My Early Life

Blue Wrens, J Burrowes 1938

Blue Wrens, J Burrowes 1938

I was born in Melbourne on 29 March 1923 shortly after my twin brother Tom. I attended Nott Street Primary School and Middle Park Central School from which I graduated Dux of the school. I then went to Melbourne High School, completing my Leaving Certificate (Year 11) in 1939.

Growing up, I had played cricket, football and tennis, and I barracked for the local Victorian Football League team South Melbourne. I loved listening to my Mum play the piano: she was an excellent pianist. I particularly liked her playing The Tennessee Waltz.

I also had a particular knack for painting, at one point winning an award from the John Gould League for my painting of four Blue Wrens (above). I used the backs of badminton handles and other improvised materials on which to paint. After school I stopped painting and didn’t resume until 1995 when I would paint while holiday traveling on container ships.

John Gould certificate, Oct 1938

John Gould award, 1938

During the Great Depression, which adversely impacted on employment opportunities, money was not easy to come by for any family. By the late 1920s my Dad could only find casual work as a wharf labourer on the Port Melbourne docks.

For a time in the 1930s I worked at the local woodyard from 7am until 1pm on Saturdays. I remember the woodyard owner picking through his money bag for a threepence to pay me. I then used this money to buy a ticket to the pictures that afternoon. Fortunately, when the cost of the pictures went from threepence to sixpence and then sevenpence, I got pay rises to match the increased cost!

A pattern I painted

A pattern I painted

After leaving school I worked full-time in a Chartered Accountants office helping to support my family. I earned 18 shillings and thrupence a week. I gave Mum 17 shillings, put one shilling in the State Savings Bank and had thrupence to spend on a Cherry Ripe! I also started studying Accounting by correspondence with Hemingway and Robertson and I passed the preliminary examination of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.

By January 1942, however, I had turned 18 and on 14 January I enlisted in the Australian Army to be part of a war that was seen by many as a great adventure. My older brother Bob and my twin brother Tom were already in the armed services.

After joining the Army, I was pleased to receive a pay rise to 6 shillings a day!  Of this, I allotted 3 shillings and 6 pence to be paid directly back to my Mother for her house money.

Before telling you what happened when I joined up, I would like to share something more about my family.

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