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U3A Writing: I Remember...

"Antiene was a lonely place for a child but I soon learnt to become my own best friend and created many interesting things to do. Dad put up an old railway tent for a cubby house and I played here on my own for many hours each day, dressing up and creating scrapbooks...''

With a vivid eye for detail. Pat McLaren-Smith recalls her lonely childhood and her school days.

When I was three years old my family moved from Maitland to a small railway siding called Antiene.

My father was in poor health from an ulcer, which was mainly caused by poor diet, he had spent many years under canvas camping and his choice of food had been very limited. A doctor had advised him to try and work in an area where he could be home each night. We came to Antiene intending to stay two years but stayed over fifteen before moving into the nearby town of Muswellbrook.

Antiene was a lonely place for a child but I soon learnt to become my own best friend and created many interesting things to do. Dad put up an old railway tent for a cubby house and I played here on my own for many hours each day, dressing up and creating scrapbooks. I loved animals and had cats, a dog, a galah, chooks, ducks and at one time a pet pig and pet sheep. I was constantly warned of the germs I would get from cuddling the dog.

As a child I was an asthmatic and many nights Dad would make a dash for hospital which was many miles away in his old car with both me and the car wheezing. I always asked him if I would die as I figured that if you stopped breathing it had to be the end.

School was out of the question for me as to get there you had to catch a very slow old goods train which arrived at any old time of the day at Muswellbrook. I was enrolled in Blackfriars Correspondence School and also the Mail Bag Sunday School. I did my lessons each day on our big well scrubbed pine kitchen table with Mum supervising. I had lots of books and particularly enjoyed poetry and songs. Dad had made me a marvelous hammock out of chicken wire and strung it between the verandah and fence, this was a favourite spot to read and sing to my heart's content.

By the time I was nine years old Antiene and surrounding districts had a regular bus service which collected children from the remote districts and I was excited about being able to at last attend school. It was a long walk to catch the bus and in winter I needed to wear Wellington boots as a protection against the long wet grass and thick frosts. We had great bus drivers; they allowed us to sing and sometimes one of them would bring his guitar to play for us. When the bus broke down , which was often, a big black taxi cab would collect us and we would pile in "stacks on the mill", kids packed to the ceiling.

Gypsies were often on the road stopping cars to ask for money or food. I was always scared when this happened as I had been told not to talk to the gypsies as they stole children. When I was older I realised that they preferred stealing chooks rather than children, stealing washing from clothes lines and raiding farm gardens and hen houses. Vegies.chooks and eggs were always missing but never any children.

The school seemed very large; a two story building standing on a hill overlooking Muswellbrook.

I recall singing Advance Australia Fair at assembly before we marched into class , and singing God Save the King before we sat down at our desks. I soon made friends and school to me was a wonderland, recess was always fun with lots of games, Hide'n'seek, Hopscotch,.Statues, Simon Says and many others.

Lunch which in my case was home made was always eaten in the weather shed before we were able to go into the playgound.The school did have a tuck shop that sold all sorts of wonderful things, a special friend of mine always bought her lunch and would swap with me as she loved my home made cheese and pickle sandwiches.I never had the opportunity to buy lunch but sometimes I had a penny to buy an iceblock or ice cream.

I loved school and High School was for me a wonderful experience. I remember a French teacher, most days he would arrive at school wearing an army cadet uniform and still tipsy from the night before. He would say "what say I tell you some little French stories or maybe we can sing some little French songs". French class was always a riot and the class loved him very much but sadly we never learnt much French.

Schooldays were happy and I would have loved to have continued my studies but it was the custom in Muswellbrook that when jobs became available locally the Headmaster was asked to recommend a suitable student for the position and he would then approach the parents. I was a good student with sound book-keeping and business skills, so it was not surprising that I was suggested as office assistant at our local general store, M.Campbell & Co. My preference was a career in nursing but it was a case of "father knows best" and I was told I was very lucky to have a good position and lucky to have been chosen for the job.

My school days ended and my business career began. This was to be a career path that lasted well over 40 years and well into retirement.


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