Chapter 1: Early Years
Chapter 2: A New School
Chapter 3: Secondary School
In 1939 my father decided we should live closer to his place of business – the Ford Motor Works at Birkenhead – so we shifted from Queen Street, Norwood to Torrens Road, Woodville. This house was purchased by my father for ₤1,000; our family had lived in two rented properties following their arrival in Adelaide from Geelong in 1929 as my father did not believe property was a good investment, at least at that stage of the economy. The first rental property was situated in Highgate and the second in Queen Street, Norwood.
Above: Highgate 1934
Above: Norwood 1938
I was six when we moved house to Woodville and had no friends at our new abode. Next door to our house was a large vacant allotment with many old gums and unkempt grass. Shortly after moving into the Woodville house, I was playing by myself on this block near the street fence when along the footpath came this little kid about my age on the greatest little bike I had ever seen. It was a two-wheeler with proper pneumatic tyres and a proper hand brake. He did a few skids and wheely starts for my benefit and then checked my credentials. Where did I come from, where did I live, and why didn’t I go to school, etc. With such a bike he had to be my instant friend, and besides at the time he was my only friend. Murray Stevens and I were close friends for the next twenty years and I was in his wedding party and he in mine. Now some 70 years later we have renewed our friendship.
For some reason my parents delayed sending me to school for a whole year. Whether it was because they shifted house from Norwood to Woodville during 1939, or whether it was the distraction of the Second World War, or whether it was simply a reluctance on my mother’s part to let her little boy go, I do not know. Probably it was a combination of all three. At all events I was approaching six and a half when I started at Challa Gardens Primary School in 1940. The headmaster I remember was a Mr. Nancarrow, a small kindly man who did not intimidate his little flock.
Murray Stevens (left) and Ross, Woodville, c.1940
We all remember our first day at school – mine was a feeling of isolation and loneliness. I was dropped at the gate. To my shame I recall not wanting my mother to come inside the school gate as I quickly realised that she was much older than the other mothers (she would have been 44 at the time) and her hair was prematurely grey. My oldest sister drove my mother’s little Ford Prefect – she was twenty at the time and I thought she was very pretty, which she was, so I pretended she was my mother. Inside the school gates, and before school began, I stood on the metal shoe scraper against the north facing wall of the junior school hoping the other children would not notice me. I remember nothing else of that first day.
The Second World War started in 1939 so one corner of our play yard was converted into trenches after the bombing of Darwin and we were all supplied with small blue shoulder bags containing our gas masks, a cork to put between our teeth when the bombs exploded, and lollies which were immediately consumed. We were all excited, not at all apprehensive. Our blood groups were taken and recorded on brown plastic discs which we wore around our necks at all times. We purchased sixpenny war saving stamps to stick in a book and there was a competition to see who could fill the most books to help the war effort.
As the war dragged on the school trenches became overgrown with weeds. I recall the overwhelming exhilaration of lying on my back hidden by the tall fresh smelling grass between the trenches, basking in the warm sun and eating my lunchtime sandwiches. Life was blissful on those rare occasions. I remember little of grades one or two. We had regular exams in those days and I think I must have done well in grades one and two because I recall my devastation and disbelief when I was beaten in grade three by a girl, Rosemary Gwynne – the only pretty girl in the class who coincidently lived across the road from us in Woodville. I was very shy and never spoke to her but often thought of her, picturing myself on a white charger and sweeping her off her feet!
I was a child in an adult family at the time, with sisters aged 15, 17, and 20. Lesley aged 15 was the only one still at school attending Woodville High School and doing her intermediate. I was totally humiliated when they said in unison after the grade three exams, ‘Fancy being beaten by a girl’. How times have changed.
After that first week or so in grade one my family tired of dropping me and picking me up every day, and so I was told I had to walk the two miles to and from school along Torrens Road, usually by myself, but on one occasion it was more or less in the company of Rosemary. I say more or less because, not wishing to be seen too close to a girl, I walked in the deep sewage trenches that were being dug on the north side of Torrens Road while she walked along the dirt footpath. Further humiliation when the little Ford Prefect again appeared on the scene together with my mother and Gretta offering us both a ride. I told them we were not together so Rosemary went on alone but of course the truth was obvious. I never let it happen again. Years later our paths crossed once again for the last time. On this occasion Rosemary was on the beach with an old school friend of mine, Lindsay Fleet. Still as pretty. He told me he was going to marry her. Well, I always liked Lindsay; he had a slight polio limp but despite it still managed to play skilful football.
503 Woodville Road during WWII taken by a kindly ETSA worker up the pole
Miss Haden, our grade three teacher, was also pretty in a stern sort of way, but somewhat stricter than I had been used to at home. On Friday afternoons she read books to us, a chapter or so at a time. It was enthralling and kept us all spellbound. We could hardly wait for each Friday episode to come around. The mental images created were so strong that they are with me today. I was not read to as a child – my mother seemed to be occupied with other things or other people and I was left to my own resources. On occasions, however, she did read me Old Testament bible stories which I found boring and unbelievable.
On other Friday afternoons Miss Haden distributed boxed games which we played individually. She distributed them in turn to each pupil, and my vivid recollection is that I often had last pick. I felt this was unfair as I was the smartest kid in the class and all the really good games had been picked by the time my turn came around. In hindsight I guess Miss Haden felt I came from a privileged background and needed a few lessons in life. Probably true. Nevertheless, the abject disappointment I felt at the time was firmly imprinted.
Memories of mortification! One lunchtime I had diarrhoea and the accompanying urgent call. I had no experience of a public toilet. I had been instructed to believe that one never sat on a public toilet as nasty germs and diseases were passed on that way. I know my mother wiped my bottom until I was quite old. ‘Nice little boys don’t do those things’ Gretta quoted me as saying. I tried to suppress the urgent call but to no avail, so just before the bell rang I took myself into the smelly place. Oh no! There was no paper. In those days there were no paper rolls, just old newspaper torn into squares and with a perforation in the corner through which a piece of twine was threaded. What to do? I used my handkerchief but the result was less than satisfactory and when I ran across the quadrangle to rejoin the class marching back into the classroom Miss Haden observed that one little boy had manured himself, so she quietly pulled him out of the line and told him he would not be required for afternoon classes and suggested he make his way home.
That walk home is clearly imprinted on my memory. I had ambivalent feelings. On the one side I was free to enjoy the day so I walked the long way home through the backstreets behind Torrens Road and past flowering hedges, but even so I arrived home long before the end of school. I was too ashamed to tell my mother what had happened so I hid in the shed until the Holden’s whistle blew – ten past four. I eluded lurking adults, went inside, seized a set of clean clothes including socks, went back to the shed and changed, leaving the soiled underclothes, trowsers and socks at the back of a bench in the shed. I came across them years later and put them all in the rubbish bin. How was it that my clothes weren’t missed? My Mother was vague at that stage of her life, probably menopausal, and anyway she had a washing lady. There was always a huge pile of clothes waiting for holes to be darned and buttons to be sewn on so they were just never missed.
Other children I remember – Gary Lynch and Laurie Cathro – both subsequently played A grade cricket for Woodville. We used to spend the whole of morning recess throwing old tennis balls end to end as high as we could and trying to catch them. Our skills rapidly improved. No-one had a football in those days and even if they did none were made for small children.
Gary had a birthmark alongside one eye and one lunchtime in grade one he challenged me to a fight. We started with a fist fight at which I came off very much second best. We then went on to wrestling at which I fared perhaps a little better but still thought he had the better of me. With great magnanimity he declared that he had won the boxing but the wrestling went to me, so I asked him home to play.
Every morning grades three to seven lined up in their respective classes in the quadrangle, promised allegiance to the Union Jack and Mr. Nancarrow made any announcements. Then the school band comprising bass drums, kettle drums and fifes played ‘God Save the King’ to accompany our singing, following which we had a marching tune to get us to our class rooms. I thought playing the kettle drum would be marvellous as I watched the twelve-year-olds with all their flourishes. Grade three however was to be my last year at Challa Gardens.
We had a happy adult household during the war years. My father was considered to be in an essential industry and therefore did not join the forces. Perhaps he was too young for WWI at 16 in 1914 and too old for WWII at 41 in 1939, or perhaps his Irish ancestry influenced him against bearing arms for the British Empire, although he never had any sympathy for Germany except to provoke an argument. The Ford Motor Company was involved in the production of Bren Gun Carriers and military vehicles and he was the SA Manager.
Our existence during the war and after I would describe as gracious. We had a number of helpers provided by my father, a full-time gardener paid for by the company, a washerlady, a cleaning lady, and a weekly sewing lady. The large garden of one acre with a lawn tennis court was kept beautifully manicured and won a commendation certificate in the Adelaide Gardens competition. Murray and I did our best to undermine the effort by running a very personal vendetta against the gardener, Henry Smith. He was our personal enemy and we wrote ‘Mad old Smithy’ across his shed and fired our toy weapons at him from behind trees. He never hesitated to chastise us whenever we encroached on his domain, albeit in a light hearted vein.
The ladies of the establishment picked flowers and our house was always full of bowls of beautiful blooms, large blooms, dahlias and hydrangeas. We had a large ‘out of bounds’ drawing room furnished with a floral carpet and a piano. My sister Gretta was a good pianist and my recollection of Saturdays was her playing Schubert and Greig in the mornings with a gentle breeze blowing the curtains through the French windows and riding her ex-steeplechaser Pactolus in the Holidays at Christies Beach in the afternoons. Privileged perhaps but I had known nothing else.
Gretta with Pactolus at Norwood, c. 1939
Pactolus had come second in the Grand National Steeplechase at Flemington in 1935. He was huge – seventeen hands. I am uncertain how my father acquired this animal for his eldest daughter but at all events he had him shipped over from Melbourne around 1937 when the family was still living at Norwood.
Above: report of Pactolus race in Grand National July 15, 1935
Below: Pactolus leading, followed by Boy Blue, Richmond Tiger and Redditch. Courtesy Australian Racing Museum
Pactolus was normally a docile animal so as a child I enjoyed riding on his back around his yard. Along one side of his yard was a picket fence so when he was standing close to the fence I was able to climb on to the top railing of the fence and gently ease myself onto his back. He was cunning and when he had had enough he went into his stable trying to sweep me off as he passed under the top gate of the entrance which was often closed. All of these rides were unbeknown to my sister Gretta who strictly forbade such escapades with her beloved horse.
On one occasion I climbed up on the picket fence with Pactolus a good metre away. I remember he was sleeping and was unaware of my presence I hesitated thinking the gap was too great to leap onto his back, but never one to die wondering I took the chance and landed on his back with a thump. The poor horse wondered what had hit him and rared up on his hind legs with fright. This manoeuvre resulted in me sliding onto his rump whereupon he bucked me high into the air. I had no recollection of any impact onto the hard trodden earth of his yard and must have been unconscious for an unknown period, perhaps only momentarily, but when I regained my senses I distinctly remember thinking ‘This is what it’s like to be dead.’
I crawled around to the back of the shed and slowly recovered. I dared not go inside as I knew there would be no sympathy except for Pactolus. After an hour or so when I realised there
was no major damage I limped back inside and the reception was just as I had predicted.
Gretta described Pactolus as being a well trained thoroughbred, easy to handle and a joy to ride but she did take the precaution of always having a curb bit on a separate rein when riding such a powerful animal.
Pactolus was a fine animal, here in the front garden at Woodville.
We had many animals and birds possibly because my mother was brought up on an isolated farm at Georges Creek in Northern Victoria at the end of the 19th century. We had a pet kangaroo, chickens, cats and dogs, a horse and birds. There was good quality lawn tennis court. My father had taught himself tennis after the family arrived from Victoria in 1928 and he became quite a proficient player. He invited his business associates on a Saturday afternoon but in that era it was men only of course. Our mother did not play ball games although in her youth at Georges Creek she had been a very fast runner and skilful horse rider. She occasionally had a ride on Pactolus. Her main interests were in the garden and of course with a gardener and large property the scope was enormous. She was a knowledgeable and dedicated gardener spending all her leisure time in that activity. In latter years I have come to understand that my mother suffered severely from depression.
The trigger may have been the childhood illnesses of her two oldest daughters which occurred synchronously, Elvia contracting measles and pneumonia from which she nearly died and from which she developed lifelong bronchiectasis, and Gretta contracting diphtheria. They were admitted to two different Melbourne Hospitals at the same time, Gretta having to go to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital.
