LIFE ON THE CRESCENT
(Nothing ever happens at Doonside)
Our address was:
Staff Cottage No. 8, OTC
Doonside Crescent, Doonside.
Our parents insisted that this was how we were to write it & write it we did! You didn’t argue with your parents in those days. We had the longest address in our respective classes! More than fifty years later it is still burned into my memory! Why were we at this place in the middle of nowhere? Apparently, the houses were purpose-built for people like our Dad, a family man, who had been travelling many miles to get to work. Our parents paid rent, but as to how much, well they never discussed money & we would never be brazen enough to look at Dad’s pay envelope on which all of these details were written.
In this house we spent the most integral part of our lives. My brother & I loved it there. No houses were “islands”, none had protective fencing, nor was there a fear of the night & what it might bring. We felt safe in our little community, or as one man put it our: “space-aged” microcosm. Our house was to us a roomy, three bedroom, brick home, with an inside laundry & toilet! My school friends’ homes had outside toilets.
I was in disbelief when I heard that their toilets were emptied by men called: “night soil men”, not to mention the incredible stories that were attached to the aforementioned!
Opposite our home was a “common”, just a large section of grass (& bindis) on which there was a tennis court. Yes, a tennis court! (I have been reliably informed that Bringelly OTC had a swimming pool!) We played many a lack-lustre game on that much loved clay court, with only two ancient tennis balls between us & no ball boys or girls to fetch the balls that were lobbed over the high fences. By “us”, I mean in particular, the Simms & the two Woods families & of course, we two Ritchie kids. I recall having an in depth discussion about Margaret Court when she was in the finals in the Australian Open (I think); we all agreed, using our combined wisdom about the game, that she was always far too nervous & just wouldn’t be able to get over these nerves to beat whoever it was she was playing! She won.
We never had “strangers” play on our court, unless you include the Ladies Tennis Club of course, but they weren’t really serious players were they!
The “Common” was also witness to home-made go-kart races (thanks to the boy we called The Professor-Michael Mahoney who was a genius go-kart maker) & to many a fabulous Cracker Night. We would collect wood for weeks in anticipation & our Dads were able to buy a huge bag of crackers at work for each of us. Those nights saw the odd letter-box meet its demise with a “tuppenny bunger”; today’s kids didn’t invent this ridiculous prank! When the Cracker Night was held at Bringelly, we were a bit disappointed at first. I thought we would never arrive & it was so far out in the sticks! How wrong we were. It was truly fantastic. The bonfire was enormous! We could run around with our ration of crackers unsupervised, leaving our parents somewhere. The OTC would put on a big fireworks display & at the end of the night we would have sticks in the embers loaded with bread or marshmallows. To my knowledge no child was harmed in these nights of frivolity!
There was never nothing happening at the OTC “cottages”. Behind our house, & a mere 10 minute walk across the paddocks, was a very much alive Eastern Creek. I recall having a friend over one summer day. Off we went with our slab meat sandwiches & bottle of made up cordial down to the creek for an adventure picnic. Once there, we found a nice little spot where the water was flowing quickly & where we could pretend we were making a little hideaway. We put the cordial into the cold water for later & when we were organized, ate & drank just like “The Famous Five”. The creek really was beautiful in our day; the water was crystal clear & it was pure escapism with the water flowing noisily over rocks & around grassy banks, exposing little pieces of earth that we could pretend were our secret islands.
The “paddock” was an important part of life too. There were many cows wandering around in the “top” paddock & when I asked Dad about their presence, he said in a fairly flat tone that the butcher paid to have them graze there. I had an innate sense of foreboding, so I cut that conversation short. Apart from the “cows” there was an old horse for which we felt very sorry. She looked ancient & behaved like an unloved, unwanted old girl. For this reason we would feed her any left over bread, apples, carrots & so on, over the barbed wire fence. We declared her name to be Sally, & no, I don’t know why. All my family fed her without a problem: “Hold your hand flat so she can’t bite you.” I did! What they didn’t tell me was that one should never turn one’s back on an old horse, or maybe that should be ANY horse. She bit my back & literally pushed me sprawling several feet across the “house” paddock; of course I howled & she was not my friend anymore! I suffered for quite some time with the bruising. Do I have a fear of horses? OF COURSE I DO!!
It was the paddock that saw some of the Crescent’s teenagers practise their driving “skills”. My brother worked a milk run before school & always, during the holidays, found some sort of job to earn money, so he had the “wheels”: an FJ or is that an FX Holden, with no floor. He used to take me to school in it & the girls at school drooled over him & his car. Anyway, I had a go at driving it in the paddock. Strangely, I don’t have a fear of cars, but I should have, because I “drove” it straight down a slope towards a muddy ditch; that would have been fine, except that there was a huge tree trunk before the ditch & I managed to “hang” the car up on the log & it took the boys quite a while to lever the old girl off. I drive quite well today…I think.
