#ThrowbackThursday – Grace Mitchell, a talented artist in later life and baker, managed a pastry shop business near the corner of Mount Pleasant and Main roads, Eltham in the 1950s.
Shortly after her marriage to Arthur Mitchell in 1948, Arthur incurred a head injury from an an accident and was unable to work. Grace realised she needed to be home to care for her husband as well as earn an income. She managed the bureaucracy of council permits, and made modifications to her home with savings to get the business off the ground without having to borrow money.
Grace and Arthur were avid gardeners and would grow, wash and mince vegetables for pasties while Grace hand made and rolled the pastry. They cooked and minced their own meat for the pies and the fruit for the sweet pies came from their orchard at the rear of the property. She also baked scones and cakes.
With weekend visitors travelling to Eltham on the train for days trips, her reputation grew as the spot for afternoon tea. Grace’s daughter Jenni mentions the visit of dancer, Robert Helpmann and U.S. actress Katherine Hepburn in her Grace Mitchell: a short history .
Reminiscences in We did open a school in Little Eltham: Eltham Primary School 209, 1856-2006 a history  include a mention of Grace’s famous pastry shop and the Sunday afternoon visit by Helpmann and Hepburn.
In Anne Edwards 2019 biography of Katherine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman, she is described as a “grande dame of American actresses, fierce individualist, and Hollywood legend.” A bonafide star she was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won four. Robert Helpman became world famous as Britain’s most outstanding ballet dancer and subsequently turned his attentions to stage and screen. The two first met in London in 1952 when they appeared together in the play “The Millionairess” on the West End. He subsequently invited her to be part of an Australian tour presenting three Shakespearean plays. In May 1955 Helpmann and Hepburn arrived in Sydney, Helpmann was returning to his native land after being away for 25 years. They were accorded a reception by the Mayor of Melbourne. In NSW Hepburn visited St Matthews Church and Rectory at Windsor and donated £50 to the church restoration fund. She later wrote of her fascination with the blue lakes area near Adelaide and the “extraordinary” lyrebird.
Grace operated her pastry shop for over 16 years. She supported the Shillinglaw Cottage Preservation Campaign to preserve the cottage through its Flavour of Eltham community cookbook published in 1964 and hosted cooking classes in the new Living and Learning Centre
Katherine Hepburn passed way in 2003 aged 96 years. Her trademark was playing strong independent women with minds of their own. Grace Mitchell passed away aged 95 years in 2011.
#ThrowbackThursday – In February 1965, Staffs Railway Store, the oldest business premises in the Eltham shopping district was demolished. Formerly a self-service grocery, restaurant and electrical repair shop, the building for many years housed Eltham’s only ‘family’ grocer and feed store. Earlier it had appeared to have been the town’s bakery. The building had been purchased in late March 1939 by Mr Eric N. Staff. At the time of E.N. Staff’s purchase there were huge bakers’ ovens located at the rear and the building also had a well and four toilets for employees.
When the ‘pictures’ came to Eltham with the opening of the Eltham Public Hall across the road in 1941, Mr E.N. Staff extended the business and opened a milk bar and sweet shop. Further extensions re-established the tea rooms of days gone by. Mr E.N. Staff conducted business for about 15 years before handing over the reins to his son, Ray Staff.
When his son Ray took over, the milk bar and tea rooms were closed for several years but the milk bar and was later re-opened and subsequently became a greengrocers and later again, a restaurant. The tea rooms section was converted to an electrical repair shop about 1955.
Electoral Roll records for 1967 record Raymond Charles Staff at 929 Main Road, Eltham, grocer, and in 1968 at Lot 4, Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham, taxi truck operator. So it would appear that Ray continued to run the business for approximately two years after the original store was demolished and a new supermarket was built.
Today, 929 Main Road is the Nongkhai Thai Restaurant and is precisely where the original Staffs store stood. Even though the facade has been modified at eye level with new larger windows, the upper facade is identical to that of the new Eltham Big Star Food Centre of 1965/66.
But how did the original building, the oldest premises in the 1965 era shopping centre come about? Well let us tell you about a man named Jed . . . well, Luther actually, so let us travel back further in time to 1902; August 12th to be precise, to the Eltham Courthouse.
Appearing before T. Smallman, Esq,. Police Magistrate, and Messrs. W. Duncan and W.J. Taylor, Justices of the Peace is Luther Haley, baker. Wilfred Henry Johnston, by his agent Stanley Ernest Elder has applied for a warrant of ejectment under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1890 against Luther Haley from the bakery premises at the corner of Main Road and York Street.
From the evidence presented we hear that Mrs Burgoyne of Eltham had purchased the property some months earlier from Mr Johnston, which consists of a store and bakery establishment at Eltham occupied by Mr. Luther Haley, and whose lease expired some little time back, and up to the present time, Mr. Haley was not prepared to leave. He informs the court that he is unable to secure at Eltham a suitable house in which to carry on his business, but he is now building a place near the railway station which he expects to be done in about three weeks time, and he is then prepared to give up possession of the premises he now occupies.
Mr Smallman informs the defendant, Luther Haley, that he will have to quit the premises in three weeks from the present date, and that a warrant of ejectment would be issued. However he also informs Mr Haley that he would order the warrant to lie in the office for three weeks from that date.
The premises under construction refered to by Luther Haley in court were situated on the western side of Main Road, near the railway station slightly opposite present day Arthur Street. It was opened around September 1902 as a General Store, Bakery and Tea Rooms.
This was the original building in the present day shopping precinct. At the time the only thing nearby was the railway station. Luther Haley’s business appeared to prosper and he would have catered to not only the locals abut also day visitors by train on Sundays coming up from Melbourne, offering fresh baked produce, tea rooms and summer drinks. The fields across Main Road running between present day Arthur Street and Luck Street were known as Haley’s Paddock and at times were used for community festivities and picnics. A newspaper report on the annual State schools picnic held at Haley’s Paddock on March 11, 1904 described it as “quite close to the railway station, and is quite capable of holding comfortably 10,000 people. With its ample shade shade and hilly surroundings, it is an ideal place for any gathering.” Unfortunately for Luther, just two months earlier his son, Leslie, aged 12 years had gone with a companion to bathe in the Diamond Creek and had accidentally drowned. But that’s another story.
Luther Haley successfully ran his general store, bakery and tea rooms until 1917 when he and his family departed the district and moved to Westgarth Street in Northcote where he changed careers and became a publisher.
It was then taken over by Hannah Lloyd and became known as Lloyd’s Railway General Store from 1917 to 1920. From then it had a succession of owners, one as short as two months until March 31, 1939 when the Grocery Business formerly carried on by Mr. T.K. White of Eltham for the previous eight years was purchased by Mr Eric N. Staff of Research and became known as E.N. Staff’s Railway Store.
The ownership timeline for the store is as follows:
Luther Haley Sep 1902-1917
Hannah Lloyd 1917-c.Feb 1920
Messrs J.R. & N.E. Lee 1920-Sep 1922
A. & E. Copeland Sep 1922-Sep 1925
Mr Price Sep 1925-Nov 1925
Mr Warren Nov 1925?-Nov 1926
A.W.J. Edwards Nov 1926-1931
T.K. White 1931-Mar 1939
Eric Staff Apr 1939-c.1954
Ray Staff c.1954-Feb 1965 then demolished
Ray Staff Eltham Big Star Food Centre c.1965-1967
If anyone has old photos of Staffs store or the shopping district, particularly in the 1930s through 1960s then we would love to hear from you. Perhaps you might consider donating them to the Eltham District Historical Society or if you prefer, we could borrow them and scan them at archival quality and then return them along with a digital copy.
