when I was seventeen...

....it was a very good year...
Have you got that song in your head now?
Here's another.... Summer of '69 (Bryan Adams)
Sixteen was also good, although it didn't start out so well.
I'd just moved from Port Pirie, where I'd been living with my dad and sister, to Murray Bridge, to live with my mum.
There was no job for me in Port Pirie, but mum said she'd lined one up for me in Murray Bridge.
I was to assist in a hairdressing salon, doing absolutely nothing with customers, just sweeping hair off the floor and hanging out wet towels.

It sounded easy enough and maybe I'd eventually graduate to shampooing or something...
I went along to the interview and as soon as the owner of the salon saw me, she decided I was wrong for the job.  Having just come down from a summer on the Port Pirie beach I was quite brown...
When she heard and saw my last name, I was really wrong for the job.
I just wasn't "Australian" enough.
My name is Polish (we're German), it has 9 consonants all in a row and one vowel right at the end, totally unpronounceable to any one just looking at it written down.
I mentioned that I'd been in Australia since I was less than a year old, but she countered with not wanting her customers to feel uncomfortable, which I thought was a little rude. She certainly hadn't been born in Australia!
 Heck, I was only going to be sweeping the floor!
I'm sure she wanted somebody pink-skinned, blue-eyed and blonde-haired.
Her loss. I enjoy sweeping floors.

So I went back to the ladies lounge of the local pub where mum was waiting and told her I hadn't got the job.
Mum had another trick up her sleeve.
It was just past knock-off time for several factories and the front bar was full of men enjoying a beer before heading home. In she went and started chatting her way along the bar.
My mum is not a quiet, reticent person like me, (I get that from my dad), she talks the ears off anyone who will listen!
Well she wasn't in there more than half an hour, before coming back to the ladies lounge and telling me I had a job at the cheese making factory down by the river and I was to start on the following Monday at 7am.
Mum bought me a lemonde to celebrate.

So I was driven there on the Monday morning early enough to meet my new boss and be shown what to do.  I  got to know the girls and even talk to them. They were all very nice. The job was easy once I got the hang of it. We mostly made and wrapped 40lb blocks of cheese for export and took turns on a weekly basis operating the milk bottling machine in the other big shed.
All of us got to know the milk tanker drivers quite well, one of the tankers was driven by two brothers taking turns. In the summer, when we'd get really hot working, we'd wear our swimsuits under our white uniform dresses and at lunchtimes instead of eating we'd jump in the river and swim. Then we'd gulp down a sandwich while on our way back to work.

Kath Lockett,  you'd remember the cheese factory down by the reserve, next to the rowing club. 

Anyway, the younger, cuter brother would often join us, as would a few of the younger factory workers, R and his brother T; ....L, whose nickname was Walter...and one day he (the cute tanker driver)  brought with him one of the old inner tubes from one of the enormous tanker tyres.
Well, that just made summer so much more fun!!

We'd meet at the river on weekends too, the cute tanker driver, a few of his friends, my friends and myself, a couple of times I invited my step sister along. We'd play, eat fish'n'chips, drink cokes...
Imagine a dozen or more young people all splashing around in the river with a giant inner tube!

I had a job, I had a little money for myself, I had no boyfriend, just many friends of both sexes, I had freedom.
It was the best summer of my life!


  1. I'd guess that many of us who grew up in Australia have good teenage memories of water play, with or without the inner tube. Floating down the river in a tyre tube was great fun, until you drifted into blackberries. And of course what goes down river has to come back up.

  2. Crikey River,

    Why would anybody refuse a job because of a surname?

    And what would have been an acceptable surname?

    I would have really struggled in a cheese factory - I would have been sacked for eating the stuff.

    BTW - Summer of '69 is a GREAT track.




  3. It sounds like a fabulous summer...way better than sweeping up hair.

  4. Reminds me of summers at a Lake in New Hampshire, USA... Teens hanging out together on a raft on a lake, sometimes water skiing. Or walking. Just walking around the road of an island.

