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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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

2022 APS PhotoWalk Day: Repair – Recover – Renew

In September 2021 the Australian Photographic Society held its first APS PhotoWalk Day with the theme Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you? I walked as an individual (not a photo club group), entered two images from the Walk and was placed 3rd. I wrote about it here.

On 14 May 2022, the Society held another PhotoWalk Day with the theme Repair – Recover – Renew. I suggested the club I belong to, the Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), participate and enter as a club and it did. But, unfortunately, at the last moment it pulled out because of illness affecting a number of Committee members. So, I quickly registered as an individual again and, on the scheduled day, set off with my camera to walk and find images.

The promotional material for the event said “In a world impacted by significant events through the impact Climate Change, COVID and Natural Disasters, nature and people show an incredible capacity to repair, recover or renew. Wherever you participate in the 2022 APS Photo Walk Day we want you to focus on the positive and capture the optimism of the future: show us how nature and/or people are moving forward so this a wonderful opportunity to capture and showcase the emotions that come with repair, recovery or renewal. Your images may reflect an emergence from the impact of COVID lockdowns and the joy of people rediscovering their lives and livelihoods. You may capture the beauty and strength of nature as it recovers from the ravages of fire or floods or other natural disasters or the efforts of communities to renew what once was. You are not limited by these examples; you are only limited by your imagination. The emotional impact of your image/s are the key to success.”

There were three judges and each of them were to score all entries, with their points being added together. And, again, the individual scoring most points was to receive a $150 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher and certificate.

As in 2021, an introductory session was held via Zoom the evening before the event. The surprise speaker was Len Metcalf, an artist, educator, environmentalist, writer and photographer based in Sydney. I very much enjoyed his presentation and he inspired me to create and submit Contemporary images.

Mostly in the Yarramundi Reach area of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, but also in the urban area of Braddon, I took a total of 118 photographs – most with a DSLR camera but some with a phone camera using software that enables it to be used in “professional” mode. My challenge then became to create four images from those 118 shots that were suitable to submit to the competition. And, to give them titles that provided clues as to how they fitted my concepts of the theme.

Firstly, I created a montage of six images showing people renewing and repairing themselves by exercising.

Exercising renews the body © Brian Rope

Then I used a completely different image to portray renewal in another way altogether.

New artworks renew rundown streetscape © Brian Rope

My third entry used a Hipstamatic App to create a pinhole style image of a couple of seats and a makeshift table that I came across by the lake. My guess is that a fisherman created this. I sat there resting and enjoying the view for a short time. This one is about recovery.

Pause here to recover © Brian Rope

And my final image was created by overlaying two shots taken from the same position but with the camera pointing in a slightly different direction. The technique I used involved using Photoshop’s feature that merges two or more images to create a High Dynamic Range result. This one is again about renewal – but of the mind rather than the body.

Visualising anew renews the mind © Brian Rope

On 24 June, a Zoom session was held to announce the results of the competition. It was convened by the APS President, Margaret O’Grady and attended by numerous entrants, two of the judges and Libby Jeffery, Marketing Manager of MomentoPro which was again the sponsor of the Photo Walk Day. Libby announced the results of the photo clubs’ section of the competition and then the results of the individual’s section.

To my great surprise and delight I was announced as the winner of the individual contestants’ section. During the opportunity for anyone who wished to speak to do so, I noted that I had only participated as an individual at the last moment and suggested I needed to thank CPS for its unfortunate late withdrawal from the Walk Day. If that had not happened, I would not have competed as an individual and, so, not won the $150 voucher from MomentoPro – received by email from Margaret O’Grady moments after the Zoom session wrapped up!

Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate as part of the CPS in the next PhotoWalk.

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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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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

The Book Launch

I’d helped him move his stock of books in boxes to Canberra’s The Street Theatre earlier in the week, then we transported a final box of pre-sold copies ready signed for each purchaser arriving at his request around 2.30pm on the day of the book launch. He was already there set up at a small table underneath the permanent installation on the wall commemorating the man who the book is about. Nearby, a theatre staff member was ready to start selling copies for him to sign as purchasers brought them to his table.

Joel Swadling at the book signing table © Brian Rope

The book If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. was written by my stepson Joel Swadling, hence my involvement – although I also knew the late David Branson, and all his family are also my friends. I’ve written about Branson and Swadling on this blog previously here. My concluding sentence then was “I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.”

