Autobiography, Personal Story, Photography Story

Transitioning to adult life

The 3rd National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) was held in Brisbane in January 1960. A large contingent of Methodist youth from Canberra, including me and some other members of the Reid Methodist Youth Fellowship, went to the convention. Others were from Wattle Park, National Memorial and Queanbeyan Methodist youth groups. The very large majority of the contingent were girls. That was also true of the study group that some of our contingent, including me, were allocated to at the convention. I recognise some of the folk in these photos.

Canberra contingent at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me at far left.
The study group I was in at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me with a hat.

We travelled by train, commencing our journey in Queanbeyan with just a few carriages behind one engine. As we travelled north, additional carriages were added and somewhere an additional engine until the train was very long. Each time we stopped to pick up more delegates, regardless of whether it was a large number in large cities or just one person at a small country town – and regardless of the time of day or night – we opened the windows and welcomed the additional passengers by singing the official Convention hymn.

On arrival at Brisbane South Railway Stations around 26 hours later our carriage being at the rear of the train was a long distance from the platform and we were told to be patient whilst they unloaded the front carriages, then backed the train out to remove the empty cars then return to the station to unload the next lot and so on. We soon decided that would take forever so we clambered down with our luggage and walked alongside the train until we reached the platform!

Arrangements had been made for each of us to be billeted in the homes of local delegates. My host family, including one son John and two daughters were very nice people and looked after me extremely well. I had a great time and discovered the city of Brisbane. Virtually every day whilst in Brisbane brief storms would pour rain on me for as I made my way back to their suburban Norman Park home late in the afternoons and the summer heat always soon dried me out.

Every time another table filled in the dining area for lunch, those sitting at it would sing the grace – trying to use a tune that no other group had used for it. The one that sticks in my mind is “Hernando’s Hideaway”.

My host family’s daughters at 3rd NCYC, Brisbane

During the convention I became friends with a girl called Ethel, who was from Winton. After returning home, I sent her two photos I had taken of her, but she didn’t like them and sent me two others that she thought I might prefer to have. Our plans to stay in touch didn’t come to fruition. I wonder what happened to her.

One of my photos of Ethel
One of the photos Ethel sent me

I also had an opportunity to visit Lone Pine Reserve, with its collection of animals, including a carpet snake that I had my photo taken with.

Me with live carpet snake at Lone Pine Reserve
Animals at Lone Pine Reserve

The return journey was also by train, and I recall us filling the floor space between the two bench seats in our compartment with luggage and covering it with blankets, effectively making one large bedspace where a group of us lay close together trying to sleep.

Mum and dad, Alan and Jill all moved to Canberra in early 1960, as dad’s employer relocated operations from Goulburn to the growing city of Canberra. They purchased a home in Duffy Street, Ainslie at the foot of Mount Ainslie and I moved back home with them. It was the first, and only, home they actually owned.

The Duffy Street home

Everything was different in 1960. Whilst I was, technically, repeating the three failed subjects from the previous year, in reality the content was very different. Canberra University College was no longer associated with the University of Melbourne but, instead, was now the undergraduate school of the Australian National University. What I had studied in first year Economics was now the second-year syllabus, and vice-versa. The same was true of Statistics. So, rather than repeating the material studied in 1959 I had to study new material altogether. I failed all three “repeated” subjects, and my Cadetship was cancelled completely.

A girl whom I had met came to Canberra one weekend to go with me to the University Ball in the Childers Street Hall. She stayed with her brother in a flat behind one of the car yards in Braddon. After the ball ended around 2AM, we walked back to the flat and she changed out of her ball gown. We then walked to mum and dad’s house in Ainslie arriving around 4AM and settled down in the living room. Mum came out of her bedroom and admonished me for keeping the girl up all night and for disturbing the household at that time.

Yvonne Mills from the Reid MYF was my girlfriend for some months, until she dumped me. I was most upset and poured my hurt feelings out to mum, who simply said “there are many more fish in the sea”.

After losing my Cadetship, I remained employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a Base Grade Clerk working in the Mechanical Tabulation Division. We used machines to process statistical information. Punched paper tape was processed through a so-called computer – a Hollerith 1201 – and punched cards were put through various machines. I learned to sort the cards into order by gently inserting a small metal strip into holes until it was blocked by a card without a hole – push too hard and you made a hole where there wasn’t meant to be one!

I well recall Fridays when, at knock-off time of 4.51PM, we would all rush from work in West Block to the back bar at the nearby historic Hotel Canberra to have a drink before 6 o’clock closing. The idea was to consume as many beers as possible in the available time. As a youngster (turning 18 in early March), I wasn’t up for the challenge. After one beer, I would quietly slip away and ride my bike home.

I also recall one very wet day being lent an MGA sports car by a work colleague to drive to university lectures not all that long after gaining my driver’s licence and before buying my own car. I was both terrified and exhilarated at once. I felt like I was practically lying down in the car and, so, not really in control of it, but also felt very special being at the wheel of such a vehicle. Sadly, the owner of that MGA was killed in it later when he ran into the back of a lorry with pipes overhanging its rear end which penetrated the MGA’s windscreen and its driver.

Once I turned 18 in March 1960, Dad taught me to drive in his car but, after failing the test twice, I had a few lessons with a driving school. That was seemingly enough to satisfy the police as I was successful in gaining my licence at my third attempt. The test included reverse parallel parking in between two movable signs near a short piece of gutter that had been constructed in a parking area outside the then police station.

At first, I could only drive dad’s car when he let me borrow it. Alan was usually beside me in the front and, so, experienced my “accidents”. On one occasion I did not notice a cyclist on my right until very late, slamming on the brakes in the nick of time and coming to a stop with the car’s front bumper immediately behind the cyclist’s left foot on his pedal. When we told dad, his response was “you won’t be a good driver until you’ve had a couple of accidents”.

It wasn’t long before I had more passengers – girls from the MYF group were keen to travel with us. One night when three of them were in the back seat going with us to a church dance, I spun the car 360 degrees as I turned left too fast at a corner where there was loose gravel on the bitumen surface. Fortunately, we missed hitting anything else. Further on we broke down because of a blocked fuel line. We were rescued by friends, including Kevin and Noel Wise – brothers who had some mechanical knowledge. Returning the girls to their homes later I managed to “paint” a pinstripe of paint along one side of the car by backing into a driveway too close to a large painted timber mail/bread box whilst showing off to the girls. I had to confess to dad again when we got home. Waking briefly to receive the news, dad gave the same response.

The first car I owned myself was a second-hand white Ford Consul, baby brother to dad’s white Ford Zephyr.

Around this time I had a penfriend, Elaine, who lived in South Africa. She sent me photos of the area around where she lived as well as one of herself. I don’t recall how the penfriend-ship came about and it didn’t last for very long. The photos remain in one of my photo albums. I wonder what ever happened to Elaine.

The photo sent to me by Elaine from South Africa
and her message on the back of the photo

On 20 October 1960, 16-year-old Denise Hawes, arrived in Canberra from Melbourne with her parents. Denise has told me I was the first boy she saw on the church steps when her parents brought her to Reid Methodist church. Her younger sister Rosemary was still in Melbourne staying with Nanna to finish her school year and their even younger sister Lynne was staying with Gran in Tasmania. The family were reunited in Canberra just before Christmas. Denise, and her whole family, was destined to become a large part of my future.

Despite failing my studies and losing my Cadetship, I was enjoying my life. The MYF group was strong and provided many great friends. We went to district gatherings, attended Crusader camps in various places, took day trips to the snow, went regularly to the movies on Saturday evenings, and attended dances/socials at other churches. We played snooker, tennis, table tennis, badminton and other games at the church. We went to church twice on Sundays – to the traditional service with the whole congregation in the mornings and the more informal evening worship preceded by the singing of our favourite hymns. MYF meetings themselves were a great time of socialising. Another group, Christian Endeavour was more focussed on spiritual things than we in the MYF. Its members were generally a little older than us, but I still know people who were involved with one or the other group.

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1959 – My first year in Canberra

I arrived in Canberra on 2 March 1959, along with others in the first ever group of Statistics Cadets selected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Cadetship program was the first large-scale graduate recruitment scheme to run within the Australian Public Service. All participants signed up out of high school and sought to complete an economics degree with honours over four years. In 1959, we studied at the Canberra University College (CUC).

CUC was a tertiary education institution established in by the Australian government and the University of Melbourne in 1930. It operated until 1960 when it was incorporated into the Australian National University as the School of General Studies. Over the course of its operation it had two directors, including Bertram Thomas Dickson whilst I was a student there. It was staffed by many notable academics including economist Heinz Wolfgang Arndt whose lectures I attended. Other staff I recall included Professor Fin Crisp (Political Science) and Patrick Pentony (Psychology).

The salary and allowances paid to Cadets (Statistics) at the time is interesting. My income was a drop from what I had earned at Australian Iron and Steel over the 1958-59 Summer period.

The first group of Cadet (Statistics) March 1959, I’m standing on the far left. Official photo, photographer unknown to me

Names of 9 of the 11 Cadets: Douglas Paton Drummond, Anthony George Faunt, Edith Mary Guard, Derrick Grahame Low
Choy, Joan Helen Morgan, Stephen John Newman, Francis Bernard Riley, Kenneth Neal Robinson, Brian Charles Rope

We were there for orientation week at CUC, prior to commencing our studies the following week. We were unable to move into our rooms at the Narellan House hostel as they were in its new wing, which was not quite ready, so we were placed temporarily in the Hotel Kurrajong on the opposite side of the Molonglo River which flowed through the sheep paddocks between the northern and southern suburbs of Canberra.

