the art deco front of the Erskineville Hotel was a flash looking two tone blue two-door Ford Falcon with wide tyres and, I noticed, two small holes in the passenger door. In the smokey gloom of saloon bar some patrons slipped out of sight as I asked the barman if Bert Smith was in yet. He called to a lean tall bloke with a huge warty nose who came over to suss me out.
Being from the country, I introduced myself and we shook hands. I asked him about the J van and his reply made my day. "It's old and the rego is due in a couple of weeks. But it goes all right. Uses a bit of oil but I just keep it topped up. Tyres probably won't pass muster unless you know a mechanic. And you know it only has one seat." He was frank about its shortcomings and probably thought I was wasting his time.
But Persistence is my middle name, so I bought a round so he could give me the history of the van. By the time I came back from the bar with our beers he had a rollie attached to his bottom lip adding smoke to the haze. About the van? He wasn't too sure but thought it had been a bread van for most of its twenty years for a bakery in Goulburn. His mate had recently borrowed it for some 'nightwork' and had hand painted it black. Golden Crust Bakery he thought it had been. Despite the shortcomings I was confident I could do repairs myself and Anne's dad, Tom was very approachable for help if I asked. So I agreed to buy it and arranged to get the money to him the next day.
"Did you see my Falcon out the front?" he asked. "You don't want to drive the same model as Darcy Dugan. Someone took a couple of pot shots at me yesterday!"
Twenty-four hours later we exchanged the cash for the rego papers and keys. We shook hands and I became the registered owner of my first vehicle, known from then on as "Morris".
Light-hearted drizzle settling like a Sunday morning hangover on the cluster of fluorescence that marks the extent of the town. Anne preparing to regret voicing a need for country air. Sleep calling insistently. "No camping" signs rudely rejecting the idea.
"Let's go to Central and catch the first country train leaving within, say, half an hour of when we get there. We can take the little tent and just pack some food and take the billy." That was my wild impetuous suggestion when Anne suggested a break from inner city life one Saturday night.
It was after 9 when we were scouring the railway departure schedule under the high roof of Central Station. The last train on the South Coast line met the plan and it was well after midnight when we were disgorged onto the very new Minnamurra station platform.
Now the wind tilts the drizzle and us through a shrine of time-payment brick and tile monuments, lit by eerie grey of the street lights, erected to the memory of ti-tree forest sacrificed to Urbanisation. The respectful silence is punctuated only by the infrequent drone of a car on the highway a mile away. The silence of the night seems unnatural... not even the sound of a dog... that's it... no country mongrel barks from the shadows to keep us moving on.
So we stayed the night, or at least what was left of the night, huddled out if the rain under the verandah of an unfinished pseudo-Spanish hacienda.
In the bleakness of the early morning, the township was even more desolate... no dry wood to boil the billy and no end to this bloody drizzle and no desire to stay a moment longer. So we packed up and moved on.
Story started October 1974.
My dad, Harold Reynolds Johnson, never willingly spoke of his war-time experiences in the RAAF. When as a young man facing National Service call-up, I queried his motives for enlisting, he described being given a hard time at school because his own father, Walter James Johnson, had dodged service in World War I and said simply that he didn't want his kids to have to endure this treatment. I reckon there was also an element of defiance in enlisting as his parents were very protective of their only child. His mother even had trained him as a child to come straight home from playing when she blew a whistle. Their parental asperations were limited by their income as Walter was a salesman at a Sydney department store and it would have been a slur on his character to have a wife who worked. They managed to send him to a private school for his early education but then it was Homebush Boys State high school and university was out of the question. So dad enrolled at tech, secured an apprenticeship and began his life-long passion for engines. Living at home he was able to save his wages and buy an Indian brand motor bike. Then came the war and he enlisted and with his engine experience he was considered suitable for ground crew in the air force. In Squadron 451 he teamed up with John Winder. They were part of a group of pariahs that didn't swear and blaspheme.
Dad also had a keen eye for photographic composition and took many photos of the day to day life of 451. Later his collection was added to the Australian War Memorial collection and can now be viewed online.
Dad served in North Africa, Italy and France with a brief training period in England. While in England Dad met and courted and married Mary Salt. This was a bold act of independence from dominating parents. There would be repercussions.
