Dressmaking Disasters

Unlike many, maybe even most, children these days I had no say in the clothes I wore before I was about 12, that’s when I started Secondary School. We had sewing lessons once a week and Mum decided I could make a school blouse. It took all year for me to draft the pattern and cut out the material, it was still in pieces at the end of the year! When I chose some material and a pattern for myself I quickly finished the article but it wasn’t exactly satisfying.

I had plans to go to the beach with a friend and decided I’d make a “playsuit” for the occasion. I bought some pink, Hounds -Tooth Check material (It’s the signature David Jones pattern).  I‘d bought a Simplicity pattern because I hoped it would live up to its name. I cut the material out and sewed, sewed, sewed then inserted the elastic and attached the shoulder straps. It took me until about 1 o’clock in the morning. I went to bed happy I’d managed to finish it. In the morning, disaster. I tried it on. That’s when I discovered my torso is longer than average, the finished playsuit didn’t cover my nipples. I flung it at my sister, after all my effort it was useless for me but fine for her. (We didn’t get along even before that!)

To avoid having to sew anything Mum decided I was better at it than she was and one day she gave me my brother’s trousers to fix. The zip was broken. I didn’t want to do it but no way could anyone win an argument with Mum. I’d never sewn a zip in pants before and really struggled but eventually finished the job. I gave the trousers to Mike and off he went but he was soon back again. I’d sewn the zip in very neatly but I’d also sewn both sides to the backing material so undoing the zip didn’t open the trousers. I left Mum to deal with them.

Luckily for me “shifts” were in fashion during my teenage years so there was no need to mess about with umpteen pattern pieces. I did however discover that not only was my torso longer than average but armholes on everything I made were too tight so I had to make them bigger. Simple? Not really because then none of the facings fitted so for years everything I ever made was lined. Sewing would have been simpler if I hadn’t  been “abnormal”!

You didn’t know that about Nana did you?

How the "playsuit" was supposed to look!

How the “playsuit” was supposed to look!

Wearing a "playsuit" I did manage to successfully sew.

Wearing a “playsuit” I did manage to successfully sew.


Substitute Snake Catcher

Before I realized how much nicer it is to see birds flying free in their natural environment I asked Papa to build me an aviary so I could keep some birds. He built a long aviary in two parts and over the years we kept Princess, Bourke and Turquoise Parrots in one half, Canaries, Diamond Doves, Quails, Zebra and Double Bar Finches in the other half. Like people who have too much food at their disposal the birds were very wasteful and scattered seeds in all directions as they picked out their favourites. Despite our best efforts mice found their way into the aviaries and then one day a snake found its way through the small mesh and into the aviary.

I first saw the snake when it was making its way through the wire mesh, lifting its head high and moving it from side to side as it decided on the best route to take. There were Canary eggs in a hanging terracotta bowl and that’s where it went. I saw it disappear completely into the bowl and it didn’t reappear. I didn’t want the snake to settle in to a smorgasbord of birds and eggs so I phoned a snake catcher. They said it would take the catcher over an hour to get to my house, cost $100 and the cost was the same whether the snake could be found or not. It sounded like a waste of money to me.

It’s illegal to kill snakes and the catcher would have just released the snake in a “safe place”. I decided I could do it myself. I went into the aviary and checked to see that the snake was still there then despite his protests I persuaded Papa to bring me an old chook food bag. I rolled down the top of the bag then put it under the terracotta pot, I moved the bag up until the pot was resting on the bottom of the bag then I unhooked the hanging pot, rolled up the bag and scrunched up the top. I tied the top, put the bag in my car and drove to the bushy Recreation Park which is just a few minutes from home then I took the bag out and went to find a nice scrubby place to let the snake go.

There was no problem carrying the bag or opening it, I used a stick to open it wide and eventually the snake decided to investigate its new surroundings. Maybe I smelt good, maybe the bush smelt bad, whatever the reason the snake decided that it would come to me and it took a bit of persuading to get it to go off into the scrub but eventually it did. I saved myself $100 and proved to myself I could deal with a snake just like any other pest I didn’t want about the place.

You didn’t know that about Nana, did you?

The unwelcome visitor.

The unwelcome visitor.

Annie Oakley I Am Not!

When I was growing up there was always a gun in the house, it had absolutely nothing to do with a perceived need for personal protection. Dad grew up in the country where guns were just a part of life, he had a .22 and would sometimes go out spotlighting for rabbits. He was always very careful with the gun because his uncle was killed in a spotlighting accident and we were all told about it so that we understood the dangers.

I remember going spotlighting once with Dad and the boys, I spotted a rabbit which Dad couldn’t see so I held the gun and pointed it at the rabbit. Dad fired the gun and as the rabbit ran off Dad said, “Oh that’s where it was”. Dad cleaned the rabbits that we shot and they were taken home to be eaten.

We also had an airgun at home which my brothers normally used to shoot at birds raiding the fruit trees. One day I was playing with it shooting at something in the Lemon Tree, a pellet hit a branch and ricocheted back to hit me right between my eyebrows. The dent it made lasted for days, I was unbelievably lucky that it missed an eye.

Another day I was out in the back yard with the airgun when a Sparrow landed on the corrugated iron fence ready for a foray into the fig Tree. I lifted the gun, fired and was astonished to see the bird disappear. I went up to the fence and peered over. The bird was flapping frantically on the ground and I felt sick. The realization hit that it was so very easy to kill something but impossible to bring it alive again. I put the gun back inside and haven’t touched one since.

You didn’t know that about Nana did you?