Unfortunately, it chose that very time for the heavens to open and dump an enormous amount of rain, which soon flooded the paddocks, rising so close to the deck of the original Commonwealth Avenue bridge that it was closed for safety reasons. The only route from our new digs to the Canberra University College was via Queanbeyan. But none of us had cars or even bikes, so we could go no further than the swollen river and look across to the northern side.

Fortunately, the weather changed and our new rooms at Narellan House became available in time for us to attend our first tertiary education lectures as we embarked on our quest to gain Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Melbourne.

One of the formalities I had to complete was to sign the matriculation roll. I provided evidence of my matriculation to the university college and received a letter inviting me to sign the roll.

Back on 11 March 1947, Federal Cabinet had approved a program to construct 3500 homes in Canberra over the next five to seven years, with an annual allocation of £1 million. Nevertheless, between 1946 and 1950 only 1147 houses were built. In the meantime, the government resorted to other measures. It built a series of guest houses and hotels to accommodate public servants and enlarged some existing facilities.

The government also recycled former defence facilities. Narellan House, located on Coranderrk Street in Reid and opened in 1949, was built using defence materials relocated from Narellan, south-west of Sydney. The Chifley Federal Government brought the huts, asbestos and all, on five semi-trailers for storage in Canberra. It became one of the Government Hostels in Canberra, housing forty-nine guests and a staff of eight. At Narellan it was ladies in the north wing and gents in the south. It survived all the other hostels and, with the addition of the new wing in 1959, became a residence for tertiary students, including me. The new wing housed both men and women students.

Front entrance of Narellan House showing the part of the original buildings, March 1959 © Brian Rope

One of the people I became closest to during my year at Narellan was another Cadet (Statistics), Derrick Low Choy. His room was directly opposite mine.

Derrick Low Choy in the grounds of Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Derrick and I spent much time in my room listening to my newly acquired pink mantel radio and devouring massive quantities of delicious potato crisps that his mother made and sent to him on a regular basis from her home in Queensland. We listened to the 2SM Sydney Top 30 hit parade broadcast weekly by 2XL Cooma trying to win a prize for accurately predicting which songs would fill which positions the next week.

My pink radio in my room at Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Another Cadet I became friends with was Ken, who was a member of the reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints – a spinoff from the Mormons. Ken worshipped at Reid Methodist Church just up the road from Narellan, because there was no branch of his church in Canberra.

Ken – original Canberra High School in background, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Having stood in its tranquil setting in Reid, just across from Glebe Park, since 1949, Narellan was demolished in May 1992. The last historic link with Narellan Military Camp near Sydney was severed. The site was redeveloped as an apartment complex, now Monterey apartments.

In a communal lounge room at Narellan House, large groups of residents (as many as 30) regularly played Rickety Kate, a trick-taking card game – but only in reverse because the object is to avoid taking tricks. Some tricks are okay to take. They are safe, but you must be careful. If you take hearts, you get points. Points are no good. You do not want points. Most of all, you need to avoid old Rickety Kate, the Queen of Spades. She’s worth a lot of points. You do not want a lot of points. The first player to exceed one hundred points will end the game, but that only means she or he has come in last place. Our version of it involved using as many decks of cards as were necessary depending on the number of participants – but only using one Rickety Kate. Usually we played with so many decks that the number of cards each player was dealt was almost too many to hold in your hands.

There was some conflict between older residents (such as the future Solicitor General, Tony Blunn) and those of us who were new and younger arrivals. We tended to be noisy and having an enjoyable time, whilst the older residents were more focussed on their studies.

A Methodist Youth Group (MYF) happened to start up at the nearby Reid Methodist Church just when I moved into Narellan, so I was a founding member of what became a great social group. The Minister at the church at the time was Rev Harold Cox. There was a pool table inside the halls complex and two tennis courts were built out the back of the church and halls during 1959. The church was Canberra’s first urban church and had been opened on 8 October 1927 (as the South Ainslie church). A Sunday School Hall came a little later, opening on 24 July 1929 with future extensions in mind. They were not opened until 21 September 1957, with the complex being given the name Reid Methodist War Memorial Youth Centre. Badminton, table tennis, indoor bowls, darts and quoits were all amongst the games played there. Sadly, the MYF is not mentioned in The Red Bricks of Reid by R. T. Winch, a history of the church published on its fiftieth anniversary in 1977.

During 1959 there, I made many good friends, who included young women Lee, Angel, Judy, Margaret Bird, Meg Wicks, Margaret Bales, Bev, Edith Guard and Sue. Young men involved with the church included Bob Gray (whom I had met at Wollongong) and Kevin Veness. They all feature often in my photos from that year, including when most of us attended a Crusaders church camp at Gunning over Easter and later took a trip to the snow in Perisher Valley.

Reid Methodist Church, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Lee, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel & Judy at Canberra Show, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Kevin (in white singlet) at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Judy, Meg and another girl at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Edith and Sue, architects and builders, construct a miniature igloo at Perisher Valley, 1959 – © Brian Rope

There were also trips home to Goulburn on some weekends. My dad’s work brought him to Canberra often, so I was able to get a lift one or both ways with him. When in Goulburn I would attend youth group gatherings there with Alan.

At CUC I explored things that I might get involved with on campus, I decided to get involved with the group that put on annual Revues at the Childers Street Hall/theatre. I’m not sure when it was but I recall being made up for a skit in which I wore little. The make-up involved applying something to all my bare skin areas. The dressing room where this happened was mixed genders and the people applying my make-up were females. This was an eye-opening experience for a young male who previously had lived a sheltered life.

I also visited the Woroni (student newspaper) office and expressed interest, but never really did much for it. The 13 May 1959 issue of Woroni ran stories about both Narellan House and the Revue.

At the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we Cadets were initially required to work part-time whilst undertaking a full-time study load. After a time, the authorities realised this was a mistake and allowed us to be full-time students.

So, what about actual study? Lectures and tutorials were held in various ageing weatherboard buildings with inferior quality heating in Winter. Most of my lectures were held late afternoon or early evenings, so were easy to get to even when working during the day.

The National Library of Australia, then located on Kings Avenue, was my preferred place to study and obtain study material, so I spent some time there.

Original National Library, 1959 – © Brian Rope

One of the four subjects we had to study was Pure Mathematics 1. The syllabus was effectively a duplicate of the Maths Honours I had studied, and done so well in, the previous year for Matriculation. I achieved a basic pass for it – and failed all three other subjects! My cadetship was suspended with a requirement that I repeat all failed subjects the following year, whilst working full time and being a part-time student. Clearly, my school studies had not prepared me for university studies. And being only seventeen also meant I was not mature enough to undertake university.

But, hey, I learned to play 500 and billiards. I made friends and enjoyed myself!

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1958-59 – Transitioning from school to the workplace

After completing secondary school, I needed to embark on the next stage of my life. The careers counsellor at school had suggested I pursue a career as a teacher, chartered accountant or actuary. None of those careers appealed to me, although I did make an (unsuccessful) application for a Teachers College Scholarship.

Of course, I also needed to obtain some references. As was the common practice in those days, these were obtained from people who knew me and said very little of any use to any prospective employer.

My referees included the owner of Charlton, Mr Hugh Hoskins, who had employed me on weekends to help out at his dairy farm during milking. My main task was to hose out the cow dung from the holding pens after they had been vacated. I have fond memories of drinking fresh creamy un-pasteurised milk from metal scoops dipped in the vats into which the milk flowed over chilled metal pipes.

Another referee was my Goulburn High School headmaster, Mr Lynch.

A third referee was the Methodist Superintendent Minister, Rev Colin Ritchie.

I headed off to work at Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) in Port Kembla, hoping to be awarded a prestigious BHP Scholarship. My Ballarat relatives were visiting us at the time and my cousin David drove me (and Alan) to Wollongong. The rest of the two families travelled in dad’s car.

L. to R. – Alan, David, Brian on way to Wollongong © Eileen Rope

I moved into a BHP staff residence, Weerona, midway between the Wollongong and North Wollongong Railway Stations. A photograph of me standing at the driveway entrance reveals a very small boy in short pants looking most sad! Unfortunately, I cannot locate that photo now.

Weerona, Wollongong, 1958 ©Brian Rope
Weerona, Wollongong, 2021

My initial placement at AIS was in the administration area where the hours were 9AM to 5PM. But I was soon transferred into a quality control position in the area where sheet metal was manufactured. My job was to get a piece of sheet metal from the conveyor belt (wearing strong safety gloves to shield my hands) and take it to a small room where I had to measure thickness and a couple of other things and record the results. Then I disposed of that sheet, went and collected another and so on for 8 hours. If any measurement was outside of the specified quality requirements, I had to alert the foreman so he could stop production whilst making necessary adjustments to the machinery to get quality back on track.

As soon as the administration staff had knocked off and left for the day the foreman spoke with me and made it clear that I was never to tell him to stop the production line. He cleared a space on the bench top and told me to lie down and sleep there until he woke me shortly before the end of my shift at which time I should then make up and record all the measurements that I had not done.

Sleeping would have been impossible because of the constant very loud noise of pile driving equipment driving tall metal beams into the ground to support the structures. We were not provided with ear protection equipment which, no doubt, caused many workers to suffer unnecessary hearing impairment later in life.

After I’d been at my task for a while, I became brave enough to do what others did – snatch a piece of sheet metal from the moving conveyor belt without wearing the protective gloves. Misjudging my timing resulted in a piece of sheet slicing a piece from my left wrist very close to an artery. I was carted off very quickly to the first aid room for treatment to stop the blood flow. That made me very unpopular as it was the first on-site accident in a long time and all workers lost their accrued safety entitlement points, which were redeemable for a range of household products.

