Games We Used to Play

What were some of the games we used to play, growing up as a kid in the 50s, 60s, and 70s?

Long before the ‘age of entitlement’, children had far less toys to play with, so we made do with what we had. Today it seems almost every kid is given more toys at Christmas and for their birthday in one single year than I collected over my entire childhood.

But if necessity is indeed the mother of invention then at least we learned to be inventive and came up with games that kept us amused for hours.

Photo from Google Images. A length of thin rope attached to the same cans would turn them into a pair of stilts.

Photo from Google Images. A length of thin rope attached to the same cans would turn them into a pair of stilts.

A couple of tin cans and a piece of string could be turned into a telephone. There was no shortage of tin cans, just had to be sure they didn’t have any jagged edges and there followed hours of fun inventing games that included talking on the ‘telephone.’

After that, a length of thin rope attached to the same cans would turn them into a pair of stilts and more hours of fun having races around the neighbourhood, risking a sprained ankle as we tried to run on the tin can stilts.

A suitable length of rope would provide a skipping rope with all sorts of variations of the game and rhymes to chant.

Mum might collect some of the knuckle bones from the Sunday lunch lamb or hogget roast, and you needed just five of those for an entertaining and very competitive game of knucklebones.

A piece of chalk and a strip of asphalt or cemented footpath was all that was necessary for hopscotch, more popular with the girls in our neighbourhood.

And the girls were more into elastics too. If you could just get your hands on a decent length of elastic (from mum’s sewing basket), two people held the elastic while one person jumped and there were songs to go with the leg actions.

Photo from Google Images. The girls were more into elastics too. If you could just get your hands on a decent length of elastic from mum’s sewing basket,

Photo from Google Images. The girls were more into elastics too.

Boys were more into marbles and these were either bought with hard earned pocket money or won by playing ‘keeps’. There were cats eyes, milkies, clearies, steelies, ‘bloodstones’ and the big ones I think were ‘tombolas’. There were lots of different games to play and it could be a fiercely competitive game.

An outside wall could be used for any number of games. We played ball up against the walls with two balls, and three balls if you were clever. We also used the wall for handstands, and the girls with dresses tucked them into their knickers and we’d spend much of our time upside down!

‘Brandy’ was another ball game that was popular. Only one ball required amongst the whole neighbourhood of kids and the kid who was ‘it’ had to throw the ball and hit one of the other kids.

And don’t forget street cricket. One bat and a ball with an old 44 gallon drum as the wicket. Could develop into a pretty serious game at times.

There was street footy too (if you were lucky enough to own a footy) and don’t forget ‘red rover all over, caught 1-2-3’

No wonder we were all so skinny and scrawny back then, I don’t think we ever stopped!

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Children at play in the school yard back in the 1950s. Photo from Museum Victoria

If you love nostalgia join me on a trip down memory lane with a copy of my best selling book Australia Remember When. Almost 250 pages, crammed with photos, memories and stories of growing up in the baby boomer years from the 40s to the 80s and beyond. Join me as we celebrate growing up in what was a very different era, when kids roamed free, parents and teachers were obeyed, discipline was an accepted part of life and the world seemed a simpler place. RRP of the book is $34.99 (plus postage) and can be purchased from Shopify, just to the right of this story.

Customer Service, (When the Customer was Always Right)

Whatever happened to the personal customer service that was provided by the local shops and businesses in the 1950s and the 1960s?

Can you remember those days when the customer was always right? Boy, that seems like a long time ago now.

I think that the good old fashioned ways of dealing with customers came to an end with the spread of the big supermarkets and shopping centres around Australia from the mid-1960s.

Self-service with products stacked on shelves, shopping trolleys and check-out chicks, meant the end of an era when the customer was served on a one-to-one personal level.

The arrival of the big suburban shopping centres also brought to an end the weekly shopping trip to “town’’ by mum once a week to replenish the kitchen cupboard.

Shopkeepers of the time not only knew their customers by name and looked after them personally, but would also deliver the order to the front door.

I remember my mother dressing in her “Sunday best’’, complete with hat and gloves, to go into town for her weekly shop with a carefully selected list of grocery items, which the grocer would then deliver in large cardboard boxes later in the day.

When you caught the train there was a conductor to punch your ticket and and a younger porter’s assistant to carry your bags

When you caught the tram or bus into town, there was a conductor to sell and punch your ticket, or if you had to catch the train for a longer journey, there was a porter to check and punch your ticket as you boarded the train and a younger porter’s assistant to carry your bags for you and place them in the luggage rack.

In the shops there were shop assistants who stood behind counters and served people individually, wrapping purchases in brown paper and tying it up with string. They would then take the money and ring up the cash register, calculating the change in their head.

Almost every item purchased then was repairable, from electrical to mechanical, and small repair shops were dotted throughout the suburbs offering to fix anything from a broken transistor radio, TV set, kitchen gadgets, toys or bicycles.

In today’s throwaway world, it’s fascinating to recall how if the radio or TV set broke down or if the washing machine needed a new part, it was fixed by a repairman who probably ran a small business and supported his family by fixing things that now would be thrown out in the local hard rubbish collection.