By the time the launch date arrived I had attended the Concert and read almost to the end of Act One in the book. Both had added to my “looking forward to” mood. My wife and I had been on tenterhooks after having been deemed casual contacts of a grandson who contracted the Covid virus earlier in the launch week’ forcing us to have tests – thankfully negative. A positive result would have prevented us attending both the concert and the launch.

A publicity shot I prepared was displayed on monitors in the foyer/bar area of The Canberra Theatre before, during and after the 20th Anniversary Concert by Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentlemen, plus their guest Fred Smith.

My publicity shot on display © Brian Rope

Also displayed were numerous photos of David Branson taken by ‘pling.

From video of ‘pling’s images of David – as used in my publicity shot and on cover of the book © Brian Rope

But here we were at the appointed time on the appointed day, with many people gradually joining the crowd in the theatre foyer, purchasing drinks from the bar, purchasing books, getting them signed by the author and greeting numerous friends – some from other places than Canberra, and some not seen for years. What to do first was the challenge. For me, it was getting my camera out and starting to document the event – book selling, author signing, friends mingling. One of the first images shows Dominic Mico, whom I got to know personally when heading the (ACT) Arts and Recreation Branch way back in 1987. I went to many of Mico’s events at Canberra’s TAU (acronym for Through Arts Unity) Community Theatre. Later, Mico was founding director of the National Multicultural Festival. And here he was getting his copy signed.

Dominic Mico watches Joel sign his copy of the book © Brian Rope

There’s my wife Robyn Swadling speaking with our friend Pauline Everson, who has come along with her neighbour at Goodwin Ainslie Retirement Village.

The sales table – Pauline Everson in green, Robyn Swadling in multiple colours © Brian Rope

And there’s Paul Branson, who will be speaking during the launch – reading his own words about brother David from the book.

Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) is here too – ready to perform. He’s talking with Iain Campbell Smith – Australian diplomat, singer/songwriter and comedian. He performs under the stage name Fred Smith in Australia. Smith has been described as ‘Australia’s secret weapon’ in international diplomacy. As a career diplomat, he served for two years in southern Afghanistan. Working alongside Australian soldiers in Uruzgan Province, Fred’s second career as a musician came to the fore, his guitar serving as a bridge not only to the troops, but also to the people and tribal leaders of that war-torn region. His song, ‘Dust of Uruzgan’, captured the hearts of many serving in Afghanistan. And he authored a book with the same title.

Joel Swadling signing a book, Michael Simic, Fred Smith & friend in conversation © Brian Rope

A little after the scheduled time we began moving into the theatre for the launch. I headed in early to get a front row seat where photography would be easy. The woman beside me and I thought we knew each other. It was Kate McNamara – poet, playwright and critical theorist. For almost ten years she worked as a dramaturg with David Branson’s Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. But I probably had met her through her involvement with TAU, alongside Mico.

Seated on stage are David Branson’s sister Liz Bishop and brother Paul Branson, together with Louise Morris (Branson’s partner at the time of his death), and our author Joel Swadling. At one end of the front row are Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, including the other Branson, Pip (aka Rufino), waiting to perform.

Liz Bishop, Paul Branson, Louise Morris & Joel Swadling © Brian Rope

Elsewhere in the theatre are other members of the Swadling and Branson families. Joel’s father Paul and wife Janet Scott, brother Anthony and partner Sarah Powell, and brother Justin with partner Rache(l) Pettit and their children Jasmine and Riley. That damned pandemic has prevented brother Adam from being present. Margaret Hunt (previously Branson) and her husband David, Paul’s wife Jeanette Watts, Pip’s wife Megan and their children Denholm and Holiday. They are all here.

The doors close. Louise approaches the lectern. She speaks lovingly of David and praises Joel for his dedication and persistence in bringing the book to fruition. Joel replaces her at the lectern, welcomes us all, thanks key people and delivers a short speech, starting:

I’m not going to give a long speech, because the readings I’d like to give are self-explanatory. But I really must thank the management of the Street Theatre, particularly Dean and Carolyn, who’ve so graciously organized this event; as well as Cathy Winters, in helping me to plan the running order. I’d also like to thank my friends, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, for agreeing to play for us. I’ve had several compliments on my book’s title. But I can’t take full credit, as they’re cribbed from Michael’s song, “In Carnival Time”: “If this is the high life, I’ll take the dirt path”.

