Beverly Hills 1948-57

Photo taken 2014 circ.

We arrived at 39 Cahill Street Beverly Hills in 1948.
This coincided with the birth of my brother, Brian Joseph a.k.a Sam (ad. 2009). It would also be the first home of other siblings:

  • Gregory Philip b. 1950

  • Sue Patricia b. 1952

  • Robyn Kaye (a.k.a Jen) b. 1954

I was to spend the next eight years in this playground of adventure.

A Huge Playground

Cahill street had yet to be bitumen paved (sealed).
Our house was newly constructed and the builder left behind a site office in the form of a gypsy caravan. It was parked outside our front for some considerable time. I remember playing on it pretending I was driving a horse and cart.

I also remember being in this location when my brother John (aged seven or eight) told me that, someday, Man would land on the moon.

The baker made daily deliveries on his horse drawn cart.

There were no refrigerators - only ice trucks. Kids would run out and ask for ice chips.

As regards runs, these were the days of "Night Soil" carts where outdoor toilet canisters were taken away in the dead of the night.

A network of storm water drains converged near Morgan Street and the East Hills suburban electric train-line and drainage ditches were our playgrounds.

Blackberry bushes were everywhere. In season we would be in amongst the prickly thorns picking and eating the sweet nectar. We would hear rustling of snakes in the bushes but the call to the berries was too irresistible. I do firmly believe that if you make enough noise snakes will get out of your way.

The drains had culverts, pipes and sink holes. We were in these like rats up drain pipes.

Again we were oblivious to red back spiders, snakes etc.

Railway bridges were built over the drains. We would climb into the bridges and place ourselves within inches underneath the track and delight at the roar of the eight carriage train passing literally within earshot. It was deafening but thrilling. We also placed pennies and bolts on the railway line to see if the train would flatten them. We gave this up because we could not find them as they would have been skewed off at the speed of a bullet.

God truly looks after drunks and little children

John Babe Paul Maureen Mum Jen Dad Sue (Sam taking the picture)

Unlike the other kids in the block, we always had money to go the pictures on King Georges Road.

We were each given a shilling - sixpence for the movie matinee and sixpence for an ice cream and packet of crisps.

The matinee featured a serial x 15 weeks; a first movie; an interval and then the main movie.

We would then go home with these fantasies in our head and make guns out of wooden pegs from the clothes line and play cops 'n robbers, cowboys and Indians, and war heroes ad nausea.

The more movies we saw, the more we would imagine, the more we were cocooned from reality.

A door to door salesman sold mum a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica for which we became avid readers.

The radio was our main source of night entertainment. We would listen to the exploits of Smoky Dawson and Hop Harrigan as well as something about aboriginals and "dreamtime" - which made perfect sense.

Bonfire Night 24 May

Across the railway line was virgin bushland.

Empire Day was big in our family agenda. We got a holiday from school and we built bonfires spent lots of money on fireworks. John and myself went ferreting for trees across the railway line. We dragged them through the drains and the up the street to the front of our house.

We used to meet the public school kids in the drain and have spats throwing stones.

Later, Sam and I took over cutting lugging and carting. The water in the drains was suspect - green and slimy. The trees would get drenched and we would man handle the wet branches.

We were forever coming out in warts, boils sties and other forms of skin problems.

We poached the neighbourhood for empty cordial bottles where we got threepence for their return at the green grocer stores. We also got a penny for each pound weight of used newspaper we sold to the shop merchants who used the paper for wrapping up produce.

Neighbours would contribute to the bonfire. We got their broken chairs; boxes paper etc. Some even contributed a few shillings towards our bank of fireworks.

Bungers were my favourite. Late May in Sydney was cold. The roaring bonfire felt great the heat was intense as it lit up the night sky. The next day was spending scouring over bonfire sites looking for unspent crackers and the sticks of sky rockets. We used these sticks to make kites using brown paper and string.

Catholic Primary School

Aged five I trudged off up the hill with John and Babe to the Regina Caelie Catholic primary school.

I clearly remember Day One - where mums were coercing "cry-babies" to let go of their dresses and go into class.

I could not understand why they were crying - it was an adventure.

We did not have pen and pencils. We had slate boards and crayons we learnt the alphabet practicing and rubbing out and doing it again and again.

