1930-1939: Early Memories
In my 72nd year I realise how little I know about my mother and father – they were always there and in reality were, for me, my Mum and Dad; not individual people with their own stories.
This becomes very apparent when my son or daughter asks me questions about them and I have forgotten the details, or never knew them. They remember their grandparents with affection but now switch off, the way I used to do, when the stories get more difficult to piece together.
With a feeling of reluctance and also relief I find it time to record my early memories and the events which have influenced my life. The reluctance is due to the knowledge of how much is missing, the relief to the fact I have started at last.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmens) wrote “the farther back I go the better I remember things whether they happened or not.” This is particularly true of all our memories and I seek your indulgence in any inconsistencies. These are not intended to cloud the issue and few people would be aware of them. It could be, that was the way I saw it at the time, or, as the years have passed my mind is playing tricks as I recall those early memories.
Mum and Dad
My mother, Eunice Ethel May Kelly, was the eldest of eight children; Eunice, Les, Joyce, Roy, Dorothy, Marjory and twins Gwen and Fred. She was born 15th June 1903 and grew up in the Isis District at South Isis where her parents had a cane farm three miles from Childers on the Howard Road on the Bruce Highway. She trained as a nurse in Brisbane and that was where she met my father. John Alfred Beath, later known as Jack Beath. She was an incredibly capable woman, gifted in homemaking and in all the arts of needlework. She held very high standards for herself and those who belonged to her.
I can see now that my father was a handsome, proud man with a winning way but with a short fuse. I remember him with an artificial leg and I can’t be sure which one it was – yes, it was the right leg above the knee. His story would make another book – but, unfortunately, it is lost.
He was born on 15th December 1897 at Wangrah near Cooma, according to an entry in the Register of Births, Sydney; however, my birth certificate, registered on 16th January 1930, records his age as 31 years which would mark his birth as1898/9. There is also a record of an AIF Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad which records: John August Beathe age 17 years 7 months dated 13th July 1916 marking the year of his birth as 1899. This fits in with the dad’s story that he put his age up to enlist in world war one and that he changed his name from Ernest August Beathe to John Alfred Beath. My father had a twin sister Ester (Hell) and they were the youngest of ten surviving children, namely Frederick, Sarah, Minnie, James, Antoinette, David, Cecilia, Elve, Ester and Ernest (twins).
My parents were married on 9th June 1928 and I was born on the 6th January 1930. I was named John Hemsley Beath, the middle name for Doctor Hemsley who had saved my mother’s life after a difficult birth. I arrived in the middle of the great depression when we were living at Scoffs Beach Redcliffe. A very early recollection I have of that time was of a youngster holding on to the stem of a dinghy, unfortunately he almost drowned; another memory is of visiting a house adjoining extreme tidal mud flats and I recall it today as looking something like a farm.
My parents owned a car, a 1926-7 National Chevrolet Tourer, and Dad could somehow manage the clutch, brake and accelerator with his one leg and with the aid of handbrake and hand throttle. I remember the car having a crank handle and spark advance, also retard levers at the steering wheel.
I was about 4 years old when we moved from Redcliffe to Wynnum and I have vague recollections of my parents looking at various places they might buy; these included a run-down farm house but they eventually bought a war service home at Wynnum Central which at that time was developing as a working mans’ bay-side suburb situated on the south-side, twelve miles from Brisbane.
The house was a conventional two bedroom weather board dwelling with a small veranda and was highset, about 6 feet off the ground, with two enclosed rooms below, one with a cast porcelain-enamel bath and the other a spare room for storage. The clothes line consisted of 3 runs of galvanised wire running between two posts set in the ground, each with a cross arm secured with a centre bolt. The arms could rotate and the height of one line could be adjusted but care had to be taken when walking under the clothes line. The house was set on round hardwood posts or house stumps set two feet into the ground and the area was enclosed by hardwood battens. It was typical of the other houses in that area, complete with wood stoves, concrete laundry tubs, cast iron boiler stand with copper tub, chip heater for bath, 2000 gallon rainwater tank, and toilet, or ‘thunder box’, near the back fence. The house was on a 32 perch corner allotment facing north-east. This north-east aspect, which caught the morning sun, was a prerequisite of my mothers.
Two acre blocks, split into 10 to 12 allotments, was the initial subdivision; approximately one-third of the allotments already had houses built on them, the remaining vacant ones were overgrown with bush trees of various size and species. The streets were gravel and there were no formed drains or footpaths. The railway line divided the suburb and we were on the wrong side of the track. Steam trains ran from Manly to the terminus station at South Brisbane which was adjacent to the interstate terminus. There was talk of connecting this line to the city but that was to happen many years later. A big problem was the differing track gauges, Queensland 3 1/2 – 6 1/2 “, New South Wales 4 1/2 – 8 ½”.
