We had arrived in Perth from our farm in Narrikup toward the end of 1937. With very little money and only virtually our clothing we had brought with us, we rented a couple of furnished rooms in a large two storey house in Wellington Street (near Plain Street). Dad of course immediately began to look for work. He had been the Chief Clerk in the Sugar Commission in London before emigrating to Australia but of course had been farming for 17 years since their arrival here.
I celebrate my birthday immediately following new year so it is always a summer birthday. As we knew very few people in the city it was decided that mum and dad would take me by tram to Crawley Bay where we could have a picnic lunch and a swim. In those days the river was very clean with only the occasional little white jelly fish which did no harm. Our landlady had a young son a few years older than me and he was asked to come with us to Crawley. We shall call him Peter which I think actually was his real name.
The single tramline ran from the city around Mounts Bay Road to Crawley Bay but whether or not there was somewhere trams could pass each other or if it was the same tram that travelled there and back all the time I can't remember.
We had a lovely time and on the way home when we were about adjacent with Jacob's Ladder when the tram driver began constantly ringing his bell loudly we all knew something was dreadfully wrong. All of a sudden there was a very loud bang and the tram stopped immediately. I think if I remember correctly a couple of floor boards in the tram sprung up and some of the seat backs moved forward as well. A couple of people did receive minor injuries but nothing of any real concern.
All the passengers jumped out of the tram and we were met with a most distressing sight. There was a large sedan with the front stove in right in front of the tram with several young people lying on the roadway (no seatbelts in those days of course). Even I at age 6 somehow knew by the way the bodies were lying on the road that at least one of two of them were dead and I don't recollect just how many of them were killed.
I was very upset and at the time I was eating what was called a bird's nest. It consisted of coloured shredded coconut held together with something sticky and shaped like a bird's nest. I remember saying to Mum "I can't eat this" and Peter said "I'll have it." That was the sort of lad he was. Nothing seemed to upset him.
The story came out later that the tram driver had seen the car heading straight toward the tram; it was thought the sun was in the car driver's eyes and he was for some reason driving down the middle of the road. He obviously didn't see the tram coming toward him and one wonders if he actually heard the tram bell being rung. There were at least 4 if not 6 young people in the car so perhaps they were making a lot of noise preventing them hearing the warning sound.
The tram driver at the very last moment, knowing his own life was at stake, jumped on to the running board of a passing car. I understand he was sacked from his job for leaving the tram and passengers appealed against his dismissal stating there was absolutely nothing else he could have done to avert the tragedy. Whether he was reinstated I don't know but I hope he was but I wonder if he would have had the nerve to drive a tram again.
It was not a pleasant ending to what had been a wonderful birthday but the young are usually resilient and I don't think it caused me any nightmares or anything untoward of that kind. Strangely though it is something I have never forgotten and the memory of that day does occasionally come back to me and I feel sad all over again for the loss of some young lives.