AE 650 – Interview: Growing Up in 1960s Australia with Jo Smissen

In this episode of Aussie English I interview my mother, Jo Smissen, about her hobbies and growing up in 1960s Australia.

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G'day guys and welcome to this episode of Aussie English. It's good to have you guys here. Welcome back if you've been a long time listener and a welcome for the very first time if you are a first time listener. Man, today is going to be a fun episode.

Today, I finally got my mum on the podcast. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. Truth be told, I have been trying to get her on for months and months, but she is very humble, very reserved, and thinks that she is an incredibly boring person, so it has been a trial getting her to agree.

But I finally twisted her arm when she came over the other day to take care of Noah whilst I was at home, here, about to leave to go and pick up Kel, and I decided to finally sit down, rope her in and get her to talk about her hobbies. She has quite a number of different hobbies, as well as what it was like growing up in Australia; what her childhood was like. So without any further ado, guys, I give you my mother. Jo Smissen, thank you so much again, mum, for coming on the podcast. G'day, guys, and welcome to this episode of Aussie English. I've got my mum here.

Hi, guys.

I've twisted her arm and finally got her onto the podcast. Are you pumped to be here, mum?

Oh, absolutely pumped, Pete.

Well, why were you dodging it so much, for so long?

I just don't feel that interesting.

I think it's one of those things; everyone always thinks they're boring, right? Or at least most people who aren't megalomaniacs or narcissists.

Well, I am very boring. Very, very boring! Very, very boring.

Mum's going to tell us all about puzzles and knitting today.

Hello! Boring!

All right. So I thought I...

Would you like the stamp collecting as well?

You can talk about... Well, how did you get into those hobbies? Is that just something you've always done? Because you're a big fan of puzzles. A big fan of reading. I mean, tell us about your hobbies and how did you get into them?

Puzzles... I guess I've always done jigsaw puzzles from a child and late in life, I guess I've discovered that my brain is a problem solving brain. That's what I like to do. And it takes a long... Takes many years to work out sometimes what your brain is well suited to.

Still there, working, trying to work it out, right?

And mine's suited to problem solving, and so... And pattern analysis, very good at pattern analysis and picking things that match. It's very good at matching.

So I guess I can say there how puzzles and knitting I guess and crochet is kind of related then because you have to do things based on patterns. Right, at least with knitting.

I haven't thought of knitting and crocheting in quite those terms. The thing about jigsaw puzzles is it just relaxes me.

Yeah. Yeah, like kind of zone out.

Yeah. That's how my brain likes to wind down. I've discovered that I don't like to do ones that are super hard. I can!

So I was wondering, I saw one the other day. It was effectively a black sheet and then they they stamp it with the puzzle imprint or whatever, so it makes all the pieces, but it's just black. And I'm like, well should I buy this from mum for Christmas? Or is this something that would pretty much go straight into the trash? or never get used?

There is fun and there is ridiculous.


Yes, and I'm into fun. So I'll pick something that's about a thousand pieces, with a lot of different colours. And it's something I do that's kind of a routine activity. I enjoy it. And it unpacks my brain.

So what's harder? Is it harder to get a puzzle that has, say, like lots of complexity in the image, or is it harder to have one that's, say, a very simple pattern that has a lot of big colours, but not a lot of intricacy over the different pieces, because I haven't really thought about this before. But what would be harder, right? You can imagine an image, say, of a picture of Uluru, you know, without much detail. And there would be the ground, the Uluru, the mountain itself and then the sky. And that'd be difficult because you'd have a lot of pieces that would be single colours. Right. And then there would be ones of like if you just had a photo of a grass field with lots and lines.

Usually in photos, images, particularly. There's colour gradations, even in what you think is a plain blue sky. It's pale to dark in different places.

So you can use that to work them out?

My brain latches on colour variation and matching different colours. And so it's an exercise that I find relaxing. Finding the colour that matches.

Have you started seeing those ads on Facebook yet? Where you can take a photo and send it off and have them turn it into a puzzle of like your pet, of your family, of you, of, you know, your car. Have you thought about doing that or it's too distracting?

Well, it's still has to be a picture that you want to look at.

So definitely not family!.

So, doing a puzzle of my family having dinner is kind of not as interesting.

Well, it would depend on the dinner, right? And how interesting you made the photo.

Well, if you had very colourful food, it could be really interesting with a background that had lots of different colouring as well. But mostly, no, that doesn't grab me. I like puzzles of art, like puzzles of photos of cool places. So lots of different things, but not facing my family, probably.

And so how do you turn it up to like eleven if you want to make it really hard? Do you just turn down the front of the box upside-down?

I want to relax!

But have you done it where you don't look at the image? And you try to complete the puzzle?

Because you can in fact buy remainder puzzles, that don't have a picture.

They come in a plastic bag, do they?

Yes, they do. So they come in... They're called mystery puzzles. So you don't get the picture, but they are, in fact, the commercial puzzles. So if you really wanted to, you could probably look them up. But the trick is to put them together. So they're... it's a bit of a thing... You know those puzzles... Up at the top of Oceans Grove, there's that game's place where you can go... What do they call it?

'Amazing things' or something, yeah.

Well there's another one on Phillip Island. And they have a shop that sells puzzles and stuff and one other kind of thing that I've bought before many years ago are these mystery puzzles. So... that you don't get a picture of. And also you can get puzzles which makes a bit of a game of it. Where the picture on the box is not the picture in the puzzle.

So it's related to it?

It sets the scene, but it's actually not the picture in the puzzle.

You wouldn't want to buy that by mistake!

I do one of those every now and then. But it's not the sort of thing that I would do every weekend.