Commuters to the city from South Brisbane either walked or caught a train across Victoria Bridge. There was a rail motor service from Manly to Cleveland affectionately referred to as the “Rattler”. Brisbane was divided by the Brisbane River, so you became either a ‘north sider’ or a ‘south sider’ and it is surprising how many people remained on one side of the river. Transport to Brisbane took about one hour either by train or bus.
The railway was an important mover of people and goods There was a railway siding at Wynnum station and Manly station where goods trains could be loaded or off-loaded and the locomotives were steam engines. Smaller goods and packages were carried in the guards van. Of course each station was manned by a station master or station mistress and often a railway porter or junior porter. Where roads crossed the railway line next to stations railway gates were erected so as to close the road when trains went through; this was a constant source of work. The carriages were a work of art. The suburban ones were generally like a toast rack with two seats facing each other and with a door each end for access. There was a slide-up window and a slide-up window louvre screen at each end of the seat and also in each door. There was often another type of carriage with a central isle opening to a balcony and access from each end of the carriage.
Regular commuters sat in the same seat each day with their friends and it was not unusual to have to stand for part of the trip to town . The trains ran from early morning to midnight, and if you dozed off to sleep on the last train you ended up at Manly station. A lasting memory I have of steam train travelling is the occasional fleck of coal dust finding its way into my eye through the carriage window. However, the trains were reliable and provided an affordable service.
There were three bus companies, Black and White; Blue and White; and Pioneer and these provided a service for those remote from the railway. They had the advantage of having a terminus in the city at North Quay so you did not have to cross the river as for the train where the terminus was at South Brisbane.
The Wynnum Manly district was quite large, consisting of Lota, Manly, Wynnum Central, Wynnum , Wynnum West and Wynnun North and was popular as a bayside suburb. Our house at Wynnum Central was close to transport, four blocks from the station and two blocks to the bus stop. The Waterloo Bay foreshore extended from Blacks Camp, near the Boat Passage, and Fisherman Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River, around to Lota Creek, and most of the sea walls were constructed by ” relief work ” carried out during the depression years. WaterlooBay was bounded by the foreshore and King Island off Wellington Point, then Green Island , St. Helena Island and Mud Island. This was a wonderful area for children to grow up in, for swimming fishing picnicking and boating were all part of our lives.
The foreshores were of a sandy mud with low tide mark about one to two hundred metres from the sea wall. Under certain weather conditions sand built up at the base of the wall and sand castle competitions were organised. High tide mark came well up the wall and waves slopped on to and over the top in certain wind and tide combinations.
There were three timber jetties, one at Wynnum to the west of Wynnum creek, one at Wynnum Central, and the third at Manly; all extended beyond low water mark and each had a swimming enclosure and change cubicles. The enclosure was constructed using hardwood battens between timber piles spaced so as to keep sharks out, but jelly fish had free entry. These were favourite spots at high tides especially at week- ends. Manly jetty had a building at the end with fun machines like pin ball machines today. There was also several moving picture machines in which you inserted one or two pennies , turned the handle and looked into the viewer at the animated pictures flipping over. The Lady from Spain was my favourite.
Manly also had an enclosed pool adjoining the shore at the jetty approach. This was the “Manly Baths” which were thirty three yards long; two foot six inches at the shallow end and six foot six inches at the deep end where two diving boards were located. This was a saltwater pool emptied regularly and filled with water from the harbour. All local schools used it for their swimming carnivals. At Wynnum Central a wading pond was constructed near the jetty approach, it had concrete walls to sea wall level, a sandy floor, and flood gates set in concrete abutments to fill or empty the pool. There was a slippery slide one end and change cubicles at the other end. The depth at the centre would be around three to four feet and the pool was affectionately referred to as the “duck pond”. There was also a small bathing enclosure where the sisters or nuns from the convent could swim in privacy. It was a small jetty off the foreshore down from the convent with a change shed and enclosure at the end.
Lota creek was larger with mangrove banks and a shallow winding entrance leading to a junction with Tingalpa creek. Here there were moorings for larger vessels and a slipway also operated in Lota creek. The two railway bridges restricted navigation and Lota seemed to be the end of the earth with local knowledge needed to navigate the channel.
