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When I was a lad, life was simpler, harder yet straightforward and honest. As the world is flooded with newfangled gadgetry and newfangled woke spoke, I find myself looking back on the post war years with a strange regret. Life is so newfangled that it is a complex place of ever-increasing innovation, and gratitude for the simple things in life is a far distant memory. We should consider how imprisoned we have become in this newfangled world which has rewarded us with so much and yet taken even more by stealth.

As our freedom of movement, speech and even thought is being slowly but surely stolen from us, I feel as though we are under some kind of intoxicating drug of newfangledness imposed by the nerds at the behest of their hidden masters, and I fear that this stupour which has overtaken us, may lead us to craving its comforting numbness,  and to forgetting what we had in times gone by before we woke up into perpetual slumber.

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 A friend recently sent me a video of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood singing Summer Wine in 1967. The video shows a montage of items pertaining to the 1960s and before, such as school desks containing inkwells, foot-operated sewing machines, typewriters and hand-pumped fly sprays. It took me on a trip down memory lane and a voyage into a past that I didn't realise I missed until it was stolen from me by newfangled stuff.

During WWII and after, because of shortage and subsequent rationing of petrol, many cars were powered by wood gas, which was produced by what were known as gas producers. They each consisted of a large burner container on the outside of the car, usually at the back, connected to the engine by a tube running on the outside of the car. Wood or charcoal was burned in the container, thereby producing hydrogen, carbon monoxide and other gases, which were filtered on exiting the burner and used to power the vehicle. So, hydrogen powered cars are nothing new.

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If petrol was used, it was delivered through a manually operated petrol bowser. The attendant would use a pump handle on the side of the bowser to pump the petrol up to a glass container at the top of the bowser, graduated in fractions of gallons up to a capacity of a maximum of 10 gallons (45 litres). A handle was then pulled and the petrol flowed through the hose into the car's petrol tank by the force of gravity.

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Then of course during the War, there was rationing of petrol, tea, sugar, butter and meat. All adults were provided with ration books containing coupons. Families with children were provided with extra coupons. While still having to pay for the goods purchased, different articles required different numbers of coupons in order to be purchased, and there was a limit to the number of coupons issuable to each individual each year. The record taking was handled by the public servants without the need for computers, and was effective. Black markets sprang up selling goods at inflated prices, without the need for coupons. Severe penalties were imposed on the black marketeers, who were regarded as pariahs by the general public. Rationing did not disappear completely until 1950.

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The currency was pounds, shillings and pence,referred to in financial jargon as LSD (librae, solidi, and denari in Latin). So LSD was around long before the druggies’ delight.

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There were pink ten pound notes, blue five pound notes, green one pound notes and orange ten shilling notes. There were also silver two shilling coins (florins), silver one shilling coins, silver sixpences, silver threepences, copper pennies and copper halfpennies. That imperial currency was replaced by decimal currency in 1966.

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There were no supermarkets, only grocery shops and butcher shops. All goods were behind the counter or in a store-room out the back, sometimes in bulk, and sometimes in tins (now called cans). All weights were in pounds and ounces, and volumes in gallons and pints. When a customer ordered two pounds of flour, the grocer would weigh the amount on counter-balanced mechanical scales, with metal weights totalling two pounds on one pan, and the flour on the other.  Payment was made and change provided, using a mechanical button-operated cash register.

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Barber shops were places of torture. Electric clippers were a thing of the future, and the instruments of suffering were hand powered.  In my early days in Norseman, my father would deliver me and my brother to the local barber with the words. “Shear ‘em Les.”  The pain as Les used the clippers to do so, which both cut and pulled out hair at the same time, I can still remember.

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Up until the late 1960s in Western Australia, rail traffic was steam powered, until replaced by diesel electric. The locomotives had a huge coal container from which the fireman had to manually shovel coal into the furnace which produced the steam, which in turn drove pistons which drove the wheels. At points along all tracks were huge overhead water tanks for replenishing the boilers. The first thing I would do as a small boy when embarking on a train trip was to place my head out of the window to see what lay ahead, which invariably resulted in discomforting particles of coal lodged firmly in both eyes.

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In those days there were no “escorts” or massage parlours, just good old brothels. As a young engineer, I spent a year in the late 1960s based in Kalgoorlie employed on the construction of the new standard gauge railway line from Perth, which replaced the old narrow-gauge line of 3 feet 6 inches. The Kalgoorlie brothels or “the knockers”, which is an abbreviation of “knocking shops”, were located in the same street as the Catholic Church which was in Brookman Street, so the name of the end of the street housing the knockers was changed to Hay Street.

Madam Carmel outside Questa Casa, the last working brothel on Kalgoorlie's historic Hay Street.ABC News: Jarrod Lucas )

The block housing the knockers was a sight to behold in the evenings. The houses were lit like Christmas trees, and on quiet nights the prostitutes or “pros” reclined on sofas on the front verandah wearing colourful negligees, illuminated by light bulbs of various colours.  The mine workers were paid every second Thursday, and on pay night the entire street was full of queues of men awaiting their turn, much like the COVID vaccination queues of today.

On one night I drove up Hay Street returning from a site inspection of the tracklaying, and as I drove past one of the knockers, I saw an illuminated pro reclining on the verandah. I yelled out “Repent, the wages of sin is death”. She screamed back “GettttFuckeddddd.”

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A person I knew, now long since passed, was a student at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines in the late 1920s. One night he and some mates after a drinking bout went down to the knockers and were denied entrance to one establishment by the madam. One of the drunk young men threw a rock over the fence which hit the madam. She emerged out of the gate with a pistol and started firing at the group as they fled up Hay Street. No one was hit, but the bullets were ricocheting off the bitumen road around them. It is difficult to imagine this happening today.

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A few years back while in Perth, I went on a tour of Fremantle jail which closed in 1991.  It is a dark and forbidding place. The end of the tour was a visit to the small cell where condemned prisoners spent their last night, and then to the gallows which is only a few metres away. It is like something out of the Wild West.  It is immediately under the roof cavity,and consists of a rope with a noose at the end tied to a wooden beam above the trapdoor which is opened by the pull of a lever to the death drop below.

The last person to be hanged there was the serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke in 1964. He is buried in the prison yard above the body of Martha Rendell, who in 1909 was the first and only woman executed in Western Australia. She was convicted of murdering her boyfriend’s son by swabbing his throat with hydrochloric acid,and was suspected of having killed his two daughters in the same slow and agonising fashion.

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 Fremantle prison gallows

Execution will never return, and more’s the pity given the ever-increasing terrorist threat.

In the good old days, kids spent time outside playing, such as pushing each other on the swing under the tree, boys riding billy carts down the hill and playing marbles or leapfrog, and girls wheeling their dolls in prams and using skipping ropes. Items of amusement were such things as wind-up trains, dolls houses, yo-yos, spinning tops and jigsaw puzzles. Now we have the kids from an early age, either inside or outside the house, pouring over their tablet or phone – and nothing else.

 

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 It is a newfangled world and we seem to be fixing it until it is broken. 

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