Winter always discontents me. As a kid I disliked the cold and Melbourne was colder back then, 60-plus years ago, than it is now. I shared a bedroom with my brother and there was no heating. This wasn’t cruelty on my parents’ part. Their bedroom wasn’t heated either. At our social level it just wasn’t done.
As I wrote in an earlier column, I rode a bike to school for some years and a bloody cold ride it was. I had a warm coat but I don’t remember any gloves. Gloves were part of my sister’s school uniform; for boys to wear them would have been thought effete.
The living room was warmed by a briquette heater, a thoroughly nasty device that left a yellow ash which, hard to believe now, was washed down into the sewer with God knows what environmental effects. It was my job to ensure the tins of briquettes, one for the hot-water service and one for the room heater, were kept filled. I hated briquettes.
Melbourne winters seemed to go on forever. The cold was accompanied by freezing winds. It was only partly a joke when it was said that you could have a wind blowing into your face in Swanston Street, turn into Collins and it’d still be in your face. Schoolrooms had heaters that never seemed to do more than take the worst of the chill off. Complaint about the cold was discouraged. You were likely to be told, ‘Jump up and down if you’re cold.’
Melbourne was cold but Canberra, where I spent five years, was colder. Ice formed on the puddles and no winter morning could get underway without a bucket of hot water to splash over the windscreen and the back window. Why my VW Beetle, created in Germany, didn’t like starting in the cold I don’t know, but it didn’t.
I was doing a PhD in History at the ANU and it was a golden age for postgraduate study there. As a married student I had a (well-heated) flat and received a generous allowance for time spent in Sydney researching in the Mitchell Library. After Canberra, Sydney winters seemed balmy and I went there as often as possible. The idea of going to live in this more temperate clime was probably born then.
A Gippsland winter in 1975 is better forgotten. We lived on a farm and friends were happy to come until May. We didn’t see them again until well into October. A couple of spells in the Illawarra meant cold winters but we had the compensatory joy of open fires. I was able to live the Confucian maxim that the man who chops his own wood warms himself twice.
Winter was virtually a non-event during sojourns on an island in Moreton Bay and in Byron Bay, but my dislike of winter was consolidated by its interference with golf. Golf is no fun even in warm rain.
The obvious solution to the winter problem is to have two places to live. The eminent anthropologist Douglas Oliver held chairs in Boston and in Hawaii. Guess where he spent the New England winter. Ian Fleming wintered in Jamaica, where he swam every day and wrote a James Bond novel each year. It’s really the only way to live and write.