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U3A Writing: Black And Red In Parkville

...The next day we unpacked our two cases and our electrical appliances, and by showing our marriage certificate, we obtained a permit to buy a jug, toaster and iron. Sitting on the table they were a symbol of marriage and war years. We were poor in possessions but rich in love and hope...

Connie Kennedy recalls austere wartime days.

For more memories visit www.u3answ.org.au/remember/remember.html

The trappings of war surrounded the suburb of Parkville in the 1940's. The just-completed Royal Melbourne Hospital had been taken over by General MacArthur’s boys as their headquarters. Royal Park was a sea of Army tents. An American marine had murdered a girl in Gatehouse Street.

Searchlights split the sky as we stood on the tiled verandah of the two-story terraced house in Park Street, the leadlight panel on each side of the door had red roses twinning up through the green glass background.

The dark-haired lady had a small child resting on her hip when she opened the door to our knock. We had the cutting out of the paper, only one line in the Rooms Vacant Column.

"Furnished room and kitchenette 15/- a week." The passage was dimly lit, soft carpet muffled our footsteps and half way down the hall a beaded curtain tinkled as we walked through.

The room was large, and contained a double bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, table and two chairs. The carpet was threadbare but clean. Two hanging lights had striped material shades that threw shadows like prison bars on the top half of the room, a green candlewick bedspread covered a sagging mattress. A door led out of the room to a kitchenette that was obviously part of a passage, a two-jet silver frosted gas stove stood in one corner, a chipped wash basin where the water ran tiredly when you turned the tap was behind the door. The cracked lino that covered the small table was turned up at the edges. The gas meter which we later discovered swallowed up shillings with alarming monotony was under the table.

Later we accepted the rent book and paid the first week’s rent. The next day we unpacked our two cases and our electrical appliances, and by showing our marriage certificate, we obtained a permit to buy a jug, toaster and iron. Sitting on the table they were a symbol of marriage and war years. We were poor in possessions but rich in love and hope.

It was quiet and peaceful in the room. The thick walls absorbed the sounds of the other tenants. Someone up the stairs always had war songs on the radio and snatches of them would enter our windowless room. We became part of the rabbit warren of Parkville.

The landlord was dark and swarthy; who was he, enemy, friend, spy, fifth column, internment escapee? The paranoia of war was always hovering on the edge of your sane and more logical thoughts.

When the landlady opened the door each week to take our rent, it brought a glimpse of another world, red plush lounge suite, grey carpet, gold clock, inlaid wooden coffee table, cabinet full of dazzling crystal, red velvet curtains tied back with gold cords, no war time austerity restrictions in that brilliantly lit room.

Taxis were frequently out the front as people came and went on short visits, and the tinkling curtains told us when they visited.

Arriving home late one night, we saw a taxi waiting out the front, a man walking down the steps carrying three bolts of material and the landlord standing in the doorway with a handfull of pound notes. We then knew how the red room was furnished. The black market was big business in war years.

As we shut our door the radio was playing "Over there, Over there".

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