Children’s Library, Play and baby- sitting groups.
These were happy times, and soon Helvi and I had another daughter, delivered at the same hospital and by the same doctor. Our children were growing up with many other young children in the same area. We befriended many other couples. None of the child-care centres that are now so proliferate existed then and one enterprising mother thought up the idea of playgroups whereby both children and mothers could get together. These were supreme examples of communities getting together. The playgroups and babysitting club came to being through a community organisation that was set up to preserve an old police lock up and ‘watch house’. It was an historic double story sandstone structure and in need of restoration. The National Trust which was set up to preserve old and historic buildings of national significance also included the ‘Watch House’ and decided in its wisdom to fund some of the cost of restoration. Money was also raised through the community having ‘fund raising’ dinners or events and through membership fees. Those members belonging to the association were mainly young and professional couples with children and it was a logical extension to get together with the kids and parents, mainly mothers. This was happening in parks, playgrounds or people’s homes.
As many of the couples became friends and started to socialize it was inevitable that someone thought up the idea of setting up a baby-sitting club. This would then allow parents to sometimes go out and know that their baby or young child was well looked after and at no cost. For every hour a baby was looked after, mainly during evenings, the parents of the baby would be charged a minus point and the baby sitter would get a plus point. To get rid of the minus points it was expected for parents to baby sit in return. There was a limit in racking up minus points and anyone exploiting the system would receive a notice that baby-sitting was expected, or else the baby- sitting for the offending couple would cease. The system worked perfectly, and by and large the point system remained fairly balanced. After all, who wanted to be known for being a perpetual ‘minus point couple’? There was one hiatus, males doing baby-sitting. The last bastion in the late sixties for males to break down was the right to baby-sit. Women were in the throng of burning bras and going girdle less, stockings with seams were passé and Germaine Greer had announced ‘Bras are a ludicrous invention’. So, while women burned bras because they were seen as accoutrements of torture, men burned their draft cards avoiding real torture and felt liberated until they tried to baby-sit in Inner West of Sydney.
As it was I turned up one evening and with the household all dressed to go and dine somewhere or see Zorba the Greek, I noticed a distinct cooling towards me. They made a discreet phone call and decided it would be safe for a man to be allowed to baby sit, just this time. ? Of course, many of the parents that knew each other through social events knew each other as couples or, in the case of play groups, were mainly always women. For a man to be on its own, solo, and at baby-sitting in the evening was not that far advanced in acceptance yet. There was a meeting and the majority approved ‘male baby-sitting’. I don’t know what the objections or criteria were for being suspicious of males doing baby-sitting. Curiously enough, the mother that was surprised and taken aback somewhat when I presented myself to baby-sit, thought nothing of taking her clothes off for a life drawing session. Were males going to do evil things or was the reluctance because of lack of skills? It was not that much of a challenge though and much depended on what sort of facilities the parents had provided. Real coffee instead of the instant variety was preferred. Sometimes, there was a good book or a television program. Sometimes, especially if it was after midnight (double points) you would just go to sleep on a couch if available. Never in their marital bed of course!
Most times babies would either sleep or cry. If they cried you generally gave them the option of a milk bottle or a dummy. With some families there were directions on procedures, and I remember one cot having a type of fly screen lid fitted on top. It was hinged and had a locking device which was difficult to open; it had a trick to it. I ended phoning the secretary. Did they think their baby was going to get stolen? I only had one time that my baby soothing skills were inadequate. Mind you, the babies (twins) were known as ‘the horrible twins’. Apparently, they would scream and could not be bend in order to change their nappies. It was my turn to baby-sit for these twins and as soon as I walked near them they broke out in a howl and in tandem. The nappy stench made clear I had to change them, but even another step towards their cot resulted in a renewal of their blaring sirens. It would only abate when stepping back. I kept stepping back and phoned the secretary again, she came around and changed the nappies
. By 1972 most males had broken the barrier and were fully accepted for babysitting.