After being demobbed Harold returned to Australia and Mary followed on a later ship, travelling with a group of other war brides. Post-war Australia was throbbing with activity as the Baby Boom got going. After looking at a few towns they decided to settle at Mittagong where Harold and his wartime mate John Winder established a garage, providing fuel and car servicing. Sally Christine was born while they lived in a space at the back of the garage. The space was not at all conducive to childrearing. With Walter's assistance they had the land and with a 25 year mortgage they built the house at 27 Oxley Drive. They story goes that Mary was heavily pregnant with Roberta Mary but still managed to be up on the roof helping with the tiling.
Edith never warmed to Mary and never forgave her usurping power over her son. Walter always maintained a cold formality.
The business partnership between Dad and "Uncle" John came to an end, with animosity between their wives as the probable culprit. John established a welding business and Dad took time out to plan his future. Although he was offered the financial backing of a silent partner to stay in the garage business, he declined. After a few months of fairly free spending the family finances were becoming depleted. Mum took over the finances and Dad took employment with Bennett and Barkell as a travelling sales rep arranging distribution of car parts and workshop equipment. His territory included the south coast, the far south coast and inland to the Hume Highway and back up to Mittagong.
Having been an only child I think his young family quite swamped him and being on the road during the week suited him. He was an effective salesman and won company awards for sales achievements.
One of my earliest memories of dad was of his driving away to work. He would hold his handkerchief out the window and the memory of its fluttering as he left reminds me of the enormous desolation that I felt as a three year-old who had just discovered the world of daddy.
"I always thought I'd be the one to go first" he said in an accent that was more at home in the silk mill town of in Macclesfield than the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
After the war his eldest daughter, Mary sailed to Australia to join her demobbed husband, Harold. Here she found an abundant availability of fresh vegetables and meat contrasting with post-war England. Letters back home convinced sister Betty and her carpenter builder husband Fred to take advantage of the Australian goverment immigration scheme and to emigrate as Ten Pound Poms. With both daughters in the Antipodes it didn't take much convincing for Edward Arthur Salt (Arty to his mates) and his wife, Lily to sell their two-up-two-downer in ###### St and take the ten week trip to the other side of the world.
Papa Salt, as his grandchildren knew him, had been a Master Painter before the War, but a seious fall from a scaffold had given him a broken neck that could have killed him or left him paraplegic. His recovery had been slow and to keep her young family going Nana had undertaken cleaning and washing for well-off clients. This must have irked Lily as her own family had considered her marrige to a tradesman to be beneath her class. Arthur recovered remarkably but was not able to return to painting so he turned to gardening and with his nearby allotment was able to grow for the family and for sale. His chrysanthemums and orchids were regular winners at shows and his passion flowers were in demand for Easter. He had been able to grow them in the glasshouse on his allotment because he had a "donkey heater" that burned coal and kept the frost and snow at bay.
When Nana and Papa came to the Southern Highlands they took employ with a family in Links Rd Burradoo as live-in housekeeper and gardener. When their employers returned to England they went to work in a similar capacity for Samuel Hordern who owned the Sydney department store established by and named for his father Anthony Hordern. The gardens of their property Retford Park are still a local attraction when opened to the public.
Samuel was killed in a car crash and his widow closed the house and dispensed with the staff.
Fred came to the rescue and built them a small cottage with a Tudor trim in Sheaffe Street Bowral. Here Nana made delicious jams and preserves using the Vacola system, and Papa turned the backyard into productive vegetable and berry beds and a small orchard to keep her supplied. As a couple they doted on each other though she'd often chide him with "Don't be daft!" and he'd roll his eyes and groan "If ever a man suffered!"
For a time Papa was confined to Queen Victoria Hospital at Tahmoor because he had tuberculosis. He battled through that and returned home. But
the garden became difficult to maintain and about this time Mary, their main support, took up fulltime employ as practice manager for one of the Mittagong surgeries. So the house in Sheaffe St was sold and a comfortable house in Railway Parade, Mittagong was purchased. They were living there when I introduced them to my girlfriend Anne. I think Pop missed the gardening. Over the next years Nana became less able to care for herself and a fall and broken hip resulted in the move to a hospice on Range Road, and Pop came to live at Oxley Drive. With his medical history one might have expected Pop to slip this mortal coil much sooner than Lily, but this was not to be.
Seems a quaint appellation now, but to us growing up they were Nana and Papa. They emigrated from England soon after the First World War. Walter James Johnson had an older brother killed early in the war and he refused to enlist. However, service dodgers were not popular in the post-war euphoria that revered returned soldiers. With the financial aid of her sister Ida Reynolds, Edith and Walter emigrated to Australia. They settled in the Sydney suburb of Homebush in a solid brick house. Walter worked as a salesman at one of the city department stores.