It used to be that the lifeblood of any business was its ability to create and nurture a personal relationship with each and every one of its customers, creating an atmosphere where the customer felt they were valued and appreciated, and they in turn rewarded the business with their loyalty and custom.

Here to serve you. Real personal service like this is dead and gone! Photo from ‘Best Old Fashioned 2017’

Now it appears businesses, especially big corporate companies, have completely lost sight of service in the scramble for profits.

It seems that we’ve adopted the American corporate model, which is to sack staff and screw the customer, make as much money as possible for the shareholders, pay the CEOs millions of dollars and never mind the consequences.

To be fair, there are still some smaller businesses and a few large companies that offer good service, but they are few and far between, and to be honest we, the customers, have brought a lot of this on ourselves. In an effort to keep our own cost of living down we chase the cheaper products and brands which, of course, generally come from a business with lower overheads, fewer staff and very little or no service. It’s a vicious circle: we still want that wonderful customer service we had back in the ’50s and ’60s but we don’t really want to pay anything extra for it.

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Remember ‘Defrosting’ the Fridge?

Remember the first fridge your family ever bought?

Prior to refrigerators we had ice chests. The ice man would come every second day and deliver a big block of ice which he would carry with ice tongs (were they called pliers?) and deliver it into the top of the ice chest.

Photo from Aussie Home Brewer. Lots of old original fridges have survived as the beer fridge

Photo from Aussie Home Brewer. Lots of old original fridges have survived as the beer fridge

Fridges arrived in the 50s and although I can’t remember what brand our first fridge was, I do remember it had a small freezer compartment big enough for just a brick of ice cream and which needed defrosting regularly.

I came across an article just recently in the London Daily Mail about one family that has kept the very first fridge they ever had.

“When Geraldine Rowarth bought her first refrigerator, it was the mod con at the top of every housewife’s wish list.

The year was 1957 and Mrs Rowarth paid 65 guineas for the appliance.

That sum – the equivalent to £1,100 in today’s money – was a month’s wages for her husband Ian, a teacher. But it was money well spent. For half a century later, her British-made Prestcold cooler is still going strong, now sitting in her daughter’s farmhouse kitchen.

Sally Garrod was born a few weeks after her mother bought the fridge, which has outlasted two more modern models and countless other household appliances.

Mrs Rowarth, now 74, was a mother of one, heavily pregnant, living in a council house when she bought the fridge.  Fifty years have done nothing to dull her memories of just how exciting it was to have a refrigerator when the appliances were only just taking off in the UK.

“Not a lot of people had a fridge in those days,” said Mrs Rowarth, a retired nurse.

“They were very popular in America and I really wanted to have one.

“We didn’t have much money, I was expecting my second child and all we had was a food safe in the pantry which was little more than a box with mesh on the front to keep the flies out.

Photo from Google Images. Early fridges had a small freezer compartment big enough for an Amscol brick of ice cream and needed defrosting regularly.

Photo from Google Images. Early fridges had a small freezer compartment big enough for a brick of ice cream and needed defrosting regularly.

“It didn’t keep food fresh very long so I was shopping for bits and pieces almost every day. Milk wouldn’t last much more than a day.”

She and her husband travelled from their home in Blofield to nearby Norwich to buy the Prestcold, chosen in part because of its fashionable colour scheme.

Rapidly installed, and shown to admiring family and neighbours, it made “an enormous difference”.

“I remember thinking I don’t have to dash to the shops every day,” said Mrs Rowarth. “It was such a new concept to keep things so cool. Neither of our parents had fridges.”

She used the fridge to store milk, cheese, meat and bacon.

“I can’t believe it’s still going,” said Mrs Rowarth.

Her daughter added: “The expression ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ can be applied to my fridge. I don’t know what I would do without it now. It’s part of family history.”

Lots of the old fridges have survived the test of time and now live in the garage or spare room as a back-up for storing drinks or bulk food.

And have you noticed how modern refrigerators only seem to last about one month past their ‘guarantee’ date?

From the Radiogram to the Walkman.

Vinyl records, radiograms, transistors and cassette recorders … what fun we had before computers!

Vinyl record sales in Australia have increased by almost 100 per cent this year. It seems a younger generation has rediscovered the world of “fantastic black plastic” in the digital age.

Photo courtesy of Dale Sanders. An original radiogramme with automatic record changer

Photo courtesy of Dale Sanders. An original radiogram with automatic record changer

I asked one of  my (much) younger colleagues why he was into playing vinyl records. “It offers a richer sound than downloadable digital songs,” he explained.

“And they’re beautifully packaged – it’s something you can hold in your hands and admire.”

Could vinyl records really make a comeback?

Records are entirely different creatures from digital downloads. They take up a lot of space, play on bulky equipment, scratch fairly easily and hiss.

I sat down with my young friend and reminisced with him about an era when it was a possible two-week wait for a new record to arrive at your local music shop, then it was only playable on a piece of furniture called a radiogram.

How easy do kids have it these days, with all the very latest songs available for immediate download within hours of being released or words to any song ever recorded now available instantly on Google.