ELTHAM COURT OF PETTY SESSIONS. (1902, August 15). Evelyn Observer, and South and East Bourke Record (Vic. : 1882 – 1902), p. 5 (MORNING.). Retrieved April 16, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64029690
#ThrowbackThursday – 50 years ago, the Shire of Eltham Historical Society (now Eltham District Historical Society) worked closely with acclaimed and distinguished Australian author, Alan Marshall in preparing a history of the Shire of Eltham to celebrate its centenary in 1971. The book, Pioneers & Painters: One Hundred Years of Eltham and its Shire, edited by Alan Marshall was the result of that effort and was published in 1971.
Here we see Alan dictating part of the manuscript for Pioneers & Painters to his secretary, Pat Wiltshire, in his bungalow located at 13 Park Road, Eltham in 1970 (now 13 Park West Road). The bungalow was built c.1955 and was Alan’s home from about 1955 to 1980. It is located at the rear of the house, which at the time was owned by Marshall’s sister, Margaret McIntyre Marshall. It is understood the property was sold in September 1981. Marshall died 21 January 1984 and is buried at Nillumbik Cemetery, Diamond Creek.
The Alan Marshall Bungalow at 13 Park West Road, Eltham is registered on the Victorian Heritage Database and is protected by Heritage Overlay, HO 147 in the Nillumbik Planning Scheme, which covers the bungalow and its surrounding site to a radius of 15 metres. It is significant as it was Marshall’s home at the time he wrote Pioneers & Painters and the basic nature of it is illustrative of Marshall’s lifestyle.
#ThrowbackThursday – Over the years there have been a number of various electric train models that have traveled the Hurstbridge line to Eltham. Today we time travel back 36 years to 17 July 1983 and Eltham Railway Station where we have the unique experience to witness four generations of electric train all lined up together.
The railway line to Eltham first opened in 1902. In those days the trains were all hauled by steam locomotives but in April 1923 the line was electrified and the first electric trains commenced service to Eltham. Those initial electric trains were a Tait wooden body design first introduced in 1910 to be hauled by steam locomotives and converted to electric from 1919. The Tait trains were manufactured from 1909 to 1952. There were a number of different versions; swing doors and sliding doors and all had beautifully appointed interiors. Of course most people referred to them as ‘Red Rattlers’.
The Harris (Blue) steel bodied train was introduced 1956 and operated until 1988 when the final trains were withdrawn from service. They had an ignominious ending as these trains were full of asbestos. They were wrapped up in plastic and buried in landfill near Clayton.
In 1981 Comeng stainless steel bodied trains were first introduced to replace the last of the Tait trains and these underwent refurbishment between 2000-2003. Some examples currently still remain in service.
Hitachi stainless steel bodied trains were operated on the Melbourne network between 1972-2014.
In 2003 orders were placed for a mixture of Siemens Nexas and Alstom X’Trapolis 100 units. Braking issues plagued the Siemens model with subsequent orders being directed towards the X’Trapolis model.
This week in the news we saw that French train manufacturer Alstom who produces the X’Trapolis model electric train in Ballarat has a new X’Trapolis 2.0 model ready to be introduced to replace the ageing Comeng electric trains by 2026.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to 21 August 1983 and the access road to the Eltham Railway Station (present day St Laurence Lane). We are standing near the Post Office (now Eltham Newsagency) and the Country Art Store (now Platform 3095) looking north east in the direction of Pryor Street. In the distance behind the trees and across the road we can see the State Bank of Victoria (now Westpac) and the Commonwealth Bank on the opposite corner of Pryor Street. Right in front of us is the former Eltham Station Master’s house which is situated in what is the present day short term car park and bus bay. The most tangible evidence of what remains is the spotted gum standing in front of the house to our right.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back 50 years to 1969 and the northwest corner of Metery and Mount Pleasant Roads, Eltham, overlooking Carrucan’s Dairy on Dalton Street. The Carrucan farm included land within the area bounded by Dalton Street, Metery Road and Mount Pleasant Road, as well as other land in various locations around Eltham.
A number of members of the Carrucan family left their homes in West Clare, Ireland in the 1850s to settle in various parts of the world including Australia. The book Dirt Poor Spirit Rich produced in 2011 by The Carrucan Family Fellowship tells the story of the history of this extensive family.
Newly married Patrick and Mary Carrucan travelled to Melbourne in 1856 and settled in Eltham. They purchased a small farm property at the corner of Bible Street and Dalton Street and lived there for the rest of their lives. By the time Patrick died in 1896 they had substantial land holdings around Eltham.
The farm passed to their son Michael (Mick) and later to his son John (Jack). Jack built a modern dairy in the 1940s and that would be the dairy shown in this photograph. The family home is located opposite the dairy at the corner of Bible Street. Over the years and particularly in the 1970s various parts of the farm were sold for residential subdivision including the dairy site. Jack died 5 May 1976 leaving no family. The family house was demolished around July 1976 and the last part of the property was subdivided.
Another family closely connected with the Carrucan family is that descended from Thomas Sweeney, honoured as the pioneer settler in early Eltham.
This image along with some 400 others (mostly Hurstrbridge Line trains) was recently donated to the Society by George Coop. George is also the photographer of the well known image of the ‘Red Rattler’ wooden bodied Tait train on the Eltham Trestle Bridge, taken in 1981, which he donated to the Society some years back. We are most appreciative of George’s generousity and will feature a number of his other images in the future.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today marks our 80th journey back in time. In recognition of that, we are going to time travel back 80 years to the small holiday resort town of Warrandyte before it had been absorbed into an outer suburb of Melbourne. It is Friday, January 13th, 1939; Black Friday.
In the days preceding, Melbourne has experienced some of its hottest temperatures on record: 110.8 °F (43.8 °C) on January 8th and 112.5 °F (44.7 °C) on January 10th. On Black Friday, temperatures will reach 114.1 °F (45.6 °C), which will become the hottest day officially recorded in Melbourne for the next 70 years until it is surpassed on February 7th, 2009, Black Saturday, 46.4 °C (115.5 °F). Unofficial records show temperatures of around 117 °F (47 °C) were reported on the Black Thursday fires of 6 February 1851.
The summer of 1938–39 had been hot and dry, and several fires had broken out. By early January, fires were burning in a number of locations across the state. Then, on Friday 13 January, a strong northerly wind hit the state, causing several of the fires to combine into one massive front.
In the Eltham district, the fires raged from Tuesday to Saturday morning and occurred in the Eltham, Warrandyte, Yarra Glen, Strathewen, Queenstown, Kinglake and Whittlesea districts.
At Etham, the fire begins on Friday morning in the vicinity of Mr. C.A. (Clarrie) Hurst’s Eltham Poultry Farm and Hatchery in New Street (present day Lavender Park Road), one of the oldest in the State, consuming some fowl pens and killing many birds. The fire-bell is rung, and all the firemen of Eltham, together with most of the male residents turn out to fight the flames. Speeding before a strong and searing north wind, it passes on to Mr. H. Rutter’s house at Yarra Braes. It is while the firemen are at Mr. Hurst’s property that the fire attacks Mr. Rutter’s house. Despite desperate efforts, the home is burned to the ground. It then crosses the valley, and threatens Killeavey in Laughing Waters Road, the home of Mrs. J. (Beatrice) Morrison, daughter of Sir William Irvine.
