I was very lucky to have an upbringing within the Oliver family group. A lack of parental control, a passion for walking that was made much easier for me because of the lack of people and road traffic. I often walked many miles without meeting anyone. My mother was still young enough to want to get out and about herself. This enabled me to go places and do things that I should not have been able to do, especially at night.
A paper round when I was quite seven years old made my life much easier. I was very independent. With two very active older Brothers, I guess I grew up quicker than most. But I was always a dreamer with a vivid imagination. When I was home alone sometimes and was at a loose end, I could kill twenty-minutes or so with my head in the dunny hole. Playing battle ships and trying to sink the sailors with a forked stick as they swam from one boat to another (maggots). The smell was breathtaking at times but you get used to it. On days when somehow my feet took me away instead of to school and I ended up at the creek or some other interesting place, I only had to say to mom that I hadn't been feeling well. She would write a note for the teacher, no questions asked.
One of the nicest places I can remember is the bush opposite Mr. Beales place in Thomson Road. This was upstream from where Reg had his swing. It was almost pristine bush and was magical to spend a day there. The creek had fallen trees bridging it in dozens of places. If I sat back on one of these, I often could watch eels feeding in the clear water. Or fresh water crayfish eight to ten inches long. Beautiful blue with red edging. But sometimes just to lie on the grass beside the creek and if I was very quite and still the bush would talk to me.
I had a passion for liquorice in the early days and the penny a letter I received from Tony was earmarked for just that. With a penny in hand, I would head for Mr. James lolly shop. He had the best selection of liquorice in Upwey. This was a time before 'use by' was plastered over everything. So when a box of liquorice was opened it stayed on the shelf until it was sold. Some of the boxes in Mr. James shop had been there for a very long time. This resulted in the liquorice being covered with a film of dust. But the good thing was old liquorice went very hard. If I invested my hard-earned penny on a liquorice strap, I knew it would be so hard it would last all day. Very good value.
The Oliver boys always had plenty to do at home. Reading books was not one of those things. So I did not get to read much until I was in third and fourth grades at school. Miss C. had two one-hour sessions a week in which at the start she would read a book to us all. It was wonderful to listen to Miss C. What enthralling pictures these stories would conjure up in my mind. 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Treasure Island'. Wow, how simple words could be transformed like this. After reading a few books to us, she then allowed us to pick a book we liked to read to ourselves. At the end of the hour, she would call out and we would line up and put our books back on the shelves beside the blackboard.
One afternoon I was picnicking on a grassy bank beside the river with Medley and Badger. It was beautiful and peaceful. Then in the far distance I could hear someone calling my name. Robert, Robert, Robert. Suddenly there was Miss C. in front of me. All the others had already put their books back and were standing at the front of the class looking at me. Miss C. picked up my book and read the cover.
'Ah, Wind in the Willows, that is a wonderful book, isn't it Robert?'
'Yes, it is terrific Miss.' I said.
'You know we have been waiting for you to come back for five minutes Robert.' I didn't know what to say and went a little red in the face.
'Because you have been so conscientious in reading, you can go home an hour early today.'
I headed straight down the creek and lay on the grass. From where I was, I could see a water rat on the opposite bank sunning himself on a little ledge above the water. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The creek was talking to anyone who would listen. There was peace and harmony in my little world. Reading certainly is good for a young fellar isn't it?
Some people may say that growing up in a family that always struggled to make ends meets is tough, but I never found this the case. A little bit of imagination beats money every time. I never thought we were poor and from four years old until ten years old, that is the time these stories encompass. I had truly a wonderful time. A time I would not swap with anyone. The time, the place and the people. In particular, my Brothers, they were very special.