The Bat Passage provided ready access to the Brisbane River for vessels crossing Waterloo Bay from the east. It had about two feet of water at low tide. The fruit boat from the southern Moreton Bay islands was a regular user taking fruit from the islands to the Brisbane markets, twelve miles up the river. It had been purposely built for the job, with a shallow draft and a short mast and jib boom crane and its silhouette made it readily recognisable.
Each suburb had its primary state school and there was a convent school at Manly and Wynnum Central. There was a private girls school on Bay Terrace Wynnum Central run by the Misses Green, sisters of a former mayor of the district when Wynnum was a municipality before the formation of the Brisbane City Council. There was no interaction between the state and convent schools and this division was basically between protestant and catholic and was evident for many years. Primary school started about age five and went to grade seven when the scholarship and intermediate examinations were set for entry to high school around age thirteen when you could leave school. The general prerequisites for a job were: scholarship for an apprenticeship, junior certificate for a job in a bank, insurance company, or public service, and senior certificate for matriculation to university. So it was that the Scholarship exam was usually taken at age thirteen, Junior exam at age fifteen and senior exam at age seventeen.
My memories of school come with grade one when Miss Mc Minn was my first teacher. I was left handed and at this point was made to write with my right hand. Even now I am right handed for anything using both hands and left handed where one hand is the requirement, for example, l use a knife and fork conventionally but change a soup or dessert spoon over to my left hand. Tennis is left handed but I’m right-handed for cricket. I subconsciously think I write with my right hand so the other is my left, I’m not dyslexic but I am glad the dark ages of making every child conform have gone. Looking back at school photographs I see that most of the boys were bare footed. The girls wore shoes but it was only a “mummy’s” boy who wore them. It was also a reflection of the hard times families faced financially. Slates, slate pencils, slate cloths, reading books and copy books come to mind together with repetitive tables such as, one plus one etc.
School gardens were planted and it was a sought after task to water the gardens during class hours, as was the cleaning of the board with a felt duster. Later we used pen and ink, each desk having it’s own ink-well; keeping them full, using Simpsons ink, was another task. Ink pens consisted of a timber handle with a nib holder into which the steel nib was inserted. I remember the nibs did not stand up to being used as darts. Our headmaster Mr. O’ Neill was, as I remember, a fair but firm man. The ditty which comes to mind runs; Terry O’Neill is a very good man, he goes to church on Sunday, he goes to church on Sunday. He prays to God to give him strength, to whack the kids on Monday. They were the days of “six of the best” either across the open hand or across the backside. You knew what to expect if you broke the rules and there was respect for authority. So school filled in five days a week from nine a.m. to three p.m. with a mid-morning break and a mid-day lunch break. We had our fun outside of school hours and at the week-ends.
Impressions of the facilities and natural landmarks making the area interesting include the park and cricket pitch near the fish market at Wynnum creek. Across from this was Fishers hotel and over the road from the hotel was the billiard saloon and barber shop. On the upstream side of the bridge across Wynnum creek were smaller mud slip moorings and houses abutting on to the creek. At the end of Bay Terrace there was the Waterloo Hotel. This also had a billiard saloon with a barber shop opposite. Starting price or S P bookmaking was a thriving industry. Machins bakery was just down the street from the barber shop. The Manly Hotel served that district. There was a golf club several bowls clubs, croquet club, R S L club, Rugby League and soccer clubs as well as sailing clubs and other sporting bodies which included the Gorden Club.
Our house was midway between Memorial park and Kitchener park. Memorial park adjoining Manly had trees planted after World War 1 in memory of those who did not return. It had a cricket pitch in the middle of a soccer field enclosed with a post and rail fence, there was also a timber pavilion and grandstand. Apart from cricket and soccer the ground was used for visiting circuse. In the late nineteen thirties the area was acquired by the education department and Wynnum High School was built. This was the first state high school other than State High School at South Brisbane to be built for the south side and now students from Cleveland could attend high school at Wynnum rather than travel all the way to the city.
Kitchener park ran between the golf course and the railway line. It had two football ovals and change shed, a croquet court and club building, a bowls club , and the Wynnum scout hall. On the eastern side was the Wynnum Gas works with its floating steel gas storage tank. Through Kitchener park ran Wynnum creek, a trickle of water at times but there was one deep hole where you could swim and mess around in canoes. The canoes were often made from a sheet of corrugated iron bent to shape with the ends turned over and sealed; great things for cuts and scratches This area had clay banks and these were often wet down to make a slippery slide by using palm fronds for the sledge. There was one area near the deep hole where the earth was flattened and the creek bank was about two metres below the park level. The surrounding bush was kept along the creek and this was the local ’two-up’ school. When games were in progress cockatoos were strategically placed to give warning when unwelcome visitors approached.
