Merle Dibden story -- Written Recollections
I was born at Canterbury on 18th June 1928 named Merle Claudia Fletcher, now Dibden, where my parents Alfred Claude and Vera Fletcher were living with her parents in Minta Street, Canterbury.
The depression was on at that time and my father who have saved one thousand pound bought four blocks of land at twenty-five pounds for each block of which two were next to each other. One of these was 22 Viking St. Campsie which he paid a man to build it.
He at that time because the private bus put off their drivers as no one could afford bus fares he had time now to learn how to build a house from the instructions of the paid builder. He then built a house opposite, sold it and then went into business as a milk vendor with one horse and cart.
Later, he employed two other men and had three milk carts and three horses in the adjoining land, which also was at the front overgrown with blackberries from which many neighbours collected to make blackberry pies. The next door neighbour, the Wallgases I was told used to complain about the flies which came as a result of the manure from the horses. My father used to work twice a day on one milk run, clean and feed the horses, collect money from the customers from his run, and do the account books.
He grew vegetables and on a Sunday afternoon when delivery of milk was only once a day, of which time to start was 3am (mum helped with the loading of the milk cans) he in his spare time built another house in that street.
There was no electric refrigerators when I was little, the ice man used to come and deliver ice to your ice-chest. I remember, one of the first refrigerators which were developed by Sir Edward Holstromb who was a great philanthropist especially with Taronga Zoo. The refrigerator was called "The Silent Night Refrigerator" and was a great invention for everybody.
There were no washing machines when I was about three years old. Mum on a Monday, as that then was women's wash day, used to light up the gas copper to boil the towels, sheets and pillow slips, any water over in the afternoon was used to bath me to my great traumatic terror, as I remember that I used to scream even though the water was luke warm. The reason was in my childlike mind, I thought that I was going to be burnt in that that copper as I remembered her light the gas copper previously in the day. I was too little to explain to my mother. All washing was done by hand in cement tubs. Winter clothes were only made of wool - no - acrylic or nylon or polyester materials only cotton.
At the back of our house there was a huge paddock where my father's three horses used to graze and children use to play, also there was on the far side of the paddock, a bread Bake House. This paddock extended for about a quarter of a kilometre or more south wards of which now are all filled with houses. We used to build Bonfires, and once a lady leaned over her fence to give me Bon fire paper and because I was looking upward, and also my poor eye sight ran into a Barbed wire fence. My father had to hold me down while I had three stitches put in at Canterbury Memorial Hospital. I still have that scar on leg. I did not have any pain reliever either when the huge metal thing was putting in the stitches.
Regarding building Bon Fires which if my memory is correct for Empire Day, or cracker night, Campsie Public School used to enact Empire Day on the stage at the Odeon Picture Theatre at the now shopping Mall near Everline Street. Manseurs the Linen and Towel shop was on the corner of Everline Street. It was sixpence for children and one shilling for adults to go the pictures. I remember vaguely the silent films and then Mum talking about the pictures then called the "TALKIES". When silent films were on an organist used to play different tunes as to suit the moment of the progression of the film.
Women used to have huge cane prams wheeling their babies on the Beamish Street Foot paths not many people around. The grocer used to get you what you wanted then. Everything was behind the counter and he used to weigh out the items and also biscuits were weighed out unless you bought the huge tin of biscuits.
I could not see the words even in the front seat on the blackboard in first class infants, so when the teacher went over and over the words and then left us to learn them in a few minutes as I could not see properly, had to use my memory. I remember her saying "Good Girl Merle you got one right out of ten" said. She used to rub the words off and give us a test, but as I could not see, it was impossible to do any better - even though in first class, I knew the alphabet correctly. I remember, my grandmother, dear old nan, telling my mother before I went to school when she saw me with the comic "Bib and Bub the Gumnuts" looking at the pictures right up to my face, she said, "Merle needs glasses". That was not to be, until the examining eye doctor who came when I was in second class at Campsie Public School sent a letter ordering my mother to get my eyes examined. She took me to Sydney eye Hospital down in the Domain I think. Then to my amazement with glasses I noticed the tall buildings. A few years ago an eye specialist said that "because I had not had glasses before eight, irreparable damage had been done to my eyes".
Teachers at Campsie School were very nice except the Head Mistress. When she came into our class we had to stand up, stop our work and say "Good Morning" - sit down and fold our arms. I even with glasses had to sit in the front seat and once bent my head down and was silently reading our school lesson when she was there. The next thing I knew was she picked up a ruler (not mine) and broke the ruler over my knuckles the handed my friend's broken ruler back to her. That would not be allowed nowadays. In fourth class the inspector came and I was the only one who received one hundred for perfect reading as I put great expression in the words. I do the same now when Bible Reading in church.
I wonder where Betty Jones is now, she was my best friend in 5th and 6th class. If I can remember correctly she lived at 98 Ninth Avenue Campsie. I lost contact with her as my parents wanted me to go to Pymble Ladies College as a boarder from 1942 to 1946.
Many things were not invented when I had pneumonia at eight years. Penicillin was not discovered. I was a couple of months away from school and repeated that year. Dr Phifer told mum to strengthen me to have rum with milk to build up my strength which I hated and as a result I am a non strong drinker to this day. Also to clean out your inside with pneumonia I had to have caster oil (yuk). Firstly suck an orange first before drinking the caster oil. Later on, caster oil was stopped, as it was dangerous if you had appendicitis. When very young some cars had dicky seat, my brother Allan and I used to love riding in the dicky seat, especially on the hill near now Kingsgrove station on the Sharp street now Kingsgrove Road and scream with delight when the bump on the road lifted us off our seat. Kingsgrove was all scrub when I was very young. There was a running board to step onto when entering the car and thick clear material celluloid - not glass for windows. Also no batteries for cars. To start a car, one had to get out and with a crank handle wind it around in front until the engine started. Those were the days!