As a child it is my recollection that my mother had agoraphobia. She could not travel on public transport or in lifts and had difficulty in shops or other public places. Fortunately, my father was able to provide her with a driver to take her shopping locally and he had sufficient influence to have Myers bring clothes home for her to select rather than go to their store. In later years I remember him recalling how she would be constantly ringing him at work or even interrupting important conferences with his superiors from Geelong. She would often spend whole afternoons in her bed. In earlier years in Geelong when my sisters were young and my father was making his way in the Ford Motor Company, he would have to ask his mother-in-law Ada Young to come down from Georges Creek to take over the running of the household. In those days my father did all the shopping and took my sisters to buy their clothes. He in fact continued to buy their clothes all through their adolescence in Adelaide. I know in fact that they gave him a difficult time as adolescent girls can do. As a small boy I can remember my mother having to have half a phenobarbitone tablet before she ventured out anywhere. As soon as Gretta was 16 and able to drive then things became easier for my mother to get around.
In those early days we had many family outings as my father had a company car at his disposal. Often in company with other family friends we travelled to places such as Victor Harbour and Strathalbyn for picnics. My father would always make the picnic. He was a positive, practical, no-nonsense type of man who had difficulty being demonstrative except when he was angry.
Every Christmas our family shifted into a rented house at Christies Beach on the sea front. This was a major shift. My father would bring a Ford truck home and load up everything including the meat safe, all the chooks in cages and all the luggage. My sister Gretta rode her horse down to Christies Beach and he was agisted close by for the summer so she could continue riding. My father took a couple of weeks off and then commuted back to Adelaide while the rest of the family stayed on for the whole school holidays.
Probably the best present I received as a child, perhaps for my ninth birthday or thereabouts, was a set of tools made to size. A hammer, chisel, screw drivers, plyers, saw, all on a smaller scale for my age. Included was a work bench with a wooden vice and wooden stage to accommodate my small size. My father was not a handy man so this, I thought, showed great forsight. My imagination expanded and I was happily amused spending hours making objects out of odd pieces of scrap timber gradually acquiring eye-hand skills, although more tuition would not have gone amiss. The chisel was razor sharp at the beginning and I still bear the scars on my fingers where the chisel was misdirected.
Collage of photos at Woodville. Top centre is a wartime visitor with our pet kangaroo, ‘Biddy‘
Life is never perfect. If it were we would not develop. My genes for teeth were poor with a small crowded mouth and teeth going in all directions. Dentistry was in its infancy and I think our family dentist, Horry Stain of Unley Road, had not progressed very far. On one occasion on a Saturday morning when I was about seven, my father said he and I were going somewhere in the car but he would not tell me where. I cannot remember if breakfast was omitted. In due course we arrived at Horry Stains dentist surgery. I was told to hop up in the dentist’s chair whereupon a mask was thrust over my nose and ether administered presumably by an attending doctor. I remember kicking and struggling and being held down by the dentist, my father and one or two other strong henchmen. Oblivion – six or eight teeth were extracted and I was then taken home lying in the back of the car vomiting into a bowl, very unimpressed by the proceedings.
At Woodville, a few years later when I was perhaps ten, the episode was repeated. Again, it was thought that I had too many teeth in my small mouth and some secondary teeth had to be removed. On this occasion, again a Saturday morning, I was wisely forwarned. Murray Stevens came around to play early and I happily and proudly told him I couldn’t as I was about to have an anaesthetic. Come 10 am the breakfast dishes were cleared off the kitchen table, a rug laid on it and I was told to jump up. By this time the dreaded Horry Stain had arrived as had my friend’s father, Dr Ross Morris from across the road. He was due to give my anaesthetic. Again a mask over the face, the horrible smell of ether and oblivion. I remember spending the rest of that Saturday lying on a couch in the den vomiting blood and feeling dreadful.
I mention these episodes to highlight the risks associated with such practices. No suction available, no oxygen available, no fallback position should trouble occur and a risk of death, which not infrequently occurred. However, the dangers were not appreciated and it was the accepted practice of the day. Anaesthetics in dental surgeries was still practised in the 1960s, still with occasional deaths, and the author himself used to give anaesthetics in a dental surgery on the corner of South Road and Torrens Road on a Monday morning whilst employed as a locum in the ‘Goods’ general practice in 1961. It was not long after this that the risks were deemed unacceptable and the practice banned by the AMA.
When I began at Prince Alfred College in 1943 at the age of nine, I was told I was old enough to go to the dentist by myself. There was no fluoridised water in those days so that at each 6-monthly visit I would always have two or three fillings to be done. In grade four, every day I would have to catch the tram from Woodville to the City and trolley bus out to Kent Town. On my dentist appointment days school finished at 3.45pm, so it was back into the city by bus, catch the Unley tram travelling about five km to Horry Stain on Unley Road, have a filling or two from a very unsympathetic dentist under poor local anaesthetics or none, and then catch the tram back into the city. Next, change to the packed Cheltenham tram for the half hour journey to Woodville, standing up, getting home about 6pm, by which time it was very dark in winter. I well remember my feelings of relief travelling away from the dentist, after each ordeal, thinking it was over for another few months. That was how life was and what one was expected to do at a young age during the 40s.
A New School
Murray Stevens went to Queen’s College on Barton Terrace, North Adelaide. It went out of existence a few years later. At the end of 1942 Murray announced to me that he was changing schools and going to Prince Alfred College, a school founded by prominent city fathers in 1869 and run on strict Methodist lines in the tradition of English Public Schools.
He thought it would be a great idea if I told my father I wanted to go there too. He told me to tell my parents he would look after me on the tram and bus as it required a change of transport in the city! Well, Murray was only nine at the time but well organised. After my preliminary discussions with my father Murray joined us to back me up. The only reason for my request was to go to the same school as Murray – I was totally ignorant regarding the proposed school and had in fact never heard of it. Certainly, none of my friends from Challa Gardens would be there and definitely not Rosemary at a boys’ school. Ah well, Murray must have been very persuasive and so, come February I, was off to school at Kent Town. To this day I find it hard to believe that a nine year-old Murray could have influenced my father in any way into enrolling me in a new school which required considerable fees, a new uniform and all the rest.
Methodism, in 1869 when Prince Alfred College was founded, was emerging from the restrictions which had been placed upon it by the established Church of England. John Wesley, its founder had died in 1791 and by 1869 Methodism was becoming less identified with wage earners and more with the respectable middle classes. Its religious activities were ‘marked by chapel-building, conversion experiences, hymn singing, Sabbath observance, missionary work, and religious revivals.’ Methodism became strongly involved in education. During my days at PAC I felt only token observance was paid to religion with assembly first thing every morning and a scripture lesson once a week by the chaplain, old ‘Redwing’ Charlie Perry (ex-Norwood footballer and co-Magarey medallist). More often than not Charlie’s scripture lessons could be diverted into discussions on how the first eleven or first eighteen were faring and who should be or shouldn’t be in the teams. These discussions would be interspersed with exhortations on the evils of alcohol. ‘In hotels all these men do is drink beer at the bar then go round the back and pass it into the urinal’, I recall Charlie saying. The attitude to drinking at PAC noticeably softened as the years went by. All this suited me just fine as I felt my theological needs were over supplied by my mother’s strict adherence and involvement with the Cooneyites. Without any shadow of doubt, among my class mates, more homage was paid to the heroes of cricket and football than to any ecclesiastical urgings.
I now entered one of the most exciting periods of my life. I had rarely been on a tram before, and that alone was exciting enough, but I instantly became responsible for my own welfare at the tender age of eight. In the weeks leading up to the first day at PAC there were trips to the city to get one small boy fitted out with the regulation uniform – a blue striped shirt, grey melange suit, red and white striped tie, below-knee socks with a red band, black shoes, and best of all a red cap complete with badge and a straw decker (boater) for summer. The latter eventually met the usual fate of such head gear when, in later years, a pupil of the blue and white school pulled my head through the crown at an intercollegiate game. The straw decker really impressed my older sisters who, unfortunately, were never granted a private school education although that had been their wish. I like to think my father was financially more able to afford my private education when I arrived as it was later in his career but perhaps there was a measure of truth in my sisters’ rumblings that it was because I was of the male gender. I know however that they really enjoyed their time at Unley High School where their closest friends were the three Gates girls, daughters of the headmaster Benny Gates. Our two families were closely connected and joined each other for tennis parties frequently. When we moved to Woodville in 1939 my youngest sister Lesley objected strongly to changing schools from Unley High to Woodville High to do her Intermediate year, probably with good justification. I know she had desperately wanted to go to Walford, a college for girls, but she did not have a ‘Murray’ to plead her cause.
Straw decker for summer. Ellie in WAAF’s uniform WWII 1943.
I was overwhelmed when I arrived at Prince Alfred College on my first day with Murray Stevens. It was just like Thomas Hughes described in ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays.’ We caught the ten past eight tram coming from the Cheltenham terminus (the line had recently been extended from Kilkenny) to King William Street and then changed to the double decker bus going to Tusmore outside Myers Store in Rundle Street. It was my first ride in a double-decker bus. I had a tram and bus pass, renewable monthly, on which was written ‘City – Brit.’ I never knew what that meant and no-one could tell me. Years later I realised that it was an abbreviation for the Brittania Hotel which was beyond Prince Alfred College and was the end of the bus section. I was also equipped with a new kitbag, the biggest in the class and far too big for me to manage. After several weeks of being jumped on by small boys it took on the familiar concertina shape of the rest of the kitbags in the school.
Joey Gould was allocated to show me around the school on my first day. He was a little Jewish boy and a fulltime boarder whose emigrant father and sole parent ran a grocery shop in North Adelaide. Joey stuttered and occasionally wet his pants with the sudden appearance of a puddle under the bench on which we sat. He ran with duck feet, was probably seven years old and had been a full boarder from grade one. He was bullied and teased mercilessly by our class mates but I was very grateful to him that day. I repaid his kindness later that first year, after I had found my feet, by going in to bat for him on more than one occasion often against heavy odds (in the form IIB photograph Joey is middle row, second left).
On that first day Joey took me from the Preparatory School across Little Pirie Street (subsequently absorbed into the school grounds) down around the back oval to show me the tuckshop. I couldn’t believe I was going to a school that ran its own shop. Miss Murray was our teacher. She was like a mother hen and was kind and patient and I had the great good fortune to be her pet. I found I could get away with all sorts of misbehaviour in my attempts to make the class laugh, until one day the Prep school headmaster, whose office was across the corridor from our classroom, had obviously had enough, and I was conscious of this gowned arm reaching through the open door and extricating me. Norman Mitchell said not a word but took me into his office and shut the door. To my horror he produced a vicious looking cane from his cupboard. ‘Turn round and bend over Johnson’. In true English tradition no Christian names were ever used at the school, not even in grade one. Two belts from the cane was enough to reduce me to tears upon which, again without words, he thrust me, balling and humiliated, back into the classroom among my wide-eyed peers. That was my first experience of corporal punishment but not the last. It was never used in our household.
I started in form 2B (grade 4), separated from my friend Murray, who started in 3B (grade 6), so only occasionally did our paths cross. In our class at the beginning of that year there were about six or eight new boys. The year was 1943 and Australia was at war. It seemed to my young mind that Australia had always been at war as I was unable to remember pre-war times. We vaguely followed the progress of the war, mainly by our parents’ responses, but by and large war was the norm and we went about our business and day to day activities without dwelling on the misfortunes beyond our shores. I remember the newspaper headlines of ‘The Allies this’ and ‘The Axis that’ but I had no comprehension. Some in the class of course were more personally involved and did not see their fathers for a number of years, but I do not remember it being discussed. Bill Hobbs’ father was a prisoner of the Japanese on the Burma Siam Railway having been taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore, so Bill did not see him for four years.
The impression of those early days at Prince Alfred College has never left me. I was made to feel very much part of and proud of an elitist establishment. We felt sorry for kids at other schools. We were encouraged to have strong competitive emotions towards St. Peters College down the road. The regular intercollegiate sports against St. Peters were held on the Adelaide Oval, separate but adjacent grandstands being allocated to the two schools. Behind the grandstands and in keeping with long tradition, lesser but equally important intercollegiate wars were contested by those unable to gain official selection. These were conducted with the aid of fists and without the encumbrances and niceties of the Marquess of Queensberry rules. After these battles and with opposing caps as trophies the two sides retreated behind their respective grandstands and gave verbal abuse before returning to their stands to sing school songs. Tradition had it that the school masters on arrival had to walk in front of the stands and tradition also dictated that they be given their own round of applause with the odd nickname thrown in. On one occasion in those early years at the Adelaide Oval, perhaps it was 1943 when it was fiercely hot in the stand and very uncomfortable for little eight-year-olds, our cricket team made 6/606. We found it very boring but it was taken most seriously. For several lunchtimes preceding the event, all the school songs were practised in the quadrangle.
