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THE SEVEN AGES OF ME


Having an idyllic childhood in country New South Wales during the 1920s and 1930s, Cec Coleman was fortunate enough to experience the very best of country life before he was sent away to school at the tender of age of eleven years old.

In The Seven Ages of Me, Cec recounts with great humour his experiences away from family and home. He paints a picture of his life from his early recollections at the time of World War II and his career in the navy, to his highly successful legal career spanning two decades. Replete with witty observations and honest insights as a young man learning about life, love and career, Cec also paints a colourful and vivid snapshot of a way of life in Australia now almost forgotten.

Told with honest and intelligent observation, The Seven Ages of Me is at times, laugh-out-loud funny and an enthralling read.

In Store Price: $27.00 
Online Price:   $26.00

ISBN:978-1-921240-43-0
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 235
Genre: Non Fiction/Biography

 


Author: Cec Coleman
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2007
Language: English

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Preface    

My  Antecedents  

My mother and father, Mum and Dad, had only two things in common; they were both sired by alcoholic fathers (and consequently abhorred alcohol) and they were both adventurous spirits. These common traits probably account for some of my misadventures. As they matured, the responsibilities of motherhood subdued Mum’s adventurous urges and Dad’s pecuniary and social ambitions softened his hatred of the demon drink. In the 1940s they ceased to share a bed.

            Mum was born in London in 1894. Her father owned a pub and, I gathered from what she said, drank most of the profits. She lived in Acton with her mother, two sisters and three brothers. It follows that her father must have lived with them for some time, or, at least visited. The household was very Church of England and strictly Victorian. She went to what she referred to as ‘grammar school’ where they taught the basic three Rs, but more importantly, they taught the girls how to be a good wives and mothers, – just lie back and think of England.

            Her favourite sibling and best friend was her brother, Cecil, after whom I was named. He was two years younger than Mum. In 1914 when she was twenty and he was eighteen, they were about to escape together to the colonies when World War I broke out. His Victorian upbringing gave him no alternative but to do his duty; fight and die for King and country. So, she caught a ship (in steerage) to Australia . He joined the Royal Marines and was killed in the first major naval battle, the Battle of Jutland. Mum wandered around for a while in Australia and New Zealand working as a shop assistant and nurses’ aid until she met and married Dad in 1921.  

Dad was born in Winton , Queensland in 1899. His mother owned and operated a pub, which was located 75 miles out of Winton on the Boulia Road . His father drank as much of the profits as his mother would allow. I never got the full story behind their union but the most convincing one is that she was the daughter of an officer in the British Army in India . He was a groom who looked after her father’s horse. He was a bit of a charmer, they fell in love and eloped to Australia , bought the hotel (I like to think with some inheritance that she, being a person of class, had stashed away) and produced five kids, three sons (the second being Dad) and two daughters.

            Dad’s life is well chronicled in the library at Bourke. He had no formal education. At the age of twelve he started work as a groom with Cobb and Co. – there were still coaches operating under that name in northern Queensland until 1920, even though the company folded in 1911. Over the next two years he worked as a drover, a well borer, a horse breaker and a station hand. At the age of fourteen he returned to Cobb and Co. as a coach driver and at the age of seventeen he was appointed overseer of the Winton and Longreach districts.

            When Dad was eighteen he and his older brother secured a number of mail and passenger runs along the routes formerly serviced by Cobb and Co.

            This early period of his life was not without excitement. One night he evaded being speared by aborigines only because of the bush knowledge and guile of an older friend. On another occasion, he swam for a whole day across a flooded river to get help for many people stranded on the other side.

            He was twenty-two when he married Mum. He had lived so much in his short life that she didn’t question his age. She thought that he was about thirty-five. She was twenty-seven at the time.

            Mum and Dad travelled around for about a year, looking for somewhere to settle. Mum said she would join him in any business so long as it wasn’t a hotel. They finally settled in Bourke, where they went into the garage business. My older sister, Myrtle, was born in 1922.

