Tag Archives: Joe Pickhills

Young and Innocent: Childhood Through the Eyes of a Child!

Sylvania – a suburb in the Sutherland Shire, South of Sydney –  in 1954 was, to a child with any perception, an idyllic place to grow up. Betty and Joe, my parents, had bought a huge half-acre property for £100 around the start of 1950.

The family home at 69 Melrose Ave, Sylvania. Joe purchased the half-acre block of land in the early 1950s for £100, and built the house himself for a cost of around £1,000. The property sold for $18,000 in 1966. The block was subsequently sub-divided into a battleaxe block, and a house now sits on what was our backyard. The new owner did extensive renovating and remodeling to the original house, but paradoxically, Joe’s original brick front fence remains. At one stage, he had a house-name sign made, naming the house “Barronjoey”. The reasoning behind this would seem to be that there is a Barronjoey Road in Ettalong Beach, where Gotdon’s original weekender was – and it is a co-joining of both Betty’s family name “Barron”, and his nickname “Joe(y)”.

Before proceeding with the building of the house – said building to be done mainly by my father – they built a garage. It would eventually house a car, but for beginnings was to house them, and the newly born me.

I was, from the time if my birth, fairly good – at leadt as good as a baby can be. I spent most of my dats asleep, making appearances when visitors arrived by climbing up on my cot and perring at guests through the curtain that divided the garage in half.

Betty and Joe, i think in mum’s backyard at Leichhardt, before they married.

Mum was a Presbyterian, though denying any belief, and dad was, by hus own reckoning, a lapsed Catholic. This could have caused consternation as to which religion I was to be raised in, especially with the Catholic side of the family still being fairly devout.

But dad’s parents were pretty well out of the picture by this stage either having died, or been consigned to a sanatorium, so there was only mum’s family left to be appeased.

On our way to school – in the front yard of the Cook family, opposite us in Melrose Ave. From left Peter Cook, Valerie Cook, myself.

To save trouble, I was Christened in the Presbyterian church,min Gmarion Street, Leichhardt, though that was not to be the church I followed or worshipped in until 12 years of age.

The Sylvania milk run was owned and operated by Eadie and Burt Samways, one of the areas more affluent families, who resided directly across the road from our slowly evolving home.

The Samways lived in a 2-storey abode, with stables for the horses that drew the milk wagons at the rear, and a large semi-circular drive that centred on their front door.

Robert John Pickhills, about 1957.

The front gardens were full of Gardenia’s, and one of my most eagerly recalled recollections of growing up in Sylvania was the perfume of Gardenia’s and Jasmine filling the air in the spring, and  summer heat.

The dirt road threw dust up into the air as the occasional car sped along it, and it was the duty if my beloved and devoted dog Trixie to ensure my safe crossing of it, to visit the Samways, who were my Godparents.

Myself in the front yard at Sylvania. The Samways house is in the vackground. The fence that is there is soon to be replaced by a brick one. The boys in the background are from the Ball family. The lived in Corea Ave, and had one of those local “shabby” houses, with holes in the fibro walls, and a front yard full of long grass, and rubbish. The kids always look disheveled, and unkempt. The Johnson’s house had not yet been built, directly across the road.

Sylvania was home to 2 churches. There was the obligatory Catholic – though if anyone living here was a member of it, they never admitted to it – and the Sylvanua Heights Congregational Church, of which the Samways were highly regarded members. It is to their honoured memory that they were not pious biddies, just honest, hard working people who believed you were judged by example, not by belief.

Winters in this idyllic suburb were crisp and cold. The frost underfoot leoft playoful footprints as of ghosts – created by walking backwards  in ones own footprints, so that they seemed to disappear into mowhere – and the open fireplace in the lounge room was warm and welcoming, inviting one to cook toast or heat marshmallows in its glow.

Me in my Gwaley Bay Soccer Club outfit. I hated sport, and this was temporarily endured to keep Joe happy, thinking he had a “butch” son. I also had to endure tennis until they finally gave up subjecting me to this. I was also in the Congregational Churches Boys Brigade – though I quite enjoyed that.

It was an invitation to family love and warmth that was to only last a short while. The wireless (valve radio) was the centre of our household, until television took its rapacious hold in the early 60s. It sprouted serials in the morning to get mum’s day started, and a deranged sparrow – Sammy, by name – and a Jiminy-styled grasshopper – called Gerald – saw me off to school in the mornings.

Summers were hot, and I roamed the streets shoeless and shirtless, being tanned the colour if dark brown leather. Trixie roamed the streets with me, and to see either one of us was to see both, as we were, from the very geginning, inseparable.

Myself and pop (William Barron) probably at Ettalong Beach in the latter half of the 1950s.

The local store, or general grocer as they would now be called, was a recyclers paradise of smells and tastes. Armed with the families shopping list, and a commodious trolley, I would venture there to shop for mum. Old jars were returned, to be refilled with peanut butter, Vegemite, honey or jam. Egg cartons were refilled, and basic commodities such as sugar, flour and tea were weighed out into plastic bags. Cheese and cold meats were cut to order, and for a mere sixpence a young boy could buy a bag of sweets that could put a smile on the face of any dentist.

