The "When I Was Young' geneameme

Alex in Edinburgh

The very genea-ial Alona Tester has come up with a new geneameme for us all. You might want to grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.  This seems to go on and on. I must be very old.

Do you (or your parents) have any memorabilia from when you were a baby? (ie. baby book, lock of hair, first shoes etc.)

Oh yes.  Mittens, boots and a hat. And a Christening gown. And a rattle.

Alex's christening
Do you know if you were named after anyone?

No I don't think so.  

And do you know of any other names your parents might have named you?

Not really - although I do remember that my mother was anxious that my name NOT be shortened to Sandy.

What is your earliest memory?

Clinging onto my father's slippery shoulders in the swimming pool on the Oriana coming back from Scotland.  I must have been about 3 years old.  The water was rocking from side to side in the swell of the ocean.  Note to self - find that VHS tape NOW and transfer it!

Did your parent/s (or older siblings) read, sing or tell stories to you? Do you remember any of these?

I think the book most often read to me must have been Winnie the Pooh.  We had a lot of fun with that and the characters were so real they were like another branch of the family.  When my father built a boat it was called Owl and Pooh. He was Owl and I was Pooh.  I loved all AA Milne's rhyme books too which gave me a great appreciation of nonsense in life.

When you were young, do you remember what it was that you wanted to grow up to be?

An actress.

Did you have a favourite teacher at school?

St John's Infants School Canberra (now Northside Infants) - Alex is in front row 2nd from left

I had so many good teachers, it's hard to pick a favourite. It was fun having dinnere with Miss Lees, our career's advisor, recently.  She came with us on our Central Australia trip in Grade 10.

How did you get to school?

By bus.  In earlier days TWO buses - we had to change in the city.  There was a group of us that chatted at the bus-stop and sat next to each other - Anna, Bronwyn, Thea and Kris.

What games did playtime involve?

Monkey bars at CCEGGS Junior School circa 1972
Elastics, jacks or knucklebones, some complicated game that involved putting a tennis ball in a stocking and then standing with your back against a large brick wall and then swinging the ball around to hit the wall while you said some silly rhyme like "Hello Hello Hello Sir!  See you at the show Sir!" or some such. Creating a really good dam and irrigation system on the dirt driveway at school until the teachers stopped us.  The 6th graders were in charge of the water flow (tap) at the top of the hill and the rest of us were in charge of the twigs and leaves that stemmed the flow.  I'm interested to see in this photo that we wore pinnies...well I'm not but everyone else is.  Do kids wear pinafores now at school?  I don't think so.

Alex and friends at school

Did you have a cubby house?

No.  But I do remember putting blankets over lounges and pushing chairs together and having lots of fun that way.

What was something you remember from an early family holiday?

The excitement of staying in motels in exotic places like Kings Cross in Sydney and swimming in the pool at night-time.  A swimming pool was such a luxury back then.  Not many people had them the way they seem to now.  Some motels even had massage beds - now that was a real treat.  Put 50 cents in the slot and shake yourself silly.

Summer holidays were spent with friends at Durras - lots of fun.

Jeanette sitting on the step, Megan and Judith
Winter holidays were spent at the Blue Mountains.  Or if we stayed home you might go to a YMCA camp or ride your bike around the suburbs and go exploring.  I had a very odd bike - not a Malvern star.  

What is a memory from one of your childhood birthday’s or Christmas?

I'm famous apparently for opening the front door at my 7th birthday party and taking the presents given to me and then shutting the front door leaving surprised guests on the outside rather than inviting them in.  My mother then had to give me a stern talking to and a quick overview of hostess etiquette.  I don't actually remember that but I do remember the brand new black patent leather shoes and the white stockings.

What childhood injuries do you remember?

The TV falling on my big toe when I was watching Z Cars when we lived in Melbourne and having to have stitches.

TV in Edinburgh in the early 60s

What was your first pet?

My first pet was a demented cocker spaniel called Dino who didn't like me. Such a shame.  Then we got a black kitten called Sooty who was much better.  Daddy found him in the bush near where we lived in Campbell.

Did your grandparents, or older relatives tell you stories of “when I was young ..?”

My maternal grandmother was particularly good at this exercise and would tell me stories about her large family of brothers and sisters in contrast to my own unique childhood.

What was entertainment when you were young?

