by Bruce Fleming
early years - memoir
by Bruce Fleming
Reginald Bruce Fleming began life in Young N.S.W. on 7/9/1929, his parents were Reginald Angus Fleming and Stella Jolliffe. The spark of life that formed in his mother's womb happened nearly two months before the young pair were married. No doubt, the fact that they were forced to marry young, placed an immense pressure on their marriage. They faced an uphill battle from the very outset. The initial stages would have found them flung together in a one on one relationship. They were only babies themselves, Reg was twenty and a quarter years and Stella eighteen and a half. They had no experience with adulthood, and now because of their circumstance they had to act as adults would in an intimate relationship, and in just a few short months they would have a lovely new born baby to care raise.
Their youth had been spent in a world of rapid change. The Great War had ended, the terrible plague had run its horrific course, now prosperity, the Charleston, jazz and good times were the order of the day. As normal young people in a small country town they followed the freedom that had taken command of the young of the world. Conventions had changed, their world was very different from that of pre war times when their parents had been young and carried out their courting under the strict Victorian codes.
Reg, a popular young bank officer, was a new addition to the young folk of Canowindra. He had been posted there from his home town of Orange, by his employers, the Union Bank of Australia. He came from Orange, his father, Charles Taylor Fleming, was the Shire Clerk for the Canobolas Shire. His mother, Ada Grace Flowerdew, brother Eric William his elder by a couple of years and his younger sister Irene Margaret, all resided at the family home 'Wambelong', 71 Kite Street. The family were subjected to a typically 'Scotsmans' dominance by Charles T. The entire family were in full awe of the man who had migrated to Australia as an infant, with his parents on the sailing ship "Eastern Monarch". He had survived the deadly measles and scarlet fever epidemic that had raged through the vessel claiming so many young lives on the threshold of a new life. He had defied his father's demands to accompany his parents and younger brothers and sisters to New Zealand. Instead, he had taken his bride and made his home far from the city and the Balmain area, where they had both grown up, he and Ada Grace made their home in Orange where he was employed by the firm of Prescotts.
Stella, on the other hand had lived most of her life in the town of Canowindra. Her grandfather James Jolliffe owned land about the district, her father James Jolliffe had left home as a young lad and pursued his living at shearing and associated occupations of the land. His father had been a dominating force in his home life and he had rebelled from this to leave and work for himself. He met and married Amy Laura Emily Gardiner and their first born was Stella, who later became the apple of her grandfather's eye.
The first James Jolliffe, migrated to Australia on the 'Tartar' with his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, brother John and his wife, Selina, also his sisters Ellen and Sarah and brothers Thomas and Robert. The family settled on the South Coast, they would have been seeking employment in the farming range of work as all had come from the Marston Magna area of Somerset. The men and boys had been employed as farm labourers and the like and the women and girls in duties of domestic ilk. James left the South Coast as a lad and went to work for Cobb and Co. in Orange. Where he eventually married a Margaret Edgar, who bore him two daughters, Ada Elizabeth and Mabel Susan. When Margaret died James returned to the South Coast where he met and wed Susan Waples, who went with him to make their home in the Goolagong district. James tried his hand at many ventures, he was successful as a grazier, owning the property 'The Angle', on the Lachlan River near Goolagong. He was also successful as a carrier and held many contracts from Blayney out to the mines at Cobar and intermediate towns along the way. Susan bore him a fine family of whom James junior was the third born of eleven, six boys and five girls. The elder James was a stern man, a hard worker who expected optimum efforts from his family. Their life on The Angle was that of work from daylight until dark with the opportunity for little formal schooling. It was from this life that young James took his leave to fend for himself from shed to shed on the shearing round. His transport being his trusty bycycle. During his travels he met Amy Laura Emily Gardiner who he married, they lived in the area and after the birth of their daughter, Stella,went to live at The Angle.
James and Amy had a more democratic marriage than the Flemings, and Amy was more the manager of the family and James the work force. She managed well and he worked well as he was very strong and from his earliest days had been taught that he was on earth to be a physical labourer. Both he and his father, the elder James, performed feats of strength that were noted in the newspapers. The elder was quite a gambler too and would take on challenges to win a wager at the local shows etc.
