Who better to honour in a blog about 1970s childhood, than the boy who lived it with me - my brother Grant.  In the weeks leading up to his untimely death, when pain played hardball, we took our time machine to the ‘70s, finding calm in happy memories.  

Mount Lofty Station (Stirling), Adelaide Hills

Grant was a lifelong rail enthusiast, with a broad knowledge of the world’s locomotives and a talent for the mechanics of model railways.  As a child, his only struggle with the hobby was building landscapes for his model engines to chug through.  Today you can buy every conceivable notion from a franchise chain, but in the 1970s, you had to be creative. 

Together we made matchstick buildings, cardboard rivers (painted blue and sprinkled with glitter) and papier-mache mountains. Our landscapes were clad in brown paper  – the ‘earth’ – daubed here and there with green paint 'grass.'  Ah, brown paper ... everyone had a roll in their homes then.  Now nobody does.

His favourite film was, of course, The Railway Children (1970)

Every boy had a crush on Jenny Agutter
The old Hornby catalogues are gold!  Long before websites, before there was cheap offshore bulk printing, one had to purchase a product catalogue.  With suitable reverence, boys in many countries pored over Hornby’s annual releases, carefully choosing new engines, carriages or tracks, making sure the gauge was right, perhaps adding a signal box or level-crossing to the wishlist.  If they’d done really well at school, or Dad was a railfan too, they might even score a station and platform!  

   A funky year for Hornby with the green paisley eh.
And how about the cravat on Dad?! Or perhaps it's a toyshop uncle *ahem*
As the years wore on, his enthusiasm for all-things-rail never waned.  He travelled far to view favourite or historical trains, become ‘that person’ taking photos from odd vantage points, and built a far more sophisticated home railway.  

A few months ago, as he neared the terminal, Grant was reassured to know I was prepared to curate his core collection.  He never did have a son, and Girl Gunzels (railfans) are almost unheard of.  I guess he knew I’d respect the retro vibe of not just the rolling stock, but the hobby itself.

In the real world, there are six significant railway stations where we may one day scatter Grant’s ashes.  At the moment, the urn is in a box with his RS613 Steam Freight Set, whose package proclaims “With Smoke!” which I know he’d find wryly amusing. 



Magic Movie Moments

Movies had longer cinema runs in the 1960s and 70s, then took years to make it to the small screen, so theatre or drive-in outings were a special treat.  Before video recorders or DVDs, let alone Netflix and i-view, you had one shot at seeing a film, and might not see it again for a long time. 

As such, we watched not only new releases, but films made decades earlier, that were ‘new’ to us.

This list is not of my favourite movies; rather, it honours magic MOMENTS in those films.  Rememer, I was a child, so the movies aren't heavy-duty, nor is the list exhaustive.  Moments I'm quick to recall include:

LASSIE COME HOME.  Clever collie.  Separated from beloved companion.  Hardship.  Reunion.  Lassie movies recycled the same formula, and we never tired of it.  Watch the clip from about 1:20 onwards.


Alfred Hitchcock had a deft touch in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, but The Moment is definitely when Jimmy Stewart is hunting for his kidnapped son and **spoiler alert** the boy whistles Que Sera Sera in response to Doris Day’s performance

THE LITTLE COLONEL.  Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are a joy to watch in this glorious, clever and - for it’s time - beautifully color-blind sequence


DUMBO. "Baby Mine."  Especially the bit where Mama Elephant puts her trunk through the cage bars …  achingly sad.  I still tear up watching it.


PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is a remarkable example of soundtrack elevating a film.  Based heavily on pan-pipes, the music danced between sylvan and simple, to haunting, to chilling.  In following the plot, the same riff became more ominous as the film progressed, climactically during the pivotal scene on the rock.   It was an odd and somewhat unsatisfying story, yet the music ensured the mood could be evoked at the mere peep of a pan-pipe, years later.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC would surely be included in any list of this era - for Edelweiss, for the Lonely Goatherd, for the moment the Captain realizes he loves Maria, and of course, the audience’s collective anger during the scene in the graveyard where nasty Junior Nazi Rolfe betrays the Von Trapps.

Julie Andrews gets another mention in MARY POPPINS for a scene that perhaps sailed over the heads of many children (including me) at the time: Feed The Birds.  For the Banks children, who were being raised to worship finance, the song about a kind bag lady was a sweet reminder of the importance of charity.


