After they retired in the early 1980s, Nan and Pop (Reece and Gwen Nicholson) decided that they’d like to spend their golden years somewhere quiet and peaceful by the beach. Pop quite liked the suburb of Rockingham so, they sold and left their home on Nollamara Avenue in Nollamara and decided to build a house in Safety Bay.
The house was built in the mid-80s (not long after I was born) and it became the only house I associated with them. Back then (before all the freeway extensions) it took us about an hour’s drive to Nan and Pop’s house so we usually visited them once a month or every couple of months. If we didn’t see them at their house, we nearly always saw them at some other place. Being one of eleven cousins, there was always a get together to celebrate someone’s birthday. Over the years I formed some wonderful memories of my time growing up in Nan and Pop’s house.
As time passes (much too quickly) and I get older, I find that I’m not thinking of certain memories as often as I used to or, I notice that things I could once remember in an instant are now becoming harder to recall. Being a genealogist, I understand the importance of recording these memories of the past and how easily such memories can be lost. So, I’ve decided to start writing down some of my own memories, starting with Nan and Pop’s house in Safety Bay.
The house itself wasn’t anything fancy; a single storey brick house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. The front consisted of a ‘turnaround driveway’ with grass bordering the left and right and also plonked right in the middle. It was the grass plonked right in the middle which became a common play area for my cousins and I and was perfect for ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ with the grass ultimately becoming the river and either side of the driveway becoming the land and safe zone.
I can still remember the layout of the house and the random things that probably aren’t that important but, for some reason, have stuck in my mind.
The front doorway was recessed and hanging on the wall near the door and above a pot plant were two butterflies. Pop actually gave Mum a cutting from this plant (which sat in a pot near our doorway) but, unfortunately, it eventually died. Inside and tasked with the job of keeping the door open was a door stop; an old bottle clad in black crochet and made to look like a dog.
Immediately to the right was the lounge room. A trio of ducks could be seen hanging on the wall along with an old clock with a picture of a dog on its face. There were two couches which over time were reupholstered – both with some kind of floral fabric. I don’t recall watching tv endlessly at Nan and Pop’s (we were most likely outside playing) but I do recall the little book that Nan made up. She often recorded children’s movies on VCR and numbered each tape. The number and the movie were then recorded in the book which made it easy for us kids to pick what we wanted to watch. Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and The Elm-Chanted Forest were favourites of mine.
It was sitting in the lounge that I had my first taste of port and lemon. At the time I was staying at Nan and Pop’s and had a terrible cold and cough. To help me sleep, they gave me some port and lemonade (a favourite of theirs). Not knowing what it was (it, meaning the port) and thinking it tasted pretty good, I drunk the lot in one gulp. Pop returned to the room, looked at my empty cup and exclaimed in horror, “You’re supposed to sip it!” I vomited that night but otherwise slept pretty well (guess it worked!).
To the left of the hallway was Nan and Pop’s room. It was probably a no-go zone for children but every now and then I’d sneak in and look at Nanna’s dressing table. For some reason dressing tables and all the bits and bobs on them were fascinating to me (I used to do the same thing at Grandma and Grandpa’s house). I remember Nanna once told me about the pearls she had in her room (probably on the dressing table). She had six granddaughters and I recall her saying that on our wedding days they would be there for us to wear if we wanted to wear them. Sadly, Nan never saw any of her grandchildren marry.
Following the hallway you’d enter the main living area. This was where the meals were eaten and where the kitchen was located. One side of the kitchen bench was also treated like a breakfast bar and it was in the corner near the telephone that Pop sat (in the photo below my Uncle Ric [second from left] is seated in Pop’s usual seat). Pop never really sat upright, there was more of a lean to the way he sat with one leg crossed over the other. In front of him was often a cup of tea. He took sugar with his tea and the adding of it resulted in vigorous stirring with the spoon aggressively tinkling against the cup.
An avid reader, there was often a book sitting nearby marked at the page Pop was up to. He was fond of Stephen King and the horror genre and I can remember thinking that the covers looked quite scary. If it wasn’t a book nearby then it was probably the newspaper, more often than not turned to the horse racing section with certain horses he was interested in marked with a pen. He kept his wireless right next to him and it was usually tuned into the channels that broadcasted the news…or the horse races.
It is seated in this spot that I remember him most and one of my vivid memories is of him sitting there, looking at me and laughing as I struck up a conversation with my reflection in the glass door.