Saturday was baking day, and I, along with all the other young rogues in the street, went from house to house, tasting each cooks soecialties. Banana pikelets, pumpkin scones, iced cup cakes, Cornflake and Anzac biscuits, lamingtons, jam tarts, vanilla slices, neenish tarts and butterfly cakes were all sampled along the way. On this day, mum would bake pies for the coming week, sometimes steak pue if meat was affordable, but always apple, or apple and rhubarb to go with the Sunday roast. Mum’s father loved coconut tarts, so uf a visit to nana and pop was on the cards, a batch of yhese could be smelt baking in the oven.

Kevin and myself on our adjacent neighbours front porch. The house was owned by Jack & Olive Gill.

Of dad’s family, very little was known. The family roots would eventually be traced back to the 1500s, hrough Yorkshire and Lancashire (mum’s family through Cornwall), with my Great Grandfather Frederick William Pickhills, my Great Grand Uncle George Rickinson Swan, and my Great Grand Aunt Clara all arriving here from the 1860s on.

Life in “Chiswick”, in Sydney’s northern suburb of Chatswood, was strict, and dad, though opposed to war, took advantage of the call-up to escape the family squabbles and bitching. He fought in Borneo and New Guinea, though in the mechanic’s corp, not as a soldier.He earned himself the two service medals, and managed to depart from the army with an Honourable Dischsrge. He left the world of war behind him, attended TAFE (then known as a trchnical vollege, or atech, for short)  to become a carpenter, then proceeded to spend most if the restIf his life as a grease monkey.

Pop Barron (William Barron), probably at Ettalong Beach where their son, Gordon, owned a weekender before moving to Morrisett.

Mum’s family were later traced, with no thanks to her, as she had no intetest in her families roots. William and Mary Barron lived in the inner-city suburb of Leichhardt. Theybwere a kindly, grandparenty couple, who doted on their grandchildren. Pop’s mother – Emily Rule – was still alive when I was a kid, and my recollections of her are of standing by her bed in a nursing home, and receiving handfuls of tiny shells, pennies and half-pennies from this old, wrinkled woman. The shells were used to add weight to the milk jug covers she crocheted, and were stitched around the edges of the completed items. Mum had ine sister – Gwen, and two brothers – Les, and Gordon.

Where my parents met, and the general course of their romance that eventually led to marriage is a story that was never related to me. The only photographs of them show a happy, smiling couple either in the backyard of mum’s home, or on the steps of the church where they were wed. If they were ever in love, which it is supposed they were, it was never particularly obvious to me as I grew up.

Nana Barron (Mary Collins) probably at Ettalong Beach.

Affection was not easily given by either parent, and the words “I love you!” Cannot be recollected at all. However, it was a reasonably happy childhood, spent in a happy place. That problems existed was vaguely unsettling to me, for as little as mum and dad realised it, they had given life to a sensitive, intelligent child. Being aware of the workd around me, and geing aware of my capabilities, and the potential life held for me was no eady matter. Neither parent encouraged the artistic side of my nature, that was evident from a very young age. In fact, dad seemed in fear of it! This fear and chaining of his own hature wss to have far-reaching effects on my life ss I developed.

My grandparents owned what was referred to as “the weekender”, at Mortisett, on Lake Macquarie. It was in this quiet,nremote retreat that I found the most happiness, and a side to my nature that was to have a blossoming later in my life. The old weatherboard house had no running water, no electricity or gas, no sewerage. For a child growing up with such modern conveniences always to hand, this was a world of wonder. Water was collected in a huge, corrugated iron rainwater tank, with a layer of kerosene floating on its surface to prevent an explosion of mosquito’s. Lighting came from methylated spirit hurricane lamps, the refrigerator ran on kerosene, and cooking was done on a huge cast-iron fuel stove,mornon a Primus. The stove never went out, and if you wished to gathe, water was boiled in a huge copper vat in the backyard, and carted inside to fill the bath. Bathing was in order of age, from oldest to youngest. The toilet was outdoors, at the end of a fairly long path. You had to take a lantern with you at night, and ieep an eye out for red-back spiders. Simpler nightly ablutions were attended to by using a chamber-pot, kept under the bed.

Nana and pop Barron, with three of their great grandchildren.

Dad and pop would go out fishing in the early hours of the morning, and often returned with catches if flathead, bream or leatherjacket, lobsters, mud crabs or prawns. Nights were spent around the lino-clad kitchen table, playing endless games of dominies or cards, and swatting mosquitoes. These were Elysian days, the memories of them always returning yo me when I was in need of a happy childhood memory.

My brother, Kevin, was born in 1958. His birth was to facilitate an eventual chain of tragic events whose repetcussions were to forever alter, and rip apart our family. You can read his story here https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/.

Tim Alderman. First published in 2001 on Too Write (http://www.toowrite.com), and revised in 2017.