The paddock was also a “greenie’s” dream. Sometimes Dad would walk across the paddock to or from work, depending whether Mum needed the car. When Dad walked home from night shift in colder weather, he would often collect mushrooms. They were huge, & Mum or Dad would put them straight into the buttered frying pan for breakfast. They loved them. They encouraged us to try the upside-down, brown things, but for me, it was all about the cow poo!
On a more ridiculous note, the paddock was also a protector of “sinners”. I always thought Mum was a nagger about cleaning my room. One afternoon, I was outside the back door & could hear her going on about something I hadn’t done; I couldn’t hold it back anymore, “ I just wish she’d shut up!” I mumbled under my breath. Well, all hell broke loose. Mum had heard the word “shut up” & came flying out of the house with the feather duster yelling threatening things at me. I bolted, bare-footed, straight down to the paddock & hid in the grass, crying (I did a lot of that). I knew that Dad would be home from work at 3 o’clock & that he would protect me from a wallop. Well, after an eternity, I peeked over the top of the grass & that’s when I saw Dad coming towards me. I sobbed what had happened & hid behind him all the way back up to the house, safe from Mum’s ire…..for the moment. In retrospect, I am thinking that I should have been more scared of snakes, but my fear of Mum’s retribution would have been, shall we say, uppermost in my 11 year old mind.
Bungarribee House was a part of Doonside’s, & therefore the OTC’s history & was taught to us in 3rd or 4th class at Doonside Primary School. I was so excited & told our teacher that we lived near it & that we went there a lot. Because I was so shy & rarely spoke, I doubt that she even heard me; today I can say, “Her loss!” My brother & the boys would go to the house & I would tag along, but I couldn’t climb to the top of the building, that we knew as the “Barn”, to get inside. I was really jealous that they could see what was inside & I couldn’t! They said that there was just paper & stuff. When I asked Dad, he said that the OTC stored all their old, unwanted paper work there. That was an anti-climax!! I remember that there were thick bars on the windows of what looked like cells on the outer side of the barn, but we worked out that they might have been where they kept horses. Nearby, was what must have been the building where all the horse work was done. There were harnesses, horseshoes, nails for the horses’ hooves & other farrier equipment. It was fantastic! We never, never took anything from this building, leaving it all there for our next visit……
There was rumoured to be an escape tunnel leading from the House to the twin Oleander trees in the paddock; well naturally we looked for it. We started at the twin trees where we found bricks & debris, but I think we needed proper shovels, not spoons, & an archaeological team to find this tunnel…if it did exist!
I have since found out that there was indeed a tunnel, so I am now wishing that we had persevered.
Near the Barn was an enormous fig tree, with big spaces between the old roots so you could hide from each other, but even better, there were strange marks in the tree; these marks, we decided, were the whip marks from all those poor convicts being punished. I hope we were wrong.
With any old building comes a story of some kind involving ghosts & haunting. My Dad told us that when one OTC worker was walking home after night shift, he saw an apparition sitting on a post. That was enough for us to believe; after all, this was an adult who saw the ghost! We therefore never went there at night….ah, no, that’s not quite true. There was a dare amongst us kids to go up there one night; so with a couple of flashlights, we set out. Looking back, I have no idea how we even escaped from our homes undetected so late at night, around 9 or 10 p.m. The boys went ahead of my OTC friend & me, then came bolting out of the darkness, flashlights darting all over the paddocks as they fled from the Barn yelling out some rubbish story about ghosts, so my friend & me ran home. The stunt the boys had pulled became fodder with which to tease us for a while, until the next “event” they dreamed up.
I would be less than truthful if I didn’t admit that there were some downsides to living in this beautiful little oasis. Walking to school in Winter was “bracing”. By the time I arrived at school, I honestly had icy crystals on my poor legs; those were the days of box-pleat winter tunics, no trousers then. Walking home in Summer was just as horrendous. I think now as I peer back & look at the reality of the times, I can see that we never really shared our life at the Crescent with school friends. The distance from the centre of Doonside was an obvious problem; a car was a necessity & my friends’ parents did not possess any such transport. The day I had that friend over for the “picnic” at the creek Dad had the car at work so I had to walk to her place to get her, walk with her back to the Crescent, then walk her home & walk back home alone. That was the only time I ever had a friend over.
My friends lived in “housing commission” homes or what Mum & Dad called “war service” homes. These names meant nothing to me then. I just knew that when I visited them, their parents were usually reluctant to have me, & I could see that their houses were quite small & that the décor was not what my Mum had. I don’t ever remember seeing my girlfriends as lesser kids, in fact they were highly intelligent & I felt a bit inferior. The ultra smart Michael Knight was in our class, leaving us at the end of Year 11 for a private school. There were never discussions about “class” at our place so there was no false judgement. Mind you I was put in my place one day when a friend told me that when I first arrived in 3rd class, she thought I was a “native”!! Our years in New Guinea had given me a bit of a tan apparently.
There are so many stories both good & bad, along with brilliant memories attached to Doonside; many of them may seem quite trivial, yet when it is you who have experienced them, they take on a vastly different & more meaningful relevance to your life. I expect that all of us could write a book about our experiences, but sometimes you just can’t do justice to your own life.
Lorraine Thomas (nee Ritchie)