50 to 50 #9A: The Real Space Age

While the superpowers were busy spending billions on a Space Race that would ultimately lead to a series of blurry television pictures, there was another, far more real, Space Age unfolding. In my head.

As B Smith said, in the 1960s there were snap-together rockets in Kellogg’s breakfast cereal boxes, including reasonably detailed models of the actual Apollo spacecraft, some of the more speculative NASA designs — even, as this close-up photo shows, vehicles from Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

The real imagined future of US and Soviet space exploration blurred with the imaginary imagined future of Gerry Anderson to create, in my mind at least, a gloriously unfolding set of possibilities.

My favourite breakfast cereal toy of all was the Kellogg’s Molab, pictured above — although I’m pretty sure mine was blue. Apparently it’s loosely based on NASA concepts for a manned MObile LABoratory for cruising the Lunar surface, much like this book cover illustration. General Motors even built a mock-up. However once the Moon Landings had happened, the follow-up programmes to Apollo were killed off.

I kept losing my Molab’s wheels. Probably because I didn’t glue in the axle pins. But that didn’t matter. I re-imagined it as a spacecraft. The wheel mounts became fold-down exit ramps for rapid troop deployment.

But my favourite space-related TV series from that era was Fireball XL5. May I recommend the opening and closing titles? Or perhaps this version by Bob Downe.

[Photo: Kellogg’s Molab cereal packet premium image thanks to Wotan of the Moonbase Central blog. If you grew up during the Space Age, you’ll lose yourself there for hours.]

50 to 50 #9: The Space Age

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, started last year to mark my 50th birthday. One post per year, y’see. The series ground to a halt due to a combination of work and personal pressures, as well as finding that such intense reminiscences of my own past were emotionally draining. The series has now been resumed.]

The 1960s were the Space Age. And since I was a bright male child of that decade, my thoughts were dominated by the events, images and themes of space exploration.

It doesn’t look much now, but this photo was the very pinnacle of all that. Or perhaps the apogee. Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the Moon. One small step etc, taken from the original TV footage.

I was mesmerised — even though half the time my nine-year-old self couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’d been following the story as it unfolded in the newspapers, reading every word and memorising every diagram. It was front page news every day. But the TV images were just crap.

Of course the reason they were crap was the circuitous journey they took from the Apollo mission’s slow-scan TV cameras. The signal was compressed from arsehole to breakfast time and bounced from the Moon to the Parkes Radiothermal Telescope in rural New South Wales, then somehow to NASA Mission Control in Houston where the audio was mixed in, then back to Australia to the TV stations, and finally out through the normal broadcast chain.

It’s a miracle they arrived at all, as the film The Dish portrayed — along with its historical inaccuracies.

But historians and popular culture tell us that the world stopped to watch these blurry images, and we all remember where we were. And it’s true.

Continue reading “50 to 50 #9: The Space Age”

50 to 50 #8: Chores and responsibility

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, started last year to mark my 50th birthday. One post per year, y’see. The series ground to a halt due to a combination of work and personal pressures, as well as finding that such intense reminiscences of my own past were emotionally draining. Last night there was a conversation that triggered this attempt to resurrect the series.]

I’ve already written how we lived on the Mount Compass dairy farm for a decade, essentially through the 1960s. I’ve already written about its continual financial struggles and the joys of growing up as a free range kid. Today, to get this series back on track, some childhood memories that I’m sure have shaped my adult personality.

A dairy farm is a seven-day business, and a family farm is a family business. Everyone is expected to contribute. From the age of eight or nine I had my share of chores, and was given plenty of lessons in taking responsibility. I can remember simple tasks like feeding the dogs, helping clean the milking shed and lots of fetch-and-carry. But there were other chores that to a 21st century urban ear sound like a lot for an unsupervised young kid.

At the easier end of things was taking the two cattle dogs out to round up the cows for milking. Actually, the dogs did all the work. They’d see dad heading to the milking shed to start setting up and they’d kick off the round-up themselves, circling back to herd me and my brother if we fell behind. I’d also cycle the four or five kilometres into Mount Compass village to buy milk or bread or whatever. Easy stuff.

But there was more.

Continue reading “50 to 50 #8: Chores and responsibility”

50 to 50 #7: Wearing my Sunday best, for church

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts to mark my 50th birthday next weekend. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it’s been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, eventually, just not one per day.]

On Sundays, as often as not, we put on our Sunday best clothes, slicked down our hair with Brylcreem and were driven in our white Holden Special HR station wagon to church. And here’s a picture [embiggen].

This photo was taken some time in 1969, again when I was around nine years old. That’s me on the right, my brother on the left, and a cattle dog called Duke in front. The farmhouse is in the background, the dog house on the right. Here’s another picture.

My mother, descended from some of South Australia’s original German immigrants who arrived in the 1840s, was of course brought up Lutheran. But my father was of English Protestant stock, Methodist to be precise, and a wife must take on her husband’s religion. So our regular church was the Nangkita Methodist Church, a sparse white-painted rectangle with a rust-free corrugated iron roof about a mile east of Mount Compass.

I’ve marked the building on the map below, though it doesn’t seem to be a church any more.

Back in the 1960s Nangkita Road was just a graded strip of gravel and yellow clay. In summer it was rough and dusty, in winter slippery with mud. When we hit some of the bigger potholes, the car would lurch and my mother would swear under her breath, “Shit and tomatoes!”

She also swore if my hair got messed up. She was obsessed with making sure it looked exactly right. If she noticed a few strands out of place she’d spit on a clean handkerchief and wipe them back into place. I’d push her away. “Hold still,” she’d say.

Continue reading “50 to 50 #7: Wearing my Sunday best, for church”

50 to 50 #6: Myponga Primary School

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts in the lead-up to my 50th birthday next weekend. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it’s been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, eventually, just not one per day.]

One day in early 1966, when I was still five years old, I caught the school bus from the front gate of our dairy farm near Mount Compass and enrolled myself at Myponga Primary School.

Yes, I enrolled myself. My parents were too busy running the farm that day. I can just remember being taken to the principal’s office to answer the questions he needed to complete the enrolment form. Name, date of birth, address, telephone number, parents’ names and so on. I daresay my parents had phoned in advance with most of that stuff, but at the time I felt so very grown up and clever.

I knew my alphabet and could count and do basic arithmetic before I went to school. These days there are kindergartens and pre-schools in the cities and towns, and plenty of kids’ TV programs wherever you live. But who taught me back then? I’m guessing my grandmother — my mother’s mother — who lived with us on the farm. Alas, I have almost no memory of her.

School bored me. All these kids seemed so stupid! They had to be taught their letters and numbers and I already knew all that. Apparently I was disruptive in class. Who knew?

The photo [embiggen] is actually from 1969, when I was in Grade 5 and nine years old. Which kid is me? I’ll tell you at the bottom of this post.

The guy on the top row, sixth from the left with a cheesy grin, is Mark Lorenzetti. Our families were friends. Mark was the same age as me, his youngest brother the same age as mine, and he had a brother in the middle. Like us, they had a dairy farm, though theirs had plenty of irrigated land and was clearly far more productive through those droughts of the 1960s. I reckon our dogs were smarter than theirs though.

Continue reading “50 to 50 #6: Myponga Primary School”