“That will serve you right!” someone called out as the guard patted my mates and me down. I turned to see this cheeky redhead laughing with her friends as they went in. The guard was checking if we had alcohol hidden in our socks because in our Navy uniforms you couldn’t hide it anywhere else. It was our first leave and we’d decided to go to Luna Park. By the time we got through the girls were gone, but we caught up with them at the Giggle Palace. That’s how I met my wife, Marice. That was at Christmas in 1946, and she’s still cheeky today.
My name is Ken Booth. I was born in 1928, and before getting married lived most of my life in St Kilda. We moved to this house in Macleod in December 1954. When we bought the place it had only two rooms, and we’ve expanded it over the years. There were about four houses in the street then; the roads were unmade and there were no shops. Macleod was all paddocks, and from our window, we could see the steam train pass on its way to Mont Park Asylum with supplies.
Saint Kilda was a pretty rough suburb when I was growing up. There were gunmen around, but they didn’t annoy people unless you annoyed them. The average person was pretty safe; we never locked our doors and there were no break-ins like now. I went to primary school, and then to Prahran Tech, but left the day I turned 14 to get a job. Things were tough at home; I had six sisters and one brother, and dad was a bit of a drinker and gambler, so we never had much money. During the war, dad was discharged as medically unfit, which was fortunate as everyone he’d shared a tent with did not survive.
I got a job at a London Clothing Store the day after I left school. A few years later I moved to General Motors and got an apprenticeship that never really happened because my supposed trainer quit. I’d been there about a year when a friend suggested we join the Navy and we headed down to Port Melbourne for an interview. They signed me up on the spot but rejected my mate. The war had ended by then, so I enjoyed my two years in the Navy and, being an anti-aircraft gunner, got to see a bit of the world. I also got to see Marice whenever we’d return home.
One night, on the way back from Japan, I was doing sentry duty and heard some noise on the gun deck above me, but figured it was just some guys smoking. Suddenly there’s this bang as a 4.7 naval gun went off ten feet above my head. I was lucky I missed the flash of the gun, but not expecting it, I had no earplugs on. Once over the shock, I yelled the hell out of the men who fired it, but I couldn’t hear the officer cursing me back. I lost some hearing in my left ear from that, and it’s gotten worse since, but at least I got away with swearing at an officer.
When we got married I was working as a bricklayer, and as I had always been keen on woodwork I became a carpenter. Back then there were no building licences or anything like that; you just learned the trade working for someone and then went out on your own. The quality of the work was better; we’d take pride in our work and took the time to do it right.
When we started having children it was great for me, as coming from a large family I was used to having kids around. All four of our kids went to St Martin’s Primary, as did some of our grandchildren, and now some of our great-grandchildren. My kids would play out on the street all day, and cars would slow down so kids had time to get off the road. Back then we knew all our neighbours and had a Christmas party with everyone in the street. I miss those things. Macleod has changed a lot in that regard.
When my kids were growing up I took things in stride, but I suppose in some ways I was too hard on them. As children we were told kids must be seen and not heard, so we did as we were told, and never had a say. That’s how we were raised, and it would cause friction between dad and I. Mum was great, but I don’t know how she managed all those years.
Today my kids and grandkids take an interest in everything their children do. They take them to sports and play with them, and talk with them about more than I ever did as a father, and far more than my father ever talked to me about. I think my great-grandchildren will be terrific adults. And as long as they are honest and always do their best, they’ll never be disappointed. I couldn’t be prouder of my family.