Results of the Intangible Heritage Project Workshop: 1st Conversation: Rodney Coombs

The first workshop for the Intangible Heritage Project was held yesterday, 28th April 2012.

The results of conversations with a number of community members are going to be placed on this blog for community access. The interviews (four in total) were a wonderful mixture of stories about objects, place, people and activities. Every participant was full of amazing stories and contributed to a great day of thinking back to earlier times in the Marion area.

The first community member to speak with me was Mr Rodney Coombs:

Rodney was born in 1944 and lived on Unley Road in a single bedroom with five family members until his family was moved to Springbank army camp. Here, Rodney’s family lived in a tin warehouse with hessian erected as walls to make rooms. It was here that Rodney was struck with polio, aged just four and a half years old.

Rodney in 1949, coming home for a day from hospital

Rodney in 1949, coming home for a day from hospital

The image above is of Rodney tied down ‘like an Egyptian mummy’ to an iron frame in 1949. He was coming home from the children’s hospital, transported on Bill Smith’s open buckboard in the background for a visit home one Sunday. His mother had been told he was not going to survive. When he returned to hospital that afternoon his pink cheeks and apparent improvement from a meal at home was noted.

Rodney described the memory of his illness as…‘traumatic for everybody concerned’. His mother and little brother Wayne situated in the high chair are also pictured. The photo is dated to approximately June 1950. Rodney remained in this condition until he was around eight years old when he could start to walk again.

The second picture (below) is Rodney’s first date of attendance (1952) in an opportunity class- which he was placed in, for a few months, to catch up on his English and other general skills as he was unable to attend school during his period of illness.

First day of opportunity class

Above Image: Rodney's first day of attendance in the opportunity class (1952)

His right arm was placed in a sling (featured in the photograph). This was later found to be detrimental to his rehabilitation which should have required activity and movement rather than rigidity and support. As a result, Rodney has limited movement in his right arm despite operations to restructure his muscles and tendons that now allow his fingers and thumb to touch. Rodney has learnt to write left-handed to accommodate this.

One memory he recalls from this period is a teacher, whom spoke poshly with an Australian accent. As he was about to leave the opportunity class, she came down quietly to his ear and said “well, you’re going into grade won’t be able to catch up to the other kids… look what you listen and hear what you see…”. This confused Rodney, and it was not until many years later when he was in his twenties that he understood her meaning: to be observant and aware. To not only hear things but look from where they’re coming from.

The final two photographs Rodney discussed (below) were two cars owned by his previous employer, Mr Walter Brown, the son of W Brown Sons (the original scrap metal family in Adelaide). Rodney looked after and maintained Walter’s cars.

Rolls Royce of Mr Walter Brown

One of Mr Walter Brown's Rolls Royces (circa 1963) on Delamere Avenue

The brown Rolls Royce was photographed when one day, whilst driving down Delamere Avenue circa. 1963, Walter asked Rodney to pull over immediately and stop the car right there so he could take a photograph of the car. So Rodney, surprised, stopped in the middle of the road (hence why it’s many feet from the curb) and the imaged was shot then and there.

The car below (Mercedes) is another model which Mr Walter Brown owned. Mr Brown owned many cars, including about four Rolls Royce’s (such as in the above picture), and also a gold painted car- not gold coloured paint, Rodney told me, paint made of actual gold!

that Rodney looked after.

Mercedes-Benz 600- one of the many models in Mr Walter Brown's car collection that Rodney looked after.

Rodney was a delight to speak with. Hearing his stories and struggles as a child with polio were inspirational. His years of various positions of employment clearly generated much respect from others also- he showed me a number of wonderful handwritten references which clearly illustrated he was deeply valued by all of his past employers as an honest, reliable and trustworthy man. Thank you for sharing your stories with us Rodney.


2 thoughts on “Results of the Intangible Heritage Project Workshop: 1st Conversation: Rodney Coombs

  1. Pingback: Marion’s Intangible Heritage: Interview #1 with Rodney | Flinders Archaeology Blog

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