At that time I was “journalling” as I still called blogging on Diary-X. Sad what happened to Diary-X, and when it vanished entirely so did my blog. The bits preserved on the Internet Archive are few and far between. This one is still around because I copied it to a site I had on Angelfire, and that got captured by the Internet Archive. Here it is with some videos added.
At Vermont Street Monday to Friday at 5 pm without fail I would listen to the ABC Children’s Hour, a habit begun the previous year as my sister was a listener; she became an Argonaut and then so did I. I was Leda 37 (each member was allotted a “ship” and given a number), but I only ever won one Blue Certificate. Many quite prominent Australians have testified to how significant this rather odd radio program was in their lives.
Can I remember the Argonauts theme song? Let’s try:
Row, row, merry oarsmen row
That dangers lie ahead, we know, we know–
But bend with all your might
As we sail into the night
For wrongs we’re bound to right,
Argonauts, row, row, row.”
Today is my brother’s birthday. Vermont Street saw many changes in his life, culminating in his marriage in 1955 (he was 19, she was 16), the last year we were there. 1953-1954 he had been in the Army, stationed at Holsworthy; it is worth recalling that the Korean War in which there were 1538 Australian casualties (including 281 killed) was still being fought up to July 1953. So by 1955 I was the only child left in our household. By the time he was 24 my brother had four children of his own. [I was wrong there I think, as that would make the 4th child born by 1959. It was actually three children at that stage. A fourth did arrive a few years later.]
My mother has written about the move to Vermont Street, what it meant, and the impact of the death of Jeanette, my sister, far more poignantly than I ever could. It was, as she said, the first home our family could call their own; Auburn Street had been rented, first by my grandfather Christison, and then by us. I had been born into a large extended family all under one roof–we were only there because of the War– though by 1949 that had come down to the nuclear family of Mum, Dad and three kids. Grandma and Grandpa Christison lived in Waratah Street which intersects with Vermont Street, so in the new house they were just around the corner. I spent almost as much time with them as I did at home, as Grandpa Christison was probably more a father to me than my father was; after all, I had known him longer! Also, he talked to me and answered all my questions–even about snails 😉
Very many days after school I would be at their place, and a regular event was to walk over the road, cut through the railway fence, and stand together by the pulsing and hissing C32 steam locomotive that at about 4.00 pm always sat on the goods line waiting for the all clear to proceed to Sydney with its train load of fresh Illawarra milk. Grandpa had befriended railway workers during his time in the country and loved to talk to the engine driver and fireman, who seemed to enjoy talking to him as well. I just loved steam engines, their smell, their heat, their sounds, their explicit power. I was fascinated too by their age: “Beyer Peacock England 1896” for example, on the side of some C32. Of course the magic moment was when the South Coast Daylight Express would come roaring down the line on its return journey to Sydney with its streamlined C38 and its beautiful Pullman carriages that I would dream of travelling in one day. Why, it would come rushing through at 60 or even 70 miles per hour! Wonderful.
3801 in full flight! See also Dennis Rittson’s Train Photos where you will find many more.
The goods trains had their excitement too, often double-headed up the hill from Jannali by a pair of deep-throated D-51s or, most exciting, one enormous D-57, or occasionally an oil-burning Baldwin (an American locomotive) or a huge Beyer-Garrett double-ended articulated loco. The latter were rare as their length and weight made them unsuitable for the Illawarra line as they tended to displace the rails on sharp bends!
Now you didn’t know I knew so much about trains, did you? In those days I just loved them, and could tell even in the dead of night from my bedroom in Vermont Street just what class of engine was chuffing up the hill from Jannali, just by its sound.
My mother was less romantic about steam engines; she rather resented the black flecks of ash falling on her newly washed sheets!