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Airds: growing up in village where neighbours looked out for each other

Airds has a reputation as a hub of poverty and crime, but school teacher FIONA WOODS writes that living there in the 1980s left her with wonderful memories of a community looking out for each other:

Growing up in a housing commission estate is not something that traditionally elicits feelings of pride and success. But for me, it does just that.

My family moved into Airds in 1977, when I was three years old.

My dad had suffered a traumatising work accident, one that would leave him with debilitating, lifelong injuries.

 My parents already had three small children and were expecting a fourth.

I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for them – Dad was in and out of the hospital, and Mum didn’t drive. Here was where their neighbours stepped in, and my earliest memories of the community began.

Back then, neighbours weren’t just people you waved to from the driveway. They were people you could count on, whether it be for food or childcare or even a simple chat over a cup of tea.

I grew up as part of a village, where a lady in my street took my sisters and me to our first gymnastics lessons.

I developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I have even taught alongside my closest childhood friend, an experience that is something I treasure.

I laugh with my siblings that we can never shop with Mum in Campbelltown – she remembers everyone who lived remotely near us.

But for her, it was the friendship she struck up with her new neighbour the day they both moved in that is the most special – a friendship that has lasted for over 43 years and still involves daily coffee catch-ups and phone calls.

Fiona Woods with one of her little brothers.

I started kindergarten at John Warby Public School, where I learned more than just academics. It was during this time that I experienced how the love of a teacher extends beyond the classroom.

I truly believe it was these experiences that led me to join the profession. I had so much to give back.

I remember some of these teachers visiting our home to check in on our parents and even drive them to appointments.

They really took the home-school connection to a new level.

I will be forever grateful for the investment they made in us and their belief that we would all succeed.

Living in Airds during the late 1970s and early 1980s was a time where friendships were built, and people stuck together.

It was the freedom of riding bikes with friends until the street lights came on, building makeshift cubbies and performing concerts for the neighbours.

I can still remember the excitement of walking to the local shops with my sisters – lollies aside, the mere act walking to the shops was an adventure.

Our simple life ensured we had opportunities to use our imagination and explore the world around us, creating memories with our neighbours and friends.

Life wasn’t always easy. I remember eating dinner and seeing my parents eat toast because there wasn’t enough to go around. By this stage, they were raising five children.

My Mum was also Dad’s primary carer, living on minimal sleep and a frugal budget. Yet she showed up every day, always reminding us about the power of education and instilling a true love of learning in us all.

What we lacked for in material possessions was made up by so much more.

We learned to be resilient and grateful, and we learned to be kind.

We continue to work hard in our chosen fields, always considering how we can help others.

One of the proudest moments for our parents was seeing all five children graduate from university. That and the ongoing pride they feel for their 13 grandchildren, who love their Nan and Pop like no one else.

The roots that were planted back in those early days have been tended with such love and care. Those trees continue to flourish, branching out into wonderful opportunities. I am forever grateful for the foundations my childhood was built upon.

And I proudly tell everyone about where it is I came from.

PS. This article first appeared in Camden History Notes.

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