Outings, Trips & Camping

We went on a lot of picnics, both as a small family group and with the wider family, usually the McAllisters. The closest, simplest and of course cheapest venue was the Waterworks at the base of the mountain. Facilities now are really good but in the pre- and early war years it would have been just a grassed area around the two reservoirs, pretty enough to attract a lot of visitors and relatively close enough for Battery Point, South Hobart and nearby residents to walk there and back. The real favourite with us kids was a ferry trip, either across the river to Bellerive or up river to Lindisfarne, Rose Bay and Geilston Bay. But the best of all was a full day trip on the ‘Excella’, ‘Marana’ or ‘Cartela’ down the river to Opossum Bay where we would spend the day on the beach while the vessel continued down to South Arm and across Storm Bay to Dennes Point, picking us up again on the way back to Hobart. It didn’t matter which ferry was on the Dennes Point run. They always had a pianist on board for the return trip, either Don Denholm or Kevin Richards.

I was reminded of this when we were in New Zealand a few years ago and we went on a century old steam ferry to the end of the lake at Queenstown, and they gave us song books with the words printed. In our day, everyone knew the words to the current and old time favourites and had no need for a song book. The kids obviously would have been very tired and sunburnt after a day on the beach. Our other closer fun day was to catch a single or double decker tram to Sandy Bay beach for the day. The longer single deckers were new and all enclosed but the double deckers had a curved staircase to the upper deck and were open along each side upstairs. They were a lot more fun than the newer ones.

For a few years we went with the McAllister family and Uncle Don’s wife Zena’s brother Todd to a camping spot just over the bridge at Orford on the east coast. It was the most remarkable spot, sheltered and right on the edge of the Prosser River. They would pitch several tents with a big campfire to cook all meals. Todd had an old motor truck and they would place a large table upside down on the tray, pack the tents and other gear on and those that needed a lift climbed on next. Don Mac had a motorbike with a sidecar and he was fairly independent. I rode in the truck cab one trip, probably with Mum. Another time, Mum was pregnant with Sister June and she was very ill. A friend had a car and wouldn’t let her travel any other way so took her around. Mum told me that Grannie had a frying pan that held two dozen eggs. Our beds were always made from chaff bags, threaded along saplings lifted up off the ground with short posts. They formed a lovely curve just like the old camp stretcher. It was always a chore getting around to Orford because the roads were still gravelled and very dusty, narrow and winding. It must have taken several hours to get there and, looking back, I guess the men had to call in to the pub at Sorell and again at Buckland on the way to wash the dust down. I think Mum hated that part of the trip because she usually felt sick.

Closer to home I spent a lot of time on Short beach at the bottom of Napoleon Street. When we were small, Mum took us down but as I got older I would go on my own. The swimming baths were in the centre of the beach but they were a bit scary for me. The sea breeze usually came in quite hard in mid summer and the waves were a bit big for a little kid. Worse when you had to go to the baths with school ‘learn to swim’ programs and the waves were breaking through the mussel and barnacle covered wire mesh surrounds and you couldn’t swim. I must have been about 12 or 13 when I decided to do something about swimming, and taught myself on quiet days at Short beach in just enough depth of water to float with fingertips on the bottom and slowly plucking up courage to take one hand off and dog paddle. Within a couple of years I became quite confident and could jump and dive off jetties with little fear. In today’s world very few people cannot swim, but then neither of my parents were water wise and from memory, very few of the relatives on either side were able to swim.

Sandy Bay rivulet was another haven for me. Although I was told to keep away from ‘that dirty creek’, I loved to carve small wooden motor boats, tie a piece of string onto a tack at the bow and tow it up the creek watching the curve of the wake.

I usually seemed quite happy with my own company. Mum told me once that as a kid I would get out my toys when we had visitors and let the other kids play with them while I sat and watched. This was probably an indication of later years at school where I never really fitted in to the cricket and football mould and found other interests.

Saturday afternoon outside the yachting, slipyard exploring and beach summers, we found the picture theatres. His Majesty’s in Liverpool Street was probably the worst maintained but almost the most popular with its westerns and serials, a bit like early Star Wars before the main feature. The Strand was across the road and was a little more upmarket but with similar shows. The Prince was around in Macquarie Street and seemed to cater for a different clientele. The fourth theatre was the Avalon in Melville Street and this to the younger eye was the most upmarket of all. It was a wonderful day to have enough money to see the show and buy some sort of treat as well. The shows were always packed out with the noisiest kids but had a great atmosphere. It must have taken quite a bit to clean them up after each show. As we got older it was smart to call in at the Green Gate on the corner of Murray and Liverpool Streets for a milkshake. They always seemed to taste better there than at other milk bars.