The long summer holidays began here in Queensland this weekend and we heralded it with a traditional game of cricket, a swim in the pool and a BBQ in the backyard at the home of my daughter and her husband and three kids. It was a wonderful evening!
It made me think of my Christmas holidays when I was a child. I grew up as an only child of parents who were mostly running their own small businesses in very small towns. Between 1957 and 1962 we lived in a small fishing village called Donnybrook about 20kms east of Caboolture which is about 60km north of Brisbane. The business was multi-faceted. We had one of the two corner stores and an unofficial post office and Dad was fishing and crabbing professionally. We also had a fleet of boats for hire: 12 boats with inboard motors (as opposed to the outboard motors of today), 30 dinghies and one large motor launch for towing the dinghies out into the bay when fishing clubs hired them.
As I remember there were only about nine houses that were permanently occupied and probably about another dozen that were holiday homes. So there were only about 13 kids who lived there and caught the old red truck to school in Caboolture each school day. I was pretty much a loner. I loved to read, loved doing maths, loved to row a dinghy out into the middle of the channel and fish. On weekends I would help serve in the shop and would have to clean the boats after they were returned by our customers. Mum couldn’t drive and Dad was always busy so there was never an opportunity to do any after school activities. I guess it was a pretty lonely existence.
But everything changed in the school holidays, especially in the long summer holidays. The park area became a city of tents and there were kids everywhere. Most brought their bikes and we formed an unofficial bike club and we would ride and ride. Of course, there were more customers to serve and more boats to clean. How many lollies would I have sold? They were all displayed in tall glass bottles and you’d open the bottle and count the lollies into little white paper bags. This was before the days of decimal currency and kids could get so many lollies for threepence or sixpence. You could buy three conversation lollies and three raspberries and three chico babies all for threepence (about two or three cents). Those delicious bags of sherbet with a liquorice straw would be another threepence. I was never allowed to help myself to the lollies but had to buy them out of my pocket money of a shilling a week (about 10 cents).
We didn’t have electricity at Donnybrook but we had our own generator beside the house. We would have to keep it running to keep the icecreams frozen. These weren’t delivered in refrigerated trucks but rather Dad would drive to Brisbane in our ute and visit the Pauls Icecream Factory beside the Brisbane River where he would buy little single serve buckets of icecream to sell in the shop. Pauls would pack them in dry ice in a green cylindrical shaped container about a metre tall and about 50cm in diameter.
Of course, there were no powered tent sites so campers used kerosene lamps and they needed ice for their eskies. Ice would be delivered to our shop in blocks about 80cm by 80cm and 12cm deep in brown hessian bags. The campers would have ordered their ice from us and we would deliver it to their tent by wheelbarrow.
The boats would often break down and Dad would have to fix them. I remember our oven in the big slow combustion stove often being filled, not with cakes or roast dinners but with carburettors from the boats. They’d get wet and wouldn’t work again until they’d been properly dried out in the oven. On a hot summer’s day, in a small fibro house with the fire raging in the stove it became very hot and unpleasant.
Each Sunday during the holidays, the Methodist Church would come to visit and would run a Sunday School Service under the big old trees. All the kids used to attend as it was a bit of entertainment –didn’t matter if you were Methodist or not, religious or not. They told good stories and we all sang along to the piano accordion. I can remember belting out “ Jesus loves me, this I know…….”.
Up on the hill lived three generations of the one fishing family in four homes surrounded by big old mango trees. They weren’t any of the fancy new tasty varieties – just the plain old stringy ones but they bore masses of fruit and we thought they were delicious. Every year, I would push the wheelbarrow up the hill a few times and pick up mangoes from the ground until the barrow was full. Then I’d push it home, peel a few, run the bath and climb into it and devour the mangoes. Yum! I’m salivating at the thought of it. Then Dad would make the most delicious mango chutney from the rest.
One of my favourite jobs was helping Dad to empty the crabpots. He’d have them scattered through the creeks in locations where he thought there were plenty of crabs. We’d be up and out on the water in one of the inboards by daylight. Sunrise over the water was always beautiful. I’d steer the boat alongside the pots, Dad would pull the pot in, empty out the crabs, put his foot on the back of each one in turn and tie its claws into its body and put in a wet hessian bag. When all the crabs were restrained he would rebait the pot with beef bones and toss it back in. I loved eating the catch, too! If I had one meal left and could choose what to eat, it would definitely be mud crab on bread and butter, as chilli crab,…… any way really!
I love the ocean and loved living near the sea. I think this was the favourite part of my childhood. My Mum, that is my Adopted Mum hated it but I loved it. I still do and really enjoy living in Lota, Brisbane just 500 metres from Moreton Bay. I wonder if this is a throwback to my Couch ancestors who were Master Mariners and fisherman in Port Isaac in Cornwall? I reckon it is!