Merv Lia

Q I now have Merv Lia, who, although not Preston-born is very familiar with the area and has spent some considerable time here. Now, Merv, when did you actually come to Preston?

A Probably about 1960 I suppose, ’59, ’60 thereabouts. Not too sure actually.

Q And I know that you are particularly interested in the history of the area, so what triggered your interest in the area?

A In about 1965 the Preston Historical Society was born. The first history of Preston was written by a fellow called Harley Forster and my wife, Kitty, and myself were still relatively young, wanted to learn more about the city we had come to live in because we had bought a house and it was cheaper to buy a house and to pay it than to rent one.

Q And was it an older house?

A Yes, it was 1931 and I’m just painting it again.

Q What attracted you to the area in the first place?

A The price, the price was good and the area looked alright until we got the first wind change and the smell of tanneries came up [laugh]. So that was the first legacy of the early Preston we came across, but then later on the tanneries were closing down and the problem disappeared and the history of Preston was being written by Harley Forster and we decided we would perhaps go down one night and listen to them and joined up, became members of the Preston Historical Society. So within 18 months I was Honorary Secretary because the Secretary had decided he’d had enough and I was Secretary for many years and I’ve been President for 20.

Q Do you still have regular meetings of the Preston Historical Society?

A Yes we do but we haven’t had them in the Library annexe for a while because everything conflicts with *3:11 can’t go so one of the other committee members can’t come so we don’t really – so we have it when we can fit it in. So we are due for one next week.

Q So having been involved with the historical society all that time, you’ve obviously discovered lots and lots of things.

A Well I’ve helped so many authors, rewriting the history and bringing it up to date. I’ve been involved with the Bundoora Park…

Q The homestead?

A I was on the committee for Bundoora  Park for the period when the councillors were stood down and commissioners took their place.

Q Right, when we had the riot, yes. So was that Bundoora  Park or the homestead?

A That was Bundoora  Park, and after the Council was reinstated or re-elected, I am not sure…

Q Sorted out anyway.

A I became a redundancy in a way because they appointed a manager but I still stayed on as a member of the advisory committee which I am still on.

Q So what changes – what was there in the 60’s that’s no longer there in Preston, High Street, that you remember from when you first arrived?

A The tanneries have gone, large stores have taken their places.

Q Such as?

A Braithwaite’s Tannery was the site for Safeway store and over the road was Broadhurst’s Tannery and saw mill and it’s the site of the market and beyond that was Zwar Tannery which is the site of the hotel in Gower Street.

Q Yes, I know the one. Sorry which tannery was that?

A Zwars.

Q So there were three tanneries?

A Further down the road, further south was Howe’s tannery as well. So she certainly was on the nose, the tanneries had a very high perfume.

Q So when did all of those changes happen?

A They all happened about the time Safeway Stores, and all those stores and the market.

Q And when was that? Was that in the 70’s.

A Late 60’s to 70’s.

Q I wasn’t even in Australia in the 60’s so I don’t remember anything of that.

A That was a godsend and it made the suburb a bit sweeter.

Q You mentioned that you’d helped some authors with some of their works. Who in particular?

A Brian.

Q Carroll?

A Carroll and Rule they wrote the last major work, “Preston an illustrated history”.

Q Yes, a constant reference.

A Probably more than 50% of the photographs are the Preston Historical Society’s. I produced the article for them for the Aboriginal component, the pre-history component and that was a motivation on Bundoora  Park and other sites within the city. So it was a very rich source of information, and artefacts as well.

Q So Bundoora Park and where else?

A The Darebin and Merri Creeks, Bundoora Park itself, the Latrobe University site right around to Coburg Lake, right across down south.

Q So not just in Darebin, but in the surrounding…?

A The source of the stones they used for implements, *8:08 came from Mount Cooper and the quartz pebbles came, most likely, from the Western Hilltop sedimentary layers overlying the Silurian siltstone which is their base rock that makes the hills and things and that stone predominates throughout all of the camp sites and the stone axe stone comes from Mount William at Lancefield and because Billy Valerie had his camp site at Rushall Railway Station, big plunge pool there in the cliff and nice flat up the stream for tourists, and he was in charge through inheritance from his mother, of the stone axe quarry at Mount William at the time of white settlement and that’s why you  find so many wonderful stone axes in these camp sites. However, I might add, reader’s pleasure, that the collection of stone implements is banned by law since 1972, with the exception of surface scatters which you don’t dig for. You are not allowed to excavate. You might be able to pick up if you can see it or recognise it, but it stopped the wholesale destruction of camp sites.

