Saturday, March 26, 2005

13 empty coke bottles

On Sunday afteroons in 1964 or thereabouts I'd set off on my bicycle to meet my mates at the Yarraville Gardens. A smallish rectangle of ground distinguished by an Australian Rules Football ground that did double duty in the summer as a cricket ground and an area of palm trees that served as the gardens. Across the road was the fish cannery and the coal dump. Behind those the Maribyrnong River. In short, a fair specimen of an inner industrial public park in a depressed suburb. To be honest, even today it's not a lot better. Yes, house prices on Hyde Street (the side away from the river) have gone through the roof but if you walk from the gardens northward to Footscray you'll still be walking in some pretty undesirable territory. If you've ever seen this movie[^] you've seen some footage shot within a hundred metres of the area.

Right next to the Yarraville Gardens is the Yarraville Bowling club. We're not talking ten pin bowling here; we're talking overgrown aniseed balls rolled down an immaculately manicured strip of grass. And behind their club house, every Sunday in 1964, we'd find a couple of crates of empty coke bottles. Each of em was worth threepence if we could find a milk bar that would accept em. Most of the time we could though we probably strained the credulity of every milkbar in Footscray, Yarraville and Seddon.

The magic number 13 arises from the happenstance that 13 times threepence was the exact price needed to buy a packet of Turf Cork Tipped cigarettes - the cheapest brand on the market. 3 and thruppence*. One or the other of us would nick** a box of matches on the way out of our homes as we converged on the Yarraville Gardens and, once the coke bottles had been nicked and redeemed and the purchase made, we'd strut our stuff on our bikes, a ciggy proudly stuck in our mouths.

Given that week after week it was possible for us to nick the coke bottles I can't help thinking that our theft was felt to be of little consequence. Had our depredations been a significant drain on their finances I doubt the crates of empties would have been stacked outside. We, for our part, stole only enough to buy a pack of smokes. We could have stolen the whole lot but what would we have done with the money?

[Later edit]Actually I think this is an important point. We learned the morality of our elders. Some of them were more moral than others but all of the elders we came into contact with were of our class. They taught us that it was important to survive but that it was equally important to survive with dignity. They'd steal to survive - but not steal beyond that. Those who did steal beyond that were not held in high regard. Perhaps it's a stretch to represent our stealing to buy smokes as stealing for survival but we did learn that morality. So we stole enough to buy smokes but no more.[/Later edit]

The Yarraville Bowling club survives to this day.

Uh huh, back in 1964 it was possible for a ten year old to front up and buy smokes and it was perfectly legal as long as the ten year old didn't indicate a desire to smoke.

*I find it interesting that none of the character sets for computers that I know of includes the symbol we used for the notation of shillings and pence; I imagine the need was gone by the time computers were in common usage.


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