So the parents of RBF came from families of differing backgrounds, Stella from a female dominated background, Reg from a male dominated background. They were both too young to marry, yet found themselves in a situation of pressure from their indiscretionate actions. They were no doubt at this timevery much under the spell of their mutual attraction, frightened at the enormity of the results of their passion. Their parents, suspicious of the innocence of the other child and forced to accept that this disagreeable situation was theirs alone to solve.
In their negotiations the outspoken harshness in the attitude of Charles T. would be the most memorable even if in the finality of it all, his blessing was given and the marriage took place. At the Church of England on thirtieth January 1929, in the town of Canowindra, N.S.W. That he was a man that Stella did not approve there was no doubt, she, on the other hand had a lot of time for her mother in law Ada Grace. This opinion changed later when she felt that Ada was too one sided and helped Reg when he gambled and lost and placed Stella's situation in jeopardy. Because Reg was an unsuccessful gambler, unsympathetic to the needs of his crying son, spat into the fire, demanded his conjugal rights. The marriage found itself on shaky ground. However Ada Grace loaned Reg the money to pay his gambling debts, another baby was made that would indicate that a reconciliation had been reached between them, for their new son, James Ballantyne was immediately accepted and loved by all, from grandparents to the family dog.
The family then moved to the big city, and took residence at 169 Eastern Avenue, Kingsford. This was an entirely different life. RBF no longer went to the Sisters of Mercy for education, now he was enrolled at the Kingsford Public School in Second Class, Miss Bushell was his teacher. Prior to the move to Sydney he had gone to school at the Convent in Young, the Public School would not take him, as he was too young. So in desperation young Stella took him along at four and a half to the Sisters and they took him off her hands.
At the Convent RBF remembers the name of Sister Brigid, who was his teacher. He fell over and skinned his nose one day and the inside skin of an egg shell was peeled out and placed over the wound to protect it from infection. There was also a Convent Ball and the children of the first class were dressed as miniature debs and partners. Another time RBF had to be excused from class for the toilet and was in deep trouble from the Reverend Mother from the fact that he had been constipated and had taken longer than necessary.
The young RBF remembered the small Fox Terrier, Sham, he was a lively little puppy that his dad brought home for a playmate. They romped for hours about the yard at their home on the corner, quite near to the Hospital and the Convent. Sham was named because of the strangely shaped marking on his back. As with all young boys and their dogs they had much fun. Later Sham came to be more of RBF's dad's dog, he went with them to McLachlan Street, where they moved after young Jim's arrival, and then later to Kingsford when the family moved down to the city.
When his young brother was born his Aunt Irene made a visit. She asked the young RBF
"Where is Jimmy, your little baby brother"
"He's at the orstifoo"!! answered the enthusiastic youngster.
"At the orstifoo".
"Oh !! You mean the hospital". And to this day Irene tells the story at RBF's expense. Not that he minded really, as it was all his own creation and anyway: he knew exactly what he meant, even if the adults did'nt. He was the 'wanted 'one, all right, the baby Jim. He would be the means of saving the rocky marriage. Of course all the time, RBF, now six years old, knew nothing of trouble between his parents so he lived a happy little life. He and his pup and now he had a new brother, to keep quiet for, to watch as he was bathed, to see getting lots and lots of attention.
It was at this Christmas that RBF asked Santa to bring him a Ginger Meggs kite. They were the latest thing in kites, a box type with a drawing of Ginger for adornment, just the thing for any six year old living in a country town. After putting in an almost sleepless Christmas Eve, it was finally nearly daybreak on Christmas morning. RBF was aware of a strangeness in the bedroom, it was between his bed and the baby's cot. What could it be, he had never seen anything like this shape before. The light seemed brighter now, the thing was white and red, he could see a shape, it was the shape of someone. Who? What? It was indeed a strange shape. Then he realised it was something someone had placed there, he looked again. He saw it now, it was a kite, it was a 'Ginger Meggs kite. He was very happy, very happy indeed.
Later that day he and his dad went up the hill to fly the kite. There was plenty of wind and they were very pleased as the kite soared into the heavens, it looked so splendid. They could see the figure of Ginger looking down on them ever so high above. Then there came a big gust of wind the kite soared, it dipped, it dived, it dived right into the side of the hill. Kablam!! The beautiful kite was shattered into umpteen pieces.
