Easter Monday, the day that we, as a family in the 1950’s, would go to the Royal Easter Show. And yet today I find myself working towards the culmination of four weeks of hard labour preparing our home for sale.
This day is warm with vibrant blue skies, revealing the early morning moon still ascending, until it moves out of my sight. Two plump, healthy kookaburras swoop overhead as I walk towards the boot of my car. They perch in a nearby gum and peal out their unique song of laughter as I walk up the ramp. For today I am at Bunnings in Ashfield and can only recall in deep memory the happiness of childhood and the smells of the Show from so many years past.
Easter was different back in the 1950s when I was a young girl. Religion still played a major role in our lives and the 4-day holiday enabled people to attend church and celebrate their faith. On Good Friday I used to go to a service at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Canterbury held for children following the usual morning service. The cross and the paintings of Jesus were shrouded in black cloth, there were no flowers and the music was very sombre.
A large felt board sat on an easel at the front of the church and the children placed bright, coloured cut-out figures on this as the story of Jesus and the crucifixion was told to us by our minister, Ronnie O’Brien. He was usually very happy but I remember on Good Fridays he was always serious, so we would all sit quietly not daring to smile or laugh, just trying to understand how someone could possibly have hung up on a cross for so long. I imagined the nails being banged into my hands. I was frightened and looked forward to the end of the story, when we could go home.
But it wasn’t much happier there. On this one day we ate no meat, only fish, and Mum detested cooking it, so we had that nasty orange cod with mashed potatoes. No one was allowed to have entertainment, not that there was any to be found anyway. We sat around the house and waited for the day to finish. Saturday was a little happier although the shops didn’t open, and then on Sunday I woke to look under my bed and find my ‘Easter Egg’. Only one, but I thought I had gone to heaven and back. Mum allowed me to have a little nibble before going to Sunday School, this time to learn about the rolling of the rock from the cave and the resurrection. It was hard to believe this could happen, but as a small child who was I to question the word of God preached from on high?
We had a family lunch to celebrate Easter and Mum cooked a roast chicken. That was special too because we didn’t eat much chicken, we ate mainly lamb which I didn’t like to smell. In the afternoon my Aunty Peg would come over with another egg for me. She worked in the city and bought my egg at ‘Californian Chocolates’ in Market Street near the corner of Pitt Street. It was very shiny and had coloured icing in the shape of flowers on the front which I licked off first before finally cracking the perfect chocolate egg shape. I loved to look at the beautiful egg, sitting in its satin-lined box, yet the urge to eat it always overruled my heart.
Monday was not religious, it was just a holiday and Dad would drive us from Canterbury in his Holden to the Royal Easter Show at the Showgrounds near Centennial Park. We would arrive about 8am to be among the first through the heavy metal turnstiles, with a ‘clang clang clang’ as the ratchets moved the entry barriers. Once inside, I always stood for a moment to smell the hay and cow manure wafting across the wet asphalt walkways. Oh, I was so happy. I loved the show and walked and talked my way around all the animal pens, the vegetable exhibits, the scone-making demonstrations by ‘White Wings’, the home crafts and then, finally, the sample bag pavilion where I was allowed to buy 3 bags. Always such a huge decision for me to make, as it was the only time of the year I could choose so many treats at one time. The bags had special sample-sized bottles and packs and cost about 2/- each so I took an age to decide that I’d had value for my money. Then I sat in the ‘Main Arena’ and watched the horse events and the ‘Grand Parade’ while I looked through the bags and ate the contents of some of the small packs. Those bright sample bags were only made of paper and twisted paper handles but they were very precious to me. A ruler from ‘ETA’ advertising peanut butter usually found its way into my school case and the tiny bottle of ‘Rosella’ tomato sauce was a novelty to use at tea time. That’s what we called dinner in our house. Mum never served tea with scones and cucumber sandwiches so there was never any confusion over the name ‘tea time’ for us.
These days I don’t go to the new location of the Show at Homebush; it just isn’t the same. The opening days are different, the animals aren’t all there at the one time and there seem to be so many more people. Is it for those reasons, or the fact that the sample bags don’t carry anything special anymore, that I have chosen to be at Bunnings so early on this Easter Monday?
I’m not the only one. The car park is already full with people of all ages, sizes and renovation interests heading up the ramp towards the entrance. And there is the sausage sizzle smell wafting down towards me from the Yeo Park Infants School fundraiser. I smile, as this was my mum’s infants school, a tiny stone building plonked in the middle of Yeo Park near Hurlstone Park. Mum said that when she went there in 1920 nearly all the children were her cousins. Somewhere in the school records it must say:
‘Joan Euston Bridekirk – Kindergarten 1920 – aged 5 years. Likes to draw.’
Despite the familial connection, I can’t bring myself to buy a sausage at this early hour so I hurry past the queue to find my paint and glue inside the huge warehouse.
This building housed ‘Peek Frean’s Biscuits’ back when I went to the Show with Dad. The large clock on the tower told us the time, just as it does today despite the enticing smell of baking biscuits being replaced by the odour of sausages.
Everything is different now – we are leaving Sydney and selling our home, now just a house. The past weeks have been emotionally and physically exhausting and yet I feel cleansed of so many possessions I once thought were precious. It’s as if I have taken a dip in the Ganges, washed away accumulated weight and am presenting myself again to the world as a woman without the restraints of clutter.
I have cleared the garage and our home and donated to worthy causes. I’ve found individuals who will enjoy my treasures and rolled back the rock to await my next exciting chapter.
Kay Barker, a member of Sydney’s OMG memoir group, shown above with her grandmother, Fanny.
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