In June 1925 Edith gave birth to their only child, Harold Reynolds. His second name being Edith's maiden name and a name she considered to be a cut above her husband's surname. "My initials are ER" she asserted, "just like the Queen."
Harold (never Harry) was indulged as an only child often is. He was sent to a private school for his early education, but the costs of same for high school were out of reach, so he went to Homebush Boys High. Then he enrolled in technical school and was studying motor mechanics when the Second World War started. Dad decided to enlist! His father could not have been pleased at the decision given his WW1 experience and his mother had already lined him up with her chosen marriage partner so she would have been disappointed too. Later when as a young man facing National Service call-up, I queried his motives for enlisting. He described being given a hard time at school because his dad had not served and said simply that he didn't want his kids to have to endure this treatment.
While on a training course in England Dad met and courted and married Mary Salt. This was a bold act of independence from a mother who had trained him as a child to come straight home from playing when she blew a whistle. There had to be repercussions.
Harold's return safe and unharmed was a blessing and it would be months before his new wife would arrive. He spent the time planning their future. Ex-servicemen were offered free training in any field and Harold briefly considered law, but he proudly refused to contemplate his new wife working while he studied so that opportunity was missed. There was discussion with his wartime mate, John Winder, about using their RAAF skills and training and jointly starting a garage. John had relatives settled at Mittagong so it was a strong contender for a place to start.
When Mary arrived presumably the newly reunited couple were accommodated at the Homebush house, where her new in-laws treated her with thinly veiled hostility. Mary, always a forthright personality, would have encouraged the move to Mittagong.
For the next few years Edith and Walter would have only had occasional visits when Mary and Harold came down by train. Then a trip to Mittagong to meet their first grandchild Sally Christine made them aware of the basic living conditions at the back of the garage. Walter, who was recently retired, decided to purchase two blocks of land in Oxley Drive. One he gave to Harold to build a new house on and the other was for him to build on later. In the next few years Roberta Mary and then David Gordon appeared and it was clear that their son was settled so they too moved to Mittagong.
Walter decided to sell the second Oxley Drive block and had a small cottage built in Alfred St on the other side of the township.
Sydney was abuzz as the sailing ships reenacting the arrival of the First Fleet were due to arrive. Every harbour vantage point was eagerly taken up with some folk even camping out overnight for the better spots. In preparation for the day's events we arrived at Taronga Zoo and were pointed to the best spot in all of Sydney, the rooftop of the visitors centre, with commanding views over the harbour.
Southern Cross Bush Band were booked to play for the television show Good Morning Britain, alongside of the West Australian darling of British TV, Rolf Harris. We arrived early and found our allocated parking, our agent had been very thorough. Up on the rooftop the camera crew were set up ready to transmit live to the UK. I checked that the set was devoid of hay bales, as at our last performance at the Zoo we sat on the provided bales to discover later that they had come from the camel section and were full of lice.
The band at this point was Helen Romeo (concertina), Tony Romeo (lagerphone), Pete McMahon (guitar), Anne Pidcock (tea chest bass) and myself, Dave Johnson (banjo). We had kept the instrumentation simple for this show. Some makeup to give us the pallor the brits would feel comfortable with and a sound check and we were ready. Then, as on all film and television sets, came the waiting. In between waiting for the fleet arrival, Rolf doing his wobble board thing, showing off baby koalas, and a boomerang throwing demonstration, we presented the expected Waltzing Matilda, Botany Bay and the less expected Lachlan Tigers. Tony introduced this last song with rattling bones to simulate the sound of shears and then we gave it the full rollicking treatment.
The weather for the day was Sydney at her best. The harbour, described by Arthur Phillip as *the finest in the world*, certainly looked the part as the majestic white of the sailing ships rigging contrasted with the deep blue of the water. Countless smaller boats lined the path of the fleet, adding colour and movement to the spectacle.
A splendid job in a spectacular setting to add to the story of the band, Southern Cross.
"Eye-dropper" declared Tony Stokes when his turn came in the solemn ritual being played out on the marble pitch. This was a smooth circle of concrete cast many years ago in the steel tyre of a sulky wheel. Gathered around were the first half dozen boys to arrive at the school playground. They had walked to school from their homes scattered around the Mittagong township. Ross Isedale lived wirh his tribe of six kids and just had to cross the dirt road than ran along the side of the school. Tony had the longest journey from halfway up The Gib. Johnny Radik was the envy of all. He rode a glossy green 24inch Malvern Star to school from out on the Range Road near the Nattai River bridge.