The fire-fighters reach Morrison’s before it is consumed, and make desperate efforts to save the property. They fight the fire there for three hours, and had checked it several times before the house is ultimately destroyed. Only a lack of water prevents the house from being saved.
Mrs. Morrison is currently away on holiday, but her uncle, Mr. Neville Wanliss, with his wife, together with Mrs. Phillips, two boys and a girl, are spending a holiday there. They see the fire approaching, and take refuge in the river, where they remain for several hours. About 4 p.m. they emerge and are seen by Mr. Evans, who takes them in his car to “Kooringarama,” Eltham, where they receive dry clothes. First aid is given to Mrs. Wanliss, whose foot was badly burned. She is now in a private hospital. Although Kooringarama guest-house is not in danger from the fires, a number of the guests have become nervous, and are leaving for Melbourne.
After a desperate effort by more than 50 men for more than an hour, fire fighters save the houses of Mr. W. Linacre and the Laughing Waters Poultry farm owned by Mr. G.W. Petre, the Swedish Consul, but the beautiful home of Mr. A. S. Austin, nearer Warrandyte, was burned, also the home of Mr. Smith, in Mt. Pleasant road.
The fire leaps the river at three points between Mr. Rutter’s and Mrs. Morrison’s where it continues to advance rapidly, racing through tinder-dry grass and forest almost as fast as the wind itself, demolishing every habitation in its path. It joins another fire, and the two converging bush fires sweep down on Warrandyte about 2 p.m., razing nearly half the houses in the district within an hour. It is believed 100 homes have been lost. So sudden is the onslaught of the fire that few people have the opportunity to save more than the clothes they wear.
Women and children are being hurried to the safety of the river shallows, where they wait fearfully throughout the afternoon. Every able-bodied man in the district is engaged in the vain fight against the flames.
The first warning that Warrandyte had was a billow of smoke which rose and people had barely time to realise the warning significance of the smoke when the red glow of the flames was seen.
Sweeping across from Eltham and Templestowe, it leaps from hill to hill. Only a hard fight saves the stores of the town.
The first residence attacked is the shop and store of Mr. J. Kenny, on the northern outskirts of the town. His house and store only feed the flames for a matter of minutes. The fire then advances up the main street, missing the cafe of Mrs. Jones, opposite Kenny’s. A ten-roomed house owned by Mr. C.Blair, and adjoining Kenny’s store, is also destroyed. At the rear of Jones’s cafe and home, the houses of Mrs. McCulloch and McAuley are destroyed.
The experience of the head master of the local school, Mr. M. Isaac, and his family, is typical of the experiences of scores of other families in the town.
Mr. Isaac is resting on his bed, when a tradesman warns his wife. She rushes in and rouses him. They begin to gather clothes together in suitcases. Suddenly a shout is heard. “Run for your lives!”
Hurrying out they see fire racing toward the house. In a moment the flames are licking at the walls of the house. With their few hastily packed cases Mr. and Mrs. Isaac, their daughter, and a grandchild, grope their way through the smoke to their car.
“I can’t see to drive,” Mr. Isaac exclaims. Some shout: “It doesn’t matter whether you can see or not, drive!”
The car is driven into the smoke, crashes into something—a horse-drawn vehicle, Mrs. Isaac thinks she hears a horse whinny in panic—but the car presses on, and presently the party emerge from the smoke.
Mrs. Isaac and the children flee to the river with their few possessions, while her husband goes to join the fire-fighters.
The fire races round the slope of the hill behind the main street of the township, burning house after house as it speeds.
Meanwhile the second fire, on the other side of the river, wipes out Pound Bend, and sweeps up the gullies behind the river cliffs to Kangaroo road, and Artist’s Hill, which is dotted with homes all surrounded by thick bush.
Here the fire displays wanton freakishness, razing a brick house here and leaving a wooden building a few yards away unscathed. Scores of such freaks of fortune occur, aided as the day wears on by strange changes of wind.
It blows first from the north then from the west, from the south-west, from the west again, then switches round to the east. Burning this way and that before the vagaries of the wind, the fire several times threatens to destroy whole groups of dwellings only to sweep back on its tracks and leave intact buildings it was thought impossible to save.
One after the other, three wooden churches Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic, go up in flames and collapse. All the houses on the western side of Pigtail Hill are burned.
With the destruction of the whole township apparently inevitable, more than 200 residents have taken refuge in the river. Many of them carry their house-hold goods with them, until the river banks are fringed with sewing machines and other portable household articles. Sweeping through the town, the fire destroys the shop and store of Mr. W. Jones, crosses the road, licking up houses in its stride, and sweeps through two miles of lightly-grassed country to annihilate South Warrandyte. Both the school, and the hall, and at least 20 dwellings are lost. The fire then advances on Croydon, where it later burns itself out.
The refuge provided by the river alone prevents a heavy toll of life. The speed of the fire frustrates all efforts to save property, although there was no big timber to feed It. As it sweeps over Melbourne hill to the north of the town residents receive ample warning to evacuate their homes before the fire descends on them. In the country between Warrandyte and Croydon numbers of cattle and horses are caught by the fire and injured. Later, Constable Bercherson, of Warrandyte, has to go out and destroy over 60 fire-maimed animals.
Of Warrandyte itself only the cluster of a dozen or so buildings round the post-office and the hotel-a few stores, guest houses, a garage, and another group about the bridge across the Yarra, are left standing.
Officers from the gas works branch of the St. John Ambulance Association have arrived in the stricken town and render first aid to fire fighters overcome by heat and smoke. During the afternoon food for 100 persons is rushed to the township from the city and made available at a local hall which, together with the hotel, has escaped destruction.
The fire fighters have been insuperably hampered by the absence of water. There is no reticulation system in the township. Most of the residents depend on rain water collected in tanks for their supplies. Only the hotel, and a few of the more pretentious homes in the district, have pumping plants to draw water from the river. These, for the most part, are electrically driven, and early in the afternoon the fire severed the town’s electricity supply.
Only at the hotel is there any considerable storage of water, and this is poured on to the post-office, saving it after an hour’s struggle.
South Warrandyte and the homes in the town standing in heavy timber, are the worst affected parts, a clean sweep having been made of the town’s dwellings. The towns-people watch helplessly while building after building disappears in smoke and flame.
Saturday, 14 January
The fire burns itself out this morning, and only at Wonga Park is there any danger from a future flare. There is plenty of food available for the 200 odd victims, who have been provided for at the Masonic Hall, but there is urgent need for more blankets and clothes.
We find the town stark and devastated. Piles of tin and chimneys are all that remain of more than 100 dwellings. Along the road, stock caught in the fences give evidence of the speed and destruction of the fire.
Reported missing Friday, Mr Frederick Topping, 72, pensioner, of Warrandyte, has been found dead among the ruins of his home near his packed goods. It appears that the fire, which blazed through the town in 20 minutes, came on him before he could make his escape. Mr Topping was for many years the Warrandyte correspondent of “The Advertiser,” and was an active worker in all public movements for the good of that town. He was also an authority on cricket, and a great cricket enthusiast.
