Rosalie Harris from Briar Hill

My name is Rosalie Harris and I live in Briar Hill. I was born at Ivanhoe Hospital in August 1939, two weeks before the war broke out. My mother was a housewife, and my dad was in the boot trade, which was an essential service so he couldn’t go to war. Everything was rationed then, but dad always had work and we had everything we needed. I was the youngest of three sisters, and we had a very good childhood.


There was no television back then, of course, but we had a wireless that our whole family would sit down and listen to. Our entertainment was listening to the top ten shows on Sundays, going on picnics and visiting other families. Today people have so many appliances and everyone has their own room, that families don’t seem to come together as much.


Growing up in Fairfield, I attended the local primary school and spent a lot of time standing out in the corridor for talking in class. Later I went to a domestic-science secondary school for girls in Fitzroy, where we got all the basics like maths and English, but they also taught us to cook, do the laundry and iron. As was the norm in those days I left school when I was fifteen years old to go and work.


I would have liked to study nursing, but my mother thought I was too soft-hearted for that, so instead I went into retail and became a window dresser with the Coles sales-promotion department. In those days all Coles were department stores, and at head office we’d be given a theme by which to design the window displays. If the bosses liked a display, it would be photographed and the images sent out to be imitated in all the stores in Victoria; if they didn’t, we had to pull it down and start again.


As a housewife in a time before supermarkets and refrigerators, my mother had to shop almost every day. Back then we had an ice-chest to keep food cool and the Ice-man would come every few days to fill it up with blocks of ice. Whenever mum went to the butcher shop I’d go with her so I could see Bruce at work - I thought he was pretty cute. Bruce had actually gone to the same primary school as me, but being two years older, we only met in his family’s butcher shop.

Bruce and I dated for five years, going to the pictures at Fairfield theatre or at a drive-in, or driving up to the hills for a picnic. When we decided to get married we knew we’d need our own home, and found this house advertised in the paper. My parents gave us a kitchen suite as a wedding gift, and someone gave us a table and two lounge chairs, so we were set!


When we moved into this house it was extremely basic, with no shelves or cupboards, and only four rooms. It was almost a shell really, but for us it was Christmas! After paying the 100 pound deposit and committing to  10 pounds a week, we had our own home. There was no sewerage in Briar Hill back then, so our toilet was in the backyard, and for years the Monday-man would come to empty out the pan. They finally made the sewage system in 1969, and that’s when we added a toilet inside the house and began adding rooms.


Today people have such big houses, but it’s way more than they need, and everyone must work so much to afford them. I worked until we had our first child, and afterwards, when my children started school, I’d work in a milkbar in Briar Hill and a newsagency in Montmorency. Bruce and I grew up during the war and were raised by parents who lived through a depression, so we’ve always known how to make do with what we had. Our kids, in turn, always had what they needed, but not all they wanted.


While some of the shops have remained, things in the area have changed from when our children were kids. Back then most families in the street had kids too, so there were always lots of children to play with, and we would know their parents. Today I see few kids around, and while I wave at new neighbours and they wave back, I don’t get to know them well.


I spend my time making quilts with materials I find or recycle, and I still walk down to the Montmorency shops, as I used to do with my kids in the pram. We raised three sons and one daughter in this house, and now we have seven wonderful grandchildren. This world is so different from when Bruce and I were young, but we hope our grandkids always follow their dreams and live their lives to the best of their abilities.