Alex teaparty Edinburgh

I'm sure I played tea-parties as much as the next girl.  As I grew older we were probably into arts and craft in a big way and bushwalking.  

Bushwalking Blue Mountains - what would we have done without a centre part I wonder?

Who can forget the joys of macrame or hook rugs?  Cold climates will do that to you. Lots of embroidery, reading, drawing and going to the movies.

Do you remember what it was it like when your family got a new fangled invention? (ie. telephone, TV, VCR, microwave, computer?)

We tended to live on a lot of 2nd hand or borrowed stuff during my childhood. Our sofa came from my grandmother.  I think the most exciting thing was getting a new lounge and a persian rug when I was about 15.  We thought we were Xmas.  Maybe a new fridge....we seemed to have existed on an old fridge from Gran for years and then we got a two door Frigidaire with a freezer that Mum didn't have to defrost all the time.  I remember some families had tucker box freezers and they seemed very avant garde.  But we did have a new house and a wall oven in the kitchen and I seem to remember they were probably a bit new and fancy at the time.

Photo of Alex in kitchen at Aranda - actually a reflection in the toaster hence blurred- Dad being arty I think.

I remember how much we all loved our new Marantz stereo when it came.  You could not get me off it and I would sit there for hours with the headphones on listening to all my favourite albums - Venus and Mars, Yellow Brick Road etc.

Did your family have a TV? Was it b&w or colour? And how many channels did you get?

We had a black and white TV I think with three channels. The ABC, 7 & 9. Channel 10 was the new kid on the block when I was in my late teens as was SBS.  I do remember going to the UK in 1971 and thinking it so weird that they had colour TV and we didn't.  I'm sure no-one believed me when I went back to school and told them.  

Did your family move house when you were young? Do you remember it?

Yes we moved several times when I was young.  From Sydney to Edinburgh.  From Sydney to Melbourne.  From Melbourne to Canberra.  In Canberra we built a house at Aranda which was a very painful process for my parents.

Alex and Barbara standing on the foundations of 3 Nungara Street Aranda

I was really excited when we moved to Sydney when I was 16 because we renovated an old terrace house.  I'm sure it was hell again for my parents but I really loved seeing it transformed from a rundown old boarding house into a lovely big home.  And I particularly liked my attic right at the very top of the house with its dormer window.  

Was your family involved in any natural disasters happening during your childhood (, flood, cyclone, earthquake etc)

Old Mawarra Tallong 1965

My paternal Auntie Hazel lost her home in a bush fire when I was quite young.  I don't remember it at the time but we have a couple of photos.  I have a vague memory of driving with my mother in the bush and there being fire along the side of the road and her being unsure as to whether to keep going or not but I'm not sure if it was on that occasion or another.

Barbara cooking al fresco at Tallong 1965

courtesy of  National Library of Australia Man dies, 100 homes lost. (1965, March 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from

Courtesy of National Library of Australia Three days of fire, suffering, and death. (1965, March 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 11. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from
A letter from my mother to her Aunt Bell dated 31 March reads as follows:
The same week as Daddy (my grandfather) went into hospital, Jim's sister's house was burnt out at Tallong, the centre of all those dreadful bushfires a few weeks ago.  They are living under the most frightful conditions; they lost everything except the car, and were lucky to get out with their lives.  Jim has spent a lot of time on a simple plan to get them up a house of sorts before the winter sets in, as it can be really freezing there.  People have sent money from everywhere, old neighbours of Jim's mother etc and clothing has come from all over the state.  Joy sent down a lot of Bill's clothes and toys which were very gratefully received, and they are managing to struggle along as best they can.  There is of course, no electricity, water, or telephone.  Someone leant (sic) them an old caravan to live in; it's full of cracks and freezing at night.  They buy water by the bottle, can't do the washing of course, and Hazel takes it forty miles to Jim's mother's place at Bowral (which, by the way, hasn't any water either, this week).  
At the time we were living in the Orana flats at Bondi in Sydney.  We had just returned from overseas.  She mentions in the same letter that our car had broken down and was too expensive to fix.  Some of my parents' wedding presents and other personal items were stored at Hazel's place and I think we probably lost a lot of memorabilia then too.  For many years afterwards I remember if we couldn't find something you would hear "It must have gone in the fire".  