Only the presence of the river saved many others in the hills.
Alarms are sent out at 10.45 for more volunteers to fight the blaze at Stony Creek between Warrandyte and Kangaroo Ground, and there is a fear that if the wind changes, Kangaroo Ground will be in serious danger.
Several artists have lost houses at Warrandyte. In Mr Adrian Lawlor’s home, more than 200 of his paintings were destroyed, and Mr Henry Hoile lost all his pictures. The building known as the “Old Studio,” in which the annual art exhibition has been held in recent years, was burned. It was owned by Mrs Connie Smith.
Later in the afternoon fires in the Warrandyte, Eltham and Kangaroo Ground districts are brought under control. Seventy-five men are standing by a fire at Christmas Hills. At Research the fire is being kept to the gullies.
Warrandyte and district has received a paralysing blow. Apart from the destruction of homes, hundreds of acres of orchards, which provide the district with its means of livelihood, have been scorched into unproductiveness, and substantial relief is an urgent necessity.
It is unfortunate that the Eltham Fire Brigade did not have enough hose to reach the place where the fire started, for they might have put out the blaze before it did any further damage. The nearest fire plug was near Mr. Percy Leason’s property in New street, and from this the firemen ran out 1200 feet of hose – all they had – but it was still 300 feet short. Nevertheless, the fire fighters, both members of the brigade and volunteers, working under Capt. W. Allan, Lieut. A. Parsons and First Constable O’Donnell did splendid work. They were on duty continuously from Friday to Sunday, and on Friday afternoon were reinforced by volunteers from the city. There were three casualties. Mr. W. Deards cut his foot; Mr. Berry, the sustenance officer, tripped in some burning ashes at Morrison’s and severely burned both hands; while on Sunday, Mr. G. Carver twisted his ankle while descending a step hill to fight a renewed outbreak near Beauty Point.
Residents of Eltham freely made available their cars, and trucks for the carriage of fire-fighters to the danger points.
Too much praise cannot be given to the ladies of Eltham for the manner in which they rallied to give assistance. When volunteers began to arrive early in the afternoon, and women and children from the Research and Warrandyte districts were brought into the town for safety, Mesdames E. M. Andrew, Ford, Pyke, Parsons, Browne and Crick formed a nucleus of workers, which soon increased by many more, who provided meals for the 150 volunteers who made the fire station their headquarters, and also for the five families who had taken refuge in Eltham. The latter were fed at the fire station, and were provided with sleeping accommodation at the Eltham Hall. They were returned to their homes on Saturday, with a hamper of food for each. The Eltham ladies were cutting sandwiches, preparing tea etc., from early on Friday afternoon until 2.30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and were back at the station by 6 a.m. on Saturday. Ninety men were supplied with food donated by local people, but later on supplies were sent out by the Red Cross Society.
Bush Fires: A pictorial survey of Victoria’s most tragic week, January 8-15, 1939, pp2-3.
THE WEEK REVIEWED
THE fiercest bush fires Australia has known since its discovery are quiescent at the moment, and Victoria, in the comparative coolness of the change which came with rain on Sunday night, has begun·to count its losses.
In the fiery eight days, from Sunday to Sunday, at least sixty-six men, women and children have lost their lives in forest fires, or have succumbed to burns and shock; many others have died from heat; and several serious cases of burns are being treated in hospitals. Two babies in Narrandera district have died, and ten others are in hospital, because of milk soured by the record temperatures of those eight days.
Forest damage totals at least a million pounds, and incalculable damage has been done to the seedlings which were to have been the forests of the future.
Water conservation will be seriously affected by the silting-up of reservoirs and streams from which protective timber has been taken by the all-engulfing flames.
More than a thousand houses have been destroyed, and these, with 40 mills, and schools, post-offices, churches, and other buildings, represent a loss of at least half a million.
At least 1500 are homeless. For their aid, money raised in appeals has now passed the £50,000 mark, and the biggest relief organisation ever set up in peace time has swung into operation.
The First Hint
Victoria’s first hint of what was to come appeared on Sunday, January 8, when most parts of the State awoke to find a blistering day awaiting.
At 12.20 p.m., when the thermometer reached its highest for the day, 109.6 degrees, the first fire victims were at that moment going to their death on a bush track five feet wide off the main road to Narbethong.
They were the forestry officers Charles Isaac Demby and John Hartley Barling, who went to warn Demby of his danger when he parted from his companions, and was himself surrounded by the treacherous fire.
It was not until 8 o’clock next morning that the tragic news was flashed throughout the State.
Searchers found the two charred bodies close together, one seeking protection in the nook of two logs. Barling’s watch had stopped at 1.20.
In the meantime, tragedy was spreading its cloak.
By Monday, big fires were raging at Toolangi, Erica, Yallourn, Monbulk, Frankston, Dromana, Drouin South, Glenburn, and Blackwood, with smaller outbreaks at many other centres.
In the ensuing week, while women and children were evacuated as fast as the flames would permit, Erica-scene of the 1926 fire disaster-thrice escaped doom by a change of wind.
Indeed, those who have been in the fire country these past days say that the numbers of times a change of wind has saved towns from destruction is amazing.
In the towns they speak of miracles.
The escapes from Monett’s Mill at Erica and from the Hardwood Company’s Mill at Murrindindi, near where Demby and Barling went to their death, were Monday’s miracles.
Twenty came out alive from each mill. At the first a 60ft. dugout provided an oven-like refuge; at the second, 12 women and children survived in the smoke-filled gloom of a three-roomed cottage while their eight men, their clothes sometimes afire, poured water on the wooden walls. Three houses out of ten remained when the fire had passed.
Sunday had been the hottest Melbourne day for 33 years; Monday dropped to a 76.1 degree maximum; but Tuesday dawned hotter than ever, the mercury reaching 112.5.
By now rumor was racing ahead of fact; whole towns were being reported lost; the alarm was raised for scores of missing persons. But fact soon overtook rumor, and within a few days the staggering toll began to mount to a figure beyond the wildest imaginings of the panic-stricken.
Six died from heat on this torrid Tuesday, and the fires spread in a wide swathe from south-west to north-east across the State. Fish died in shallow streams.
A curtain of smoke hid the sky from all Victoria, and hung far out to sea. It alarmed passengers on ships. On the Ormonde, on the voyage to Sydney from Burnie, women ran on deck, believing fire had broken out in the hold.
Days later the smoke reached New Zealand.
In Melbourne thousands of fire-volunteers were leaving in cars: vans, motor-buses-anything reliable on wheels-to aid the country in its grim fight.
In the fires at Rubicon and. Narbethong, seventeen were facing death this day. But not till Wednesday, when Melbourne breathed again in a cool change, while the country still sweltered in temperatures up to 117 degrees, did the news come through the tree blocked roads.
A woman and her little daughter, trapped on the road, were among those who died. Their bodies, and those of menfolk with them, were found strewn out at intervals along the road, where the furnace of the surrounding fire had dropped them in their tracks as they ran.
Twelve died at a Rubicon mill, five on the road at Narbethong. At Alexandra, not far distant, a baby was born while the fires raged, and stretcher-bearers brought in the injured.
On Thursday the State Government voted £5000 for the relief of fire victims. The Governor (Lord Huntingfield) and the Lord Mayor (Cr. Coles) visited some of the stricken areas, and dipped into their pockets personally. Later, the City Council, too, voted £5000.