In Viking Street everybody knew each other there were no muggings in those days. During the depression, some homeless people came and asked for food, my father told my mother to make up some sandwiches for them. People could leave their doors unlocked also, not nowadays.
I at five used to walk a long way with a lady down to Canterbury Methodist Church for Sunday School but later went in Viking Street to Mr and Mrs Stones - Street (I think) who had a Methodist Sunday School, a branch of the Canterbury Church. At eight years of age in 1936 I won the prize for saying by memory, which I learnt in one week from my father's Masonic Bible, the twenty - third psalm which has been a great help over my years.
When ten and a half my father bought out the dairy and home at 156 Sharp St now Kingsgrove Rd called "High Field's Dairy". The dairy was from Harp Street to William Street and extended a fair way on both streets. He now had instead of three milk runs, but ten, and eleven milk carters as one was a relief carter. I then had to go to a different Sunday School which was across William St in the Boy's Scout's Hall near where opposite now is the Baptist Church. The cows were harmless and I used to walk among them on the way to Sunday School, but looking carefully not to tread on their little piles of droppings and get carefully under the barbed wire fence as I had on my best clothes. Across. Sharp St from the dairy was a large vacant block where circuses use to perform. Also circuses used to perform where the Belmore RSL is now situated. Later, where at Belmore Canterbury Leagues Club is now, was then a picture theatre. How things have changed.
Now for more abut the dairy. The cows first of all were hand milked by milkers then later machines were brought in. My father grew corn it was so high that my brother and I used to play hide and seek with the dog Ginge. He was very intelligent and used to find us by sniffing us out. The only time Ginger or as called Ginge and my brother, Allan could not find me was when I jumped into a huge box of chulf and all except my nose covered my self. I tricked them then as there was no scent for the dog.
My mother used to count up all the money and some afternoons I used to help her roil up in paper the money (a bucket full of pennies) for the bank. Once the clothes washing woman did not come, so I stayed up until ten pm helping her hand wash. The dog's meat was bought at a horse meat shop opposite Campsie Fire Station. My mother used to make butter by beating by hand cream but it did not stay fresh for long. When I was ten and a half, the first week we arrived at the Dairy my mother said she could not as it made her feel ill clean with phenoil the outside toilet - no sewerage at Belmore. Owing to the cows there were often maggots (from the flies) on the toilet seat and I was made to clean and wash the toilet and room with the blackish thick phenoil and water - not forgetting I was only ten and a half. Also make my bed, clean the kitchen canisters and dust the kitchen - cum - dining room side board and lounge room. About every six weeks paint vanish on my bedroom floor and clean my room every week. Allan only had to bring every day our milk down from the dairy which was no longer further away than our present backyard fence. One day, I got up early and did my brother's work and said "now he can do mine." I was told by my mother that I now had to do mine. So I never did that again.
When about twelve, I remember "Mix Masters" for beating up cream and sugar for cakes came in, but mum except for sponge cakes always used her hand for mixing. I always do the same except for merangues or sponge cakes. During the war years, the carters had to do what my father told them as they did not want to leave as they then would have been put in the army. I forgot to say that my brother and I had a huge aluminium dish to wash up at night, as mum cooked the dinner and now had a new baby my sister Robyn to attend to. The sinks then often had a space in them at the top and the dirty washing up water went into the cupboard. So that is why we did not use it for washing up our dirty utensils.
Then, early in 1942, my family moved up to the Towers 31 Forsyth Street, Belmore Sth and left the dairy, but still kept three milk runs and three carters of which he now bought the milk which was delivered at night. He still kept the horses and carts The Towers on a large piece of land was built in the 1880 by David Jones, David Jones junior his son married my mother's aunt, then when she died leaving a little boy married her sister.
We had a tennis court built there and there were many bushes where it was impossible to find the ball. Every time Allan or I would say to our dog, who was half Labrador and half Asation Ginge find the ball - he found it every time. He died when about twelve and was buried in the horse yard in Forsyth Street. Allan and I trained him to sit and in many other ways. Even in 1955 there was no sewerage only the lavatory man who come to collect the night soil. My brother when I was in my twenties used to sit and read the cut Newspaper for ages in the backyard toilet. Once I was in there and thought it was him knocking on the toilet door - I loudly said, "Now I'll keep you waiting". When I came out to my great surprise it was the lavatory may waiting to empty the bucket and put in a clean one. I said I was sorry to him, but never told my brother - he would have laughed.
Times have changed greatly, we used to have lovely parties at the Towers and I used to play the music while everybody sang - nowadays people don't do that anymore.
Many years have passed and for over forty - one years I now live only two minutes walk from the Towers in Forsyth Archibald and Robert Street. On my father's death in 1987 it was sold to Canterbury Council and then later to the Greek School, which now has pupils going there. I have lived only about four years away from the Canterbury area all my life and many changes have taken place, some good and some the opposite, but I love this district with all the different cultures which have come into our country and enriched it especially cooking various foods which once was only English and Scottish recipes. It is now a delight for me to make many meals from various countries especially Italian cuisine.