Catechism was forced down our throats. I was also recruited as an altar boy.

Off we went to Mark Foys in town to get kitted up in the red caftan white blouse, studs, collars and other tapestries. I do remember the quality and fineness of the material and thought church must be rich to give out this stuff.

Being an altar boy meant getting up in the dark hours of the morning for 7 am Mass.

We would often get there earlier than the priest and go about opening up.

One morning I came out of the vestibule and in the darkness but light by glowing candlelight was a coffin.

It completely shocked me - it was my first encounter with death. I was not ready for it.

The government sponsored a free milk campaign. Each play time there were crates and crates of it laid out in a shaded area of the playground. We could drink as much as we wanted.

We even had flavoured milk in one sustained period.

When summer came, however, it was tedious drinking the hot stuff - which was compulsory.

On a clear day we could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It had only been completed 20 years earlier and the sight of it still sparked popular enthusiasm for its grandeur an engineering marvel.

Those kids fortunate to be taken to the Pylon look-outs would tell all the kids about it. So we looked at it in awe.

At school play-time was superb. Everyone was amazed that I could stand on my head. We played force-em back - kick the ball; mark; 3 steps forward for a catch on the full; kick the ball again.

Cigarette cards were converted to flat objects - for what purpose I don't remember.

We threw bottle tops against the wall with whoever and the nearest had first chance to put them all on the elbow. Then with a swift flick of the arm you had to catch them. Those you caught you kept.

We also played marbles and "piggy-in-the-middle". This was a game where one person was in the middle of a defined space. Everybody had to run from one end to another without getting tagged. Those who got tagged joined the people in the middle in the end it was many against a few.

I did not mind the hand-me-down clothes but the nuns at school ridiculed me because the fabric had faded in on the seat of my one pair of school trousers so I had "holes in my bottom".

I was amazed when I went to a friend's place to see his mother iron a set of three pairs of school shorts.

There were holes in my socks as the leather of the souls had worn through. Amusing now when you imagine a well presented altar boy kneeling away from you exposing his "holy souls".

To top it off, for years I had a green film on my teeth. This was fixed in a single visit to the dentist.

Feral Kids

As mum slipped into alcoholism, I slipped into being feral.

Sam and I would go into Woolworths and steal chocolates.

If we noticed that staff were watching us we would bolt directly across busy King Georges Road in the hopeful knowledge that cars would avoid us.

The staff never dared chase. We used to steal comics from the back garage of the local newsagent.

We would also jump over the back yard of neighbours and "steal" from the abundant fruit trees.

Truth be known, these kind neighbours would have given us - everything was in abundance.

My Father

Dad owned a big black Buick. I wished he didn't.

At school I was marked as being a rich kid.

Eventually the Buick was gone and dad went looking for work down in the Cooma district as the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme was underway.

Dad owed the bank a lot of money.

There was one incidence when I was playing in the back yard.

Out rushed dad. "Wow he is going to play with me".

He went straight past me and over the fence through the blackberry briars and out onto Lee Avenue.

The bailiffs were at the front door.

Dad was a lovable rogue who taught us all the tricks - like going to a public telephone and shouting in the ear piece to leave a message.

He seemed more religious than mum. He prayed at night and regularly went to Sunday church.

He went to the school concerts and was interested in and commented on the religious politics of the day - whatever they were.

Migrant workers travelling to a job

On top of house clearing electricity wires

Dad moving a two story house to make way for dam innundation

Migrant workers relaxing in the camp

The Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme

The scheme was made up of 225 kilometres of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts, sixteen major dams, nine power stations and a pumping station, the entire Scheme covered a mountainous area of 5,124 square kilometres in southern New South Wales.

John and I would visit dad at Cooma in the school holidays.

He had a single room on the top floor of Dodd's hotel.

He had a heavy haulage contract to deliver materials to the dams and tunnels being built at the base of rugged mountains. He also moved houses.

The railway line from Sydney ended at Cooma. A spur was built to take all materials to the Polo Flat depot. Dad's contract was to take the cement off the railway carriages, cart it to the sites and take it off. He had a cannibalized fleet of WW2 army Mack trucks and a mobile crane for the task.

These were the days before bulk handling. Cement was bagged in 50 lb satchels and man handled off and on carriages. John and I would help.

