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Summing Up

By John Harold McCracken.

Winston Churchill, in his book My Early Life, begins with the statement:

When does one first begin to remember? When do the warning lights and shadows of dawning consciousness cast their print upon the mind of a child? My earliest memories are of Ireland. I can recall scenes and events in Ireland quite well and sometimes dimly, even people. Yet I was born on November 30 1874, and I left Ireland early in the year 1879.

Manning Clark in his autobiography The Puzzles of Childhood begins:

My memories of childhood are like a still-life painting: there is no movement. I live always with such pictures in my mind. One is of my father, the other of my mother. Some time early in 1919, I do not remember the day, the week or the month, I am sitting on the back lawn of our house in Park Road, Burwood, New South Wales. I look up and I see a man smiling at me. It is my father. He has just returned from the war. I do not remember how I felt on first seeing him, or what happened immediately after I saw him.

How strange that my first memory is of a Chinese man!

I was born on 5 March 1906 in a little town called Swanbourne, Western Australia. I was brought up by my mother and father in a house at the corner of Shenton and Devon Roads, Swanbourne. Diagonally across from our home were two or three shops, one of which was a Chinese laundry where my mother sent me with shirts to be laundered. In this laundry was a bell suspended from a wire rod which one had to ring to announce one’s arrival. The noise it made, followed by the pat-pat of the old Chinese man in his Chinese apparel was so extraordinary to my childish mind, the impression never left me; and this was the earliest recollection of my childhood years! I would have been about seven.

Chinese immigration to Australia in the nineteenth century was not inconsiderable. Even though most Chinese had gone to the goldfields of the eastern States, many had found their way to Western Australia. Chinese laundries were quite common throughout Australia. Later in life, I learnt to respect and esteem many Asians who became my closest friends and who are now settled in Australia and in various parts of Asia.

Another early recollection is of camps of Aboriginals who were still living close to where we lived. This too seemed to have an impact on my childish mind–filling me with fear, no doubt because of the difference in colour, looks and manner of life, and because of the stupid stories related to tell what happened if they caught you!

Perhaps I should go back to the time when my parents went to live in Western Australia, or even further to our roots in other countries–Northern Ireland and Scotland. How far does one go back? This depends it seems on time and money. Much as one is intrigued or even haunted by the desire to go back and back, I have decided that at my age–I am in my nineties–I have to stifle such desire and accept a very limited and broad perspective of my forebears.

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Summing Up Cover
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