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So what's changed in 70 years?

By Ron Williams - posted Friday, 6 November 2015

I am sitting in a spacious air-conditioned unit with a good view in a nice middle-class suburb. I am surrounded by all mod cons, I have one or two cars in the air-conditioned garage, I can eat croissants and marmalade on a Sunday morning, and have a better wardrobe that I can possibly need.

If my parents had looked forward 70 years, from 1946, and seen me now, they would have been astounded. First of all at the material progress that has been made. TV, micro-waves, dishwashers, remote controls, down lights, the internet, youTube, and the long list goes on.

But equally they would have been surprised by what had happened to me. I have more wealth, and I have had a life and adventures, that they could never have imagined possible. And I am nothing special. All of that is true for everyone around me. There is no way they could have comprehended the marvels that society has produced over 70 years.


But it works both ways.When I have moments of introspection and look back, I have sometimes come close to despair. How did Dad get up every morning six days a week, leave his hovel, and go down a pit? For 50 weeks a year, with the knowledge that he would do this till death? How did Mum get up to face washing day every Monday, ironing day every Tuesday, the week's shopping day every Thursday by bus to Cessnock, and cooking day every Sunday? Then there was the 4-kids-day every day.

She had no appliances, no toasters, no frig, no vacuum cleaner. She did have a copper, and a coal scuttle, and a chip heater, and we, and half the neighbours, had running water. Don't forget, in counting the blessings, the brick dunny in the back corner of the yard, in the opposite corner from the chook shed. Guess how many hens we had.

I, in my turn, can't imagine what kept them going. One thing that counted a lot was that we were a happy family. Another was that, though we were poor, no one else round us had assets or money. So the demon of envy never plagued us. We were just an internally contented family.

Another thing that doubtless comforted them was that we children were clearly on track to get out of the coalfields. We didn't have a champion greyhound dog, and we were no good at boxing, so we would have to find another way out. We didn't have the money for lottery tickets, so that avenue was not on. There was one other way. To study hard, and get a scholarship to Teachers' College, or maybe even to university. As I look back, I am happy to say that most of us children did that. That was always a comfort to my parents.

In any case, still 70 years later, I live in a different world from my parents in so many ways. I don't think they could fit into it all that easily it, but I am sure that they would be delighted that this country has given me the opportunity to do what they had no chance of doing.



One thing that Mum did was talk. Not to herself, and not just inside the house to the family, but to all the others mums round the place. She used to talk every afternoon across the side fence, to the Coats family, after she had finished milking the cow. And up the back fence to Tommy and Hannah, when we swapped our daily papers, the Daily Telegraph for the Newcastle Herald. But not to the family on the northern fence, because they were a bit too rough and horse crazy. And they swore and cursed and fought a lot.

Then there were the other ladies who walked up and down the street. No one had cars in those days, and there was no petrol anyway. So they all walked to the shops, past our place. And they all stopped and talked, both going and coming. My Mum seemed to catch most of them, most of the time. Not of course on Mondays, because that was washing day, and no one went to the shops much on Mondays. Likewise there was little traffic on Tuesdays, because that was ironing day. On other days, though, there were talkers everywhere, because, after all, the local shopping had to be done.

What did they talk about? A few years earlier, they surprisingly did not talk too much about the War. Firstly, because we got so little information from the authorities, who were as vigilant as ever to protect us from anything we needed to know. Secondly, because every mum knew that everyone else had so many raw spots caused by the War that it was better to avoid the topic. So instead they talked about falls in the pits and the strikes and the misery these caused. When they got tired of that, they just plain gossiped. About other people, of course. About that girl at Saturday night's dance. About Ambrose and his brothers punching up policemen in Cessnock. About the new Catholic priest not getting on too well with the old one, because the old one wanted to get on a lot better than the new one wanted.

It was great stuff. Nowadays, learned social commentators might say it was therapeutic, helping poverty-stricken women cope in face of the dangers that came with being a mine-worker's wife. They might be right, but I do not think so. It seems to me that women, mums all over Australia, were at it all the time. And they did it because it was good fun. And because it was made possible because there were no cars. And, no television to silence the active tongue.

So that must have been one fillip to what I see as their drab life. Then again, maybe someone will look back on me in 70 years time and say that I have a sterile life, and find reasons for deciding that. All I can say in response is that, just like my parents, it's the best that I can manage at the moment, so I too had best make the most of it.


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About the Author

Ron Williams is the author of the new yearbook series, 'Born In…' now available at all good book stores and online at

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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