Form IIB with Miss Murray. Guess who’s the teacher’s pet!
The Preparatory School was across the other side of Little Pirie Street from the main oval (Little Pirie Street has long since been absorbed into the school campus) and after school in winter we small eight year-olds were allowed onto the end of the oval near the goalposts to kick a football. I have a clear recollection of the first eighteen practising in our vicinity and admiring their manly physiques, their ball marking and huge kicks and a feeling of amazement and pride that these men were part of my school.
When I started at PAC aged eight there were options aplenty not available at a state school. The school was still run very much along the lines of an English Public School with strict discipline and manly pursuits. The option of boxing caught my pugilistic father’s eye and so he put my name down and suggested Murray’s father do the same. On Friday afternoons, after school finished, we trundled down to the boarders’ common room in the senior school opposite the back oval. The teacher, a Mr Price, arrived on his motor bike with a sausage bag filled with 50 or 60 smelly and well used boxing gloves of varying sizes strapped on the back of his bike. We each donned a suitable pair after adapting to the smell of years of accumulated sweat, and adjourned to the common room. There we chose opponents according to our age – the class included all levels of the school – and with Mr Price in front, practised all the various feints, hooks and so forth. Needless to say, at times a few old scores were settled with blood noses, and the combatants had to be forcibly separated by Mr Price, but this was readily accepted as being in the true spirit of the class. In fact, once every year a ring was set up in the gymnasium and the whole school, preparatory school included, was given the afternoon off, and stood around on the tan bark floor and cheered on their particular heroes as they belted the daylights out of each other, over three rounds, for the school trophies. No head protection was used in those years so the inevitable TKO (technical knockout) was often recorded among the senior heavyweights.
After one year of boxing classes my mother decided it was too rough for her son and that learning to play the piano would be more appropriate for my education. Her father had been a music teacher in Georges Creek, Victoria and, of course, she played the piano as did all my siblings.
So, come 1944, I was a pupil of Miss Nadra Penalurick. She was young and beautiful and I immediately fell in love with her. She was slightly built, had hair cut like Audrey Hepburn, and sat close to me on her stool in one of the three or four music rooms set aside for the boarders to use for practice. Her only defect, that I could ascertain, was that she had a small moustache, close cropped, on her top lip. Never mind, she was definitely alright.
I learned the piano for five years, practising religiously every day for half an hour at my mother’s insistence. One had to wash one’s hands thoroughly before being allowed near our piano! Whilst Nadra was my teacher, I made good progress and won her music prize on a couple of occasions. However, she then left and her place was taken by a Rolland May whom I did not particularly like. The theory he set each week was hard and I never really came to grips with it.
At one stage Rolland made me sit for a conservatorium exam, grade four I think it was. My piéce de résistance was Beethoven’s Für Elise; it was the pinnacle of my music career and sometimes I played it quite well, at other times not so well, badly in fact. However, some mean class mate had torn my music book three quarters the way in half with the fragments near the binding still hanging on. Come the exam at the conservatorium and Für Elise was travelling reasonably well until I came to the torn page and only the upper half of the page turned over and half way down I found I was back two pages before! That threw me a little but maybe the examiner saw my plight, although I never knew as he said nothing. The next part of the exam I remember was to repeat the rhythm he tapped with a pencil. I have never understood the rationale of that bit of the exam but I had no difficulty with it. Rolland must have been amazed when he received the results of the exam and saw that I had passed. He took the trouble to ride his bicycle up to the front oval where I was playing cricket on a Saturday morning and leaned through the bars of the surrounding fence and yelled to me as I was fielding in covers, ‘Johnson, you passed your exam!’ I gave him no response as I thought at least he could have waited until the end of the over. When I looked again, he was peddling off down the street. My emotions at passing were equivocal as music was no longer a high priority.
Rolland later asked me to play Für Elise at the school concert – I can only think he was desperate for performers. I knew my limitations and declined. Shortly after I told my mother I did not have time for the piano as Public Examinations were coming up the following year. She remonstrated with me as I was getting on ‘beautifully’ but I had had enough and it was a chore at that stage. Maybe if Nadra had stayed on things would have been different.
Off to Adelaide Oval for an ‘intercol’ in a drag about 1914
Today’s generation finds it hard to comprehend the cricket mania that permeated the whole Australian population after WWII. The deeds of Don Bradman in the 1930s had made him an Australian icon, and the prospect of him resuming international cricket after the war made newspaper headlines. Don Bradman was reported to have a back problem and his resuming first class cricket was said to be doubtful. However, I remember he did nominate for the South Australian team and the interest generated was the main topic of the news. As 12 year-olds we were fascinated and my memory is of the whole class gathering around a crystal set on the small preparatory school playground at lunch time trying to get Bradman’s score. He did in the end decide to resume test cricket and played in the test series against England in 1946/47.
I attended the Adelaide Oval with my father for the Fourth Test Match starting on January 31, 1947. Eighteen minutes from the close of play on the second day Bradman strode to the crease to the accompaniment of thunderous applause. Clearly overcome by his welcome, he played seven balls from Alec Bedser before being completely beaten and bowled by Bedser’s eighth ball, the score remaining at 18 (eight ball overs in those days). I can picture him coming forward and playing a half shot. His long walk back to the pavilion was amid sad restrained clapping.
Some 40 years later I happened to be on the Kooyonga Golf Club practice fairway when I noticed one of the Bedser twins close by. I approached him to remind him of the incident and he said to me, ‘No I’m Eric, that’s Alec over there.’ I moved on to Alec and told him how he had ruined my Saturday evening. He sympathised and went on to tell me that Jessie Bradman had been walking behind the Members Stand with young son John not expecting Don to have to bat (the Bedser twins became close friends with the Bradmans and often stayed with them after they all retired from cricket). Jessie told Eric that as they heard the crowd erupt John remarked, ‘Oh, Daddy must have hit a four,’ little realising that instead his bails had been knocked off. Don Bradman made 56 not out in the second innings, the only time I saw him score in a test match. He reached 50 in 68 minutes, and the match was eventually drawn.
The gymnasium was situated down in the far corner of the back oval. Every class, preparatory and senior, attended for one hour of gymnasium each week. These classes were conducted by the legendary Claude Bennett who ran a gymnasium in the city. He was an old boy of the school and was dedicated to physical fitness and developing toughness in his pupils. He conducted his class with a short tamarisk cane in his hand and in fact was never without it. When his lesson was due, we had to run the half kilometre from the preparatory school, down Little Pirie Street and across the back oval to the gymnasium. There we lined up outside the gym and when all had arrived, he announced ‘Boys properly standing at ease … one mark. Boys without sandshoes .. come out the front.’ We were expected to remember to bring sandshoes (sneakers) on gym days. Those who forgot had in turn to bend over and were given ten small whacks with his cane which he counted out ‘One, two, three … TEN’, and the tenth was delivered with rather more force. This tradition was carried out in every level of the school, including eight year-olds, when I started. Thereafter we were instructed on exercises on all the equipment, parallel bars, trapezes, horizontal bars, rings, rope climbing and each in turn made his attempt and was marked. Woe betide any little boy who incurred the wrath of Claude Bennett. He was good natured but a master craftsman with the cane, none could match him. His disciplinary belts were usually delivered in threes and his skill lay not in the forward stroke but in his rapid lift off from the boy’s buttock. The wheals were evident for days. Each exercise was awarded a mark and at the end of the class each boy called out his total mark.
Each apparatus was bolted to a very high wooden ceiling and this wooden ceiling was a graffiti honour roll of former students going back to the late 1800s. Those who failed to achieve success on the formal assembly hall honour boards with scholarships etc. could still leave their mark behind when they left school. King George V, as Prince George, had climbed those ropes but regrettably did not sign his name on the roof. The gymnasium was opened in 1881 with the master in charge being an Adolf Leschen, who had been strongly influenced in Germany by Friedrich Jahn, accepted as the father of gymnastics. Again annual school competitions in gymnastics were held with the whole school attending. I was disappointed when gymnastics ceased with Claude Bennett’s retirement in 1949 as I had won the class medal every year and held high hopes of success in the school championship.
The headmaster of the school when I started and for all my years except the last three was Fred Ward. He was a tall, ageing, austere man with grey hair and grey bushy eyebrows. He was a classical scholar but never laughed and rarely smiled; he had the ‘severity of a Hebrew prophet’ and a renowned violent temper. At the end of each term the whole school assembled for a breakup service in the old assembly hall, always with the hymn, ‘Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing, thanks for mercies passed received.’ What happy memories that hymn always conjures up, holidays at last, and what an impression the enthusiastic singing of 600 boys made on us small children coming over from the prep school. Little grade one kids were always in the front row of the assembly hall on these occasions and the most senior students at the back.
For reasons known only to himself Fred always insisted on reading out the class lists with the positions of every boy in every class after the term exams. A tedious, boring exercise involving some five to six hundred names. Naturally the little five year-olds in the front row became restless and as their feet could not touch the floor from the chairs they Fred Ward would start to swing them. This always drove Fred, who towered directly above them on the dais, stark staring bonkers. ‘You boy – get out! Yes you! Whereupon a tiny trembling kid in short pants would look for the way out in front of the whole school which included some 50 teachers on the stage. Dead silence accompanied these outbursts as Fred slowly regained his composure and continued in his monotonous voice. One sensed that even the teachers held him in awe. Certainly, to us prep school kids here was the Almighty himself towering above us mortals from his throne. A student at the school reminisced:
He was a tyrant – a walking time-bomb on a very short fuse! Unless you were a ‘brain’ you lived in constant fear of the man. He was completely unpredictable. I doubt if anyone would be game to include this in any history of P.A.C. and yet it should be. He ruled the boarding school with a rod of iron. Any misbehaviour and you were ‘on the mat’ in his office – an experience which reduced many country kids to tears and nightmares. A second offence always resulted in ‘six of the best’ and if you’ve seen the backside of lads … he caned you would realise that only the toughest boarders would dare to do anything untoward.
The Headmaster’s wrath brought confusion as well as fear. One day he almost carried a boy out of the room by his hair when the boy sat down after the command, ‘If you’re not going to stand up properly, don’t stand up at all!’
The author had daily contact with Fred Ward in his capacity as form captain over the course of three years before he retired in 1949. The form roll book with the list of absentees had to be presented to the Headmaster in his study by each form captain on a daily basis. On these occasions he was always pleasant, even smiling and joking if the circumstances permitted.
Fred had two sons and two daughters. One son he tragically lost whilst he was on duty with the occupational forces in Japan after WWII. He fell from a balcony whilst inebriated and was killed. Did Fred ever connect this outcome to rebellion against his unbending severity and strictness?
I remember VP Day in 1945, victory in the Pacific. We celebrated on the big oval and I distinctly remember wondering what peacetime would be like as I had no recollections of life without our country being at war. The year 1946 was my last year in the Preparatory School. As it transpired those years turned out to be the most successful years of my life from the academic and sporting perspective and 3A or grade seven the best of them all. I felt I deserved to be Captain of the Preparatory School that last year but was never on good terms with the Preparatory School Headmaster, Norman Mitchell, who was much more partial to boys from professional parents. I know I displeased him greatly on one occasion at the end of a football match. We won very few matches that year but were confidant we were better than CBC – Christian Brothers College. I was captain of the under 13s that year sharing the roving with Ian Day who later became a well known sporting personality and sport’s commentator. This particular match was played on their ground on the east parklands and umpired by one of the CBC Brothers. His umpiring was appalling and I was convinced we received less than our share of free kicks, as a result of which CBC won comfortably. At the end of the match instead of calling for ‘Three cheers for the umpire’ I let my frustration get the better of me and called to my team ‘Three boos for the umpire.’ My team responded with enthusiasm to this call and we all felt a little better. However, we had not anticipated the ructions which this misdemeanour would precipitate. I was spoken to severely by the Mitchell who was in attendance at the match and on the following Monday the whole team was chastised and the incident mentioned in the school assembly. I felt indignant and unrepentant but clearly the Headmaster was not going to forgive me in a hurry. Interestingly, I recently learned that there were two boys in that opposing CBC team who were to become lifelong friends, Des McDonnell and Keith Grave. Neither could recall the incident I am happy to say.
On Speech Night at the end of year breakup in grade 7 I was the recipient of seven prizes, academic, music, gymnastics, best sportsman and captain of the winning house, Bailey House. Strangely none of my family chose to come to any school functions. I probably did not tell them I was to receive prizes and cups on that occasion but nevertheless I felt a little let down and went with the parents of Richard Morris from across the road and in the company of his whole family. If my memory serves me correctly the Speech Nights were held at the Adelaide Town Hall in that era.