And concluding:

For this book couldn’t have been produced without the direct involvement and support of our entire community. Of course, I want to thank you all for being here today. But I know equally that there are many who wish they could be but aren’t able. I think in particular of Patrick Troy and Peter Wilkins. Also, some who have passed from our number in the time it’s taken me to finish the book: Phillip Crotty, David Unwin, Renald Navilli, and ’pling (whose photographs so graciously accompany my pages). This, of course, is a celebration of the magnetic force of David Branson. But it’s equally a celebration of the upward spiral of the community which he so richly engendered. As David would have said, “Love you, love your work!”. So please, raise your glasses and toast: “Creative Community!”

Louise Morris speaks © Brian Rope

Those in the audience who happened to have a glass of something in their hands raised them as directed. Joel then invited Mikelangelo and friends to sing us a song. They take the stage and perform below a projected poster for the book featuring the image of David Branson. In their inimitable style they entertain us and speak of David. They then take seats at the rear of the stage.

Mikelangelo introduces the Gentlemen © Brian Rope

Next Joel invites Liz, Paul and Louise, each in turn, to join him. He reads his own words from the book, whilst they read words spoken by them years ago when interviewed for the book. Words that Paul later tells me he didn’t remember saying. All of this is well received by the large audience.

Liz Bishop reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Paul Branson reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Louise Morris reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope

After that it is Fred Smith’s turn, accompanied by Pip. Fred sings his new song about David whilst a video of ‘pling’s images of David plays on the screen above him. Pip plays his violin beautifully to accompany Fred. This is a truly emotional moment for all who were closest to David, indeed for everyone. Then Pip speaks about David and what he meant to him. More emotion!

Pip Branson plays violin whilst Fred Smith sings © Brian Rope
Pip Branson speaks about David © Brian Rope

To bring the actual launch to a close we are treated to more Black Gentlemen, ending with Mikelangelo being unable to resist removing his jacket and throwing it (landing at my feet), waving his arse at us all, then climbing into, over and onto the audience.

Black Sea Gentlemen finale © Brian Rope
Applause as the Gentlemen depart the stage © Brian Rope

Joel thanked everyone and invited all to return to the foyer for refreshments. Later in the foyer a friend confided to me that he thought Mikelangelo took the focus off Joel. I replied – but it is exactly what David would have done when he had such an opportunity.

Thanks, from Joel © Brian Rope

Back in the foyer Joel signed more books, we ate provided food, drank more, laughed, cried and talked until the staff packed up around us and, eventually, closed the doors. All a bit of a blur really!

More book signings by Joel © Brian Rope

Gemma Clare, who plays cello with The Gadflys amongst other groups, is speaking with Louise Morris – and I do believe that is Marc Mowbray, the Piano Guy, with them. Nearby, there’s a smiling Helen Musa, OAM – art journalist and critic, Canberra City News Arts Editor, founder and Convenor of the Canberra Critics Circle, consultant at the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

Louise Morris speaks with Marc Mowbray and Gemma Clare with cello – Helen Musa smiling on right edge of frame © Brian Rope

Rev. Dr. Bruce Stevens – founder of Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology, currently providing pastoral care to folk from St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett which the Swadlings, Bransons, and Bishops all have connections with – says he enjoyed it immensely. Sue Wilson – who recognised Bruce Stevens and says he saved her life at a difficult time – also had a great time.

Megan – wife of Pip Branson – and their children are having fun. Simon Clarke – lay preacher at St Margaret’s – is in animated conversation with Margaret Hunt.

All a blur – Margaret Hunt speaks with Simon Clarke © Brian Rope

John Goss – chair of the church council at St Margaret’s and Mark Bishop – husband of Liz – are catching up with her and with Rev Paul Swadling who used to be the Minister at St Margaret’s.

John Goss, Mark & Liz Bishop, Paul Swadling © Brian Rope

There’s Fiona Edge – graphic designer (whom I first met when she did design work for the Deafness Forum of Australia when I was its CEO for 10 years) and with personal links to ‘pling (Kevin Prideaux, 1955-2018) who was deeply respected within the arts community for his continued passion, love and support. His photographic legacy is an immense record of the Canberra theatre/music scene from 1970s – 2010s. It is his photographs that feature in Joel’s book and on Fred Smith’s video of his song about David.