Bob Hope’s superb comedy-drama performance in THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS had two big highlights.  The Friars Club table-top dance routine with Jimmy Cagney is easily my favourite tap  sequence of all time, and then a beautifully underplayed, moving scene that takes place after Foy's wife dies, when he realizes he’s not worthy of the misplaced acclaim he's received as a father.

Finally I remember watching SUNSHINE in 1974 with my best friend, when we were both  likely far too young for the subject matter.  John Denver singing “Sunshine on my Shoulder” as the main character dies reduced my friend to floods of tears for a while after.  I remember it as much for the subject matter – so removed from the light stuff we were used to – and because of my friend’s visceral reaction.  I worried there was something wrong with me that I didn’t feel it as deeply as she did.

I'd welcome any suggested additions to this list - anything significant film 'moments' you remember if you were young during the 60s and 70s. 


Big Books in my Little Life

In the Little House series of books, Laura Ingalls Wilder told captivating stories of the hardships and triumphs of American settler life in the late 1800s, based on her family’s time in Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Minnesota.  The storytelling style was different to anything ten-year-old me had ever read.  Loving the character and voice of Laura, I vowed if I ever had a daughter, she’d be named Laura.*
From 1974, the stories gained a worldwide stage via the hit TV series Little House on the Prairie.   Yet most Australians have never read the books.  Until the 1980s, our childhood literary fare was heavily British-influenced.  Our schools, however, had to meet a homegrown quota; thus we were force-fed the best and worst of Australian literature.

British kid-lit was a wholesome genre.  Just to re-affirm my worship of Enid Blyton, favourites were:

The Famous Five.

The Naughtiest Girl
Mallory Towers
The Five Find-Outers
The Faraway Tree Trilogy

I didn’t like The Secret Seven.  Controversially**  I didn’t like The Wishing Chair.  Other great Brit fantasy authors were Mary Stewart and Ursula Moray Williams.  If the masterpiece Harry Potter series had existed, I’d have been in heaven.

Brainwashed by British accents and magical forests and castles and boarding schools, I hated my first all-Australian novel, Storm Boy (Colin Thiele).   But! – here's the lesson: never discount a popular author on the strength of one book.  Weeks later, I devoured Thiele’s February Dragon as quickly as the raging bushfire ripped through its chapters.    

I recoiled at the silly title of our next Aussie ‘required text’ -  I Can Jump Puddles (Alan Marshall).  Yet once read, the true poignance of the title is revealed, and its mere mention will move you. 

Then at age ten, despite the best efforts of the education system, I discovered American junior literature.  Hello Trixie Belden!  Encyclopedia Brown!  Bring on Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time  and the wondrous coming-of-age novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Most brilliant of all: The Phantom Tollbooth.   And of course, the Little House books.

Wilder's simply-expressed wisdom stays with me.  Fans of the books will recall the devastation of Mary’s blindness; I found this line so affecting:

“Her blue eyes were still beautiful, but they did not know what was before them, and Mary herself could never look through them again to tell Laura what she was thinking without saying a word.”


*  A kind American friend, aware of the story behind my youngest daughter’s name, last week sent me a lovely package of Ingalls souvenirs, direct from Walnut Grove.  The memories prompted this post.
** everyone except me seems to love The Wishing Chair



Even the happiest children have moments when they loosely plot the idea of Running Away From Home.  In my formative years, when broken homes and true homelessness were (or seemed) less of an issue than today,  ‘running away’ was a popular fantasy, heavily fuelled by childrens’ books and films of the time that made it seem entirely do-able.

My best mate Gail and I (both having perfectly nice parents, even if mine were in the throes of divorce) made grand plans to escape the perceived misery of home.  We always scheduled it for a Friday night, giving us two days on the lam before our school realized we were missing.  This didn’t account for the fact we, um, weren’t at boarding school, so our families would surely notice our absence by Saturday morning.

Each Friday for the duration of our Running Away phase, we’d say goodbye at the school gates and awkwardly agree to wait ‘just one more week.’  Deep down, we knew it would never happen, but this didn’t stop us making Plans - Plans with a capital P!

Our Running Away Inventory included practical items (raincoats, gumboots) but completely overlooked the need for cash.  We’d reach our (yet to be determined) destinations by bus, glossing over our inability to pay the fares.  Lunch was perhaps the most solid part of the Plan:  meat pies and custard tarts, to be purchased from delicatessans that our little suburban minds imagined would exist on every street, riverside and mountain-top in Australia.

