Barry Whisson

B. 1937

There were just five rooms in the Brisbane house I grew up in; all very basic. But these were World War II days and like so many homemakers of the time, mum and dad made do with what they had. There was a 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen with a sink, stove, ice-chest and a central kitchen table. Then, there was the dining room, bathroom and two bedrooms. Seven squares of ‘luxury’. Luxury? Well yes, because we were also blessed with a bonus front veranda! Incredibly, this mini-mansion cost a meagre 315 depression-pounds to build. As was commonplace in those pre-War days, the kitchen was multi-purpose with a central table. For us, as for most families, it was where our family not only ate, but where we’d yarn to mum after school, and where we might even do our homework. We’d gather round that same table after tea to hear our favourite radio serials. It’s also where dad would pluck the Christmas chook! We didn’t have a lounge room – mum and dad couldn’t afford it. These were not the days of easy credit. Back then it was either cash or long-term loans. No choice. They did afford a lounge space but that was taken up by a huge dining table, a wedding gift lovingly crafted by one of mum’s brothers. A space was made for washtubs downstairs. A house, up on stumps like ours was, gave you all that free space below for all sorts of activities. The Laundry was a set of three-compartment concrete tubs that sat against vertical battening between those creosoted timber stumps. The ‘copper’ out at the side of the house coped with boiling-up of the weekly wash. Once done, the left-over slurpy sludgy Sunlight soap-infused water of a consistency more like a congealed grey jelly, was ‘recycled’ for our weekly baths upstairs at noon on Saturday. Last one in was definitely unlucky! We were certainly water conscious because our water came from our one and only 1000-gallon rainwater tank (also up on stumps). As kids, we always first checked to see whether the whip snake was still hiding under the unlined roof of the backyard dunny before we dared to sit down on the wooden seat. I often reflect on mum and dad bringing up us four kids in that small place. Yet it was ‘enough!’ Yes, the western veranda was eventually enclosed to make another long narrow boys’ bedroom… that ‘heat-sink’ bedroom surely steering me toward a life of architecture, which it did. ‘Anything must be better than this’ I often thought. But we made do with what we had and maybe a little struggle in our lives is not a bad thing?

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