1976

Journal: 075

1976 is in the air right now as those of you who read for #19xx Club put up your reviews. The three years centred on 1976 are not years I remember in any detail, but on 17 December 1977 I met Milly and things took a turn for the better (and for the more lucid).

I was living, sort of, in Stawell, 140 miles west of Melbourne. It must be about the year we switched to kilometres. The young bride had left me and was either living with her aunt in Melbourne or we’d scraped up the money to send her to join her mum and dad in Holland. The caravan we’d lived in was sold and I was sleeping in the car, camping at a mate’s place, spending odd nights at the Bricks Hotel. Or working. I had two old trucks but for much of the year neither of them was on the road.

For a while I had a job doing changeovers at Nhill, up the road a bit from Stawell, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The company had a flat above a shop in the main street, a nice old Federation building, I still go past it from time to time, or did before Covid. I would watch Days of Our Lives until the truck got in from Adelaide after lunch, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, be back before midnight, handing over to Terry who did the Adelaide half. It was a cruisy job and paid all right, but the police in Horsham, the next major town, knew me, knew when to expect me. I started to accumulate points and soon I didn’t have a Victorian licence.

Of course drivers then always had a second licence, in my case from South Australia, so I took one of my old trucks to Murray Bridge, outside Adelaide, and began running Adelaide – Sydney. If that involved crossing the top left hand corner of Victoria I would just hold my breath, or go the other way, through Broken Hill, and anyway, after three months I had my Vic licence back.

Mostly I remember being young and stupid and single and broke. My hands perpetually black from pulling apart and putting back together one old engine or another. Or changing tyres. Old rag tyres, overloaded and run for too long, would blow at the drop of a hat. I don’t think I bought my first set of tubeless steel radials until the following year.

What I don’t remember is reading, I don’t even remember where my books were. They’d followed me round in boxes for years, weighing down one side of the caravan, perhaps I left them for a while at mum and dad’s, anyway I’ve still got them.

What would I have read if I could afford new books? Le Guin’s most recent was The Dispossessed (1974) and before that The Word for World is Forest (1972) which I think I read for the first time a few years later with Milly. John Sladek was writing mostly short stories. His most recent novel was The Muller-Fokker Effect (1970). Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer, hits the jackpot with The Status Civilization, brought out by Gollancz in 1976.

What about Australians? I didn’t really make a start on them until the 1980s. Any purchases I made in those days, and for many years after except for a few special exceptions, David Ireland and Peter Carey mostly, were necessarily second hand.

I’ve since read most of the best of 1976 I think. Here’s a list (hopefully you’ll have forgotten by the time I re-use it for my 2026 end of year) –

Kenneth Cook, Eliza Fraser
Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (review)
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe (review)
Elizabeth Jolley, Five Acre Virgin (short stories)
Thomas Keneally, Season in Purgatory
Frank Moorhouse, Conferenceville
Gerald Murane, A Lifetime on Clouds
Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (review)
Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

So, I’ve reviewed three, definitely read the White and probably the Moorhouse. I own Five Acre Virgin, so that’s a start. I’d like to own the Murnane. A Lifetime on Clouds is his second and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name before, ditto Season in Purgatory, but then Keneally writes so many (it was his twelfth in twelve years). Interesting that Cook and White wrote about the same historical figure in the same year.

That was my 1976, a year of desperate poverty and youthful optimism. I was never going to be a successful owner driver on zero capital, but it was fun trying. I lasted four years, and four years (mostly) without a boss is worth working at.

.

Recent audiobooks 

Anne Tyler (F, USA), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
Christina Dodd (F, USA), Wrong Alibi (2020) – Crime
Kim Kelly (F, Aust/NSW), Her Last Words (2020)
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Scholar (2019) – Crime

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

49 thoughts on “1976

  1. I associate 1976 with the Olympics and my dad buying our first colour TV. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone in case it got stolen 😂 !

