Me ‘n’ Pete

A social history of Australia, not of the famous and heroic, but of the small people, the anonymous people who were the heartbeat of a growing nation

What did kids do in the 1950s when there were no smartphones, tablets, and computers? They roamed the neighbourhood on scooters and bikes. They went on bush hikes. They went to Saturday matinees where the theatres were packed to the rafters, and kids yelled at hero-action and booed kissing. Most of their pleasures were self-made. Besides roaming the streets free of risk, kids enjoyed trips to the beach and zoo. They took a double-decker bus town to see the Christmas displays. Christmas in the city was a wonderland of toys and amusements.

The decade of the 1950s now seems idyllic to many now in their seventies and eighties. It was so different from the first decades of the 21st century that those years now seem like another world, an impossible world of social and moral values. In today’s atmosphere, it seems hard to imagine it possessed any legitimate social and moral coherence.

The author looks back on those years, telling the story as much about the world he grew up in as about himself. He starts from his birth in July 1946 and goes to the end of his second year at primary school, 1953, when he turned six and learnt to read. It was also the year that Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England, a super-nova event for Australia.

The author’s story involves his lifelong friend, Pete, a rubella baby, a condition which tragically took his already poor sight in his teenage years. Pete’s story, told as an adult without sight, is fascinating.

The year 1946 was the year after the Second World War had ended. Despite an optimistic outlook, Australia was full of talk of the war – of the threat of war, of the suffering, of the shocking cruelty of the Japanese army, and of lost loved ones. The author’s upbeat father, just discharged from the navy with the rank of Chief Petty Officer, put it all behind him and began building the family’s first house in Lane Cove, a suburb on the north side of Sydney Harbour, and the scene of his childhood. Their new three-bedroom, double-brick home was like a palace.

For a boy, who according to his mother had ants in his pants, the author remembers much about the social and political events that provoked his father into long and loud comment. He has clear memories of the Korean War, the activities of the communist-controlled unions, Prime Minister Menzies’ measures against them, and so much more.

The local convent under the regime of the Mercy Sisters is an unmissable part of his story. He recalls with affection the sisters’ teaching methods and their strict regimentation of their pupils. He thinks some of their disciplinary methods, now condemned by many, are rather amusing to look back on. He regards that class of 1953 as the end of a phase in his development when he learnt to read. The following year, 1954, was rich in social and political events and will start the fourth book in the family history series, COMMUNISTS, BILLYCARTS AND TWO WHEELERS.

This is the third book in the series, A HISTORY OF A CATHOLIC FAMILY.

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Writer … and still in the fifties