Growing up in The Crescent, Mosman in the 1970s

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Angela Snelgrove

In the 1970’s and early 80’s The Crescent was a backstreet in Mosman which only families who couldn’t afford to live closer to the harbour or the zoo, seemed to know about. The quiet of the crescent-shaped road was only interrupted by the ferry bus which used to stop outside our house, the rumble of its engine shaking the very foundations of the house. Cyclists and skateboarders also knew about the perfect curve of The Crescent as it offered a perfect path for uninterrupted night rides. Anzac marches also took place in The Crescent as it provided an easy descent for the groups of dignified men who walked proudly past our house, the promise of an afternoon in the RSL putting a spring in their step.

On Sundays there were few cars so we could play badminton in the middle of the road while the tenants in the boarding house in number 25 sat on their front steps drinking beer, watching our antics with faint malevolence. Some weekends in summer our activities were interspersed with gentle applause or loud ‘howzat?’s’ followed by howls of disappointment as cricket was played on the oval. But between weekend football matches in winter or cricket in summer, the shabby oval was usually deserted leaving it clear for my brother Huon and his dog Humi to ‘go for runs’ or just to sit, boy and dog, in the middle of the oval staring out together at the setting sun.

In our family ‘going down the road’ or ‘going up the road’ were standard departing cries in our house as we did not own a car. Indeed, this was the main reason my parents had bought the house in The Crescent. They wanted to be close to the city, to schools and to transport. Mosman was a village and we were in the middle of it. So as a child I would go ‘up to ballet’ in Vista Street, ‘up to church’ in Cardinal Street or ‘over the road’ to either Flemings supermarket or the Colonial Deli on Military Road which in the 1970’s was the only shop open on Sundays which sold milk. We also went ‘up to the library’ which was then in Boronia House at Spit Junction and was a delightful place for children to explore. Going ‘down the road’ for us children usually meant buying sweets at the milk bar where Stan would wait patiently behind the counter as we asked for 20 cents worth of caramel buttons, two cobbers and a musk stick. Our dog also had regular forays ‘down the road’ and after escorting us to the school bus stop at 7.30 in the morning would trot along Military Road to the butcher where he would wait to be rewarded with an enormous bone which he would then carry back triumphantly to the verge in front of our house.

But my favourite place as child growing up in The Crescent was the park and between 1972-1974 this was my domain. My younger sister Catherine and I spent most afternoons after school with a group of local kids in the park, using the battered play equipment to show both athletic prowess and mark out gang territory. I developed impressive skills swinging on the monkey bars which were a series of six metal rings hung quite high so children had to climb onto a park bench to reach them, then swing from one to the next using all the muscles in their young arms and shoulders. There was also an enormous slide, two swings which could be swung to a great height, a simple merry-go-round which could be spun very fast and a bubbler which spurted ice-cold water. This kingdom was overhung with Moreton Bay figs which provided a wondrous canopy of leaves and vines. We could play unsupervised for hours in the park, our hands calloused and stained orange from the rings, knees scabbed and bloodied from spectacular falls from the slide and childhood memories forever etched with the savagery we witnessed in dog fights, boy fights or young lovers glimpsed ‘pashing’ in the dank hollows of the fig trees. Only when our mother stood in front of our house clapping to get our attention, did we reluctantly go home to dinner and homework, leaving behind monkey bars still gently swinging, and trees suddenly grown dark and slightly menacing. But it all ended abruptly one day when local boys started to call me Princess Angelina and presented me with six noisy yellow chickens which despite our efforts to keep them alive, were fluffy corpses by morning. The combination of newly inspired love, desire, death converged in my young mind, blunting the appeal of the park for me and bringing the end of childhood. I began to put all my energies into going up the road to ballet classes and the park was eventually abandoned. Young teenagers began to visit the park at night, concealing themselves in the darkest crevices of the twisted figs where they could smoke, drink and pash in privacy.

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s The Crescent changed rapidly as Council began to see the value of this quiet residential strip. The buses were diverted, Albion Lane closed and the carpark turned into a new library. A wire fence and child-proof gate was built around the park and bright, soft-edged play equipment replaced the old slide and monkey bars. Society had changed and so too had Mosman. Children were sent to After School Care and no longer seemed to spend hours after school converging in parks or swinging idly on swings. Dogs off the leash, let alone those who could jump oval fences in a single bound, were strictly forbidden and the pressing need to find spaces for cars, which now filled The Crescent, became a priority. The days of spending languid summer afternoons trying to break up dog fights, drawing in the sand, pulling broken glass out of a rubber flip- flop or sharing a bag of cobbers were over. But even now in 2015, more than 40 years later, the sound of the solitary skateboard rider, cruising smoothly down The Crescent’s length late at night, reminds me of the enduring pleasure this lovely street continues to offer a new generation, as they savour a moment of freedom.

Angela Snelgrove · 31 July 2015

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This is my Mosman childhood in a nutshell too! (Although Angela, I am sad to say we didn’t cross paths). We lived on Belmont Road, and Stan the milk bar man was an absolute fixture of our lives. He must have been a kind person, as I remember times when we might not have quite enough for milk and bread, but he would give them to us on credit. I am sad for you about the little chickens – it must have been very traumatising. Perhaps it’s not too late to rediscover the park!? It’s funny the things you remember, but I do think I was lucky to be surrounded by so much natural grace and beauty. I was later a bit surprised to find that not all suburbs had quite the same charm as my Mosman did, when I was a girl. But I think that makes me treasure those memories a little bit more.

— Caroline Hodkinson · 10 November 2016, 23:05 · #

I do remember this all too well! I was there at the same time and spent many afternoons on the monkey bars on the oval and in the park. Very rich times :)

— Matthew Wright · 22 June 2021, 20:29 · #