    I was hoping to read Renata Adler’s Speed Boat for the 1976 Club but I haven’t started it yet so I’m not sure I will get around to it in time now 🤷🏻‍♀️

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  2. !976: I was in my second year at Teachers’ College, and I was reading history and philosophy of education; maths textbooks; whatever was on the reading list for English II; and whatever was bedtime reading for The Offspring.
    My records at GR show that I read 32 books that year, the highlight of which was Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney. The course was top-heavy with Americans (Ken Kesey, Joyce Carey, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner; Mark Twain and Joseph Heller); plus Tolkien, Camus, Graham Greene and James Joyce (only Dubliners. I read Ulysses when I got to UniMelb). And for some reason I read a lot of Ivan Southall and Nina Bawden’s children’s novels… I’d done Children’s Lit the previous year, maybe it was a hangover from that.

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    • Well I imagine you had a tougher year than I did, and maybe not much more money, combining motherhood and teacher ed. Well done! A few years later I combined work and an accountancy degree, but Milly was doing nine tenths of the parenting.

      I checked Heller,of whom I was a big fan Something Happened! came out in 1974, so I may have had it by then. I read some Joyce Carey, but Evelyn Waugh was the non-SF author I owned most of (still do).

      I’m impressed your reading diaries go back that far. I have work diaries but they don’t start until about 1983.

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      • Alas, I must disabuse you: my diaries only start in 1997. But before that I used to write my name in the books I bought, along with the year of purchase. And since at that time I was watching my pennies and stashing any spare money I had towards the house deposit, the only books I bought were required reading, and I read ’em straight away!
        Study was the norm in our household, but after teacher-training it was all part-time. The Ex was doing Law as well as fulltime work, and when I started teaching, I did an Arts degree and a post-grad diploma (both at the same time, though they didn’t know that); then I did Law for two years, ditched that and did Asian Studies including Indonesian, then LOTE Methodology and after that Professional Writing and Editing.
        I look back on those years and wonder how I combined it all with fulltime work and family life plus home renovation and a bit of volunteering, and I wonder how I did it all. It seemed quite normal then…
        I love Evelyn Waugh. My sister’s first BIL had almost all his novels and in the early 70s I read my way through the lot.

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      • Waugh was an excellent writer, I especially liked the Guy Crouchback novels. I was mixing with mostly Geelong and Melbourne Grammar boys, quite a few of them gay, of which I was only dimly aware, when I read Brideshead and it was like the story of our lives. I have at least one African one which is straight out racist, but his politics never did bear looking into.

        My new books from that time were mostly presents so they are dated, and I’m going to check the Heller when I get home.

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    • In 1976, I was in my second year at the National Library, and in the middle of the year got my first job in the Film section. I was reading biographies and film related books mostly I think, but don’t have records from then.

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  3. Even though I was not around yet in 1976, it still ended up being a pretty significant year for me in a way, because it’s when my mum went to university – which people from her background just didn’t before the 70s; I don’t think either of her parents even finished school, as they had to work. This effectively changed the course of her life, which in turn has made my own life a lot easier! I didn’t really think about it until I started seeing people’s 1976 posts. I don’t know what she was reading in 1976, though. Probably a lot of science fiction; possibly Star Trek fanzines.

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  4. I wrote a couple of posts some years ago about the education of women in my family and in the wider (British) community – to compare my family with Miles Franklin, who was bitter about the educational opportunities of her contemporaries, especially Henry Handel Richardson (who despite her mother being a widow and a rural post mistress, went to PLC and then the Music Conservatory in Leipzig). MF went to a bush school until she was 15 (in 1894) which is what all the women (and men) in my mother’s family did up to and including her generation, with just 2 or 3 exceptions.

    If you’re wondering, I discovered that Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Edinburgh were all the ‘first’ uni to offer women degrees, all in 1881.

    In thinking about your comment I realized both my father and his father went to War rather than to uni, which may explain why dad was a bit upset I refused to go to war (Vietnam) and blew off all the opportunities he had given me university-wise. They both later graduated, as did I, though probably none of us in our first choice courses.