His dad played hockey and took the boy along to the home matches. At half time, RBF, would take his dad's hockey stick and have a hit of the ball with some of the lady players. One girl hit the ball to him a little too hard, although he missed the ball with the stick, the ball did not miss him. Smack!! He had copped a beauty on his right shin. For many years after he.found his shin would become sore after sport.
Bruce was now nine years old, living at 954 Anzac Parade, Maroubra, and a member of Mrs. Peters (Minnie) Third Class. This was where he first began to learn, his teacher was strict, firm and new how to handle young urchins like, Bruce Fleming, Don Farley, John Coughlan, Reg Esam and their cronies. The first named she called her 'bull at the gate pair', always first finished and never checked. Even with the stigma of being a 'bull at the gate' their lives were happy with Mrs. Peters and all her pupils progressed well. Although Mrs. Peters was the school music teacher and took extra care with her own class she can not lay any claim to the fine voice Bruce possesses, in fact she went to great lengths at a rehearsal for a school concert to discover who was singing the wrong note. When she finally discovered that the culprit was, RBF, she praised him by saying that he was at the very least the best tryer in the auditorium but not to sing in that particular item.
Progression to Fourth Class found Mr. Leithhead to be his class master. The class was a joint class of 16 Four A boys and 25 boys who formed a Five B class.
Cadets - memoir
by Bruce Fleming
"Betcha the waves're better 'n the Corner," challenged Johnno. "Garn Blue, I betcha. Garn I betcha. Come on Blue. Just for fun."
Blue had no desire to bet Johnno, it was his well considered opinion that the waves would be better in the Corner. They mostly were.
"Okay Johnno, I'll bet ya. Just for fun though. No money." He felt for his hanky in the pocket of his khaki shorts. His fewpennies echoed reassurance through the pressure of his fingers.
The two twelve year olds were sitting on the Post Office steps, waiting for their tram. Johnno was the taller, dark haired, never still. He chattered happily to his pal, his head in constant motion following his eyes,his attention everywhere. Blue was shorter, squarer and copper topped, face and arms profusely freckled, unlike Johhno's golden tan. They sat together, noses hidden beneath a coating of Zinc cream, chattering, watching the passing parade.
They looked across the street corner.
"Here's our tram Johnno. Get ready."
With a rattling and a banging the Beach tram rounded the corner then began slowly to climb the hill. Their opportunity was now.
"C'm on," said Johnno.
They jumped to their feet, snapped a quickglance both left and right, then made a quick dart across the road. With a few steps alongside the tram they leapt aboard. After moving to the back, they perched in a crouch,hopefully hidden from the conductor's view. Scaling the tram was their usual method of transport to the beach. They saved the fare, a penny, and this was, an extra half dozen lollies for their prize.
"Did'ja see where the connie was Blue?"
"Yeah, he's up the front. We'll be allright here."
They were allright and ten minutes later they legged off the tram, ran quickly to the footpath to saunter the last hundred yards to the beach.
The sun was beaming a warm welcome as they came over the promenade. Before them golden sand and blue ocean beckoned. They did not rush onto the beach, this was decision making time. Where were the best waves? A hard choice today, good surfing waves were running all along the beach.
"There's a mob up in the Corner," said Blue.
"Yeah, 'n a bigger mob in the middle. Hey! How's about off the wreck. Look Blue. Reckon that'll do us."
"Yeah! I reckon the wreck's the go. C'mon. Let's go."
With whoops of joy the two 'gun' surfers from the promenade to the sand, then went tearing over to some rocks close to the waters edge. They undressed, taking care to bundle their shirts, shorts and sandals in their towels.
"C'mon Blue. Betcha I get the first wave."
"Betcher yer don't."
In their hands they each carried a small ply wood hand-board, their only surfing aid. They reached the water, ran on, into it, with a crazy high stepping run, a couple of skips, a hop, then a looping dive and they were swimming out towards the wreck. A sailing ship had been wrecked at the beach in the early 1900's, the barnacle encrusted mast poking from the sand gave the only visible reminder of that far back tragedy. As the boys swam to the line of the breaking waves, they could see the familiar silhouette outlined eerily in the transparency of a rising breaker.
"Looks like a bloody shark, eh, Johnno?"
Then they dived under as a wave broke over them and rolled toward the beach.