I was not altogether surprised that my family did not attend that final Speech Night as they never attended any school or inter school sporting function during the whole of my preparatory or senior school years. Saturday sport started in grade six and if, for example, the match was at Rostrevor College I had to catch an 8 am tram from Woodville and change to a Rostrevor tram in the city to have a 9.30 am start for the game, football or cricket. With luck one would arrive home, often somewhat the worse for wear, by 1.00 pm.
In those days I was an ardent fan of the Port Adelaide Football team and on Saturday afternoons wound ride my bike down to Alberton Oval and get in free after halftime. The bike was left with dozens of other bikes behind that huge mound opposite the grandstand, prone to get urinated upon as Alberton fans had no match time to be lost in toilets. The enthusiasm of the crowd for the home team was infectious. My heroes of that era were captain Bobby Quinn, Lew Roberts, Congy McLean, big Bob McLean and most of all, although a little later, Ray Whitaker.
There was one exception to this parental non-attendance. In 1946 in grade seven there was the annual cricket match against the fathers. Traditionally the captain of the fathers’ team was the father of either the cricket captain or the captain of the Prep School. On this occasion it was Dr Mervyn Evans, a dentist and well credentialed old scholar. Traditionally, the fathers only played at half pace but this went against every instinct and fibre in my father’s body and he lodged his strong protest to the aforementioned good doctor but to no good effect. Fortunately, my father was past his prime with his best cricketing days behind him (he was 49) but nevertheless he did not hold back, as that game was there to be won regardless of whether the opponents were aged ten or 100.
Our cricket captain that year was a Myles Fuller. His father, a dear kind gentle man, was our coach. Myles was selected in the Glenelg District B Grade cricket team at the age of 13 and received considerable press. His father had a turf cricket pitch in his back yard at Glenelg and it was on that pitch that Ian and Greg Chappell honed their skills.
Prep School Under 13 Cricket team 1946
Our science teacher and football coach was a Mr Dickson. I remember his lesson on creation, ‘I don’t believe the Bible boys, the world was not made in seven days but over millions of years and we developed from tiny little single cell amoeba.’ We all digested that information which was clearly not what most of us had been taught, nor was it part of good Methodist doctrine at the time. It was his first year at the school and after a couple of football matches he labelled me with the nickname ‘Ripper.’ I was never called by my first name from that day to the end of my medical student days and in fact no-one ever knew that my first name was Ross. Nicknames in those days were carried as a sort of badge of honour; one had made the grade and arrived. Not that the carrier had any say in the matter – certainly any sign of disapproval of an undesirable nickname insured its permanency. It did not affect the school masters of course as no student was ever called by his first name.
Football became my passion very early in my days at PAC. Each class had a class football and after school we would go across Little Pirie Street to the front oval to have a kick. The school first eighteen would be practising and I remember my amazement as an eight year-old watching these huge men kick prodigious distances. I found it hard to believe they were scholars like me and part of the same school. One of these men was the brother of one of my sister’s girl friends, Bill Morrow. He was over six feet tall, barrel chested and rowed in the first eight. When he left school I inherited his football jumper which of course came down to my knees with the sleeves dangling some six inches beyond my fingers. I was a puny runt of a kid for my age but nevertheless thrilled at last to have a football jumper. I rolled up the sleeves and somehow managed even though the jumper emerged beneath the bottom of my shorts.
The author in Bill Morrow’s jumper next to Ian Day on his right, 1942
Grade 7 saw the return of servicemen to teaching at the school with consequent improvement in the quality of teaching. Our teacher in grade 7 was Maynard Close who returned from a German prison camp and he proved to be a very sound teacher, appalled at our lack of English grammar. Most of the temporary teachers were replaced but one remained, a Mr Perera. An odd ball he was in his behaviour. In marching the boarders over to the senior school for their hot lunch he always unfurled his umbrella to keep the sun off his head. He taught us Latin in grade 7 and had no idea on keeping discipline. As he delivered his ‘mensa, mensas, mensat’ he walked up and down the aisles between the desks and the more daring wrote rude words on his black gown. John McBride, a normally quiet youth and descendant of a family of station owners, lit on the novel idea of putting a large dollop of spit on his acutely flexed plastic set square and aiming it at the blackboard where Mr Perera was writing his masculine declensions. To McBride’s horror the dollop of spittle took off from his set square with the speed and accuracy as from a shanghai and splattered on the board amidst the masculine declension. The class erupted in such acclamation that the afore mentioned Norman Mitchell emerged from his office and took over the class which quickly returned to some sort of order. This would have been the crowning moment of McBride’s whole sojourn at Prince Alfred College as he excelled neither in the class room nor on the sporting field. He had no need as there was a place waiting for him in managing a million acres of Australia’s outback. Poor Perera was relieved of his post a short time later.
Returning to life at Woodville during those primary school years which was during and just after World War II my childhood was full and exciting. All the local boys within a year or two of my age teamed together into a local gang. In the earlier years it consisted mainly of Murray Stevens, Murray Dawkins and perhaps a Robert Draper. Murray Steven’s parents were orthodox and led regulated lives and did regulated activities. Murray Dawkins household was the opposite, unorthodox, unregulated and very much out of control. He lived in one of the large stately homes on Woodville Road, opposite Woodville High School and next door to the large house of Dr. Ross Morris who also had a son Richard who was our age but in the early years not a member of the gang and therefore our enemy.
Murray Dawkins place in his family was much the same as mine except that his two much older siblings were boys and not girls. The older boys were renowned in the district for their wildness and total lack of fear. The caps on the hat rail in the hall of their house bore testimony to the older boys eventful careers. There were caps from Queens College, St Peters College, even Rostrevor College which showed the desperation of their parents to maintain some sort of education for them. From each of these colleges in turn the older boys, Harry and Jack, had been expelled for serious misdemeanours and young Murray, although not involved in their escapades himself, followed them from college to college. He was some eight or so years younger than his older brothers so both Murray and I were more or less after-thoughts or accidents in families that had very much moved on from the novelty of young children. As a result neither of our respective families knew or worried too much as to our whereabouts or activities.
Murray Dawkins house was a real treasure trove of things to do. There was about one acre of ground which at one time had been well laid out and cared for but, under the more recent management of the Dawkins, had been neglected. There were two horses on the tennis court for Mrs Dawkins to ride at her leisure, several sheds with motor bikes and other implements. There was a once grand summer house in the midst of overgrown garden beds. This had a tiled floor and had been fenced in to house several ferrets used for family rabbiting expeditions. The chooks were real free range chooks in that they had access to the whole garden. Murray and I discovered that they were in the habit of flying onto the summer house roof and laying their eggs among the grape vines which had grown beyond control. Suddenly we found we had access to several dozen very rotten eggs which had lain undisturbed for months if not years. What to do with such a prize. Directly over the fence was the doctor’s immaculate lawn tennis court and on the day of our discovery, a Sunday, it had been cut and marked with the net positioned ready for an afternoon of social tennis. One of the things which attracted me to Murray was his ingenuity. He was an ideas man. Why don’t we offload these eggs onto the tennis court? No question as to whether the Morris household might not take kindly to our offerings, none of the Dawkins neighbours were on speaking terms with them anyway so nothing would be lost. Without further ado we heaved the two dozen or so eggs over the high tennis side stops onto the pristine lawn court making sure we bowled them rather than threw them as they were very fragile. The result was highly satisfying, and the smell overpowering, even from our side of the fence. We retired highly pleased with our work.
What the outcome was when the guests arrived or whether any tennis was played on that day I never discovered. In later years when Richard Morris joined our gang, nick-named by my father, the ‘Kelly Gang,’ I was never game to confess so the outcome remains a mystery.
Through Murray I became familiar with the local constable, Constable Sparshott, colloquially known as Constable ‘Sparrowshit.’ In those days he ran a one man police unit from a very small police station on the Port Road. He had a motor cycle and side car with which he patrolled the district. On one occasion Murray and I were cycling along Woodville Road after dusk. His Bike had no lights and on my bike I precariously held a torch above the handle bars. Who should pass us but our constable. As he turned to apprehend us Murray called to me, ‘Let’s give him a run for his money,’ and with that he accelerated and shot down a side street, Beaufort Street. I was left far behind still trying to balance my hand-held light which fell to the bitumen and smashed to pieces. The constable took my name and address and the name of my accomplice, with whom he was very familiar, and let me off with a lecture and a warning. I was probably ten years old.
Murray’s older brothers and father often went shooting. The northern side of Torrens Road was only sparsely settled in those days so it was all open country right through to Grand Junction Road with plenty of rabbits, foxes and hares. Their tool shed was full of tools for repairing their motor bikes and also had a jar full of gun powder. Inside the house was a glass case full of all types of guns including several 12-gauge shot guns and a couple of revolvers. Besides gun powder the bench was littered with12-gauge empty cartridge cases and plenty of cordite. There was also saltpetre in another jar and also charcoal. Murray and I made our own explosive by mixing the saltpetre and gun powder with charcoal and sulphur. We then packed the mixture into the 12-gauge empty cartridge cases, tamped it down, sealed it tight and added a cordite lead. How exciting all this was at the time. Murray, who was a couple of years older than me, seemed very familiar with the recipe. Next, we found a bucket, put our little bomb under the bucket and lit the fuse. The resultant explosion sent the bucket rocketing high into the air. We experimented with various proportions of the ingredients with variable responses, but at this stage of my life I am unable to recall the best combination. No-one ever emerged from the Dawkins household to investigate the cause of the explosions. On one occasion, I remember, I suggested the only one who might be impressed would be my mother who was on very good terms with Murray. My eldest sister Gretta was familiar with the Dawkins reputation and implored my mother to forbid me to play with Murray but fortunately her pleadings fell on deaf ears. Murray and I made several bombs and cycled over to our house, only several hundred metres away in Lesley Street. We borrowed the metal washing bucket and demonstrated our bombs sending the bucket up almost to gum tree height. No damage was done to the bucket strangely, and my mother was very impressed. She said we were very clever as she retrieved her aluminium bucket and disappeared inside to read the paper.
Some-time later, on Guy Fawkes night, Murray Dawkins decided to make another bomb. This time it was in the company of Murray Stevens, as I must have been required elsewhere. The neighbours on the other side of the Dawkins house were named Jelly – he was a Woodville councillor and highly regarded, but not by the Dawkins, with whom he frequently had words. Murray Dawkins decided that he would add to the terror campaign against the Jellys, so he went over the fence, lit the cordite fuse and placed the bomb inside the wire screen door, so that it sat between the wire screen door and the closed wooden door. Before quickly vacating the scene, he knocked on the door. Well, Councillor Jelly did not appreciate the joke. Fortunately, no-one was injured but Constable Sparshott was summoned and visited the Dawkins household and then the Stevens household. There were no recriminations in the Dawkins household where Murray was congratulated by his older brothers, but poor Murray Stevens was gated by his father and forbidden to ever go to the Dawkins house again. This left me as Murray Dawkin’s only surviving friend.
My father had a somewhat similar antisocial personality to Murray Dawkins, saw him immediately as a kindrid spirit, and had a lot of time for him. On one Saturday afternoon my father took Murray and me to a small circus set up on an empty block on the southwest corner of David Terrace and Torrens Road. One of the acts involved horses trotting around the performance area and clowns jumping onto them and falling off, very funny to our young minds. Next the circus master invited volunteers from the audience to do the same. My father said, ‘Go on Squawky, give it a go!’ Murray needed no further encouragement as he had not an ounce of fear. It says something about my father that he did not encourage his own son to take such a risk.
Murray, perhaps twelve at the time, was put on the horse and had a safety rope attached to his back, the safety rope being controlled through the apex of the tent. The horse set off trotting steadily around in a circle and Murray was asked to stand on the horses back as it trotted, imitating the performance of the clowns before. A difficult trick for a twelve year-old and Murray came off but of course the safety rope took over and Murray careered wildly in a circle around the tent suspended from the rope. His performance brought the house down including my father whom I had never seen laugh so hard.
The Dawkins, of course, had horses of their own, as did my sister, and I was very fond of riding them bareback. On one occasion one of their horses was feeding from the grass on the front lawn when I mounted its back. Murray wanted to do something else and was a little annoyed at my distraction so he grabbed a stick fallen from a gum tree and started belting the horse’s backside. The horse, of course, took off like a rocket with me hanging on for dear life. The property was big enough for it to get a fair speed down the car drive with Murray in pursuit, wielding his stick. The horse galloped around onto the back lawn with me clinging on. However. I did not see the approaching clothes line which took me across the eyebrows and off the rump of the horse and onto the ground behind the galloping horse. The resultant scar in my eyebrow was visible for a number of years. However, any lower and it could have been my neck with worse consequences.
