• Stephanie Hammond

Reading, Movies, and the Beach

My love of reading came from my father. Every Friday evening he would take us to the Book Exchange where we could choose one book each. Dad love the Phantom comics and always got the latest copy. He also loved westerns. Zane Grey was his favourite. I’d read his Phantom comics and as much of Zane Grey as I could before it was time for him to swap them over again.

Every Christmas, even when times were tough, would bring a new book. I loved to read and dreaded the day when I got to the last page and the story was over. I loved the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Within their pages I discovered a whole new world, one in which I could be brave and adventurous. In the evenings we’d listen to Yes What? (an Australian radio programme featuring Greenbottle), Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger radio programmes. Punishment was not to be allowed to listen! Great incentive to be good! What magic for us then, hearing stories acted out.

What a rich fantasy world I enjoyed - and I needed it to show me that there was a way of life outside my own narrow view of the world. That it was a self-imposed view I didn’t realise until I was much older. Music was also enjoyed in our home. Dad loved Country and Western. Mum loved light opera, like Mario Lanza. She took me to my first movies and I still thrill to the memories of Calamity Jane, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, and Rock around the Clock (hardly ‘opera’). I dreamed of being an actor, of being able to sing and dance like they did.

When we grew older we went to the pictures on our own. One shilling and thrupence (roughly 13 cents) would get us our bus or tram ride, entry into the theatre and an icecream at intermission. Later on, thrillers, like The Birds, became my favourites then.

Make believe was such an important element in my childhood. Having a horde of cousins and other children to play with was a wonderful base for play and creating our own stories. There wasn’t really a separation between boys games and girls games - cricket, rounders, cowboys and indians - we all played together.

Summer holidays were spent at the beach at Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Sometimes we went to Noosaville where my mother’s sister lived. Ever cautious, I was content to play in the shallows and make sand castles. My brother was happy to be buried in the sand up to his neck. I would only agree to be buried up to my shoulders’.

When I was four I nearly drowned. My mother encouraged me to come into the ‘deep’ water with her. It was barely up to my waist and she held my hand. To my little mind the wave that separated us and dumped me was ten feet high. The undertow was strong and I tumbled and tumbled under the water, gasping for breath. I was drowning, I knew. Then strong hands lifted me up and I was safe in my father’s arms. For a week I wouldn’t speak to my mother and for years the fear of drowning held me back from enjoying the water environment and learning to swim.

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