Stories

Albert Drew

Albert Drew

88, St Ann's

My parents were in the Salvation Army, they were required to move every 12 months or two years. Two years was the longest they ever stayed in any place. I was at a different school every year, it was very difficult to make friends when we were constantly moving, I didn’t enjoy that. We moved from where I was born in Southern Australia, to Melbourne, then we moved to Launceston, and then back to Melbourne – that was the beginning of the war – we settled at Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne.

In my early years it was a pretty traumatic time because I was only 9 when the war broke out and about 14 or 15 when it finished. My father went with the Red Shield, he went up to serve in New Guinea and my 3 brothers, 2 were in the Air Force and the other was in the AIF. They all came back except my brother in the AIF; he was killed.  And having them all away from home must have been a terrible time for my mother. I didn’t realise until I looked back on that, what a terrible time it must’ve been.  I feel very sorry for my mother and the things she had to… the way she had to go, and I feel like I could’ve done a lot better, as far as supporting her I mean. I was only 10 or 11, but looking back now, I could’ve done more to support her in my own way.  There wasn’t much I could’ve done except behave myself a bit more, not leave school. She never found out about that, only when I truly left. The problem was I found changing schools so often, and going in from state to another state, all their standards were different, and I’d come in and we always moving over the Christmas period, which didn’t give you a chance to get a reference. The school you were going to and the teachers would bombard you with information and all the rest of it. I reckon looking back I could’ve enjoyed my schooling my lot better.  I started working at age 14 as a motor body builder and at the age of 25 was in retail working at electrical stores.

After we got married I set about building a little holiday shack on our block of land. And then in front of it, we would go on to build our house. I used to come home from work and Mavis would have the children fed, ready for bed, and we had our dinner, and I shot off, I was gone to work on the home. So Mavis was left with the children. And luckily I was just a stone’s throw, just a walk into the front of it. And as soon as Mavis finished with the children, she’d come down and help. It took us 12 months to build the shack. It was a four-room shack. It was what was called in those days a ‘temporary dwelling’. So what happened was we lived in that while I built the house. Of course in those days, I still used to play football and cricket on the weekend. And didn’t work on Sundays, so I was pretty restricted on time. And anyway, I built the house and we lived in that for quite a few years.  In the midst of trying to buy the block of land and get it established we had a son, about 14 months later. Then, let’s see, there were these twin sons. We had twins. That was a bit of a…you could say, blow. But it wasn’t really, when they told us we were going to have twins. And we had nothing! And a two year old sitting on the step waiting for mummy to come home from the hospital.  So we had a bit of a time then. Anyway, we moved in and we built a house. It was on a hill. In those days we still had to take all of the gear to up to the block, because in those days there were no trucks, you know, we had a bit of a drive up and couldn’t get up easily with a load of bricks or metal. We used to get down at night when I came home from work. Mavis would have a rope around her shoulders onto the barrow, and I’d have the wheelbarrow and we took it all up. That was a happy time. We were young and we knew we had to do it that way or we wouldn’t get it done. And so then we worked long like that…It was all part of it. I knew, you know, it had to be done.

When the shack was finished, the inspector came up and he said, “Alright. Yes, I’ll pass it. I believe you’ve finished.” But when we moved into the shack, it was our temporary dwelling, we’d like to call it, the inspector from the Hobart City Council came up and he said to Mavis, “You know you’re not supposed to be living in this? You’ve got no permission” or anything like that. He said, “Does your husband want to spend his Christmas in jail?” So anyway, long and short of it was I had to go into the Council and they said to me, “Well you can lodge your deeds as your good intention that you will build a house. I said “I can’t do that because if I give you the deeds I can’t borrow the money to build the house! “Oh, you can pay a deposit of 200 pounds” he said. I said, “I haven’t got 200 pounds”. And he said, “Oh, if you get an influential person who’ll go and guarantee it and say that you’ll do it then.” So anyway, the Reverend from the Wesley Church signed the little thing saying, “Yes, I was an upstanding citizen; I’m sure to do it.” It certainly got us through that. So then we built the house and finished around the mid 1950’s, the kids all grew up in there.  And what I should tell you that had a three-bedroom house and it wasn’t like plaster sheet like on these walls. This was lathen plaster, we used to call it. The whole house, the ceiling and everything. I hadn’t built anything before so I had the book ‘The Australian Carpenter’ told you how to build a house and so I looked up what to do for this and that and pitching the roof. My father-in-law was a cabinet maker and he came up and said, “No. You’ll never do that. You’ll have to get somebody in to do it.”  But anyway, I had my book here, and so I did it!

