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!

Standard
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.

Standard
Autobiography

1955 – Next Stop – the NSW Southern Tablelands

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

The entry road at Werriwa (2013) © Brian Rope

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

Entrance to Goulburn Railway Station (2012) © Brian Rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goulburn High School badge (2012) © Brian Rope

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

Standard
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.

Standard
Autobiography, Personal Story

My Family’s Migrant Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For her finished story, Gray chose these three images:

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

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

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

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

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

Standard