Bonnie was born in 1929 to Edith and Albert Felton. Such a pretty baby, they called her Bonnie. She had two older sisters – June and Thelma, and they all lived in Epping, Sydney, in a blue/black brick house that had been built by their paternal grandparents. Next door lived the grandparents long with Albert’s sister Ethel and her family (husband McMillan, son Jeffrey and daughter Joy) in a similar house built for the family as well – there was a connecting gate in the fence between them.
Later the grandparents Felton moved away from Epping – they went to the seaside suburb of DeeWhy – providing holidays for the three girls with Grandma and Pop Felton.
|Bonnie - age 4yrs|
Childhood in Epping
Bonnie grew up in this house and lived there until she was married. Epping was a settled suburb on the train line – many people living out their lives there, knowing each other and their families. It was a time when the milkman let himself into the kitchen to place his delivery into the ice-box each day, such was the low level of crime. People walked to get to place in Epping, and caught the train to go further, most not owning cars.
Early in Bonnie’s life, during the depression of the thirties, her father was given one of the jobs provided by the government against widespread unemployment, as a cart minder in the markets in the city. People would bring their produce into town to sell, and Albert would be one of the men to organise and direct the parking and arrangement of the vehicles. One of these people might have been Bonnie’s future husband – Colin Brown, who lived nearby in Carlingford, worked on his family property, and drove the truck into town at the crack of dawn at harvest time to deliver peaches to the market.
When the war came and Bonnie was around 12, the family used to entertain soldiers, airmen and sailors of the allied forces, to give them some home cooking and family life. Bonnie’s two older sisters greatly enjoyed this company and Bonnie looked forward to being old enough to go out with the young men too – only to be disappointed when the war ended too soon for her to do so!
She tells another family story of her cousin Jeffrey next door going AWOL from the army and hiding under his mother’s bed, but still discovered. The men in the family thought it disgraceful, but the women did not (his mother hid him there), and the kids thought it pretty exciting news.
|Albert Felton with his hire car|
Bonnie went to the nearby public school – West Epping – where the children could walk in 10 to 15 minutes. When she finished primary school the headmistress called up her mother and talked to her about sending Bonnie to the more academic school than they were planning. Her older sisters had gone to the domestic science school, but she was to go to the “high” school – Hornsby Girl’s High. She recalls her sister Thelma being jealous of this. High school students travelled on the train, so Bonnie would walk to Epping station to catch it. All of the students from her school were to enter the one carriage on the train – another school was in a different carriage – and prefects supervised the students’ behaviour – ensuring among other things that they always gave seats to the public when they were on the train. They did not have to pay for the train – they were issued a pass at the beginning of term for which a deposit was paid, then returned on surrender at the end of school term. When they reached Hornsby station they would walk in formation of twos or threes to school. Such an orderly life – many of the travelling public now would be grateful for such behaviour from school students!
Bonnie finished school at about age 15 – completing the “Intermediate Certificate”, as most students did then. She says she saw no reason to continue on with schooling, instead attending business college in the city for a period before finding a job.
In Bonnie’s primary school years the family would spend their summer holidays in a tent at Bilgola Beach – one of Sydney’s northern beaches. In October her father would set up the large tent for Bonnie’s family and the grand-parents, and it would stay up until Easter. The family would drive down on a Friday and stay the weekend until Christmas school holidays started, when they would stay all week. The men would go off to their jobs at the markets each day in the car, and the women housekeep. They weren’t the only family who did this, and the children greatly enjoyed the beach. Bonnie learnt to swim here in the sea pool, taught by Pop Felton. For food supplies Bonnie and her two sisters would be sent off with a suitcase to walk to the shops at the next beach – Newport. They would walk along the side of the road – the only place to walk – but the few cars were careful of the pedestrians. If there were a lot of groceries Bonnie and Thelma would each have a string bag to be filled. I can only imagine the arguments that must have occurred at time s to negotiate this task amongst the sisters! These holidays were brought to an end when their father got his regular job driving a hire car as they had to stay close to home then.
When the Felton grandparents moved from Epping to a new home in DeeWhy, that provided another holiday location for the children. Bonnie remembers going there with her sisters. It was quite a marathon of a trip: catching the bus to Epping station because of suitcases to be carried, catching the train into town and getting off at Wynyard station, catching the tram to Circular Quay, catching the ferry to Manly, catching the bus to DeeWhy. The bus to Dee Why was a double decker bus – so the children always wanted to sit in the front seat at the top to “drive the bus”. The half price childrens’ fares were one penny (or1d) on the buses, 1d tram and 1d ferry, and 6d on the train.
On one occasion older sister Thelma forgot to ring their mother in the phone box at Dee Why and tell her they’d arrived, so their poor worried mother had called the police by the time the girls did remember and went next door to ring and let her know! Grandma Felton was tough and strict. Every morning of her life – summer and winter – she would walk down the hill to the sea pool for her morning swim. Bonnie remembers her walking down, swimming one length, then walking back up the hill. She lived to a good age – maybe the fitness helped. When the girls were staying, they had to go as well, but could stay a bit longer. Grandpa Felton grew vegetables and had a little side line of collect horse manure with a wheel barrow then using it to fertilise his crop.
Another holiday Bonnie enjoyed was with her mother’s sister Clarie. Clarie lived at Watson’s Bay – in the eastern suburbs of Sydney by the harbour. Again Bonnie would take train, then tram, to go there to visit Auntie Clarie and Uncle Jim (who was also her father’s cousin). Auntie Clarie had not been able to have children of her own, having had several miscarriages, and was so fond of the child Bonnie that she offered to adopt her, but Bonnie’s mother did not let her go. Bonnie enjoyed a close relationship of mutual affection and understanding with Auntie Clarie all her life.
It strikes me as I write these snippets of Bonnie’s early life how involved family members were, and I understand better why she speaks of family so fondly, and had a very strong sense of people being “in” the family (those you could rely on), and people not being in the family. I recall my father speaking about his early training about the importance of your family as well, so I think it was a strong value at the time and was practiced, with the family being around and being the people who shaped you and you turned to.
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