Don and Maisie Baker with Walter Dey - Part One

Interviewed in 2010

Interviewer–JC, Don Baker–DB, Maisie Baker–MB, Walter Dey-WD

JC: Now this is our first interview for the Darebin Libraries Oral History project. I have here Maisie Baker, Wally Day and Don Baker and we’re going to just talk about a number of things to do with their impressions of life in the 40’s and 50’s and some of their experiences and their recollections of the area.

JC: Now Wally you were?

WD: I was born in the front room of 30 Foch Street, Regent, on January 4, 1928. The two preceding and one following sibling of a total of nine were also born at home. The lady who assisted in these births was Mrs Jimmy Freake who lived just down the street. Her husband was a champion Fitzroy footballer who used to show the kids how to stab kick. She, likewise, assisted in the birth of the last four children of the family. Our father was an ANZAC and our grandfather was a Boer War veteran who had a Queen’s medal and a King’s medal from that war because he served under Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Now do you want to know about that?

JC: Oh yes absolutely.

WD: Because the war went from 1899 to 1900 and the Queen was alive in 1899 and when she died her son became the King and there were people, servicemen, who served under the Queen and under the King but not both. There were 98 servicemen who served under both of them so they got the both medals and the Queen’s medal is in the form of the Cross, the Victoria Cross but has a different ribbon colour and it doesn’t have four valour on it but when we used to wear it to school on ANZAC day we say that’s a Victoria Cross. So, did you like that?

JC: Yes no no that’s fine because that’s something that I didn’t know about the Cross.

WD: Yes, well the three oldest in our family, they were born in Richmond before World War I and when our father, prior to marrying our mother, he’d served in the Royal Navy and later in the Royal Australian Navy; he was a stoker and his best mate was our mother’s brother, Uncle Bob, and our mother refused to marry our father while he was in the navy; she wasn’t going to marry a sailor. So he took his discharge, they got married and they bought a house in Hunter Street, Richmond, Burnley, an area of Richmond, and he was employed as a stationary ended driver at the Newport Power House because he was a stoker. When World War I broke out, our father, loved to fight, enlisted in the AIF, his number was 472 and he obviously loved to fight, he was gassed on the Somme and after he was discharged in 1920, came home and he fathered six more children of whom I am the second last. But if he were, how about that? That’s pretty straight forward. After the war, our dad purchased the blocks 30 and 32 Foch Street from Mr Mason who farmed the land bounded by Oakhill Avenue, Tyler Street, High Street and Queen Street but I think he had earlier owned land as far south as Murray Road, North Broadway and East Plenty Road. So that as I stated above is where I started and I don’t think to say that Mason Street, which runs from High Street right up to a level reserved that’s in Foch Street was obviously named after Mr Mason because he was seen to grow here and their house, the Mason’s house is still in Joffre Street; it’s a bigger house up the Queen Street end of Joffre Street and it was auctioned some years ago, the Lovell house there, but it was auctioned for something like $3 million dollars. It’s quite a big property and we used to play there, there was a barn there and they had a tennis court on the corner of Foch Street on the property. Tyler Street State school number 1494, was in Tyler Street at the bottom of Foch Street and that’s where all our family attended primary school. The main buildings of my early recollection include the Methodist Church at the corner of Tyler and High where our family worshiped and took part in all church activities. The Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Hotel, St Mary’s Church of England in High Street, opposite Wood Street, Gibbs Brothers and Sons store in High Street, Regent, which sold stock feed and firewood.

JC: Pick up where you left off.

WD: Well I just mentioned how Mason Street was named and Foch Street and Joffre Street, or Joffre Street, were named after French generals in World War I and my father used to hang on our front veranda, we had a flag pole, and he used to run the Australian flag, the French flag and the Belgian flag and that but he died when I was four years old so I didn’t really know him but this continued for some little while after that. So that’s where I started and Tyler Street State School was at the bottom of the Street and that’s where we all went to school, my nine siblings in my family. The main buildings that I recollect include the Methodist Church at the corner of Tyler and High, where our family worshipped, the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Hotel where I had me first beer, St Mary’s Church of England at the corner of Tyler Street and High Street.