Friday, The 13th
Friday, the Thirteenth, justified its evil name. A blistering northerly came early in the morning, presaging destruction, and forcing the mercury to a new record of 114 degrees.
Racing fires killed at least ten in those terrible 12 hours. Four children were engulfed in the furnace at Colac. Panic drove them, uncontrollable, into the smoke-filled road when the fire raced down behind their home. They choked to death.
In other parts fires were joining to make fronts of scores of miles. Kinglake was being menaced on two fronts, £60,000 worth of timber was going up in smoke in Ballarat district. Warburton was surrounded. Residents at Lorne, favoured resort, were being driven to the sea-front by a fire which destroyed at least 20 homes. Healesville, with flames visible from the town at one stage, was in a trough between two fires which burned four guest-houses, seven homes and left its surrounding beauty-spots wastes of bowed-over, blackened tree-fern fronds; with its famous Sanctuary, however, intact.
Most of Omeo was destroyed this black day: Noojee. while 200 residents crouched in the river, was being reduced to a waste of buckled iron and smoking timber; Erica was once again saved by a change of wind.
Beneath a pall of smoke, the Rubicon victims were buried at Alexandra.
Friday night and the early hours of Saturday saw the streets of beleagured towns strewn with exhausted fire-fighters. Their flails beside them, ready for the next call, they lay where exhaustion overtook them-on footpaths, beside lamp-posts, in gutters, in cars, under trucks.
Saturday’s dawn brought clear skies and lower temperatures in many parts, and from the burnt-out areas came a great rush of tragic reports. The death-roll rushed past the fifty mark with incredible speed.
Some had been trapped on roads, others at mills; some, after burying their treasures, had clung too long to the places they had made their homes for many years. Four men lost their lives because one went back for his dog.
By Sunday, when the first of the saving rain came, nearly another score of names had been added to the list.
Summer 2019: A year of anniversaries
This summer, not only do we mark 80 years since the Black Friday bushfire of January 13th, 1939 (2 million hectares burnt, 650 buildings destroyed, 71 lives lost), but also 50 years since the last bushfire to burn parts of Eltham and district on January 8th, 1969. And on 7 February it will be 10 years since we endured the hottest day ever and the disastrous Black Saturday fire (450,000 hectares burnt, in excess of 3,500 buildings including 2,029 homes destroyed, 173 lives lost). Stay safe and diligent everyone, let’s hope 2019 does not add to this trend.
Feature photo: Eltham High School, 1944 (donated by Gordon Tonkinson; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back 90 years to Saturday, October 13th, 1928. We have been invited to attend the official opening of the new higher elementary school building at Eltham along with about 1,000 parents and children.
The school was originally opened on January 26, 1926 with 60 pupils and Mr. John Stewart as headmaster. Classes were initially held in the State School building in Dalton Street and the public hall in Henry Street. Apart from guaranteeing sufficient pupils, the Education department also required the local residents provide an area of land of eight to ten acres and a cash guarantee of £1,200 though this was ultimately reduced to £600 given the land was purchased at £90 per acre. It has taken nearly three years of hard work by the community to achieve this aim but finally the big day has arrived, 12 months after tenders were first advertised, which cost £5,000.
The day is cast in glorious sunshine. With a pleasant breeze and a maximum of 58 (15° C), Eltham is looking its best. There is an air of gaiety and excitement about.
Unfortunately, those visitors who have arrived by train are somewhat unimpressed with the railway station surroundings. On the vacant allotment right alongside the station is an assortment of rusty kerosene tins-about 15 of them-and the fences adjoining are in a thoroughly disgraceful and disreputable state, and have been for some months. In addition, several of the trees at the approach to the railway have died for want of attention, and hoodlums-said to be of local extraction-have deliberately destroyed several of the barrels enclosing the trees. Not so long ago the nearby swings were also vandalised and what was left of them were removed by an indignant resident.
However, as we approach the school grounds, beautiful hedges of hawthorn in full bloom greet us before entering the gates. Just inside the grounds are row after row of quince trees, between the leaves on the branches the fruit beginning to show. No doubt a tasty treat will soon be provided for the boys and girls during breaks in the day.
Dotted about the school ground are small picnic parties enjoying life in the beautiful sunshine to the fullest extent. The sound of music supplied by a section of the Returned Soldiers’ Band from Anzac House.
In the marquee there are small tables dotted about with groups of people sitting around them. The tables are decorated with posies of early Victorian period made with forget-me-nots, daisies, picotees, heavenly blue, stock and wallflowers. The posies are the handiwork of Mrs. H. Rutter, wife of the president of the Eltham Shire, and the sweet-smelling blooms come from the beautiful garden at “Yarra Brae,” Eltham, the home of Cr. and Mrs. Rutter. They are greatly admired and sought after. As we cast our eyes further around the scene we see a group of children chatting with Mrs. Hooley (nee Miss Sweeney), a former teacher at the State School in Dalton Street.
In the lead up to today’s carnival, a number of people have been struck down with the flu, including various committee members; Mr. John Stewart, the headmaster, amongst them. Fortunately the good weather has invigorated him sufficiently well enough to join us but disappointingly, the Governor of Victoria, Lord Somers, who was intended to perform the opening ceremony has also been laid low and forbidden to leave Government House. In place of His Excellency, we learn that Sir William Irvine, Lieutenant-Governor and a fellow local Eltham resident has agreed to step in.
We also hear word that Cr. H. Rutter, president of the shire, was called away unexpectedly to England earlier in the week to fulfill an important business engagement in connection with the firm with which he is associated. The acting president, Cr. A. H. Price, will stand in to represent him.
An interesting little ceremony is now taking place near the flag pole. Mr. Stewart is announcing that Mrs. George Phillips, of Eltham, has presented an Australian flag to the school. The gift, remarks Mr. Stewart, is a most acceptable one, and it is a kindly and generous act. Mr Stewart requests Mrs. Phillips unfurl the flag and cheers arise from the onlookers as the new flag flutters bravely in the breeze at the top of the pole.
A sports carnival has also commenced for the boys and girls prior to the arrival of Sir William Irvine. It is scheduled to run throughout the afternoon, interspersed among other activities.
Punctual to time, Sir William Irvine arrives and is greeted with cheers as he, in company with Mr. J. Lemmon (Minister of Education), Mr. W. H. Everard, M.L.A., and Mr. C. Hansen (Director of Education) take up their positions at the entrance doors of the school whilst the band plays the National Anthem. Also present are Mr. H. G. Fryer (president of the Teachers Union), and Councillor A. H. Price (representing the Eltham Shire Council).
Upon completion of the National Anthem, Mr. Stewart apologises for the absence of Cr. Rutter but states it has afforded him the pleasure of welcoming Sir William Irvine, who had so kindly assented, at very short notice, to take the place of Lord Somers, and whose presence at the gathering had been looked forward to by residents of Eltham. Mr. Stewart says he believes Sir William Irvine would ably fill the gap caused by the absence of Lord Somers, which is met with applause by those standing around us.