Ben Drysdale – actor, director, drama tutor, musician, events coordinator and Creative Producer at Canberra’s Rebus award-winning, mixed-ability Theatre Company in Canberra, which seeks to stimulate social change and healing and with which Joel performs – is enjoying a beer whilst chatting with Fiona Edge and Fred Smith.

Fiona Edge, Fred Smith and Ben Drysdale © Brian Rope

The book launch was over. Joel had much to be pleased about – not the least the large volume of book sales! His family and friends were proud of him. And the launch was a fine celebration of David in a place where he is permanently remembered.

David Branson memorial plaque © Brian Rope
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David Branson (aka Señor Handsome)

David Branson was born in Melbourne in 1963 and moved with his parents to Canberra in 1965. He was a regular churchgoer and a church youth group member at St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett, an inner north suburb of Canberra. From 1970 onwards, I knew him (and his family) through the church. He was a good friend to me and my now wife when our previous marriages to others from the church ended.

David has been described as a dynamic thespian and theatre-worker. He worked with community groups, youth theatres, repertory theatre, and groups of his own devising to create innumerable productions. He played the violin in the Canberra Youth Orchestra and in various local bands.

In 1985 David, together with Ross Cameron, John Utans and Patrick Troy, founded Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. The company staged several large productions, sometimes involving hundreds of people, fire sculptures, giant puppets and large moving metal sculptures. Early performances were at a now-demolished weatherboard cottage in the Canberra suburb of Downer, the Causeway Hall at the suburb of Kingston, and backyards in the inner north. They made good use of crowd manipulation. During his time with Splinters, David was involved in more than twenty productions including Cathedral of Flesh (1992) – winner of Best Promenade Theatre Performance Award in the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

After theatre studies in Melbourne, David worked as an actor with many different companies including La Mama, one of Melbourne‘s oldest and most fondly regarded theatres. As a director he staged The Threepenny Opera and Handel’s Ariodante. His Ribbons of Steel used a mix of archival material, interpretive art, sculpture and photographic exhibits, to mark the closure of Newcastle’s BHP steel works. He remained with Splinters until 1996 when he became the Artistic Director of Culturally Innovative Arts, which he founded with Louise Morris.

David remained a Canberra identity, dividing his time largely between Canberra and Melbourne. In Canberra he hosted the Terrace Sessions at the Terrace Bar and the Salons at the Street at the Street Theatre, where many avant-garde performances were staged. He thumbed his nose at the establishment but won a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in 1998. More than once, he was described as the “Mayor of Canberra’s underbelly”.

On 3 March 2001 (coincidentally, my birthday), David performed at the launch of Canberra’s Multicultural Festival in the city’s Civic Square. I was there and managed to squeeze into the large crowd close enough to take some photos of him from the rear.

An upright David Branson performing at the launch of the 2001 Multicultural Festival © Brian Rope
An inverted David Branson performing at the launch of the 2001 Multicultural Festival © Brian Rope

Tragically, later that year on 11 December, David died in a car accident whilst on his way to a last-minute Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen concert rehearsal. Under the pseudonym Señor Handsome, David was a founding member, and violinist, of the cabaret group.

A few days later I was part of an over-capacity crowd of over 200 people attending his funeral at St Margaret’s, spilling outside. And a large crowd performed and attended memorials at the Street Theatre in Canberra (which I also went to) and the Trades Hall in Melbourne. Branson Street in the Canberra suburb of Dunlop in the Belconnen region of Canberra is named after David. A plaque was placed on the ACT Honour Walk to commemorate David as part of the first group of honourees in 2005. And there is also a plaque in the foyer of the Street Theatre.

The Black Sea Gentlemen comprises five stellar performers whose roots run deep in the Canberra music scene – Michael Simic on guitar, Pip Branson (one of David’s younger brothers – who took his place amongst the Gentlemen) on violin, Phil Moriarty on clarinet, Guy Freer on accordion and Sam Martin on double bass. The group has packed houses from the Sydney Opera House to London’s West End, releasing four albums and building a dedicated following in Canberra and around the world. During the Easter 2015 National Folk Festival in Canberra, I photographed them performing to an enthusiastic full house.

Michael Simic (Mikelangelo) performing at the 2015 NFF © Brian Rope
Some of The Black Sea Gentlemen performing at the 2015 NFF,
Left to right: Guido Libido, Rufino (Pip Branson), Mikelangelo © Brian Rope

On 11 December 2011, the 10th anniversary of David’s death, the Black Sea Gentlemen joined with The Street Theatre to hold a tribute afternoon of performances, stories, music and a barbecue in the forecourt. Now, 20 years after David’s death, the band will again pay tribute to their friend, brother and founding member with a very special one-off David Branson 20th Anniversary Concert at the Canberra Theatre Playhouse on Friday 10 December 2021.