Gone are the days when you would hear a song on the radio, head off to the local record shop to buy it, only to discover it was a brand new recording and not available in Australia yet, order it, wait weeks for it to arrive and when it finally landed, take it home and play it over and over and over again on the radiogram or record player.

Photo from Google Images.With the introduction of the transistor, suddenly music became portable.

Photo from Google Images.With the introduction of the transistor, suddenly music was portable.

Before the arrival of the transistor in the mid-to-late 1950s, a radio was called a wireless and would sit on the kitchen cabinet or sideboard and was operated with electricity.

With the introduction of the transistor, suddenly music became portable. With just a couple of AA batteries, you could take all the songs from the latest hit parade with you wherever you went.

Very few cars at that time had a car radio fitted. Unlike today, where new cars have a radio as standard, the best you could do back then was to buy and retrofit a “Ferris” car radio, so most of us just made do with the trannie sitting on the dashboard.

Radiograms too were originally big pieces of furniture. They were generally made up of a turntable, a radio and a storage area for all the vinyl discs. Radiograms were most popular in the post war era of the mid 1950s and suddenly mushroomed in sales when singles and the ‘long playing’ record replaced 78s. One of the big features was the ‘auto-changer’. Such technology!

Cassette decks originally started out as a professional machine for dictation and for use by journalists, but by 1970 with improvements in technology it became possible to reproduce a high quality sound with what had previously been used for speech only. Cassette decks began to replace tape recorders and in 1979 when the Sony Corporation introduced the ‘Walkman’, recorded music became truly portable for the first time.

Photo from Google Images. When the Sony Corporation introduced the ‘Walkman’, recorded music became truly portable for the first time.

Photo from Google Images. When the Sony Corporation introduced the ‘Walkman’, selected recorded music became truly portable for the first time.

So from the mid-fifties to the early eighties we witnessed a technical revolution in how we played and listened to our music. From 78s we progressed to singles (45s) and LPs (33s). From the wireless we moved on to transistor radios, from radiograms to portable record players and from the bulky old tape recorders to the cassette deck and the Walkman.

In less than 30 years the technology through which we listened to our music had changed dramatically and I would have thought, irreversibly. And yet today some young music devotees are choosing the old vinyl records over the latest technology of digital downloads.

Childhood Memories of The Neighbourhood.

When fences were lower, fruit and veg was currency and kids just roamed free

How different to today was your neighbourhood and the neighbours as you were growing up?

I was a child in the 50s and neighbourhoods were mainly made up of working class families. Some fathers worked in offices or ran a small local business, while others toiled with their hands in factories, as tradesmen or labourers.

Most mothers stayed at home to look after the children, to cook and clean the house and do the washing and ironing.

Photo from the Advertiser. There were always lots of other kids to play with. This picture from 1956 shows some boys sharing rides in a Cyclops pedal car

There were always lots of other kids to play with. This picture from 1956 shows some boys sharing rides in a Cyclops pedal car

Whenever I think back to those years I’m somehow reminded of summer time and those hot nights – no airconditioning or even electric fans – and all the neighbours and their children would sit out on front verandas or front lawns until very late, hoping to catch any cool late-night breeze.

Mums and dads would chat over the front fence, the wireless would be brought out on an extension cord to hear the latest episode of the serials, and mattresses would be dragged out for sleeping.

The streets of our neighbourhood were filled with children. These were the Baby Boomer years, pre-birth control, and families of four and five children were the norm. We were surrounded by many other young families, all around the same ages, so best friends were always in plentiful supply. The streets and backyards were our territory and our parents never seemed to care where we were or who we were with.

We’d spend hours away from home exploring, riding bikes, playing games, making dams in gutters on rainy days and – at times – getting into fights with the kids from the next street over.

Photo from Dale Phillips. Whenever there was a birthday celebrated in the street, there would be a party for all the kids.

Whenever there was a birthday celebrated in the street, there would be a party for all the kids. Photo from Dale Phillips.

Whenever there was a birthday celebrated in the street, there would be a party for all the kids, with raspberry cordial to drink, little cakes in patty pans, chocolate crackles and fairy bread with hundreds and thousands. The decorations were all handmade with crepe paper and there’d be a paper trumpet to blow.

There was always lots of gossip to be traded. My mother and Mrs Neagle from next door would spend hours talking over the back fence about all sorts of things.

Gossip was not the only thing traded over the back fence. Excess fruit and vegies, all grown in backyard gardens, were shared, as were jams and relishes. Mr Jacobs, a few doors down, used to catch and smoke fish which would be traded for some of our hens’ eggs. Mr Scott was an electrician and would repair electrical appliances after work, and could be paid with fruit and vegetables. Very few families had the convenience of a car and those in the neighbourhood who did would be called on in times of emergency to offer transport.

It’s strange that there is now a day set aside to remind people how to be good neighbours (Neighbour’s Day), when it seemed such a normal part of life in the 1950s and ’60s.

While I’m sure there are still great neighbours today, back fences seem to be higher and electric roller doors have created a cocooned existence, where a neighbour is no longer seen, let alone spoken to – how different from our experience growing up with neighbours who were in our lives and almost part of our family.

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