You couldn’t really blame people for their careless attitude to parenting in the ’70s. Many of the mothers and fathers were little more than kids themselves. People married young. In 1974, for example, the average age of an Australian bride was 20.9 years; her groom was 23. Children followed pretty swiftly; the typical first-time mother was 24. Only 16 per cent of the couples had lived together before marriage, compared to 81 per cent now. They may have had a bit on their plate.
Certainly, a common response to the arrival of children was to put them in their place. There were two favourite phrases used at the time: ‘Don’t get too big for your boots’ and ‘No one likes a big-noter’. One of these phrases, or more commonly both, would greet any achievement. The boast ‘I got 99 out of 100 for maths,’ was nearly always met with the rejoinder ‘So where did you lose the mark?’
LISTEN: Richard Glover reminisces with Mia Freedman on No Filter. (Post continues below.)
Bragging was not allowed, nor was any form of complaint. This was true in all homes, but the ban was imposed in a particularly fierce way in ours, at least up to the time of my mother’s departure:
Mum, it’s terrible, I’ve just fallen off my bike and gashed my leg, which is now bleeding horribly.
Well, just think what a lucky boy you are to have a bike from which to fall.
You’ll notice my mother at work: more effort placed in achieving the proper grammatical construction than in fetching a bandage to staunch the Amazon-like blood flow.
Physical punishment was also meted out at a moment’s notice. People would say to their children: ‘Come here this instant. I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap and water.’ Or, worse, they delivered a similar message with plenty of ominous notice: ‘Just wait until your father gets home.’ I have a vivid memory of being at a friend’s house when both these punishments were delivered – the mother wrenching the child’s head towards the basin in the bathroom, before violently inserting the bar of soap into his mouth. Once she’d finished, leaving the boy a blubbering mess, she delivered the coup de grâce: ‘Just wait until your father gets home.’ This, I gathered, would involve the boy being struck repeatedly on the naked buttocks with his father’s belt.
He ended up a car thief. This is hearsay and from thirty years ago, but I believe it.