Growing Up

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My Father was born in 1883 in Bristol UK a place where he said the Harding's were more prolific than the Smiths. He and his brother, Samuel, became trooper veterans of the 2nd Boer War in South Africa. Towards the end of hostilities, he was declared the ringleader of a group of troopers from 01/C that told their Major to mount his horse and depart, never to return. The Major was told that if he were still in rifle range after five minutes, he would be shot. The Boers were reputed to be able to knock a trooper off his horse at a range of ½ a mile.

After cessation of hostilities, while still in South Africa, my father joined the local mounted constabulary while Samuel, became an underground supervisor in a local mine. An unfortunate mining accident resulted in the death of several African miners. My father advised his brother to join the crew of the first ship to depart the nearest port and so avoid embroilment in the expected accident enquiry. Samuel did this and landed in Albany in south Western Australia.

My father received a letter from Sam stating that Western Australia was a good place to live with ample opportunity. Before my father left to take advantage of this he went back to England and married my mother. He became a self taught carpenter (much later he became a registered builder) and travelled throughout south Western Australia for available work using the main method of trasport at that time, horse and cart, taking with him the hessian tent in which we lived and burgeoning family of three boys of which I was the youngest, being born in 1917. My eldest brother had serious birth problems (medical assistance being negligible) and an unfortunate horse accident resulted in him having mental problems during his comparatively short life.

The years after World War I and during the ensuing depression from 1929 into the early 30's, meant continued travel for my father and family, chasing available work. This meant I attended a multitude of junior schools (both country and metropolitan ones) that had dissimilar curriculum leaving me with a patchy understanding of various subjects.

At one time I was a 'correspondent' student with my mother as supervisor. My brothers and I also spent several months in a Gosnells orphanage while our parents travelled to England, where my father underwent a major operation to remove part of his badly ulcerated stomach.

In the Depression years of the late 1930's, my father was virtual paymaster for the group settlement scheme for British Migrants in the South-West of Western Australia in the Capel - Metricup area. The migrants were allotted plots of bushland with a sparsely furnished four-roomed timber house, thereon, they had to clear the bush to start farming and were paid by the Government for these endeavours in accordance with their progress. My father's job was to visit them all and assess them for payment based on their endeavours.

While attending Perth Boys School from Maylands, during the post WWI depression when money was sparse, I caught the local tram with the penny fares for children. But this would not suffice for me to get to Perth Modern from Maylands. (Incidentally during this period I used to save my weekly pocket money of one or two pennies to attend the six-penny nights at Maylands cinema).

My personal discovery of 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention' was when I rescued a cousin's (Strattons) discarded bicycle to ride to Perth Modern. The metal pipe holding the seat up was broken away at the bottom where it joined the pedals spindle hub. I emptied the hub by removing pedals, large sprocket and spindle, packed and filled the large hole with saturated cloth, then drilled holes at right angles and at slightly different levels. I then put three 4 inch nails in each hole, at the bottom of the seat tube and the stub on top of the hub and then after melting lead from a discarded lead acid car battery and aligned tube bottom and stub the liquid lead was poured down the tube so reattaching it to the hub. As well as riding this bike to and from Modern School. On one occasion I rode it continually for over 24 hours down South to Metricup, the reason for this is as follows.

On 23rd December 1933, an urgent Government letter addressed to my father arrived at Maylands where my brothers and I were living. My mother was staying with my father in Metricup at the time. There were no telephones and while I knew where their house was, I did not know its address, I decided to deliver the letter myself. So at about 5.00 PM on December 24th I mounted my repaired bike which I fitted with an acetylene-producing headlamp I set off. In those days, all the roads outside the metropolitan area were badly corrugated gravel roads, only occasionally graded by various Shire Councils. I rode through the night arriving the next day, the 25th at approximately 7.00pm after my parents had finished their evening meal. My greatest disappointment was that the last of my mother's Christmas pudding with its many embedded sixpences had been eaten and there was none left for me. My father drove my bike and me back to Perth. Some months later my second brother rode his light racer bike down to help my father build a church in the area but he was less than half way down when he was picked up by my father in his 1928 Dodge.