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  5. Let’s see, 1976. Biscuit would have been a junior in high school, my dad a freshman, though not at the same schools. They would meet when my dad was a senior in high school and my mom was the principal’s secretary’s assistant in the high school office. She was definitely broke in the time period, though he would graduate, work on pipelines while technically still living with his parents, get engaged to my mom, and move directly into her place. So, I think someone has always been doing my dad’s laundry for him.

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    • I moved out of home the minute I could. Ok, to go to uni, but that doesn’t mean I never took my washing home. Good on your dad for keeping his sorted. Milly started off ironing everything, but she soon got over that!

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      • Eh, there were some unusual circumstances that prevented Biscuit from moving out until she was 20, and that was with the help of co-workers. My dad didn’t see any need to move out because he was always away from home for work. However, once he and my mom got engaged when he was 18 or 19, his mom packed up all of his stuff. I think the message was clear, lol.

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  6. Great way to contribute to #1976Club without talking about a specific book (although obvs you read Roots!) and situate your own reading history there. I looked up Sladek in the library catalogue and there are 32 items but none of them circulating. I’ve never read of him but of course I’m intrigued because he’s right behind Le Guin in your ranking! Oh, and those cutoff jean shorts! Hee hee

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    • I don’t generally contribute to the 19xx Club, but it seems to be everywhere this week. Anyway it’s your fault. I read MA too early and had to write something.

      Back then I read every SF I could lay my hands on. Yellow hardback Gollancz were always a find. Those 3 authors I thought were special, I didn’t know Lessing then and only came to appreciate Dick and Vonnegut later.
      Australian working men wore very short shorts – but then we had the legs for it.

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  7. I enjoyed your little corner of history. I was living and working as a speech pathologist in Southwest Florida and we were organising to build our first house. I can’t remember what I was reading at the time. I was more jnto music andnoutdoor activities at the time so probably not much. 🐧🌷

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  8. You’ve outed the one I had planned to read, Five acre virgin! I have a lot of Jolley but not that one.

    “Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer”? Do you mean of all time? Or, back then when you were writing about? If of all time, would you like to explain why? In a reponse here, or a whole post? I’m interested as I’ve never heard of him.

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  9. It was an amazing time for music and I’m still disappointed with myself how little I saw live. Truck driving is always at inconvenient times, but truthfully I don’t think I took much notice. I remember taking hitchhikers from NSW to the Sunbury (Vic) music festival but never thought to go myself.

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  10. I didn’t turn round and look when I wrote that (Five Acre Virgin), I hope it’s true.

    Re Sheckley, I meant at the time, but I still think he’s pretty good. I was composing a general SF post in my head anyway so I could write something about Sheckley. The illustration is one of about half a dozen books of his I have. And I’d better include Sladek for Buried.

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  11. Great post and what a good idea to link think about where you where in 1976 and what you were reading.

    Since I was two, I suppose my mom was reading Pomme d’Api to me. It’s a children magazine with wonderful stories, probably what hooked me on reading.

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    • I don’t need much excuse to talk about myself!
      Parents who read is what hooks kids on reading I’m sure, though I do know parents who read whose kids don’t, to their great despair. But being read to is special.

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  12. Wahoo, those legs Bill!!
    My dad and most of my uncles wore shorts like that at various times, with thongs of course.

    I was only 8 in 1976 and my youngest sister was born at the end of the year, which made it a significant year for me. I was thrilled to have a third sister when everyone else was hoping for a boy. I had reasoned out that if we had a boy, at some stage that would mean all three girls sharing one bedroom, while the boy got a room to himself. I DID NOT want that!!

    At eight I was reading lots of Enid Blyton and Carol Ryrie Brink. Around about this time I started putting my name in all my books and I created my own numbering system that I inscribed on the title page of each book. I was a book nerd from a very young age!
    Playing schools was my other main passion. Naturally, I was the teacher and my two sisters were the students. I made them homework books and marked their work. I seemed to enjoy this game more than they did!

    As for music, it was ABBA all the way!

