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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Growing up days

Recently I joined a small comment series about how growing today is vastly different from growing up 50 to 60 years ago and how much the world had changed in regards to allowing children 'freedom' and the need to be so watchful over children in these modern times.

I thought I would add a few thoughts about my own early days and allow readers to consider how vastly different the world of the 1940's is from that of 2010.

I was born in Annandale, in Sydney in 1942 under the shadows of the infamous “Abbey” - Looming over Sydney, the Victorian revivalist manor spookily swathed in Boston ivy had been shrouded in secrecy since Freemason John Young spared no expense in building it to impress his wife in 1881. They never lived in the house, and the grand design of gables, arches, lions, gargoyles, chimneys, turrets and gothic intricacies sat vacant, occupied only by housekeepers, while the ballroom and stables were a superior boarding house to private Sydney schools from 1887.


Annandale did not have a good reputation in those days, at least in View Street where we lived just off Blackwattle Bay. When my father was blessed with a small but tidy sum – courtesy of a fast horse on a slow track – he immediately invested that in building us a home at Ryde, then a small mixed rural area on the outskirts of Sydney comprising dairy farms, orchards, market gardens and a rapidly growing residential population.

He moved us all, Mum and six kids, out there ASAP and I loved it. I was five at the time and just commencing school, so myself and my four sister were packed off to the St Charles Borremeo Catholic Church and school, which was, coincidentally, about 200 metres from home.



I loved the area and quickly made friends with boys my own age, some of whom had been born in the area – the Johnsons – and others, like myself – the Durhams, Youngs and Delandres – had been relocated there in the hope of a better life.

Coincidentally, one of Mum’s cousins (the Brett family) owned a dairy farm about a mile away and the Johnsons also had a dairy farm as well as the local bakery. There were huge apple orchards, dairy farms, bushlands, creeks with swimming holes and the ever-mysterious Chinese Market Gardens with its “Miu”, a temple of worship which was referred to locally as “The Joss House”, sitting squarely in the middle of the gardens.

Ryde had a magnificent series of playing fields and park which included a large oval and imposing grandstand which, in later years, became my ‘grounding area’ for learning to play in the local rugby league and cricket sides.

The world was our oyster and out of school times we were free to roam, play and swim throughout the surrounding bushland and streams but our most favoured spot was The Rialto Cinema at “Top Ryde” on the corner of Pope and Devlin Streets.



In Ryde, Henry Thomson's Ritz had been destroyed by fire on New Year's eve 1930. Although Thomson soon announced plans to rebuild, a business opponent, Gus Bowe, seized the opportunity to re-enter the industry. He built Ryde's most architecturally ambitious cinema on the land he owned near the tram terminus. This theatre was called the Rialto and opened in December 1932. The exterior brickwork incorporated reds, greens, whites and orange and the concrete roofing tiles were blue and green. Large columns topped with gargoyles flanked the floodlit entrance and a second row of gates were topped with seahorses. The interior of the theatre also boasted unusual decorative features as well as state of the art seating and sound.

To us kids it was a magic playground in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s and Saturday afternoon matinees were the order of the day. Sometimes, if we were lucky, my father would take the whole family to the cinema for a Friday night ‘New Release’. This was a tremendous outing in those days and always meant a milk shake and a packet of potato chips at intermission.

We also enjoyed many community activities such as communal bonfires, brass bands and fireworks for special occassions such as Empire Day (now celebrated as Australia Day) and the Queen's Birthday holiday weekend.


Ryde is the third oldest settlement in Australia, after Sydney and Parramatta. The area between Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers was originally known by white settlers as the Field of Mars and then the Eastern Farms. North Ryde was established in the mid 19th century as a farming district, in what was a heavily vegetated area, next to the already established district of Ryde. The Field of Mars Common was considered dangerous, as escaped convicts and bushrangers were known to frequent the area, however, by the end of WWI Ryde was a productive and safe rural area and one that the government of the day identified as an area to cope with Sydney's demand for new residential development.

North Ryde's main street is Coxs Road, which was originally sandstone-lined to make it easier to haul goods up from the wharf on the Lane Cove River to the top of the hill.

For us kids, it was an Adventure Land, a place where we could enjoy more freedom then we had imagined while living in the cramped Balmain region at Annandale.

To be continued……..

2 comments:

Jabacue said...

Yes, times have certainly changed. Kids no longer associate with the community as in the past. They are 'taxied' from place to place for their recreation time. Other times, it appears they are either in school, or in the house 'on the computer' (like I am!).
Is this necessarily all 'bad' for kids? Was it better years ago when we were kids? Time will tell and maybe these kids will be saying/blogging (whatever) the same things we are today.
Liked your narrative about Sydney and look forward to the next.

John said...

Some really interesting points,JBC! Of course I take your questions to be rhetorical, so, I won't answer them directly but what I'll do is over the weekend post a description of what seemed to be a typical day in the life of a city boy growing up in a semi-rural area - perhaps you will find your own answers in that when you think of how young boys live today.