Was the past no better or worse than the present?

‘Richard Glover takes a trip back in time’

Richard Glover (presumably the ABC one) wrote a humorous comment about the past for the 17 January 2015 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

More precisely, it was about some of the strange (for people under 50 years) habits and customs of the past. He seemed to be talking mainly about the habits and ways of the 1950s and 1960s. I can attest that most of what he says is true – at least according to my experience.  Let me comment on the more surprising ones.

1. ‘School students, particularly boys, would be regularly beaten with sticks, usually by the teaching staff.’

Very true. My loving parents wielded the cane from a feather duster when we boys tried their patience too much. The nuns also applied the cane to naughty hands and legs. But Glover does not mention the strap. The brothers at the school I went to seemed to have their specially made penitential strap permanently fixed to their hand – so often was it applied to the hands of recalcitrant boys. ‘Six of the best for you, son!’ rang out continually through rooms and halls.

2. ‘When using a public phone, you could avoid paying by shouting into the earpiece, knowing that you could just be heard, however faintly.’

True again. I used the public telephone earpiece like today’s mobile phone to ring my parents to tell them where I was and where to be picked up.

3. ‘A trip to the tip was considered a leisure activity.’

My brother and I had a wonderful time scrounging around the local tip. The only danger we were conscious of was being caught by the tip guard. We found many treasures there.

4. But this one I never witnessed – and there were plenty of smokers who visited my mum and dad. A bit fanciful, I think.

‘When grown-ups had parties, the children would be required to light the guests’ cigarettes.’

5. The following is one of the great myths about the 1950s:

‘As part of a “health” campaign, school children were forced to drink a small bottle of milk that had been left out in the sun until it was warm and about to curdle.’

Not true – a myth grown over time from a few rare cases.

The state government supplied crates of milk in small bottles to primary schools as part of a health policy. During all the time the crates of milk were delivered to the schools I attended, I can think of only one occasion when the crates were left in the sun. And then nobody drank the milk – and did not have to. I always looked forward to that swig of milk still chilled. I was a kid who could down a pint of milk in two seconds flat.

Glover’s point for listing the strange customs:

‘My point isn’t that the past was better or worse than the present. Just that it was a different country – one that now seems unrecognisable even to those of us who once lived there.’

I don’t agree. Every age has its benefits and disadvantages, its joys and sorrows, but to say every age is of the same value is to commit the common fallacy of equivalence. One can make a judgement on the balance of good and bad. I think the 1950s was a special period in Australia’s history.


Invitation to celebrate Teresa Waugh’s birthday

Dear Evelyn Waugh reader,

Mr and Mrs Evelyn Waugh invites you to a coming-out celebration for their daughter, Teresa, on Thursday 5 July, 1956.

The celebration is divided between two sites:

1) The Hyde Park Hotel, 7pm, for dinner.

2) The tents erected in Kensington Square Gardens for photographs, afternoon drinks and post-dinner dancing.

Non-vintage champagne for all except Evelyn. Any departures from the correct formal dress for men (billiard-table-green tweed suit and orange-and-white brogues) will be recorded in his private diary.

To accept the invitation, simply click the link:

Best wishes,

Duncan McLaren (soc. sec.)

The Era of the White Picket Fence

By Peter Fisher

We cannot return to the days of the ‘white picketfence’. But we should recognise that there were many virtues and human qualities proper to that era that we are now the poorer for having jettisoned.

THESE DAYS, any reference to an era of the so-called ‘white picket fence’ is often accompanied by scorn and derision from modern ‘progressives’. The period in question is the 1950s and early-to-mid-1960s, prior to the coming of age of the baby boomers and the sexual revolution that came in their wake. Continue reading The Era of the White Picket Fence

The tradition of the Christmas pudding

One of the most enjoyable features of Christmas dinner in Australia has been the Christmas plum pudding. The first settlers to Australia brought its ritual and tradition. It was to be expected, of course, that my family whose ancestors came from the British Isles before 1840 would follow the ritual and tradition with much joy and enthusiasm. The reader will find an excellent description of the plum pudding and its cultural background on the most informative of the many websites on Jane Austen and her world:  The Christmas plum pudding and old English foodie tradition.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother helping my grandmother prepare the Christmas pudding for Christmas dinner. It was pretty much as described on Jane Austen’s World website, including the stirring of the bowl.

That tradition has carried on. Until my mother passed away well into her nineties, she used to watch on as daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren stirred the pudding mixture.  An indispensable part of the ritual was the mixing in of thruppences, sixpences, shilling and two shilling pieces which my parents had kept after the cultural destructive introduction of dollars and cents in 1966. Those lucky enough to find pennies and shillings in their slice of plum pudding could exchange them for higher value but colourless cents.

The Christmas story according to St Luke, translated by Mgr Ronald Knox

One is not usually conscious when reading the Scriptures that there are many different translations. One simply reads the text endeavouring to follow the narration and understand the meaning. I must admit, though, that the style and language usage of what I am sometimes reading comes across as wooden, fractured and archaic without the grace of some ancient writing, all of which makes the meaning obscure. I have been in the habit of thinking myself lacking understanding rather than blame the text.

Some years ago I was reading some passages from the New Testament when I suddenly became aware that my mind had come on the text as a train rides on the perfect fit of the railway track. The language was my language and I was inside the narration. There was none of that woodenness or forced rigidity of language that I often experienced. I had no way of knowing which translation it was. Sometime later, I picked up the New Testament edition I had been given back in 1959 when starting secondary school. Upon reading I realised it was the same translation that had engaged me so naturally. It was Mgr Ronald Knox’s translation. Continue reading The Christmas story according to St Luke, translated by Mgr Ronald Knox

The slab and bark hut in colonial Australia

The slab and bark hut is a major feature of colonial Australia. My first ancestors, all from the British Isles, lived in rural New South Wales. The accommodation of my great-great-grandparents Wilson and Jones, about whom I write in FROM PRISON HULK TO THREE BEDROOM HOME  would have been a hut like this:

Slab and Bark Hut

There is much information about bark and slab huts. Interesting sites are here and here.

Writer … and still in the fifties