"Out the back! Out the back! C'mon Blue. A boomer. D'ya see it?"
Together they splashed a swift course to catch the boomer. They paused, treading water as they checked their position. They rose and fell with swells, waiting, legs and arms swirling; below the surface, holding their position, they were ready.
"Grab an alley. Here she comes."
"It's a boomer all right."
They turned toward the beach, their heads twisting to back over their shoulders as the boomer shaped up.
"Here's a go."
With arms and legs flailing, they made a sharp sprint, took a gulp of air, heads down, arms out front. Then the power of the wave. A burst of acceleration, then heads up, hands outstretched on their handboards, they thrilled down the wave front. What exhilaration. All too soon, they were on the shore.
"What a beauty."
"Yeah. C'mon, let's go 'n' get 'n otherie."
Skipping and hopping through the shallows, diving under and over the smaller broken and
"Hey, there's Chicka and Flash. C'mon Johnno race yer over."
"How yer goin'? Yer been here long?"
"Geez; wasn't that last'n a beauty?"
"Yeah. Seen yers crack it. We been here half'n hour. Geez they're good waves t'day."
"'s good here. None 'f them surf club lairs. They take over all the alleys."
"Yeah. Hey Johnno, where's yer big bra 'n' his mob?"
"Bet they're up the corner. Let's go up there and crack a few boomers after."
Another boomer loomed, the quartet turned, lining up as though for a race, picking their alleys. The next minute they were lying at the waters edge, laughing at the thrill of cracking the boomer.
"What a beauty."
"Yeah. C'mon, let's have a sunbake, then we c'n have a crack at 'em in the corner."
They lay together on the sand, warm, gathering their strength to try the waves in the corner. The waves in the corner were larger than the waves that were breaking near the wreck were the boys had been. They lay there watching the surf, with the waves rising, breaking, washing their course to the beach. Also their eyes toured the beach. Their chatter was unceasing.
"Look 't the skinny legs on that sheila in the red cossie."
"Strike me roan," said Johnno, a devoted leg man.
"Yeah. Hey, cop the waves shap'n up out the point."
"Struth! I'm off down the corner. They'll be runnin' there soon. C'mon you guys."
They leapt to their feet, with a shower of sand, threw their towels over the pile of clothes, then raced along the waters edge towards the corner. The waves at the corner were begging to be ridden. None of them realised that the tide had turned. In their enthusiasm to crack the waves at the corner, usually keen eyes had missed the tell tale warning of the swollen channel's swift rush out to sea, out past the rocky shore of the corner. They reached the corner and plunged in, the water was cool and refreshing after their sprint along the beach.
"Strike me roan," yelled Johnno. "It's beaut in."
"Yeah it's beaut allright." Chicka laughed, then stroking ahead, called back "C'mon, last one out the back's lousy."
Their usual caution had been lost, they did not realise they were in the rip. They were being swept out past the point. Almost together they stopped swimming, they expected to be a hundred yards off shore. They were shattered, they were two hundred yards off shore and drifting still further out to sea.
"Shit!!" yelled Blue. "We've been swept out. The bloody tide must be goin' out."
"Don't panic." There was a tinge of panic in Johnno's voice. "Swim towards the middle of the beach. We can make it across. That is what me big bra does." There was reassurance here for the young quartet, they all knew Johnno's big bra was about the best surfer in Sydney. They swam towards the middle.
"Gawd!!" It was Flash. "We're still headin' out."
Blue yelled, "Hold it fellers, don't panic or try to fight it. We'll never make it that way. Tread water and put yer arm up, they'll send the surf boat out."
They stopped swimming, trod water, then, following Blue's example, put up their arms.
"Geez. I hope they see us."
"They'll see us. Don't worry."
Still they drifted seaward. They were three hundred yards out, the current was slowing.
"They look like ants back on the beach. They'll never see us." Johnno was near to tears.
"Yes they have. I can see two blokes running down the beach with belts on. Look, there. The other guys're feedin' out the line."
"Gawd. I never thought I'd be pleased to see those surf club lairs."
"Yeah, well let's hope they can catch us. It's a good thing this current's almost stopped."
"Yeah mate. We'd finish in New Zealand otherwise."
They were all treading water, bobbing in the chop. With the rise and fall they watched the beltmen approach.
