Early Australian childhood

Early Childhood Down Under in Australia

Italy Pompei Simkin Family 1964After I was born in Chalfont, St. Giles, England, my family returned down under on the SS Oriana ship via Gibraltar, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Port Said, Aden, Columbo and finally Melbourne to settle in Canberra, the Australian capital city of circles.

It was in Canberra at our newly built home in Red Hill at 137 Mugga Way that I have vivid memories of watching on our tiny B&W TV man first landing on the moon, and my father driving away from the house in a military staff car heading off to Vietnam.  It was at this house that I learnt to swim, and it was at this house that my brothers almost killed me knowingly having me sit on a log atop a red back spiders’ nest in a game of hide and seek. The red back spiders are one of the most lethal in the world.

This was the only time in my life with normality. Family, school, playing, holidays. It was a memorable time for me, likely because it contains most of my earliest memories.

My best playmates at the time were a pair of adopted orphaned twins from Vietnam, the children of Tran Kim Phuong, who was the Vietnamese Ambassador in both Canberra and later in Washington D.C. My closest friend was Phoebe Fraser, daughter of Malcolm Fraser, who later became Prime Minister.

Canberra Aquavan Tim and Toby Simkin swimIn January 1968 we had a lovely family holiday on board an “Aquavan”, a type of houseboat, on the nearby Hawkesbury river and we all had a ball. If memory serves, this was the only holiday we had with everyone together.

Mugga Way Toby 1st day of Red Hill School from CanberraI walked to the local Red Hill primary school every day. I remember enjoying that school, participating in sing-a-longs, playing dress up, and doing typical little boys’ things.

In 1968, we built an extension to the house, and large dining room, family room and bedroom for my oldest brother Richard. From his new bedroom away from the rest of the home, I used to watch my oldest brother Richard being naughty and ‘mooning’ the cars driving past.

This home was the only time in our family life that all my family briefly lived under one roof, so in 2017 when my mummy died, we spread a portion of her ashes on Red Hill across the street from where our house once stood.

When my father returned from service in Vietnam, in 1971, he was elevated to CBE, and then we moved to Brisbane, when my father was posted to head Northern Command for the Australian Army. My sister Mandy chose to stay in Canberra at the Girl’s Grammar School, and my oldest brother Richard at the Boy’s Grammar School.

The Brisbane home was one of my favorites, called ‘Beau Rivage’, it was on a huge piece of land sitting at the top of a steep cliff filled with thick tropical flora over the Brisbane river at the very end of Dewar Terrace.  Strangely the home did not have its own pool. We were banned from using the tennis court without a parent supervising. So, my brother Tim and I used to play in the front yard on an old tire hanging from a tree. My Grandfather headed Dunlop Tire in Australia, perhaps my father got the tire for free.

Against my mummies strict rule, we used to secretly keep a cubby house inside an old anti-Japanese air raid bunker from World War II, that was halfway down the hill amongst very thick and razor-sharp lantana.  Beau Rivage was also the home of deadly snakes, poisonous spiders and other creepy crawly‘s that made it an equally dangerous place for young inquisitive boy to play.

Two or three times a year I participated in ‘rag drives’ where I would walk door to door to collect unwanted clothing from as many homes that would give my cute little face begging for anything, then carry these items inside very heavy large netted bags to my Sherwood State School where they would be sorted, cleaned and given to charity. This was my first act of charity in my life and the reward of knowing I was making a difference in other people’s lives made up for the sweat and exhaustion of dragging and lugging these heavy bags through the streets.

I remember there was a quarry between the school and our home, and often, when walking home with my brother Tim, we would get through the fence and play army. One day, he locked me inside the quarry, and hours later, once my mummy found out, she came to my rescue.