Come to think of it, in all the times over many years that I spent playing at the Dawkins, I never once saw his mother or father emerge from the bowels of the house. The maid, Jean, was often around, and in the kitchen there were always stacks of dirty dishes on the bench so I am not sure what she did. On one occasion when I visited, Jean came out in a great state of excitement, ‘Oh, we nearly had a tragedy this morning.’ Murray had apparently been fiddling with a revolver he found in the glass case containing all the weapons. Unbeknown to him it was fully loaded and, of course it discharged, the bullet grazing his forehead as it sped towards the ceiling and disappeared through the roof. I don’t know where Murray was but Jean took me inside and showed me the neat round hole in the ceiling. I was duly impressed but had the good sense not to tell my parents as Murray’s friendship was too precious, and Murray Stevens had already been banned from his premises. Happy care free days.
The Dawkins were rather careless with firearms. I know on another occasion the two older boys were in the back seat of their vehicle with Mr Dawkins in the front seat driving. Between the boys was their loaded 12 gauge shot gun. They were travelling over a rough road and struck a pot hole which resulted in the gun discharging through the roof of the vehicle. Dad and the boys thought it was a great joke.
Murray Dawkins, I think, had a rough life. His parents separated and Murray went to live in Sydney with his mother where they eked out a living growing flowers for the Sydney market. One of his brothers, Jack, went to South Africa taking tours on safari, and the other brother, Harry, contracted polio and was looked after by Murray when he came back to South Australia and took up land at Bangham near Bordertown. I lost touch but heard later that he gained fame on the local Friday night speedway.
Towards the end of my primary schooling I developed a strong interest in photography, borrowing books and reading extensively. About the age of 13 I was thrilled to be given a Box Brownie camera, the best present one could ever receive. It was a love that has stayed with me all my life. Come to think of it my father was always into photography. In his young days he had three jobs, one of which was as a projectionist at the movies of an evening – it was about 1922 in the silent movie days. Sound was only introduced in the late 1920s. Early on in Geelong he purchased a Kodak bellows type camera with which he took reams of family photos and for the Ford Company in Adelaide he purchased a beautiful 16mm Bell and Howell projector. When no-one was around I played with it and quickly had it projecting. I found it exciting and the smell of the projector and film exhilarating.
Very soon, at about the age of 14, I saved up and purchased all the equipment to do my own developing and printing. This cut the cost of photography down considerably. I still have many of these early prints, dried on glass to give a gloss finish.
The fourth form or grade eight, the lowest year in the senior school at PAC, regularly saw a trebling in the size of the year with many boys coming to do their secondary schooling at a private school rather than continuing in the public system. As a result, there were three forms in year eight, 4A, 4B and 4C, streamed from A down to C according to the student’s scholastic ability, with of course the best teachers allocated to the A stream.
Scholastically I had done well in the Preparatory level, usually being placed about third or fourth in the class, always behind David Evans, a future Rhodes Scholar and career diplomat, and Bill Hobbs, a future lifelong family friend whose father was a surgeon and spent the war years interned by the Japanese on the Burma Siam Railway. However, my scholastic peak was realised in the Preparatory School and went downhill thereafter. Many of the new arrivals in the senior school were smart kids, a number coming in on scholarships. This, combined with a diminishing interest in scholastic achievement, saw my slide down the class placings to somewhere around the middle order, but still maintaining my place in the A forms throughout my five years of senior schooling.
My parents always left the choice of subjects up to me as neither of them were academic, my father having left school at 13, my mother perhaps later, as she went to Zercos Business College in Melbourne and learnt shorthand and typing before becoming a school secretary. In the A forms one tended to follow the trend of subjects, science subjects being the most popular among the clever boys who probably had their eye on tertiary education having been influenced by professional parents. And so the rest of us followed; Maths, English (compulsory), Physics, Chemistry, Latin, and an extra one which was purely my choice – German. Of those the only ones which came easily, and I found enjoyable, were English and German. Latin and English were taught by the best teacher I ever had, Allan (‘Argus’) Dennis.
Argus was always completely impartial, and gentle with the slow learners, making them the butt of his jokes perhaps, but never vindictive or cruel like some of his colleagues. Widely read and articulate he was greatly respected among the boys. A former student later wrote about Argus;
He had the ability to make amo, amas, amat or la plume de ma tante seem every bit as exciting as ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ At times, he seemed to fly about the classroom like some large black bird circling, or poised in mid-flight before swooping to the ground to engulf his prey. His voice was at one moment stentorian, the next a mere whisper. His technique varied from hour to hour and day to day. We students never knew what to expect but we were never disappointed.
Whether he recited poetry or read from Caesar in Latin his voice was firm and commanding and he seemed to lose himself in the text. His enthusiasm was infectious to his students, a rare talent.
At the end of every Latin lesson Argus would put up ten new Latin words for a memory test at the beginning of the next lesson. This he called his ‘acid drop.’ Whilst many of his fellow teachers wielded their canes with venom and vindictiveness, Argus had a sandshoe named ‘Mercy’ which was ‘applied to an errant boy’s backside with the intoning of Portia’s words about the quality of mercy – ‘Mercy, never straining, but, dropping as the gentle rain from
‘Argus’ Dennis. dropping as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath’.
The author attended a 50-year class reunion in 2001 to which Argus was invited. He was then approaching 90 but still physically and mentally very fit. The speech he delivered was reminiscent of him at his very best and was the highlight of the gathering.
Argus started at the school at the age of 18 in 1934 as a boarding house master. Boys lucky enough to have been taught by him found him inspiring, and it was no accident that four of his former French students became doctors of the University of Paris – perhaps a unique record for an Australian teacher.
He retired after 43 years at the school in 1977, and died, aged 95, on February 5, 2011.
The other teacher who made a favourable impression on me was Dr Robert Ellis, teacher of German – gentle, never bullying like his peers, tolerant, kind and with a sense of humour. His background is worth recording;
Ward appointed Ellis in 1945; he had formerly been Dr Robert Elasser. Born at Sinsheim in Germany in 1890, he had studied at the universities of Freiberg and Heidelberg. History was his first love, and in his doctoral studies he investigated population movements – a fitting subject for his later life. A teacher at Karlsruhe, he enlisted in the German Army on the outbreak of the first world war, serving as a field artilleryman in many of the major battles. He won two Iron Crosses and was twice wounded. Captured by Australian soldiers in 1918, he was taken to England; back in Germany from 1920, he taught in secondary schools until the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 made his life dangerous. Elasser and his wife Marcelle were Jews, with daughters Charlotte and Gretel. When the Gestapo harried him, he and his family went to Geneva. On a brief return to Germany his passport was confiscated, but he managed to recross the Swiss frontier by posing as a railway worker, tapping the lines as he proceeded. Hardships remained, even after the family acquired new papers and reached Australia, where suitable appointments were scarce. He and his family were brought to Australia courtesy of funds supplied by the Lutheran Church of Australia which at that time was helping displaced Jews. At different stages Dr Ellis – he changed to this name in 1940 – worked as a travelling salesman in Victoria and joined Australia’s citizen military force. Frensham School in New South Wales gave haven to the girls and then teaching positions to both parents. Coming to Adelaide in 1945, ‘Doc’ Ellis was appointed by Ward to teach German. He came into his own with small classes of senior boys for German, but boys in the junior classes found his heavy accent something to mimic when he taught other subjects. War had left its mark: at home he still slept with a sheet over his head, a legacy of nights avoiding rats in the trenches of the Western Front. On the school front, and with his nerves no longer strong, he was tested again, so that it was when supervising the chess club that his tactical skills were more effectively demonstrated. A gentle, cultivated man, he retired from the school in 1957, with even his fellow staff members not knowing of his past. In his final years he and Marcelle made known their opposition to the war in Vietnam. Their younger daughter Gretel married Don Dunstan, the future Labor premier of South Australia.
Chess in the school traced its pedigree back to at least 1950, when about 40 boys, most with little experience, had formed a club. Players had to wait until their subscriptions allowed them to buy more chess sets. Dr Robert Ellis was in charge. He and Clarrie Kurtz played in the Robert Ellis. masters’ common room at lunchtime, the abrupt ending of their struggles being attributed to a sturdy dispute over one game. In 1951 the school entered teams in the newly formed inter-school association. Ellis’s coaching brought results: he even taught Ross Johnson a special move that enabled him to beat the young Australian chess champion Grant Berriman, an old scholar who had come to help the boys.
Our German classes were good fun without too much pressure and never any homework. Robert Ellis had maturity, honed by the fire of front-line warfare and his subsequent bitter Nazi experiences, and this came through in his teaching. The boys responded and acted in a similar mature way, refraining from their normal aggravating confrontational behaviour. We respected and admired him despite his wizened-up appearance.
On one occasion towards the end of a year ‘Doc’ Ellis decided we would sing the German Christmas carols found in the back pages of Oswald’s German Grammar, our text book. He announced;
‘Ach, Peters, you play ze piano; next week ve vill all go down to ze music room and sing ze carols.’
Geoff Peters, a very talented musician whose daughter Jane subsequently became a world-renowned solo violinist based in Paris, transposed the simple melody lines to include a bass line ready for the following week. Came the lesson and we all crowded into the small music practice room around the piano. When Geoff started playing impeccably ‘Oh, tannenbaum, Oh, tannenbaum, wie grün sind deine blätter … Doc Ellis was ecstatic and tears came to his eyes as we sang the tunes. ‘Paters, Paters, you do play beautifully!’ Clearly the emotions of being rejected and persecuted in his German homeland welled up in Jewish Robert Elasser at that moment. We, his pupils, were of course ignorant regarding his background.
Geoff Peters subsequently graduated in Medicine and Robert Ellis and his wife Marcelle became his patients in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide. He looked after Robert Ellis until he died.
‘Argus’ Dennis Dr Robert Ellis
In the Senior School Wednesday mornings were put aside for either military training in the College Cadet Corps or for those less combative, Scouts activities. By far the majority opted for the cadets which was founded in the school in 1900 after the South African War. We were supplied with a military uniform and a World War I 303-rifle in firing condition. These rifles were kept under lock and key in a shed on the back oval and issued every Wednesday. Army personnel came in to assist with the training which included drill, marching, manoeuvres and military tactics. Student cadets were able to do courses and attain the ranks of non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers as second lieutenants. This was excellent training as they then took classes of cadet instruction by themselves and had charge of their own platoons. It is to my everlasting regret that I did not avail myself of this opportunity as in later life I did attain a position of leadership for which such training would have stood me in good stead. At that stage of my life, however, I preferred to be with the rank and file, although at the end of year 11 I did do a fortnights training at Fort Largs and became Orderly Room Staff Sergeant whereupon I typed out Routine Orders for the day and was excused from parades and marching which suited me fine.
Included in this training was an annual camp at Woodside and firing our rifles at Dean Range. This was exciting for 14 year-olds as those old WWI 303-rifles had a good kick and left us with sore bruised shoulders.
Caning remained an important part of the school discipline in the senior school. The author recalls one occasion when he annoyed the English teacher ‘Tex’ Dillon in five lower ‘A’ beyond distraction. Tex’s usual punishment in such situations was to crash a heavy book onto the offender’s head but on this occasion the offence must have been of capital degree. I was invited to accompany him to his room during the recess break. It transpired that he lived on the premises and was I asked to follow him up the narrow winding stairs of the original school building and down a narrow corridor where he opened the door to his small bedroom and invited me in. At this stage I was feeling very vulnerable and remember thinking, ‘Johnson, you’re in real serious trouble this time!’ Our generation were well aware of paedophiles especially in a boys’ school. He opened his wardrobe door to put on view a selection of canes, some long, some short, some thick, some thin. He selected an appropriate weapon which was clearly too long as the room was minute. I was asked to bend over whereupon he wielded his cane in a most amateurish way, with the cane wrapping itself around my backside and striking me across the knuckles which were resting on my knees. He repeated his effort once or twice and then realised, as I had before the exercise started, that his weapon was ill-suited to the task in hand by virtue of its length and flexibility. I was dismissed to report the incident to my expectant class. I suspect that I may have had the distinction of being among the very few students caned by ‘Tex’ Dillon, quite possibly the only one.
‘Killer’ Kurtz, our five upper ‘A’ form master was a master craftsman with his cane and like any good golfer produced maximum results with minimum effort.