Far out. And so what about knitting? Can you talk to us about that? Because that's one thing that'll lead into where I wanted the conversation to go, which is your childhood and what it was like growing up in Australia. But growing up in our family, knitting was always something I saw you doing and Nana doing. My great... Your mother, my grandmother. And so it was obviously a big part of your lives, at least when you were younger. But today it seems like it's dropped off because we've moved into a more consumer culture where it's just too easy to go and buy, you know, knitwear or whatever and not have to actually sit down and do it yourself. Have you noticed that knitting has gone sort of the way of the dodo? And people are not doing it as much anymore?

The thing is, in my childhood and in the generations before me, it was cheaper to make your own clothes than to buy them. In our country now it is not.


It's much cheaper to buy clothes than to make them because the yarn or the material costs more. And then you've got all that time to put it together.

Well, that's it; the work hours that you've got to put into it. How long does it take to... If you wanted to knit a jumper for yourself, how long would that take?

A couple of weeks.

Jesus! Of how... But how many hours do you think?

Well, the thing is I used to... I would knit a jumper a year. So I'd get myself a new jumper every year leading into winter.

Is that just chipping away at it little by little?

Yes. So I would knit on the tram in the way to work. I mean, you hardly, hardly see anybody doing handcraft on public transport.

That's because we've got iPhones, mum!

True! That's what I do with my time on the tram.

That was a good use of dead time though, right? That's a clever use. You could have been reading a newspaper or a book or you could be knitting, which is going towards something that's useful, which is a jumper!

I'd knit in front of the TV.


And that's because I listen more to TV than watch it.


Anyway. And I also taught myself to knit in the dark. So I'd watch movies in the movie theatres and knitted!

What!?! And come out with a jumper?

What can I say?

But it's how many hours would it take if you wanted to make a jumper.

So I can't even remember. But... I don't know. It would take several weeks to make it because you make the separate pieces and then you sew them together. Sometimes it's a hard pattern. Sometimes it's an easy one, depending on what you want to do.

Then, now it's all obviously machined and so... Even assuming it's a real wool right too? So the product is so cheap because it's so fast to make. And the yarn, the products that have gone into making the design...

They're not the same quality. They're not pure wool. Not so much anymore. And also we in our consumer culture, as you say, we don't expect things to last, we don't want things to last. Like I would make something that I would wear for several years. In fact, I probably still have some of the things that I knitted as a teenager.

Well you showed me something the other day that was a little woollen jumper? I think you need for me when I was a baby. Yeah, I think it was that. like there was something you gave me and I don't know if it was you that did it.

With the little teddies.

Yeah. And you were saying, you know, and it looked like it was new.

Yeah. And so... But these days with wanting new things all the time. You don't want things that last and so you can buy things that are cheap and fall apart within twelve months because you don't care....

And it's so frustrating too, because obsolescence is now built into a lot of things. Right. So that they're built to break so that you have to buy the next thing because you know, companies worked out that they make more money by making things that people want that break soon. So they have to replace it as opposed to making something that they only have to buy once.

But in terms of clothes, we... Most people don't want to wear things more than one season. The majority of their clothes, they would buy new, each season. And so putting all the time and effort into making something that has... that lasts much longer than that is not something that people necessarily want to do.

So was that..?

Plus, you got your iPhones, as you say.

Well, that's it. And we're seeing ads for all these things that we need to buy.

So... but I still... you know, there was... well, a time when I didn't do much handcraft and...

And that seemed to be something... Yeah, that seemed to be something that you... I don't know how to say this without sounding sexist, but women of your generation seem to be on average much better at doing handcraft stuff, because... I don't know... Were you raised to just do that. Were you taught that by your mother?

We learnt it as young as from primary school age. How to sew, how to make clothes, how to knit, how to do things.

And that was because it was just assumed that it was going to be a very important skill for you to have in the future?

Yeah. And schools would you know, back then, girls would do sewing. Boys would do woodwork and that sort of thing.

Well, I guess it's both sides. Right. Because they are probably just as fewer men these days who are good at woodwork, including myself!

They go to their shed... They go out and make a dollhouse house for their child or a bookshelf or something, which is what my dad did.

Well, it feels like it's funny though. That happens with where we've come generationally because you would imagine grandpa, your parents. My nan or grandpa, your mum and dad probably come from a time where things were made built to last. But also they had less. They wasted less money on disposable things. But they also probably learned how to repair a lot of the things that they had.

Here's a good example. Grandpa's trailer. He made that himself like 50 years ago.

Really? The one that he still uses?


Holy moly.

And he made the wooden part himself. And he did the welding. He didn't have a welder at home. But he did it at his workplace and did the metal work and the welding and bought all of the tyres and stuff. And he's still using it. And still fixes it!

Yeah. It's so crazy because it's one of those things that makes me feel really inadequate. Because I don't have those skills. But then I'm cognisant of the fact that I don't really have time now to do those or to learn those skills because they aren't going to be as useful to me today as they would probably have been to grandpa back in that time. Right.

Because nowadays I can make, you know, X amount of money and just pay someone to do that for me, or I can buy the thing right. Like for the for example of a day, I part of my car broke and I thought, oh, Jesus, I'm going to have to sell a car. Like this was the boot of the car's support strut. The thing that is like pressurised so that you don't have to hold the boot up when you open it. One of them had like rusted and snapped off.

And I was like, there's no way I can... I have no idea how to fix this and I don't know where I would go. So I followed the... You know, I went to the mechanic, asked him, and he's like, go to the panel beater. Because he knows how to weld. And the guy just welded it on. Made it clean, fixed it up. And it cost me $50. You know, for 20 minutes, 30 minutes of his time. But back in the day, I would imagine that grandpa wouldn't have necessarily had that ability to just be like with this guy, you know, two minutes down the road. He could do it for me for the equivalent of whatever $50.