The following day (the exact 20th anniversary of David’s death) the Black Sea Gentlemen will perform again in the foyer of the Street Theatre during the launch of a biographical book about David.

The author, Joel Swadling, holds a Graduate Diploma in Writing from the University of Technology Sydney. He is also one of my stepsons. And he was a close personal friend of David Branson, and part of St Margaret’s church. Joel lived for a time in a flat at the home of David’s mother, a place where David himself had previously lived. Whilst there, Joel sorted through boxes of material about David’s involvements in the arts scene, particularly relating to Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. Joel was the archivist on the arrangement and description of those David Branson Papers at the ACT Heritage Library.

Joel’s book about David is titled If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. Soft and hard cover versions of the book will, of course, be available for purchase at the launch; also from “all good bookshops” in Canberra and online. There is also an e-Book option online.

My wife Robyn, Joel’s mother, assisted greatly with the book, transcribing all the author’s interviews. I had a modest involvement – assisting Joel to place wonderful photos by the late Canberra performance photographer, Kevin Prideaux; helping to create the cover design; and taking the image of Joel that he used as his author’s photo.

Author Portrait © Brian Rope

Joel dedicated the book to his “two loving mums”, Robyn and Margaret Hunt. He also both of them and myself in his acknowledgments. And it was very special to read mention of Robyn and myself in Joel’s personal reflections on his friend at the front of the book.

“Around the same time, my parents divorced, and my mother formed a relationship with a man from the church community. Confused and angry, I turned to David for advice. ‘He’s a good man. You’ve got nothing to worry about.’

In the early years of their relationship, they were pretty much ostracised from their friends and former church community, but David always greeted them in public with jubilant affection, and this remains my mother’s overriding memory of him.

I have enjoyed a full and rich relationship with my stepfather for close to twenty-five years. I can’t help feeling that David started us on this path to familial fulfilment.”

With the book complete and an initial stock of copies delivered to him, the next task for Joel (and others) has been to organise the launch and promote both it and the book. Posters and postcards have found their way to bookstores, assorted businesses frequented by folk who would have known David, St Margaret’s church, The Street Theatre, notice boards and more.

Joel Swadling pointing to his book poster that he put up on a Dickson wall © Brian Rope

Interviews with Joel have been, or are being, conducted – including by Barbie Robinson for her Living Arts Canberra podcast, and Arne Sjostedt (aka Fealing) for The Canberra Times. Copies of the book are being reviewed by some Canberra arts scene critics who knew, and greatly admired, David.

I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.

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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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Personal Story, Photography Story

A Child’s First Photos

I took my first photos on my first camera when I was nine years old. I probably had taken a few on my mum’s camera before then, but I don’t know for certain. I’ve recently realised that my son, Darren, took his first photos when he was eight.

In 1978 my then family embarked on a major holiday lasting six and a half months. My then wife, Denise, kept a detailed diary of our adventures. Recently she started another journey to create an illustrated book of the trip. She contacted me seeking photographs she might use in her book. Searching for possibilities I came across a few rolls of film negatives taken by our son, including some taken in 1977.

They are not superb photos, but neither were my first ones. It was great though to rediscover Darren’s early images; a reminder that we all can start our photography journeys early in life. Of course, not everyone really continues on their journey. For some, such as me, it becomes a passion – and we constantly strive to do better. For others, such as Darren, it does not develop into anything particularly special in their lives. Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at some of his early images.

Darren’s sister, Melinda, with their paternal grandparents, Jim and Eileen, outside our then home, Canberra, Christmastime 1977

Denise and me at her parents’ coast cottage, Malua Bay, NSW, Australia, Christmastime 1977

Jim, Jamie, Meg and Wendy (friends traveling with us) and Denise, Royal Circus, Bath, England, April 1978

The old church, Norton St Phillip, England, April 1978

Jamie (top), Melinda (bottom left) and Wendy, Norton St Phillip, England in April 1978

Melinda, me and Denise, Stonehenge, England, April 1978

Melinda, Denise, my cousin Peter with one of his children, me and Peter’s wife Paula with their other child, at home, Plymouth, England, April 1978

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