In many ways life was hard and unyielding at Prince Alfred College – emotion was not a sentiment to be encouraged; supposedly it did not sit well with ‘manliness’ which was one of the catch cries of the school. One lunch time in my first year in the senior school we were playing a game called ‘keep the ball away,’ one house against another. It was a rough game with no real rules. Somehow, I went over another boys back and landed heavily on my head. I was knocked unconscious and when I regained consciousness I found everyone was walking off the oval back into the classrooms. I was confused as I had not heard the bell which was always loud and clear. I joined the rest to go back into class. The first lesson after lunch was physics with a test for term marks. The questions were on the board. I was totally unable to get my poor brain to function although I knew the work quite well. Try as I might I could not understand what was being asked. In a sweat I put my hand up to the teacher, a Mr Max Hart and told him I didn’t feel well. His dubious response suggested it was because I had not learned the work but he told me to go outside and sit on the balcony which I duly did. Who should then come walking along the balcony but the headmaster, Fred Ward. From his full height of some two metres he lent over and said, ‘What are you doing out here boy?’ thinking of course I had misbehaved. When I told him I was not feeling well he sent me downstairs to the matron of the boarding house. She allowed me to lie on one of the sick beds but at four o’clock came in and said, ‘End of school boy, you’ll have to get yourself home.’
Still feeling very unwell I obeyed her command, went back upstairs to collect my bag from the classroom and struggled down to the trolley bus stop opposite the brewery. Normally I would get off the bus at Rundle Street and change to catch the Cheltenham tram in King William Street. However, I felt so unwell that I stayed on the bus which went down the Port Road. I had no option but to get off at Woodville Road but was then faced with a two kilometre walk to Torrens Road. I walked as far as the Post Office near the railway station and could go no further, so went into the post office and asked the man to ring my home which he kindly did. My Mother and sister picked me up, took me home to bed and called the doctor who diagnosed severe concussion as by that time I had commenced vomiting. After a day or two I recovered, but the whole experience, I remember, was most unpleasant.
On the sporting arena I played always in the A teams of the under-age competition, performing acceptably but rarely with distinction. As my parents had omitted to send me to school until I was six and a half, I had to play in the team above my peers in the class room. For example, when my classmates qualified for the under 14 team I had to play in the under 15 team. In cricket I found myself in a team where the opening batsmen were John Lill (future state and Australian second eleven batsman) and John Ducker (state wicketkeeper and batsman) and included other future good district cricketers. Many were the Saturday mornings when I left Woodville on the tram at 8.00 am, travelled to the city, then changed trams to the long trip out to, say Rostrevor College, only to sit and watch Lill and Ducker each make 100 runs, then to return home without participating. In football things were much the same and again I played to an average standard on a half forward flank or wing alongside much better players.
No parents ever attended these contests as they did in later generations, nor were they compulsory, so those students who were not motivated did other things on a Saturday morning.
Around the age of 16 one starts to think of one’s future career. In those days we had three public exams, the Intermediate in year 10, the Leaving or Matriculation exam in year 11, and Leaving Honours in year 12. The latter year was optional as qualification for university entrance was achieved in year 11. However, most students wanting to go to tertiary education stayed on for Leaving Honours as the subject standards were around first year university.
I never discussed my future career intentions with my parents of siblings. I purchased a copy of the University Calender and frequently referred to it as it contained the subject requirements for all the university courses. I studied these assiduously from about Intermediate level. I considered carefully all the courses and became very enthusiastic about entering Medicine. However, I kept this to myself in case I did not reach a sufficient standard.
In Intermediate I worked reasonably hard without doing too much and achieved a reasonable result passing all seven subjects without any credits. The following year, Leaving, again I worked reasonably well without over-exertion, and passed all six subjects, Maths I, Maths II, Physics, Chemistry, English, German and Special Maths, the latter qualifying one to enter maths at university level. I also won a Commonwealth Scholarship in the Leaving exam entitling me to free university education. This was no great achievement as one had only to attain a reasonable pass in the Leaving exam to be given this award. I had no great enjoyment of Maths, Physics or Chemistry but they were necessary to qualify to enter Medicine.
Our form master in Leaving was a Ken Smith. I played in the seconds cricket and football teams that year. I remember sharing the roving in the football team with John Lill who went on to play test cricket and State football. After attaining his PhD in chemical engineering, he later changed careers and became secretary of the MCG, a very prestigious position much sought after by sporting luminaries.
After passing the public examination Ken Smith sent me a hand written letter including the words, ‘Congratulations Johnson on your solid result in the leaving …’ This, I believe, was the only expression of acclamation I ever received in the Senior School.
My final year at PAC was undoubtedly the worst year of my life. It started with the selection of prefects. These were prestigious appointments supposedly chosen jointly by students and staff. I felt I had a reasonable chance at the selection table, having attained a university entrance level scholarship, having been form captain every year in senior school and with every likelihood of representing the school in the cricket and football intercollegiate games. However, such did not prove to be the case. I was not so much miffed at losing out, as to see the personnel chosen in my stead and this left a particularly bitter taste in my mouth. I considered my options carefully, debating seriously as to whether I should leave school there and then and enter medicine that very year, instead of the next, as the university year had not yet begun. I knew I could persuade my father, especially as I already had a scholarship and it would save him a year of fees. As manager of the Ford Motor Company he was held in high respect by the business community and had scant regard for the snobbishness of the Prince Alfred College community, so that would not be a limiting factor. Besides, I would catch up that year I had lost by not being started at school at the correct age and join all those with whom I had played sport all those years. I knew my father would support me against any school authorities as he had no time for humbug or authoritarianism, even though he ran a large organisation in South Australia. In the end wiser council (my own) prevailed and I decided to accept what I felt was unjust rejection and see out the year. My parents of course were never aware of my predicament as I never discussed it with them. They left all my schooling decisions to me, choice of subjects, sport, behaviour and other activities such as cadets. For that I was very grateful, as early in life I felt they had confidence in me and very early I learned to be responsible for myself. They afforded me opportunities they themselves never had, and did not always fully understand, but opportunities which they were able to offer me by virtue of their conscientious hard work beyond the call of duty.
I found out in later years that a class mate had exactly those same feelings on his rejection as a prefect and with equal reason or perhaps more reason. His name was Trevor Sweeney and he subsequently became an engineer with his own business in Melbourne and with whom I am still in contact. Was it because Trevor and I were both Western Suburb boys (Woodville)? Probably not.
The pinnacle of sporting achievement at PAC was to play in a First Eleven or First Eighteen and play in the Intercollegiate matches against St Peters College. I made up the numbers in the first eighteen and played in the match against St Peters on the Adelaide Oval in 1951. We were the favourites to win and were resplendent in new style jumpers which were a paler red than the usual maroon jerseys. Perhaps there had been too much hype but at all events we lost and were bitterly disappointed for many days thereafter.
PAC First XVIII 1951
Towards the end of that second term we had a football team visit us from Wesley College in Melbourne. Wesley visits had started back in 1890. Those in the first eighteen each had a billet and I had a nice lad from Shepparton who boarded at Wesley College. The result of the football match I cannot remember but I do remember we had to find partners to go to a dance held in the school hall. I was rather socially retarded at that stage of my life and had no girl friends, although did admire some from afar. My only solution was to borrow girl friends of my close mates at Woodville. They were quite understanding and amenable and the evening turned out quite well, especially as my father allowed me the use of his brand new Ford V8 to transport the party.
On the cricketing side, in my penultimate year I played in the school second eleven team against the first eleven as a warmup for their intercol match. I was a left-hand opening batsman and in that match reached the pinnacle of my cricketing career making a solid 50 not out. As a result, the following year, my last at PAC, I was chosen to open the batting for the First Eleven. This was exciting as many great names had played in that team over the years, two Australian captains, Clem Hill and Joe Darling in the 1890s, and then later after my time, two more Australian captains in Ian and Greg Chappell in the 1960s. South Australian cricket was at a low ebb in the 1950s, and so a decision was made by SACA to include the Prince Alfred and St Peters College first elevens in the District B Grade competition (1951 to 1963). This was an enormous jump from playing against schoolboys to playing against men who were all striving to attain positions in their A Grade sides. Being an opening batsman, I was out of my depth and made no good scores. As a result, in the third term, and to my profound disappointment, I found myself back in the Second Eleven and so missed an opportunity to play in the Intercollegiate game.
I continued to feel resentment towards the school during that year, 1951, and as a result my application to all aspects fell away. Besides, I had already qualified to go to university so was looking in that direction. Our physics and chemistry teacher, Ray Smith, was a doyen among teachers. In fact, he wrote the text book which was used throughout the state. However, his prestige relied on how many credits his students gained in the public examination so his focus was on the smart students in the back row of the class. He achieved his aim and his results were good including one, Trevor Ophel, who became a prominent nuclear physicist at the Australian National University. However, for the middle of the road students it was a disaster, although it did provide us with an opportunity to sleep, as his lessons were immediately after lunch.
My philosophy for that year, 1951, was to have a rest during the year and to use the two weeks of swot vocation immediately before the exams to cram it all in. A disaster in the making. The headmaster, ’Jack’ Dunning, a former New Zealand test cricketer, for some reason known only to himself decreed that there would be no swat vacation that year before the Public Examinations and that all boys would attend school as normal. He argued that this would be more beneficial than studying at home. I had set this time aside to learn the whole Leaving Honours course, a hopeless task as I was to discover, so I was in a quandary. I elected to stay at home as did a number of my peers and this had the effect of sending the headmaster into a rage when he found out. He wrote a rude letter to all our parents which in part stated that ‘these boys may think they know what is best but men of experience know better and I consider it insolent …’ and so forth. My father confronted me with this letter and I told him ‘Jack’ was having a bad day and had flipped his lid so he threw it in the bin.
The exams were a disaster for me as anyone could have anticipated but the lessons were learnt – firstly, that I was of middling intelligence and was going to have to work hard to achieve my ambition, and secondly, one had to keep up with understanding what was taught, on a daily basis. I scrupulously followed those principles for the rest of my career.
The results were printed in the press just before Christmas and I planned to get up early and beat my father to the paper. However, he was a very early riser and was standing in the front garden in his dressing gown thumbing the pages.
‘Can’t find your name son.’
‘Let me have a look.’
No Johnson, RG in the pass results so we looked in the failures. Johnson, RG, Eng. I had only passed one out of five subjects.
‘Not a good result son’ was all that was said.
Lessons of life well enforced, and no congratulatory letter this time. Ah well, I thought, it was an annus horribilis, and put the year right out of my mind. I resolved not to join the Old Scholars Association and never to go back to the old school. I did not go back for well over twenty years except on two occasions. The first was when I was playing on the wing for the University A1 football team in the SA Amateur League and we soundly thrashed PAC Old Collegians on the school front oval and in front of and against many of my peers. A most enjoyable experience especially as I was one of the better players. The second occasion was when I was selected in the SA Amateur Football Team and we were scheduled to practice on the PAC front oval. I was approached by the old scholars’ representatives on that occasion and pressured to change clubs. It eased some of the painful memories of my last year at school when I politely but firmly refused, much to their surprise. Not long after this PAC Old Collegians dropped out of A1, and so I never again played sport on the front oval.
In 1947 my middle sister, Ellie, had a very serious operation. She had contracted bronchiectasis as a young child following her measles infection. Bronchiectasis is one of the documented complications of measles and consists of dilatation and chronic infection of the terminal bronchioles of the lungs. All her life Ellie was plagued by a persistent productive cough and recurrent fevers as a result of this disease at the bases of both lungs. She was under the constant care of a chest physician at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, a Dr Sleeman, but in her younger years no cure was available. During her time in the WAAAFs her health was the best it was to be for her whole life. She was stationed at the huge American base at Tocumwal which was built in 1942 with four runways up to two kilometres in length and seven giant hangers to house B17 Flying Fortresses, Kittyhawks and Airocobras. At its peak it housed 54 Liberators, each with a crew of eleven together with backup support. Tocumwal was built in just 16 weeks and was designed to combat the expected invasion by the Japanese. There were 5,000 RAAF personel on the base and 400 WAAAFs. Elvia was involved in tracking down espionage which was rife in Australia during WWII. She was delegated to a senior intelligence officer and flew around the area in small planes taking dictation down in shorthand, at which she was very proficient, interrogations with local farmers and suchlike, or anyone who could contribute to the problem of the espionage. On these light aeroplane excursions around the country, it was obligatory to wear a parachute. Whether she would have been competent to handle her parachute in an emergency is another matter entirely, but then rules were rules.
