Turning back the clock with four locals

SHIRLEY Hughes, 80, grew up in the coal-mining town of Lithgow with two brothers and three sisters. As a teenager she performed in an acrobatic troupe. Shirley married her husband Len in 1953, had one son, Peter, and together with her family, sister and brother-in-law, took over East Ballina’s Shaws Bay Hotel in 1978, and in 1981, with the same partnership, did the Byron Bay milk run for eight years.

An animal lover, she has been a vegetarian for more than 50 years, is a strong advocate of holistic health and environmental care and has studied extensively in related areas. She loves living in Byron Bay.

On the good old days: We listened to the radio, played games, and lots of sport. Our home was always an open house. At weekends we often had visitors over for dinner, which was usually followed by a sing-song around the piano. Good days.

On her mother’s homemade cake: My main memories of the Depression days are the wooden toys my father made for us and my mother’s fruit cake which tasted rich to me but she called it Depression cake. I also loved coming home from school to plates of bread and melted cheese lined up on the sides of the fuel stove.

On learning experiences: I worked in sales in the school holidays at Selfridges in Lithgow. I earned 19-shillings-and-three-pence a week, and working there convinced me to go back to school.

On her first car: My husband and I were the proud owners of a 1934 Plymouth. It was black, we loved it and it took us everywhere.

On being treated fairly: Women were definitely not considered equal, but I always thought we were equal and so I expected to be treated that way. However it was widely accepted that the men would be the providers and the women the homemakers. Education and careers were considered to be in the domain of the male. I’m glad there have been some changes in that policy.

On how much you’d need to be “rich”: As a young married couple, our fruit and vegetables cost around $1.80 a week. We thought at the time that if we managed to be paid $20 a week, we would be in clover.

On twists and turns: As a teenager I performed regularly on stage in Lithgow and Sydney in an acrobatic troupe called the Four Flying Devils. We performed acrobatics and trapeze.

On modern technology: I miss the stronger sense of community that existed when we were young. I appreciate the increased freedom to be an individual, more opportunities to travel that exist now, and the benefits of increased technology. On the other hand I feel these benefits have caused a diminished sense of community and added to feelings of loneliness and isolation for many people, particularly for a large sector of the aged.

On what shocks her about today: Increased depersonalisation, too much emphasis on money and achievement; the importance given to maintaining the systems that prevail in the business world and the consequential diminished emphasis on the personal service that is given to the public.

Lawrie Kennedy, 82, is a retired civil engineer. He has six children, 24 grandchildren and four great grandchildren and lives in Ballina with his wife, Betty, where he enjoys repairing antique machines. Until a recent spill, he could be seen riding his motorbike around town.

On horse chasing and swimming holes: I was the eldest of seven – five boys and two girls. We were bush kids who lived on an orchard situated between a river and a swamp 100km west of Dubbo. We had so much to do we hardly had time to come in for meals. We’d swim all summer then go out to the stock route and catch horses. We also chased wild goats.

On being tongue-tied: I went and asked a bloke if I could take his daughter out. It was touch and go to see who was the shyest. I was 15 and she was about 14. She said about six words all night and I said about seven.

On his schooling: I went to a college that has a bad name now for boys being molested, but it never happened to me.

On the fairer sex: I was in a timber yard in the office. I got about $3.25 a week and I was paying $3 board. I used to have to go picking fruit at weekends to get enough money to take a girl out. I was always interested in girls.

On impromptu camping trips: My first car was an army brown 1946 Chevrolet utility. Betty and I went away in it a couple of times. We put a canopy on the back and slept in the truck.

On a broken heart: I didn’t leave until I was about 17 or 18. A girl ditched me so I took off way out west beyond Cobar. It was heart break. I was getting away from civilisation and women. I was crook on them all. I drove a big tractor, digging water holes for sheep. I was out there for nine months, sleeping under tarp out in the open, and sometimes the only thing I had to eat was what I shot.

On sex before marriage: It was a strict no no. Sometimes you tried, but unsuccessfully.

On how much things cost in the old days: A loaf of bread was sixpence, a packet of cigarettes was five cents as was a haircut. Sausages were about 10 cents a pound. The pictures were sixpence to get in.

On DIY housing: I built it myself. I went and bought a hammer and box of nails and a chisel and a saw. I felled the trees and sent them to the mill and got them cut to the size I wanted. It was 25 miles east of Coonamble and had one bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room and one little bit of back veranda and one bathroom and laundry combined. I can remember going out at night and trapping rabbits to get enough money to build my house. I sold them for two shillings each and sometimes I’d trap 50 for the night. In those days that was good money. We had a spear pump and, later on, I bought the missus a washing machine with an engine under it. It was 1954 and she thought you wouldn’t call the king your uncle!

