Donald Thompson

Interviewed in 2010

I welcome Donald Thompson. We’re going to just have a bit of a chat about the old days in Reservoir. He's a long-time resident of Keon Park which is part of Reservoir.

The posh end of Reservoir.

The posh end of Reservoir and he has worked in the area for a long, long time too so we'll have a few stories to tell. Where did you actually go to school?

Where did I go to school? I went to University High School.

You would've had to do a bit of travelling.

I was living down in Clifton Hill and I had to travel over there. But before that I went to an ordinary state school.

When did you actually move in to the Keon Park/Reservoir area?

When did decimal currency come about: in '65?

About then I think yes.

That's when we moved that's when the wife and I bought the house.

That's the house you're still living in now?

Still in it yes. We're on a corner block: it's about 160-foot long and the agents are driving me crazy trying to buy it. One bloke said - I said what would you do? He said your house would be gone in a month. We'd have three two-storey town houses on this corner block because they love corner blocks. I said I'll keep that in mind. This was about two years ago. How much? He said at least three hundred thousand well you can add a hundred thousand to that now. The wife doesn't want to sell she's too busy playing grandmothers.

When you moved in to Reservoir in the 60's what sorts of things can you remember about it?

Nothing much has changed because all the transport and all the infrastructure was there. The only thing I can really remember and this mightn't apply but I put a lemon tree in. Every winter we'd get a cold frost and you used to cut it off at the top of my garage. But as people moved up north the climate's changed. A friend of mine said what do you put it down to? I said you've got concrete roads and brick houses. It's passive heat. It's absorbs it during the day and lets it out at night. We haven't had a frost up there for thirty-five years. But you move up to Whittlesea and you've got it every second day in the paddocks. That's how things change.

What sort of social life?

It's the age of the motor car you never see anybody because you'd get up get in your car and go to work not like the days when everyone used to head for the station.

That's what I mean. In the 60's I know you were working down in Northcote. You actually travelled down there.

I used to drive there. Actually a little incident about not knowing people: I got an interest in Bonsai. I came down to the library and looked - I came down to the library to get a book. I studied up and I joined the Victorian Bonsai the main one. After I joined there was a library, so I said to the chap, I'm a new member. I want to take a book. He says you live down the road from me. Are you? I'm on the other side four houses down from you. I'd never seen him before. I've seen you go in the shire. We just don't socialise which people don't when they've got motor cars. They’re screaming about the cars blocking the roads up and there's a simple way of stopping that. No car should have only one person in it.

Haven't they tried that on the freeway? I don't know how you'd police it that's the problem.

All they can do is find them and take a picture. But if people shared cars which they don't - everyone's on their own - you'd cut the traffic by forty per cent. But we're in a good area. We're not south of the Yarra where you've got to pay tolls and everything like that. There's nothing like that up there not Jeff – don’t let the politicians know.

So they would still have had the red rattlers then.

Yes. They had everything there: trains buses. Actually it's a good area up there because we're central to everything. It's a sleepy hollow and the prices are starting to go as accordingly. I worked for Florsheim Shoes on the corner of Separation Street between five and six hundred people. I started off as an apprentice and I worked my way up to a tradesmen and I worked my up until I was one of the bosses after about thirty-five years. Then the Americans bought us out. They started bringing tops in from Indonesia and places like that - the cunning devils - they'd bring them in at about twelve dollars a pair have a sole put them in the factory and they call them Australian-made. They'd leave the factory about thirty dollars a pair and sell for two hundred dollars in the shops. Then they found out if they brought them in completely made up they'd make even more money. So they started putting people off. In those days if a person turned sixty-five they could put them off because they were ready for the pension. All the bosses would have a meeting about once a month and they'd say this one's coming up for sixty because it was sixty for women and sixty-five for men. They can go off when their time comes. I was one of the unlucky devils that had the job of sacking people - people I'd worked with for thirty years or more you know. They'd had a little system that at half-past three on Friday they'd call for somebody to go in to the office. They'd get all their entitlements their pay and everything owing to them and they were out. In a state of shock they'd go out at half-past three and have the weekend to get over it you see. But all the people I'd worked with - ladies you know they were firstly part of the family and I'd know months before who I was putting off. At half-past three all the ears would go up. One dear friend who I'd worked with for forty years she said they didn't call my name out. I said I'm sorry Edna. I took her in to the personnel office and paid her off. I went and sat in the toilet and howled and that wrecked me. You know I felt as if I was a guard in a concentration camp. I got to the stage I'd dry-reach going to work. The tension built up that much that I went down with bowel cancer which is stress: purely stress. I went in and got it all fixed up. I came back and I said to my boss, I'll give you three months' notice which I've got to give you. He says you're not leaving are you? I said I couldn't cope with what we're doing now just sacking everybody. Your turn will come too. I was only twelve months' out because fortunately I was gone, completely gone. They moved to a little factory just down from Bell Street. In those days there was loyalty where people worked. There's no such thing anymore especially when the Yanks took over.