The house only had one bathroom and there were two doors to enter it, the main one and another which allowed entrance from Nan and Pop’s bedroom. There aren’t a lot of memories associated with it but I recall watching Pop standing in front of the mirror shaving with his electric razor. I also recall Nan’s knickers hanging up to dry. Ever frugal, she used to wash them when she had a shower or bath and, being children, my brother and I often giggled at seeing Nanna’s knickers. Sorry Nanna!
The laundry was close to the bathroom and the main memory I have of this area was Nan’s cupboard of clothes. Was there a sudden decision to go to the beach and you didn’t have bathers? Forgot your hat? In need of a t-shirt? It didn’t matter. Nan would come to the rescue and would have you kitted out with what you needed, all of which lived in the cupboard of clothes.
Down from the laundry were a couple of other bedrooms. One contained two single beds and the other contained a double bed. When my family stayed, my brother and I slept in a single bed each while my parents were in the double bed in the other room. Between the two single beds was a chest of drawers and, without fail, before I went to sleep, I used to open up each drawer to see what was inside them (I really was a nosey child!). Most of the time I found children’s books or one of Pop’s books.
Despite mostly sleeping in the single beds, I do recall the odd occasion when I slept in the double bed with my brother and cousin, like three little peas in a pod. As we lay there, my cousin would ask me to tell a story. And so I would, fabricating a story out of nothing and creating it on the spot before we drifted off to sleep.
Back in the main living area/kitchen – connected to the house was a small extension which essentially became the domain of the cousins (below photo – before it became enclosed). Anything and everything children would want to play with was there. Toy dinosaurs. Farm yard figurines. A blackboard with chalk. Roller-skates. Electronic games. Board games. You name it, Nan probably had it somewhere in that room. Countless hours of ‘find the dinosaur’ or school (I was always the teacher) or trying to get to the next level in a game were played in that room.
It was in this room that I first learned to roller-skate. Of course Nanna was conscious of the fact that I could easily fall over and hurt myself and so only allowed me to use one skate to start with. At the time it was annoying (I wanted to use two!) and I felt a little ridiculous as I alternatively stepped and rolled on one skate.
It was through this addition that you had to walk to get outside. While this was often (again) the domain of cousins and where we used to play, the backyard and garden was really Pop’s domain. His giant shed took up a good deal of space and inside it was full of a lot of stuff. It tended to smell of garlic due to the fact that Pop (who grew a lot of garlic) would hang the bulbs inside the shed. The shed was also a fantastic place for children playing hide and seek and I shudder to think of the dust, cobwebs and creepy crawlies I hid amongst during one of the many games.
Sitting outside the shed was a silver dingy. Pop used it for fishing trips but I can’t actually recall him taking it out. Instead of fishing trips, it became a play thing for the imaginations of a group of cousins. Cast away at sea, escaping pirates or baddies, a princess in need of rescue (usually me) and a hero arriving to save the day (often my cousin) featured prominently in our made up stories. We climbed all over that boat (often jumping in and out of it) and regularly braved sitting or touching it as the temperature of the metal intensified in the hot sun.
Pop was an amazing gardener. Specific plants were kept in his homemade greenhouse which was rigged up with the sprinkler system. Vegetables (broad beans, silverbeet or garlic – to name a few) were grown around the outside of the grassed area. He fertilised everything with chicken poo which was watery (and stinky!) and kept in a bucket. When we came to visit we often left with a large bagful of fresh silverbeet (though we used to call it spinach).
Pop smoked rollies and I can remember watching in fascination as he made one up; taking a pinch of tobacco from the pouch and laying it out in Tally-Ho paper and then rolling it repeatedly before licking one end of the paper and closing it up. Probably one of my favourite memories of growing up in Nan and Pop’s house was my brother and I following Pop out the front when he went to have a smoke. During the day, we’d all lean on the railing and watch the world go by. At night time, we’d look up at the stars and he’d point out various constellations such as the pot. He’d tell us that the stars were all windows to heaven and that all our loved ones were sitting at the windows looking down over us. I like to think that he’s there now, sitting at his star window watching over us all with Nan by his side and surrounded by our other family members who have since passed.
A year ago or more I went back to the house in Safety Bay. Nothing had changed, yet everything had changed. Memories, like ghosts of the past, rose to the surface. I was a little girl again, playing with my cousins in the backyard or standing out the front under the awning, leaning on the balustrade and listening to my Pop as he told me about the stars.