There are people today who live in places like outback Australia and Africa where if you have a vehicle.

Oh, well, that makes more sense, because you can't just...

Yeah. They have to know how to fix it. And they hold things together in all sorts of strange ways to get things to work that we wouldn't even bother with.

Well, and it's sad because I would love to have those skills. But here in Australia, at least where I live in Australia, here in Ocean Grove, they're not useful to me because I can just find someone to do it quickly. Right. Or I can repair the thing by buying a part. But yeah, if I was living in the outback in the middle of nowhere and I don't have that accessibility, it makes much more sense for me to build up my skills. And being able to repair my own car!

Yeah, but then that brings us back to what we started with originally in this conversation, which is hobbies and pastimes. And I think you need to have hobbies. people need to have things that they do to relax. And I like to do things to relax that are productive, which is why...

How is making a puzzle productive, mum?

All right.


Except a puzzle! And I'm not one of those people who glue the puzzles together.

I never got those people that glue them together and frame them. It's kind of like looks like the image. But with all of these lines all over it from their pieces, it looks horrible. Just get the image and frame that.

Plus, the whole point of a puzzle is doing it again and if I get enjoyment out of a puzzle, I will do it again and again and again.

That would be like gluing a book shop when you're finishing it and putting it back on the shelf. Jesus. I feel you.

You need hobbies. You need things to do in your downtime so that you can, in fact take your brain away from the things that you are working on.

That's the story of Aussie English. You know how that got started? Because I was doing the PhD and all the other students were pretty much focused a hundred percent on their PhDs and I was just like, if I have to be like that, I'm going to kill myself. I just can't imagine... I want to go home and escape and do something else that's productive and interesting. But I don't want to just you know... it's literally 24/7 and there's no escape. So one dimensional right?

For me, making crochet. Making things is a hobby. But it's productive to do. And there's also a puzzle which is productive because it relaxes my brain.

But that's where the trade off comes. I guess you can have those secondary hobbies that are like in and of themselves, unproductive. But if they can make you relaxed so that you can be more productive later...

And then there's stamp collecting, which is just all about having a collection.

I tried that once!

And arranging things. Now that's a dying art. Not an art, really.

It's a dying hobby.

Yeah, because the only reason stamps exist now is for stamp collectors.

We'll talk about that. Why was stamp collecting so big a thing back in the day?

Well, it's like coin collecting.

And why was coin collecting so big back in the day?

It's because people like to collect things that are unusual. If you have... I mean, you know, stamps and coins, you see Australian stamps and coins every day. But it's exciting when you get a parcel from overseas and it has stamps from other countries that you haven't seen before.

Ah, I have to make an embarrassing admission. I guess I do not see stamps everyday day and I do not see coins everyday anymore because I send emails and I use my credit card or debit card.

This is all part of the excitement of getting messages and parcels and things...

If only emails came with stamps.

So yeah. So I guess the stamps were part of the fun of getting parcels from other places and you could collect things from exotic locations. You could... It's like swap cards and, you know, footy cards and collecting things you can swap with. The whole idea it was a swapping culture. You would collect your stamps and you would swap with other people to build up your individual collection.

So I did that with Pokemon cards as a kid and marbles as a kid and all those collectibles...

You could say stamps were the beginning of swappable collectables.

I think I tried to get into it, but then I was just like this too big. How am I going to get all the stamps in the world?

Although some people aim to have all of the stance of Australia or of a particular country or whatever. But I never aim that big. I'm just more about having something that I can look at and arrange.

They are pretty especially when you get sets of them, I guess.

Sets are the big thing.

They've gone bonkers with that, right? Nowadays it's always sets that just get sold.

But the thing that's gone out of it as a hobby is that excitement about getting things in the mail because now you just have to buy everything from a post office one.

Yeah, everything that sent these days, unless it is a letter, tends to be postage paid for. Right. There's no stamps on it on the parcel. I would just have paid the postage for you.

And it's expensive. But bringing up way too many, way more stamps than you need to in a year. they just placating collectors.

Trying to milk it.

Yeah. Which must be getting less and less and less.

Far out. It is one of those interesting things, though, where you wonder how these hobbies come about. And I always imagine, you know, if if an alien came down and lived on earth and came out of a ship and was just like, can you explain to me stamp collecting?

And while we're on it, Aussie English friends. If you want to make a friend out of Peter's mum, send in a letter with a stamp on it!

Far out, mum would go crazy. I should actually give you guys my address and be like send me a letter with your stamps from your local countries.

No, that was just a joke.

You can't do that now, too late mum. I'm going to my address and you're going to get all the letters from everyone. It could be double... either end up with a whole heap and you'd be overwhelmed or tragically none.

Fan mail. And that's the other thing about stamp collecting, which we didn't even discuss yet, is the fact that you have to prepare them and get them on an envelope. You have to soak them off the envelope.

Assuming they're not mint. Right.


So these are ones and they they're more fun. You get them on the envelope. You have to soak them off. You have to dry then. If you put them in... So there's all that preparation that goes into stamp collecting as well, which is why the sticky stamps are horrible because this in Australia you can in fact soak sticky stamps off the envelopes. You really want to know this guys, don't you? Some countries which I won't name...

Depending on the adhesive glue they've used.

Use a different kind of adhesive. If you try to soak them off, it just totally ruins the paper.

I can ask you if you have a sent yourself Some stamps in the mail, mum, on the front of some letters?

No, not very much.

I remember... I can't remember if it was you sending something to yourself with the stamps on their there or you having someone send something to you because you wanted the stamps and then some arsehole at the post office like put this the black stamp of the date or whatever like all over them. And you were just like you son of a bitch.