After around ten weeks at AIS I was offered not the hoped for BHP scholarship but a much less attractive alternative –  to study for a Diploma in Metallurgy part-time at the Wollongong TAFE, under the auspices of the University of NSW. All the lectures were held in the afternoons, clashing with the work shift I most usually did, meaning I would have to do the study without attending classes.

Afternoon shift ran from 3.20PM until 11.20PM, night shift from 11.20PM until 7.20AM the following day, and morning shift from 7.20AM until 3.20PM. If your replacement failed to turn up you were required to stay for a second shift and, so, work 16 hours straight. You had to inform someone of their non-arrival so they could ensure the next shift-worker would arrive – working 24 hours straight was not allowed.

Afternoon shift was great as I could catch a train right outside my workplace and be back at the hostel very quickly, have a shower and be in bed just after midnight. The next morning I would have breakfast just after 7 AM, then spend the morning at North Wollongong beach or playing tennis on a court at a private home directly opposite the hostel. After lunch I could relax, read, or listen to music until it was time to get ready for the train journey back to do my next shift.

In any fortnight, we were rostered on for 10 out of the 14 days. Sometimes, I would have 4 single days off, other times it might be one 2-day break and two single days, or two 2-day breaks. On at least one occasion, when I had four successive days off, I took a train to Goulburn to visit the rest of the Rope family.

I enjoyed twelve weeks of life at Wollongong/Port Kembla over the summer of 1958/59. A typical day saw me breakfasting in the hostel dining room before cycling to North Beach for a swim or playing tennis on private courts opposite the hostel before returning for lunch. There was then time to read or listen to music before taking a train to work for the afternoon shift (3.20 to 11.20 pm). I would be home, showered and in bed by around midnight.

On occasions some of us rode bikes to the Mt Keira Lookout (or even to Mt Bulli lookout), mostly for the thrill of speeding back down again. Photos taken with my then 7-year-old Baby Brownie include views from those heights.

View of Wollongong, © Brian Rope
Looking south towards Port Kembla and Lake Macquarie, © Brian Rope

As Christmastime approached, the Presbyterians organised an end of year party and dance – and a girl who some of us had met at the library encouraged us to go to it. So we did. As the evening proceeded, I discovered that various young men were arranging to take young women home. I decided I needed to be in that and asked the library girl if I could escort her home and she agreed.

After everything was over, I learned that my librarian friend lived a long way from the venue and that a taxi would be required. As we travelled towards her home seated together in the back seat, I nervously watched the taxi meter clicking up – worrying that I would not have sufficient cash to pay the fare. Whilst I did have just enough, I certainly did not have sufficient for the return trip. So I paid the driver and sent him on his way wondering how I would even manage to find my way back to the hostel, leave alone walk the distance involved.

Fortunately the young lady’s very pleasant mother came out to see why a cab had turned up. She invited me in for supper and then, after that, insisted on driving me back to the hostel – with her daughter coming along for the ride. I was relieved, if a little embarrassed.

I didn’t get home for Christmas that year. Along with other AIS trainees, including Dita, Warren, Andy, Phil, and two Johns, I celebrated at Weerona in Wollongong. I have no idea what any of them went on to do with their lives.

Trainees gathered around the Christmas tree at Weerona 1958, © Brian Rope
L. to R.: Back – Dita, John, Warren
L.to R.: Front – ?, Andy, Phil, John, ?

When an offer of a Statistics Cadetship with the Australian Bureau of Statistics arrived, I quickly made the decision to take it up and study instead for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Melbourne, studying at the Canberra University College. It was the first year ever that such Cadetships had been offered and I was fortunate to receive one, because by the time they were offered many better qualified applicants had already accepted other offers.

I was one of three NSW students (one of two from Goulburn) to receive a cadetship. The other Goulburn boy was Francis Reilly whom I did not know, as he had attended a different school to me. The Goulburn Evening Post newspaper reported our selections as below.

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1956-58 – Teenage Years in Goulburn

1956 was our first year in Goulburn in our new family home.

View from bedroom window at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

My personal photo albums cover some of the events I remember. It snowed one day, which would have been the first time I had seen snow since leaving England in late 1950. For our youngest family member Jill, who was born in Australia, it would have been a first experience ever of snow.

Snowmen at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

We went to Ballarat at Christmastime in 1956 to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins, seeing them for the first time since leaving Victoria in late 1953. I have photographic evidence that we visited Lake Wendouree, the shell house, and Brown Hill.

Cousins with Alan (rear) at Black Hill Lookout in Ballarat © Brian Rope

My school report for the first half of 1956 shows me getting excellent marks of 90 and 93 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. The Headmaster, M. T. Lynch commented “A very good result”. My position in a class of forty-four was 4th.

At the end of 1956 I sat for my Intermediate Certificate examinations and obtained an “A” pass. My certificate, received in March the following year, indicated that I had passed seven subjects – English, History, Mathematics I and II, French, Combined Physics & Chemistry, and Geography.

Towards the end of 1956, I recall an event when, dressed in our school uniforms hundreds stood in the blazing sun in Belmore Park waiting. Sadly, I suffered sunstroke and passed out, so was taken home before the event happened. Alan thinks it may have been 19 November 1956 when the Olympics torch relay passed through on its way to Canberra and, at the right time, the Olympics venue Melbourne.

My school report for the first half of 1957 shows me getting lower marks of 70 and 73 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. My best mark was for Chemistry (88), and I was in the 70s for all other subjects except Maths Honours where I only achieved 54.The Headmaster, M. T. Lynch commented “A most pleasing result. Have you in mind to take any Honours in Leaving Certificate?” My position in a class of forty-one was 2nd.

On 11 June 1957, Mr McKillop (who was also a Careers Advisor) arranged for me to be assessed to ascertain what future vocations might suit me.

The report indicated that I could consider professional training courses in the areas of economics, law or actuarial science. In particular, it suggested I apply for employment in the NSW or Federal Public Services or the Commonwealth Bank and enrol in one of the suggested courses part-time. It also suggested I might consider employment in an accountant’s office or a broker’s office and enrol in an accountancy course. None of those suggestions appealed to me at all.

In the second half of 1957 my marks were similar, but I had dropped to 3rd in a class of thirty-six. The headmaster asked me to see him regarding Honours.

Living in Goulburn, Alan and I got involved with the Cowper Street Methodist Church that was close to Wyatt Street. But I took confirmation classes at the much grander Goldsmith Street Church and was received into church membership there in 1957 by Rev. Eric G. Clancy, B.A., B.D., Superintendent Minister of the Goulburn Circuit. In 1958, Rev. Clancy authored a book Methodism in the lilac city: the story of the Methodist Church in Goulburn, N.S.W. and the surrounding district. That book refers to the Superintendent of the Cowper Street Sunday School, Mr Ron Butterworth, and to Mrs Triglone, Chief Ray of the Cowper Street Rays – both of whom we got to know well.

From the book by Rev Clancy: Methodism in the lilac city: the story of the Methodist Church in Goulburn, N.S.W. and the surrounding district

At some point during 1957 we had a family holiday at Batehaven on the NSW south coast. We picnicked on City Hill in Canberra during a day trip there in dad’s new Ford Prefect car. Marj Payne was with us – they had also relocated to Woodhouselee, just a short drive from Goulburn, and were living and working at the historic Pejar Park, which came to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s under the ownership of Len and Beatrice Bligh, when its garden won regular awards in the Sydney Morning Herald’s garden competition. We also visited Sydney, going to Taronga Zoo and the Harbour Bridge, and having a ferry ride on the harbour.

Family holiday cabin at Batehaven © Brian Rope
Family Holiday, Batehaven – Alan, Jill, Brian © Eileen Rope
Picnic on City Hill – Jill, Mum, Marj Payne, Alan, Rob Payne © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge deck viewed from its pylon lookout © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge viewed from Taronga Zoo © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge viewed from ferry © Brian Rope

Dad participated in the 1957 Lilac Time festival parade, driving a truck belonging to his then employer, Andersons Sausages, and towing a float displaying “The World’s Biggest Hot Dog”.

Andersons’ 1957 Lilac Time float “The World’s Biggest Hot Dog” © Brian Rope

My school report for the first half of 1958 shows my marks back up to 91 and 88 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. Headmaster Lynch commented “Your work is consistently good and pleasing”. My position in a class of thirty-two was 3rd.

During second term of year 11, we had the opportunity to learn golf as a school sport and I did so – pleased to avoid the team sport alternatives. Our golf teacher was Bob Russell, a Goulburn professional. On the final week of term we got to play our first full round of golf, in what was called a Canadian Foursome event. In this game, competitors play in pairs and take it turns playing a stroke using a shared ball. I was paired with Jennifer Hughes. It took us something like twenty-one shots to complete the first hole and 199 shots for the full thirty-six holes!

Top Left: Bob Russell (golf teacher) and Top Right Jennifer Hughes © Brian Rope, Bottom Brian (photographer unknown)

Also during 1958 I participated in school trip to the Snowy Scheme, still under construction at the time. We travelled initially by train before transferring to a coach that, I think, we shared with students from Queanbeyan. One of the accompanying teachers was Ian Mawby, who enjoyed the attention of all the girl students. My photographs reveal that we visited lookouts, the under-construction outlet for Guthega Dam, Old Adaminaby, Lake Eucumbene, Guthega Powerhouse including its underground generators, Adaminaby Dam, and the T1 and T2 power stations.