It was marble season, though this was never declared on any official calendar. Perhaps an older brother handed down his prize collection and the lucky receiver brought them to school. And then it was on! Before school started the boys rushed to finish chores at home to gather round the magic ring. Again at recess, after the regulation third of a pint of milk was drunk. Then at lunchtime when vegemite or peanut butter or devon sandwiches had been gobbled.
Tony stood up while the crouched boys watched. He leant over, closed his left eye and with his right eye lined up his "milky" over Max Kupke's tombola. It was big, almost twice the diameter of the standard marbles, and a translucent green colour. And though it showed the wear of many games, it was a valued prize. Max had only last week won it from Alan Pike, so putting it in the ring was being a show-off. They were playing for "keeps" so all eyes were watching closely. Silence as Tony lined up the target. Then "bombs away" and the tombola was hit, shifted close to the edge, but not knocked out of the ring. Chris Barlett's turn, and he saw the chance to try to edge the tombola out of the ring with a glancing shot from the side. He locked his forefinger around his cat's eye marble with his thumb curled up behind it ready to flick hard as he lined up his target. Intense concentration then came the clink as his marble clipped the tombola. It rolled slowly to the lip, where it seemed to hesitate, before dropping over the edge.
"Fudger" challenged Geoff Hall, Max's best friend, because he thought that Chris had his shooting hand just inside the edge of the ring.
"No way" insisted Chris eager to secure his winnings.
"Anyone else reckon it was fudging?" asked David Johnson. No one spoke up so he declared it to be 'a fair shot'. Just then the school bell rang out and Chris collected his prize and they all recovered their marbles and headed for the bubblers for a quick guzzle of water before morning assembly.
One skinny in a pair of shorts, clean but faded, home sewn and with room to grow into, with a baggy hand-me-down t-shirt and twice repaired leather sandals; and the other pudgy wearing near a new outfit of collared light blue shirt and smart dark blue bermuda shorts with white socks and polished brown shoes. Let's call them Skinny and Pudge. They had been across the other side of the oval playing at the cricket nets. Pudge was red faced from the summer heat and the exertion of chasing the ball Skinny seemed to drive past him with ease. "Wanna have a swim?" The school swimming pool was close by so while Skinny walked carrying the stumps and bat and the ball bulged in his pocket, Pudge rode the bicycle he was given for Christmas by his parents.
The pool was a man-made hole about a cricket pitch wide and a bit longer with a lining of bitumen. A diving board reached out over the murky water. Pumped from the nearby Nattai River over time it had developed a complete ecosystem with algae feeding the swimming frogs and taddies and ducks. Without hesitating, the boys stripped off to their cossies and dived in. In the water Pudge had a bouyancy advantage and could easily do a dozen lengths. For Skinny swimming was slow and awkward, so he spent the time diving off the board, breast-stroking to the edge, clambering out and repeating. Just as Pudge was finishing his tenth laps he suddenly remembered they were expected home by four for tiffin, and his mother would be annoyed if he was late.
They scrambled into their clothes and this time Pudge carried the cricket gear and let Skinny ride his precious bike, as they hurried towards a cold glass of lime cordial and a slice of sponge cake.
When I was a kid living in Mittagong getting around the town, going to the swimming pool or going to friend's places, it was riding Shank's pony. Sometimes when I was with John Radik he would let me take a turn on his beaut 24 inch Malvern Star bicycle. Other times he might double me - he standing on the pedals and me sitting on the saddle with legs akimber.
What I really wanted was a bike of my own! I recall once daydreaming looking at a bicycle in the window of the Mittagong bike shop. The price tag of twelve pounds somehow transmuted to twelve shillings, an equally impossible amount, but I calculated how long it would take me if I saved my pocket money and the odd coins gleaned from grandparents for extra chores. Reality bit hard when I talked about it to my eldest sister, Sally.
One day John and I were asked to help a lady in Bessemer St with some gardening. While we were there I noticed an old bike hanging on a hook in the shed. I asked the lady, Mrs Freer about it.
"It belongs to my son Brian, but he doesn't ride it now. He drives a ute for his plumbing business. Would you like me to ask him if he still wants it? But don't get your hopes up, he may have plans for it!"