Q Which is a good thing.

A Yes.
Q So some of the changes in the area apart from the tanneries going and being replaced by Safeway’s and the like, what about just generally up and down the shops and things in High Street?

A Well, Preston was a wonderful shopping street. This is in the pre-$2 shop era, which also have a place today because they’re good, cheap goods and do the job at a fraction of the price of the ordinary retailer, but the main changes perhaps were the small shops closed and they were incorporated into larger businesses, joined a number of shop frontages together or pull it down or rebuilt them or so on. The market was a big change, it changed the shopping centre from High Street to the market itself, the market site.

Q Did the market actually affect any of the green grocers and butchers and all of that sort of thing actually in High Street itself?

A They virtually disappeared.

Q Did they all move?

A Because of the competition.

Q Did any of them actually move into the market?

A No, I think larger businesses came in there.

Q So I wonder if perhaps some of those smaller shops were given the opportunity to get spots in the market and perhaps chose not to?

A Yes, everybody could if you could afford the rent.

Q Tell me the names perhaps of some of the shops if you remember.

A I’m 83, I find it hard to go back a bit. There was Bill Wonders Radio shop and when television first hit the deck in about 1956 and my family and all our neighbours, and everyone else, would go down, you could hardly get a look in through the window because he had that tele set there that you could see the pictures and the *12:35 games you see. So that was quite an interesting aspect of changes.

Q That would have been quite exciting.

A But it’s all doctors buildings and another small [discussion about pausing the machine]
[break in recording]

Q We had a momentary pause there as the lights went out on us. Merv, what were you saying as that happened?

A About the various shops that were in High Street.

Q Yes.

A There were fruit shops, butchers, fish shop, a Coles shop which was taken over by a $2 shop, just didn’t change much really.

Q Now that’s completely from the Coles that we know now isn’t it?

A Oh, yes and paper shops much the same. On the corner of Gower Street and High Street there used to be a picture theatre. On the corner of Cramer Street opposite the town hall was a hotel and they pulled it all down and turned it into shops and businesses. That was a change. Now on the other side, I don’t remember what was there, but it’s now a bank.

Q That’s right, it’s the Westpac Bank now at the moment isn’t it?

A Cramer Park was still in Cramer Street near the railway line.

Q So that’s where they still play football?

A Still play football and stuff now and of course it’s been opened up so it’s more accessible during the week when they are not playing footie and further down towards Bell Street a lot of shops were demolished for Centrelink and other businesses that are corporate businesses and I’m not too sure what was on the corner of Bell Street and High Street where Red Rooster fried chicken is.

Q Which is currently going through an expansion and renovation and stuff at the moment, yes.

A Nothing much has changed further down towards the junction at Dundas Street, but there’s been changes will take place along there in the future.

Q Well of course there’s a lot of changes actually in Bell Street itself because of where the hospital was and which no longer is where Rydge's Hotel or something or apartments.

A Yes, it’s a hotel, big restaurant, opposite that is a medical centre.

Q Which I think actually calls itself the Panch Medical Centre so the name has sort of been retained.

A Coming up further north nothing much changed. We had more car yards occupied sites where there used to be shops and in fact it’s car yard city and I can’t remember the particular spot, but there was a build up towards the little traffic lights, it goes off to West Preston, I can’t think of the name of it.

Q Is that at Albert Street?

A No, go up north along High Street, towards Tyler Street and just before…

Q Wood Street and Regent?

A Regent Street, that’s right, Regent Street, a couple of shops back from that corner, so south side of that, which is I think a Toyota yard now and a building there which was McAlpine’s Flour and it was the birth place of McAlpine’s Flour, it was a bakery.

Q So is that the Toyota or the Holden?

A In the Toyota property.

Q Because there is Toyota, Ford and Holden are all in that sort of block.

A So times change slowly and in modern times Wood’s General Store, a focal point of activity in Preston in its early days on the corner of Wood Street and High Street, was demolished. It became a car retail business and that has now been demolished and it is now a medical centre.

Q That’s right, that’s all brand new, that’s only been in the last few months that that’s actually opened up? Are there any particular sort of historical houses around Preston? I know that Northcote has got quite a lot, but any that sort of stand out?

