Early Stories

1948-1959: Kingston Park

Thanks to Dorothy for clarifying some of these details.

Dorothy was born at Calvary Hospital in North Adelaide. Mum and Dad were living with Granny Harrod (that’s Mum’s mother) at Magill until the Kingston Park house was built. Her words: “I must have been about 2 years old and mobile when we shifted to Kingston Park as I have a memory of being tied to the clothesline because there were no fences.” (I’m guessing in some sort of leash and harness.) Whatever it was, she clearly survived the tethering.

Kevin and I were born in the Community Hospital in Glenelg, a beachside suburb of Adelaide. Dorothy’s words: “When you came home from hospital, I told Mum to take you back and get a girl! My concept at that stage was that the hospital was a repository for babies and you just came and got one off the shelf and took it home.”

Kingston Park is level high ground overlooking the St Vincent Gulf. Because summers are hot there, we would often walk down the goat track from the point where Kingston Crescent curls around to follow the coastline, to swim in the salt water. I do recall one day when I ventured out too far and had to be rescued by one of the older kids.

  • Dad used to enjoy telling this story:
  • “Hello, little boy. What’s your name?”
  • “Wodney.”
  • “And what does your father call you?”
  • “Watbag Wodney.”

My online name at the Adelaide University Hockey Club, where I am a non-playing member, is “Ratbag”.

Kevin and I would also race our bitsers (go-karts made out of bitser this and bitser that) down the gully opposite the house. We like to think that we were the best drivers in the neighbourhood. To survive, you needed to be able to broadside at the bottom, so that you didn’t drop about 20 feet into the creek bed below. One day, Kevin’s steering rope broke and he careened off into a boxthorn bush, to come face to face with a bloody big black snake. He yelled “SNAKE!” and bailed out of there rapidly. Meanwhile, the snake bailed out in the opposite direction and we never saw it again, although it took a while for us to have the nerve to get in there and extract his bitser.

On another occasion, Kevin and I got into a fight with the kids living up the street, who started throwing broken glass at us. Kevin saw one coming and put his hand up to shield his face, resulting in a gash on his finger. I turned the other way and got one in the back of my knee. I still have a vivid memory of the two of us bleeding into a metal bucket that Mum had provided, while she got herself organised to take us to a surgery. Both of us needed stitches. I have a vague memory of just about screaming the place down, not because I was in pain, but because I was scared. From that day on, I have NEVER AGAIN turned away from something coming at me. That way, there’s half a chance I can avoid it! And yes, I still have the scar behind my right knee. Dorothy’s words: “I remember the glass throwing incident. Blood everywhere!”

Mum was way more imaginative than we all gave her credit for. One day, while she was still learning the finer points of driving, she was backing out of the driveway and took out the post at the end of the hedge. Not wishing to have Dad mad at her, she propped the post up again somehow. Apparently Dad never did figure out why the last plant at the end of the hedge died.

1960-1964: Mt Gambier

Dad had an opportunity to transfer through work away from the city into the country, and took it. We moved to Mt Gambier, where we initially had temporary accommodation in a small apartment in the heart of the town. Unfortunately, it was right next to the gas works, where there was a VERY strong smell of gas. As I recall, the budgie died shortly afterwards.

We found a house to rent in a brand new subdivision of North Gambier. The whole area in the South East of South Australia is riddled with limestone caves. We started to suspect that we might be living on top of one when we could hear every word spoken in the telephone box out near our gate, and anyone walking up the driveway sounded like they were already in the lounge room.

The phone box is still there! Pictures on this page are courtesy of Google Maps Street View.

This was confirmed some time later, when a workman was using a crowbar to punch a hole in the neighbour’s yard. He lost his grip on it when it disappeared into the hole! After the hole was enlarged a little, someone dropped a flare down there. They lost sight of the flare before it hit bottom. Yep, we’re living on top of a honkin’ big cave.

The year after we arrived in Mt Gambier, the new North Gambier Primary School opened within walking distance from our house, so I was part of the initial intake. As I recall, I was in Grade 7, which the last grade before High School. A group of us were sitting having lunch one day, discussing possible names for the school football team, when a pigeon sitting on the roof overhang high above us, dropped his poop on the ground nearby. Aha, that’s it! The Bombers. And the team colours? Yellow and brown of course.

Dad, Kevin and I were involved in the the introduction of hockey (that’s Field Hockey to our American friends) to Mt Gambier. Dad was an umpire, while Kevin and I played. I still have memory of little me flying down the field chasing the ball, and a much taller person coming after me. Boing, boing, boing. And the bugger was overtaking me!

Some time later, the local association hosted an Easter Carnival (Easter in Australia is Friday through Monday), attracting teams from as far away as Adelaide and possibly parts of Victoria. One of the Adelaide teams was short a player and of course I volunteered to fill in. I was playing at Left Wing against Dad’s boss at Right Half. The man is 6 foot something. At one point, he got in my way and I literally ran THROUGH his legs, much to the enjoyment of the crowd watching the game, but leaving Dad wondering whether he would still have a job on Tuesday. He did.

