My First Holiday

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A s a child in England, I never had a holiday, and only went to the beach on one occasion, which involved a long day trip from the early hours until late in the evening. So when my family moved to Sydney seeking free education and to escape post-war rationing, everything was different. My Pop worked for the Transport Department six days a week, so Sunday was a day to relax with fishing, water-colour painting (for Mum) and swimming. We would divide our time between Forty Baskets Beach on Middle Harbour, and the northern beaches recently made famous by a Covid outbreak.

Forty Baskets was only accessible on foot at the time. Most people took the path near the water, but sometimes we would climb the hill and pursue the path through the heathland, enjoying the wild flowers along the way. One time we passed close to a couple in flagrante delicto and had a good giggle – don’t tell Mum!

One trip to the northern beaches was particularly memorable. Suburbia was expanding there at the time, but we were lucky enough to see a koala in the wild before its home was destroyed. On the way home, driving through what was still bush, we encountered a bush fire. It was clear that it was under control, so we continued and got home safely. But that night we drove to the Roseville Bridge and watched the fire on the hill opposite – an amazing sight from a safe distance. Every year my school friends would recount where they had been on holiday, but the best I could rake up when asked by my teacher to write about it, was a day trip to the zoo, or museum, or perhaps somewhere like Jenolan Caves. But in my last year of high school, most of the family finally got away from Sydney, for our first holiday.

With the prospect of the children leaving home in the near future, Mum and Pop had purchased a piece of land at Gerringong, just south of Kiama. They never did build there, and sold it just before the prices started to rise – it is now completely built up. But in 1959, it was still mainly pasture land. Pop hired a caravan, which he parked on the land so he and Mum could have their holiday in comfort. We were left at home for the last week of term, under the supervision of my elder sister who was 19. She had a job, but the rest of us took a free train trip on Dad’s holiday pass and spent a few days on the land. We had to put up with a tent and li-los for our first holiday, but fortunately the weather was fine. Accustomed to being free range, we kids spent our time exploring the locality or playing board games, though most days we would persuade Pop to drive us to the beach to enjoy a swim. Our most memorable discovery was that the well from which we obtained our water supply, contained a dead frog!

It was only a short holiday before we caught the train back to Sydney. Today’s teenagers would be disgusted with such simple pleasures, and no theme parks to visit, but it was our first holiday and we loved it. But the idyllic after-glow took a dramatic twist when we children arrived back in Sydney to a note from our big sister – she had run away from home!