‘Winter in America,’ Children’s Library and Vegie co-op (Auto-biography)

Balmain Watch-house.

Balmain Watch-house.

The way things are going in this auto- biography it will run into a literary cinemascope  version of  Days of our Lives with the Hammond organ belting out a circular and never ending tune.  The cheek of thinking that my life is any better or more important or interesting than that of any living being or Jo Blow!  I shall just continue because I enjoy this very much.  And if there is a blow out of too many words, well…just skip a few pages… or start at the end and work towards the middle. Even if it relieves insomnia for just a single night for just a single person, I’ll be a happy man.

Apart from the baby-sitting club, another community enterprise was the vegie co-op which also started to sprout up in the various communities of inner Sydney suburbs. I am not sure anymore if this came about during our stay at Gertrude’s cottage between 1969-1973 or after our stay in Holland and subsequent return in 1976. In any case a group of people decided to fork out $10.- each week towards a kitty to buy fruit and vegetables at the Flemington wholesale fruit and vegie markets at Homebush.  It was a huge market covering a very large area where all the fruit and vegie shops would get their produce at wholesale prices. It also had several cafeteria where the buyers could get sustenance and a coffee. Many fruit and vegie shops were run by Italians and Greeks, so food and coffees were as necessary as the apples, kale and celery which they filled their trucks up with, especially when the buying started at 5am.  You can imagine how early the growers had to get up and prepare their stalls? Farming is tough! It was a hectic few hours and the men, and many women too, would be ravenous by seven am. The market as all markets do, also had great atmosphere and laughter was everywhere.

Of some interest was my market shopping partner Jimmy Stewart. He was  Irish. He loved a good yarn and food. He looked somewhat like a juvenile Oscar Wilde. He had dark hair hanging over his face and a large stomach. After our shopping of many boxes of fruit and vegies, we would visit the cafeteria, enjoy bacon and eggs, coffee and a cigarette. He loved women and they generously reciprocated, yet he was never good marriage material. His income sporadic and swallowed up by international phone calls to entrepreneurial music and record companies. He generally managed to get me to buy cigarettes and pay for the bacon and eggs. But, he was terrific company, always whistling and singing. A cheerful soul. A great friend.

He was a writer of music, popular music and would let nothing stand in the way of doing that. Sadly, it did not bring in a regular income, yet women were attracted to him often in order to find out that a future including a cosy and secure family-life would be hazardous at best and reckless at worst.  That’s how so often and so sadly, love gets lost. The combination of income with a mutual everlasting and reasonable attraction is so desired and yet so rarely achieved. Money so often the banana skin on the doorstep of many relationships. Indeed, even with plenty of money things can get perilous.

While we drove to the markets and back he used to hum a song that really hit the world at that time. It was ‘Winter in America’.  It had a line that included the ‘Frangipani’. “The harbour’s misty in the morning, love, oh how I miss December / The frangipani opens up to kiss the salty air” – Ashdown’s lament to “leave love enough alone” has become one of the great Australian standards.

It was Jimmy Stewart’s creation and he would often sing it while driving to Flemington markets..

Here it is;

At the same time of the weekly boxes of fruit and vegies, another group also brought to fruition a Children’s library. Another community effort. The retired chief Commonwealth librarian named Larry Lake was the main person behind this idea. The National Trust had given the use of the Balmain Lock-up to a group that called themselves “The Balmain Association’. The ‘Lock-up’ or Watch house’ was busy during the heydays of Balmain still working as a Stevedoring and Waterfront suburb. There were lots of maritime associated industries and that is what attracted many to the area when that ceded to exist. During earlier times and at night the local constable would have been busy locking up inebriated sailors or others that liked to frequent so many pubs it was difficult to find normal houses in between. I believe Balmain had over 60 pubs at one stage. The air used to be thick with coarse oaths and rank vomit renting along the blue-stone cobbled noisy streets. It frightened the horses at times.

A group including myself spent many evenings getting this library working. There were fundraisings and book covering, cataloguing and getting shelving to fit into one of the Lock-up cells. It had a heavy steel door and sliding locking mechanism. Those poor drunks! The children that used to visit the cell library afterwards, just loved it.

Those were the days. It did include occasional bra removals, but also baby-sitting, vegie co-ops, music and books for children.

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20 Responses to “‘Winter in America,’ Children’s Library and Vegie co-op (Auto-biography)”

  1. Dorothy brett Says:

    Gerard, your life has been mire interesting than most, and as you say, you enjoy the writing, and i, and im sure, many others enjoy reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Forestwoodfolkart Says:

    Poor horses lol!! Seriously though, I enjoyed the visual imagery og this period of Balmain history!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I’m still chuckling over the fact your friend’s name was Jimmy Stewart. I wonder if he used his famous name to his advantage, particularly at Christmas when ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ rolled around. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew Says:

      I loved the other Jimmy Stewart – Harvey is my favourite film. I can hear Jimmy in my head now saying “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.” Gerard, your life straddles such interesting and difficult times.It is as educational as it is entertaining. Keep right on to the end of the road.

      Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I never thought about the ‘other’ Jimmy Stewart. I wonder where the vegie co-op JS is now? He did get married eventually and worked for a radio station ABC JJ for a while. The ‘America is cold’ was a big hit in Holland.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. rod Says:

    Interesting about Jimmy. Sometimes being popular isn’t enough.
    No doubt he enjoyed himself, though.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Both Jimmy Stewart and Dough Ashdown broke up after the hit. I am sure Jimmy continued on writing his music. I know that his girlfriend at the time had her phone disconnected and he used a public phone in the street to conduct his business.


  5. greenwritingroom.com Says:

    What a healthy-eating, book-loving, community-oriented family, I’m seriously impressed. I never heard the song before… thanks.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, those were the times, my friend, they’ll never end. The children’s library kept going till the local council decided to put a public library in Balmain. The watch-house is still being used as an art gallery.
      The vegie co-op went for many years.


  6. gerard oosterman Says:

    On a more serious note, compliments of Sedwith.


  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    The “other” Jimmy Stewart left so many good memories. It’s nice to see that your Jimmy Stewart remains firm in your memory. Who knows, he may have developed into another Johnny Mercer.


  8. elizabeth2560 Says:

    I used to go the markets occasionally with my grandmother. Your post has brought back fond memories for me. Thanks


  9. sedwith Says:

    Thanks Gerard 😊 generous repost. I like remembering what I was up to at the time….came back to Oz to study a fine time for beer and music. Big on punk as I recall….
    Watch “Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex (from “The Punk Years”)” on YouTube


  10. Julia Lund Says:

    Never boring or tedious. I love reading your memoirs.


  11. Patti Kuche Says:

    I love that song! What a vibrant community you had around you and as for all those pubs, wonder what they are now . . . . ?


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