Recently I heard a talk on the radio from a physical educationist who was advising parents that they should be encouraging their children to take up an organised sport as early as possible.
This very laudable advice would, of course, involve quite a bit of work and money on the part of the parent, but in the long run would ensure that the child, whether he or she liked it or not, would be more active, more co-ordinated, out in the fresh air and best of all, not overweight.
When the Oral History group met this month we discussed the many ways in which we obtained the same goal, generally without involving our parents at all.
It was called “playing” or “mucking about” and required inventiveness in using whatever equipment was at hand and a good deal of imagination and physical activity.
In thinking over our discussion and deciding what to write in this article, I realised that most of our activities would be banned today as they seem to have involved quite a bit of hitting and pushing and bruising encounters with each other from which we usually got up, dusted ourselves off and went back for more.
Today we have “play dates” where anxious parents drive their children to the houses of friends where they play together for a specified and supervised period after which they are driven back to the safety of their own home.
Fortunately for us in those far-off days of our youth, our parents often had little idea of where we were or exactly what we were up to, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore the world, to make our mistakes and – miraculously – mostly escape unscathed.
There were, of course, organised sports at school like tennis and football, cricket and other ball games in which we all took part, willingly or not.
Leslye, who grew up in Moree, remembers with very little enthusiasm, her hours of standing in the hot dusty outfield waiting for the action to come her way.
Frank attended St Mary’s Cathedral school in the city where they played sport in the Domain and ran to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and back for extra training.
Most of the men in the group went to country schools where horses were quite often involved.
“We had chariot races,” Tim said. “You crossed the stirrups, stood up straight and if your horse went through a gate, you came off. It was great fun.”
Keith also remembered buck jumping while several of the group were quite good at riding poddy calves.
Both John and Keith played games at school which seem to have been purely locally devised.
“We played “Indi-I-Over”, Keith told us. “It was a little bush school and a team stood on either side of the building. The aim was to throw the ball over the school and if someone caught it on the full he could run around and ‘brand’ one of the other team.”
Fortunately for us in those far-off days of our youth, our parents often had little idea of where we were or exactly what we were up to, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore the world, to make our mistakes and - miraculously - mostly escape unscathed.
John’s game entailed branding too when “some poor wretch stood in the middle of the circle while we tried to hit him with the ball,” he said.
In the bush where many of the group grew up, there was much swimming in the creek, dangling from ropes tied to trees and swinging over the water, building dams and sailing canoes they had built themselves.
“Down on the Lachlan we used to dive in the river and grab a handful of sand to see who could find the most gold specks,” Reg said.
“Coming home from school through the old goldfields we would challenge each other to see who could jump over the fallen-in mines.
“Once, after a bit of an earth shake, we looked down one and saw that it was about 40-foot deep so we gave that game away.”
Keith spoke of fights after school organised by the kids themselves to settle differences. Dick remembered playing in the trenches which had been dug in Orange during the war, as well as bee bee guns which they actually fired at each other.
In those carefree days most boys had a gun to shoot rabbits and of course a knife was also an essential part of their equipment.
While the girls were perhaps not encouraged to take part in such boisterous activities, they still rode bikes, swung from trees and swam in creeks and dams.
There were also games like hopscotch and skipping, hide and seek, leap frog, sack races and even egg-and-spoon races.
All these required hand-eye coordination, agility and expended a lot of energy.
Doreen remembered “elastics” where you made intricate patterns with two strings looped to your fingers.
Today, private courses are offered at some expense, to preschoolers to improve their core strength and body awareness, something we were doing instinctively.
However, as always, our group understands that the world has changed a good deal since we were young and it is unfair to compare the worries of today with the more carefree attitude we were able to take to parenting.
The advance of technology, despite its many advantages, has also added apprehension and fear to our lives and some of the innocence of childhood has been eroded. We appreciate how lucky we were.