Gympie Civic Centre circa now (the site that once upon a time the Olympia Theatre sat)
In my post titled “Some Need Props; Others Don’t – They Just Peg Along” that I posted a couple or so weeks ago, I wrote about our laundry shed in the backyard of my childhood home. The time has come to elaborate on that laundry shed of days long past.
Some say growing old is wonderful. To be totally honest, I’m not one of those people. I don’t enjoy growing old. I wish I had a magic wand or, perhaps the nose of Samantha from the Sixties and early Seventies’ television series, “Bewitched”. I’d happily remain around the age of 40 years if given half the chance. Turning 40 caused me no reservations or fears. I enjoyed my time spent in that particular decade. I found it to be a time of awakening. I did many things I never dreamed I was capable of doing. I had many adventures I never imagined I’d have.
Contentedly, I’d enjoy remaining somewhere between the ages of 40 to 50 years forever; but as I have neither a wand to cast spells, nor a hocus-pocus twitching nose I have to be satisfied with my lot and accept that which I am dealt. In other words, just get on with it, Lee – no whingeing. Nobody is interested, and neither should they be. Well, perhaps I'm allowed just a little during my “off” moments; as long as I don’t bother others with it! And I don’t, because I’m pretty much a hermit, of my own choosing.
But that’s all by the by...I’ll get on with my tale without further ado.
Growing up in the township of Gympie during the Fifties was a time of innocence and simplicity. The primary school my brother and I attended was nearby in a neighbouring street; a hop, skip and a jump or three just up the road and around the corner from where we lived; within easy walking distance. Everything and everywhere was within easy walking distance when I was a little girl; which was just as well because we were car-less...not careless...but car-less.
Most school days my brother and I went home for lunch. Thursdays were tuck-shop days; and if the household coffers were flush, or maybe a little healthier than usual, or if my brother Graham and I had collected enough spare pennies and sixpences from our collection of empty soft drink bottles (soda bottles) and newspapers traded at the local shops we were allowed to remain at school and buy our lunches from Thursday’s tuck-shop. Oh! Glory days! Simple treats brought us much pleasure.
The tuck-shop’s limited menu was suffice, and eagerly anticipated.
On offer were delicious hot meat pies served with mushy peas if that was one’s desire; Cornish pasties of a taste unable to be found today. My memory of those delicious pasties lingers to this day. No one, meaning commercially, makes pasties like they did when I was a child. On the list of hot foods available sausage rolls held their place proudly, as well. If hot tucker wasn’t one’s choice on the day, rolls consisting of salad and corned beef or ham filled our empty stomachs. For those with a sweet tooth or two were tempted by apple pies made with puff pastry. The crisp pastry was the receptacle for the generous filling of semi-tart cooked apples. A round portion of pastry about the size of a fifty cent piece was cut out from the pie’s top to allow lashings of whipped Chantilly Cream to accompany the apples; the pastry round then sat atop the cream, and all was finished off with a liberal sprinkle of icing sugar. “Chantilly Cream”, of course, is simply just cream with caster sugar (or icing sugar) and vanilla added; and then whipped until thick and decadently irresistible!
Also, in those days, small bottles of milk were handed out to school children. The daily ritual was free.
My best friend through primary school was Rhonda Friend. That’s correct – Rhonda’s surname was “Friend”; and a good friend she was during those early primary school years. Rhonda’s father was the manager of the Gympie Gas Works. Rhonda and I shared many imaginative games during our childhood.
Today the old Gympie Gasworks no longer exists. Since 1977, a green space; a car park and the town’s Community Centre cover the area that once was home to the gasworks’ engine rooms and its giant holding tanks. The sloping sides on the heaps of discarded coking coal that, gradually, throughout the years became covered with determined vegetation created substitute ski slopes for us children, particularly the boys.
The gasworks was bordered on one side by Mellor Street, the main thoroughfare that meandered from the railway station at one end along and down into Gympie’s main street, Mary Street. I say “down” because Gympie is a town of hills and dales. On the opposite side closest to where I lived, diagonally across the road, was the short, dead-end McLeod Street. At the end of McLeod Street was the tar works. About once every six months, in the middle of the night the tar works would go up in flames. And every time the fire was successfully extinguished by the local Fire Brigade, but not before waking up the whole town and causing much excitement! The vision of the townsfolk rushing out in the dark of night in their pajamas, dressing gowns (if there was time to don them) and slippers to catch a glimpse of the unfolding drama was not taken notice of by fellow onlookers, who, of course, were dressed similarly.
There was no television in those days.
Most times when going to the picture theatre, we’d walk through the grounds of the gasworks as a shortcut; or alternatively, we’d go along McLeod Street; cut across the gully and up the rough banks beside the tar works. The latter route would also bring us out into Mellor Street, beside Jackson’s Feed Store (that also went up in flames a couple of times). The next door fish and chips shop went up in flames once or twice, too. There were quite a lot of fires in Gympie when I was a kid. The fire sirens were regular sounds in the night…always during the night, it seemed. Maybe over the course of time my memory has become warped a little, not from the heat but from the passing of the years!
