Summit Avenue Belmont Memories of a Simple Time
When I dream, I often find that I am back in Summit Avenue, free, happy and with the world at my feet. My earliest memories are of Summit Avenue. It was the family home until I reached the age of twelve, when we “upsized” from our weatherboard California Bungalow to a four bedroom brick veneer a mere mile away in Sanglen Terrace. Sanglen Terrace may have been close geographically, but spiritually it was light years away. I didn’t dislike Sanglen Terrace, I just missed Summit Avenue.
Sometimes I’d get on my bike and ride up the streets either side of my old street. Our old home had three large trees in its backyard and they dominated the local landscape. For so long those trees signified home and then, one day, they didn’t. I never rode down Summit Avenue. It didn’t seem right. I’d just ride up Apex Avenue or Davis Street and satisfy myself that the trees were still there. I don’t know why.
I guess that for most of us, our childhood memories are precious innocent moments that shape and form who we become. When I think of my time there, there are no bad memories, just warmth and belonging.
Gravel Roads and Empty Space
Perhaps the earliest memory of my external environment is what must have been a council grader plowing its way up the gravel road. I could only have been two or three but the memory is clear. As is the memory of a “water truck” regularly driving up the street and “settling the dust” as my father put it. We were on the very outskirts of Geelong. There were no made roads and for a long time, I don’t think there were any concrete gutters. It was a new estate in the true sense of the word.
The roads were sealed in 1966 or 1967. It was a big deal to a four year old boy. The activity was immense. Matthew Daly and I used to watch the trucks and machinery work tirelessly as they shaped the road. We’d spend hours sitting together just watching the machinery work. It was loud and exciting stuff. We got on famously.
Then the heavy machinery stopped and was replaced by the finishing crews and we didn’t see much of each other after that. I think Matt moved away and while I saw him in the first few years of Primary School and later on at St Josephs, we never reconnected. We were on very different pathways by the time I reached St Joeys and I sometimes wondered if he remembered sitting and watching the trucks in Summit Avenue. I’ve never forgotten.
The Summit Avenue community
There were plenty of other kids my age who lived closer. The Taylors lived right across the road, as did the Fitzgeralds. Two doors down were the Belluzzos and the Barkers lived diagonally across the road from them. There was always someone to play with and there was lots of spare room to play in. Right over our back fence were four vacant house blocks which adjoined another spare block next to the Belluzzo house. There was no excuse not to kick a ball or play cricket. Most day’s play ended in the twilight hours.
Circumstances dictated that I spent a lot of time in the care of my Grandmother who moved in with us around the time that my brother was born. She was a very outgoing woman and made it a point to know everybody in the neighborhood. She introduced me to other older families in the area — the Mills, the Mclean’s and Salters all sort of formed a social network that cared for me. I probably spent some time in all their homes but none of these generous people had the impact upon me that our next door neighbours — Dawn and Martin Ives did.
They treated me incredibly well and its fair to say I shadowed Martin whenever he was home. He was always helping Dad or Dad was helping him with some project. They helped each other concrete, build fences and on one occasion when they were both under the weather erect a Clarke pool on Christmas eve. (The pool had to be pulled down and remade the next day)
There always seemed to be a neighborhood barbecue. The women would all bring salads and sweets and the blokes would stand around the barbie and drink beer. We kids did what kids do — ran amok.
Even before my primary school years there was a sense of community and belonging — something that is much harder to feel in this day and age.
The family had one car. Dad drove it to work at Hawkes Bros on the other side of town. When Mum wasn’t in Melbourne with my brother, we had to walk everywhere. It felt completely natural. The Belmont shopping centre was roughly a mile’s walk. I still remember visiting the butchers and being given samples of strasbourg or fritz to eat.
Grandma inevitably stopped at the TAB and put her weekend bets on. She was pretty strategic -she never won big, but very rarely lost. The other shops I remember are Bennett’s Newsagency featuring local legend “Tarz”, the Banks and the Post Office. The really interesting thing that I remember about the banks was how quiet they were pre — computers. I’d be commanded to sit quietly, while Mum conducted her business. The loudest sound was the dull thud of the teller’s stamp as he validated the transaction. I think the post office used to have an operating switchboard attached to it which was used to connect local lines but this is a pretty hazy memory.
