Hello, my name is Carolyn and I am an Education Officer here at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
We look forward to sharing some stories with you during the school holidays.
The story we have got today is The Fair Dinkum War which has been written and illustrated by David Cox.
In the second year of World War Two, my family moved from the country to the city, all except for my dad, who worked as an overseer on a sheep station out west.
He had been a soldier in World War One so now he was a bit too old for the army.
He would be more useful on the land.
I was a country boy and it was the first time I had been to a real school.
I was in Grade Two and my teacher was Miss Walker.
She was a walker, all right.
Some of us walked with her on the way to school and we had to run to keep up.
She was a talker, too…and a chalker.
One morning, she drew a kookaburra on our blackboard.
It looked real enough to fly away.
I had never seen anyone who could draw like that and I wanted to draw like Miss Walker did.
That same morning, something important happened.
It began with a great rumble that came in through our classroom window and rumbled on and on.
We all ran down the stairs, even Miss Walker, and out into the school yard
and hung on the school-yard fence and gazed in wonder.
The American army had come to take part in the war!
An endless line of trucks and jeeps and tanks and weapons carriers
came around the corner and along our street, all of them with big white stars on their sides.
There were big cannons, too.
Soldiers in the trucks waved to us.
We wouldn’t have guessed there were so many trucks in the whole wide world.
They rumbled right through the morning break
and when we came out for lunch they still rolled by.
Then they were gone, heading north to where the war was being fought.
The war was coming closer and closer.
Japanese planes had dropped bombs on our towns to the north!
Our grown-ups were worried.
They studied the newspapers, listened to the radio, frowned and talked in low voices.
When children came near, they talked about the weather and other things.
It was hard sometimes not to be afraid.
But we knew all about the war.
We knew every aeroplane and tank and warship.
We knew the names of army generals…they were as famous as football players.
I did drawings of battle scenes for other kids and the games we played were war games.
We shot one another with pretend bullets and bled pretend blood.
We took prisoners of war.
We were aeroplanes and tanks.
We collected toy soldiers made of lead and set them out for battle.
Men dug air-raid trenches in zigzag lines across our school grounds.
They were not for play; this was fair dinkum war.
We kids were not allowed to go in them, jump over them, or even go near them, unless there was air-raid drill.
Then we had to file out of class
down into the trenches, shuffle along on each others’ heels
and squat on our haunches with our hands on our heads in case of falling bombs.
Everybody had air-raid shelters at home, too.
Some were just trenches, like ours, that filled with water when it rained.
But some kids had air-raid shelters they could boast about
with cups and plates and cupboards full of canned food that would last for weeks.
Every night the town was dark.
No street lights were turned on and black curtains hung on the windows of every house,
so that not a chink of light would tell the Japanese bombers where we were.
This was known as 'The Black-out'.
Someone at home was sewing the curtains in this picture here.
Sometimes at night, loud air-raid sirens wailed all over town
and we hoped it was just practice and not the real thing.
Men with helmets, marked ‘W’ for Warden,
patrolled the streets and knocked on the doors of houses where a light was showing.
Because of the war, we had to do without the things we loved,
and that was called ‘The Austerity Program’.
We could only dream about chocolate biscuits and chocolate ice-creams.
Food and clothing were scarce, too, because of the war.
We were given little books of coupons, so when we bought food or clothes,
we paid with money and a certain number of coupons.
So nobody, however rich, could buy too much, and that seemed fair.
It was called ‘Rationing’.
Lots of rubber and metal were needed for the war,
so we collected hot water bottles and tin cans and things like that.
We took them to school and they were taken away to become tyres and trucks and tanks.
We were all taking part in ‘The War Effort’.
Petrol was hard to come by, so there were not many cars on our streets.
Our milk and our bread came by horse and cart,
and our rubbish bins left in the same way.
And little piecarts, with ovens and chimneys, were pulled by piebald ponies.
They parked beside schools and movie theatres to sell us pies.
They were good pies, too, with crisp tops and thick gravy.
Mothers, and grandmothers even, dressed up in their hats and gloves and rode to town on wobbly bicycles.
Polite old men on Shanks’s pony raised their hats to them.
I used to ride my bike to Fredlein’s Corner store,
and one day I stopped by the Fredleins’ back-yard fence and climbed into their mulberry tree.
I stayed in the tree for quite a while.
When I went to the store, Mr Fredlein looked over his spectacles at me,
‘I see you like mulberries, young man.’
You can see his red face. He's got lots of red mulberries squashed over him!
When the circus came to town, it passed right by our school.
With our Grade Four teacher, Mr Brown, we hung on the fence and stared and stared.
There were lions and camels and elephants.
Later on, I tried to draw all the animals.
Mr and Mrs Fredlein had no kids of their own.
When they went to the circus, they took me with them…me, the famous mulberry thief.
So I did drawings of clowns and monkeys,
tightrope walkers, and men and women on the flying trapeze.
I gave the drawings to Mr and Mrs Fredlein, to square up things for the mulberries.
Most Sundays, we rode our bikes to Grandmother’s house on the edge of town
and had lunch at a long table, sitting straight like soldiers.
There were always aunts and uncles and older cousins
who wore the uniforms of the army, navy or airforce.
Grandmother read me books by Charles Dickens and taught me to play chess,
but I had to sit very straight
and I wasn’t allowed to whistle through my teeth when I was trying to think.
I never got to beat her.
Grandmother told me to never be afraid, not of anything.
She was not even afraid of hornets.
If she had been a man, she said, she would have been a sailor.
Our father was away out west working on sheep and cattle stations,
and once or twice a year he came back to us, just for a while.
He would tell us stories about the bush.
Then he would be gone again and far away, but at least we knew he was safe.
Other kids’ fathers were far away in the middle of the war.
Some of them were prisoners, some had escaped.
Some kids’ fathers would never come back.
I used to walk to school with a boy called Des.
‘I am very happy,’ Des told me one day,
‘and I am happy because my dad was a genius.
He was a real, fair dinkum genius, and he could play any musical instrument that ever was.
And that’s true and that’s why I’m happy.’
On one side of our town was an American army base.
Soldiers bounced around the streets in jeeps, and sailors bounced on hired ponies.
We called the Americans ‘yanks’.
They called us ‘buddies’ and gave us chewing gum and signed our autograph books.
On the other side of town was a camp for soldiers from the island of Java.
We never saw them on our streets, but we knew they were there.
We went to them with money or gifts—chillies and corn was what they liked most—and they made us beautiful kites.
We kids could make kites with newspaper and sticks, and we flew them on string.
But the Javanese made them out of bamboo and coloured paper, andwe could fly them high on cotton thread.
Lots of kids had Javanese kites, and they were shaped like all animals.
Birds and fish. There were even dragons.
People of our town lifted their eyes to the sky.
I went through Grade Three, Grade Four, Grade Five, and still the war went on.
When it is over, people said, there will be dancing in the streets.
And they were right.
When peace was declared, people went wild.
They laughed and laughed and hugged one another and danced in the streets.
Soon, we knew, there would be chocolate-coated ice-creams
and our soldiers would be coming home.
And that was not all.
My dad was offered a job as the manager of a big sheep station.
We could go back to the country and I would draw horses.
And we would all be together again.
Thank you for joining us for that story.
Reviewed 28 September 2020