Yes, I do send parcels at Christmas time with lots of stamps on it to people who I know, take them off and send them back to me. Yeah. And that yes, that happened one year because people in post office aren't really used to dealing with stamps and it takes a lot longer and they'd rather not.

I'll show you, stamp collectors!

Not taking up people's time too much. So I kind of have to be prepared and know what I want and go in there, get it, stick it on and.

Please just stamp the corner! Don't stamp the centre of the stamp!

Because a good stamp is one that doesn't have a big black stamp on it.

Yep. from the date and the post office.

That's right. And so you want one to be kind of light and just on the corner so that you can actually see the picture on the stamp. Yeah. But when I asked people in the post office because there aren't many stamp collectors, I would say, can you stamp it for a collector? They thought what I wanted was a big black stamp with a date.

Yea you want this stamp? I'm collecting the actual... put the black stamp on post office is not the letter stamps.

So I learnt my lesson, and I go into the post office, I say can I stamp them.

Can I do for you? Please don't screw it up.

And they will give me the stamp and I can stamp them lightly. And you're good. And I remember them...

As soon as you turn around and walk out. They're just like BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG over the top of them!

One Christmas. Mostly they're fine. I did that one Christmas. And when the stamps came back to me from my friend, somebody had obviously gone in after I had stamped and got the Ocean Grove stamp and just gone crazy stamping these stamps.

I'll show you.

Pretty much.

Jesus. All right. So moving on to your childhood. Good segue there. Where did you grow up and what was it like?

So I grew up in Adelaide.

Where were you born?

I was born in the UK.

Yeah. So tell that story. I guess that's from the very first part of your childhood, which is the reason I have a British passport.

That's correct. That's because also in the UK, because my parents were living in the UK at the time and got married in the UK. They were both Australian, but they got married in the UK because my father was working as an engineer in the UK. But as they plan to come home as pretty much as soon as I was born. So. I lived in the UK for six weeks, so I have no personal memories of the UK.

I'd be impressed if you did.

And I only actually went back there a few years ago and went to my hometown for the first time.

Your hometown. does feel weird saying that?

It does, but I actually took some time to sit there and take it all in. And while it's not my country, it's not a place that feels like home. I do feel a connection.

It's such a weird thing to think of. Dad was having a rant the other day about was it Peter Dutton deporting an indigenous Australian man from Australia because he was born in New Zealand, had come to Australia but never been registered here or something. Right. And you can you can obviously say like, well, my gosh, that's horrible. Like the guy's Australian. But it's funny that for you, as someone who was born in Britain and genetically is British for the most part. Right. You don't feel British.

I can't imagine hearing the same thing from, say, an indigenous Australian who was born overseas and grew up in, say, Britain. I mean, they may exist. They probably don't exist. Probably has never been an Aboriginal born in Britain and they've grown up there and never come home. But it's funny how there are certain groups, I guess, who are much more in touch with that, their country and their home, you know, even if they're not currently there as we are as quote unquote, British heritage ancestry.

But that's also a generational thing. Two generations ago. Britain was the home country and what every...

Two general generations ago from you or from me?

From me.

Okay, so your parents' parents?

My parents' parents. Britain was still the home country.


The old country?


And they would want to go back to Britain to visit because that was the home country. And they had much more connection to Britain because they probably knew people who were born in England and migrated to Australia.


Whereas we now on four and five generations Australian. Yeah. And while I was born in Britain, I'm an anomaly. None of my green grandparents or even my great grandparents, I think well, I think they're all born in Australia.

It was a weird thing right? because you... as Australia's part of the Commonwealth and you were born in Britain, you instantly became a British citizen and got the passport. Right.

I have a British passport because Britain is the country of my birth. Yeah. And they allow everyone who is born in Britain to have a British passport.

Is that but is that irrespective of whether the country they're from is the Commonwealth?

Come on. No, I don't think so...

I always assumed that's what it was.

I am a native. I am a native of Britain.

Yep. Okay.

But I guess...

It was funny because your parents obviously don't have passports for Britain.

So and then but I was also registered from birth as an Australian citizen. So I've been an Australian citizen from birth. Yeah. Because my parents registered me immediately at Australia House in London as an Australian citizen. So Britain is the country of my birth. So I'm entitled to a British passport because it is the country of my birth. And then I have an Australian passport because I am an Australian citizen and I never had to apply to be one. Because I was registered at birth.

Okay, so you were born there and then six weeks later, your parents and you hopped on a boat right? On a ship and took how long to get to Australia?

About six weeks probably.

Six weeks. Jesus. And you were six weeks old.

That's right. So by the time I got to Australia, I'd lived half my life on a boat.

Jesus. Well, no, but the surprising thing, I think is your mum had a six week old baby in a small cabin on a boat for six weeks.

And I was a screaming baby.

That's it. You weren't a good one.

I was not a good one.

Right. So you go to Australia at twelve weeks. And where were you? Where did you live originally?

We lived in in Adelaide. My family come from Queensland. But my dad got a job in South Australia. So we moved to South Australia. And that's where I lived for the first twelve, thirteen, years.

Yeah. So do you consider yourself to be originally a Brit slash Australian, South Australian or just a South Australian? Has that fallen off as part of your identity?

For a long time I did consider myself South Australian, but now the vast majority of my life has been spent in Victoria, so I don't consider myself South Australian. I'm Victorian... or I don't know. I also have roots in Queensland, so I consider myself in some ways a Queenslander as well, because that's where my family are all from. I have cousins, I have grandparents, they're all from Queensland and we've visited once a year.

But it's interesting that you say that and I don't know if you'll have this experience, but we used to... when we lived in Adelaide, we used to go camping pretty much every long weekend. a long weekend is when you have a public holiday on a Monday or a Friday, so you get a three day weekend. And whenever we had more than two days on the weekend, we would go camping because my parents were bushwalkers. Had been bushwalkers for a long time. They liked to get out camping.