I do digress…back to my friend, Rhonda…
Rhonda and I both had long plaits. Hers were blonde; mine brunette with auburn highlights.
Rhonda was my picture pal. Every Saturday around noon we met up and off we went to the matinee at the Olympia Theatre. We shared our heart-throbs. We didn’t get jealous over our mutual love of Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Audie Murphy, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Cornel Wilde, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and the sensitive John Kerr, amongst others of lesser heart-fluttering ability.
Errol Flynn was always on our list of favourites even though so many of his major film roles were made before our “time”. In particular, his 1938 portrayal of Robin Hood was made years before we were born, but often reruns were rolled across Saturday’s silver screen, along with his other swashbuckling performance. Flynn’s screen presence was unmatched and indisputable.
Richard Todd’s depiction of Robin Hood, although good, was by far not as dashing and heroic in our young eyes and hearts as that of the scandalous, beyond handsome Errol!
Who wouldn’t want to be rescued by the rascally Aussie?
Errol Flynn put Hobart, Tasmania (and Australia) the place of his birth on the map! His parents, both Australian-born Aussies of Irish, English and Scottish descent married in Sydney on 23rd January, 1909. Errol must have been a premature baby; he made his grand entrance into the world on 20th June, 1909!
Swept away by the glamour and adventure at Saturday’s matinees, our loves were many; our beaus the most handsomest and bravest. Our imaginary adventures re-enacting what we’d been enthralled by every Saturday afternoon were played out the week following each viewing.
Our vivid imaginations were without boundaries; and we eagerly embraced them. Rhonda and I impatiently waited for the school day to end. We’d both race off to our respective homes to get changed out of our school clothes. In no time at all, she’d be seen running through the grounds of the gasworks en route to me; where I’d waiting, beating time!
Once Monday’s washing was done, the backyard laundry shed was our stage for the rest of the week.
Hollywood glamour and fantasy transcended all else. The shed was no longer a shed for the washing of clothes, bed linen and towels. Whatever the pictures were we’d been engrossed with the previous Saturday, they became our vehicles. Rhonda and I were the stars. In fact, we carried many roles. We were very adaptable.
Our laundry shed morphed into the Big Top after we’d seen “The Greatest Show on Earth”. We were mistresses of our imaginary high wire; we flew through the air with the greatest of ease, outmatching that daring young man on the flying trapeze. We tamed lions, tigers and leopards. Proudly and gracefully we sat and stood atop the lumbering elephants. We juggled; never dropping a ball, nor a baton! With unfailing agility we rode feather-plumed circus ponies.
After watching Moira Shearer in “The Red Shoes” we became Shearer/Vicki Page. We danced on the legendary stages of Paris, Monte Carlo and Covent Garden. “The Red Shoes” movie was one of our favourites. It was often re-run at Saturday matinees.
So, too, was Jean Simmons and Donald Houston's “Blue Lagoon”. Rhonda and I loved that movie. I still do love the 1949 version; not so much the 1980 Brooke Shields' enactment. The following week after our viewings of “Blue Lagoon” we discovered ourselves surrounded by water. We were marooned on a tropical island paradise. The laundry shed became our palm frond shelter.
Cowboy (and Indian) pictures, of course, featured often. They, too, were amongst our favourites. My horse was always a palomino named “Champion”; in honour of Gene Autry’s magnificent steed.
When I was young Autry was my hero. He won every fight and battle he was part of; and he never got dirty; nor did he ever lose his hat during a fight! On my bedroom wall when I was little girl I had an autographed glossy photo of Gene Autry. I'd written to him via Hollywood; and much to my surprised delight, I received the A4 size photograph in return. All my Christmases definitely had come at once!
"Pirates of the Caribbean" may not have been around back then, but we were not deficient in pirate movies; and they were such fun to re-enact!
Our backyard became the world. Nothing was impossible. We conquered all and everything. We were not limited in our imagination - everything came alive.
And then, out of the blue, without forewarning, came the day it all ended.
Rhonda came over to my house as usual. We went to the backyard; we entered the laundry shed, only to be greeted by a flat feeling in the air. I looked at Rhonda as we both stood there wordless. She looked at me and I shrugged. It didn’t seem right somehow.
Finally, I said exactly those words to her. “It doesn’t seem right today. I don’t know why...but it just doesn’t!”
Rhonda nodded in agreement. We chatted quietly for a very brief while. She turned, and then went back to her home.
We’d closed the final curtain on our world stage; on our juvenile imaginations; on our laundry shed. Rhonda went her way; and I went mine. Our friendship was never the same again after that day.
We’d grown up a little more, and hadn't realised it until that moment.
We were taking our first steps into the rest of our lives.