With all of the limestone in the area, the water was very hard. A short chemistry lesson: Limestone is Calcium Carbonate. Being a Calcium salt, it prevents soap products of any kind from lathering, resulting in “hard water”. Water with Sodium salts on the other hand, lathers really well, resulting in “soft water”, and virtually every house needing to have a “water softener”. The chemistry is simple. If you pass water containing Calcium Carbonate through a system of beads which are heavily impregnated with Sodium Carbonate, the Sodium ions replace the Calcium ions, resulting in water rich in Sodium Carbonate – soft water. How do you get the beads heavily impregnated with Sodium Carbonate? By recharging the water softener when the water starts becoming hard. How can you tell? Simple. The water doesn’t lather like it should. How do you recharge it? Simple again. Flood the system with a Sodium salt. The easiest form available? Sodium Chloride. Plain old SALT. Switch the unit to bypass, so that the house still has water, and dump a huge dose of salt into it and let it sit in there for a few hours. The density of Sodium ions in the unit causes the reverse action to take place, converting the built up Calcium Carbonate into Sodium Carbonate, ready for the whole process to be repeated. Then flush the system thoroughly to get rid of the excess salt, take it off bypass and enjoy soft water again.

Dad used to do this process for the Meals on Wheels organisation, whose building was right next to the hockey pitch. He would go there and set up the recharge, let it do its thing while he umpired a game or two, and then go back to it, flush the system and go home.

1965-1968: Murray Bridge

The family moved to Murray Bridge, and rented a house in an area called Northern Heights. Apparently the house now has an address – 35 Doyle Road, presumably named after the dairy farmer across the road. We were still moving in when Colin from next door (now number 33) dropped in to welcome us, carrying a tennis racquet which he was using to swat moths.

The house:

The end result was that I ended up pitching in at the dairy just down the road, for the afternoon milking and on weekends. This is what’s left of the milking shed. Engine bay on the right, a large staging area for the cows off to the left, a staging area for the milk cans facing the street, and the trees have grown up through everything.

I also learned to drive a tractor, long before I was old enough to drive a car. The boss had a property out on the other side of the town, which was used to grow oats for hay. During the summer, it was “all hands on deck” to cut, windrow and bale the crop, and then to transport the bales of hay back to the dairy for storage. After that came ploughing and planting the crop for the following year. It was here that I learned that the equipment behind the tractor was much wider than the tractor was, and I needed to watch behind me when going through a gate to make sure that I didn’t run over the gate post (which I did once, and never again).

Around the same time, Kevin was learning to drive a car. His big stumbling block was the parallel parking. He and Dad spent HOURS each week with him practicing in the unused swamp area of Mobilong, and he eventually passed the test.

We were also largely responsible for introducing hockey to Murray Bridge, first at the school, and later as it spread into the town. I have another vivid memory of playing Right Wing when someone smashed a pass to me, right at groin level. I caught the pass, but not with my stick, and went down in a crumpled heap. I then proceeded to crawl all the way across the field into the clubhouse to recover from the pain.

Also during that period, the Murray Bridge team participated in a Country Carnival in Adelaide. After we defeated the Mt Gambier team in the final, I was called upon as captain to say a few words. I remember stumbling through it, making reference to many of my former friends who had believed that hockey would never take off there. After that, I resolved that if it ever looked like I might need to speak to a group, I would be prepared with an outline of what I wanted to say.

Fast forward a few years, and it was Kevin’s turn to teach me how to parallel park. He showed me how to do it and then it was my turn. I parked the car perfectly. Four times in a row. He gave up teaching me, but not before teaching me the trick of using the angles involved to nail a reverse park every time. These instructions are for a right hand drive vehicle.

  • Line up your vehicle with the rear adjacent to the rear of the vehicle in front of the space.
  • Start moving slowly back and left lock the wheel.
  • Look in the mirror and maintain left lock until the side of your vehicle is pointing at the left front corner of the vehicle behind.
  • Straighten the wheels and continue to reverse slowly.
  • Look to the front and when you are looking straight at the mirror of the vehicle in front, right lock.
  • When you are parallel with both vehicles, stop.
  • Move forward and straighten up as necessary.

Much later, when I first arrived in Seattle, I needed to pass a regular driving test. The tester was also an instructor, and when I nailed the reverse parking in one go, and not once looking behind, he wanted to know how I had done it. I explained the process and he said that he would teach that in future.

I have successfully used this technique on larger vehicles here in the USA , (with lefts and rights reversed of course) such as the previous work truck and now the delivery vans, simply adjusting the aiming points to allow for a wider vehicle.

I moved to Adelaide in early 1969 to attend Adelaide University, graduating 3 years later with a Bachelor of Science degree. Had a girlfriend, lost the girlfriend, played hockey for the University team in the A3 division, and just scraped through in the final year. Good times!