And that was how they met right? your parents for bushwalkers in the bushwalking club around the Glasshouse Mountains. Right?

Well, that's one of the places that they went to. Yeah. And so we went a lot to the Flinders Ranges, the Flinders Ranges and north of Adelaide. And they are dry, but really interesting place to go camping. And so a couple of years ago, when Ian and I went on a four wheel driving trip to the Flinders Ranges, I had this amazing feeling of homecoming. So I understand how indigenous people feel about country, because as soon as I go to the Flinders Ranges, that's my country,.

Because it was imprinted on you from a very young age of going camping all the time.

And the dry riverbeds, the gum trees, the landscape. It just brought back a whole lot of memories. And that feeling of being home, which was quite extra... I never expected it. But if you were to ask me where's my country, I would say Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

It's just weird for me to be... An analogous thing would be Wilson's Promontory or something in terms of having... We used to go camping there every single year, probably until I was in my early teens, at least quite often. And so you'd go to the same places, do the same things, hang out there all the time.

And it was very... it was always... Yeah. Going back there now it would be probably ten years since I've been the last. But I could imagine once I go there, the things will still be the same. Same rocks are there, the same beaches are there, the same mountains are there.

That's right. And that's the way... it's the landscape. It's the way the mountains go into the sea. Yeah, it's the way the rocks are in the rivers. All of that might well give you the same feeling. Yeah. I definitely had that feeling of home.

Yeah. And so what was it like at the time in Adelaide. how did the how do the cities different from how they are today. How would you describe what life was like when you were a, you know, twelve year old in South Australia?

I think the things... that's had to be put on the spot and actually come up with things. But I can name some things that I experienced as a child that you would not have experienced as a child and that we won't experience again. So the milkman had a horse and cart and the milk came in bottles with foil caps. And in fact, the person next door to us still got their milk in a billy!

What's a billy?

Well, a Billy, is it just a metal container with a lid.

this is what you'd usually hangover a campfire to warm up water or something to cook in.

Yeah. So normally milk would come in pint bottles with little foil leads and it wasn't pasteurised. The cream would rise to the top, but you could still get a bulk supply of milk and you would put out the empty bottles on your doorstop and the milkman would walk into your yard. And however many empty bottles you left, they'd replace with new bottles. And I can't remember cause I was a child, but I suppose money was left out with me with it... Or maybe there was an account. I don't really know.

So do you miss those sort of times because I know that you and I talk about those sorts of things. I think there was a baker as well, that kind of like came around?

The baker came round and he would just... the baker I remember more because I think the time that he came around was more when I was around, particularly if I was sick and home from school and you knew the baker. The baker knew all the mums.

This tends to be the joke, doesn't it, that the milk man, you know, she's having it off with the milk man...

The milk man and the baker, They knew all of the mums, they would come out to the van and by the...

Yeah. At the time. Right. You would have, you know, husband and wife and children. The husband has a job. The wife's job is a stay at home mum generally. Right. She may have worked before that but got married, had kids and now she works at home taking care of the kids. And so the milk got free range, the streets with all these houses full of women. And so that would be one of those jokes, right?

Yeah. That we kids would... And in Adelaide at the time, there was this particular kind of role and I've never seen in Victoria, which was a horseshoe shaped role. And that's what we would, you know... Having roles rather than bread loaf is something special, so we would get these horseshoe shaped roles, and if you were home when the baker came past you could get a ride on the wagon because he would just sit the horse walking down the street at a slow pace and he'd be, you know, to and from the wagon putting out the bread orders. And so the kids could just sit on the back of the van for a couple of houses and have a bit of a ride. Yeah.

Did it feel like a smaller world?

Yeah, I would say so. The thing that I really miss is the you know, the world's just become so cosmopolitan. And, you know, every... when you went from Adelaide to Melbourne, there were different shops and there were... it was just a different environment. You know, you might have heard John Martins being the department store in Adelaide and Myer being the department store in Melbourne. And they had their differences and they were different... different small shops. Whereas now you go to any of these main cities and it's all the same shops. It's Katie's and it's... McDonald's.

And it's I guess it's a gift and a curse. Right. Because people want to know when they go to a certain place, they can find what they used to. Yeah. So, you know, you expect to see a McDonalds and you know what you're going to get or you expect to get a Myer's and you know what you're going to get. But at the same time, you lose the uniqueness of...

You do, you do. And even with housing, you know, back in the day, the houses were built differently in Queensland because of the hot temperature. And so they were raised up from the ground. And it was just...

They'd be on stilts, right?

Yeah, but people would often enclose the bottom, but they had the main house would be up on stilts and there'd be stairs up there and lots of verandas or enclosed verandas and they call them... It's a style of housing called a Queenslander. They're less and less are being built because you know, we use air conditioners now and so you can have any style house, any box of a house.

Well, it's going to be interesting to see how that changes in the future. And especially if energy prices increase and we have issues with climate change, you're going to have to come up with potentially more efficient houses. Right. that use the natural environment. There's wind coming from the south. Okay, we're going to face the house this way. The sun's....

It's what we had before!


Like, yeah, before we had all of these mechanised temperature regulation things. You had to have houses that made good use of natural heating and cooling. And that's what they did in Queensland. And so it was fun going to a place that was just so different from the place that you came from.

Did it feel safer?

The world?

Yeah. Well, I mean, it would felt smaller. You probably, I assume, knew a lot more people, especially in your street like today. You know, if we were to walk up even to your house, which is, you know, up the road here, I can't imagine, you know, many more people than maybe the surrounding neighbours that you have in that street. Right. You might know the people across the road and the people at either side of you, but it's not like you just walk out and walk down the road. And anyone that comes across here, you can be like, G'day, Bob. Hi, Jeff. How the kids, you know?