Not many people had refrigeration. Ice was used to keep food fresh and the ice box was developed to be efficient and a piece of furniture, varying from a wooden box zinc lined to a metal cabinet, top or side opening. The ice-man came regularly in a horse drawn cart. Similarly the milkman came daily with his horse drawn cart. The milk was measured in conical jugs with a flared opening for easy pouring into your milk container. These were sized half pint, pint, quart and gallon, and were filled from a tap fitted into the milk can at the back of the cart The horses knew their run and where to stop. The blacksmith shop and forge in Tingal Road was always a place of interest.
Most houses in suburban Brisbane at the time had external toilets located near the rear fence. The outhouse was built of materials to match the house. Inside was a timber bench seat with the can placed underneath through a small door in the back. Provision was made for a sawdust box and a spike for paper. There was also room for a spare can. It was usual to have a trellis blocking off the view and overgrown with chocos or some similar plants. There were many “thunder boxes” burnt mysteriously, either by a cigarette butt left in the sawdust box, or children lighting paper tapers for fear of the dark, forgetting that sawdust burns. This arrangement was labour intensive, but it worked with depots at Lota and Capalaba, but no one was sorry when many years later the area was sewered.
There was a Singer man who came around regularly selling Singer sewing machines and accessories. He would also do minor adjustments and service the machines. The Rawleighs man was another regular with his suitcase of samples of Rawleigh products for example, ointments, lotions, and soothing balms. My mother dealt with both of these travellers. There was a bakehouse just around the corner and a regular bread-cart delivery. This was the era of the small corner store selling basic needs and we had Mulray’s store just a couple of blocks away. It was also the time when lots of purchases were put on “tick” or “slate” but my mother would do without if she was short of money.
The main shopping centre was on Bay Terrace. This was the time before supermarkets or even cash and carry stores where you serve yourself. Names which come to mind are Birchley’s, Manahan’s, Irvine’s, Farley’s, Sands, Woodforth’s garage, Benjamin’s pharmacy and Patterson’s produce store. Birchley’s on the corner of Bay terrace and Florence street sold most needed household items, groceries and smallgoods. There was a long counter with staff serving customers from behind the counter. Not all items were prepacked so many were weighed and packaged as you read out your order; sugar taken from a bag, bacon cut from a side of bacon, eggs individually wrapped, vegetables were weighed and put into brown paper bags, but a lasting memory is the occasional cone, made from newspaper, and filled with boiled lollies to be given to a youngster; a small item but it wins friends.
Irvine’s Emporium was a family business selling everything, or that’s how it appeared, there was a tool section, hardware, habidashery, clothing and china sections catering to most needs; but, here in Wynnum it was a store with a central cash office on a mezzanine floor where each purchase docket and payment was sent in a tube to the cashier by means of a slingshot and overhead wires. Patterson’s produce store in Tingal road had that distinct smell of the produce they sold; bran,pollard , corn, bales of hay and whatever else was needed for stock, the back yard chook run or farm. This was the day of chaff bags, corn sacks sugar bags and flour bags. Kerosene was sold in four gallon rectangular tins, and in hard times each of these items was put to use for purposes not envisaged at the time of purchase.
There were three picture theatres in the district The Star theatre in Florence Street was owned by Mr. Sam Green, a local identity and former mayor of the district. It was the time of canvas seats , and Mr. Green would rig up a hammock, for small children to sleep in, strung from the top rail of your seat to the one in front. There was also a sound proof mothers’ room in the gallery. There was a fish and chip shop outside the theatre, and also a milk bar and confectionary shop; and across the road another shop where patrons were catered for at interval. Regretfully, many years later, a fire caused the loss of the building and a fireman lost his life. Saturday matinees were well attended by youngsters because Mr Green admitted children whose parents were on “relief work” and it was no surprise to see how many children turned up. The time was vanishing when Browns Store, opposite the theatre, sold ice-blocks for a penny.
The local newspaper was the Waterloo Bay leader published by Mr Sam Green’s brother but it went out of business with the Star Theatre fire. This was replaced by the Wynnum Herald which is still published and each was referred to as the “local rag”. Queensland, at one time, must have been plagued by rats, which resulted in regulations for concrete slabs on the ground, requiring a rat proof wall to be put into the ground around the slab. Councils employed rat gangs, or ratter, to check for rats with their fox terrier dogs. These would get into confined spaces and catch and kill the rodents there. This rat wall requirement remained until just recently, when it was superseded by the Building Code of Australia requirement; Queensland then followed the same requirement as other states. I don’t know if the rat gangs still exist.