Teen Years

This page only takes me up to the age of 18, I have decades yet to go on this website. Offline, for the past few years, I have been writing an autobiography specifically for my children.

Melbourne in the 1940's and 1950's was a place of serious hats and gloves. Going to town with my mother, either on the tram or the train, was to be surrounded by women all suitably dressed, not only with the hats and gloves, but also with stockings. Women didn't venture out without makeup but in those days this was simply powder and lipstick. Happily, by the time I joined The Age in 1963 as a cadet journalist these conventions had been relaxed although I still had to wear a hat on Xmas day when I followed the Queen, Prince Phillip and Princess Anne around the Royal Children's Hospital. Gloves too, if I remember. As a young anarchist I was not happy.

I spent all my growing up years at 4 Flowers Street, South Caulfield, firstly in the old original house, and then in the new brick one. My parents laid carpet throughout except for my bedroom. Apart from hating carpet, I would not have been able to do ballet on anything but a hardwood floor. I spent the first school holiday, after we moved into the new house, holding a hose and spraying water on sacking which covered the newly laid concrete driveway. My father and I mixed the concrete by hand and although I helped to do this I was not allowed to have any part of the smoothing over. The driveway, which was about 12 feet wide and about 80 feet long was the bane of my life. My father had to work on the trams so I had to water. As I wandered about with the hose I read my new French book in readiness for my first year at Brighton High School. The watering went on and on however it was worth it because when I saw the driveway five or so years ago, it appeared crack-free. Not bad for 50 year old concrete. As Dad used to say 'If you're going to do a job, do it properly.'

South Caulfield State School

I went to South Caulfield State Primary School, walking there firstly under the protection of a 'big' girl called Kathleen, then after a few weeks I walked alone and spent the time daydreaming and making up stories. I began in the babies class but became ill with a variety of problems, mumps, measles, chickenpox, I had the lot and, it was suspected, rheumatic fever as well which could have accounted for heart problems I've had. I was off school for months and during that time the doctor came every week to give me an injection, of what I have no idea, and to prescribe big square sulphur tablets. I have been allergic to sulphur ever since. When I was a teenager this same doctor prescribed a tiny very expensive tube of ointment for acne but it took two scripts before it became clear I was also allergic to the ointment and my face had deteriorated, just what a teenager needed.

My friends, Helen and Joy Sly, lived over the back fence. This fence was almost six feet tall, just the right height for climbing over and for walking along the top. School saw an early friendship with Leonie Horton which has continued to this day and she was one of the first to ring me after the Mackay floods in 2008.

Adventurous Life

I lived an adventurous young life. Together with my friends we walked the streets, wandered along lanes, climbed onto the roof of deserted stables, and explored a deserted dairy with a huge churn. Years later the building was transformed into a funeral parlour and, in time, I attended the funeral of my father there when his coffin was overshadowed by a ghost churn.

We regularly played at Princes Park, half a dozen blocks away from home. My favourite trick was to swing extremely high, jump off, and land in a balletic pose. I told other children we were from a circus. We also went yabbying in little dams which were in the middle of the Caulfield Racecourse. We had complete freedom, went everywhere, got into everything, and yet never came to harm, nor did we cause harm.

My brother, Dale, was (and still is), seven years younger than myself and as a result we had very little to do with each other when growing up, although happily that changed when we became adults. He also went into the newspaper business, but as a photographer.

Merlyn, Tom, and Dale Mann of South Caulfield.

Mum, Dad and Dale in 1965

My father worked shiftwork as a tram driver. His normal day was to walk to the tramways, drive a tram for about four hours, work for other people as a gardener, and then go back to the trams in the evening. His time off was spent working on our garden, new house, or the new garden. No wonder he had his first heart attack when he was 58. My mother worked as a tram conductress during the war years until she became pregant with me. Although she never worked in a paid position after that, she was the one who painted our entire house, inside and out, every few years and she also spent many hours in the garden. Mum also wrote and once had a story accepted for a radio program.

Dreaming of dancing

Diana Mann prepares for a ballet concert.

Preparing for a ballet concert, aged 19

I dreamed of being a dancer and for a brief period, when I was about 9, my mother took me to some ballet classes but a polio epidemic intervened and classes, and a much anticipated concert, were cancelled. A later ballet class had a longer life span and there was a concert called something of the stars. Wishful thinking. Then my parents began building the new house and all extra curicular activities were off. My uncle, Lester, began taking me to ballet performances, initially given by the Borovansky Ballet, and then the Australian Ballet. He also took me to performances given by the top world companies including the Kirov, Maly, New York City Ballet, Bolshoi, Royal Ballet, and countless others.

Boltcutters!

When I was fourteen, and a student at Brighton High School, I was old enough to work and on weekends I was the local Coles hardware counter sales person. In those days there were large counters between the staff and the customers. I was unable to stand and stare into space and spent my time cleaning not only the counter displays, but also the dark and dusty areas underneath. I was lucky that I liked tools and my early years at Coles may have led to my adult passion for such items, in particular for screwdrivers. And quite recently I bought a boltcutter at a garage sale. I had hankered after one for some years after borrowing one from Pat's Panels to cut open a lock on a client's letterbox (at his request).

The money from the part time work paid for my new ballet classes with Lilli Weigert. Lilli was a woman of many many talents. She had been an iceskater, played the piano to a professional standard, was an excellent bridge player, earned three university degrees, and was the chairperson for an organisation which represented people who held shares. Lilli, now firmly ensconced in Carnegie Hall, and I, are in regular contact.

Brighton High School, now Brighton College, form five.

Our second last year at Brighton High School. I am in the rear row, second from the left. I remain in contact with Anne Whittingham (nee Henley) (rear, second from right), Isabel Martini (nee Macdonald) (second row, far right), Kathleen O'Shaughnessy (rear, third from left) and with Margaret Kotre (nee Manning) (second row, far left).

Margaret Kotre died 1 July 2018 in Melbourne.

I enjoyed all my school years and on my last day at Brighton High School, upon completion of form 6 (year 12 in Queensland) I cried. My life had been circumscribed, school, ballet, and part time work with very occasional visits to friends, all of whom lived a bus ride away. My parents didn't have a television until my final years of high school by which time I spent my evenings studying. My parents didn't have a car until I was an adult and we finally had the telephone connected when I began fulltime work.

Diana Mann, cadet journalist with The Age newspaper.

A cadet journalist in my late teens.

A few days after finishing matric exams I went with three or four friends to the Dandenongs where we camped. On our first day we picked strawberries and that evening, when our last friend arrived with her parents, I asked if they could drive me back home. How embarrassing to be homesick at 18. My parents were not amused. The next morning a telegram arrived to say I had been chosen for an interview at The Age. If I hadn't been homesick the course of my life would have altered as my parents didn't have a telephone contact for the farm where we stayed and they didn't have a car at that time. There were about 50 of us who went through the early interviews and we had been whittled down from about 400 applicants. From the interviews some 30 of us went for a general knowledge exam and then finally, eight of us had an interview with the editor, at that time Graham Perkin. And finally, four of us were chosen to become cadet journalists. And so a whole new life began.

And I think of that strawberry picking episode often, apart from suffering homesickness as a teenager, I realised I am not cut out for fruit picking although I often buy and eat strawberries and at the moment I am drinking one of my sludges, strawberries blended with lime juice and soda water.

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This page was updated by Diana Kupke (Diana Mann) on 2 March 2019