Friday, 29 July 2011

Sydney, NSW, Australia - Boarding Houses

Here I was in a strange city and a very unfamiliar country. While on board the ship I had become friends with a few younger male passengers. All of us were 'strangers in a strange land' so we stuck together until we became oriented and then went our separate ways.

A fellow who had been a table companion at dinner each evening of the crossing quickly found accommodation in a boarding house in the Elizabeth Bay area (an upper middle class residential area just below Kings Cross and a short bus ride from the city center). The house was owned by an older European gentleman and managed by a very warm woman - Mrs. Fox. I enjoyed staying there but, as the 'tariff' was fairly high, not for too long.

In the meantime two other guys, Ted and Dave, had been staying at the 'Y' and needed to find something else more permanent. By reading the want ads in a newspaper they found a boarding house on Vernon Street in Strathfield and they invited me to go look at the place with them. Strathfield is about 15 minutes by train from Central Station in downtown Sydney and, as the tariff was reasonable, I signed on.

I will return to the housing thread in a moment but, first, let me say that I found permanent employment fairly quickly in the office of John Faifax & Sons - the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald as well as sundry magazines. Having a steady income again freed me up to be able to look at various housing options.

The house was owned by a relatively young widow woman whose youngest daughter lived there too. The girl was a little sweetie but her mother was something else! She had loved her husband dearly and expressed it in an annoying way. At some time in her life she had taken voice lessons (her voice was pretty good) so she would go about her tasks singing two songs, "Hello Young Lovers" and "True Love". While I love show music, those two songs over and over and over again became a bit much!

Ted and Dave - the other two lads - became close friends and hung out together a lot .

Back in New Westminster, B.C. a woman who worked in the same office as I told me of relatives who lived in an outlying suburb of Sydney. She gave me their address and telephone number so I called them. This family was very warm and so I accepted an invitation to come to their place for Christmas. In the meantime Ted and Dave decided to spend Christmas Day out on Sydney Harbor shark fishing! Coming from a home where Christmas was a warm gathering of family and friends, that did not appeal to me in the least so I declined the invitation to join them. The landlady overheard our conversation and berated me - 'Christmas was a time for family only and strangers did not belong there!' She had been building a total of strikes against me from the start. Another gripe was that I continued my friendship with the owner and manager of the first boarding house. Usually she answered the telephone when it rang so she knew who was calling. The fact that Mrs. Fox invited me for lunch one day absolutely infuriated her! How she, Mrs Fox and the owner of the Elizabeth Bay house knew each other I never did learn.

Also, a young Chinese fellow - who was another boarder - and I had gone to the local Presbyterian church a couple of times so, when the minister and his wife received a second gift of poultry for Christmas, the minister decided to come over and invite us for dinner on Boxing Day.

That was the last straw - the landlady was a 'Good Catholic' and NO Protestant clergyman should ever darken her door! She evicted the both of us on the spot. Instead of visiting with us our host spent most of that afternoon telephoning around looking for vacancies. He found spaces for both of us - but in separate houses.

I relocated to what looked like a large mansion on Strathfield Road (about the same distance from the train station as the house on Vernon Street). I cannot remember how many rooms there were nor who were my roommates. However, while the food served was adequate and the place was clean, there was constant tension. He was a Jehovah's Witness while she was a Christadelphian! He never preached to us but she convinced one or two of the other boarders and I to go with her to a 'Bible Study' one evening. I found the theology of the leader strange to say the least!

A delight for me was a friendship with a group of lads who were recently arrived from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They had met and become bosom friends while working in the shipyards but, as some were Catholic and the others were Protestants, they could not be buddies away from work so they migrated to Australia. Often they would invite me to go with them into downtown Sydney for a movie. They were a crazily happy lot so there was much laughter - particularly when they went into a 'Milk Bar' (sort of a convenience store which mainly sold ice cream, candy bars and cigarettes). Usually these shops were staffed by young immigrant girls - a lot of them were from Malta - for whom English was a second language. These guys were often laughing and the poor girls could not understand them so I acted as an interpreter.

I wonder where they are now?

Two men whom I met at work - along with a third fellow - decided to rent a two bedroom apartment in a newly constructed building perched on the top of a cliff at Tamarama Beach which was about a mile south of the famous Bondi Beach. We had two single beds in each room. The one who was my roommate - Bobby - owned a car but never seemed to have enough money to pay for the upkeep. At the same time he was a sleep walker. One night I was startled awake by thumping noises coming from the closet. Bobby was throwing shoes around. I asked what in the world was he doing? "I am looking for my brakes!" was his reply. My response to that was "Turn the light on and you will see better". He did - and woke himself up!

The apartment building was at the end of a street a block from the bus stop. In the autumn often there were thunderstorms late in the afternoon. I remember riding home on the bus during one of them, getting off of the bus - and being drenched before I could get under a store awning. I still had to walk the block to the building.

On many a sunny morning I looked out of the kitchen window down to the beach and watched the Australian lifesavers going through their drills.

A friend heard that I had moved. "Where to?" he asked. "Tamarama Beach" I replied. "Oh" he responded "that is where you go into the ocean for a swim and end up at Bronte" - the next beach two miles to the south. The undertow at Tamarama was notorious.

More about Sydney and environs in the next blog.

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