Autobiography, Personal Story, Photography Story

Transitioning to adult life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Duffy Street home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1958-59 – Transitioning from school to the workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1956-58 – Teenage Years in Goulburn

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

View from bedroom window at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

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

Snowmen at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Autobiography

1955 – Next Stop – the NSW Southern Tablelands

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

The entry road at Werriwa (2013) © Brian Rope

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

Entrance to Goulburn Railway Station (2012) © Brian Rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goulburn High School badge (2012) © Brian Rope

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

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