After WWII Ellie’s bronchiectasis became worse and surgery was recommended with the arrival back in Adelaide of a highly trained cardio-thoracic surgeon, Dr D’Arcy Sutherland. In 1947 Ellie had performed on her the first lung lobectomy carried out in Adelaide. Her recovery was good and she was much better but not cured as she had disease in both lungs.
Whilst she was recovering in the Royal Adelaide Hospital, I took it into my head to refurbish her bedroom. Then aged 14 I recalcimined the walls and ceiling in a light shade of blue, but before doing this I decided to replace the existing lighting system.
How could my parents have allowed me to embark on such a life-threatening venture? My plan was to replace the old-fashioned lights and switches with something modern. The house had been built about 1902 which was about the time electric lighting became available. The electricity was carried from Lesley Street along the top of one side of the tennis court and from there into the back roof. There was a big master switch on the back verandah. In the roof, the cables were carried in wooden channels with circular wooden junction boxes. From there the wires were carried down to the switches in each room inside steel conduit pipes visible on the walls. The lights were central hanging from the ceiling. Very standard and very ugly (in my 14 year-old’s view). I was planning to modernise the whole system! From memory my parents were rather disinterested; occasionally they would put their heads into the room, which was situated in a wing some distance from the main living area, and my father would grunt before going off to read his paper or my mother would say, ‘That’s looking nice dear!’ I was in fact already the electrician of the household repairing all the blown fuses and fused irons for my mother. My father had no idea and really no interest. At one stage he did fancy himself as a clock repairer. Our pantry had one whole shelf delegated to paper bags full of a multitude of clocks, the parts of which he had never been able to put back together again!
We had an electric mower with at least 100 metres of electric cord and it was my job to cut the tennis lawn and about half an acre of front lawn. I found with practice I cut the electric cord less often – in any case I was well practised in joining red to red, green to green and black to black. And so I had good reason to consider myself well qualified and ready for a bigger challenge!
I planned to hide the conduit under the plaster but found it a bigger task than I had imagined. I found I had to coal chisel away the red brick under the plaster in order to hide the conduit. Quite a mess! Then I spackled over the conduit to hide it and finally calcimined over the lot.
The tricky part (to say nothing of being highly dangerous) was connecting the wires to their correct partners in the roof as they were not colour coded. This I did by trial and error until the switch turned on the light. Each time I had to go out to the back verandah and switch off the master switch – I never appreciated that one false move and I would be electrocuted! When the lights worked, I taped up the connections in the roof and the job was finished. I was very proud of the beautiful wall bracket lights that I installed, again by chiselling out the plaster and brick to convey the cords inside conduit pipes. The project took my whole holidays and Ellie, at least, appreciated my efforts when she arrived home from the Adelaide hospital for convalescence.
Ellie had a boyfriend or rather several along her journey. An Irishman she met at Tocumwal was all for coming to Adelaide to meet her family and ask Gordon for his daughter’s hand. At this suggestion, a serious one, I think Elvia took fright and the romance petered out. After the war she worked at the Adelaide Steamship Company as private secretary for a Mr Waddy, the Managing Director with whom she developed a close working relationship. Also in the employ at the Adelaide Steamship Company, in a junior role, was one, Len Opie, who probably owed his appointment to wearing his St. Peters Old Boy’s tie to the interview. At all events Len, possessing a personality not destined to set the world on fire, began a friendship with Ellie.
This friendship, hardly a romance, meandered over the course of a number of decades. Poor Len had a regular seat at our dinner table but had very little to say, except when Ellie brought him forcibly into the conversation, whereupon his contribution would be delivered in a dull, boring monotone. His anxiety at our table was underlined by his proclivity to blow his nose frequently in deafening overtones. How Ellie put up with him was beyond the rest of the family’s comprehension, as she was a fun girl who liked lots of laughter and told very funny stories, usually against herself. Notwithstanding, Len always fronted up, but it was not a romance with lots of fun, theatre, dinner engagements and canoodling. Once or twice, Ellie gave Len his marching orders but inevitably he would reappear on the scene like a dog with his tail between his legs.
On one occasion Len’s mother, a delightful person, sought to move her son’s romance along a little faster. This was perhaps ten years after they had been going together. She lined up a flat for them to share. When Ellie got wind of this. she made her statement, ‘If Len needs his mother to do such arranging and can’t do it himself, I want no part of it!’ And so things remained static.
Len’s real love was the army and in that area his personality blossomed – he was a complete enigma. His army career is best demonstrated by the publicity given him in the Australian and following his death in October, 2008. Ellie sadly predeceased him by 20 years in 1987.
Article in The Australian, Anzac Day, 2008
Major Len Opie commemorating the anniversary of the 151 Battle of Kapyong (Korean War) in April this year (2008)
The first inkling the author had regarding Len’s reputation was during a visit to the Army Museum at Keswick around the year 2000. The tour party paused alongside a display on Korea. The guide, a Colonel Kuusk, indicated that the uniform worn by the dummy in the display was donated by Major Len Opie. In private conversation later with Colonel Kuusk, I mentioned that Len had been a friend of the family. ‘Ah,’ he told me, ‘Did you know he was a born killer – he would volunteer for extra patrols and go behind the Chinese lines in Korea by himself armed solely with a pistol and a piece of wire that he would use as a garrotte!’
Even in his 80s Len was pestering the authorities to let him back into active service so he could go to Afghanistan and show them how it should be done. He had many army friends in high places in Canberra and he worried the life out of them. Eventually they compromised and allowed him to travel to Darwin at taxpayers’ expense where he addressed Australia’s contingent of troops as they dropped into Darwin en route to Afghanistan. He returned to Adelaide a satisfied man.
My father was distantly polite to Len. To cut the mustard with my father one had to stand up to him, to disagree with him, to debate with him. Len never did so, just a quiet yes or no. As an adolescent at the table, I thought he was intimidated by my father as many people were. That was my father’s style; in business and at home. He was an archetype of his era of the 1930s and 1940s. With my mother Len was at ease. He delighted in recalling ghoulish army stories and watching the reaction on his audience.
‘My sergeant only had nine fingers, you know. Yes, he put his finger up from the trench to see which way the wind was blowing and the Viet Cong shot it off. It was very funny.’
This gleeful telling would be followed by giggles and guffaws.
‘Oh Len, how awful,’ my mother would say, ‘Would you like another potato?’
My family all thought Len was a bit effeminate. He didn’t play tennis, he didn’t kick a football, he didn’t barrack for Port Adelaide. He wasn’t even aware of Ellie’s favourite player, Fos Williams. He didn’t smoke and never drank. In all we all thought he was a dead loss. I doubt that he ever kissed my sister let alone canoodled her.
Little did my father know that in other circumstances and if he had worn a Chinese army uniform, Len would have taken him out behind a bush and garrotted him! Was Len really a psychopathic killer? Is this what is required of one to become a national hero?
My sister Ellie was a one off. She had many of her father’s Irish genes and could get uncontrollably angry as I well knew having been chased by her with a poker in her hand which just happened to be the closest weapon. The stories about her were legendary.
Later in her life she had a unit in Esmond Street Hyde Park. Her next-door neighbour was an opal dealer whose name eludes me. On one occasion she was entertaining in her back yard when her neighbour decided to light his incinerator. The smoke drifted across the dividing fence which was some ten feet high. Undeterred Ellie trundled out her long ladder, climbed up and asked him to put out his fire. The smoke continued so this time Ellie climbed the ladder with a hose in hand. She doused the incinerator and for good measure her neighbour as well.
On another occasion her little friend Jean Wilton was visiting. They had several sherbets in the back yard and Elvia thought Jean should not drive her car home. Notwithstanding Jean drove off and Ellie, for some unaccountable reason, jumped into her car and gave chase down Unley Road. However, in the process she sideswiped several cars parked on the kerb in Unley Road whilst Jean, unaware, drove blithely on.
Ellie was larger than life. She caught the bus into the city to work each day. On this particular day the bus was full and the driver chose to ignore several people at a particular stop. This did not sit well with Ellie who jumped out of her seat and strode to the front of the bus and began berating the driver. ‘What’s your number driver, I’m going to report you for that!’ However, at that dramatic moment her purse fell open and coins, lipstick, powder, and other odds and ends were scattered under the passengers’ seats. All aboard helped her retrieve her belongings, grateful for some light relief on a boring journey.
The end of her life was sad as she slowly died from the malicious effects of multiple myeloma, a cancer of blood and bone. Yes, the Same Ellie who had undergone a lung resection for bronchiectasis in 1947. She was living alone in Esmond Street, Hyde Park, at this time of her life when she was aged 66 time. During her last weeks her sisters moved in to look after her every need. Her youngest sister, Lesley, was a trained nurse, so she was well cared for. She had a venous catheter into her subclavian vein and I administered her daily dose of chemotherapy. She had a reasonably comfortable death, but I was shaken when she said to me a few days before she died, as I was administering her injection, ‘I wonder where I’ll be this time next week.’ Both she and I knew the answer to her question in practical terms, but on a more philosophical or even theological plane, neither of us had the answer. I was taken aback by her desire to discuss the hereafter and am sorry I fell back on the usual medical ploy, ‘You’ll be feeling much better and looking for something to eat.’ I had let her down badly and she knew it and I knew it: and so the moment passed as one human being reached out to another human being for solace in death.
Ellie had, in her last months, joined the Catholic Church under the direction of Father Aitken. In hindsight we, as a family, were remiss in not asking her close spiritual friend, a catholic nun, to visit her in her last week. Had I read the following story before my sister asked her question, I am sure my answer would have been different and presented some comfort to her.
…it is 1943, and Ernie Levy with his girl friend Golda and a band of children he has been protecting are on one of the death trains to Auschwitz. One of the children has just died :
Ernie said clearly and emphatically, so that there would be no mistaking him, ‘He’s asleep …’ Then he picked up the child’s corpse and with infinite gentleness laid it on the growing heap of Jewish men, Jewish women, Jewish children, joggled in their last sleep by the jolting of the train.
‘He was my brother,’ a little girl said hesitatingly, anxiously, as though she had not decided what attitude it would be best to take in front of Ernie.
He sat down next to her and set her on his knees. ‘He’ll wake up too, in a little while, with all the others, when we reach the Kingdom of Israel. There, children can find their parents, and everybody is happy. Because the country we’re going to, that’s our kingdom you know …’
‘There,’ a child interrupted happily, repeating the word rhythmically as though he had already said, or thought, or heard them several times, ‘there, we’ll be able to get warm day and night.’
‘Yes, Ernie nodded, ‘That is how it will be.’
‘There,’ said a second voice in the gloom, ‘there are no Germans or railway-trucks or anything that hurts.’
A woman digs her finger-nails into Ernie’s shoulder …
‘How can you tell them it’s only a dream?’ she breathed, with hate in her voice.
Rocking the child mechanically, Ernie gave way to dry sobs. ‘Madame,’ he said at last, ‘there is no room for truth here.’
No room for truth here. What Ellie was asking of me here was a comforting priestly reassurance expressed in the Christian tradition:
‘In one week you may well be meeting with our dearly beloved mother in a happy place, where your body will be restored to its former glory and complete happiness reigns with no more pain or fear or anxiety. You may even prepare a place for the rest of us, your siblings, to join you in the not-too-distant future’.
Alas, thirty-five years too late for this catharsis.
Even after her death there followed a macabre comedy which Elvia would have related with glee. The funeral directors covered utility backed into her drive in Esmond Street to collect her body. A well-meaning neighbour suspected her house was being ransacked and called the police who quickly descended in force and surrounded the van and the bewildered undertaker’s assistant before they realised their mistake (see Appendix 1).
Collage of Ellie – motor bike rider – Corporal in WAAFs at Tocumwal WWII – showing a leg!
During secondary schooling I continued my Woodville activities with the local gang comprising Murray Stevens, Richard Morris, Robert Draper and Murray Dawkins. Another of my class mates at PAC, Ian Fricker, who lived near the Woodville Station, later joined the group.
We used to have a practice hard earth cricket pitch in Jenkin’s paddock at the corner of Leslie Street and Hughes Street. There we spent endless hours batting and bowling, as kids do. At the age of perhaps 14, we challenged the kids on the west side of the railway line to a cricket match in Jenkin’s paddock. They accepted so we got out in the middle of the paddock with our spades and shovels and cleared the weeds and measured the area 22 yards by about two. It was very, very rough. On the appointed day the other kids arrived on their bikes, inspected our poor pitch, but a game was a game so off we went. The captain of the other side was a St Peters College lad, Brian Crompton, a migrant from the north of England. His opening bowler was very tall and very fast. He ran in with small paces and when the ball hit our rough-hewn pitch it flew in unpredictable directions off the hard clay surface. He was unplayable. This lad’s name was John Drennon and he went on to play district cricket for Woodville, then for South Australia and finally was opening bowler for Australia on a tour to South Africa. He played 46 first class matches taking 136 wickets at 25.66 runs per wicket. He bruised and battered us. We were cannon fodder for him to hone his skills.