Annie Oakley

The Secret Ingredient

Seeing all the places you can pick up a ready-cooked roast chicken today it’s hard to imagine a town or even suburb without a Chicken Shop but when I was growing up there weren’t any. We kept chooks but having roast chicken was a real treat and one was enough for all of us with some left over to have cold the next day. (There would have been plenty of vegetables to fill us up.)

One special day my Aunty Mavis was down from Port Pirie and we went for a picnic at Victor Harbor which is about an hours drive south of Adelaide. Aunty Mavis was Mum’s sister and they never got on, even at 80+ years old Aunty Mavis would make digs about how spoilt, “Little Jeannie” was.  Mum was the youngest of 13 children but we only ever knew the youngest four.

The day we went to Victor Harbor our picnic lunch included chicken and we sat on the foreshore under the shade of the Norfolk Island Pines to eat it. I was thoroughly enjoying my piece of chicken until I noticed little white things moving on it. They were maggots. I have no idea how or when they got onto it but they were there. I knew if I said anything Mum would be shamed in front of Aunty Mavis so I discreetly disposed of my piece of chicken and said absolutely nothing. The others all seemed to enjoy their lunch and I never told a soul about the extra protein I found in my piece of chicken.

You didn’t know that about Nana did you?

"Spoilt Little Jeannie" 1916

“Spoilt Little Jeannie” 1916


When Papa and I were away camping a few weeks ago the daily temperatures went up into the mid 30s and once again I became a wreck. Even though the campervan was like a sweatbox all I could do was crawl inside and fall asleep then after a couple of hours Papa gave me wet flannels to cool me down. All my life hot days have caused me problems.

In 1954 the Queen came to Adelaide and thousands of school children went to Wayville Showgrounds to welcome her. You can watch some video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5-P6d3zr5Q  You definitely won’t see me in the audience or performing and I’ll explain why.

I can’t remember how we got to the showgrounds but it was probably by tram and on arrival we were all herded into the sheep pens. Although the visit was in March and the Royal Adelaide Show was always in September the pens were still rank because the wooden floorboards had absorbed so much sheep pee. After what seemed like ages we were herded out into the sunshine to stand around the central arena. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the grass at the St John’s Ambulance tent and I distinctly remember silently pleading, “Let me stay here, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t make me go back there.”

The photo below was taken at Waikerie during a camping holiday in 1948, Mum put me under the sprinklers because I was heat stressed.

You didn’t know that about Nana did you?


Creek Swimming

In about 1953 our family moved to our “new house” at Fulham. The house was actually old, built about 1900. Outside the front fence was a hitching post where people had tied up their horses in the old days. In front of our house there was a row of trees which had pods like Chestnuts. Tapleys Hill Road was a normal two way road lined, most of the way, with market gardens though diagonally across from our house was a vacant block completely covered with reeds. The River Torrens used to empty into wetlands around the area before the Breakout Channel was dug.

The southern boundary of our property was in the middle of the creek and when the creek was high enough, the boys sometimes swam in it. About half way down our back yard there was a big log lying across the creek and we used to stand or sit on that to get into the water. Once Mum tied a rope around me and lowered me in to teach me to swim. I’d seen Mike scramble out of the creek and put salt on a leech that was sucking blood out of his calf so I kept my legs kicking frantically believing that would stop any from getting on me. The moment I stopped kicking I got out of the water, I’m sure it did absolutely nothing to help me learn to swim.

One year the water started drying out when there were lots of Redfin Fish in the creek and we had great fun scooping them up and putting them in buckets of water. We also watched Swallows frantically zoom about under the Stanford Bridge when we went too close to their nests and babies.


You didn’t know that about Nana, did you?

People lined up on the Stanford Bridge, during the Queen's visit in 1963.

People lined up across the Stanford Bridge, during the Queen’s visit in 1963.

The Shabby Chaffeur

I think I was the first person in my family who had to sit a practical driving test to get a license, before that as soon as you turned 16 you could answer a few written questions and if you passed you got your license even if you’d never been in a driver’s seat. I can’t remember if I was 16 or 17 when I got my Learner’s Permit but I’m fairly sure I did the test at a centre above the Railway Station, maybe now the area’s been gobbled up by the Casino. Ricky came home from his work in the South East once and said he’d teach me to drive. We borrowed the old Hillman Minx which Aunty Mavis had given to Mike and went to an area near Lockleys where land was being sub-divided. There were some roads but no traffic. Ricky showed me how to select the gears then said to put the car in reverse and back into a parallel park. I made a mess of it and that was the start and finish of my first driving lesson. When I was 17 I had some lessons with the RAA and then did the test at Port Adelaide. Before the test I’d needed a couple of goes to parallel park and also gone the wrong way down a one way street so I was already “emotional” and hadn’t even started the real test. A policeman assessed me and I goofed the hill start when I stalled the car so despondently restarted the procedure, assuming I’d failed. I passed! After I got my license I sometimes drove Dad’s car, a Valiant Spacemaster but I didn’t like driving it. I always felt it drove me, I wasn’t really in control and when I think about it now I’m not surprised. It had big bench seats and I’m sure I never managed to move it forward so I would have been stretched right out to reach the pedals. Sometimes Dad would be away with work for weeks and he would leave the car home which was fine if I wanted to drive it but there was a downside. Dad would occasionally be late getting ready so he’d miss the bus then come into the bedroom and ask me to drive him to work. I’d get out of bed in my PJs and drive him, terrified that the car would break down and I’d be marooned in my pyjamas. Luckily it never happened. You didn’t know that about Nana did you?


A Hillman similar to the one that was- family car, florist delivery van, Mike’s transport to Findon High School then with roof open Geoffrey’s Spotlighting Car extraordinaire on Uncle Geoff’s farm

The 1954 Vanguard, Spacemaster, Reg No. 409 076