A Buildings, Oak Overhaul in Stafford Street, it’s a blue stone building, going back to about 1840’s, National Trust classification, local blue stone from the Mary Creek and their driveway came in from Nicholson Street and they crossed a ford on the Creek and came up across the paddocks to this house and it is built facing the City of Melbourne, columns for the front door, the Doric arch and all that, face the side fence. Beautifully done and restored and very good. There’s a Pleasant View in Wood Street, or off Wood Street, you don’t really see it from Wood Street. If you go to Northland and look back up the hill, that’s Pleasant View.

Q I know the one you mean.

A Another beautiful house. When it was built it was on a hill that overlooked the whole of the Eastern Valleys of the Darebin Creek and the ranges in the distance and they would have been able to see all of their property and the cattle and the sheep or whatever, and then there’s the Preston Town Hall of course, and the Preston Methodist Church which is a little bluestone church at the corner of Wood Street and the Preston Fire Station, also a notable building.

Q Now, that’s not the one where the café is?

A Yes, that one.

Q That’s on the corner with Roseberry Street?

A Roseberry Street, that’s right, and Preston Reservoir site buildings, and Number One Reservoir, because Number One Reservoir is the first water supply for Melbourne, reticulated water supply.

Q That’s right.

A And the pipeline ran down St George’s Road and have you ever noticed those big concrete things?

Q Yes.

A They’re the valves of the pipeline.

Q Right. Now there is actually a big valve in Hugh’s Parade in Reservoir and I’m assuming that that must have been something – the water came from somewhere else and actually then came into – I must check up on that one.

A Hugh’s Parade is up to the north here isn’t it? It’s probably the – what’s the reservoirs out to the east of us? Upper Yarra Dam, water that comes to Preston. We don’t drink anything out of the Yan Yean system, that is all sent to the city and western suburbs and we drink Upper Yarra water, the good stuff and the site buildings. I will just go back a little bit – the Preston Reservoir site buildings comprise the Water Bailiff’s Cottage, and it’s a regency style because it goes back to when the reservoir was built, so about 1960 or 50 or thereabouts and there’s a Water Board Site Office where you went to pay your water rate and the strong boxes thee with all the pigeon holes is where all the money went into the pigeon holes and records and stuff, that’s still there, the table and the counter and it’s only a little thing, only a little building, about this square.

Q Do people have access to have a look at that?

A No.

Q It would be something that you would have to go and apply to?

A A couple of year’s ago I was going to start up tours of the site, but there was so much pussy footing went on about it I dropped it and you can’t get in the gate, you’ve got to know the key and press the buttons.

Q So it is obviously secured.

A It’s all sealed up.

Q So it might be something that might be special.

A But that had a lot of original materials still in it and it’s in excellent condition and they maintain it, they paint it, it has a tiled roof.

Q Oh, they do actually look after it?

A Yes, quite nice and the cottages are all quite large, about seven rooms a house. In *24:44 they all had big families in those days.

Q They would have needed to have seven rooms.

A And your rellies that came down, but that’s a building well worth preservation and both are National Trust buildings. The Bundoora Homestead, naturally and also the stables and stuff at Bundoora Park and that comes under the same heading as the Homestead I think. From a history point of view, they’re all part of it. And then there’s the Tower House in Dundas Street. I’m only covering Preston, not Northcote. You can see Paul Michell for that.

Q There’s been confusion with that, but yes I think I’ve actually got…

A The Tower House in Dundas Street technically is in Thornbury.

Q That’s right. I know where it is because it’s up – there’s that green grocer at the round about.

A That’s right, from Bell Street you go up north up near Castle Street and Dundas Street goes across to Victoria Street.

Q That’s right at it’s at that roundabout just opposite the fruiters, just there.

A Yes, they’re the only ones I thought of before lunch.

Q So your father, and your father’s name was?

A Lewis Lia.

Q And he was head teacher at – came down from the country?

A Came down from *0:25 [Methaga], he was teaching at Methaga and came down to take a higher position, got a promotion and in fact when he retired he was number one on the teacher’s roll, so he’d reached the top of the tree.

Q He certainly had.

A So when my father came to Pender’s Grove State School, that was a segregated school where the boys were in one part and the girls were in another. I don’t know what it was all about, however, that can be looked into and the Preston South School which was the one which was recently burned and he was Head Teacher there for a few years and then later went to Preston North-East in Tyler Street as Head Teacher and that was then the largest state school in Victoria. He had more than 30 staff and he retired in the 1970’s. So I came to Melbourne in 1947 from Echuca and worked for a year at the Footscray Gas Company as a laboratory assistant and I then gained employment with the Australian Paper Manufacturers and it’s Fairfield Mills as a technical department paper tester and I was a company employee for 40 years working in various roles in the technical department during that time. I started off as a leading hand tester in pulp and paper laboratories and trainer of other testers, I was a laboratory analyst of raw materials, effluents and boiler water analysis for much of my time there, and I latter took over the job of Quality Officer and Trouble Shooter, a job which took me to customer’s plants interstate as adviser to the Technical Sales Department in Melbourne, so very active and had a satisfying job.