    Sounds wonderful. And of course, I have BOTH songs in my brain, thank you very much.... !

  5. Your summer sounds wonderful. I grew up near Murray Bridge and have some nice memories of tyre floating on the river as well!

  6. What a fantastic memory. Except for the rude woman, of course.
    My BF in high school was Polish. She couldn't WAIT to grow up and marry a man named Smith!

  7. Just magical. Those giant inner tubes and water have a lot of good memories for me too. What a silly woman the owner of the hair dressing salon was. Almost all of us in Oz are migrants. Though my father's very German surname caused some strife for me too .....

  8. Bonza trip down memory lane. The hair salon owner is a racist for knocking you back for the job because of your name. Here's another song title for ya which should fit in nicely to "Those Were the Days my Friend" :-).

  9. Those were the best years eh?
    Coming from Whyalla across the water from Pirie there were names from all over the globe, brought there during WW2 to work at the steel mills, ship building etc for the war effort. It didnt seem to matter where you came from there, all were friends. It's still like that, racism seems a far off thing indeed.

  10. Andrew; I remember feeling as if we owned the river that summer. A couple of years later water skis and later still jet skis spoiled the fun, until they were told to only use the far side of the river and stay away from the side where many small children also played. But the magic was gone.

    Plasman; my mum was using an "Australian" name herself and had blonde hair with blue eyes. When she set up the interview, I suppose the woman was expecting me to look just like mum. The name might not have been such an issue if that was the case, but I'm darker, like my dad, including the brown eyes.

    Delores; it was the most fabulous summer ever!

    JeanetteLS; an island in the middle of the river would have added to the fun, but not by much. Summers on the water are the best.

    Sarah; Did you float alone or with a huge group of friends? I love solitude, but thinking back now, the group we had was so much better than just me alone.

    Toni; I think of that summer often, but rarely think of the hairdresser.
    When I divorced my first husband I didn't go back to my maiden name, I chose a name from the phone book and changed legally. My dad was a little upset, but I was remembering years of having to spell the name and trying to explain the pronunciation.

    EC; Continental names can be difficult. Did you get years of spelling the name and kids teasing you by deliberately mispronouncing it?

    Windsmoke; It was the late 60's and a little racism was still around, but this was the first I'd ever encountered. And the last, now that I think about it. It didn't bother me, that was her problem.
    I used to love "those were the days, my friend", but can't remember now who sang it. Remind me?

    Tempo; those were the very best years. I remember Port Pirie being similarly multicultural, with people from all nationalities working at the smelters. I remember the Greeks who ran the fish'n'chip shops, and the Italians who owned and ran the greengrocers. I remember a couple of Scottish families who seemed to have too many children for their tiny houses, but were always happy. There wasn't any racism in Port Pirie at all. None that I knew about anyway.

  11. It is spelt as it sounds (though a few variations are understandable). And yes, the kids did tease me by deliberately mispronouncing it. School days were definitely not the happiest of my life.

  12. I *do* remember it, River!

    ...the other one burned down in 1976 and is now where Mobilong prison is located.

    There wasn't cheese factory work for me when I was sixteen but there was apricot cutting out at Mypolonga. It was hot and hard work and my legs ached from standing all day but, like you, we'd all jump in the river afterwards......

    The summer I turned seventeen was the best one of my life but for much different (and much more romantic!) reasons......

  13. EC; my name wasn't pronounced anything like the spelling, even I don't understand how this particular set of letters produces that particular sound. i'm glad to be rid of it.

    Kath Lockett; the cheese factory burned down?? I wonder why nobody thought to tell me....my inlaws still live in the town and back then we were still on speaking terms. Water under the bridge now, I suppose.

  14. :-) I can see it, in my mind's eye... Sounds like the perfect summer for a 16 year old!!


  15. Pearl; best summer of my life!


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