On the morning of February 7, 1938, most of the free world shuddered as they read the headlines.
‘Hitler takes supreme command of the Third Reich’.
There was little doubt that this was the ultimate step towards another world war.
On the other side of the world in sunny Australia, there was an entirely different disaster being reported on the front page.
In record-breaking heat on what became known as ‘Black Sunday’, thousands had flocked to take part in Sydney’s favourite pastime, surfing at Bondi beach.
“Two hundred surfers were swept out to sea by the backwash of huge seas yesterday afternoon,” reported the newspaper.
Four people drowned and scores were rescued in the last stages of exhaustion as a sandbank gave way in heavy seas.
One of those rescued was Bill, an Oral History group member, who remembers when the sandbank on which he and dozens of others were standing that hot afternoon gave way.
“I was 13 and was just able to swim 50 yards when I suddenly had nothing but water beneath my feet,” he explained.
“A little boy near me called out and I held him up until a lifesaver put us on his surfboard and pulled us in. There was a great crowd watching from the shore.”
The record-breaking heat was back again the following summer when group member, Doreen, was born in Forbes on a day on which the thermometer recorded a temperature of 114 degrees in the old measurement, or 45.5 degrees Celsius.
“It was one of the hottest days in the history of Forbes”, said Doreen.
“There were no air conditioners in those days so I was wrapped in wet towels to keep me cool.”
Although Doreen’s birth did not rate a headline, the Oral History group was recently remembering the news items which rocked our world and which have stayed etched in our memories.
WWII made a big impact, although most of our group were really too young to comprehend the reality, but a few events left such a lasting impression.
Darwin was bombed in 1942 and although the vast destruction was not revealed at the time, the fact that our own shores had been attacked shattered the innocence of all Australians.
When Japanese POWs broke out of the Cowra camp in 1944.
“My father polished his shotgun, got cartridges and took it to bed with him,” said Keith.
The dropping of the atomic bomb which led to the Japanese surrender was a very significant happening for Stuart.
“I had two brothers fighting in the Islands,” he said, “and it meant they would come home”.
The horror of the bomb remained in our minds though as we all realised that the world would never be the same again.
And then the war ended. First in May, 1945, Germany surrender, and finally, in August came the headlines: ‘Japan capitulates: Delirious joy in Australia’.
No matter how old we were the emotional relief which gripped the nation remained in our memories.
“I remember my parents being so happy. We went into town and it seemed to me that the whole of Orange was walking down Summer Street,” said Dick.
“Everyone was hugging and laughing although there was sadness too because some boys in my class had lost fathers,” said Keith.
1956 was a big year for Australia when the Olympic Games were to be held in Melbourne and it was for this event that every effort was made to introduce that amazing new invention television.
Mick remembered holding his little daughter on his lap while they both enjoyed the cartoons.
We really were thrilled by nearly everything that played on TV in those innocent days – even the test pattern which used to appear when the stations had gone to bed, which was surprisingly early.
Television was to bring an exciting new dimension to our lives
John not only saw the deluge of the 1956 floods with his own eyes but much of the devastation was brought into our own homes through our magic new boxes.
When the Russians launched the first space craft – known to us as ‘Sputnik’ – we were able to catch glimpses of it on our sets.
Tim had a better view.
A little boy near me called out and I held him up until a lifesaver put us on his surfboard and pulled us in. There was a great crowd watching from the shore.
“I was in the back country in a mustering camp and I saw it in the night sky while I was lying in my swag. It was fantastic.”
There were so many world events that we were able to view so closely now we had the miracle of TV in our living rooms.
We felt the excitement of the first man on the moon and the impact of the assassination of US President John Kennedy.
In fact we decided that if you could remember what you were doing when you first heard a news item it had made a huge impression.
“I was getting a bottle for my baby when I heard the newsflash about Kennedy,” Pauline told us, and most people could also place exactly where they were at the time.
The Oral History Group looked at our memories of news events in our lifetime with much nostalgia and a consciousness of a loss of innocence as we have taken our place as a nation in world affairs.
We are no longer the isolated land at the bottom of the world.
It’s been fun and a bit sad to realise how it has all changed.
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