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    • Still got the legs, years of swimming. Still got the shorts, though not so short these days. But haven’t worn thongs for years, strictly leather sandals these days (Hair’s a bit shorter too!)
      I don’t know Carole Ryrie Brink. Mmmm.. American. 30 children’s novels between 1934-1977. All my books were presents, inscribed with my name and the date by the giver, so mostly my father.
      I lived in schools, it’s why I’m not a teacher.
      Abba! I admit that musically they are very competent. I can remember my mates’ kids watching them on CountDown, but my generation had Hendrix, Janis Joplin, KIng Crimson, The Animals.

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  13. I was 4 in 1976 and I remember the garden cracking in the drought and having to share bath water with my parents. I would have been reading, but not sure what! Music would have been Pinky and Perky!

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    • England and drought doesn’t seem right. Did they forget to catch the rain before it ran out to sea? At age 4 my no.1 book would have been Blinky Bill. They didn’t have music back then, though my uncle had a wind up record player. My first record was a 78, Peter and the Wolf with Peter Ustinov (Wiki says 1960). Ok we did sit round the old valve radio in the evenings and listen to serials and plays.

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      • Like you, I moved a lot when growing up (my father was in the bank), and I resolved to not inflict this on my children; the last went to only one school. Funnily enough, the main beneficiary of this was my wife, who is still good friends with another mother from the preprimary gathering.

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  14. As always, I love these posts Bill (the days of having multiple licenses!)

    I have lots of memories from 1976 – I had started kindergarten and amazingly, I am still in touch with some friends I made there, notably a girl whose mother spoke French and father, German. They only spoke to their daughter in their language, and when she started at kinder, she had no English (but spoke French and German). I distinctly recall walking around the kinder room with her, pointing at things and naming them! Not surprisingly, she went on to become a wonderful linguist, and speaks five languages now.

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    • I generally had a couple of licences up to the 1980s. As far as I know, NSW Police still think I live in Young St, Annandale, even when I show them a WA licence. We moved too often for me to have friends like that, but I made sure my kids didn’t have to, and the youngest is still best friends with her friend from kinder (The friend’s mother was talking to my mother just last week and let the cat out of the bag about a family secret). I wish I were a linguist.

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  15. 1976: I started, with great optimism, my general nursing training in January that year. So it was a year of hard work and making new friends. I was in Canberra (I stayed after dropping out of the ANU during my first year in 1974) and I think I made one trip ‘home’ to Tasmania that year. Books? I would have bought some but mostly would have borrowed from the ACT Library. Student nurses didn’t earn much money.

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    • Your comment and Lisa’s remind me that kids without rich parents used to be able to get bursaries for nursing, teaching, and all sorts of other jobs. One of my school friends joined the railways, was paid to become an engineer and in 1975 when I was delivering cattle to his father he was heading up the Nile for an English engineering consulting company.
      The student union library at Melb. introduced me to mainstream SF, and then the Atheneum library in Collins St, but after that it was secondhand paperbacks or nothing for years.

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      • I think that was a common story. I hope nursing was the career you wanted. Milly chucked in education altogether because problems at home meant she didn’t have enough for shoes let alone books. That brief window where university education was free was a boon for average income parents and their children, but also for the nation.

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  16. Interesting about multiple schools. Like Neil, my father was a banker, so I moved a few times too. I have mostly very fond memories of my experiences (except, perhaps, going to four schools in second form). My feeling is that what I lost in long term friends I gained in wonderful experiences: preschool in Gympie, primary school in Brisbane, late primary and early high school in Mt Isa, and the rest of high school (with the year of 4 schools, starting admittedly in Mt Isa) in Sydney.

    We took our kids to the USA for three years where our son did three years of primary school, and our daughter started her school life, but we did want to ensure stability for the high school years. Before that, we saw the experience of living elsewhere as a worthwhile thing.

