Every time I finish a book, I indulge myself by writing about some of
the memories or ideas that the year has brought to mind. So here I go again,
this time pushing my luck fairly hard. You will find that I am a little blunter than normal, and if I get too far away from
what you want, please forget it, and go on with the conclusion to this book.
1945, I had reached the age of 11. I had two siblings living at home, and a good Mum and a good Dad that I loved dearly. We
lived in a small coal-mining town of 2,000 people on the Cessnock coalfields, and 98 per cent of the men there worked in the
pits. Many of them could scarcely read, some of them could scrawl their names. They lived in a closed society, travel outside
the town was difficult with no cars and no petrol, and beer drinking and fighting in the pubs on Friday and Saturday night
was just part of normal behaviour.
At this time, every one in the town was dead broke. Working in the pits paid a reasonable
wage, but the miners collectively were always on strike, so often went from one fortnight to the next without any pay, so
that living was always hand-to-mouth. This Christmas was particularly bad because they had followed the nearby Newcastle steelworkers
out on strike for all November. Then they themselves had struck for most of December.
So, the town was without pay-packets for the six weeks leading up to Christmas.
This raises a question in passing
that I will address. Why go out on strike? If you needed the money, you had
a history that said striking was useless, why not work and get paid?
The answer is the Reds, the Communists. They had control of the mining unions, and were intent on bringing the nation to
its knees, and if they could stop the workers from working, they would be closer to bringing in their own idea of perfection.
So they called on the strikes. The rank-and-file miners were given the opportunity at times to vote on them, but
they had a problem with this. If they voted against striking, then there were consequences in a closed town where everyone
knew everything about everyone else. It turned out that the Reds had some friends who threw bricks through front windows of
homes, who stole bikes from outside butchers’ shops, who poisoned pet dogs with glass-baits, who bagged and drowned
cats but returned their bodies, who bashed sons on the way to school. The ultimate weapon was to brand a man a “scab”.
When a vote
on a union matter was called, most miners stayed at home, and the Reds dictated policy. Thus, by Christmas Day 1945, the whole
township was broke.
This brings me to my own memories of that Day.
Mum had obviously been crying, and Dad too was clearly upset. They clucked us
kids together and told us, with tears, that there was no money for presents this year, and all they could give each of us
was a 50-pence Canberra-coin that Mum had saved from the Canberra festivities in 1927.
We were all good kids. I suppose
we were disappointed, but our main concern was to stop the parental tears. It took a while, not long, and life went on.
As I look
back on this, I feel immense sadness that my parents were forced to do this. Those presents meant much, much more to them
than they did to us. I feel sad too that this was just a part of the ongoing
poverty that they lived with for most of their lives. It did not affect us kids, because we were loved, living in a happy
home, and studying our way out of poverty. But, as I now appreciate, it was a huge burden on them. They would be pleased now
to see that we, their children, have all moved well into the middle class and are fat and reasonably prosperous. I just wish
that I could somehow share some of that prosperity with them.
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