Mr. Lemmon, is next to speak and he too is received with cheers. He also thanks Sir William Irvine, who has come at such short notice to take the place of His Excellency, Lord Somers, and whose inability to attend is greatly regretted. He expresses hope on behalf of all of us in attendance that the illness of the Governor would be of short duration; to which several people call out “Hear, Hear!” Mr. Lemmon expresses his own pleasure to be present in order to take part in the opening celebrations connected with the Eltham Higher Elementary School. He is pleased to see that the representative for the district, Mr. W. H. Everard, is out and about again, which is also greeted by the crowd with a “Hear, hear!” He states that Mr. Everard has well and faithfully represented our electorate for the best part of a decade, and was a man who looked well after the interests of the people whom he represented. More applause follows. He continues to state Eltham is one of 48 similar schools scattered throughout the State in addition to 38 high schools. We are told that only 25 years ago pupils received no more than an elementary education at the hands of the State, whereas today students to the number of 13,000 are catered for in the higher elementary and high schools. The cost of education had increased during that period from £750,000 annually to £3,000,000. Mr Lemmon says that the amount might seem large, but in his opinion, it is money well spent.
Mr Lemmon then congratulates the school committee on the excellent work it has done, and he trusts that parents will also take an active interest in the school and those who attend, allowing the latter to remain in school after they have attained the age of wage-earners. He recalls he has often heard the glories of Eltham spoken of, and from what he has seen of the place today, the encomiums passed thereon are well justified and deserved. This is met with much applause.
Mr Lemmon continues with a reference to one of the greatest men who had ever given his services to the empire, the late Lord Haldane, who had said that the purpose of education was to develop an appreciation of culture for culture’s sake, and also to further the application of science to industry. He reminds us that Lord Haldane had further said that a democracy which failed to provide equality of educational opportunity, was not a real democracy at all.
Mr. Lemmon concludes his remarks saying it is the wish and desire of those entrusted with the education of our boys and girls in Victoria to carry out those fundamental principles which had been advocated by Lord Haldane, who had been one of the greatest educationalists the world had ever possessed.
Sir William Irvine now steps forward and addresses the gathering.
“Fellow citizens of Eltham,” he starts with. Even though he regrets very much the cause for him being among us this afternoon, he feels a distinct honour to be called upon to open one of the higher elementary schools in this State. He says he is an enthusiast in all matters pertaining to education, and in his opinion it did not matter if the cost of education was increasing, as he feels quite sure that the return would be well worth it.
“I believe that the seeds you sow in the minds of the young produces the most certain results.”
“Such schools present the young with opportunities of rising not merely to technical and industrial efficiency, so that they may make more money or higher wages. That is a useful object and may be the aim of the majority who enter this and other schools but there is something higher.”
The more chances given to the rising generation in the way of education, says Sir William, the better for all concerned. The community will undoubtedly benefit thereby in the long run. Let the children be well equipped for a calling in life, and it would be well for all concerned. The new school at Eltham opens the door to higher education, and it is a door open to rich and poor alike. No matter how much people might disagree so far as political issues are concerned, they could all agree on the point that young people should be given every available opportunity to rise to greater intellectual levels. He continues in saying there need be no cause for apprehension, even if the cost of education rose to an even greater extent-than the figures which have been quoted this afternoon. It was the aim of education to bring the minds of people into paths of thought leading to vistas of intellectual truth and beauty. Secondary education should be a means of drawing out the creative intellect of the youth of this fair country, in order that their efforts would lead towards the benefit of all, so that their minds might be uplifted above the sordid cares of ordinary life, and so that they might enjoy the priceless heritage of English history. By possessing courage, energy and determination there was no goal which might not be reached.
Sir William then declares, with great pleasure indeed, the Higher Elementary School at Eltham opened to resounding cheers.
Mr. Lemmon calls for three cheers for the new school, which are heartily given, mostly from the lusty throats of youthful Elthamites and boys and girls from adjacent towns.
Mr. Everard, M.L.A., expresses pleasure at being present at the afternoon’s function-the first official function he has been able to attend for 10 weeks. He desires to thank the good people of Eltham and throughout the other parts of the electorate of Evelyn for their kindly thoughts of him and the many inquiries made during his time of sickness and trouble. The kindly feelings and thoughtfulness of the people are greatly appreciated by him. He is also pleased to see present among others, Mr. Hansen, the Director of Education and Mrs. Hansen. He states it is necessary for men to have their wives with them “sometimes,” in order to look after them, which is met with laughter. Whilst regretting the unexpected and the regretted absence of Lord Somers, he says it is gratifying to have in our midst such a man as Sir William Irvine, who had responded to the call at short notice.
Someone in the crowd calls out for a singing of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” when reference is made to the Lieutenant-Governor, but the response is somewhat disappointing, the popular air being started in different keys in various parts of the crowd resulting in discord.
Mr. Everard then calls for a cheer for Sir William, which is heartily given. Mr. Everard raises another laugh by responding “Thanks, that’s all right. It was better than the song.”
At the conclusion of these proceedings the party undertakes a tour of inspection of the class-rooms, afternoon tea following in a marquee. Groups of four are allotted to each table, and home delicacies in the shape of scones, sandwiches and cakes are partaken of under the chairmanship of Mr. Stewart.
Mr. Hansen says he thought the time an opportune one on which occasion might be taken to return thanks to all those who had worked so hard in order to make the opening the success it undoubtedly is. The attendance of such a large crowd shows that the people are taking an interest in their new school. He says we have an ideal foundation for a complete plan of a new building, which he trusts would eventually develop into a high school. The school has a fine body of teachers capable of imparting the necessary instruction to the boys and girls who attend the school. Mr Hansen continues by saying when he first saw the site on which the school was to be erected, he expressed the opinion that it was one of the beauty spots of Eltham, and he was of the same opinion still.
Mr. Hansen explains that the school building, designed with a Moorish style architecture is the only one of its kind in the State. Eighty children are at present attending the school and it has accommodation for more than 100 pupils.
Mr Hansen also thanks the ladies of Eltham, particularly for the energetic and valuable part they had taken in connection with the school opening, and he moves accordingly.
Mr. Everard seconds the vote of thanks, which is carried with much acclamation.
Mr. Stewart makes a suitable response on behalf of the ladies, who had worked hard from the inception of the movement right up to today. He notes Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Burgoyne were “the chief conspirators,” which is greeted with laughter. He adds that these ladies had been assisted very ably and capably by an efficient band of workers, who left no stone unturned in order to ensure today’s success.
Lady Irvine, wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, also presents two beautiful pictures for hanging on the walls of the Higher Elementary School, in connection with the opening proceedings. One represents a Dutch girl and the other is entitled “Mother and Child.” Lady Irvine takes a keen interest in matters connected with the school. The gift of the pictures is greatly appreciated by Mr. Stewart and all those interested in the progress of the scholastic establishment.
As a finale to the day’s celebrations an enjoyable dance is to be held in the public hall in Henry Street later in the evening. The entertainment has been organised by the united efforts of district social and sporting clubs working in co-operation with the school committee. Decorations in streamers representing school colors brighten the interior of the hall, and greenery has been artistically used to tone down the brighter colors. Smart and Aumont’s orchestra (violin, piano and mandolin) are to supply the music and Mr. J. Glen will officiate in his usual capable manner as M.C.. Supper will be provided later, and the entertainment will wind up at midnight. Should be lots of fun.
Photo: Eltham Hall (Artist’s impression); Eltham and Whittlesea Shires Advertiser, 28 November, 1941, p. 3.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back 77 years to November 21, 1941. Our boys have been fighting in Europe and the Middle East for almost two years now and our district has suffered losses. The headlines in today’s Argus describe a terrific attack by the RAF on posts in Libya in which our airmen assisted. In just 16 days the Japanese will launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, devastating the US Navy Fleet, and catapulting us into the Pacific War, right on our very doorstep.