As we grew older, my second brother, Les, left school at the earliest possible age to assist my builder father wherever he went. Les eventually became a registered builder himself, as did I when I retired from a position of 'Chief Engineer - Structures' in the Public Works Department, Architectural Division (PWDAD) of Western Australia at the end of 1977.

Eventually, my family became semi established with my mother and two brothers living in several houses in Maylands and Subiaco, some of them built by my father. At the school in Subiaco I sat and failed the exam for a scholarship to Perth Modern School evidently due to the dearth of English in my inconsistent early schooling. This resulted in my having private tuition of English while at Perth Boys School. Here I passed the Junior Exam with results that enabled me to attend Modern School and eventually gain the Leaving Certificate for entry into the University of Western Australia's (UWA) Engineering Course. Anchor(school)[:References:Click Here] to see the references I was given on leaving Perth Boys and Modern School.

On later reflection I felt my failure when sitting the exam to gain a scholarship at Modern School was due to the English test paper. There was a question which I could not answer requesting the meaning of several proverbs and expressions, none of which I had encountered due to my various disjointed early schooling at several different Primary Schools. These were the kinds of statements and questions I encountered:

  1. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
  2. Necessity is the mother of invention.
  3. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.
  4. A penny wise, a pound foolish.
  5. It fell off the back of a truck.
  6. Love and marriage, like horse and carriage, you can't have one without the other.
  7. How did surnames originate?
  8. What does 'catch 22' mean?
  9. Does salt water boil at the same temperature as pure water?
  10. Bob's your Uncle.
  11. Birds of a feather stick together, etc, etc.

In my life I saw for myself an example of numbers 2 in regards to the repairs of my cousin's bike and number 5 as follows.

Proverb number five from above was encountered whilst riding this bike on a rainy winters day returning home from Perth Modern School. In those days the traffic was fairly sparse and the roads pretty rough so when the opportunity presented itself I would grab hold of the left hand rear corner of a passing truck tray for a tow, easing my arduous effort. On a particular rainy day, a truck with sundry cases of bottles presented itself. Whilst being towed, a box towards the rear of the truck tray fell over and several of the bottles rattled towards the end of the tray. One near to me bounced over the back so I instinctively released my hold on the truck and grabbed for it before it smashed on the ground. I succeeded catching the bottle but by the time I had regained control of the bike the truck had disappeared in the mist of rain. Having no hope of reaching the truck again I carried it home where I discovered that it was a bottle of Scotch Whiskey. As I was still under drinking age, I gave the bottle to my father who had recently returned from country work. His reaction was 'where did you get it'. I replied with 'It fell off the back of a truck'.

My only outstanding memory of my years ('33 - '34) at Perth Modern School was when I was appointed 'top of the class' for my choice of the best 'English word' - mine was EFFERVESENCE - my connotations being VIVACITY, EXCITEMENT and the opportunity to scoop off the top bubbles of turbulence etc.

Later I bought an old Chater-Lea motorbike for ₤5 and rode it to Uni from Maylands. Sometimes this motorbike got me to my destination BUT I had to push it back on the return journey. The reason for this was because of a fine crack in the Bakelite surround of the spark plug lead through which the spark shorted before reaching the plug in damp weather.

I was studying Engineering at U.W.A, the Engineering Campus was an outpost at Shenton House near Crawley jetty. The house rooms were the Dean's office and general lecture rooms. The laboratories were farm-shed outhouses. While I was there a modern brick two storey building was constructed adjacent to Shenton House, the top floor of which accommodated a large drafting room.