To cover the unthinkable possibility of starving at breakfast and dinner, we’d raid our family fridges just before leaving, cramming piles of food into Tupperware containers.  Our belief was that Tupperware always kept food fresh, even unrefrigerated in a travel bag for weeks at a time *cough* 

Staring wistfully from the back bench of Greyhound bus (fares mysteriously paid)  we’d nibble on food leftovers that would magically stretch, like the loaves and fishes, across our journey to ….  wherever it was.  That’s not to say we totally lacked direction: we knew our confident attitude, cute freckles and affinity with animals would surely secure us work at farms, becoming perhaps the youngest Jillaroos in Australia.

I was startled when Gail suddenly added two items to the inventory: “Guns” and “Ammo.”  Not that I even knew what ‘ammo’ was; neither did Gail, but she assured me we needed both in order to shoot animals for food.  I still worried about carrying a rifle (especially on a bus) but it did paint a suitably adventurous picture of us wandering along the road at dusk, casually taking aim at any unfortunate bunny that crossed our path.  You just shot them and threw them on a fire to cook them, right?  (What did we know of skinning and gutting?)  Sitting cross-legged by our cosy campfire, we’d stuff it with marshmallows and sing a dirge or two as it roasted over the flames.

So, with food sorted, what about accommodation?  We imagined dossing down under the stars … but were also of the mind that if we wandered up to any motel, the manager would be moved by our tender years and automatically offer us free beds for the night. 

Our plans were ridiculously ambitious for a couple of 9 year old cashless girls from Adelaide.  Then again, my own secret deviation from the plan (and I bet Gail had one too) saw us both back home again by Sunday night, having Taught Everyone A Lesson, without having missed even a single day of school.


Gardens of Guns and Roses

There’s a family living on our block in a tiny home that’s dwarfed by the McMansions around it.  The backyard – much of which is visible from the street - features a huge shady gum tree and a vegetable patch.

In this house lives a family whose lifestyle seems a little trapped in the past.  The parents have a nice hippie vibe about them, and their two pre-schoolers are almost always playing in the yard.  By ‘playing’ I mean running, skipping, ball games, and games of ‘pretend.’  Elsewhere in my neighbourhood, children do exist but are rarely seen playing in their yards or driveways, let alone on a daily basis.

The appeal of these two children is how happy and friendly they are – and how quietly they play.  Their shout of “Hello!” as I pass by on my daily walk, is as loud as they get.  It takes me back to the 60s and 70s, when children seemed capable of playing games that didn’t involve screeching.  I’m not against noise per se, but against the growing trend for screaming as an integral part of physical play.  There are parents who'll argue it’s not only normal for kids to scream a lot, but somehow necessary.

Make no mistake, I grew up in a regular suburb filled with regular young families, but it was understood that screams were a sign of genuine distress, not something you did for fun. The only game that elicited screams was Kiss Chasey, and under threat of Boy Germs or Girl Germs, screams were entirely justified.  
Certainly we ramped the noise levels during games of ‘Cops and Robbers’ or ‘Cowboys and Indians’ but it still fell short of screamy.  We’d shout warnings or instructions, but screaming was seen as sissy – even for girls!   Am I wrong in thinking a lot of screaming these days, is screaming for the sake of it?   Or a form of expression or release, for kids who haven’t been taught better ways? 

This could easily spin into the much-discussed issue of children using toy weapons and pretending to kill, but I’m not going there. (But if you'd like to, I've provided a link below). 

Suffice to say, the violence of childhood play in the 1960s and 70s was far tamer, more camp, than what you see today.  And while the current generation of kids play these games and see being ‘killed’ as a dealbreaker (“What, everybody’s not a winner?”) we saw a performance opportunity for an elaborate death.

As for that “70s family” living nearby, my pastel fantasy is that the children have never touched an iPad, never used a laptop, rarely watch television.  For all I know, beyond the charming leadlight front door of their modest home, rooms may be filled with screens and hi-tech gadgetry, but I get the feeling this is a family with a low-tier internet bundle.   

I hope those children don’t change too much when they start school.  Will their old-fashioned enjoyment of life be appreciated or quashed?  Will the other kids laugh at their gentle ways; create peer pressure to move most of their play indoors? 

When the inevitable happens, I hope they at least continue to use their imaginations, and perhaps convert some of their viewing, into outdoor play.  After all, some of my finest memories of being 8 years old involve the enormous honour of the neighbourhood kids casting me as Dick Tracy (see, it wasn’t all gender stereotypes back then), and spying on the ‘baddies’ from my vantage point in the low branches of a willow tree, waiting for Joe Jitsu to contact me on my wristwatch radio. 

                               “Six-two and even, over and out!” 

Further reading: