The Art of bending Babies and Play Groups in the late sixties.

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.

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12 Responses to “The Art of bending Babies and Play Groups in the late sixties.”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    One of our daughters married at eighteen and had twins when she was twenty. In the meantime, just six months before the twins were born, Peter and I had another daughter. As far as baby sitting was concerned, this was perfect for us. We helped each other out. Our daughter and the twins always had a great time together. They were a bit like triplets.

    Thanks for telling us about your experiences with baby sitting. This was a very good read.


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Hello Utta,
    Glad you enjoyed the ‘baby’ experiences. All our babies have grown and had babies themselves ,even the grandchildren are now getting into their teens. How live moves on.
    My brother’s Daughter had triplets a few years ago and had four children below 2 years. A big job!


  3. Intricate Knot Says:

    Interesting glimpse into the social mores of the time period. I was immediately struck that the reason for the women’s suspicion of male babysitters, is the same as men’s resistance to women in the workforce: they felt threatened. One could come up with all sorts of “reasons” why male babysitters are concerning, but ultimately those would just be window-dressing.

    Enjoyable post, Gerard!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thanks for your insight Intricate Knot:
      At those times in the sixties and seventies, lots of strange habits between the sexes. One of the things that struck us was the odd separation of the sexes at social gatherings. Men around the barbecue and women in the kitchen. In fact, if you mixed as a male with women you were thought to have slightly dubious sexual orientations. Being with the ‘boys’ was very in. I don’t know how anyone ever got to get into a partnership with the opposite sex, let alone a marriage. Perhaps this was done after dark or in a leap year.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Since those sixties and seventies I developed an aversion to those sweet & sour gherkins wrapped with a bit of ham.. What did it was the way the toothpicks were pierced through them holding the ham in place..


  4. auntyuta Says:

    What a big job this is, Gerard, to have four babies under two. I hope your niece did get a bit of extra help. Peter helped me a lot, after we had our third baby a year after having arrived in Australia. We then had three babies under two!


  5. auntyuta Says:

    Correction, I exaggerated a bit here. Actually we did come with two babies under two to Australia, a year later we had three babies under three.


  6. gerard oosterman Says:

    Well Uta, three or two under two years is still a lot. We had nappy service after a couple of weeks. This was a big step forward. You just shook out of the nappy what came out and wrapped the rest up with the other ones in a plastic bag which was picked up once a week and replaced with a bag of freshly washed ones. I did not envy the truck driver driving a van full of dirty nappies. Especially not on a hot day..


  7. auntyuta Says:

    I tell you, Gerard, it was a lot! When our first born one turned three, we had a daughter who was only 20 months and our son was 4 months! The first born one, our daughter Gaby, was an extremely lively child. On her fourth birthday she was struck by polio. She ended up being a quadriplegic.
    At some stage all three of our children were in hospital with polio. Gaby was struck by it the worst. The other two children soon recovered. This was in 1961.
    We had a nappy service coming on SS Straithaird in 1959. After this living in a hostel in Wollongong we always washed all the nappies ourselves. We boiled the nappies in big boilers in the hostel’s communal laundry. We rinsed them by hand in huge laundry tubs. It was good we could dry the nappies on clothes lines in the open air. They smelled lovely fresh after they had been drying in the sun.


  8. gerard oosterman Says:

    We had our three children between 1968 and 1972, the nappies were being phased out but in between there were still the nice fluffy cotton ones which for the last two we hired. It was also still the norm to get milk and bread delivered.
    So sorry to hear your children suffered polio. I only stayed in a hostel at Scheyville for a fortnight back in 1956 with my parents, brothers and one sister.


  9. auntyuta Says:

    Hi Gerard!
    Last month when I made the above comment, our beautiful daughter Gabriele was still alive. She unexpectedly passed away last month on Sunday, the 15th. When you go to my blogs, you find out more details and how we celebrated her life.
    Don’t they say: You never know to whom the bell tolls?


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