John had a talent for things mechanical and engineering. At fourteen he could handle the front end crane with precision and was helping dad strip and repair engines.

We would accompany dad to the sites and camps. The icy roads were dangerous. One slip would find the truck tumbling down a steep ravine to instant death. Dad made us stand on the inner side of the cabin stepping board ready to jump. The cabin had no door so that dad could also exit in a hurry. It made traveling freezing.

Traveling from Cooma to the site would be a day trip.

We would stay overnight at the camp. Here was a multicultural mix of artisans, labourers and tradespeople - Italians, Germans, Russians, Poles who a decade earlier were in battles on Europe's Eastern Front. Conditions here were a picnic compared to those days. All played cards - but within their own group.

The Germans were the enforcers. If anyone got out of line they were sorry.

Alcohol especially in the pubs would loosen them up.

In spite of the signs about No Children, I was allowed to wonder in and out of the pub to get pie money from my smiling glowing father. It was an experience. The migrants were also glowing, smiling and bestowing the occasional shilling on John and I.

How could these nice people ever been at war with each other?

Playing League for St George

At aged 9, I went to the De La Salle Brothers primary school in Kingsgrove.

Unlike the Nuns, the brothers knew how to organise sport.

Perhaps we were older and more receptive.

We were divided up in teams and introduced to Rugby League.

The Brothers taught us how to throw a ball how to run with it; tackle and strategise. There was no playing field as the location in Kingsgove was either concrete quadrangles, or a building site (the school was being built around us).

I took to the game like a duck to water. There were inter and intra school competitions and we won regional pennants. I was in the 5 stone 7 pound team. I was a prop. We had won everything in our division. We were in the St George district. Two Australian Kangaroo representatives, Harry Bath and Norm Provan came to our school and presented us with an award. We were chosen to represent the Dragons in a Round Robin competition. We were beaten 0-3 by Canterberry Bankstown.

To this day I am still a St George fan.

Diving into Botany Bay from the pier

Fun ...Fun

The Brothers exposed us to cricket.

As well they organised weekly buses to take us to the Brighton Le Sand baths (see photo). This was a secure swimming enclosure with pontoons and pylons from where you had choices of diving boards, slippery dips or swinging trapezes.

The government also gave us free train fare to go to school.

This meant that we could travel to the Sydney Cricket Ground to cheer the mighty St George along its path to 11 straight Grand Final Premierships.


In 1956 television came to Australia. The Barrys lived next door.

They were childless. The husband was in the navy. He built a TV set that received Free to Air reception.

He was also a ham radio operator. He had a huge wooden tower built in the backyard of his house and you would hear him squawking to fellow operators all around the world - amazing!.

Mum thought it unfair of a tribe of eight kiddies imposing on the Barrys to watch TV.

So we had to go down the a shop front window on King Georges Road and marvel at it together with the nightly crowd of 20-30 avid onlookers.

In the early day it was only on for a couple of hours 6-8 pm? It was fun, fun, fun!

The piano, the radio and the Encyclopaedia Britannica were our only source of home entertainment.

As a girl, mum had taught herself to play the piano. She could play anything, anytime, all the time.

"Play it again Nell" is imprinted on my mind when I think of Aunts and Uncles.

Dark Problems

It was not fun coming home from school.

It was the year of the Olympics 1956. Our father went to Melbourne to see the games.

He also went on cruise on the SS Himalaya - without mum?

He came home stayed a short while and was off again.

The pressure of looking after the family single-handedly and debt got to mum.

Often, in the mid-afternoon, she would be in bed unconscious from the drink.

If she was not unconscious she would be in a foul mood muttering to herself and having a terrific argument with the demons within.

On other occasions we would find her sober but her mind in a far off place while she was tickling the ivory with melodies - such serene short term relief for us!

In those times we simply had to fend for each other.

It was an emotional roller coaster ride.

I mention the above not to explain the pain and torment the siblings had to endure.

They were formative years. It impacted on our individual personalities and psyche and can explain some personal traits. While I do not wish it on anyone, I do believe we endured and all rejoiced when mum got well and are all better and more caring individuals given this experience.

Mum had not even begun to reach rock bottom on this roller coaster ride.

Things got worse as we moved to Cooma in the school summer holidays of 1957.