My Mosman childhood

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Richard Beard

3 Ellamatta Ave; Mosman. I’m not sure when my parents, Richard Jnr and Joan Beard, moved to this house from Flat 4, 11 Waitovu St; Balmoral (the block of 4 flats was owned by Richard Snr and Evelyn Beard). I was a baby when we moved. Our Mosman home was a large Federation double story house on huge grounds. Downstairs was rented to a couple (Mr ‘Mack’, a retired ABC sound tech) and next door was a nurse’s hostel (with a large private hospital alongside) and on the other side was a Dutch woman with her two sons. We used to play in the street (it was a cul-de-sac), and apart from vehicles going to the hospital it was fairly safe. We also played in the grounds of the hospital – there was a large Morton Bay Fig tree at the gates and we built a tree-house in that. The tree was so large and leafy, we were sure no-one could see our platform.

Nearby was Rawson Oval – that was good fun to play in and further along was RAN property with many buildings for stores, etc. This was at the back of the Navy area – there was little risk of being discovered. We would find all sorts of things – one time we built a billy cart out of wheel chair wheels (there is a large Navy Hospital nearby and the Spastic Centre had a workshop there). It had a flooring plank as the body and large wheels and no brakes – it was dangerous, as this part of Mosman is quite hilly.

One year, I was about eight, I decided it would be a good idea to have a surprise visit with Gran. Without telling my parents, I took my younger brother and we walked from Ellamatta Ave to my Grand-mother’s house near Blues Point Rd, Nth Sydney/Lavender Bay. When we got there, Gran was angry with me – my parents even more so because the police had been called.

We lived near the zoo, and at dusk and in the night, we could hear the lions roaring. Many of our visitors wanted to go to the zoo: I soon tired of going there – it seemed that every month we would go with my parents’ friends and so I have never been back, until recently.

A great place for me to play was down at the harbour: walk past the zoo to Ashton Park and then along the foreshore to Sirius Cove. Sydney Harbour was very much a working harbour in those days – not just with freighters and cruise liners (incl. $10 immigrants) but also the navy had a lot of WW11 ships in port and at the ‘dolphins’ for ships awaiting scrap. So, there was also a lot of support boats and therefore lots of rubbish – all washed up on the ‘beach’ at Mosman Bay. This beach is now clean sand but when I was a boy, it was covered with oily, dirty flotsam on stinking mud. My favourite game was to disturb rats and try to hit them with a suitable weapon. Ah, what fun! Until I trod on a broken bottle and so severely cut my foot, I was weak from blood loss when I finally staggered up to the nearest house. Oh boy, was I in trouble over that.

When I was about 11, I decided to be a ‘paper’ (newspaper) boy. I was given a ‘run’ – from Mosman Junction to Clifton Gardens. My parents thought I was being industrious by getting a part time job – ‘augers well for the future’, they said. Now, the newsagent didn’t say that the best sales were at the ‘Clifton Gardens’ pub but I quickly worked that out. And also, that very few sales were made by walking up Military Road to CGP – better to catch a tram and sell papers to the men on the tram who were going home from work. And why pay a penny for your fare, when you can ride on the sideboard (on the off-side of a ‘toast-rack’ tram) so the conductor didn’t see you in the crowded tram. If he did see you, by the time he got to you, I was off the tram and onto the next, yelling ‘Pay’er, get ya’ pay’er!’ It sort of came to a sudden end when I walked through one of the pub’s bars (illegal for me at my age to do so) and came face to face with my Uncle Edward. My parents had no idea that I was ‘frequenting a public house every day’ and so my job finished that night.
I earned some pocket money a year earlier by collecting old clothes and rags from my mother and selling them to the local printer. I was excited by how much I got – I then went door to door asking for old rags and I looked like a very junior Father Christmas with a sack over my shoulder on my way to the printer.

Somewhere in this time was an event that literally shook our family. Dad had an old Morton Bay fig tree cut down at the back of the Mosman house – leaving just the stump. Dad said – “I’ll get a friend, who’s a heavy earthmoving contractor, to blow it out of the ground”. Mum wasn’t keen but the big bang went ahead, anyway. They drilled holes in the stump, carefully pushed explosives into the hole and dragged a huge and very heavy rope net over the stump. We were sent around the other side of the house and ‘Boom’! It was very noisy! We raced around to see the results – the stump was shattered; the mat was blown clear and lots of windows in our house were broken as well as several in the next-door house. Great fun! We wouldn’t be allowed to do that, these days.

