Do I really remember this?
When we were children, my brother and I, we lived in the goldfields of Western Australia in Big Bell. In fact, Richard was born there in December 1946, when I was just a couple of weeks shy of my third birthday. My parents returned to Big Bell as soon as they could after my Dad was discharged from the Air Force, after WWII ended in September 1945. There was a guarantee of work on the mines and although I was not much more than two, there are many things about my early life in Big Bell that I very clearly remember.
Do I remember this particular day? I am not sure. At the time, I was about four and a half and Richard was about eighteen months old. My Dad says he made the car for me in 1945, so it was about three years old when this picture was taken in mid 1948. On the other hand, there are other photographs from around the same time, where I clearly remember the occasion. This is a photograph I have seen many times in my life, along with others that are being scanned and added to our family records for future generations to share.
Bluey, Nono, Nana’s Dad has always had a garden, of some sort. My earliest memories of my Dad are of him working in the garden at Big Bell, riding his push bike in bike races around the town, riding on the rollers on the front verandah, playing cricket (can’t ever remember seeing him play football but I know that he did) and him helping me to learn to ride my bike. It was a present – with a Christmas card tied to the front wheel and a Birthday card (for Boxing Day) tied to the back.
I remember him turning a bike tube through a pan of water, sitting at the kitchen table, while I helped him find and mend punctures in his bicycle tubes. Big Bell was notorious for “double-gees” that punctured bike tyres and children’s feet with equal equanimity. There was a particularly bad patch on the track between the mine staff site and the town, although it was many years after this photograph was taken that I was to learn how to skirt it and ride around through the bush. Fathers will only mend your punctures so many times, when you keep getting “a flat” from the same place.
I remember that I “borrowed” my mother’s bottle of bright red nail polish. With WWII having not long ended, Australian women were ecstatic at being able to once again get nail polish and lipstick – especially those who were living far from the city in the goldfields of Western Australia. All through the war, good cosmetics were hard to come by in Australia, even though, in the US American women of 1944 had lipstick and nail polish colours designed to enhance their uniforms
It is said that I climbed into the deep, rough concrete troughs in the washhouse where it was easy for me to secrete myself out of view, while I engaged in the highly forbidden activity of painting my fingernails and toenails red. I was probably aged about four – and while the whole event itself is not clear in my memory, I still can see the damning red streak of nail polish that spilled down the side of the wash trough. It was immovable and that red splash is etched into my memory like acid on glass. Happily for me, my Robbie loved red nail polish and it was the only colour that I wore all the time we were together.
I remember my first day at school and we started school in the year we turned six. Since I had turned five on Boxing Day only a few weeks earlier, I was off to an early start in my schooling. That first day, sitting in the shade under a tree outside the school during the lunch break, I remember with great clarity.
What do you think? How many times are our memories real, our own, singular? Or are so many of our memories embedded by seeing photographs and having heard stories about the event while we were growing up, until it seems to us that the memory is our very own personal experience.
If you like our Snippets, join us online, and get updates whenever a new one is added to the site. Stay up to date
Jenny Brockis says
Great article. I have a very strong memory of visiting a beach in Wales as a small child and walking down what seemed an interminably long ramp to get to the sand. There is also a photograph of this and I have often wondered if it is the photo that make me thi9nk I remember the event or if the memory is real.
Memories are incredibly flukey. They are at high risk of being tainted, embellished or mixed up with others for at least the first ten years of their existence. Studies have shown that longer held memories do become more stable, thought whether they actually bear any resemblance to the original event is questionable! That’s the beauty of our plastic brain. Every time we recall something our neurons are busily rewiring or reconnecting somewhere. it’s a wonder that any of our memories stay intact.
Lesley Dewar says
Thanks Jenny, and sorry I missed your comment earlier. I cannot agree more, on the premise of memories getting mixed up. I have had to reconstruct several in the past, as evidence has come to light of their being unreliable. We often joke and say “don’t call me as a witness for your murder trial” – because memories are indeed questionable.