Yeah, but sometimes that's about how much you get involved in your local street and your local community.

Yeah, but back in the day when you were young was that much more common a practice among amongst people in the community.

Possibly. But I don't remember a thing from the thing for me is that is that most of the people, most of the kids that I went to school with lived within walking distance of the school year. And I'm not sure that that's changed greatly. But because of where I lived, I was right on the edge of the zone and I had to catch a bus to school.

And you did that on your own?

And I did that on my own from grade three. So how old are you in grade 3?

Probably eight, seven or eight.

So the world was a different place that an eight year old could walk to the top of the street, stand at the bus stop. Get on a bus.

Well, on the weirdest thing about that. Sorry to interrupt, but I've been reading there's a guy called, I think Jonathan Hart, who's a researcher in the US. And he was looking into something like, is the world getting more dangerous? Because, you know, there's massive fears now around murder and paedophiles. And so people don't let their kids out because they're worried they're going to get abused. But in actual fact, when you look at the stats, it's actually much less likely today than back, you know, 20, 30, 40 years...

That we're more aware.

but we're much more aware. And all we have is seeing the news that those rare instances of that happening. And so people like my 9 year old kid? No way is he going outside by himself, whereas... When you were growing up, that was like a standard thing. Right. And I think there were a few big events where the world changed forever in Australia, especially in South Australia. Remember, those three children...

The Beaumont children.

And I think, sadly, the mother or father recently died. The mother. And she's never found them. So what happened there with that? And, you know, do you remember that story?

I do remember the story...

Because this will give you an i... Setting this this story up will give you an idea of what kids were allowed to do back in the day. Right. So this was in the late 50s.

And look, I don't remember all the details. the 60s. So this is three children. Pretty sure it was down at the beach.

Yeah, they were given a dollar bill or something.

They were given some money to go to a shop and buy something. And they disappeared.

Well, I think from memory, the three children were allowed to get on a bus, go down to the beach. Have fun of the beach. And they were all something like, you know, four, six and eight. And then a certain man who is known to them based on reports of seeing the man interact with them, went and bought some food for them, and then they just were never seen again.

But that's all come out much later. Yeah. Because at the time they just disappeared.

Yeah. Yeah. But that was crazy for me when I was hearing about this story of just like what the hell these parents just let their, you know, three or four year olds, six, eight year olds just go out to the beach because, you know, even today, the beach is five hundred metres away. And that would be a pretty big deal. And you would you know, I guess it's probably more that you would freak out if anything ever did go wrong.

Well, and the difference is, you think when I was when I was eight years old, I was catching the bus to school by myself.


I was crossing a six lane highway by myself. There was a nature strip in between that was only three lines at a time.

But you would never, ever let a child of that age anywhere near a highway now.

Well, I guess you probably had fewer cars on the road, though, right? Slower cars?

Fewer cars going slower.

A few horses.

But yeah. But even when I was twelve, I rode my bike to school. But again, it wasn't with a gang of people. It was all by myself because we lived right at the edge of the zone. But as a contrast that with the story. Can I tell a story when I took you and Annie down to the beach? Absolutely. Okay. So I took Pete and Annie down to the beach...

Annie is my sister.

Yeah. Pete wanted to go for surf. I promised him he could go for a surf.

I think I would have been 12, 13.

Yep. His sister didn't want to go. So as soon as we hit the beach, she said, I'm going home. And she knew exactly where to go. And I'm freaking out because my two children are separating. One is heading for the water. One is heading for home. And even though I knew she knew exactly where to go, I did not feel that I could let her go all by herself. And I had to find a way to stop her.

How do you do that, mum?

I told you to catch her! which you did. Problem solved. Two children in one place.

So you ended up moving to Melbourne?


How did that compare? Was it a bigger city, obviously?

Yeah. Yes, but we lived in the suburbs, and the suburbs were the suburbs.

It still blows my mind. When you told me that grandpa bought his house, you know, thirty thousand, forty thousand, whatever it was, paid it off in a handful of years. And today in Camberwell, which is a suburb that back in the day would have been on the outskirts of Melbourne. But today, it's pretty close. It's like half an hour. You can see the city from the street, but the house would be worth millions. So it's crazy how the development has just exploded in the time since you got here.

The thing is, it was all it was a desirable area to live in back then because there are so many schools. It was close to a lot of schools, close to shopping centres and really not that far from the city. You can get into the city in an hour on a tram and all of that hasn't changed. And so it's still a very desirable place to live. Probably even more desirable place to be than it was back then.

What was it like growing up there with your prospects? Like were you assumed to go to university, get a job, and then you'll just buy a house in Camberwell? Because today, obviously, that would be almost impossible for the average person to do on their own in Camberwell. Was it the same kind of thing back then where you felt, oh, my gosh, by my own house with, you know, my future husband or whoever, that's going to be way out of our league? Or was that something back then where you were like oh that will happen too easy, because it's you know... Obviously the prices are different.

No, it was out of our league. Because we were a one income family. Whereas several of my friends bought houses kind of in the next suburb out from Camberwell. So many of my friends remain living in that area. And that was kind of common. What people didn't move that far away from... Well, a lot of people didn't move that far away from their families, particularly in the circle of friends... That circle of people that I mixed with. But we couldn't have afforded it. And I kind of liked... I wanted to live somewhere different, or we wanted to live somewhere different.

What was it like growing up without social media? Because your... you know, a generation effectively that grew up, got to about the age of 30 or 40 before social media really kicked in.

We didn't have email even, till I was about 30.

Yeah, well, mobile phones, everything like that. was that a gift or a curse, you think?

