I was about 11 years old when Mum and Dad bought my first bike. Percy Speed had a bike shop in Sandy Bay Road just up from Queen Street. I was over the moon, having become fairly confident in riding Micky Harrold’s and graduated from riding ’through’ the bars to ‘over’ the bar although my legs were still too short to sit on the seat and pedal. My cousin Teddy White had a bike and his Dad, Uncle Ted, enjoyed riding so we three would often go off for a day’s ride either down to the Sorell causeway for Uncle Ted to fish, or the other way down over Bonnet hill to Kingston and Browns River. There was very little other traffic on the road so it was safe. The Sorell trip went over Tunnel Hill where a rail line cut through the hill in the late 1800s. The railway only ran for some 20 years but the tunnel is still there to look at. The Kingston trip had a most enjoyable end with Kingston Beach and Browns River at the finish. I think Uncle Ted fished there for a while as well but I didn’t bother with fishing and enjoyed the area. Both trips took a full day and we took our lunch with us.
We had to catch the ferry to Bellerive for the Sorell trip. After a while I was allowed to go out on my own and one of my favourite adventures was to ferry across to Bellerive and ride along to the old Fort at Bellerive Bluff. The tunnels were closed but you could look into them and explore around the sunken walkways and look into what looked like a machine gun emplacement at one end. The circular tracks for the large guns were still there but all guns had been taken away. It is still a fun place to visit.
My first memories of sailing were of being invited by Jock Muir to join with him and a couple of friends on a day sail down to Bruny Island. He borrowed ‘Plimsoll’, a yacht that Ralph Featherstone, a close friend, had built some years earlier and it was a real eye opener for me. It was total freedom. We got back to Battery Point after dark after a lovely sail in a light northerly breeze all the way back. Jock and Molly must have just come back from living in Sydney so I guess it was about 1944 or similar. It frightens me to think of the first time I got afloat. It was in a makeshift boat a mate and I made in our backyard from a sheet of old galvanised roofing iron. We nailed the bow onto a piece of vertical timber, shaped the stern out of an end of an apple box and filled the gaps with tar from the edge of the road when it melted on a hot day. I don’t know where we got paddles from but we launched it from Short beach and rowed all around the moored yachts off Battery Point. I doubt either of us could swim and lifejackets were in the distant future. I didn’t see much of my brother Graham during my early teens. He was doing his own thing, loved ice skating and was busy with his own mates, and my sisters June and Diane spent a lot of time with Mum.
I think the highlight of my years at school was in Grade 6 at Albuera Street when I was selected to spend one day each week at the Hobart woodworking school on the corner of Hampden road and Sandy Bay Road. I would go to classes there each Thursday, spend the morning leaning to draw the models that we were to make, and the afternoon making them in the workshop. Each boy had his own bench and rack of tools on the wall and it was so exciting to start with the simplest of designs and progress towards the end of the year to a foot stool. I still have the stool, saved by Mum over the years, surviving several layers of lino on the top and a few coats of paint covering the more recent saw cuts. When all this was stripped, the pencilled words W. FOSTER THURSDAY were still quite clear and it is still in our bathroom, having survived dozens of kids standing on it to reach the toilet and hand basin. The woodwork teacher was Mr Snook. Tall, thin and without a great deal of humour, but he was a good teacher and stood no nonsense. If you made a mistake with your model he would take your arm in his big bony hand, squeeze and say, ‘Silly boy.’ All models were made using the now relatively rare Huon pine, harvested only on Tasmania’s West Coast. Grade 6 finished my association with Albuera Street (until our kids started attending) and I moved on to ‘Tech’, Hobart Junior Technical School, between Bathurst and Liverpool Streets in the city. Tech was not as exciting as grade 6 woodwork, probably because we had to do other subjects and woodwork was just a part of the course.
While we were still at Albuera Street School, Mick (Alan) Purdon and I decided to go on our own ‘expedition’ to the top of Mount Wellington (I think with our parent’s permission). We caught the bus (or was it a tram) to the Cascade Brewery and started walking up the wonderfully mysterious tracks that abound on the mountain. We got to the road just above the Springs Hotel and as cloud started to come down, walked the road. We asked all the people we met how far it was to the top. They all said, ‘Just around a few more bends.’ I guess it was somewhere around 3.30 or 4.00 o’clock when we reached the top, could only see a few yards in front of us and I started to get a migraine headache. We started to run down the road to get home as quickly as possible, somehow found the track down to the Cascade Brewery, ran all the way down to the brewery and found the public transport had stopped for the day. No option but to run from there to home. The Purdons and Fosters were starting to get worried by this time and all I remember is collapsing into bed after taking some painkillers for my headache.
This was probably the first of many migraines I was to have over the next forty years.