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    • I complain about my multiple (5) schools, but the 2 primary and first high were all small and I felt known and appreciated. The second high, fourth form, was in the city and I blossomed, academically because the teachers were good, but also non-academically with sport, chess, and intelligent friends. But. My father’s career took him to Mudsville for the last year and half of my ‘schooling’ and any pretence at interest in my academic achievement was given up, by the school as much as by him. Yes, I’m still angry.

      I determined that my own children’s schooling would come first. We had our problems, but they all have degrees, good careers and lifelong friends.

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      • Thanks for sharing this Bill. I do agree, in general, that moving kids later in high school is problematical, but some careers – like military ones still – make it hard not to. When we were in the USA, there were families with teens. Some brought them with them (with mixed success at the time) and some left them in Australia in boarding school. In the end what works for one child doesn’t for another, and parents can’t always be sure they’ve made the right choice. (IF you have the choice, of course, as not everyone can afford boarding school!)

        BTW, while it’s clear that your decision was made for good reasons and it worked out, which is so great to hear, people can get degrees and good careers from all sorts of situations. And, re lifelong friends, while they can be lovely if you have them, the critical thing in friends from my experience is quality of the friendship more than its length. Being the ripe old age I am now I do have many friends of 40 years plus. Not from childhood, but from my uni days and first years of my career, and they are top notch friends. I made a friend in the USA when I was 40 with whom I have shared a weekly correspondence since we returned home. I count her as a close friend. Oh and I still communicate with a friend I made in Mt Isa when we were 11/12! Friendships CAN last over space! She has lived in Perth for well over 30 years but we can just pick up, because we had clicked back then and that is still there.

        None of this is to disagree with what you say, but to say that I think there isn’t only one path to degrees, good careers and good friends.

        Just look at all the blog friends you’ve made in your aging years!!

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      • The ANU bookclub are currently reading “The Midnight Library”, where we explore how the heroine’s life would have been if she had made a different choice at various points in her life. By in large, I would not change my life. But if I could, I’d erase the move in fifth form from my second to my third high school. Unlike Bill, I can’t complain about the new high school, they treated me OK. But even now, fifty years on, I miss might have beens (would I have made it as a cricket player or hockey player, would I have beaten Dot Campbell in English, would I have been elected a prefect, would I be good friends with Tony Borsuk?) I’ll never know, and for some silly reason, I feel a bit of me is missing. Of course, I’d probably not have met Mr Gums, and if I had, not shared trips with him between Canberra and Adelaide, and never met Mrs Gums, and so not be following this blog, but that’s a horse of a different colour 🙂

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      • Military careers are just ridiculous when it comes to kids – the poor buggers hardly know whether they’re coming or going. The ADF should find a more family friendly way of doing things.

        I’ll talk about the stuff my own kids went through another time, they all three dropped out between year 11 and first year uni, but that was stuff they were dealing with, including their parents busting up (twice). They value their friends and I am glad I gave them at least that much stability.

        There have been a number of times in my life when I have known people wanted to be/stay friends and I have just walked away. Who knows why I do that. But I am very happy with my life now, so hopefully I will work hard to keep it that way.

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      • My might have been Neil is I might have been a mathematician/computer programmer. Melbourne had computer programming when I got there but I had never even heard of such a thing. But I’ve had a good life in trucking and with Milly and the kids, and if it took me to 50 something to get a literature degree, well I’ve still got a few years to take advantage of it.

        Do you think we ever played hockey against each other in 1968? I would hitchhike up to play in a Saturday afternoon comp near Ford and all the gas tanks.

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    • Missed you, Bill, I moved to Canberra in 1967. I was interested in becoming a computer programmer, but my father was vehement against this – computer programmers were heavily bearded wierdos. However, the laugh was on him – all three of his sons ended up programming (quite successfully). And none of us was capable of growing a beard, heavy or otherwise.

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      • Haha, Neil, love that. My father didn’t want his children becoming teachers because teachers were childish like their charges. My sister became a teacher (and my brother started down that path). His grandson became a teacher and I don’t think my Dad ever quite loved that though he loved the person. Funny prejudices.

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