How long had Florsheim’s been there in Northcote?

They were there for well over forty years about forty-eight years I think. They only had a few left and they moved to a smaller place just up from Bell Street down there.

So initially when they started up they would make everything from scratch?

That's right. Originally they were Trescowthick. They were Trescowthick shoes. He sold out to the Yanks you see. That's the way of the world now. They don't want people if they can get.

What other factories and things are down along there?

There were shoe factories everywhere down at Footscray there were factories. They're all gone.

Is that because the tanneries used to be there?

The tanneries are gone too. There used to be a couple of tanneries down there they're all gone. They can find out they can bring it in cheaper overseas then they can sack everybody but what happens to the people who go off?

Did the tanneries and the shoe places sort of work in conjunction with each other?

We all worked together they'd order what they want and get it in. But that’s the way of life now: they don't want people any more.

Anything else that you particularly remember about Separation Street even?

Nothing much has really changed because as I said the trains were there the trams were there the buses: it just goes on and on. It really doesn't change much except all the oldies in the street dying and the youngies moving in to get their houses.        

Any other particular factories that you recall?

I should know I just can't bring them to mind. But there were a lot of factories down here in High Street. There must've been a dozen big factories but they've all gone. That's the way of the world.

Up in where you are in Keon Park was it because there.

We’re just near the station.

There’s actually quite a few sort of factories and things up there aren't there?

Not a lot: small factories. What's really kicked it on up there is the Western Ring Road that takes you right through to Ballarat or Geelong. It's that handy and there's no tolls either. That Western Ring Road they should've taken it all the way around Melbourne when they had a chance.

What about the houses? You bought yours in the mid-60's. It was obviously a really big block too.

It was an established house a weatherboard established house.

Were there a lot of houses? Were they all on great big blocks?

No. They weren't all on big blocks but the corner ones weren't the valuable ones, but all the houses were there. Now I'm retired I know all the people because I walk my dogs twice a day.

A lot of those houses are still the same houses?

Yeah they do them up now. Someone will buy a house and they'll pull the inside out and redo it. Some of them pull the houses down and put two or three on the one block which is the way of the world now because land's more valuable than houses.

So your house is one of the last ones actually standing as it was when you bought it in or are they quite a number of?

I'd say sixty per cent of them are still as is but the others gradually get done up and they pull them down. I'd go round watching the blokes doing them up and make a few comments. I said to one you've got it made. He said what are you talking about? I said you get a concrete slab poured. You've get a prefab frame come in and you put it all together. If you've got a nail gun you don't need to use the hammer. When you put the tiles on you put a big frame around so nobody would fall off the roof. What did you do before you had the scaffolding around to stop people from falling off? He looked at me and said we used to hire Collingwood barrackers they're all expendable if they fall off the roof. I thought that was an excellent one. I'm not a Collingwood barracker so I thought I'd pass it on. That's a little gem that one. My son would ask me the same thing before. It's a nice area up there. The only thing annoying is they used to put black streaks on their cars as they'd go around corners.

On the road.

They've got no respect for cars those people.

Talking about cars what was the first car you ever owned?