Alex in flat at Bondi dressed to go to St John's Vaucluse

courtesy of National Library of Australia, Advertising. (1954, February 13). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 52. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from

Here is an extract from a letter my mother wrote to her father 21st April, just after Easter:

Jim left last Thursday to help Hazel and Charles in the building of the new house: he will be away for two weeks....the weekend of the 1st May I'm due to go down to Bowral with Alex to come back with Jim.

I wonder how we got there.  Did we catch a train to Bowral and did my grandmother still have a car and did we borrow that?

Here is an extract from a letter she wrote to my father on the same day:

A strange phenomenon has occurred.  Alex is most demonstratively affectionate with me...and won't let me out of her sight even from room to a bashful sort of way she admits it's you having gone.  Every day we go through the same ritual three or four times, about Daddy having gone down to Auntie Hazel's to build a house (which she stresses is a BLUE house) (do you think I ought to write to Freud about that?)  Whenever there are footsteps in the vestibule she yells out "Here's my Daddy" and goes roaring up the hall.  

Is there any particular music that when you hear it, sparks a childhood memory?

Where do I begin?  


The Ventures a Go Go, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and James Last will always speak to me of what seemed exciting and sophisticated times of my parents youth. I was encouraged to stay in my bedroom with the promise of After Dinner Mints while they had dinner parties.  It was fun seeing the couples arrive dressed to the nines - we're talking silk taffeta dresses made from material bought from Peuan Thai and if the girls were feeling particularly chuffed, small tiaras.  I think I was allowed to move the TV into my bedroom on those nights too.

What is something that an older family member taught you to do?

My mother and grandmother taught me to knit and to sew.  My father taught me to ride a bike.  I'm sure my uncle tried to teach me to milk a cow without success!

Alex on tricycle in Edinburgh

What are brands that you remember from when you were a kid?

Walking around Canberra last week was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.  I was delighted to see Franco the hairdresser still in the same place at Baileys Corner in the lower ground shop.  I think I had my first proper style cut there - very short at the age of 7.  Sam Catanzariti menswear shop was a familiar name.  I remember Youngs Dept Store.  I remember Mary Quant makeup and what fun that was.  I was shocked to find that Millers of Manuka seems to have gone.  My mother and grandmother would be spinning in their graves if they knew.  You can see some photos of Millers in the ACT Heritage library here.  My memories are of wading through plush pile carpet and of having to be very quiet whilst ladies made momentous decisions about frocks in hushed tones.

courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Advertising. (1968, June 3). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 4. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from, 

Did you used to collect anything? (ie. rocks, shells, stickers … etc.)

I think I bought every Enid Blyton book I could lay my hands on.  My grandmother gave me a lot of dolls from her travels overseas and spoons too.

Share your favourite childhood memory.

Birthdays were always special when I was growing up.  My parents put a lot of effort into making me feel loved.  My mother would usually make me a doll. There would usually be a complicated treasure hunt or series of cryptic clues to find my presents and the cards often had scrawly fun "writing" on them from the various pets - from mice to cats.  I was very lucky indeed.  

Barbara and doll

Birthday card greetings

What can you find when you dig through your old "rubbish"?

Drawing of Alex going through the rubbish bin by Barbara


crgalvin said…
What a fabulous post Alex, you've certainly challenged those of us yet to write up our memories. Love the photos of little Alex, so cute!
Such great memories! Terrific post!
Kristin said…
Very good. Each one could be a blog post in itself!
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Carmel - particularly for reading all of it. I'm glad the photos provided light relief.
Alex Daw said…
Thank you Dorene and welcome to my blog. It was fun composing it.
Alex Daw said…
Hi Kristin. Yes I think you're right. Breaking it up into chunks might have been more digestible. It was a bit of a marathon effort I have to say.
Kerryn Taylor said…
Fantastic post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your wonderful memories Alex, Many of them bringing back more memories of my own childhood.
diane b said…
You have a wealth of memories and sounds like you have had a very interesting life. St John's School is not far from where my daughter lives in Diamond Bay Rd..
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Kerryn. That's very kind of you. Alona came up with a great exercise didn't she?
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Diane. Now that's a pretty street address isn't it? I have many happy memories of playing on the little beach down at Vaucluse.
Sharon said…
I really enjoyed this Alex. You were such a little cutie!

You made me laugh with your story about closing the door on guests at your birthday. I could just picture it :)
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Sharon - it is a funny story isn't it? It's a wonder I had any friends left after that party!

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