Well, the thing was, in those days, I played football in North Hobart for a little while, then I got injured, and with the growing family, I thought, “Well, this isn’t good” so I had to do something else. So, I took up umpiring; I umpired for about 15 years. But the thing was, with the umpiring you got paid for it unlike football, so I put it into the house and it helped us build the house and that sort of thing.  Looking back, I mean, we were in the shack, and we never had any washing machine back then, and Mavis used to do the washing over the bath. We didn’t have our own refrigerator, and eventually we did get a refrigerator, we got a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine. We thought we were on top of the world! And any thought of holidays… Oh, we used to go to Melbourne, my parents were over there. We used to go over there about once a year to see them, or they’d come over here. We never spent big, so Mavis went back to work and we had extra money coming in and that sort of set us up, then we travelled.

Things were going nicely until the ‘67 bush fires came along, and it went all down, that was a traumatic time. I was down in Middleton installing a washing machine and a stove. When I was driving, I could see this fire coming over the hills at the back of the city, and I thought, “Gee! That’s going be close by the time I come back”. And anyway, I got down there, it was about lunchtime, and the bloke was like, “Oh, stay for a bit of lunch”. Fortunately, I did because we were having lunch when the fire got down there, so I helped him save his house, not knowing that my house was burning down at the same time. My eyes got burnt from the fire so somebody brought me down up from Middleton to the hospital and formed a queue, there were a lot of people with burnt eyes and that sort of thing. They had it all set up beautifully in that when you went in, the doctor looked at you and would say, “You go that way and you go that way. That’s not badly burnt.” that sort of thing. And then a guy from the City Council was there and said, “I’ll take you home”, I said, “Well, thanks very much”.  He said, “You’re alright. Your house is still there. So anyway, we went down to somewhere in Hobart were they were collating information where people were. I found out that Mavis and the family were over at her sister’s home.  And I said to her, “Well, we’re lucky the house is alright”, “No, we’re not. It’s down”, she said. The next day, the next day we went up and…it wasn’t there.  Only the foundation was there.

Well, the main thing was that the family was safe. That was the main thing. We were young. I started to draw up the plan for a new one!  We had a lot of help and they had a Bush Fire Relief Fund so we got help through that. As far as financially was concerned, by the end of 12 months, we were quite okay. It took more than 12 months to get back in there but…Anyway, we went up there and took a look at it. And the next night we stayed with some friends down in Taroona. We realised that, well we were six kids in, we realised we couldn’t stay with them for too long; we slept on the floor. And they’re offering us some accommodation there at Brighton Camp, the military camp, so we went out there. That was alright for a night or two but then Social Services came out and gave everybody cheques, you know for people who’d come in from the country, and what do they do? They went down to the pub and spent it all and came back drunk… it was terrible. I found a Salvation Army officer and I said, “Look. Can you find us somewhere? We’ll go in the morning but we’ve got to stay somewhere tonight” and we finished up in the jail up there. That was the only safe place.

I think the worst part of it was realising that all our photos and all that sort of things were gone, and in Mavis’ case all the baby things and all that sort of thing. That was sort of the worst part. Fortunately, my parents had a few photos of the kids in the early years that we were able to have. I think that was the hardest part.  As soon as we got up to Brighton Camp I started sketching about what I wanted in our new house and I concentrated on that. And fortunately, the firm I worked with, I used to do T.V. installations in those days, and I had a big Kombi van. I was just on the holidays that week, they said to me, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well look. I think I’d like to take my holidays so we can organise things. Could I lend the van?”, and they said, “Ah yes”. That was amazing to have the van to take the kids around to school and that sort of thing. And from there on we sorted of planned on getting the new house together. We got a builder organised. But, of course, you couldn’t get bricks to build the house because everyone wanted them.  So anyway, the government said, “We’ll give you a subsidy if you go back and build on the same block.” They were frightened everybody was going to leave all these blocks. And so, what happened, the military came in with the bulldozers and said, “What do you want to do with the foundation?” I said get rid of it. So they bulldozed all the bricks and everything else and took them away, so we had a clean canvas to start with. So that part worked out and we moved on from there.

My grandparents came out from England to help establish the Salvation Army here in Australia. We used to go to church three times on Sundays, but we’ve given it the bypass now, we just drifted away from it over the years.  We went from the Salvation Army and went to Wesley Church quite a few years, and then all the kids grew up and they didn’t want to go to church, and we thought oh well, we were only going to sort of give them a lead, and so we just didn’t bother anymore after that.  I never had a beer until I was 35 because of that (Salvation Army). I’d been brought up by Salvation Army, they never had alcohol at my home. And I thought I was setting my family a good example by not having it. But then when my eldest son, he was about 15 or 16, came home drunk one night, staggered up the stairs, I thought, “Oh, perhaps I’d better start having a drink and show him how to drink”.  The joys of bringing up boys! I guess girls are as bad, they surely would be these days.