I was born during war time, so after the Great Depression, but the impact of the Depression definitely lingered. My memories of say, two to three years old onwards are that you got one book a year – at Christmas time – a very special time of year. There just wasn’t the money.
We always did our shopping in town on a Friday afternoon. Friday was the biggest social day in York. All the farmers came in, all the people from around the district. And that’s where you met people. If you wanted to meet certain people in York they were always parked in a certain place in the street. And they would sit in their vehicle with their door flung wide open, which meant you could talk to them, while they could sit comfortably. It was a fairly select little group, and they had rather large cars – Chevs, Buicks, big Fords. They’d park outside what was then Christie’s café. Everyone would go to Christie’s, have a cup of tea and a biscuit, and then go out into their cars and you would have your soirees. You couldn’t just shout up and down the street – that just wasn’t done.
Then the old boys used to head for the pub. Women and children would sit in their cars and wait for the menfolk to come out. This wasn’t a problem for us as dad didn’t drink. The pub in those days closed at 9 o’clock, so it wasn’t really an extended night, but it was enough to fill most of the boys up – then they’d jump in the car, crank them up and off they’d belt, though I can’t remember too many accidents. There were four pubs in town. If you wanted to meet a railway worker you’d go to the Royal or the Imperial, if you wanted to meet one section of the farmers you’d go to the back room in the Castle, if you wanted to meet the local workers in the stores you’d go to the Palace. It was very structured – a structured society.
The top of the society was the doctors and the lawyers. They were a matter of distinction. It was an honour to be invited out with them. Then followed the farmers and probably the shop keepers. At school though, you were more likely to get bashed if you were from a family of doctors or lawyers! Class distinction was a licence to be set on, and fighting was quite common. That’s how you set your school pecking order. No one was strong enough to really do any damage, so the fights behind the toilets used to be quite good sometimes.
Most of us learnt to swim in the main pool down here. Norm Reynolds was the quasi swimming instructor. It was just accepted that you learnt how to swim with Norm. I cannot remember anybody really getting very sick out of the river – there might have been a few ear aches but that was about all. In summer the mud and algae used to come up from the bottom. You’d push it out of your way and just get a belly full sometimes. We used to make canoes in later years when the river was in flow. We’d push the canoe in and it would fill with water. The sides would collapse and suck you down. Couldn’t get out of the damn thing until you reached the bottom, which wasn’t that far away really. Then once the pressure equalised you’d pop up, drag your canoe out, and do it all again. There were also ladies’ and men’s sheds with showers in. That was where you pulled the leeches off and there was always plenty of them. I still swam in the river after the swimming pool opened because we didn’t have to pay! It was a no brainer really. That said, the swimming pool should have been opened about 10 years earlier. Many other country towns already had one. The controversy caused by the swimming pool really and truly was a strange old time.
The 1955 flood was a biggy. It came right into town. But when you’re young enough, you can turn a disaster into a winter playground and that’s what we did. Beauty! Canoes, swimming- excellent! The water came right up into the Castle bar and they were serving beers at the Royal with blokes waist deep in water. It was good fun.
My dad was a barman at the Castle. There was a feud between two Albanian groups in those days. Dad was in the bar when one bloke opened up the other bloke’s stomach with a knife. Dad came home a bit grey that night. The bloke went to jail and the mayor put in an application to have him released early because he had a good relationship with the accused. He was released, but not for long before the other Albanian family caught up with him up at the top corner of the town. Knocked him off his pushbike with a car and opened up with a seven-shot automatic.
My love and joy was the farm, but I really enjoyed doing theatre stuff. My favourite was a play called Aladdin, one of the biggest productions we did, which involved big puffs of smoke and people disappearing. The whole stage accidentally went up in flames. We’d made these curtains out of hessian and the podium and the curtains went off – and the leading lady went up in smoke too – which caused a bit of delight of course.