It is just before 8:30 p.m., the sun having set just over an hour ago. A recent Gallop poll shows people are in favour of daylight saving time two to one but we will have to wait another year till it is introduced. We have gathered in Arthur Street at the corner with Maria Street, near the base of the steps leading up to the swanky new Eltham Public Hall and Shire Office. The lights at the top of the steps bask us in their glow. It is overcast and 58 degrees (14°C), down from the maximum of 64 (18°C) at 3 p.m.. A few showers fell in the morning but it is dry now and predicted to be a fine day tomorrow, which is good as we have a big night ahead for us. For we are about to walk up the steps and enter into the new hall for the first time to attend the Gala Opening Ball which commences in just a few minutes, finishing in the wee hours of the morning. This is going to be a grand event; the official ceremony commences at 10:30 p.m.. Everyone is dressed to the nines and the air is full of excited chatter.
The external walls of the building are constructed with Templestowe bricks which were selected for use because of their comparatively low initial cost and because such a brick facing reduces maintenance cost to a minimum.
In a few weeks the new Shire Offices will also be ready for occupation, and for the first time since Eltham was created a Shire in 1871, its municipal business will be conducted in surroundings befitting its dignity.
The combined structure of the Hall and Offices provide Eltham with a focal point for development, and is a fine building setting an example for future improvements to the township.
The design affords convenient and appropriate entrances to both the public hall and the Council Chambers befitting their importance whilst achieving a satisfactory linking up of the two buildings.
The Municipal Offices consist of Council Chamber, general office, rate collector’s office, secretary’s office, engineer’s office and store room. They have been designed to provide for an additional storey when warranted by future development.
The entrance hall and Council Chamber are panelled with specially selected ribbon grained Queensland walnut with all other walls sand finished internally. A feature of the Council Chamber is a fine open fire place built of Ballarat tapestry bricks. The windows are of steel frames with a section glazed with broad reeded glass for privacy.
The whole building has been roofed with “Fibrolite” which will act as an insulator and will afford effective protection against the effects of condensation on the ceilings. Internally and externally, a pleasing and lasting effect has been achieved by the restrained use of color in pastel shades.
The site upon which the buildings stand will lend itself to a satisfactory garden treatment and development, and its elevation and central position in the Town of Eltham renders it a landmark around which the shire should maintain its recent growth and development.
The hall section of the building comprises a main hall, stage, two dressing rooms, kitchen, two cloakrooms and foyer. To provide for small meetings, the men’s cloak room and foyer are divided by means of folding doors.
The kitchen is fitted out with ample cupboarding, copper, stove and power points and is insulated with fibrolite wall board.
A specially constructed brick and concrete bio cabin has been constructed above the foyer. Flush walnut veneer polished doors have been used throughout.
Right on 8:30 the doors swing open and we are embraced by the surge of people.
Passing through the doors we immediately notice how clean and bright it appears with its white walls, and Tasmanian Oak hardwood floors; not a nail in sight thanks to the secret-nail technique stipulated in the design. The interior treatment of the main hall consists of a “Masonite” dado 4ft. 6in. high above which are fibrous plaster walls and a coved fibrous plaster ceiling.
Indirect artificial lighting has been installed by the introduction of scientifically designed fibrous plaster dome reflectors which are first illuminated by metal suspension electric light fittings. These lights are supplemented by wall bracket lights. The atmosphere created adds an element of glamour in addition to the many beautiful gowns worn by the ladies and smartly dressed men.
The acoustics have been catered for through the proportions of the building in conjunction with the elimination of inside wall piers and the use of “Perfotile” sound absorbing tile wall treatment. About 300 people are already in attendance yet conversation is easy to hear.
The stage is massed with flowers and shrubs carefully arranged by Mr. W. Allen; contrasting with the striking red, white and blue of the Union Jack draped at the back. A large bowl of delphiniums sits in front of the footlights.
Four years earlier, in September 1937, a group of ladies met to form a Ladies’ Committee to assist the General Committee in raising funds for the hall. Those present were Mrs Allen, Mrs Bowman, Mrs Hickey, Mrs Rains, Mrs Boake and Mrs Lyon. As there were only six present, they elected to remain in the interim as a Social Committee to arrange catering, etc., for the two dances that had been arranged for September 29th and October 30th of that year. Both those dances proved a great success. Mrs McAdie joined the committee in October. The Ladies’ Committee was officially formed at a combined meeting of the General and Ladies’ committees held on April 6th, 1938. Mrs Boake agreed to be President, Mrs Lyon as Secretary and Mrs Rains as Assistant Secretary. Other members included Mrs Browne, Mrs Forde, Mrs Jarrold, Mrs Bradbury and Mrs Taylor.
By 1941 their numbers had grown to include Matron Wilson, and Mesdames Andrew, Brinkotter, Cloney, Walker, Parsons, Crick, Ballenger, Travena, Hurst, Shields and Le Brocq . A number of these ladies who will eventually move on and become part of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Eltham War Memorial Trust, have been working tirelessly organising events and raising much needed funds to arrive at this special occasion today.
As we take in the splendid surroundings we overhear many complimentary remarks about the wonderful job achieved by the members of the Hall Committee and the Ladies’ Committee which had supported the General Committee over many years. Plenty of refreshments are available; there are tables laden with cakes and other treats as well as another table of cups and saucers in a Blue Willow design for those wishing to partake of a cup of tea.
At 10:30pm there is a ringing of spoons on glasses. The official opening ceremony by the Hon. W.H. Everard, M.L.A. is about to commence.
Councillor A. Brinkkotter, secretary of the Hall Committee, introduces Mr. W. Hickey, the president, and in doing so remarks that Eltham has succeeded, after many long years of fighting, in erecting a new hall and civic centre which had been badly needed.
Mr. Hickey says that although for a long time it had looked as though the erection of the building would be postponed indefinitely, at last the new hall was completed.
“It took a long time to convince the Council of the necessity for a new hall and civic centre in Eltham,” he says. “The councillors, in looking after the interests of all sections of the rate payers, could not see that such a move was necessary. But finally the Hall Committee proved that such a move was not only advisable, but would prove a financial asset to the Shire.”
“This committee had to put down £1,500 in cash before the work on the hall began, and to enable the committee to do this, residents loaned them money free of interest for 12 months. In addition the committee has guaranteed to pay the Council £100 a year for the next ten years.”
“The borrowed money has to be repaid to the lenders, and I hope that the public will realise this and support the functions which have been and will be arranged by the Hall Committee to enable them to return the money as soon, as possible.”
Councillor E. Andrew, vice-president of the Hall Committee, extends a welcome to visiting councillors from Heidelberg, and adds that he is proud to be present on such an auspicious occasion. The Hall Committee has worked for years to provide the town with such an asset, and deserved the success which had crowned their efforts.
Mr. G. L. Chandler, M.L.C., extends his own congratulations to those who had been instrumental in having such a fine hall built. Of its kind, he adds, it is the best hall in which he has ever been.
“It speaks volumes for those people who have worked for many years for the hall. I know of no other place where the residents have handed over £1,500 for the erection of a hall and guaranteed the balance of the cost. You will always find the few who say ‘Time is not opportune.’ In these days you have to make your opportunities.”