"They're strong swimmers" observed Flash.
"Sure are." Johnno too was impressed.
Behind them came a splash.
"What's 'at? A shark?"
Together they span in alarm to face the danger.
"No it's not. Y' stupid bugger."
They all laughed. It was Georgie Bishop on his surf ski. George was a far more welcome sight than the Grey Nurse shark they had all been expecting. George was another school mate. George's long suit was his surf/ski, on which he held a surf club branch title.
"I've been off the point catching swells. Saw yer hands go up, so I came over. Yer can hang on to the edge of the ski."
The four happier youths grabbed the gunwhale of the surf ski, they looked at George with gratitude.
"Thanks mate," said Blue, "sure glad you spotted us."
"Yeah you'll be jake in a minute. The beltmen are nearly here. Y're lucky too, it's Stan and Joe. Yer'll be in good shape with them on the job."
George was right, the beltmen soon arrived. The four 'gun' surfers felt a wave of relief wash over them.
"Well now, what's the trouble out here?" Stan asked.
"The trouble is, we got caught in the rip. That's what."
"Righto. You've done the right thing. No one cramped?" he looked around the boys' faces.
"No that's good. Now here's what we're gonna do." Nodding towards Flash and Chicka, "You two grab Joe's line 'n' you two grab mine. When I signal the beach, we'll all swim side stroke. That way we get ourselves a nice tow in."
As soon as they were all set, Joe and Stan raised their arms in signal for the men on the beach to haul in the line.
"This beats walkin'." The tension had gone from Johnno. They were all more relaxed. "We're sorry fellers to get yers to come out."
"She's right son. It was getting bloody hot on the beach. I was dying for a swim. How about you Joe?"
"Yeah me too. You guys want to be more careful next time. Swim between the flags."
"Sure Joe, sure." They chorused.
"Hey, you're Tommy Coughlan's young bra, aren't ya?" Joe asked Johnno.
"Well you'll cop a lug full when I tell him about this lot."
They all knew they would cop an earful, when Tommy heard about their escapade. They were all protege's of Tommy. He had told them how to handle rips. In their eagerness they had been careless, they could expect a tongue bashing, they deserved it.
They were in broken water now, the waves fuller in the changing tide.
"Duck under the broken ones you guys. Wont be long now."
Within moments they were being pulled across the channel, fronting the corner. Then into shallow water and up onto the beach. How good it felt. The sand squelched between their toes. Stan looked them over.
"Okay you were lucky this time. So watch it in the future."
"Sure, Stan. Gee, thanks again." They almost sang in their relief. Then with heads down, their lips wreathed in smiles of the joy of life, they made their way along the beach to their clothing.
"My god. This sand sure feels good." Flash sprawled akimbo on the warm golden beach. It sure did feel good. They were safe. The quick action of the life savers had saved the boys from a watery grave. They had all plonked down and lay, soaking up the warmth from the sand. It felt to them like new life flowing into their bodies.
"You know," said Chicka, "those surf club lairs, ain't lairs at all. We'd all be fish food now if they hadn't seen our signal."
"Yair'n they can handle those belts good. It'd be hard yakker swimmin' in that gear an' draggin' all that rope." Johnno was quick to support Chicka. "Them other blokes on the reel 'n' payin' out the line. They're good too."
"They do have some fun too. I reckon it'd be beaut on one of them surf skis."
"You know the ski that Georgies got? Well that belongs to the club."
"Yeah. 'n then their got the surf boats too. The crew're always out in it."
"I know a couple of them jokers 'n they're all right."
They were all warming to the surf club in their new found admiration and gratitude. Flash, who was slightly older and more worldly than the others, mused "They have a dance on Sat'dy nights. There's mobs er shei..."
"Oh. Shut up Flash. All you think about is sheilas." Blue had other thoughts. "I reckon we oughta join the cadets."
"Yeah." agreed Johnno, we could learn all that stuff, R and R and go for our Bronze Medallions."
"Yair, why not," chimed in Chicka, "I'm game. What about you Flash?"
"Count me in. One in, all in."
"Last one there's lousy," shouted Johhno. They jumped to their feet,and with sand spraying every direction they sprinted for the club house.
© Copyright Jim Fleming 2002.
This page created on 30 June 2002.
Last edited on 26 May 2004.
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