Shopping limitations of Summit Avenue
The only “supermarket” was SSW grocers until Coles New World arrived sometime in the very late sixties. When we bought groceries, a boy would pack the grocery bag for us. In later years the packer would carry the bags to the car. These days supermarkets are much more “efficient.” I learned a long time ago that efficiency isn’t everything.
Outside of the shopping centre, there were a couple of shops located a short walk away in Stephen Street. Initially there was just the one — a mixed business owned by the Krawczyks (the spelling is probably wrong but its close) My grandmother pronounced there name as Cracker -witches. I don’t think that was right. Around the time that the sealed roads were laid, several shops were built in Stephen St. The one most memorable is the Hunt’s family milk bar. There was also a fish and chip shop. For much of the time a couple of the shops had the shop windows whited out. When I rode my bike past them, they hummed with some sort of electrical activity. I never discovered what those shops did.
A lot of our shopping was done from Hunts or the Krawcyks. You could get anything you wanted from firecrackers to deli meats, vegetables, mixed lollies and Scanlens Footy cards of course.
Wider connections and long term mates.
Despite the seeming isolation there was never any shortage of things to do. We’d often make short journeys by foot to visit the Nash’s and the Evans.’ Nashy and I became good mates and were still knocking about together occasionally when I was 18 then we lost touch. I hear he’s had his battles but he’s doing OK. One day I hope to catch up with him.
Many evenings we were visited by the Pearce family. They lived in High Street down the hill a little. I remember them rolling up in a hot Monaro which much have been 1968 at the earliest. But they were firm fixtures in our lives long before that. Of all the people from that time, it is Daryl Pearce who I’ve remained friends with up until this day. We drifted apart as most young men do when they settle down, but we’ve been in regular contact now for the past ten years. I value that immensely.
A sense of place
There was something magical about that time. Everything felt right. Milk and bread were delivered to our door every day. We called the baker and milkman by name. Money was left out for them to collect. My parents organised gifts for them at Christmas as well as the postman, the paper boy and the team of garbos who ran behind the garbage truck and hauled all the bin contents into it. When my sister Kethly was born and Mum brought her home, the baker and the postie were invited in to see the baby. Everyone trusted everyone. The world spun rightfully on its axis and life was good.
When I started attending school at St Bernard’s primary, I discovered a whole new world. My class had fifty odd kids in it. Incredibly there were only thirteen boys. A lot of these kids lived one or to streets away from me. By the time I’d reached Grade 1 or 2 I was walking down to Rick Stokes’ place on the corner of Davis and High Street. His old man, Ted, was the local briquette man and he used to deliver bags of briquettes to the neighborhood. He’d load his old Bedford(?) tray full of briquettes and haul them off the truck and deliver them to people’s back yards. It was back breaking work and he was a tough man.
Rick and I became great mates and were both very keen sportsmen. In the summer time we’d play Test matches in his back yard. The pitch was all of 7 metres long. Rick was a pretty tall lad and his bowling was quite sharp over 7 metres. He’d usually bowl me all out in one or two hours for a paltry eighty or so. Then I’d spend the next week bowling to him while he amassed 6- 650 or something. I am still convinced if Rick had had to face his bowling he wouldn’t have made much more than I did. He was pretty slippery and the bounce was uneven at best. One memorable evening we played with a six stitcher. The ball hit my head more than my bat and there was a fair bit of “blood on the pitch”. We went back to tennis balls the next day.
Rick wasn’t the only new friend that I could now visit. Peter Lane and Peter Ruggeri didn’t live far away. Daryl Cunningham lived a couple of streets over. I could ride my bike to any of these places. All of these people remained friends well into secondary school but the links became tenuous as time marched on.
School also alerted me to the fact that there were even more kids my age who lived in my street. Trudy Morrison lived down the road a bit while the Harmans lived way down the end of the street. Trudy was great fun. She was tougher than just about every boy I knew and had no fear. We got into lots of harmless mischief together. I saw her around the traps a bit when we were both in our late teens but one or perhaps both of us slipped through the cracks and we lost contact. I hope she’s OK.