“Before any town can advance, a civic spirit must exist in the residents, and I hope the people will support the Hall Committee which has the interests of this district at heart.”
The gathered are disappointed to learn from the Shire Secretary, Mr. C.L. Tingate, that the Shire President (Councilor Price) has been kept away due to illness. Mr. Tingate recalls the fire which destroyed the old Shire Offices at Kangaroo Ground in 1934 and the opposition which then existed to the Shire Offices being transferred to Eltham.
“Had it not been that this opposition was overcome, it is doubtful if we would have been celebrating this occasion tonight. This hall is the result of years of work by a committee which has had the desire and has used every endeavour to make the town go ahead.”
Councillor Braid tells the the assembled gathering that efforts had been made for years to get Shire Offices and a Hall in Eltham, and it was only when the present committee had made a concerted effort and a wonderful offer to the Council, that their object had been achieved.
“The South Riding Councillors have been trying to avoid increasing the rate, and they have managed to erect the Shire Offices without any increase,” he says.
And now it is time for Mr. Everard to speak. Laughter erupts when he recalls that a few years ago when talking to Councillor Braid, who was then President of the Shire, he had said “I’m sick and tired of hearing the talk about your new hall. I’ll be dead and buried before there is a new hall here!”
Mr. Everard also says that he considered it was due to the efforts of six Eltham people that he was first returned to Parliament.
“A meeting was called in the old hall to discuss my campaign, and although the weather was bad and I was late, this little group waited for me and began preparations which ultimately resulted in my election to represent the district.”
Mr. Everard then declares the hall open and expresses hope that “this red letter day for Eltham” will live long in the memories of those present.
Councillor Brinkkotter returns to the stage and comments on the wonderful work done by the members of the Hall Committee in the last two weeks, fixing up the seats – all armchairs – placed around the walls of the hall. He also expresses thanks to the Ladies’ Committee for its untiring efforts in support of the Hall Committee, and on behalf of the committee he thanks the Council, the architect (A. K. Lines and MacFarlane of 440 Little Collins Street and Greensborough), the contractor (A. E. Smart of Thomastown) and all the men who had worked on the building, along with the public who had so generously assisted with the expense.
And with the speeches completed, the band starts playing again and the floor becomes alive with couples dancing while others retire to the lounge chairs.
Those present include: Mr. and Mrs. D. Lyon, Mr. and Mrs. W. Walker, Mr. and Mrs. Collis, Mr. and Mrs. H. Shields, Mr. and Mrs. W. Allen, Mr. and Mrs. J. Crick, Mr. and Mrs. E. Staff, Mr. and Mrs. J. Ryan, Mr. and Mrs. J. Ballenger, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, Mr. and Mrs. G. LeBrocq, Mr. and Mrs. J. Kent, Mr. and Mrs. D. McAdie, Mr. and Mrs. S. Browne, Mr. and Mrs. McNeill, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. G. J. Gillberg, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan, Mr. and Mrs. J. Bell. Mr. and Mrs. A. Parsons. Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Rains, Mr. and Mrs. L. Jarrold, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson, Mr. and Mrs. J. N. Burgoyne, Mr. and Mrs. C. Hurst, Mr. and Mrs. J. Cresp, Mr. and Mrs. S. Kirkland, Mr. and Mrs. A. Schulz, Mr. and Mrs. Bryce jnr., Mr. and Matron Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Sinclair, Mr. and Mrs. W. Squire, Mr. and Mrs. L. Iredale, Mr. and Mrs. H. Williams, Mr. and Mrs. W. Adlington.
Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Tingate (representing the Shire President), Councillor and Mrs. E. Andrew, Councillor and Mrs. A. J. Braid, Councillor and Mrs. A. Brinkkotter, Councillor and Mrs. W. Clinton, Councillor and Mrs. J. L. Ryan, Councillor and Miss Lines.
The Hon. G. L. Chandler, M.L.C. and Mrs. Chandler, Mr. W. H. Everard, M.L.A.
Mesdames E. M. Boake, Allen, Pennefather, Northmore and Johnston.
Misses Beryl Northmore, Adele Peacock, Jean Glasgow, Olwyn Bryan, Mona Baker, Muriel Butler, Dorothy Butler, June Rains, I. Dudfield, Brennan, Scott, E. Bradford, Allen, S. J. Taylor, B. Simpson, A. Brookes, Somerville, Finlay, D. LaFranz, O. Parsons, E. Doney, I. Bond.
Messrs. R. Taylor, W. Boake, H. A. Davies, R. Marks, D. and J. Glasgow, Carrucan, Leo and Lou Brennan, A. Lowerson, G. Burges; K. Browne, L. Bryan, R. Wigley, L. Doney, W. North-more (R.A.A.F.), V. McColl, R. Finlay, Bryce, sen., Maclurkin, A. Smart, C. Brodie, and Dr. Bradbury.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Saturday, April 20, 1957. We are going to the Eltham Easter Gymkhana which is being held at Eltham Park. This is the ninth Eltham Show to be held in aid of the Eltham War Memorial Trust. The Trust has already built an Infant Welfare Centre which was opened five years ago in 1952 and more recently this year, a preschool centre which includes a children’s library in an annexe.
Today’s programme includes equestrian turnouts, dressage contests, and jumping events for which the newly formed Melbourne Show Jumping Club have assisted in laying out an Olympic-type course.
The Women’s Auxiliary of the trust are also running a market stall, with local produce and handcrafts.
Besides the horse show, there will be a pedigreed goat show and this year, a most thrilling soap box derby for us to see for which Mr Russell Lewis along with Mr J.M. Peter Bassett-Smith, secretary of the trust and a member of the show committee will assist in the running of.
The Soap Box Derby is being sponsored this year by Hoyt’s Skyline Theatres and is to be run over a 3/4 mile long course along the main Eltham Road commencing at the eastern corner of Panorama Road and racing down the hill to the finish line at the intersection with Bolton Street. There are two divisions in this Derby; Junior, 8-13 years and Senior, 14-95 years, so let’s go join in the fun.
Billy carts in the Senior division are permitted vehicles of any size or type provided they are fitted with four wheels, adequate braking, steering and have no motor. In the Junior division the vehicles must also be no more than five feet in length and the wheels no more than 12 inches in diameter. No pneumatic tyres and needle or roller bearings are allowed.
It is now 11:00 am and the elimination heats followed by the semi-finals are about to commence. The final of each division should be conducted around 1:20 pm. Apart from the local entries, 18 Melbourne Grammar School Students are in attendance to assist in the running of the Derby.
The Starter now places the competitors on the starting line. He takes a few steps forward in front of the line of billy carts, turns to face them, raises the flag in his arm, scans the line and each competitor one final time then drops the flag. And they’re racing!
In about four minutes they will cross the finish line at Bolton Street.
The 1957 Eltham Gymkhana made a profit of £309 19s 6d, which was paid in to the Eltham War Memorial Trust fund.
Did you attend or participate in the Billy Cart Derby? Do you have any pictures or stories you would like to share with us? We would love to hear your comments and memories.
1957, “Young Rider to Judge at Show”, The Age, Wednesday, April 17, 1957, p8
1957, Your Entry Form for the Skyline Drive-In “Soap-Box” Derby
1957, Minutes of Meeting of Eltham Show Committee held at La Ronde, 12 April 1957
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia