Wednesday, August 21

Grandparents Day!

It is Seniors Week, and as part of that, there was a special Grandparents Day at Moreton Bay College where two grandchildren study.  It made me think of my grandparents.  This is what I wrote.  I have printed out four copies and will send a copy to each of my four grandchildren, with a note.

My father’s parents were Wally and Minnie Watson, and they lived at Prospect, a northern suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, in a lovely red brick building at 15 Airlie Avenue.  I drove past it last year and it still stands, though the current owners have planted trees and no doubt modernised it inside.  I can remember going inside it – it was typical of the homes of that era, rather dark and foreboding.  The toilet was outside – not far from the back door. I can remember the black telephone with the handle that Wally used to phone us.  I don’t remember Minnie – she died when I was two years old. She was 64 years old.  Wally continued to live in the house until his death. 

I remember our frequent visits to his home – I think my father had a car called a “Vanguard” and he drove it from our home on the south side of Adelaide through the city to Prospect.  When I drove the route myself last year I could remember so many buildings and parks along the way and it brought back many memories for me.

Wally had worked for the South Australian Railways – I think he was a train driver, but I am not sure.  In his small back yard he had big cages of budgerigars which he loved and I believe he bred black ones, but I don’t recall seeing any.  He also grew vegetables in his back yard and kept himself busy with his birds and garden.  He died on the 1st June, 1960.  He gave us a green budgie which we for many years – he was called Willie Fennell after a famous Australian comedian.

One day I will share stories of our ancestors going back many years – a fascinating history which I am still collating.

My mother’s parents were Alfred and Irene Ragless.  As you will learn later there is a lot of information about the Ragless family.  Pappa and Nanna Ragless had a property at Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills, but during droughts and the depression they sold it – but didn’t make any money.  Pappa went to work for his brother at Tonsley (just south of Adelaide city), and one day I will tell you more about the famous Tonsley farm, which won awards for its farming practices.  Great Aunty Flo and Aunty Alice lived on the farm, and when they died it was bequeathed to the South Australian Government to be held in trust and kept as a historical farm, but the Premier of the day, Sir Thomas Playford sold the land to Chrysler and cars were manufactured there.

Alfred and Irene had a big family, Oswald, Lenore, Winifred, Joyce (your great grandmother), Doris and Beatrice.  Joyce at nearly 98 years is the only one surviving.   After moving from Mt Barker, they lived at Eden Hills, and later moved to Edwardstown, and lived in a castle there for a short while until their house was ready. One day I will show you all about the castle – which was demolished years ago, but I do remember it.  Nanna and Pappa moved into the house and I can remember that when the Second World War ended, my parents and I moved in and lived with Nanna and Pappa for a while.  Uncle Harold and Aunty Doris were there too, as were two of their children Jeanette and Malcolm.  Can you imagine us all living together?  Six adults and three children, and we all sat around a big dining table for dinner each night.

During and after the war food was scarce as many of the menfolk including farmers went to war and not all came back.  Food was rationed and so was electricity, so we often had blackouts and had to light candles.  People were still scared too – as the war had been so horrific that it was hard for some to believe that it had ended.  There was no television, and no refrigerators.  The milk and bread was delivered by horse and cart – the milk ladled into a billy can near the front door.  We had “ice chests” and a couple of days a week a man would arrive carrying a huge block of ice in special tongs, which he would put into the ice chest to keep food cool.  There were no supermarkets – butchers where the floor was covered in saw dust to mop up the blood from the animals being chopped up in the shop, fruit and vegetable shops (green grocers) where basic vegetables were for sale, and a grocer where much of the food was either in tins, or in bags.  If you bought flour or sugar for example it was put in brown paper bags to take home.  We ate all the bits of sheep and cattle – the stomach lining (tripe), the liver and kidneys – food that is not so common these days as meat is more plentiful.  Chicken was reserved for special occasions, like Christmas.  There was no television, just a radio.

When we went to the picture theatre to see a film, we always stood at the beginning of every session for the playing of “God Save the King” for during and after the war, it was King George VI (Sixth) who was the reigning monarch.  The new prince will be King George VII (Seventh) when he is crowned king.

Nanna Ragless had a big fruit and vegetable garden, and lot of chickens and worked long hours in it.  It was she who chopped the heads of the chickens when they no longer laid eggs, and she certainly was the boss of the house.  She was a little lady – short with grey hair pulled into a bun and took no nonsense from anyone.  She did have a sense of humour though – which she generally shared with her sons in law.  She was a great believer in “children should be seen and not heard” and woe betide us children if we spoke at the dinner table.  It was she who believed in a strange punishment which even at the age of 4 was submitted to as she and my mother held me down to make me drink castor oil.  My mother had no choice but to obey her mother.

Nanna always had her own bedroom, and Pappa had a tiny room nearby.  He was quite a bit older than Nanna, and would often be in bed for most of the day.  I don’t know what was wrong with him.  I do know that he loved giving his grandchildren peppermints and always had a tin of them beside his bed.

They moved to nearby Ascot Park, their new home adjoining that of Aunty Winnie and Uncle Len (and three of my cousins), and the brothers-in- law helped build the house.  Pappa died not long after they moved and Nanna lived there for a long time on her own.  She was a remarkable woman – she never drove a car, nor rode a bicycle that I know of, but was never late for church.  She would walk quite a few kilometres on her own to church.  She was very religious, in fact the whole Ragless family were and one day if you get to St Mary’s Church, at St Mary’s in Adelaide you will see the many graves of members of the Ragless family.

Not long after I went to Mt Gambier to do my nursing training, my parents moved to Mt Gambier too, as my father was working for the Housing Trust then, my sister had to live with Nanna.  She has always been angry about this, as it would have been very difficult for her.  I would stay with Nanna sometimes, and we always had to be in bed by 7 pm.  We all knew that was because she didn’t want us to see her sneak her flagon of sherry.  We would peer through the door and see her tiptoe from her bedroom, we’d hear the cork come out of the flagon, and she’d tip it into the glass and then creep back to her room.  I don’t think she ever knew that we knew!!!

When her house and garden (yes she created a new garden at the house at Ascot Park) became too much for her, she moved to a unit at Oaklands Park, before spending the  last few days in a nursing home.  My mother and aunts were regular visitors.  In those days the “Old Age Pension” was paid by cheque – but my grandmother who was then in her 80’s declared she was not “old” and wouldn’t cash her cheques.  Her daughters insisted that she do so!!!

She did come to visit us in Warrnambool, not long after Janet was born and not long before Gavin was due, and I was so excited to show off my baby Janet.  She paused momentarily and walked on, muttering something like “Seen one, seen them all!”.  She had so many grandchildren, I don’t think she remembered us all, let alone all the great-grandchildren!  I was so disappointed!

Alfred John Ragless was born in 1868 and died in 1954.
Irene Ragless (nee Pobjoy) was born in 1886 and died in 1975.
The Ragless graves are at St Mary’s, Adelaide.

Walter John Watson was born 1882 and died June 1960 
Minnie Blanch Watson (nee Curtin) was born in born 1881and died 1946.
The Watson graves are at the Main North Road, Cemetery, Adelaide.

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