Where did you live when you were twelve?

Quite a journey of unpleasant recall for me. I spent my early childhood on the move with mum and day because of his work.  Where was I at age twelve?

Now for today’s twist, use short, medium and long sentences to compose the response . So, here goes.

For three years, up until I was aged nine, I lived with mom, dad and his brother in a vast, rambling, government supplied residence that went with my dad’s job. The house had covered verandahs all round, expansive rural views and massive front and back yards.

Our backyard was so large that dad’s brother, my uncle, taught me to shoot, using his Browning .22 rifle. We used targets set up against one of our big backyard trees. It was just after the end of WW2 and no one seemed concerned about kids learning to shoot. In the backyard. With real guns.

Even in other peoples backyard. Not any more.

Anyway, to say I was surprised when I first set eyes on our new accommodation when we returned to Sydney would be the understatement of the year.

Three years later, at age twelve I was still uncomfortable there. Dad’s brother had moved somewhere too. I can’t remember where.

The weather board house with a tin roof we lived in was tiny by any standards. It was on a vast corner block and occupied a minute corner of the land it was built on. It had an outside toilet. There was no sewerage connection and the night soil man, the ‘dunny man’, as he was universally know, came at night, once a week. He removed the existing ‘pan’ as it was called and replaced it with a fresh, empty one.

I’ll always remember the smell! It was of fresh hot tar. All the ‘pans’ were hot tar dipped at the depot prior to delivery to ensure hygiene standards were maintained.

The house had a tiny verandah. It faced the main road. I’ll never forget the address, 726 Woodville Road, Villawood. I can use the address freely now. Over 60 years have passed since I lived there, and that address no longer exists. The house is long gone, replaced by factories and warehouses. Any trace of the old house has long vanished, as have my mom and dad.  In different ways of course.

One thing though has remained. The traffic. In the 1950s, Woodville Road was a main two lane thoroughfare connecting the City of Parramatta to it’s southern zones.

In my day, the constant northbound traffic flowed about 6 metres( 20 feet or so) from my bedroom windows. I can still smell the exhaust fumes. No wonder I’m an asthmatic.

The rest of the house was equally dismal. We had a kerosene stove in the kitchen, an ice chest to keep things cool, no hot water unless you lit the chip heater and as for the bathroom. The less said about the galvanised tin bath the better.  Dad had first bath on Saturday morning, mum jumped in next and I came a very very poor last.

Dad did no manual labour, mum stayed home as did the majority of mothers and as for me, I was a perfect little boy, no aroma at all. Not like the two adults with whom I shared the tiny, noisy, draughty, shabbily furnished, cold, miserable place we called ‘the house’, not ‘home’. Mom and dad were both chain smokers, they either rolled their own or smoked untipped Benson and Hedges. Both reeked of tobacco smoke. That didn’t matter because so did every other adult I remember from those days. Everyone smoked, left their cigarette butts all over the place and visitors always left full ashtrays as evidence of their presence.

At that time, WW2 refugees, or ‘reffos’ as they were referred to or, alternatively, ‘Baults’, because they came from areas around the Baltic Sea, were accommodated in a ‘camp’ comprising accommodation in Nissan Huts and it was located not far from our house.

As I said, our house was close to the road. It was also close to a bus stop. So close in fact, that when it rained, the Reffos or Baults took cover on our front verandah to wait for the bus. I’d sometimes wake up in the morning and see strange faces peering at me through the window.

Mom was tolerant and dad was the opposite. When Mom stuck her head out the door and asked them to be quiet and move, sometimes in French, never in German, both of which she spoke fluently,  they generally complied. With dad, his appearance had the opposite effect. He never had to utter a word. His ferocious countenance said it all and using many words in foreign languages our uninvited visitors would retreat to the bus stop.

Once I got used to their presence outside my window, I’d smile and they would smile back. I wasn’t afraid of them, in fact I felt sorry for them. We always moved voluntarily because of dad’s profession. We always had somewhere safe and warm to go to. On the other hand these poor blighters were victims of circumstances over which they had no control.

I hated that house in Villawood. I had no friends my own age living nearby. That probably accounts for the fact that I’m somewhat of a loner. I was allergic to the bark, flowers and the leaves of the tea trees(Leptospermum/Melaleuca) that were prolific in our back paddock.

We had no car and I walked to school, six miles each way as there was no public transport. I hated that school and the kids that went there. Then came high school. A four mile walk to the railway station, a forty five minute trip on the train, then an uphill walk to the high school. I hated that school too.

Yesterday I had a yarn with some local blokes about where they lived when they were twelve. Two of them still lived in the same houses and have been here in town all of their lives. Unlike me, they all had great memories of being 12 and the houses they lived in.

Not like me. I wasn’t happy at 726 Woodville Road, Villawood. When I occasionally have to drive along Woodville Road and have to pass the corner where the house used to be, I breathe a sigh of relief that there is not a vestige of the old house remaining. That’s the one good thing about 726 Woodville Road Villawood.


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