At that time, sporting activities were ad hoc arrangements between students of varying faculties and different schools. I don't think sporting prowess was part of student assessment although it eventually became an essential criterion in the granting of Rhodes Scholarship etc. In any case my sporting abilities were miniscule. I tried football, the only memorable episode was a game where I chased the ball with no competitors nearby but I tripped over. The umpire blew his whistle and gave me a free kick but to no avail. After that I tried Lacrosse, unfortunately the players had to provide their own equipment and protective clothing. Since I was not a good runner I became a goalkeeper and all that I could afford was the goalkeeper's racquet, which was larger than those of the runners. Our Uni team was always short one or two players. When it was two, a player from the opposing team joined our team for balance. We never won a game. Once when the opposing team had sufficient goals to their credit to ensure their win, a particular player started to use me as a target. Next day when showering I noticed several purple rings on my body where he had managed to hit me with the ball. As a deterrent I approached my tormentor with one of my team mates to my right. We planned to race at him leaving enough space between us for him to pass through, as he did so I would then drop my racquet to chest level with the objective being my attacker in running between us would turn sideways and break a collar bone. No such luck but the attacks on me stopped. Fortunately, my racquet did not break because some time later I had to sell it to help pay a speeding fine whilst riding my overly loud Charter-Lea motor bike round Mounts Bay Road. The guts of the silencer had disintegrated and I had stuffed it with chicken wire. This sale forever ended my sporting career!

My early exam results at Uni - DISTINCTIONS in both Mathematics and Geology, (not taught in my earlier education) indicates the value of my Modern School years. A pertinent comment by the Dean, Professor O. F. Blakey, was that the public understanding of the term 'engineer' was that it implied 'MANUAL' not 'MIND' (use of manual labour rather than intelligence) and this was the basis for employment remuneration in that sector.

Even today an architect who plans an outstanding (albeit quirky) structure has all the resulting kudos whereas the professional 'engineer' who designs (using his intelligence) the skeleton of the structure to enable it to stand is ignored.

In my early life I was constantly moving throughout the South West of W.A. Even in the metropolitan area from Maylands to Subiaco there was little opportunity for me to make firm friends or to develop a gregarious nature so I lacked the opportunity to develope social graces or niceties. Professor Blakey used to have social weekends at his home in Nedlands for the students studying 4th and 5th year. Having to cycle from Maylands to Nedlands, I attended only once. I found the attention of his 'motherly' ostentatious wife, with 'garish' rings on every finger and thumb, not to my liking. 'Obnoxious' is probably too strong a word to apply to her, but because of my feelings and the effort required to appear, I decided that further attendance of these social occasions was not for me. In later years I came to the conclusion that the Professor would consider 'social graces' an essential part of a Professional Engineer's character, to better ensure future employment. So even though I received a reference from him before I departed it stated that I'd topped the pass list but did not get 'Honours' - even 'third class'. Anchor(school1) [:References#Uni:Click here] to see the written reference.

During the last two of the five years of my UWA Engineering course, two Polish migrants with Polish Engineering qualifications joined the course to obtain Australian qualifications. One became a friend of mine with whom I used to share my homemade lunches. We qualified at the same time and he joined the PWD A.D. Structures branch where I was working, finalising my five year Cadetship. I had gained this job during the second year of my Uni Course. Together we calculated various parts of the steel skeleton of the proposed multi-storey Royal Perth Hospital, each checking the others work, under the supervision of a Senior Structural Engineer. This included the design of massive long span steel girders that supported the upper stories of the Hospital over the wide ground floor lecture theatre that, in my opinion, should have been on the top floor. I supervised the erection of the hospital's steel frame then its further construction and other works until 1941. Shortly after this the Senior Engineer and I obtained war service leave. The Senior Engineer departed to points unknown to me leaving the Pole to carry on during the five-year war period. After the War, the Senior Engineer turned up as the checking Engineer for the Perth City Council. He died a few years later of a heart attack whilst watching an apparently exciting football match at the Subiaco Oval.


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