My earliest memories of Gran Rhoades are of being at her place with the family during school holidays with hot, endless summers at Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast. In those days we had to drive for hours in an old Holden car on the old Pacific Highway from Sydney to Gosford and finally to the beachside paradise of Terrigal. I knew we were getting close when we started to hear the bellbirds in song in the (then) thick bush and forest on the windy road from Gosford. We stayed with Gran Rhoades and, for a few summers, my aunt Jill (my father Gerald’s youngest sibling), who was still living there with Gran before she married and moved out. The old family house was a treasure trove for young children with leftover possessions from many years of the previous generation to trawl through. The house had been built by my grandfather Edison and was typical of a sturdy, do-it-yourself fibro place of the pre WWII period. It had a big verandah where we slept on hot nights (under mosquito nets). In those days (1950’s and 60’s) it was just about the only house on the “Scenic Highway” at the top of the hill overlooking Terrigal Beach. Terrigal Beach was safer for little kids than some of the other nearby beaches but I remember it was still scary for us chlorinated pool-dwellers from the Western Suburbs of Sydney.
Even though Gran was still then able to look after herself, she had stopped playing the banjo mandolin because of arthritis in her hands. Her arthritis compounded a problem for me and my younger brother Alan. The Beatles were soon to come into fashion and Alan and I regularly preceeded them with our unruly long hair. This was an invitation for Gran to exercise one of her previous jobs of cutting young boys’ hair . . Unfortunately for us, the arthritis in combination with some ancient, rusty shears meant that more hair was pulled out than cut off (or so it seemed to us).
Although we lived in the Western Suburbs of Sydney (I suppose it would be called “Inner West” these days) we were still swept up by the surfing craze that happened in the sixties and seventies. Local smart kids converted our roller skates into dodgy skateboards, we started spending weekends (and some week days) at the beach and up and down the NSW coast.
“It's automatic when I
Talk with old friends
The conversation turns to
Girls we knew when their
Hair was soft and long and the
Beach was the place to go”
(“Do It Again” - The BeachBoys, 1968 - it is funny, I always thought the second last line was “Hair was long and blonde and the”)
Gran was still living in Terrigal and, while it was not strictly conventional for young males to be staying with their Gran on weekend surf safaris, I found it was nice to connect with someone in the family whom I didn’t see very often and who could tell me more about the “good ol’ days”. While there were such stories, I soon realised she was also bitter about how Edison (my Grandfather) had treated her and other things that could have gone better in her life. One of her comments still haunts me - and possibly still affects the projects that I am interested in today: “There are good things about all ages except old age.”