Teacher Ian Mawby and 5th Year girl students on Snowy Scheme tour © Brian Rope

1958 also saw a school social to which I wore a white sports coat and a pink carnation. I was still extremely shy and too terrified to ask any girl onto the dance floor so was just a wallflower for most of the night. Eventually, one of the more confident girls could not stand it any longer and gave me no choice but to join her dancing.

5th Year students at 1958 school social – Brian is in 3rd row, 4th boy from left. The girl who made Brian dance is in the back row at the far left.

Tests in the lead up to the Leaving Certificate and matriculation examinations at the end of 1958 seemed below par and I only placed 6th in the class of thirty-five, but Headmaster Lynch wrote in my report that “Your Leaving Certificate seems assured”.

I then sat the Leaving Certificate and passed. The certificate, received the following March, indicated that I had satisfied the examiners in six subjects: English, Mathematics I & II, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. In fact, I did extremely well in Mathematics I, achieving 1st Class Honours and placing sixth in the whole of New South Wales. My results overall were good enough for me to matriculate, meaning I was eligible to attend university.

On the day before starting intensive study for our Leaving Certificate exams, our class indulged in the usual end of year high jinks, dressing up and having fun on our final day of secondary school. The Goulburn Evening Post came to school to photograph us and posed me front and centre in the photo that accompanied an article about what we got up to.

5th Year on School Muck-up Day © Brian Rope
5th Year on School Muck-up Day – photographer unknown

At some point whilst living in Goulburn I purchased my very own Malvern Star bicycle – not sure how I saved the necessary money! It got a great deal of use and gave me immense pleasure. I rode it to the hockey fields at the old Kenmore Asylum, also known as Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital, where we took delight in watching the girls in short hockey skirts playing. In its prime, Kenmore Hospital was inextricably tied to Goulburn’s community – particularly in the sporting arena. A local who played cricket for decades at Kenmore Hospital described ‘the standard of the pitch as equal to any in Australia,’ and according to The History of Goulburn, (Ransome T. Wyatt, 1941), the community seriously embraced hockey when it was introduced as a recreational activity for Kenmore Hospital staff around 1909. Successive generations of Goulburn school children have had their first taste of this sport on the Kenmore Hospital playing fields – a handful even reaching Olympic standard.

We also rode our bikes to school and to the swimming pool. We sped past Victoria Park where nesting magpies swooped us in season. At the pool I finally learned to swim – not very well but I did earn a certificate for making it across the breadth of the pool without drowning. It was the first time we had lived anywhere to have regular access to a pool.

A less happy incident occurred when I crashed my bike into another one ridden by a younger boy. It was entirely my fault as I made a last-minute decision to turn left towards the main shopping area when I arrived at an intersection at the foot of a steep hill on Mundy Street. I was moving at a fast speed and went completely to the far side of the street into which I was turning whilst he was quite properly riding sedately along that side. Mea culpa. Whilst neither of us were injured, his bike was seriously damaged, and I’ve always wondered what his parents said when he arrived home carrying it.

I also rode my bike to a dairy farm, Charlton, where I got a casual job cleaning out the holding pens after the cows had been milked – a high pressure hose shifted lots of excreted cow manure! A perk of the job was being able to drink full cream, unpasteurised milk from the containers into which it flowed over chilled metal pipes after being extracted from the cows.

One day at Goulburn High another student brought in a match box containing something he’d made at home after learning how to do it during a chemistry lesson. A considerable number, myself included, gathered around to see what he had. He opened the box and touched its contents resulting in a loud bang and flames shooting upwards a considerable distance. My memory is that he and one or two of the closest others had to get medical treatment, across the road at the hospital.

Then there was the day I damaged my knee at Goulburn High. Running across the asphalt’s uneven surface I fell and gouged a significant hole out of my left knee. Over time, the scar has disappeared!

Two of the best students in my years at Goulburn High were Jennifer Hughes and Roger Lavers. The three of us were quite competitive, particularly in Maths. I recall Roger somewhat arrogantly predicting the high salary he would be earning by time he was twenty-one. We laughed at how preposterous the figure seemed; however, because of increases in salaries during the intervening years, many of us (myself included) were earning his predicted figure by the time we were twenty-one.

I admired Jenny. She was confident, intelligent, attractive, and good at sports, arts, music, writing, maths and more. At the end of one of our Maths Honours classes I started to pick her jacket up from the back of her chair to help her put it on. Our teacher, Vince Skinner, drew attention to my action, praising me for it. I was so embarrassed that I did not complete the task. Late in our final year I plucked up the courage to ride my bike to Jenny’s home and ask her if she would like to go out with me. She declined, unintentionally setting my self-confidence back significantly.

Mr Skinner and his wife, who taught me English, were two of my favourite teachers. So much so that if I got into trouble and they found out I was always embarrassed. One day my Economics teacher, Mr McKillop, made me stand outside the classroom door in the corridor as punishment for something. I was mortified when Mrs Skinner came along and saw me. On another occasion, I was sent to the headmaster’s office and Mr Skinner saw me waiting there to be reprimanded. Again I felt most embarrassed.

I am fairly sure Mr McKillop sent me out of the classroom because he could not successfully punish naughty students in the then traditional way of caning them. Whenever he tried, we bent our fingertips down at the last moment as his cane came down, on occasion almost causing him to fall face down.

Spiro Pandelakis was a student at St Josephs’ College and sat for the Leaving Certificate in 1957. Whilst earning the Certificate, his results were not good enough for him to Matriculate. So his disappointed parents (who, I think, operated Spiros Fish Café and Milk bar in Auburn Street) made him repeat Year 11 at Goulburn High in 1958 but, once again, he did not matriculate.

From time to time I babysat younger children who lived opposite us in Wyatt Street. If any problem arose, all that was necessary was to call across the street and mum would come and deal with the problem for me.

Hans Eisler, a Maths teacher who lived opposite us, taught me chess. The 1957 issue of the annual school magazine :”The Goulburnian” records that I was a Vice-President of the chess club. It also records “One of the keenest and best players is Brian Rope, who will represent the school at a Chess Tournament held in Sydney during the September holidays”. The magazine also records that I was a member of the magazine committee for that issue.

The chess tournament was the NSW Junior Schoolboys Championships. I was billeted with the family of an Eastern Suburbs private school student who was also competing. They had an ornate chess set permanently on a table in their lounge room and, whenever two family members were together in the room, they would each play a move or two of the game that was in progress. In the tournament, I failed to win a game other than one where my opponent defaulted. I learned that to be successful one had to know all the so-called standard openings and that, if you didn’t move in accordance with whatever standard opening your opponent had launched you were considered to be very strange. I finished in second-last place ahead of another country competitor who lost every match he played.

I became good friends with Robert McCawley, who lived in Crookwell and travelled to Goulburn by bus every day for school. He also played chess. I don’t recall why, but Robert and I travelled to Sydney together by train and stayed at the YMCA hostel near Central Railway Station. I have a photo of the two of us taken by a street photographer near to Central. I was still very short for my age, whilst Rob was quite tall.

With Rob McCawley in Sydney – by James Krakauer (licensed street photographer)

Rodney Milgate was a music and art teacher at Goulburn High whilst I was there, before he became one of Australia’s most influential painters, especially during the 60s and 70s. His work is represented in major collections around the world, and he had many solo exhibitions and awards for his work, including the Blake Prize for Religious Art three times. Milgate also became a successful actor and playwright, and a newsreader on Channel 7.

Dad worked in various jobs whilst we lived in Goulburn – postman, bread carter and sales representative for Andersons Meats. The bread deliveries were made using a horse and cart and dad’s employer was Mr Triglone (husband of the lady mentioned earlier). During holidays, Alan and I went with dad on the horse and cart helping to deliver bread to customers.

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Autobiography

1955 – Next Stop – the NSW Southern Tablelands

The Werriwa property is located at 866 Tarago Road, 10 Km north of Bungendore in southern NSW. The drive in from the road takes you through a parklike entry, along an avenue of English oaks and elms.

The entry road at Werriwa (2013) © Brian Rope

Whilst Werriwa has its own tiny railway station, Butmaroo (the Aboriginal word meaning “Deep Creek”, which runs near the siding), the nearest real station is at Bungendore. Further south on the rail line from there are the adjoining communities, Queanbeyan and Canberra. To the north are the townships of Tarago and Lake Bathurst, and then the city of Goulburn. There used to be rail services to Bombala and Cooma as well, but in later years they were closed down.

Entrance to Goulburn Railway Station (2012) © Brian Rope

In 1955, Alan and I would get to know the railway line between Butmaroo and Goulburn very well. We had moved again. Mum and dad now had new jobs working for the owners of Werriwa but, during school terms, Alan and I boarded in Goulburn during the week so we could attend Goulburn High School. We travelled to Goulburn on the XPT train on Sunday afternoon and returned to Butmaroo after school on Friday evenings.

Train at Goulburn Railway Station platform where we caught our train to Butmaroo (2012) © Brian Rope

Butmaroo station was there because the government had created it in return for compulsory acquisition of land for the railway line. It was barely longer than the sign declaring its name. Under the sign was a large timber box with a lid, into which things such as bread, milk, mail and newspapers might be left. Every time we boarded the XPT (after notifying the rail authorities that we would be boarding at Butmaroo) we copped the same jokes about the tiny size of the platform. When we caught the return train on Friday evenings, we had to speak with the guard so he knew which compartment we were in. He would then tell the engine driver and ensure our compartment stopped adjacent to the Butmaroo platform (by waving a red flag or red light to signal to the driver). If either of them forgot, we would have to stay on the train until reaching Bungendore and then return to Werriwa by taxi (at NSW Railways expense) – it did happen!