Q Yes, indeed and the paper mills, are they still functioning?

A They are still functioning but they are going to close at Christmas and the rest of them then transported to Botany Mill in Sydney.

Q I had the feeling, because it’s been…

A The land will be put up for sub division but it was take an enormous amount of decontamination. However, that’s not my problem and we still have an annual dinner for all of the employees. For the last 20 years, every year we get invited to Christmas dinner at a former church hall down in Thornbury and there’s about 150 turn up or more.

Q That’s pretty good.

A A bit of a bonus for all the good work we did. So now there’s a heading, that’s about work. My next heading was transport. Are you interested in that?

Q Yes, certainly am.

A In my early life I had a push bike and for a country kid not to have one would have been devastating. The bike gave me access to the Murray River at Echuca for swimming, for going to school and those lovely Saturday afternoons riding the local streets looking for fruit hanging over the fence, like all boys, and I had freedom. In later life I went through 10 cars wearing them all out and travelling all over the country.

Q What was the first car you bought?

A My first car was a one and a half litre Riley Falcon, beautiful little car, and I ran up nearly 300,000 miles in that.

Q Must have been a pretty good car, yes.

A It took a lot of maintenance and my second one was a Austin A90 and then I had an Austin A70, that was a sports car, and then the 70 was a nice sedan. I had a family, I couldn’t afford to have a soft top car and all that. And then I had a Simca and then I had a Holden, then I had a Valiant and then I had a Holden GTR, a sports car again. I can’t remember what it’s called, and then there was a Commodore and then there was a Nissan Skyline and now I’ve got a Toyota Corolla. So I’ve worn them all out except the Corolla.

Q With your very first car how much did you actually pay for that if I might ask?

A I paid 300 pounds for that and it was a 1936 model and it had been, during the war it had been put under a wool shed and covered with a tarp up at Deniliquin and it hadn’t been used after the war and it only had 20,000 miles on the clock and when I sold it it had 300,000 on the clock.

Q How much was petrol in those days?

A Petrol was about two and six a gallon.

Q And how many miles to the gallon did you get?

A About 30, 25, it would be about 25. So it was a good car to run. It would have been 25-30, it all depends.

Q What about public transport, you’ve obviously…

A I’ve never had to use much public transport.

Q So you just drove everywhere.

A I will read this and you will find out why. The cars took the family shopping, holidays, the distant places, and of course to work. Petrol was cheap, I did my own mechanical repairs to save money, most car sales shops had spare parts that you could buy. Major work was done by Repco Engineering. Ever heard of them?

Q Yes.

A And this sort of repair work was often done by many home mechanics. Going to work would have been difficult without a car because I worked a bit of shift work in the early years and Fairfield was about 10 kilometres from home and when I had the car up on the jacks I often rode my bike to work and home again and after eight hours in a noisy paper mill and then riding 10 miles home after 11 o’clock at night, you were a bit tired when you got there. During this time I don’t think I used the train or tram more than on the odd occasion. All my life I have been reliant on the motorcar for transport and if I need to go to the city now I go by taxi.

Q So there’s no point in asking you about the trams and the trains <overtalk>?

A No, because I’m not a tram person and the tram was just geographically a little bit too far away. So the next heading I’ve got here is memorable characters and during my working life I don’t seem to have made many friends in Preston. I made a lot of friends but none of them – my working life was too busy. Most of my friends were at work or friends of friends or neighbours or mates or members of the Preston Historical Society. In recent years, I must bring this up to date, in more recent years I know everybody and I figure everybody knows me.

Q So there’s no sort of person from Preston who sort of stood out in your mind, not because either she was a bag lady or he was a homeless person or anything, but no eccentrics or anything?

A The first Secretary of the Society was a bit of an eccentric. I won’t name him [laugh] and he was always pushing himself in front and Mr *9:44 and you know. Probably dug a hole for himself and fell in it.

Part 2

Q This is part 2 of the interview with Merv Lia, long time resident of Preston. Now we are about to talk about some of the sporting activities in the area and some of the clubs that you belong to and that you participate in. Okay Merv, over to you.

