We moved into 52 Cowles Road, Mosman in 1957 when Mosman was still a working class suburb. I remember Mum telling me some years later that the house was bought for 4,000 pounds and that she thought we had paid too much. It was a wooden farm house with a small front veranda and was built in 1886. We knew this from the date on the copper taps in the outside laundry.
One day Mum was sitting on the front veranda and knitting, when an elderly man stopped in the street outside the house and spoke to her. He was a retired foreman on the Mosman Council. I think his name was Mr. Lutwich. He told Mum that he remembered the house when he was a small kid walking to school – our house was surrounded by paddocks in those days and it was one of the oldest houses in the district. Most of the later houses in Mosman, (Federation Houses) were built in the early 1900s. Our house was bought by an architect in the late 1970s who immediately demolished it, building a new and somewhat ‘arty’ house in its place. This was, of course, understandable as termites and borers over the years had left very little of the old house…
Our next door neighbours (50 Cowles Road) were the Princi’s, an Italian family who owned a fruit shop in Spit Junction. Mr. Princi served in the Italian Navy on battleships during World War 2 as a Chief Petty Officer before moving to Australia after the war. They had two daughters, one whose name was Zena. I think she was the oldest of the two.
We, my older brother Brian (by five years) and I were also friends with the three Whittaker boys – Billy, Gary and Neil. Billy, the oldest was a ‘royalist’ who loved everything British, so we gave him the appropriate title of King Billy! I think the Whittakers lived in 64 Cowles Road. Sometimes the friendship was strained and ‘war’ would be declared between 52 and 64 Cowles Road. The Whittaker’s would ride past our house pelting the veranda with dirt bombs. We would quickly retaliate, assisted by our ally, Richard Portius who lived in 48 Cowles Road. The wars came to a final and speedy end one day when the Whittaker’s sped past the house on their bikes, using broom sticks to destroy Mum’s front rose garden. Mum was furious and quickly stormed up the road to confront an unsuspecting Mrs. Whittaker!
People often talk today about global warming, but I think global warming began a lot earlier. I remember in the late 1950s and early 1960s the sweltering summers in Mosman where temperatures on most days would reach 30 degrees or even +35. This was made worse because our house was made of wood and had a tin roof. If it was +35 outside, then it would be +40 inside the house. All the windows and the front and back doors would be left wide open, waiting for the afternoon breeze to blow in from the harbour. Often and on time, usually around 6.00 p.m. this breeze would arrive. Sometimes, however, it did not, and the open windows in the house during the night would let in swarms of mosquitoes. I can still hear their annoying buzzing to this very day! It should be noted by younger readers that in the 1950s and early 1960s air-conditioning was unknown, even in public buildings such as schools, in shops or on buses and trains. The only real relief from the heat was in the movie theatres which did have air-conditioning. There were, of course fans but these only succeeded in circulating the hot air.
The closest beach to 52 Cowles Road was Balmoral Beach. In summer, usually on a Saturday morning we, my brother and I would make the long trek on foot, passing by Mosman Oval and through Mosman Junction and then down the steep hill. We would then make our way to the northern end of the beach which was protected by a shark net. There was also a nearby changing pavilion in the art deco style of the 1930s where we changed and which is now an exclusive restaurant! Our clothes and valuables would be bundled together and wrapped in our beach towels, left unattended on the beach while we enjoyed the cooling water. The valuables, money for the bus trip home was never robbed! People seemed more honest in those days… On hot days, all the cars parked in the streets would have their windows down to keep the interiors of the cars cool; sometimes when our whole family went to the beach, if it was a really hot day, the windows of the house would be left open while we were gone! Everyone was doing this…
Our family doctor was Dr. Geoffrey Mutton. I suffered badly from asthma from around four up until nine years old, (when I finally grew out of it). I remember Dr. Mutton doing several house calls to 52 Cowles Road, including one late on a Sunday night when I was in a really bad way. There was no real treatment for asthma in those days and I remember Dr. Mutton on that Sunday night telling me several times, “Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply.” After taking my pulse and temperature, he then prescribed some medicine which put me to sleep until 10.00 a.m. the following morning. Mum was not very sympathetic to me missing school that day and accused me of putting on an act!
The shopping centre up the road at Spit Junction was about a ten minute walk from 52 Cowles Road. There was, however, one shop which was much closer to us. This was a general corner store run by the Maloneys, located on the corner of Cowles Road and Belmont Road. All the shops in those days religiously closed on Saturdays at midday and did not reopen until Monday morning. Therefore, I was always ready at 11.55 a.m. on Saturday morning for the 200 metre sprint down the road to the Maloneys. Mum would suddenly discover we had run out of milk or butter, sugar or eggs, and with money grasped tightly in hand, I would be off down the road as fast as I could run. I always made it on time and often with a minute or two to spare.
The fond memories of Cowles Road and Mosman are too numerous to list but they include the library in the old and stately two-storey mansion on Military Road at the top of the street. It was here where I developed my love for reading and which inspired me to become a writer. In particular, I enjoyed reading time and again in the library reading room, the National Geographic Magazines (1966) about Louis Leakey and the remarkable discoveries made in Olduvai Gorge. These discoveries pushed humanity (and our ancestors) back more than two million years and greatly inspired a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old boy. I also remember a more recent discovery: finding two U.S. silver coins dated 1866 and 1869 in the gardens of the library. How they got there I have no idea. I thought I had stumbled upon a fortune until a coin dealer informed Mum that the two coins were indeed worth a sum of money, that is, if the holes had not been drilled in the top of them. This made them completely worthless to collectors, although they did make good pendants!
Other memories are of Bradleys Head Park and the late 19th century/ World War 2 fortifications as well as the magnificent views of the harbour. There were a number of decommissioned World War 2 Royal Australian Navy ships anchored close by, including the light cruiser HMAS HOBART and the destroyers HMAS ARUNTA and WARRAMUNGA. The breeze blowing through and in the rigging of the ten or twelve ships would make a strange twanging sound. This gave them the name of the Ghost Fleet. Nearby, on a small headland was the mast of the famous World War 1 light cruiser, HMAS SYDNEY, (which sank the German light cruiser SMS EMDEN in 1914). The mast was in a bad state of disrepair and in 1964 was temporary removed for restoration. My brother and I watched and took photos with our Kodak Brownie box camera. After the workers departed, we found part of a wrung ladder from the mast left behind in the rubble of dirt.
I remember also the Saturday afternoons spent at the Kings Picture Theatre in Spit Junction, Mosman Junction Picture Theatre (the name escapes me), or the Cremorne Orpheum. Memorable movies seen on those Saturday afternoons include, Jason and the Argonauts, Ben Hur, El Cid, The Sand Pebbles, Planet of the Apes (the 1968 version), Son of Pale Face (re-released and starring Bob Hope). This last movie cost me ten shillings given to me for my birthday. I had to shout my older brother because I was too young to go to see the movie alone. Oh, I forgot to also mention the infamous picture theatre riot. I can’t remember the year – most likely in the late 1950s. It was supposedly a Superman movie staring George Reeves (from the television series at the time). The movie theatre, I can’t remember which, had advertised it as a 90 minute feature length movie. Instead, it consisted of three 30 minute episodes from the television series. The kids felt cheated and showered the screen with well directed popcorn and boos. They would never have done this to The Three Stooges who were always a favourite! The Stooges shorts were often shown before the main feature, after which we all stood for the National Anthem, God Save the Queen depicting on screen a young Queen Elizabeth reviewing the Royal Horse Guard. The feature movie then followed after this…
Many, many more memories…
These were carefree days. Some of the best of my life!