The journey from Goulburn to Butmaroo on a Friday evening was interrupted when we pulled into a siding at Tarago to wait for the XPT to pass going in the opposite direction. When the XPT was running late, we would sit in that siding until it turned up and then be late ourselves. In Winter months it was freezing on that train. The only heating was a metal container for each passenger filled with hot water when we left Goulburn but stone cold very soon after. We usually had the compartment completely to ourselves, as patronage was not high.

The name Werriwa derives from a local Aboriginal name, Weereewa, for Lake George, which is very close to the property. The name is also used by the Canberra-based Werriwa Regiment,  part of the Citizens Military Force (CMF), which was the forerunner to the Australian Army Reserve.  Weereewa is believed to be an Aboriginal word meaning ‘deep water’ or ‘sick crawfish’. And Lake George (which is actually a shallow body of water) was located in the Division of Werriwa, an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales, when it was first established in 1901.

View from Butmaroo – from Google maps
Aerial view of Werriwa – from a leaflet produced for an open day held in 2013

The historic garden at the Werriwa property where mum and dad worked was considered to be one of the best in the area. Dating back to 1882, it is a traditional country garden of mature trees, expanses of lawn and drystone walls. It was established by the Gordon family, members of which were still the owners in 1955. Established boundary tree lines provide shelter from the region’s hot, cold and drying winds and the stone homestead offered a level of frost protection for garden beds. An old fashioned La Reine Victoria double pink climbing rose on the Western side of the house, together with white wisteria, endured tough climatic conditions and provided shade in Spring and Summer. Purple wisteria and white clematis on the Eastern verandah, and Virginia creeper on the Southern wall, provided delightful colour in Spring and Autumn respectively.

Werriwa homestead building (2013) © Brian Rope
Part of Werriwa homestead (2013) © Brian Rope
Werriwa homestead outbuildings (2013) © Brian Rope
Drystone wall in gardens at Werriwa homestead (2013) © Brian Rope

On weekends and during school holidays I was able to go horse riding again. One ride was almost disastrous when my steed reared in fright as we passed over a tiger snake’s nest occupied by several babies. Thankfully, I managed to stay on the saddle as the horse bolted away.

We boarded in Goulburn, initially with a family in Clinton Street very close to the main shopping street. They were rough and ready and, so, our parents soon found us another place. It was with an elderly lady in a house near to our school. She did not feed us well and only wanted us to have an inch or two of water in the bath, with us taking turns using that water. We found a way to run extra hot water into the bath from the chip heater by attaching a piece of cloth from the outlet so that it could run quietly into the existing water without her hearing what we were up to. We dealt with our hunger by running into town after school to purchase some hot chips in newspaper and eat them whilst we quickly returned to her home. The challenge was to get to town without her seeing us (as her house was on the most direct route) and getting “home” as soon as possible after school finished so that she would not worry about us being late – all whilst obtaining and devouring the chips!

At the start of the 1955 school year at Goulburn High School, we (and all other new students) were auditioned for the choir. The process was that the choir mistress moved around and listened to each voice whilst we all sang a piece all knew the words to, God Save the Queen. She then told the lucky ones of us that they were in the choir. I was amongst the chosen. However, my boy soprano voice broke soon after making it nigh impossible for me to hold a tune.

I also found myself in a French language class taught by a woman, and where every student (other than me) was female. I visited the headmaster trying to escape from this “dreadful” situation, but my bursary rules did not allow it. I returned to the classroom only to be further embarrassed when the French teacher asked if I was leaving them or staying. When I responded that I was staying, she said “oh we are so pleased, aren’t we girls?” Despite that, my exam results for French remained good as they had been during my year at Hamilton High.

Goulburn High School badge (2012) © Brian Rope

Realising that our boarding was not working out, mum and dad resolved to move the whole family into Goulburn. Firstly though, they needed somewhere for us to live. They registered for allocation of an NSW Housing Commission house. In those days the waiting list was extremely lengthy and getting to the front of the list would have taken years. However, that was not the system – instead ballots were conducted every so often and, incredibly, our name was drawn in the very first such ballot after joining the list. We were allocated a brand-new house at 32 Wyatt Street in the new West Goulburn area. When we moved in, we found several teachers from Goulburn High School amongst our neighbours, since teachers were also allocated NSW Housing Commission properties.

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Autobiography, Personal Story

1954-55 – Sojourn in Northern NSW

Our journey north from Bundoran took us through many country towns. Dad had mapped out the shortest (in terms of distance) route without concern for road qualities, rivers, mountains, or anything else really. His various driving experiences – including being the lead driver for British Army truck convoys on narrow mountain passes at night without lights during World War II, driving double-decker buses in London, and driving the first coach operated by Reginal Ansett (of later Ansett Airlines fame) in Australia – would have meant he was well equipped to undertake any road journey.

I don’t remember where we crossed the border into New South Wales nor the precise route we took. I do recall a long stretch in southern NSW with just one railway crossing around the halfway point providing the only bend between two towns, later passing through Rylstone and Kandos, and then finally approaching our destination via a ‘Dry Weather Only’ road not long after there had been considerable rain in the area.

Our destination was a property called Greenhills located somewhere south of Little Jacks Creek on the road between Merriwa and Willow Tree. That road remained one to avoid in wet weather for many years. When we arrived the owners and others at the property were astounded that we had travelled the route we used.

Amongst the other residents at Greenhills were mum and dad’s friends, Len and Marge Payne and their children Joyce and Rob. Like dad, Len had played piano in London clubs. His job at Greenhills included putting ferrets into rabbit burrows as part of getting rid of the rabbits. He used to walk around with a pair of ferrets inside his trousers!

Together with Joyce, my brother and the other kids on Greenhills, I learned to roll a cigarette and smoke them. One of the girls was easily able to get hold of the makings from her chain-smoking father’s cache and all of us would climb to the top of the haybales in the shed, roll ciggies and smoke them there after school. Somehow, we avoided ever starting a fire in the hay! We hid our supplies in a hollow. But, attracted by whatever we used to cover it, mum found them and our days of smoking were over.

I also learned to ride a horse that I could not control whilst living there. I recall being in the saddle one day when the fast-galloping horse, doing what it was trained to, thundered along perilously close (in my mind) to a high fence with barbed wire – to overtake and bring back some cattle that had left a pen. I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to do anything to get the horse to alter course or stop until it was ready to do so on completion of its task.

So, we had moved to northern NSW and to rugby league instead of Aussie Rules – another brand of football that I was hopeless at. Through 1954, I studied second-year high school by Blackfriars Correspondence while sitting in a one-teacher Willow Tree primary school.

Willow Tree Public School, photographed by me in October 2015

There were two girls, including Joyce Payne, doing first-year high school by Blackfriars also at that school. The idea was that the teacher would assist we three high schoolers whilst also teaching everyone in the primary years (including brother Alan).

Willow Tree Public School 5 & 6 students in 1954 – image found on Internet – can’t see Alan in it

As the “senior” student our teacher would use me to “control” all the others whenever he wanted to pop outside for a smoke. He also used me to try and show the younger children a thing or two. On one occasion he had set me the task of memorising “T’was the night before Christmas” so I could recite it during the end of year Christmas event. When I told him the very next morning that I had memorised it, he asked me to practise reciting it before all the students whilst he turned his back to me. When I finished, he turned and said to the assembled students that he thought I had read it well. They all said no sir, he didn’t read it he didn’t look at the book. That gave the teacher his opportunity to say well look what is possible when you put your mind to something.

At another time he suggested to mum and dad that the best thing they could do was to sign me up to the Navy as soon as I was old enough – which I think was at age 15 or thereabouts. I’ve been forever pleased that they did not take his advice.

Whilst at Willow Tree school I participated in a range of activities with the younger students. I recall doing country dancing, including Strip the Willow. I was partnered with a girl who sort of became my girlfriend. She lived in a house beside an open railway crossing that we drove over every time we travelled north from Willow Tree to Quirindi for special shopping. Her dad was employed by the railways to manually close and then reopen the gates at the crossing whenever a train was passing through. Inevitably, the rest of the family would tease me about my girlfriend each time.

This rail crossing, photographed by me in 2015, is in the general area.

At the age of 12 I joined a club. The Argonauts Club was an Australian children’s radio program. According to Wikipedia the program was first broadcast in 1933 on ABC Radio in Melbourne. The show was discontinued in 1934 but revived and broadcast on ABC radio stations nationally (except to Western Australia) on 7 January 1941 as a segment of the Children’s Session. From 6 September 1954 it was called the Children’s Hour, running from 5 to 6pm. It became one of the ABC’s most popular programs, running six days a week for 28 years until October 1969, when it was broadcast only on Sundays and was finally discontinued in 1972.

The Argonauts Club was open to Australian boys and girls aged from 7 to 17. It proved hugely popular with young Australians: by 1950 there were over 50,000 members, with 10,000 new members joining each year through the 1950s (national membership reached 43,000 in 1953). Applications for membership (and subsequent contributions) were made by post. An enamelled badge and handsome membership certificate with the Pledge (brought over from 1931):

Before the sun and night and the blue sea, I vow

To stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful;

To seek adventure and having discovered aught of wonder, or delight, of merriment or loveliness,

To share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers.

and the new member’s allocated pseudonym (Ship name and number) were sent out to the new member. With no indication given of age, sex or origin, the only comparisons that could be made were between contributions; the members’ only competitors were themselves.