Email was a gift. actually having that instant communication, particularly in the... I work in the university sector, in the education sector, and people are doing research projects with people around the world. And to have that instant communication was just amazing.

Hmm. Was it... Was that understood at the time? What did it take a while for that to kind of hit home of just how important the Internet was once it was created? as emails were, you know, would've been done...

Well, email came first. And I think that was where it really jumped on. And then... we didn't have personal computers back then either. Certainly when I did my university degree, assignments were still handwritten, then typed up.

I think dad was telling me that he had to pay someone to type up his thesis for honours or something too.

Yeah. My brother had talked to his mother, who was a typist, into typing up some of his assignments.

I could imagine that!

Because his handwriting was so bad!

Very good excuse, Paul!

So yes, I know personal computers.

Do you think that was a gift or a curse? Once laptops and mobile phones, because the average kid today probably can't imagine life without those things...

I would say personal computers were a gift. that personal computers have brought amazing... It's just amazing what you can do with that power at your fingertips rather than having to write, type, draft, redraft all of those sorts of things. Computers just make all of that so much easier and much less... I don't buy into the personal devices as much.

This coming from someone who never answers their phone. But has one!

Part of it is I didn't grow up with it. And so it's not part of my life to the extent where it can be for people.

Well, I appreciate that too. And I've almost had to dial it back because you don't realise... it's kind of... at least for me, where I grew up. And there was no... there wasn't... I had laptops in mid high school. They had come in and they were really expensive. Right. I remember the Toshiba's were like $4000 to get one of them. And they had like, you know, a gigabyte of space on them. And we also had. Phones at the time, but they were kind of analogue, right, not analogue, but they didn't have anywhere near...

You didn't have apps, you had Snake and you could send text messages. And so it was very insidious where every year, you know, new phones were made and by, you know, early university, there were apps coming out on phones. And then all of a sudden you got Facebook and you've got, you know, Instagram. And there's notifications coming up all the time. They're getting emailed to you. And so it was a very insidious thing that sort of slowly took over your life. And if you weren't actively trying to limit it, it became, you know, very connected to you, where it was always asking for your attention. And I had to push the brake.

And the thing for me, like I'm more of an introvert and so I do not like all of that coming at me, all of those notifications. And so I opt out of most of that. And part of it is, you know, I don't like marketing advertisement. I don't like... I don't even know if I can explain to you how much I hate the fact that algorithms show me what they think I want to see, rather than me making my own choices about what I want to see. I just find it appalling.

It's the only way they can make money. Right. That's Facebooks money. It's free! Platform's free! pay for the platform, and you won't have to look at ads.

I opt out? Yeah, I do not like it. Online advertising. I won't look at it... How can I say it?

You try and minimise the amount you look at, yeah. So, I laugh because obviously, you know, with Aussie English and online business and online marketing, I know how it works. And so mum will be like, I don't get it. I just went to this website to look for these shoes. And now I see them on Facebook and Google everywhere.

I'm like, they've got a pixel on the website. They know your IP and they can follow you now through other websites. But yeah, it always makes me laugh. When I'll do, someone will send me something, say on Facebook, you know, check out this funny product and I'll open the thing up and look at it be like, yeah, I'm not interested. And then all of a sudden that starts following me around all over the Internet. And I'm just "Ha! you guys are wasting your money!" It's not for me.

But what I hate is when you actually buy something.

Yeah. And you keep seeing the same ad for it?

And you keep seeing the same thing! And you think, Surely you're smart enough to know I bought this thing. Don't keep showing me the ads for it.

There's a way that becomes pretty sophisticated when you have to get to the point of having... keeping track of the people who bought your products and, you know, live telling the ads that you're making not to send the thing back to those people that have bought... So that can be pretty difficult, but it can be done.

Just do the easy stuff. And look, mobile phones were great until people started using them to spam you. Yeah, so to me...

Well, that's the funny thing that's happened recently, right? I don't answer the phone anymore unless I know the person's name comes up on the screen if it's some random number. There's no way I'm answering it because it tends to be, you know, someone from overseas with an accent trying to sell me something.

I know, and that's a shame because, you know, they might be people trying to contact me legitimately. And I don't answer the phone because...

They know it'll leave messages. That's the trick, right? Always be like, well, if they ring and it's important, they're going to leave a message. And if they don't leave a message. I know it was a spammer. Yeah. Yeah. That it is... It is bizarre. I remember seeing a a skit that was about phone calls and people coming to your house. And I think it was like late 80s, you'd receive a phone call.

The person would be like, oh, my God, someone's calling my house, kids, mum, dad, everyone gather round like, who's it going to be? Oh, my God, it's grandpa. Hey, grandpa. Or, you know, someone knocks on the door and you're like, it's 7 o'clock, we're having dinner. Everyone stop. Someone's come over. Get to the door. Oh, my God. It's family. Come on in. And nowadays, it's the complete opposite where, you know, if someone rings you, you be like, who is it? It's going to be spam. It's not going to be someone I know.

Why are you calling me? What? Who the hell is this? Send me a text! Send me an email! Why are you calling me? Or if they knock on your door unsolicited, you'll be like, why haven't they sent me a message? If it's someone I know, I would know they're coming. Close the blinds, turn the lights off, you know, get out of here. Shoo, shoo. Because the all those people knocking on the door trying to sell things these days, right?

Yeah. And that's the curse of it. That's the thing that I don't like is that it's opened up all of these avenues for marketers and advertising that just impinge on my life. And so I opt out of a lot of it because I just don't need it. I just don't need it.

Far out. We should probably finish soon. I think I've had you here for about an hour. So what would you say the biggest things between your childhood and my childhood were then? If you could sort of sum them up? And who do you think had it better? Because you're the only person who was there for both of them, so...