John became Town Clerk of Port Adelaide and I met him years later when his father came under my care in TQEH. We never were able to beat the west of the railway track lads. Interestingly their home pitch was in the large Connor property on Woodville Road which was subsequently acquired by the state government to build The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The Connors had four or five dwarf children and when we road our bicycles past this house which was hidden from sight behind huge gum trees, we peddled very quickly as rumour had it that the house was haunted.
In my early teens and in my school holidays my father often took me down to a professional fisherman’s shack on the beach, out from Warooka in an isolated area at the bottom end of Yorke Peninsula. There we would spend three or four days in the company of the fisherman, Bert Fookes, and my father’s best friend, Howard Daw, who owned the Adelaide Fishmarket, where Bert delivered his catch. Bert had a couple of boats that he used for his trade and, depending on the weather and wind for the day, we would perhaps troll for snook, go further out to sea after schnapper or sharks, or at other times travel across the peninsula to somewhere near Edithburgh where we would net a school of salmon trout, perhaps a ton or more. After such a big catch we would pack the fish in boxes covered with ice, and then load them into Bert’s insulated trailer ready for the next day’s market in Adelaide.
On one occasion Bert travelled back to Adelaide with us in my father’s car. The three of us sat across the beamy front seat of my father’s latest Ford V8. Along the road my father said to me, ‘Son, would you like a drive?’ I was 14 years old at the time and I remember Bert looking aghast at my father’s offer. I usually had a drive on the way over or back so it was nothing new to me. It was new to Bert though and my father sensed his unease and made the most of it, as was his custom. As we changed seats he said to me in Bert’s hearing, ‘You watch Bert’s right leg son, and when he stiffens it you’ll know it’s time to use the brake!’ Bert failed to appreciate the joke and I said nothing.
Richard Morris’s father Ross was a local medical practitioner. Richard lived over the road from us in Leslie Street, and like me had three siblings. His father we rarely saw, and his mother was very benign and pleasant. Towards the end of secondary schooling the Woodville gang was accustomed to meet at Richard’s house on a Friday evening after the school week.
We took a liking to playing cards and in particular, pontoon, a game based around gambling. We were allocated a back room in the Morris’s mansion, part of which served as the consulting rooms for Ross Morris and his three partners. Before long we started drinking to accompany our gambling. I am ashamed to admit that at the end of some four hours of card playing with threepenny bets one or two of the company were inevitably affected although never seriously. Ross Morris was usually in another part of the house consulting on a Friday night and we never saw him. Richard’s mother occasionally sauntered out to see what the hilarity was about and chided her son in a gentle sort of way with her quiet, dignified voice. Richard, however, at that stage well over six feet tall and emboldened by the effects of the sherry, always told her all was well and dismissed her with and air of authority to another part of the house. Well, we enjoyed our Friday nights. None of our parents missed us nor did it occur to them to check our activities and our degree of sobriety. Pure adolescent experimentation and none of us continued down the slippery slope to vagrancy. The other Friday night activity was smoking and all those present indulged except me. I am not sure why not, as I had smoked with Murray Stevens when we were about eight years old, using gum nuts as home-made pipes or stealing cigarettes from his next door neighbours, the Howards. Perhaps it was because I had become keen on sport and had been convinced that it was not conducive to a good performance. My father smoked as did all the other fathers as it was thought to be a manly habit. My mother was always intrigued by the dexterity with which Murray’s father could flick his cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other balancing it on the tip of his tongue. He was always happy to demonstrate this trick for her entertainment.
Tennis was a big part of our lives in those days. We had a lawn tennis court and the Morris’s across the road had another good quality lawn tennis court. Most nights after school we would play tennis or in winter kick a football on the courts. Each year we would enter the age tennis tournament at Memorial Drive. No input from parents, we did it all off our own bat. Filled in the forms, sent in the money and fronted up at the Drive on the tram in our tennis gear. Somehow my world was outside that of the rest of my family and I very much got on with my own life with very little interference from them, and this was from a very young age.
In the 1940s a driver’s licence was awarded solely after a written test and without any practical driving examination. I learned to drive in my mother’s little Ford 10 Prefect at about the age of 12. We had a large back yard with a long gravel drive from Leslie Street, curving past the tennis court and straightening up to the back door. After the weekly shopping it was my self -appointed task to back the car around and drive it back up the yard and into its shed which was the converted horse stable, the horse by that time having been retired out to pasture on Ron Angas’s property at Angaston. After I gained confidence in this manoeuvre I increased the speed up the drive finishing with a skidding stop as I entered the stable avoiding hitting the back wall.
When I gained my licence my father permitted me to drive his new single spinner Ford V8. This was a revolutionary model when it first came out with the boot end being symmetrical with the bonnet end. I was very proud when he asked me to drive him out to Parafield early in the morning to catch a plane. On the way back, I was barely 16, I succumbed to temptation and pushed it up to 100 miles an hour (160 kph) on the Main North Road somewhere before Gepps Cross. This was 1949. Foolish, foolish.
A couple of years later when I was in Leaving Honours my father negotiated a holiday job with his good friend Pat Faulkner who owned Eclipse Motors. This involved driving a couple of second-hand cars over to their Melbourne branch and picking up two new trucks from the Geelong Ford works for the return journey. I chose my class mate Ian Fricker to accompany me and off we set from Adelaide on a Thursday with a Humber Snipe and an Austin Healey Sports car. Ian and I felt a million dollars in these smart cars. The Austin Healey had an automatic retractable roof which I tried out as we were travelling. Or at least until I tried to close it while whistling along at some 50 mph. The roof objected to this treatment and stuck halfway. We stopped and manually closed it but it was never the same after that treatment. We never did hear the outcome after we delivered it to Swanston Street.
We travelled on by train to Geelong and took delivery of the two brand new trucks, one a Ford Thames and the other a Canadian truck. They were so new they had not as yet had the mudguards fitted. Each truck had a new Ford Prefect piggybacked onto its bare chassis. Neither of us had ever been in a truck let alone driven one. We compared notes on the art of double declutching but neither of us was sure so we drove out of the Geelong factory and around the corner in first gear. Well, practice makes perfect so all the way up the Geelong to Melbourne highway we practiced our double declutching and by the time we reached Melbourne we had just about conquered the grating and screeching of the gear changes.
That was Saturday morning and in the afternoon was scheduled a big football match, South Australia against Victoria which Ian and I were keen to attend. We parked the trucks with the smaller cars on top in Elizabeth Street, the shops not being open on Saturday afternoons in those days, and walked to the MCG. The match was disappointing for us ‘croweaters,’ SA getting its usual drubbing at the hands of the ‘big V.’ Never mind, we had nothing on us to identify us as from across the border, so we wended our way back to Elizabeth Street with the crowd and climbed up into our trucks amidst curious gazes which made us feel somewhat special.
Carefully but with growing confidence we made our way through the football traffic along Flemington Road past the Royal Children’s Hospital and then picked up the Princes Highway as we passed Flemington Racecourse.
It was quite dark by this time and we had trouble finding our headlight switches. We covered the fifty miles to Ballarat and decided to camp in the trucks although we had only two rugs between us. As I remember we had bought sausages on the way and cooked these over a campfire by the side of the road, trying to get warm. We climbed back into our trucks and settled down for the coldest night I had ever spent. Sometime around midnight it started to snow.
We were pleased to get back on the road next morning and the sun allowed us to thaw out. Vehicles in those days were not fitted with heaters or coolers but the warmth of the engine filtered into the cabin. We took turn and turn about driving the Thames and the Canadian truck. About lunchtime we came across road works near the border. The road surface had been rebitumenised and had as yet not firmly solidified although traffic was allowed on it. Being inexperienced we did not realise the dangers and blandly drove our trucks across the new surface. When we next stopped for a break we immediately saw our mistake. The tyres, unprotected by mudguards, had thrown the molten bitumen across the Prefects strapped to their chassis and we could barely detect the original duco colour so dense was the coating of bitumen covering their bodies, the bitumen now solidified. Not only were these vehicles irreparably damaged but the bitumen had been thrown across the truck cabin tops and even spattered onto the engine bonnets. We realised, too late of course, that we should have back tracked and taken an alternative route. We could do nothing but drive on and deliver the vehicles.
On arrival at Eclipse Motors in Flinders Street, Adelaide, we climbed out of the cabins and were met by the owner of the business, Pat Faulkner. I saw his jaw visibly drop as he looked at the damage. When he recovered his composure he quietly listened to our explanation and refrained from telling us what he really thought of our efforts. He was a kind, gentle man, and in any case, he relied on my father to supply him with Ford vehicles, so he paid us our dues and we left the premises feeling very guilty. All four vehicles would have needed the bitumen and paint work removed and the bodies resprayed with duco, a not inexpensive operation. We were never offered any further such trips. I don’t know if Pat ever discussed it with my father but my father never mentioned it although I would have told him.
During the Christmas holidays at the end of school in 1951 Murray Stevens organised for four of us to stay in the shearers’ quarters at Wilpena Pound Station in the Flinders Ranges. Murray’s father George was friendly with tha Hunts who ran the Wilpena Station. The four of us, all part of the Woodville gang, included Murray, Richard Morris, Ian Fricker and myself.
At the time the SA government was offering a sizable reward for anyone who discovered uraniu in the outback so Ian and I put some funds together and he constructed a Geiger Counter with a shoulder strap for us to carry around the terrain. Murray and Richard declined to join our venture which meant that Ian and I had to share the carrying and the costs but we were not deterred and purchased mining rights certificates and off we went. Murray’s father had given him one of the new Holden sedans and Richard had purchased an MG TC prior to starting his oenology course at Roseworthy College. We also had two or three 22-gauge rifles for kangaroo shooting.
We had an eventful week cooking for ourselves in the shearers’ quarters, shooting kangaroos and euros and skinning them for their hides which we had tanned. We also tried our hand at making kangaroo tail soup which was not a huge culinary success. We trudged up hill and down dale with our wretched Geiger Counter. On several occasions Ian and I became excited when the counter ticked overtime but they were false alarms.
On the Sunday we decided to climb St Mary’s Peak, the highest point in the pound, and quite a solid climb. The weather was very hot, but we did not hear the forecast that the Sunday was shaping up to be one of the hottest in the state’s history. Mr Hunt, the station owner did hear the forecast and he came over to our quarters very early to dissuade us but we had already left at 6 am. We drove to the bottom of the peak, crossed the fence, and started climbing upwards. Foolishly we had brought only one water bottle between us. After an hour or so of climbing Ian complained of shortness of breath. He had a known problem with asthma so he turned back. Half-way up we ran out of water but pressed on despite the searing heat. No-one suggested the sensible course and that was to turn back. At about ten or eleven o’clock we struggled to the top. The temperature at that stage was rapidly climbing to its maximum of 109 degrees centigrade (about 42 degrees celsius). We were exhausted, without water, and disappointed to have no view into the pound from the top as a bushfire haze had cut visibility to a few hundred yards. From memory I think we added our names to the cairn of stones and set about descending. It was tough going and Murray and I became separated from Richard. We all became confused because of the extreme conditions and I thought we were lost and in big trouble. More by luck than good management we stumbled across the fence at the bottom and followed it, fortunately in the right direction, to lead us back to our car. We were all very relieved to get out of what could so easily have turned into a disaster. We would not have been the first nor the last to have perished in the vicinity of the pound. The brother of John Bannon, subsequently to become Premier of South Australia, was later to become lost and perish in the same area.
That day was to become known in South Australia’s history as Black Sunday. A day in which bush fires were widespread throughout the state with heavy losses of both lives and property.
The Hunts were mightily relieved to see us safely back and we spent the rest of the day under cold showers, replenishing our lost fluids and contemplating our folly. How pleased we were that we had chosen not to take our Geiger Counter on that exploit.
In retrospect I am surprised none of our parents had given us a passing thought and never contacted us at any stage. No doubt they thought we would not be so stupid as to move out of the shearers’ quarters on such an extreme day.
After returning to Adelaide I had two of the kangaroo skins tanned and presented one to my sister Lesley to put next to her bed. I was very disappointed when she politely declined my offer but for some years I had one next to my bed.
Collage of Wilpena trip; four muskateers, one with Geiger counter, two with .22 rifles; skinning a kangaroo; the summit of St. Mary’s peak (45 degrees centigrade) and the shearers’ quarters.