We had kumquats growing on a tree and the house behind us had ‘banana passion-fruits’ growing over the fence. We ate lots of these but I’ve only once tasted them after we left Mosman.

I used to swim a lot in those days – Dad was a lifesaver before he married and my mother was a good swimmer in her youth (at North Sydney Olympic Pool) and she encouraged me to swim twice a week in the morning at Balmoral Baths, before school. I’d catch a tram down – often walking down and I’d swim a mile or more and then off to school at Mosman Public.

My mother encouraged us to read – I spent hours after school at the Mosman Library up at Spit Junction, thus setting a life-long enjoyable past-time. I read all the ‘Biggles’ books I could get and so aircraft featured in my days. Some of the planes I saw over Mosman included Catalinas, Sunderlands (watching these take off and land on Sydney Harbour was awe-inspiring), DC3’s, a Vulcan, the Comet, a Boeing 707.

Electrocution. When I was about seven or eight my parents were upgrading the house at Mosman with new plumbing, new wiring. The electrician went home at the end of the day, leaving live bare wires (for the light switch) in my room. Darkness as I felt for the switch, a sheet of blue flame and I was thrown across the room. And I got the blame for not looking at the wiring! Most unfair!

We were called to dinner one night (I was about 11 or 12 at the time)– all except my brother, Phillip, who had not come home from school. There didn’t seem to be any real panic (not like today, where a missing child sends loud alarm bells) – Dad was cranky that he wasn’t there and promised fireworks when Phillip did come home. Mum was concerned that he might be hurt or worse. Anyway, he soon came home. “Where have you been?” roared my father. Phillip replied meekly: “I got into trouble down at the shops”. “What do mean – trouble?” Phillip: “I was in Woolworths at Mosman Junction and the manager saw me stealing some pencils and a pencil eraser. He grabbed me and locked me in the storeroom whilst he went and called the police” Dad was now nearly apoplectic and red in the face. I was embarrassed and thought – “Oh, how will I cope at school when this comes out – the headmaster will make an issue of it.” Phillip continued: “Later, I heard the door being unlocked and I knew I was in deep trouble so I made a dive out the window, but it was too small to get through. The policeman grabbed my legs and started pulling them to get me back inside but I was jammed. He pulled and pulled on my legs– really hard – as hard as I’m pulling your leg now” There was dead silence for about 3 seconds and then I started laughing – Phillip told a joke! And it was a very good one. My dad went ballistic – he turned to me & ordered me to be quiet. It was a painful expense to Phillip for telling jokes – obviously my father didn’t have much humour but was probably quite relieved that nothing bad had happened to Phillip.

Milk and icemen at Mosman. The milk was poured into our jugs and the ice arrived as a large block for the ice-chest. Later, I remember we got free milk at school – the milk was warm and disgusting and the little shop across the road from the school had a roaring trade with little packets of flavoured jelly crystals – made the milk a bit more palatable.

Pennies on tram tracks. On one hand we wanted to spend the money – on the other hand, it was good fun to watch what happened. A penny would buy a bag of ‘scrims’ from the local fish and chips shop – ‘scrims’ were small bits of batter that would float around on the boiling oil.

First time I saw TV – it was a small black and white set in a Mosman electrical shop window. There was a speaker rigged up so people on the street could hear the sound. We were allowed to walk down to Mosman Junction, at night, once a week and watch one TV show!

Chinese meals at Mosman. This was new – WW2 memories were still raw for many Aussies and the Asian family that opened this new restaurant was pretty brave. ‘Take Away’ meant having your own saucepan filled with a course of your choice.

Tennis at Raglan St; Cremorne – I enjoyed my Saturday morning coaching and tennis games but it was a long walk from Mosman to Cremorne and back.

Movies at the Mosman’ Kings’ Cinema. Saturday mornings was kids’ time with serials and cartoons – about 2 to 3 hours of bedlam (Very few adults braved that noise). I enjoyed the adventures churned out by Hollywood. Sort of like Saturday morning TV but on a giant screen, (There was no TV in those days).

In the web site following are my memories of Mosman School.

Richard Beard · 12 April 2018

Your comment

These are great memories. Ive been discovering lots of places during this crazy time but now we are in 5km lockdown Ill be a bit more spefic with where I go so Ill get the map out and walk to these places or take the bike if its not to hilly. Ive heard stories of balmoral looking very different to what it does now. So good to know more of this lovely bushy ocean lovely area. Thank you, Richard, regards Louise.

— louise · 15 August 2021, 08:30 · #