A card system held the member’s real name and address and Club name and number, together with a record of contributions and awards. The Club encouraged children’s contributions of writing, music, poetry and art. Contributions from members were awarded Blue Certificates (worth 1 point) or Purple Certificates for particularly impressive work worth 3. Members reaching 6 points redeemed the tear-off ends for a book prize. Higher targets were acknowledged on air (by Ship Name and Number): The Order of the Dragons Tooth for 150 points and The Order of the Golden Fleece for 400 points. A further award Golden Fleece and Bar (for 600 points) was instituted later to cater for particularly talented and industrious Argonauts.

The segment was opened and closed with a specially commissioned theme written by Elizabeth Osbourne and Cecil Fraser and sung by Harold Williams and the male members of the ABC Wireless Singers:

Fifty mighty Argonauts, bending to the oars,

Today will go adventuring to yet uncharted shores.

Fifty young adventurers today set forth and so

We cry with Jason “Man the boats, and Row! Row! Row!”

Row! Row! Merry oarsmen, Row!

That dangers lie ahead we know, we know.

But bend with all your might

As you sail into the night

And wrong will bow to right “Jason” cry,

Adventure know,

Argonauts Row! Row! Row!

A further touch was a call to sick members: “The Ship of Limping Men”, as notified by parents. On Saturdays a major segment was the Argonauts Brains Trust. From December 1944, the ABC Weekly carried an Argonauts’ Page devoted to selected contributions from members and relevant news items. Annual ‘live’ productions of the Children’s Session (and Argonauts Club) were a feature of Royal Shows in each State from 1947.

Members of the Argonauts Club who later became prominent public figures included:

  • Tim Fischer (National Party politician, Deputy Prime Minister, diplomat, died 2019)
  • Kate Fitzpatrick (film, TV and theatre actress, world’s first female Test cricket commentator)
  • Rolf Harris (painter, entertainer – conviction in 2014 of the sexual assault of four underage girls effectively ended his career)
  • Barry Humphries (actor, artist, author, comedian and satirist)
  • Clive Robertson (journalist, radio and television personality)
  • Peter Sculthorpe (composer)
  • Dame Joan Sutherland (dramatic coloratura soprano)

As you’ve read earlier in this piece, at the time I joined the Argonauts and was an avid listener, I was living on Greenhills near the small township of Willow Tree in northern NSW. I did not become a similarly prominent public figure (although I did much later in life have a reasonable public profile in my home city of Canberra).

In November 1954 one of the Argonauts Club’s monthly competitions for members required entrants to submit the then Governor-General’s style, name and decorations, with the prize being awarded to the correct entrant who gave the most interesting way of finding out what the answer was. Long before Google, I had no idea. My dad came up with the idea of my writing to the Governor-General and asking him. I did that in a letter dated 24 November 1954. On the 29th of that month, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General replied on his behalf, providing not only the answer but a set of biographical notes that he thought may be of some help to me with the competition.

The GG’s Official Secretary’s Response

I submitted my entry and, when listening to an episode of the Argonauts which announced the results, was delighted to hear my Ship Name and Number announced as the winner. (I wish I could remember my Ship Name and Number). Thanks dad.

The prize that I won was a book by the famous Australian novelist and short story writer, Frank Dalby Davison. I still have that book. Whilst several of Davison’s works demonstrated his progressive political philosophy, he is best known as “a writer of animal stories and a sensitive interpreter of Australian bush life in the tradition of Henry Lawson, Joseph Furphy and Vance Palmer.” His most popular works were two novels, Man-shy and Dusty, and his short stories.

My composite image telling the story about Dusty

I am not sure why Davison’s novel, Dusty, was the competition prize in 1954, given that it was actually published eight years earlier in 1946. However, it was the prize and, as an avid reader, I was delighted to win it, and read it. At one level the story of a half-kelpie, half-dingo sheepdog which becomes in turn a champion worker, a killer and a wild dog, Dusty has also been read as a meditation on many of the political issues which animated Davison in the early 1940s (coincidentally when I was born); among them his fascination with the rebel and his ambivalent attitude towards the promised new social order following victory over fascism. The novel, Dusty, also won first prize in the Argus competition for novels. In 1983, it was made into a movie, also titled Dusty, starring Bill Kerr, Noel Trevarthen and Carol Burns.

Mum tried hard to help me with the homework that arrived by post from Blackfriars. I recall an art assignment that required me to send in a painting I had done of two eggs in a frying pan, that should not look like two eggs in a frying pan. This mystified both me and mum and, try as we did, we could not produce anything that we thought met the requirements.

By the end of 1954 I had only managed to get to the halfway point of the full year’s correspondence lessons, so a decision was made that I would repeat the second year of high school and attend the Quirindi High School not too far away; but necessitating me to board again.

Quirindi High School, photographed by me in October 2015

Arrangements were made for me to board with Reverend Harry Brentnall, the Minister of the Quirindi Methodist church, and his family. The church was in Henry Street, where the building still stands today. Its foundation stone was laid on 4 July 1882.  Though no longer used for church services, it is the oldest and only original church building remaining in Quirindi and has the honour of being the first brick church in the town. The Methodist Central Hall was built next to the church in 1911. Elmswood School and Kindergarten was established in 1912, utilising the supper room of the Central Hall and continued to the end of 1922.  A brick residence, the Methodist Parsonage was also built in Henry Street for the use of the Minister so that is where I boarded.

As soon as I moved into the parsonage with the Brentnalls, I was introduced to the organisation known as the Order of Knights, which used secret handshakes and the like (a little like the Masons I think). The Order of Knights group may have met at the Methodist Church or the Central Hall. I didn’t like OKs so was fortunate when we moved again not long after.

The Central Hall was moved in 1977 and relocated behind Pollock Hall in North Avenue. The church building and grounds became available for the establishment of the Elmswood Hostel. The Methodist Church donated their land and the building to Quirindi Retirement Homes Ltd, on the stipulation that they would be used for age care. The former church building was used initially as a dining room for the Elmswood residents and was later refurbished as the Whitten Room, in memory of the Whitten Family, devoted members of the Methodist Church.

Mum and dad applied for, and I was awarded, a bursary. In return for the financial support received, I had to study certain subjects until completing the NSW Intermediate certificate after three years in high school. The subjects had to include a modern language and the only such language taught at Quirindi High was French, so that was the one.

Heavy rain owing to the influence of La Niña had been occurring over the catchment of the Hunter River since October 1954 when, on 23 February 1955, an extremely intense monsoonal depression developed over southern Queensland and north-east New South Wales and moved southwards. The very strong and extremely moist north-easterly airflow meant that over the basin of the Hunter and parts of the Darling River, rainfall amounts for a 24‑hour period were the highest since instrumental records began around 1885. Around Coonabarabran, as much as 327 millimetres (over 13 inches) fell in a single day, whilst falls in the upper part of the Hunter Basin the following day were generally around 200 millimetres (8 inches).

Both Quirindi High and the parsonage where I was living are high on a hill, so we were safe from floodwaters. Indeed, I believe we could see the flooded areas clearly from both vantage points. The railway bridge over the river was damaged with one pylon sinking so that the rails broke and there was a significant drop part way across.

By early 1955, mum and dad had decided to move again to new jobs elsewhere. We travelled on the first train out of Quirindi, slowly across a temporarily repaired bridge, then south to Singleton where we transferred to a coach which took us to Maitland as that stretch of the railway was still unusable. We saw a lot of the devastating flood damage as we passed by.

Then it was on to Sydney where we arrived too late to take the next leg of our train journey. We were allowed to stay and sleep overnight in a carriage parked at Central Station. The next day we completed our journey South – our destination being another property called Werriwa just north of Bungendore. It had its own railway station called Butmaroo, which we reckon was the smallest station in the world being just longer than its name sign and having nothing more on it than a large box under the sign where deliveries of things such as bread were left. More of that in the following chapter of my story.

Our sojourn in Northern NSW had come to its end.

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Autobiography, Personal Story

1951-53 – Early years in Victoria

Our new Australian home on Bundoran was a brand-new cottage, bearing absolutely no resemblance to the house we had left behind on the other side of the world. The Bundoran property was located about ten miles south of the main highway from Melbourne to Hamilton. The turn off was between Glenthompson and Dunkeld. Glenthompson was the closer town to us and was where we went for minor supplies, to the Presbyterian Church and Sunday School, and to scouts. For school, however, Alan and I had to travel to Dunkeld on the school bus. Sometimes we joined the Browns at the Methodist church in Dunkeld.

Another English family named Cox (with one daughter and five sons including David and Peter who went to school with us and Michael their youngest) also lived on Bundoran and, later, the Browns moved there.

The Cox’s cottage was half-way towards the Wilsons’ home (owners), the other side of the ‘creek’. Initially (for most of 1951) the Browns lived in the Shearers Quarters, then moved into a new weatherboard cottage built for them. We Ropes lived in an old cottage near the dam.

At the gate entrance to Bundoran
(Left: Margaret Brown, Michael & Peter Cox. Right: Alan & Brian Rope)
Photo by David Brown
Photo by David Brown
Photo by David Brown
Photo by David Brown

Before they moved to Bundoran we would visit the Browns in Victoria Valley, traveling in a borrowed ute with Alan and myself riding in the back of it. I recall some trips in darkness with just our heads above the zipped-up canopy covering – no such thing as seatbelts or safety laws then! David and Peter Cox, David Brown and I became the four members of one pack in the Glenthompson scout troop, which had Tony Wilson as its scoutmaster.

Brian the Boy Scout

Mum worked for the Wilson family as their homestead cook and housekeeper, whilst dad was their jackaroo. When the Browns moved to Bundoran, Uncle Tom became the Wilson’s gardener. Part of his role included regularly raking the large circular gravel driveway at the front of the homestead so that it showed no evidence of having been driven on.