How could I not get my hopes up? Days passed ever so slowly, and on a Saturday morning there was a phone call. Mum answered and when she hung up she told me that Brian had said I could have it free and all for nothing. He had taken it down off the hook and I was welcome to collect it when I was ready.
Ten minutes later I was the proud owner of a Speedwell 28inch bicycle with back pedal brakes, rolled rims and rams horn handle- bars. The tires were flat but as I walked it home I was elated. I had my own bicycle!
Dad, however, had a more pragmatic approach and realised that there was a disparity. A 28 inch bike is an adult size and I was only eleven. The bike was too big for me! He didn't say so but instead suggested that we should strip it down, repaint it and rebuild it. The stripping down took half a day and all the bits were stowed in the blue wardrobe in the garage. Dad showed me how to rub the frame and wheel rims back to bare steel. A task I undertook with great enthusiasm, even taking great care around the small pump holders on the frame. Then when it was ready we took it to Bill Worner Motors where Dad was the service manager. We hung the parts up and Dad used the professional spray gear to prime coat the bare metal. Back home and it was hung teasingly at the back of the shed. Then came a long frustrating wait - Dad waiting for my legs to grow and me waiting for Dad to find the time to finish the paint job. Pop Salt had a bike pump in his shed that he gave me, a white bakelite Bailey's pump made in England and the best you could get. It hadn't been used for quite some time and wasn't working properly, but being of an analytical bent I dismantled it and found the problem. The leather cup washer was dry and so not sealing in the tube. After scraping off the old dried grease and massaging in some fresh grease from the tin in the blue wardrobe, and reassembly it was as good as new. Two and sixpence bought a new connecting tube and all I needed was a pair of tyres.
It was nearly a year later when a frustration tantrum apparently convinced Dad about the length of my legs. The next weekend after a midweek paint job it came home glossy blue. Dad, being a mechanic, knew where all the bits went and the right order to get them there. I watched and learnt and helped where I could. By Sunday afternoon I was test riding along the drive. At last I had my first bike and that led me on to my first job, but that's another story.
For a young boy living in a country town like Mittagong there were few opportunities to earn some money. One way was to supply the butcher's shop with clean newspaper which was used to wrap customers' purchases. The meat was first wrapped in clean white paper and then overwrapped with newspaper and then tied with a length of string. The Lawsons who owned the butchery were family friends so we kids called them Aunty Mona and Uncle Bill. They would pay threepence or sixpence a bundle depending on the size. Threepence (pronounced thripence) was enough to buy a largish bag of sweets, including slate and musk sticks, choo-choo bars, cobbers, clinkers, and fruit tingles.
To earn this magnificent sum I had to collect a pile of clean newspapers, open and stack them and roll them into a bundle. Then it was a hike down Oxley Drive, across the railway line and around to Station Street. The butchery was next to the Church of England and opposite the old Post Office.
Another income stream came from collecting glass lemonade bottles and returning them for the deposit that was included in the purchase price. Everybody kept their bottles, there was no thought of just adding them to household garbage. So they were grateful when a child asked for them as it saved them the bother of returning them. The bottles were washed and reused by the local cordial factory.
In the last year of primary school some lucky boys got the job of delivering papers around the town. Most households took a paper and most were happy to pay a little extra for the home delivery. There were five delivery areas around the town and people opted for papers Monday to Saturday and/ or the Sunday paper. Boys were employed to deliver either the weekly run or the Sunday run. The newsagent had a machine that rolled and taped the papers. Bikes were fitted with a basket attached to the front wheel where the rolled papers were placed. The customers and their preferred papers were listed on a card in delivery order, and the paper boy would fling the required paper onto the lawn or drive as he rode by.
After I got my bike reassembled and was competent riding it, I heard that there was a vacancy for one of the Sunday runs. It was a commitment for every Sunday morning come rain, hail or shine but it was a regular ten shillings or ten bob as we called them. I went to see the newsagent and was given a trial. After a couple of satisfactory runs I was permanent and kept the job up through most of first year high school. Sometimes in school holidays I was able to fill in for one of the weekday paper boys who was going away. That paid an enormous three pounds a week.
"You're an awkward bugger!" He delivered in a still broad west country accent and more in exasperation than anger. And not without good cause. It was the third bottle of milk that slipped through my fingers to smash on the road. Five-thirty was a cold start in winter and the milk bottles delivered to the co-op soon after midnight had been kept at about 4 degrees. With a heavy frost on the ground my fingers were struggling to thaw between deliveries and the boss was counting up the losses. Colin Browning had emigrated to Australia after the war and with the enthusiasm typical of the newly arrived he had bought the milk run and was making a go of it. He was the first adult that I had encountered who treated me as an equal and simply expected me to call him by his first name. And he paid me well for my work, four quid each day for Saturday and Sunday.