PART ONE

 

At First the Infant

 

… At first the infant

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms …

 

1926 to 1937      

 

Introduction  

 

I entered this world at Bourke in the northwest of New South Wales on the 23rd of March, 1926. Insofar as I had a nurse, it was Dulcie, who looked after me when Mum had to be elsewhere. Mum described her as “a nice girl.”

            Some years later I saw a photo of Dulcie as a bride. She was gorgeous. I am sure that the handsome young man standing beside her in the photo found better things to do in Dulcie’s arms than mewl and puke.

 

Chapter 1

Home and Family

 

I first became conscious of my surroundings at the age of three. Our home was a cottage behind and attached to Dad’s garage. It had one bedroom (occupied, of course, by Mum and Dad) a sitting room and a kitchen. All rooms opened onto a gauzed-in veranda. Myrt and I slept at one end of the veranda and the dining area was at the other end. An iron shed at the back fence served as a bathroom, laundry and toilet. An iron fence divided our backyard from the driveway to the rear entrance of the garage.

            I understand that the big benefit of living in these surroundings was that we had a supply of electricity from the generator in the garage.

            Not that this mattered much to me, because when I was four years old an enterprising businessman built a power station on the corner of Glen and Mitchell Streets. While this was happening, poles were going up and wires were being strung all over town. Then one night the whole population took to the streets and there were great celebrations as the lights came on and electricity was available to everybody.

            While these exciting things were happening, Bonnie was being born. Dad built a new house on the corner of Glen and Oxley Streets and we moved to what was to be my permanent childhood home. It was the essence of the modern, country home of the day. It had two smallish bedrooms, a box room (probably where the domestic would have slept, if we had one, but we used it for storing things), a big kitchen where meals were both prepared and eaten, a large lounge room (with open fireplace) and a large, formal dining room with highly-polished furniture for use only when we had  special visitors.             There were wide, gauzed verandas all around. These were the accepted sleeping quarters for children. Mum and Dad occupied the main bedroom while the second bedroom was kept ready for guests. At one end of the veranda on which our beds were located was a small bathroom with a woodchip heater and bathtub. There was no shower. At the other end of that veranda was a large cupboard where our clothes were kept. The laundry was quite a large room off the kitchen. The toilet was, of course, at the back fence.

            Dad bought the vacant block next door and put a tennis court on it. He also constructed two monstrous steel poles with wires strung between. This structure served as a radio aerial that enabled us to get radio reception from the ABC (2BL) and the commercial station in Orange (2GZ).

            All this happened in the years of the Great Depression. There was no doubt in the minds of the townsfolk that the Coleman’s were rich.

 

Dad was a dynamic character. As I have said elsewhere, his achievements are well chronicled and I will only refer to them here to the extent that they affected my life and my doings.

            Dad and I were not close mates. I didn’t see enough of him for that. When he was at home he would leave for the garage at seven-thirty, come home for lunch, then go back to the garage until seven at night. On Saturday nights he would go back after tea and stay open until midnight . He bought a garage in Brewarrina and would spend a few days a week there. He had the General Motors franchise. This gave him the sole right to sell Buicks, Chevrolets and Pontiacs, which were the most popular cars of the day (at least, they were popular among the people who could afford to buy new cars).

            He or his salesman would travel around the cattle stations in the district if he thought the owners might be interested in buying a new car. This often resulted in a trip to Sydney to pick up a new car for the customer. He would then drive it back the 512 miles to Bourke at a speed not exceeding thirty miles per hour to break it in.

            On at least two, but maybe three, occasions he took me to Sydney with him. He left me to my own devices while he attended to business. I found my way around town quite well. Only once did I require the help of a policeman to find my way back to the Masonic Club.

 

In 1929 Dad spent some time in Sydney attending the Kingsford Smith Flying School at Mascot, where he gained his commercial pilot’s licence. He bought a Gypsy Moth, but as this only had room for one passenger, he traded it in for a Genairco Moth, the first wholly built Australian aircraft, which had accommodation for two passengers or three small ones. The registration number of this plane was VH-UOG and, I am told, was always referred to by four-year-old me as “oh-gee!” Many an exciting hour was spent by me in that aircraft. Much to Mum’s horror, I would tell her how we looped and side slipped and dived. After a while, Dad suggested it would be best if I didn’t tell her these things. So, after that I just told her that we’d had a nice flight.

            Just before he sold the plane in 1934 and gave up flying (I think it was because of his deteriorating eyesight), he took me into the rear cockpit with him. After he had warmed up the engine, he said, “Right son, you take her up.” He taxied down the runway, turned into the wind and got up some speed. By that time, I’d been up with him often enough to know that the aircraft tells you when it is ready to take off.       So, when I got that feeling I yelled, “Now Dad?” He nodded and smiled. I pulled the joystick back slowly as I had seen him do many times.

            We soared smoothly into the air and he said, “I couldn’t have done better myself.” I was so pleased with myself that I wanted to tell the world, but he said, “Don’t tell anyone about this Cec, especially your mother.” And I didn’t.

 

Dad was always encouraging me to do adventurous things without parental supervision, such as fishing, swimming, horse riding and bike riding. I was also encouraged to camp out overnight in the bush. He was generous to a fault with toys and sporting equipment. I was never without a Meccano set or other educational toys. Nor did I ever lack sporting equipment, particularly a quality cricket bat and ball, a football and a tennis racket. I always had a pushbike of the right size, starting with a little red ten-inch two-wheeler when I was five years old. I hasten to add that this generosity was not limited to his family, but extended far and wide, particularly where children were involved. I think this may have resulted from his own deprived childhood. His pet charity was The Far West Children’s Health Scheme, to which he devoted an enormous amount of money, energy and time.

            He was also generous with Mum, insisting that she had all mod cons. She had an electric range and oven (she preferred the old fuel one), an electric iron (which she did appreciate after having used the ones that she had to continually reheat on the fuel stove), an electric toaster and an electric jug. He also tried to replace the ice chest with an electric refrigerator but the original couldn’t cope with Bourke’s heat and needed to be continually wrapped in wet towels and bags. Thus, the old ice chest lived on side by side with its modern counterpart.

            Dad’s pride and joy was his radio, a monstrous piece of furniture that to me resembled a robot. It had a handle on each side which I believed were its ears. The front displayed tuning and volume knobs (its eyes) and below them was a big circular station selector (its nose). Below that was some gauze which covered the speaker. That was the robot’s mouth. Many a happy hour was spent sitting around the robot, but more of that later.

 

If Dad was the natural product of his deprived childhood and adventurous youth, Mum was the enigma of hers. Once settled in Bourke, her childhood conditioning took command and she became the essence of the dutiful housewife. All meals, including lunch, were laboriously thought out, prepared and ready on time. Our house was always sparkling clean and tidy. Our clothes were washed and ironed. Monday was washing day and Tuesday was ironing day. On Saturday friends came to play tennis and that had to be properly catered for. On Sundays she went to church (Communion in the morning and Evensong and Address at night).

            Frequently, the local minister would be invited for dinner, which, on Sundays, was in the middle of the day. At 11am I would be packed off to Sunday school. As I obediently got religion I would envy my mates playing cricket on the vacant block behind our house. I solved this problem by realizing that if I became confirmed I could go to Communion and free up the rest of the day. This I did, and at the age of nine became the youngest confirmee ever in the parish. This ploy was both a success and a failure, because although I solved the cricket problem it was considered that my soprano voice would be of benefit to the adult choir, with the consequence that I had to attend choir practice on Thursday evenings and Evensong and Address on Sundays.

 

When we needed Mum she always seemed to be around. Quite often she was around when we wished she wasn’t, particularly when we were doing something naughty. I recall an occasion when I tried to entice the daughter of a guest at a tennis party to adjourn with me to the toilet. Mum moved from the tennis court to the toilet at the speed of light.