The first car was a Hudson Terraplane. It was a second hand one I got it after the war. It was a '39 model a big one. I got rid of that and I had motorbikes after that. The first car I bought after that was a Volksie Beatle. A friend of mine said what do you want a Beetle for? It's a small car. I said you have the Redex trials going around Australia. The Volksie’s won the first two. Why do I want a big car to pull all that metal round which you've got to pay for. If you get a family your kids get bigger you get bigger and bigger cars you see. I ended up with a Ford Falcon. I had it on gas it was a beautiful car. My younger son was going to McLeod High. He said Dad I've got my P-plates. Can I borrow the car for half a day? I gave him the keys. I retired and got a phone call a couple of hours later. He said Dad I've been in an accident. I said what! Are you all right? He said yeah. I've wrecked your car. I said I'm not worried about the car as long as you're all right. So they brought it home on the back of a truck. I don't know who he'd had with him I never asked but they’d wrapped it around a tree. His mum's like a clucky chook running around saying my boy my boy. I said don't worry about the boy. Have a look at my car. Things happened but he never got hurt.

What sporting activities were around in the 60's early 70's?

We'd go to Donath Park it's a big park. They'd have football. My boys play football and I used to take them to training. We used to go to all the games Dad's taxi carting them around. I used to love watching them play football, because it was the only I socialised. I was a mad fly fisherman and for a weekend I'd be away fishing you see. As I said I joined the Bonsai club and the orchid club over at Warringal. I was the vice-president over there just hobbies you know. You've got to have a hobby of some kind. Actually how I ended up growing orchids I'd come home from work and I'd be that tense you know you've got a team of people to manage and at the end of the day your brain's - you know my wife and I'd end up having arguments over nothing. I said to her I went to see the factory doctor and I said it's ridiculous. I get home and we argue over nothing. It's only tension. He said why don't you take up golf? I said no way not golf. I fish of a weekend so I ended up growing orchids. When I used to get home from work I'd get changed, get a glass of dry red and I'd go down to my orchid house and I'd be right within half an hour just the distraction you see.

You had no trouble growing them?

No troubles. As I said I got books from the library. They've got a magnificent collection of orchid books and Bonsai books. In fact if you want to know anything in this world you go to the library. Some people don't but I always did.

So you've actually used the library since basically forever?

You have a look at my card. I've had nearly more books out than.

I don't know that the computer system goes back that far.

You can go back as far as you like I hadn't thought of that one. One of the girls down in Preston said jeez you're one of the top for getting books out here. Now I only go down twice a week and get books and look around and see what's going.

I know here you used Reservoir as well.

Reservoir and Preston. I went to the library down near Separation Street you know the shopping centre?

Northcote yeah.

That's like an Algerian pleasure palace down there because they have books from all over the place. I saw one of the girls from the other place. She said what are you doing down there? I said look at this it's like a jumble sale here. She said I'm not down here very often. I haven't been down: it's obviously picked up since then. But in this world if you want to know anything you go to a library. It's the obvious place.

I was just talking to someone earlier about the previous Reservoir library before this building which is thirty years old next year.

I used to go to Preston.

So used Preston. So the Reservoir library which was apparently attached to the police station here. Do you recall?

Probably but I didn't come up here much. The only reason I did come up here I enquired about a book at Preston. They said we've got it up at Reservoir. So I'd head down here and get a book. Nobody knows everything in this world and it's one way of finding out. It's been very helpful in finding out things.

I believe there used to be a cinema just up here from the library on the corner.

Just opposite the railway line.

Is it where the current TAB is on that corner?

It's just near the little panel-beating garage up there. I think I've only ever been there twice but they used to put a lot of films on for the ladies and my wife and her friends - round there women socialise more than men because women are sticky-beaks - men couldn't care less. Basically they go down there and see the movies. But then like anything else no clients so they closed down I suppose.

Do you recall what it was called? That's what I'm trying to track down.

I could not help you with that I'm sorry. I could not help you.

But you certainly knew of it?

In those days if you won a Tattslotto ticket they used to go in to town and buy them and you'd sell them for sixpence each. The boss down there got them to get him a ticket and he won it. He won the big one I don't know how much it was. The story I heard was he rang up Tattersall's to ask if he had to give any of that money to his employees. They said no you bought the ticket. So he didn't give them any. Well he didn't have to. If you were a wealthy businessman you had to give your money away to your workers.