The rebuke was only a light hearted dig as he watched me sweep up the glass shards. The we drove to the next street on the run which had deliveries on both sides. I had three customers on my side. Old Mrs Lattie in Number 12 who had a single bottle and put the cash out with the empty. 1/3d (one shilling and threepence) and the bottle as clean as could be. She complained one time that the bottles were delivered with the foil seal broken and then she caught a currawong in the act of pilfering by poking his beak through the top.
Next door was the butcher's house. His was a large catholic family and they took four bottles a day but there was never any payment put out. My boss got paid with fresh meat once a week. Seemed to be an effective system.
The headmaster of my old primary school was next. A stern disciplinarian with the knack of just catching the ends of your fingers where it hurt most when he caned you. His garden was rigidly ordered and the bottles had to be placed in a particular alcove so the morning sun didn't sour the milk. I just managed to resist the urge to snap of the dahlia buds that he was pampering for the annual Mittagong Dahlia Festival.
While I did these the boss did the other side of the street. He had quite large hands and could carry up to ten bottles, two under each arm and three in each hand.
We moved quickly from house to house to try to keep warm and hurried back to the truck.
It was the last street for the day's home deliveries and as we were climbing back in I caught the tantalising aroma of freshly baked bread that drifted across the wakening town from the bakery. That was next and our first stop for the shop deliveries. We usually took a short break after leaving their milk order to munch on hot pies and cream buns. "Are you hungry?" he asked knowing full well the answer. Me a teenager after two hours running through the streets of Mittagong on a cold winters morning. Was I hungry? Is the pope a catholic!
You know I said the Morris J van was my first car, well I had omitted the real first one. When I was about 14, Dad was working for Bill Worner Motors as the service manager and he drove a Jowett Bradford ute which was painted bright blue with the business info sign written on its sides. It was built in the immediate post-war period 1946-53 with a tiny 1000cc two cylinder engine. The top speed was 40 miles an hour downhill with a tail wind. By 1964 it was in need of some TLC but Bill decided not to spend any more money on it. Dad brought it home and it languished on the bottom drive out the front for six months or so.
Dad had a prevoius connection with Bradfords, After being demobbed he and his wartime mate set up in business together with the Highlands Garage. It was in Mittagong on the main street, which was the Hume Highway then. It is the Glasshouse Cafe now. Dad and John Winder sold fuel, serviced cars and had the dealership for Jowett cars. These were made in Bradford, England. The Javelin was the main model produced but they also made the Bradford as a small truck, van or ute.
So challenged by the ute sitting in full view I asked Dad if I could try to do something with it. He gave the nod and so I took out the battery and charged it up in the shed. When I put it in to test, the engine turned over but wouldn't start. Holding a small petrol tank on my handlebars I whipped down the hill and across the railway crossing and spent some of my paper run money on some petrol.
Back at home again and fuel in tank. Take 2. No luck. But investigating under the bonnet there was a fuel supply problem. The supply line leaked. It was an easy fix with some fuel tubing I found in the blue cupboard in the shed. Then the engine fired up.
After a few cautious tests of the clutch and edging back and forth on the drive I managed to get it round the to the backyard where I proceeded to create a track around the perimeter some 150 yards long. This was my first real driving experience so it involved mastering the clutch and gears, but as a youngster I had learnt a lot from watching Dad.
Once I got the hang of it and the other boys in the town heard about it there was a steady flow of friends visiting to have a go. We drove around the track hundreds of times and many of my contemporaries had their first driving lesson with me as the instructor. I had to stipulate that they brin⁹g fuel for their turns driving or I would have been severely out of pocket.
We used it to carry wood, grass clippings, and each other. We even set it up with a rope over a branch of a gum tree and used the Bradford to winch a person up. It worked all right till my sister Bobbie was driving and didn't watch closely. I was the load and I got my hand trapped when I reached the branch.
Then disaster struck! There was a slight hill at the back of the block and one day I parked the Bradford there. I left it in gear and without the brake on it rolled back and made a loud metallic cracking noise. "You've snapped the crankshaft. It's not worth repairing" was Dad's cold assessment.
Needless to say my popularity as a destination for the youth of Mittagong waned when the word got around that the Bradford was finished.