There were, of course, animals on the farm and I recall being bailed up by an aggressive ram one afternoon as I was walking back from the Dunkeld school bus. I climbed into a tree stump and called to mum to come and help.

The nearest other property to Bundoran was Bri-Bri. We sometimes mixed socially with the families who lived there, and mum and dad remained in touch with the Kellett family for the rest of their lives.

On my ninth birthday – 3 March 1951 – mum and dad gave me my first camera – a Baby Brownie. Soon afterwards they purchased the necessary items and, together, we taught ourselves how to develop black and white films and make contact prints from the negatives, using the sun as our light source. Some of my earliest photos were taken at a school excursion to Nhill for a sports carnival. Not long after they purchased a home processing kit and, together, we learned to develop film and make contact prints. It was, for me the beginning of a lifelong passion for photography. I did not become a professional photographer, but an enthusiast amateur.

Late in 1951, on 2 December to be precise, our family grew by one with the birth of my sister, Gillian Eileen Rope. Her arrival was somewhat exciting. Mum left it rather late to say she needed to go to the hospital. Dad drove her to Hamilton Base Hospital in a utility with her seated between him and Aunt Mary. The driver’s door would not stay closed, so he held it shut with his elbow whilst steering with his other hand. Traveling above the speed limit, he attracted the attention of a policeman and had to tell him the situation. That resulted in a motorcycle cop escort. As they pulled up the matron appeared to take mum quickly inside. Dad collapsed on the hospital steps and lit a cigarette. He had not finished it when matron reappeared to tell him he had a daughter and to abuse him for bringing mum in so late.

Jill (as she has always been known) as a new baby with Alan (holding her) and Brian.

At some point, Dad acquired a 1933 Hillman Wizard car. It had a glass windscreen, but soft plastic side windows that could be easily removed then put back on. It also had a large timber box attached to the outside back, in which all manner of things could be transported. As many as nine of us from the Rope, Brown and Kellett families sometimes piled into it to go for picnics.

Uncle Tom also had a car for a time, famously getting his licence by driving into Dunkeld, finding the local policeman at the pub and then driving him to the police station straight along the dirt side of the road just a short distance, where the necessary paperwork was completed. He was not the best driver and had the good sense to give up driving after a relatively short period.

Dad’s car also took us on trips to places such as Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Lake Bolac, and to various local towns when dad and Alan participated in “penny vote” concerts. I recall times when the locusts were so bad that they almost completely covered the windscreen in their smashed remains, whilst some managed to get inside the car causing screams as they flew into various occupants.

David, Margaret, Brian & Alan enjoying the beach at Warrnambool
Alan, Margaret, David and Brian having some fun at Lake Bolac.

Dunkeld State School Number 183 began as a National School on 22 October 1855 and gained the 183 number in 1863. Alan and I started there in 1951, joining our cousin Margaret and also Valerie Kellett there as students. Initially I was placed in 3rd class, but within a few days had been moved up into 5th class. This reflected differences between English and Australian schooling in the early years at that time.

The other students quickly asked me which VFL team I supported, so I had to choose one and plumped for Collingwood for some reason. The students also gave me the nickname “Binder Twine” (the type of rope used to bind bales of hay harvested in the district) showing the classic Australian humour. A friend I made years later during my working life suffered a much worse nickname at his Victorian school. Also a migrant, and having the surname Van Dijk, he became known as The Moving Shithouse (derived from moving van and the colloquial name for outdoor toilets – the dyke).

At school, I was a target for bullying because I was so short and a fair-skinned pommy who spoke differently to the locals. But a tall boy decided he would appoint himself as my personal protector threatening to physically deal with any student who picked on me. I’m pretty sure he did it to boost his own status, rather than for my sake, but it certainly helped me.

In 1952, at the age of ten I completed my primary education – as Dux of Dunkeld State School No. 183.

Dunkeld School No. 183

A Group School was formed in 1952 and this changed to a Consolidated School at the beginning of 1956. Buildings first used were on the old site (3 rooms), the Methodist Sunday School Hall and from 1953 some buildings at the present site on Victoria Valley Road. Although the school is still a Consolidated School it is now only Prep to Year 6. When I visited Dunkeld Consolidated School many years later, the principal could not find the old school’s honour boards, so I was unable to see my name on them.

Dunkeld Consolidated School

In February 1953, I became a 1st year student at Hamilton High School, after mum and dad fought a successful battle. Apparently, there was great resistance to enrolling any student younger than 12 (and I wasn’t quite 11), but the school principal was persuaded that there was no value in my repeating the final year of primary school after having completed it as Dux.

Hamilton High conducted weekly spelling bees for students in each year and I soon found that I could spell well enough to win the 1st year contest each week. I think it was around this time that I also got involved in concerts, usually playing the role of a girl in pantomime productions because of my beautiful boy soprano voice – so I’m told – sadly there are no recordings for me to hear.

Brian as Little Bo Peep

My results in that first year at Hamilton High justified my enrolment having been allowed.

1953 Hamilton High School Report

The move to high school resulted in a new home for me too, since travelling from Bundoran to Hamilton and back each day proved too much – for both dad and Uncle Tom, who had to drive me, David and the Cox brothers to and from the highway to the high school bus route each day, and also for me (as I faced two long and tiring trips and very lengthy days). Whilst waiting for the high school bus with three or four other children, we formed a large “circle” and threw a ball around it to each other. Initially, I had no idea how to catch a ball and one of the older girls had to explain to me the need to draw my hand backwards as the ball reached it so that it would not bounce off my rigid hand.

After a time, to avoid the daily travel to and from the bus stop, I went to board with some friends, the Kearns family, on a small land holding adjacent to the highway and a little closer to Hamilton. I stayed there on weeknights and returned to Bundoran each weekend.

My memories of living with Mr and Mrs Kearns and their children – who were younger than me, include learning to chop firewood and to eat “strange” foods that I had never had previously. The latter included bowls of beetroot covered by what seemed to be pounds of sugar, as part of the salads served with an evening meal.

The years in Victoria were a great adventure for me, learning many new things and seeing so much that was different from my previous life in London. I moved around the paddocks standing on the running board of the utility, jumping off to run after and catch rabbits moving slowly as they succumbed to myxomatosis so that we could end their lives more quickly. (Myxomatosis was introduced to Australia in 1950 to reduce pest rabbit numbers. The virus initially reduced the wild rabbit population by 95% but since then resistance to the virus has increased and less deadly strains of the virus have emerged. The initial release of the myxoma virus led to a dramatic reduction of Australia’s rabbit population. Within two years of the virus’s release in 1950, Australia’s wool and meat production recovered from the rabbit onslaught to the tune of $68 million.)

I also travelled in the back of the same ute when we went with our scout master camping in the Grampians or with dad when visiting the Browns before they moved to Bundoran. On at least one occasion Alan and I huddled under the utility’s tonneau cover whilst an electrical storm flashed lightning all around us as we journeyed through the Grampians.

Mum and I learned to milk a cow by hand.

Mum milking our cow at Bundoran.

I learned about playing cricket.

Our Bundoran cricket team

I participated in Australian rules school football – well sort of, as a timid and short of stature youngster I tried my best to stay away from the action and the much taller kids who were good at it.

The Browns moved on to ‘Pollockdale’, just 3 miles north of Glenthompson in late 1953. David thinks it was in November. We too left Bundoran late in ’53. David recalls his mother being upset at losing her brother and sister-in-law.

Dad’s Hillman Wizard transported our family of five from Victoria to a property near Willow Tree in northern NSW where he had taken a new job. Dad worked out the shortest route (in miles) to drive to the new place and we set off on another adventure. We have often remembered how Jill’s teddy bear went out the car window and Alan had to run back down the road to retrieve it, and also how we had to push to help dad turn the car around on a narrow road when we took a wrong turn, and the reverse gear was not operational.

In 1955 the Browns moved again – to Ballarat. We visited them there a number of times whilst we still were children so had more youthful adventures with our cousins then.

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Autobiography, Personal Story

My Family’s Migrant Experience

I have previously blogged about my entering this world here and about migrating to Australia here.

This piece is about an interview I recently did for a project called New Humans of Australia. That project seeks to reduce discrimination towards migrants, especially refugees, through the powerful medium of storytelling. Inspired by the iconic Humans of New York, New Humans of Australia was started by Nicola Gray, an Australian writer, who wanted to share the many fascinating stories she heard while working with refugees and migrants. The people behind the project believe it is becoming more and more important to tell the true stories of migrants – the difficulties they overcome and what they contribute – in order to celebrate multiculturalism, and to make new arrivals feel welcome on our shores. Any person who migrated to Australia is welcome to contact the project and offer to tell their story.

Nicola Gray spoke with me on 21 July this year via Zoom from her current home in Portugal. It wasn’t so much an interview as an opportunity to tell my story, with Gray asking a few questions along the way. I enjoyed the experience very much. The process took almost one hour and was video recorded. After the audio is transcribed, Gray produced a short version of what I said and emailed it to me to check for accuracy and to suggest any changes. It is meant to be as short as possible, and to sound like the person telling their story is speaking not reading.

The next step usually is to have one of their photographers take a photo of you. Looking at their list of photographers I saw a Canberran whom I know and thought it would be likely she would get the assignment. However, because of another story falling through at the last moment, Gray needed my photo quickly and asked if I could have a family member take one and send it to her the next day. Regarding the photo, the requirements were “landscape, not portrait (meaning you have to turn the phone to the horizontal position), outdoors, preferably with a tree or a bush behind you but not essential, no sunglasses, not too dressed up smiling, or thoughtful.”

