Friday, 12 August 2011

Brisbane Queensland Boarding House

Arriving in Brisbane, my first task was to find steady employment and, closely after, a permanent place in which to live. Looking for work took longer than I liked and I had to settle for a couple of 'icky jobs'. One of them was washing new vehicles at a Ford motor dealership (at least there were no drinking straws nor cigarette butts to remove from tight spots!).

I did not work for long at that Ford dealership washing cars - an advertisement in the newspaper from the Dunlop Rubber Distribution Center in downtown Brisbane asked for an experienced Accounts Receivable clerk. I applied and was hired. Very soon thereafter, an ad was placed by the owner of a boarding house in the suburban area of Kedron - about a mile from where I was staying. I went there for a look, liked what I saw (and was liked by Marj Carroll - the owner) and moved in. I lived there for 2 1/2 years.
This is me leaning on the gate to 81 Brookfield Road. The snapshot is a small one and my scanner does not seem to recognize 'petite sizes' so allots space for a large photo instead!

There were 6 or 8 bedrooms in the house with two tenants in each. My room was next to the kitchen and right off of the dining area. All of the boarders were men. Marj's husband, Fred - an assistant stationary engineer in a nearby garment factory - and their two sons were there as well. The couple were Jehovah's Witnesses but they did not try to proselytize to we boarders - although I and two others - who attended church fairly regularly - did receive the occasional 'dig'.

One of the recipients of the 'digs' was Russell who was a Cadet Officer in the downtown Salvation Army Corps. Russell and I liked each other so, when the Queensland leader of the Army was elected the General of the world wide Army, Russell invited me to come with him to the downtown citadel for the sendoff meeting (General Coutts had to move to London, England in order to carry out his duties).

Russell had a motor scooter so I rode 'pillion passenger' behind him downtown to the gathering. We were a little late in arriving and the only two adjoining seats still empty were in the front row. The event consisted of music - band and choral - and speeches. When it ended, General Coutts marched out with the color party and then returned to accept personal greetings. Naturally there was a crush of people wanting to shake his hand. However, he noticed the 'cadet' flashers on Russell's lapel so he reached over and grabbed both of our hands, squeezed them, and wished us God's blessing. I was awestruck!

My first roommate was a young guy who was also a Jehovah Witness. On Saturday, November 23, 1963, I was partially awakened by the noise of Fred - Marj's husband - puttering around in the kitchen and came fully awake with a jolt as the feet of Barry - my roommate - hit the floor as he rushed to the kitchen saying, "Fred! Fred! President Kennedy has been shot!" Sleepily I thought, "You Jehovah's Witnesses always make a political crisis out of anything" - and then realized that what he was saying was true! Another boarder, Brian, and I went into downtown Brisbane that morning. People were out and about shopping, buying each new edition of the tabloid newspapers, and were very somber. A day later we were watching the news on TV and Marj kept saying "Poor Jackie! Poor woman!" She had lost her first husband tragically in an auto accident.

Another boarder was Jack McCamy. He remained with us for only a few months but, during that period, we became friends. Here we are on a Saturday morning strolling along Queen Street in downtown Brisbane. This photo was taken by a professional photographer. 

All of the guys who lived there were great (being a boarding house tenants kept coming and going) - including two men who were brothers.

Kurt was living there when I moved in. He was German by birth - born during World War II. He was a handsome blond Nordic man - and extremely fastidious. When we first met he was working at a tannery and absolutely loathed the stench of tannic acid on his clothes - the first thing he would do when he arrived home was take a shower and change clothes. He quit that job and found another at a factory which made concrete culvert pipes. No stench on his clothes - just cement dust which he detested as well.

Kurt owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle and, one day, he took me out for a ride. We went up to the top of two mountains in the old range west of Brisbane from where one has a panoramic view of the coastal area and the city.

Some months later Kurt's younger brother, Roland, arrived. As there were no vacancies in the boarding house at that time, Kurt talked Marj Carroll into letting Roland have his bed while Kurt took a cot down under the house where the cars were parked. Roland was easy going and not at all as fastidious as was his brother. Kurt told the rest of us that Roland had been up north cutting sugar cane. We all bought that but I began to wonder - wasn't the sugar cane cutting season a little later in the year than May?

I knew that Kurt was frustrated by having to work at menial jobs. Also I gathered that he did consider crime as a way out of their penurious situation. At that time the film version of "West Side Story" was making the rounds of various cinemas. When it began a run at the local movie house I talked Kurt into going with me hoping that somehow "Crime Doesn't Pay" could seep into his thinking. Naively I forgot that the movie dealt with gang violence in New York City and not organized crime!

When I lived in Australia the afternoon tabloids were brought to offices for people to read while on the transit going home. On a Friday in November 1964 the screaming headline on the front page of the tabloid caused my heart to sink into my boots. There had been a bank robbery - something unheard of in Australian cities in the 1960s.

However, when I arrived home everything seemed normal. Soon, though, the Police were at the door. As all of we tenants were 'transient' we were looked at very closely. Kurt had moved out a few days before - with Roland - but we (and especially Marjorie) could not believe that Kurt and Roland were suspects. As she ran a good, clean house it was not long before she rented out the spare bed. My new roommate came home from work on the Monday evening to find his part of the room completely covered by fingerprint dust. What a mess!

One night I was in bed asleep and was awakened by Fred - the Police were out on the back stoop and wanted to talk with me. Being a 'boarder' with a home address far away and knowing the accused - I was a suspect too.

One afternoon at work I was called down to the front desk where the Branch Manager was standing at the front counter with two police detectives. I had to go with them in the squad car to Police Headquarters where I was shown a garment that was suspected to belong to Kurt. Did I recognize it? Not really!

Roland was caught not too long afterwards and was sentenced to a hefty jail term. The papers mentioned which prison he was in so I wrote to him. More visits by the police asking if I would find out from him where his brother was? I knew Kurt - he loved his brother dearly but he also knew that Roland was a blabber so he would never have revealed to him where he was planning to go.

About a month later I was informed of a family emergency back in Canada so I returned home. However, I kept in touch with Marj and, some months later, she sent me a letter and enclosed newspaper clippings. There had been an automobile accident and one of the drivers had been knocked unconscious. When the authorities went to identify him they learned that he was Kurt. I never heard anything more.

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