Monday, 9 July 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : I is for...

I still remember my very first day on Australian soil. Even though it was over thirty years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. I arrived in December, having left my hometown in Suffolk, England where it was cold and had recently snowed heavily, to a dry heatwave the likes of which I had never before experienced. My first home was in Ida Street, Bassendean.

When I arrived in Australia with my mother we lived with my grandparents at Ida Street. I only have vague memories of the house as we only lived there for about a month before we moved to another suburb. I do remember the weather was hot and so was every corner of the house (no air-conditioning). I remember the local shop in Bassendean where my cousin introduced me to Paul's Billabong ice-cream (they're now called Peter's Billabong but I still remember the original jingle, "Wrap your laughing gear 'round a Pauls Billabong"). The first time I tasted a chocolate Billabong, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Up to then, the best ice-cream I had tasted was Wall's ice-cream at Lowestoft beach.

My first impressions of Australia have stayed with me all these years. I recently took my mother to the domestic airport and as I travelled back along the main airport road, I was immediately taken back through time to my first ever day on that road. I still look up at the sky and remember my first impressions of it all. I was frightened of the huge expanse of blue, that stretched from east to west, north to south. I truly thought it would engulf me from all sides. The sky was huge! Then, as we took the roads to Ida Street, I marvelled at the wide open spaces all around us. There was miles and miles of nothing, just flat land and the odd shrub dotted on the landscape.
My grandmother Lilian outside Ida Street

Ida Street was a large house, built on an equally large block of land. To the left of the house was a fenced-off garden with a Hills hoist towards the back fenceline. I had never seen a Hills hoist before I clapped eyes on this one. Clothes on a circular, rotating tree! The house itself was made from pale brown bricks. It was a dull and rather boring house to me, it just lacked colour and character. I was accustomed to cottages, pink houses and thatched roofs in Suffolk. There was a strange contraption in front of the door as well, which I had never seen before. My grandfather told me it was called a flyscreen door. "Why do we need one of those?" I asked him. He laughed and said, "You'll see". And he was right, I soon learned.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Bassendean over the years. I resented it in my earlier years because I sorely missed my home in England, and my family that were still back there. I missed my school, my teachers and my friends. I missed the snow. In my late twenties I grew to appreciate Bassendean for its history and its lovely old buildings. I have fond memories of waiting for trains at Bassendean Station (the old one, not its modern replacement) and I still love Bassendean for its famous street, Old Perth Road.

History of Bassendean

There is archeological evidence that Aborigines (Nyungar people) inhabited Bassendean 30,000 years before white settlement in 1829. After the colony's foundation, Bassendean was used primarily for agriculture and many farms were set up by settlers to the area. With the establishment of industries in the 1900s, Bassendean became popular for railway labourers, giving the town a distinct working class flavour. Post World War Two European emigration saw Bassendean change again, this time into a more cosmopolitan suburb. Bassendean has many Heritage listed buildings including: Earlsferry, Sucess Hill Lodge, Daylesford House, and the Pensioner Guard Cottage. One of my personal favourite buildings in Bassendean has always been the Bassendean Hotel.

Bassendean Train Station 1947
Complete with Signal Box
Bassendean Train Station 2012
Daylesford House, Bassendean
Originally built for Cyril Jackson c. 1920
Pensioner Guard Cottage, Bassendean
Bassendean Hotel
Photo by Roderick Smith (Flickr)


  1. Beautiful memories, and beautiful photos.

  2. An interesting comparison of two different ways of life for a child....Lovely photographs.

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed your reminiscences and description. Impressive.

  4. Loved this Debra. Born & bred in South Australia it wasn't until I'd spent 12months in the North West of the USofA that I got a glimpse of what it must be like for newcomers, like yourself and my dad & grandpa etc. The sky SO big and SO blue. The flat, seemingly empty land...even in the middle of the suburbs. The trees SO low,a strange colour and"squibby"... and dust, dust, dust everywhere!!! How terrible it must be for a child to be uprooted like that. Thanks for sharing... Catherine.

    1. Thanks for leaving such a lovely comment. I totally agree with everything you said. It was hard, and it took me many years to appreciate my new homeland. x

  5. I enjoyed reading this very much. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  6. Brilliant memories Debra,very brave move of your Mum to emigrate & lots of others to Australia & elsewhere,don't think I could ever do that. Nearly fin reading 'the floating brothel' abt sailing from UK & arrival in Sydney Cove June 1790, what a task lay ahead for them at beginning of Australia, and its really not so long ago, 200 yrs.

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment Lynn; I loved that book. Yes, that was what confused me when I first came here. WA celebrated 150 years of Federation and I had just come from England where I'd been learning about Medieaval Britain! xx

  7. Great post, lovely pictures. I felt the same the first time I came to Queensland...BIG SKY! Loved the screen door story too.

  8. I don't think the differences between your two homes could have been more different. I enjoyed reading your memories.

  9. Thank you everyone for leaving such lovely comments. It was a bold move on my part to write about Australia and my first year in a new (and strangely young) country. It wasn't until I learned about Aboriginal Australia, that I developed a whole new depth of love for Australia.

  10. Hi Debra,

    Love the alphabet series and love this blog post! Thank you for sharing your insight and past with us.

    I'm not sure I could cope with the heat, but seeing the move through your eyes, and the love you found for your new surroundings is lovely to read.

    All the best