Sunday, 28 June 2015

Growing Up, Clayton......A Personal Perspective

Growing up in Clayton during the 1960's and 70's feels like a black and white photograph where you look at the subject captured in a snapshot of a long lost moment in time. Clayton was once a quiet little suburb full of market gardens located on the outskirts of Melbourne. These were then sold off and sub-divisions appeared. Young couples such as my parents had spent the early years of their married lives living in compact houses along with parents and other siblings, while fervently working towards the goal of saving up a deposit to buy their first house. The dream of owning your own home was as strong then as it is now.

(Pic of me as a three year old in the Hills Hoist backyard of Clayton)

The inner city was full of housing slums so many young couples yearned for the wide open spaces of the outer suburbs. Depending on your finances, there was a multitude of choices in the East. If you had a bit of money saved, Doncaster was the goods.  You could buy from a developer a solid brick box however the suburb that had very little in the way of amenities and infrastructure. Public transport was an issue while Robin Boyd bemoaned the lack of thought and care in the design of the little brick boxes.

My parents decided to buy in the newly developed working class suburb of Clayton. In 1963 they bought their first and last family home. A gleaming white weatherboard house on a flat quarter acre block. Transport routes were good as you could trot down to Clayton Railway station and catch the train to work. My father never drove so as a family we walked everywhere and also caught the train. On Sundays, the train only ran once every hour so there was many a time dad, mum in her platform shoes and us little tackers would have to run so as not to miss the train.

There was no sewerage so we all had outside dunnies. For night time we had a little chamberpot that was located under the bed. The night watchman would come and remove the content of the outside toilet. He was almost like a mythical creature that you were aware existed but very rarely saw. Luckily sewerage came to Clayton and housing bliss was an inside toilet.

Work was plentiful if you were not scared of hard labour. You were spoilt for choice. Resumes were not necessary as you could walk into any factory and get a job on the assembly line. Many migrants such as my parents learnt to speak English on those assembly lines. The assembly line was a low tech, no frills adult classroom full of a multitude of nationalities. Mum worked at Elmaco in Fulton Rd Huntingdale  and it is these years that I remember her being her happiest. She would come home with the coolest plastic decor such as plastic plant pots, sputnik table lamps and the ubiquitous orange and faux wood grain kitchen canisters.

(Orange and faux woodgrain family kitchen canisters)

(Our Elmaco plastic planters on the front porch)

During the day, dad worked in the kitchen at Prince Henry's Hospital. He would rise before we were awake and take the train into the city. When he finished his 9 hour shift at Prince Henry's he would then head off to his part-time cleaning job. Eventually he would get home at 10pm. When there were train strikes he would get up extra early and run into the city. It is a long way from Clayton to the city but he could not accept or fathom not going into work. During his annual leave he would apply for assembly line positions at the car manufacturing industries in Westall. I oftened wondered why he worked so hard but the reason really was quite simple. The second world war had disrupted his schooling in Europe and at the time he had faced many hardships. His family suffered greatly and they had experienced many deprivations. Australia was a fresh new start and his success was dependant on his own hard work. So he worked and worked and worked. He was eternally grateful for this opportunity.  

We lived a really simple life but Clayton was like that. It was a no frills unpretentious working class suburb. Families grew their own veggies and the neighbourhood kids played safely in the street. You would return indoors at dusk and sleep soundly after hours of outdoor play. We had a sense of community and we were in and out of our neighbours houses. We ran about, climbed trees and I would even sneak up to the roof of our house standing on the highest apex while looking out in wonder at the landscape around me. There were no townhouses or apartments obscuring the view so you could see forever. I even joke to this day that we were very fortunate as we had much desired sea views. That was very true as long as you walked to the top of the street, stood in a certain spot, facing a certain angle while also ensuring that the sky was clear with no clouds about. It was only then that you could see the bay in the far far distance.....but boy was it a beautiful view.

Clayton is in my DNA and part of the fabric of my life. I am proud of my working class roots. I am proud of my tenacious migrant parents and I am truly blessed that I grew up in Clayton.

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