Being home alone at the time, I opted to take a selfie. I headed outside into the common area of our townhouse complex where I could stand before some bushes high enough to be behind my head. Battling blustery winds, I quickly took a few shots. Back indoors I realised that my glasses had darkened automatically in the bright sunlight so had effectively become sunglasses. So, after they had lightened up, I put them in my pocket and went back outside intending to put them on at the last moment and repeat the exercise. Some more quick selfies and back inside – only to realise I had forgotten to put the glasses on before taking the shots! Back out for a third time, then I called it quits and sent Gray three shots with and without glasses for her to select from.

She chose to use the image without glasses – almost didn’t recognise myself having worn specs for so many years!

The next step was for me to provide some old family photos to Gray. I sent these nine images from my family archives:          

For her finished story, Gray chose these three images:

Mum wearing her London bus conductress (clippie) outfit in 1941
Dad, mum, me (left middle), brother Alan, sister Jill (born in Australia in December 1951)
Children playing cricket at our first Australian home, Bundoran, Western districts, Victoria in 1951

The finished story can be read on https://newhumansofaustralia.org/stories/ or on https://www.facebook.com/NewHumansOfAustralia/. There have been 126 comments about it on the Facebook page and 37 people (myself included) have shared it on their own Facebook pages.

Gray also produced a short video clip of me speaking from the interview. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page here.

Eventually my story will be published in one of a series of books that New Humans of Australia is publishing. I have acquired Volumes 1 and 2 which are available now at https://newhumansofaustralia.org/shop/. Volume 3 is nearing completion. Volume 4 (which is where my story is likely to be) is probably a couple of years away yet.

You can read all about the project at https://newhumansofaustralia.org/ and can even become a patron or express interest in telling your own migration story. All patrons receive a free copy of one book and get all new stories emailed direct to their inbox.

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Autobiography

1950 – Migration

This is a description of the journey when I migrated from England to Australia in 1950

Our human family had not increased when mum and dad took what I consider to have been a most courageous decision to emigrate to Australia, where they hoped their sons would have better future life opportunities.

A Document of Identity in lieu of a passport was issued to dad for travel to Australia as an approved migrant accompanied by mum and their two children, myself included.

So, late in 1950, we sailed from Liverpool on the MV Cheshire, a ship which had seen service as a troop transport in World War II and, later, was to be used in a similar role during the Korean War.

MV Cheshire

So, for around five weeks, my home was on the seas. We travelled south past France and Spain, with a majority of the passengers including me being horribly seasick for the first several days. The ship had no stabilisers, so it rolled horribly in the waves. Then we went past Gibraltar and through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Suez, and the Red Sea to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), and across the Indian Ocean to Australia.

My memories of life on board are again fragile. I know that dad, Alan and myself were in a cabin with five other men, whilst mum was elsewhere with a group of women. I also know that the children were given bread and jam as a treat each day. We rushed to line up for ours then took them to mum and dad so they could have them, before returning to the queue for a second time.

On board the MC Cheshire

We stopped at Port Said (Egypt), where locals in small boats rowed out to our ship and plied their wares of fresh fruit. Purchases were hauled up in baskets that were then lowered back down empty. As we passed through the Suez Canal, we passed a ship going the other way, and some of its passengers were disgruntled British people who had tried Australia and called out to us that we were making a mistake.

We stopped again in Aden (Yemen).

At Aden
Dad, mum, Alan and me at Aden

We also stopped at Colombo (Ceylon) and took a short land trip south of there to Mount Lavinia.

Ead, mum, Alan and me at Mount Lavinia
Mum (back, far right). Me and Alan (front, far right) at Mt Lavinia

When we crossed the equator there was a fun ceremony to mark that. On other occasions we wore fancy dress for events that brightened the journey.

Alan in “fancy dress”

After completing our crossing of the Indian Ocean, our first Australian port was Fremantle. Some people, including friends mum and dad had made on board, disembarked at Fremantle to begin their new lives in Western Australia.

Our destination was Melbourne, which we reached on the fourteenth of December. We were greeted by a wild storm which almost prevented the tugs from getting us to the wharf. As a result, we – and the rest of the Melbourne-bound British migrants still on board – did not disembark until the morning of the fifteenth. Some continued on to Sydney.

Melbourne’s Sun newspaper told the story on page 2 of the tugs’ difficult task:

The passenger lists held by the National Archives of Australia show the four of us. They also show the four members of the Pfur family, with whom we remained in contact for many years:

After disembarking, we were met by my aunt Mary & uncle Tom and cousins David & Margaret, and by Tony Wilson – a member of the family that was to be mum and dad’s employers and who had sponsored us as assisted passage migrants.

Met at Port Melbourne. Back- Uncle Tom, Mum Eileen, Aunt Mary, Dad Jim. Front- cousins David and Margaret, Alan and me.

We were driven by Tony what seemed an incredible distance in the Wilson’s Armstrong-Siddeley utility to our new home on their property of Bundoran, near Glenthompson and Dunkeld in the Western Districts of Victoria. That was all the more remarkable for me, as I had always suffered travel sickness even on London buses with mum breaking journeys into two so that I could have some time not moving before boarding a second bus.

Before settling into this new home and jobs we were to spend a short period, including Christmas of 1950, with dad’s sister, Mary Brown, and her family on another property in nearby Victoria Valley, in the Grampian Mountains. Aunty Mary and Uncle Tom, plus cousins David and Margaret, had themselves migrated in 1949, having in turn been enticed to join Tom’s brother Charles, who had come to work with the Methodist Church and had become its Minister at Dunkeld.

One of the things I brought with me from England was a copy of “Bobby Bear’s Annual” – a book given to me by the Browns inscribed “With love and best wishes to dear Brian from Uncle Tom, Auntie Mary, David and Margaret. Dec. 1949. Just as we were leaving on ‘SS Raneli’ for Australia”. Minus its front hard cover, that book remains in my possession.

Not too many years later, although I don’t remember the date, I received another bible. It was a gift from a grandmother, but the inscription is in my mother’s handwriting – not doubt because she would have purchased it in Australia on behalf of grandma nanny still living in England.

And, so, my new life in Australia began.

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Autobiography

1942-50 – Early Life In London

This is an account of my early childhood

The home address mum gave when registering my birth on 12 March 1942 was 39 Fairview Road, Tottenham, London, N15. I don’t know whether we ever lived there. I do know that during World War II mum and I spent a lot of time living with mum’s sister Nell Ridley and her eldest children, who were also very young, but I’m not sure at whose house that was. Mum was evacuated a second time to Bragborough Hall, Northamptonshire for the birth of my younger brother Alan James Rope (on 9 June 1943) when I was just 15 months old. I presume I went with her. Dad got army leave again at that time.

When clearing out mum’s last independent living residence at the time she moved into residential care in 2016 we came across my baptism certificate and a letter written at the time. It revealed I was baptised in our local Congregational church on 22 March 1942 (just 19 days after birth), whereas I had previously heard a story about being baptised in a Presbyterian church close to where my dad’s sister Mary lived one day when we went to visit her.

The Minister, Rev Henry Donald, wrote out some words by the abolitionist, author, and Congregationalist clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher and provided them to mum and dad at the baptism.

I believe this to be an architectural drawing of the Stamford Hill Congregational Church:

Below is the earliest photograph I have of myself and I wonder whether it was taken on the day I was baptised.

Here are some other early photos of me (at least I’m pretty sure they are of me and not my brother):

My first memory of a home where all four of us lived as a family relates to 60 Ravensdale Road, Stamford Hill, London, N16. The house at that address has long since been demolished and replaced by housing commission bungalows. When we lived there it was a large, somewhat ugly, building with three families occupying different floors, despite an internal staircase via which each family could freely move into their neighbours’ apartments. We had the basement and ground floor. The view from the basement’s rear windows was straight into a wall, into which was set a flight of steps leading up to the back garden area. This image taken from Google maps shows 63 Ravensdale Road at the left. It and the adjacent houses look very much what I imagine our house was like.

Although we lived at this address until I was eight years old, I have only a few memories of it and suspect they only relate to things I was subsequently reminded of by mum and dad. There is a story of a big Guy Fawkes Night bonfire in the back garden area when someone’s nylon stockings were set on fire by a lit jumping jack. And I know we had pets, including a golden retriever dog that got distemper, and a couple of goldfish named after two of my uncles. There also were pet mice in a “house” with installations for them to exercise and play on.

Whilst living here I attended the Craven Park School. I started there on my fifth birthday, which apparently was the practice in England at that time. I’m told that Mum walked me to school that morning through a couple of feet of snow. My reports show that I was a good student, placing 1st in my class in both December 1949 and July 1950.

This latter report also records that my Religious Knowledge was “V. Good.”

The Bible

I do not consider myself to be a bible scholar, although it has been a part of my entire life. Here is a montage of inscriptions in my various bibles overlaid on a photo I took of another youngster reading a bible and an illustration from one of mine:

I do not know when I would have been given my first bible but, no doubt, it would have been an illustrated version considered most suitable for a young child at the time.

I certainly received an illustrated bible when I was just 7 years old. The Ravensdale Road Methodist Sunday School that my brother, Alan, and I attended presented me with one in 1949. As we lived in Ravensdale Road we didn’t have to go far to Sunday School. The sticker inside the front cover records that I got 43 marks, presumably in some sort of bible test. I don’t know how many that was out of – if it was 100 my knowledge wasn’t so good, but if it was out of 50 then I wasn’t doing too badly.

I received another bible just one year after the Sunday School prize. In 1950 our family left London and sailed from England to Australia as migrants. The 177th London Life Boy Team, of which I had been a member gave me a bible as a farewell gift.

So, that is when I left England heading towards a new life in the Great Southern Land known as Australia.

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