Imagine, dear reader, plucking the childhood story of Hazel Edwards, author of more than 200 books including the classic There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, from the shelf. It begins in the perfect setting…
“My grandparents had a little shop that was also an old-style private lending library, and even after they retired they moved the library to the front room of their house in Ashburton so people used to come there to borrow books,” Hazel says.
“My grandmother taught me to read before I went to school so I had read the wall of Enid Blyton fairly young. Occasionally I went with grandpa on his library-book-buying visits to the city. He always took a Gladstone bag and wore a black hat. The final treat of the day was to go to Coles cafeteria, choose your own lunch and have a wobbly square of jelly with a dollop of cream on top.
“I still remember the crash of trays and the echoing voices in the cafeteria.
“We moved to Alamein when I was about five. After the war there was very little housing available and to get a house you could pay off was significant for my father. He was immensely proud of it. He turned the shed at the back into a large cubby for me, with a window and a proper floor.
“I was very popular with other kids because I had this special space, although once I nearly burnt it down when our little gang were illegally toasting marshmallows.”
As an only child, Hazel enjoyed the full attention of her mother Grace and father David – then still working as an engineering inspector, before his eyesight failed and the family turned to running a general store in Carrum Downs.
“As part of the economical way of growing up at that time, we did a lot of things together. We would go blackberrying up in Ferntree Gully and make jam out of them, or my mother would go to market and get melon and pineapple and the three of us would sit and chop it up and talk.
“My father thought everybody should use the attributes they had and should have a go at everything. He would read me Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161AD to 180AD who wrote the tome Meditations] at breakfast. It was probably not your average cereal in Alamein.
“The Holmesglen Housing Factory was a very large marker on the landscape. Most of the houses in the area were made there.
“The other thing that was significant was the migrant camps up on Warrigal Road.
“I had a friend, a Dutch girl called Bier, who lived there in the Nissen huts with her family. She wore a giant bow in her hair in the fashion of the time and my father encouraged our friendship.
“My father also used to help some of the men, who were illiterate, to fill in forms with his beautiful copperplate writing.”
Setting the scene
Victory Boulevard was a rather grandiose name, given it was actually a Housing Commission area, but then most of the roads in Alamein were named for battles or war heroes.
Sign of the times
This was taken when I was about 17 in Brisbane. I actually got to most of the places on that signpost later on, well, except Port Moresby. Sadly, there is no Antarctica on that signpost; I went there in 2001 and it became very much part of my work.
Cousins catch up
This is me with my cousin, Michael. He lived interstate so we didn’t see each other much. This was taken in Perth. I was about 16. I travelled over on the train by myself in the first year I was working.
My best dress
This is one of only three or four photos from my childhood because, like many people then, we didn’t have a camera. I was eight when this was taken. That was my good dress and it was very scratchy. A big bow was the thing for little girls then.
Now & then
Growing up in Alamein, Holmesglen Housing Factory was churning out prefabricated concrete houses and was a very large part of the landscape. My parents played cards there one evening a week and I’d go with them and sit in a corner and read. Years later, after it became Holmesglen Institute of TAFE, I taught professional writing there.
I think it was a boy called David who had absolutely no interest in me. He used to come into the shop with his family. A lot of my crushes were on writers who had ideas.
I was taken to a Billy Graham crusade. It was a massive thing, they were all singing hymns. I was about 13 or 14. I went with a church youth group. I didn’t know then that his form of southern evangelism and hyping of the audience was common to other evangelists. I thought he was a one-off.
I have never bought one. I am musically deficient. I do like Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman because our kids used to sing it in the car when we travelled, only they changed the words and used to bellow out I am vegetable!
I left school when I was in year 11 because my father wasn’t well. I worked in a bank. I was told because I was a girl I would never be able to be a teller. I went to night school and did accounting and law, but they said only male students would have their fees paid since girls were obviously going to get married.
I was married at 21 and my husband, Garnet, had this little red VW – which he bought in Germany, had driven across Africa and bought here to Australia. I learnt to drive in that. She was called Gertie.
Hazel’s eagerly awaited memoir Not Just a Piece Of Cake: Being An Author (Brolga) comes out in November.