As my world grew bigger,more kids came into my orbit. Pierre Belluzzo introduced me to the Farmer boys, Paul, David and Mark. It wasn’t long before we were involved in some pretty willing scratch footy matches on one of the vacant blocks. There were no holds barred. It was tough and relentless. Mark and I were the youngest. We both learned pretty quickly that we weren’t going to get any allowances for being younger. We all got hurt at some stage, but we all came back for more. Cricket too, was serious business with those boys. They even mowed a pitch out on the vacant block and we all took turns to water it, although none of us knew what we were doing.
Some of the neighbours took an interest. Geoff Casperson showed me how to bowl an off break. While our new neighbour, Mr Thomson tried to show me how to bowl a leggie without much luck. These things seem trivial, but for some reason, they stick. People cared. It mattered then. It still matters now.
We were a family of six (seven counting my grandmother) living in a 3 bedroom 11 square home with a flat attached. The house grew too small as we kids grew larger.
Mum and Dad decided to move. It was kind of exciting, but underneath there was this intangible sense of loss.
I lost contact with the Summit Avenue people. They just dissolved into memory. I don’t think it hurt, not on the surface anyway. I never said goodbye to the Farmers, nor Bobby Kowalik who’d I become mates with. Occasionally I’d see someone down the street or at a footy game, but the connection seemed broken. I made other friends and moved on.
Later, when things began to go pear shaped I started to drive up Summit Avenue, looking out for a familiar face. I think I saw Martin Ives once but I didn’t wave. I don’t know why. There was an urge to to knock on the Farmer’s door but I never did, I told myself that they would have all moved on and to stop being silly. The corner block had been built on and our cricket pitch was long gone. When I drove past my old home the trees were still there, but the windows had been replaced with aluminium ones. It didn’t look the same. The world had moved on and so had I. You can never look back, but I do.
Summit Avenue On My Mind
Recently I discovered that Murray McDonald, a musician that I used to follow around the pubs a bit had also lived in Summit Avenue. He is a couple of years older than me but our brief chat brought back a lot of good memories that had been lost.
I remember bonfire nights in the back paddocks. The whole neighborhood would be there and the bonfire was piled high with rubbish. Skyrockets, Roman candles and Crackers are joys that children today don’t really get to experience in the same visceral way that I did. The bus from school used to stop in Henry Street and we’d have to walk home from there. Most days Elio Belluzzo drove us to school. Some days mum picked us up. Other days Mrs Barker did. Everyone pitched in until we were old enough to catch the bus.
Exquisite golden delicious apples picked from the Salter’s apple tree, the sound of the Belluzo’s rooster greeting the morning. All of these little treasures are still in my mind. When I lay awake at night I could hear the trucks roaring along the Princess Highway. Late at night, a Warrnambool goods train would sound its horn as it approached a crossing. It was so loud that it sounded like it was coming up our street even though it was a good three or four miles away.
It was home.
These were the best of times and yet they were the times of the Vietnam war, Thalidomide, the Beaumont kids and Bobby Kennedy. None of that mattered to me. I wasn’t told what to think. I was shown how to behave.
It took a while to seep in, but it got there eventually.
Summit Avenue Now
Before sitting down to write this I used Google maps to have a good look at Summit Avenue “now.” It’s changed a fair bit. My old home doesn’t look the same. Those tall gums are long gone. So is the white fence that Dad built. It looks like it has cladding on it now. It has become foreign to me, although I can still see the old garage still standing. Some places haven’t changed much, others are gone entirely. Nothing stays the same forever.
The streets seem much narrower than I remember. I suspect that’s a combination of perspective and the fact that cars are much more prevalent now. I can’t remember anyone parking their car on the street back then.
It feels odd. It isn’t my street but it is. I doubt if anyone living there now remembers the people I do, nor would they appreciate the sense of community and belonging that I remember. I’m sure that neighbours are still neighbours and do their best, but life moves faster now. Communities don’t get time to breathe. It’s a pity. There’s no going back. I wish sometimes that we could.
I’m indebted to all of the people mentioned in this article. They all helped shape the good parts of me. Thank you, wherever you all are.