            Mum hated the social side of the life, that Dad, as a prominent citizen, revelled in. But she would always accompany him when required. The one and only time that she refused to be involved was when she, as town mayoress, was supposed to have the opening dance with the State Governor at the ball to celebrate his visit for Bourke’s centenary. She had never danced in her life and she was not going to make a fool of herself – especially in the vice-regal presence.

            Mum’s modesty was Victorian in the extreme. She never left the house unless she was fully dressed (including hat, bag and gloves). She never donned a swimsuit and consequently never went swimming, even though we spent most of the summer holidays in Sydney , often at Bondi Beach .

            And yet, for all this apparent conservatism, she never once tried to stop me from undertaking adventurous pursuits, even when they involved some danger, such as getting on the back of a frisky horse or swimming unsupervised in the Darling River . Maybe this was at Dad’s request, or maybe she remembered her own youth.

 

I had two siblings, Myrtle (Myrt) who was four years older than I and Bonnie (Bon) who was four years younger. Some wag was heard to say that Mum and Dad only ‘did it’ every four years.

I don’t remember a great deal about Myrt in this stage of my life. The age gap was a bit too wide for us to have common interests and she went off to boarding school in Sydney in 1935. I do remember though that she used to mother and protect me.

            On one occasion, we were riding our bikes together when a town bully, about the same age as she was, pushed me off my bike. Without any hesitation, she jumped off her bike and went for him with her fists swinging. I remember hearing crack crack as she got him twice. He ran off howling and with his nose bleeding. He never attacked me again. Myrt was left with two badly-skinned fists. Mum admonished her, telling her that girls shouldn’t get into street fights. I jumped in and said, “Mum, if she hadn’t, I’d be dead by now!”

            That terminated the admonishment. I was most surprised when Myrt took me aside later and thanked me for, “…sticking up for her.”

            Apart from that one occasion I remember Myrt as a quiet, gentle, well-mannered person who liked making clothes for and dressing up her dolls, helping Mum do the household chores and generally being a typical girl.

 

Bon was a different kettle of fish. She was what was then known as a tomboy. She was very bright and much more mature than other kids of her age. She preferred playing with boys rather than girls and wasn’t the slightest bit interested in dolls or like feminine pursuits. Her forte was marbles. At a very early age she knew the language. She talked fluently of louses, deuces, specs and bonkers. When she had nothing else to do, she would put a couple of dozen marbles in a bag and say, “I’m going to Perry’s to win some marbles.” The reference to Perry was Perry Hales whose father owned the town’s biggest general store and who was reputed to be very wealthy. Perry was considered by all to be a bit of a sissy. A few hours later Bon would come home with her bag overflowing with Perry’s marbles, which she would assure us she had won, “…fair and square.” This was one of Dad’s favourite phrases.

 

Bon didn’t care much for good manners and she showed respect for few people. One Sunday we had the diocesan bishop for dinner. In keeping with the importance and solemnity of the occasion, Mum had got out the best crockery and cutlery and set up the table in the dining room. She had even bought two chickens, which were a special delicacy back then. There were the usual vegetables and Mum knew that the bishop liked butter on his vegies, even though they were roasted in fat. There was accordingly a crystal dish of neatly cut butter squares in front of the place occupied by the bishop. Dad carved and dished up the chicken and the vegie dishes did the rounds. The bishop gently sliced his potatoes and carrots and applied lashings of butter. There was a temporary lull in conversation while everyone watched the bishop’s butter turn into yellow oil and run into the gravy.

            Bon liked the look of this and said in a loud demanding voice, “Chuck over the butter Bishoh!” In the deadly silence that followed, my attempt to hide my amusement failed. Then the bishop’s face broke into a smile and everyone laughed. From there on, the dinner was a success. This, however, did not stop Bon from getting a severe tongue lashing later on. I think that Bon was about five-years-old at the time.

            Bon learned to swim at a very early age. She claimed that Dad had thrown her into deep water and said, “Swim or drown.” I didn’t, and still don‘t believe that he would use those words and I know that he would have been there had she got into difficulty. Bon and I swam together in the river a lot and she also joined my friends and I on our bike rides. She excelled at sport and was always near the top of her class at school.

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