On what he misses about the old days: I found that men in particular were more individualistic. There didn’t seem to be so many   restrictions. If you didn’t have a driver’s licence but you drove a car if you needed to, the police would say “get on your way young Kennedy”. They didn’t seem to be so savage about everything.

On what’s wrong with the world today: The worst I find is rampant consumerism and the increase in lawlessness. Younger people don’t seem to be prepared to work towards what they want. When I was young, there was no such thing as a credit card. You saved for it.

On hot water and getting places fast: The inventions that changed my life were motor cars and hot-water systems. All through college there was no hot water. When we were kids mum had to boil the copper for the bath.

On what he’s looking forward to: I’d like to get everything under control – the last of tractors or vintage cars repaired before I go.

Betty Kennedy is 80. She grew up in Drummoyne, as one of three children. She has been married to Lawrie for 60 years and likes playing cards, especially Samba and 500, and riding a pushbike around Ballina where she lives. She and her husband are also keen travellers – they have been to more than 50 countries – and most recently they visited Cuba and Alaska.

On the Depression: I remember my father being put off work and mending our shoes because we couldn’t afford to pay for them to be fixed.

On air raid shelters and sharks: My two brothers and I played in the backyard in an air raid shelter that my father, a dental technician, had built. We used to swim in the Parramatta River, too. In those days it was full of sharks. Often my father would take us for a picnic in one of the national parks.

On teenage dating: We would go to the Trocadero in Sydney to hear the great big bands. You just went in, stood there and the boys asked you for a dance. That was all they got, a dance.

On home hairdressing: I couldn’t sew or boil water when I got married. But we were so bloomin’ poor I had to learn. We had six children on one income. I never went to the hairdressers. I used to perm my own hair.

On her first job: I worked in Anthony Hordern’s department store, selling crockery. I had left school at the end of the second year. It was allowed in those days. I got the quite considerable sum then of two pounds 10 shillings a week.

On pleasing your man: My mother went all out to please my father. You did everything to keep your man happy. I was the same. Was that equality or stupidity?

On what shocks her today: The waste and the attitude of consumers – they’ve got to have it and got to have it now.

On the invention that changed her life: The washing machine and the vacuum.

On having babies: I was in hospital for three weeks with the first one. They didn’t leave the babies with you. They brought them in, you fed them, and they took them away.

Ray Fryer, 94, has lived in Casino his entire life. He was married for 67 years to the love of his life, Peggy McDermott, and has two daughters, whom he is in regular contact with. He enjoys listening to the radio and reading The Northern Star.

On tuberculosis: My mother developed TB in 1919. She died two years later. My father brought me and my sister to live with his parents in Casino in 1921. It’s the same house I’m living in now.

On childhood fun: We made billycarts with wooden wheels and bowled motor tyres about. My sister would get into one and I’d bowl her along.

On good food: In those days a lot of people had a house cow, including my grandparents. We used to use the milk and cream to make our own butter. We’d have corned beef or rolled roast.

On the lack of electricity: There was no electricity in the house. We had kerosene lamps and went to bed early.

On homelessness: Fortunately the Depression didn’t affect my family too much. What I can remember is the unemployed who had camps on the aerodrome and Carrington Park (now Queen Elizabeth Park). Many had worked on the railway line from Casino to Bonablo.

On true love: My first real date was the one I married, Peggy McDermott. I’d seen her riding – she was a very good horsewoman. I married her on four days leave from the army after two years together and she died 14 days short of 67 years together. We stuck together. We had two children, both girls.

On working in the bush: I was 13 and I went to work fencing in the bush and burr cutting with my father. He worked for the Casino Pastures Protection Board. First up I got paid nothing and then maybe 15 cents a day. In 1940, I joined the army. I got out in 1946 and went back to doing the same job for about 27 cents an hour. I lasted six months before I got a job as an inspector with the old municipal council. I did that for 12 years then worked as secretary of the Casino Pastures Protection Board for 23 years before retiring.

On his first car: It was a brand new 1959 VW Beetle. I had three Beetles after that.

On sex before marriage: You had to sneak around in those days. Sex wasn’t only just invented you know.

On living modern life: There’s plenty that shocks me. You read it every day. Violence is a big one. But I don’t want to go back to then. Certainly things went a bit slower. But it took a hell of a long while to go anywhere! There were no planes. All the inventions now, like televisions and radios, are much better. I remember my first radio. I bought it in the 1930s secondhand from a fellow. I needed two high poles as an aerial and three dials to tune it.

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