JC: No that’s wrong.

DB: Plenty Road mate.

JC: Plenty Road.

WD: Plenty Road. Plenty Road yes. It was a rather big stately sort of a Church.

JC: It had been pulled down the original one?

WD: Yes which is a shame in a way.

JC: It was bluestone.

WD: Yes the Gibbs Brothers and Sons store, the two Gibbs brothers and their sons had the store in High Street, Regent, which sold stock feed and firewood; the State Savings Bank was in High Street, Regent; the shopping centre in Tyler Street and Plenty Road and at St Mary’s corner was the terminus of the East Western Tram. The other main businesses in Preston were Braithwaites, Howes and Zwar’s Tanneries which had an odour that permeated the district. Now they used to say that those tanneries, the owner of the tannery used to open pipes, what was that singer’s name? That noted singer, he won the Sun Aria. He lived in?

MB: Not diverting from what Wally’s saying, but just something to do with the tanneries too, our family doctor was Dr Morgan who was on the corner of Murray Road and High Street and he was, because in those days you had to go for miles to go to the doctor, and he always used to say to my mother, mum would say about the odour, don’t worry about it Mrs Kellett he said, it is just the most healthy smell and will open up all the bronchial tubes and will be really, really good for your heath.

WD: Clifford Powell. That was it.

MB: Cliff Powell. Yes that’s right.

WD: Yes he won the Sun aria and Lenny Wheels he used to sing it at everybody. I used to work at the tannery in the school holidays. My school days began at Tyler Street where at the age of four and a half in July 1932 I was in the bubs presided over by Miss Hannah. No better person ever existed for such a position as far as I’m concerned. The good part about it was that all the kids were my friends and I sat next to Lance Wilmott, Jimmy Riddell and Burt Graham who also in my class; I’ve got a photograph of them I haven’t got on me. I should have but I can catch up later.

MB: It’s in the book.

WD: Oh it’s in the book. We continued in the bubs for all of 1933 and 1934 and the bubs more for that Grade 1 so we virtually or a couple of years there. In 1935 when in Grade 2 under Miss Rosie who we all fell in love with; she was a friend of my brother Ben, and I was embarrassed when he brought over for tea one Sunday night someone who became one of my closest friends joined our class this year now the foremost Australian war historian Professor Kenneth Stanley Inglis AM; he would have to be one of the most distinguished Prestonites to achieve that. He didn’t set out when he was at school, saying I’m going to be a professor, we just gravitated to what we were. In 1936 in Grade 3 we had a little redhead lady named Miss Simms. She was a crabby little redheaded woman. Dorothy Hall sat in the same desk and one day we broke out into laughter and she gave us a strap but we still laughed so she sent us outside and this year was the year of the Polio epidemic and the school was closed for several months and we had our lessons sent by post and we didn’t always do our lessons.

DB: What about our organ?

WD: In 1938 in Grade 5 the boys and girls were split and I don’t recall who the girls’ teachers were and I should say in 1937 in Grade 4 we had Miss Kinane, a lovely lady and a great teacher. Maisie Kellett, now Mrs Don Baker was an accolade of Miss Kinane. She was in love with Miss Kinane. In 1938 in Grade 5, the boys and girls were split and I don’t recall who the girl’s teacher was but the boys they got Mickey McClean. He was seminal to our education. Mickey made us do things. We built a loom from timber and fine wire obtained, we weaved scarves, we got large cotton reels and tapped forward in one inch spreads at the top end of the cotton reel and made pigtails out of scrounge wool, used wool and all colours and we wound these into pigtails into circular mats and took them home for teapot stands. In 1939 we got Mr Spooks, a more unlovely person would be hard to imagine. He picked his nose and the oil wax from his ears but some way or another about ten of us survived. The deal was you stayed at Tyler Street for Grade 7 and 8 and maybe got a Merit Certificate or you sat the entrance examination for Preston Tech or Northcote High. I was one of ten who got into Northcote High so that’s about it for my school days and childhood memories. Now some of the buildings and industries...

JC: We might just because Don has been sitting there having a little chortle over time as you’ve been going through some of those things.

DB: Walt mentioned stinky Donohue.