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Rumination of the Day (6th January 2017)

UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS

It is no secret that my brother Kevin died a horrendous death at the hands of my father, in December 1965 (https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/). It is a long time ago now, though the memories have never dimmed, and despite the sage advice that time heals all wounds, it may dull the starkness of the memory, but it never really disappears. The filing cabinet we call a brain shifts the files around, but always leaves the drawer slightly ajar. 

I am not obsessed by my hrothers death, but whenever it does a flit across my mind, the questions surrounding it flit along just behind. The frustration of severed relationships is the unanswered questions! With my father long dead, my mother out of the picture at the time, and my fathers sisters all now dead, I know the questions will never be answered – ever! But that knowledge doesn’t make them go away! So, here are my demons. My reasons for listing them is purely to dump them! To many, the questions will be unfathomable without the back story. For a few, the poignancy of them will hit a feeling of deja vu in their own lives. There are many sad stories out there, and they nearly all have their unanswered questions.

Some questions are simple and straight forward – almost ruminations in their own right. Others are complex. Because questions demand answers, the fact that answers will not be forthcoming almost negates them. But they live on, and I will go to my grave knowing that only at that point do they no longer exist.

  • Where in the hell did Nancy Thompson come from! How did my father find her, and what possessed him to think that bringing such a hard, unfeeling woman into the house would be a good thing! I mean…she smoked, and he hated smoking! What were the conditions of her employment? She certainly had more disposable income than my mother ever had! I went clothes shopping with her, so I know! Was he seeing her before bringing her home? Was she a fling? It certainly went from plutonic to sexual very quickly – even as a 12yo I knew that! Her, and her son Stephen were such hateful, spiteful people, and I can’t believe he wasn’t aware of that. When questioned in court at the hearings into Kevin’s death, she stated that I was an effeminate child! Was that opinion voiced to my father? And after he finally got her out of the home unit in Kogarah – whatever happened to her? I pray that no other family was subjected to her! For someone who blew into our lives for such a short period of time, chaos followed in her wake! She is as much responsible for Kevin’s death as my father, yet I have little doubt that she left with a clear conscience! I hope Kharma has delivered justice!
  • What were my fathers thought processes on the day of Kevin’s death? It had been such an ordinary evening up until the instant he pulled up in front of our house! Was it a spontaneous action, or was it pre-meditated? At any stage, had the same course been set out for me? Frightening…but the thought remains! What was going on in his head as he drove to The Gap? Surely you can’t take your own sons life blithely, with no thought to the implications, the trauma, the horror! It’s a long drive from Sylvania. At no time did he not want to turn back! It’s not a question – it’s a nightmare!
  • And the most harrowing thought of all – did Kevin suffer! How quickly did he die in the cold waters of Watson’s Bay. Was he knocked out or killed on impact – I truly hope so! He trusted my father – was he aware of the betrayal? What flashes of thought as he eent over that cliff! The sheer horror wrenches at the heart!
  • Was my father guilty about his own survival? The actual event – threw Kevin over, or jumped over with him – has never been ascertained! It is one of the great unanswered questions. Did he invent a story to cover-up the deed? Indeed, we’ll never know!
  • After being released from gaol – what a joke all that was, and no justice for Kevin – did he seriously think…in typical 60s fashion…that life would just go on like nothing had happened? Did not talking about it mean it never happened? Was the thinking that the events of that time had had no affect on me whatsoever? Kevin was swept under the rug like a pile of dust! It was like he never existed! On the day he arrived home, Nancy took me to the front gate and told me to run to mert and embrace him! I didn’t even want to know of his existence! The only thing crossing my mind was – why was he back here! And did I still have to call him dad! His touch was abhorrent! For all the years up until his suicide there was no love, or respect! And I think Kevin’s death was his demon up until the day he died!
  • And then the great questions about Kevin and myself as siblings. What would our relationship have been like as we got oldrr? Would he have been straight or gay? If he was straight, would he have married…surely, one would think! Would he have had children? Would I be a great uncle? Would we have shared confidences? Would we be close – as when we were children – or distant?
  • And what is perhaps the first and greatest question – how totally different would life have been if mum never left home, for this was the catalyst for all that was to come! I like my life, and I like that for much of it I have had the freedom to live it my own way, with no questions, and few fears. Would it have panned out the same if circumstances had been different! That is a very interesting question. That I would end up gay wss inevitable…but would the process be different? I actually don’t want an answer to that one!

It is said, probably with great wisdom, that one should never question what is, try to imagine the “what ifs” of life, as that is not how it has gone. It is what it is! We all know that, but as thinking, reasoning beings it is inevitable that what could be seen as sage advice is not going to be heeded. We are curious animals, and life’s great unknowns frustrate and intrigue us! Any relationship that is abruptly terminated is always going to leave questions in its wake. The worst of it is knowing that even if my father were still alive, the questions would, in large part, still be unanswered! 

Perhaps that is what destiny held in store. At least now, they have been voiced!

Tim Alderman (2017)