There are so many differences. I don't really know. I don't really know.

Do you think you were freer, or do you think I was freer, growing up?

I think I was probably freer in terms of there were less constraints. But those constraints on where I could go and what I could do unsupervised. But I think you had many more opportunities and we were in a position to give you more things than in my childhood. And I don't... I mean things like, you know, as a child, I probably had... I got about three books a year, whereas you children had books coming out of your ears because we thought there was...

Up the wazoo!

Here's a saying for you: books for Africa. That's probably really...

I don't think I know that one.

It just means you got lot lots.

Lots ff books. Far out, So you think you think we had it better then?

I think you had more... I had a... I don't know, we crafted our own fun. When I... I don't know. I can't answer that question. It was just different.

What do you think Noah's childhood's going to be like compared to my childhood and your childhood? And would you want to have his childhood?

I think... I think for Noah, the big thing that I'm concerned about, I worry about are personal devices and TV and social media and how you as parents will have to be much more vigilant about what he should be exposed to, then we had to worry about. Because it was really only at the beginning and really only came in when you were older.

What it is, it feels weird, right? Because it's kind of like smoking where your generation growing up. Even then wouldn't have really known that it was bad for you, right? It was like maybe you agree with teenagers that the science was catching up and being like, oh, crap, you know, this is not good for people. Cancer, cancer. And I think social media is going to be the same sort of thing for us today.

Where we're the guinea pigs or the canary in the coal mine? Right. Where it's like this stuff's being tried on us. We don't have that much experience. It's a new thing. It's a new system. The world's never seen this kind of connectivity and instant gratification and constant connectivity and how addictive it can be. But it'll be interesting to see once a few decades have rolled by, what that will have done psychologically to the population.

But the main difference is smoking is not good for you. Whereas the things that you can do with devices, with phones and tablets and computers, there is a whole lot of really good things that you can do. But it's limiting and it's helping people to manage their online profiles, the exposure, what they... How much they put themselves online is something that we never had to face with our children.

Well, I think, too, people have to realise that things like Facebook, YouTube, all of these things are fighting to keep you on the platform for as long as possible. So their ultimate goal isn't to connect you with other people. It's to make sure you spend as much time as possible on these platforms to see as much ads as possible so that they get as much revenue as possible. And what that's going to do psychologically to people in the end, it's going to be interesting.

There was probably as much gaming when you were children as there is now, so I don't know that that's changed.

It's more, that a lot of it's now on personal computers. Right. As opposed to go into the arcade.

That's right. And it's the fact that you can't not allow your children to understand these things and grow up and know how they work because they will need to know those things.

One, the hardest thing must have been where sending us to school. If you do want to say, okay, we don't want to give you a phone or we don't want you to watch too much TV or we don't want you to play too many games. If every other kids doing it, it may be doing me a favour by preventing me from doing those things psychologically or physically or whatever but in terms of social relationships with those other children at school who are doing it. It's setting me up to be the outsider, right.

And then later on, later in school, and through University is not preparing you for the... W we would call in university, the world of work. So we can't hold those children back from learning, from becoming fluent in those devices, because that's their key here to opportunities as adults. But we have to be wary of exposure, particularly when they're young.

And it was it was interesting. I did read about a study recently that looked at children on devices being entertained. I think this is young children. So this is probably or five year olds, maybe a bit younger. So children playing with devices, children reading books, children playing with toys, with adults in in the room. And they discovered that they didn't really study language development. It wasn't a longitudinal study. But what they noticed and what they talked about was the fact that the adult with the child is interacting with them all the time when they're reading and all the time when they're playing with their toys like blocks. Whereas when the child has a device, it's the child and the device, the adult is back.

Is this the study where they were doing teaching kids Chinese?

No, I don't think so. I think this is just a separate thing that was looking at was looking at literacy. It was looking at literacy from the point of view of language development and how just talking to children when they play is helping them develop their own language, not just reading with them, but actually talking to them when they're playing, whereas you don't talk to a child who's watching a Disney YouTube clip.

And the talking that's being done isn't really contextualised to what the child's doing or watching. Right. It's kind of a one direction. Whereas if you're reading a book and then being like, oh, isn't that funny or the cat's big, it's the kid can see what it's connected to and then learn that vocab in context.

Put the block here. Do this. Do that. And so they were really just noting the interaction that was happening.

There was a study that I saw that was sort of the same vein. This is what I thought you were talking about, where they were doing Chinese lessons with children. Mandarin lessons in person versus Mandarin lessons, the same ones that have been filmed and then shown on a screen to children. And they were even the same lesson, you know, being shown to the kid on the screen. She taught them less than if they had the person in front of them doing the same thing in person with them, like right there. So it was interesting that they picked up more on that. So, yeah, it'll be interesting. And I've already noticed Noah, he latches onto screens. He's six months old and by about four months he was already looking... If I got my phone out and he could see it, he was very like locked on.

Totally addictive.

Yeah. It's bizarre how fascinated they are with it. I guess, you know, they see all these things moving on it and they're just like, what the hell is that?

But for a short amount of time in his life, you can control his exposure to those things.

And I think that's the thing. It's going to be pushing back the time, you know, holding it off as long as possible. And then getting to that point, we are like, all right, go for it. Have at it. But, you know, until now, it's all about developing one on one social connections and being active and not sitting behind a screen at home all day, every day. Anyway, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, mum. Was it more fun than you were expecting?

I didn't even notice.

I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Thanks, mum.

All right, guys. That's the episode for today. Thank you once again, mum. It was an absolute privilege to have a yarn with you, to bend your ear, to get those knowledge bombs about your hobbies and what life was like growing up in Australia. On the podcast, I hope you guys, you dear listeners, enjoyed this episode as well. And I will chat to you soon. Peace.

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