DB: He was a shocking teacher. He was a good teacher but he was a horrible person and another thing what he used to do, he’d be writing on the board and he had a square of mirror and as he’d write on the board he’d put the mirror around “Baker, what are you doing there?” Wally, damn come here and he used to watch the people, the school and students as he went around the board but exactly what Walt said he did all those horrible things and so forth in the room but no he was a good teacher but he was a horrible person.

JC: Maisie, what about you? You’ve been also nodding your head.

MB: I am sort of one of those people who can interrupt. can’t I Wally when something’s going on? So basically I suppose well I was an only child, in fact, the opposite of Wally I had no brothers, no sisters, he had a huge mob in his family. We came from parents who were very quiet and very reserved and from a young age I would say from basically seven or eight my father used to say to me, I don’t know why he said it, they weren’t young parents, and he used to say you’ll have to stand on your own two feet when you’re older, learn to stand on your own two feet when you’re young and it’ll give you confidence and all sorts of things. Well, it didn’t give me confidence because really I was a very, very quiet and reserved girl until...

MB: No not until I met him. Basically I think it was once when somebody asked me, one of the clubs, would you be the president or the secretary and Maisie said no, no, no and they said yes, yes, yes and from then on I never stopped talking. But basically my school days too were wonderful at Tyler Street as well. It was a wonderful school, still is a wonderful school, which had a great academic background, sporting and all sorts of things and as Wally said, my Grade 4 teacher was Miss Kinane who was just an absolutely delightful lady and I think she was the one that really got me motivated into sort of thinking I could do certain things and just putting in for a little bit too when we had arranged a reunion for Preston Primary a number of years ago now, because I’d been very interested in seeing if I could find out something about this Miss Kinane who nobody seemed to know anything about but the education department were able to give me a little bit of information and from then on I pressed on and I eventually caught up with her daughter and I learnt all about Margaret and so forth and so on and I even wrote an article, well sort of book actually, titled Tyler Street and my school days but basically came from my Grade 4 teacher, Miss Kinane, who seemed to have that, she was very quiet, very reserved but was just a wonderful teacher and got across to the pupils as much as she could. It was really, really great. As I said, that was Grade 4, moved onto Grade 5 we had four or five teachers one of them was Jean Pyle who was a relative of Pyles the grocers down there. I don’t know why we had so many teachers that year but we just had four or five. As Wally said, to Grade 4 of course that was the year of the Polio epidemic, and the school was closed at certain times.

JC: Which actual year was that?

MB: 1937 and I was taken out of the school as was a group who lived in Shakespeare Avenue, and the boy next door to us had contracted Polio so once you would be near a child with polio you were taken out of school but the school eventually was closed anyway. Then Grade 6 we had a wonderful female teacher, Miss Monk, who was a great one into into art and if you were interested in art, but you had to stay behind at school, it couldn’t possibly be done in the school time, and she used to take us to the art gallery and so forth and that was basically my part of the schooling and moved on to there and I would have loved to have gone on and been a teacher, which I should have been I know that, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me any further so I went into the State Bank and loved doing the work in banking. Talking about the war years though can I divert a little bit? It was just something that came into mind the other day in the shopping area where my parents used to shop down there in Plenty Road and Wood Street and the butcher that my mother used to go to, his name was Mr Osterberg and he was a German and he was absolutely ostracised, people just wouldn’t go to his shop to buy his meat and I don’t know how he kept his business open, but he was German background. I don’t think he could have probably even been born here I don’t know but because of the war and nobody would go to his shop same as a barber they were called in those days, a barber and tobacconist, up just near the corner of Plenty Road and Tyler Street, I don’t know what denomination he was; his name was Mr Gorsick but people just kept away from there too in droves and droves and droves because he was of European descent so that was something that sort of stood out in the war years.

DB: Eisfelders.

MB: Pardon? Eisfelders, yes that’s right. There was another one, Eisefelders you see. People didn’t understand in those days I don’t think like they do now; there was great racial discrimination in those days and not like what we have now as what with the different cultures. I mean we just mix with all cultures don’t we? If you’d like me just to stop there on my school days and you can pass onto Don if he wants to say something?