A Tennis was one of the great social games of the 21st century and, for example, one of the local clubs was known as the Preston Ladies Mid-week Tennis Association. I only learned about them about a year ago. But it was formed in the 1950’s. It was finally wound up in 2008 and in that time they raised large sums of money from competitions and with other tennis clubs to be donated to charities.

Q They’ve probably got some mentions in the “Preston Leader” for things like that did they?

A I am sure they did and I wish I could have gone through all of their books which I only received on Saturday [laugh].

Q Well any additional information that you come across when you do get through them, we will be more than grateful to <overtalk>.

A However, I thought I had to mention what I knew about them.

Q Oh, yes, absolutely.

A And it’s pretty tedious stuff, their minutes of meetings and things, however there is a lot of information there I am sure. Football was the local Bull Ants Team. I’m not sure of the names of the early football clubs and whether there were associations with Croxton and Northcote.

Q Maybe. I do know we have information on the Bull Ants which we already have on the Encyclopaedia but…

A So not being a footy fan, but I always look up the Bull Ants to see how they went and they seem to have done pretty well this year so I just hope they win the Premiership. Rowing. In the early days it was like development of a very large, active rowing club existed and they held competitions on the Lake and these were for men and women in separate sections and they began their activities in 1891.

Q Was that at Edwarde’s Lake?

A Edwarde’s Lake, yes. A new weir was built to dam back the water for the Lake in 1919 and after Thomas *2:57 Edwardes donated parkland adjacent to the Lake, this gave about half a mile of rowing water. So just long enough to get up to speed. The Rowing Club competed throughout Victoria. Since then various clubs have used the Lake and the Preston Angler’s Club, for example, used it and the Sailing Club used it and there was a Motor Boat Club used it.

Q I understand from someone too that the boat house that is there now is actually not the original location for it, it was on the other side?

A Yes. Now if you were standing on the top of the dam wall, which is the end of…

Q Yes, it’s just near the roundabout almost opposite the current hotel?

A Yes, hear there and you look across the Lake towards the park where the tall pine trees are, you will see a little jetty, a little house of bollards sitting along a brick pavement, and that’s where all the rowing boats were launched and the Angler’s Club and the Club Rooms for the rowing boats were just up where the oval is, up the bank on the site of the present oval.

Q Okay, so actually across the road from <overtalk>

A If you are standing on the dam wall, looking north across the Lake, it’s on your right hand side. Now the Preston Angler’s Club, the Sailing Clubs and the Motor Boat Clubs all competed around Victoria, amongst other clubs.

Q So it would have been a real hive of activity there.

A Yes, and I didn’t have time to look up the photograph of the Angler’s Club to see who put up the money to build it. It’s quite a nice building and there’s a good picture in the files in the Library I think. Now, golf, apart from the Bundoora Golf Club, several other golf clubs existed in Darebin. The Repatriation Hospital had a nine-hole course, the Highlands Park in Kingsbury had a golf course and that stretched along the western side of the Darebin Creek in Creek Valley. It’s all built on now with housing estate stuff and there was a driving range next to the Preston Cemetery on Plenty Road, that’s still there, and there was also a golf course at Mont Park for staff and patients and so I would say the golfers were well catered for.

Q Indeed.

A And I think there’s a golf course in Northcote.

Q Yes, that’s right, down Normanby Road.

A Not sure.

Q Yes, I have driven past it.

A It’s on the banks of the Merri Creek.

Q Yes, so the sports people were pretty well catered for as you say, not just the golfers, but the sailing people and things like that as well.

A Now local council. I’ve had a lot of contact with the Preston and Darebin Councils over the years. I’ve been Secretary of the Society for a long time and I’ve been President of the last 20 years and in that time I’ve been members of various committees. I’m currently a member of the Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre Board of Directors and also the Access Gallery Committee at the Homestead. Also a member of the Bundoora Park Advisory Committee and I chair the City of Darebin’s Collections Advisory Committee and I’m a member of the City of Darebin’s Heritage Study Committee. They’re all the active ones at the moment.

Q How did you actually get involved with local council in the first place?

A Oh, that’s going back a long way? Possibly when Harley Forster was researching his first book, just called “Preston”.

Q “Preston – its Lands and its People” I think it is.

A That’s right and so I was a member of the Historical Society, just joined, at that time and they needed people to research the photographs, find out what they were. Had lots of photographs didn’t know anything about them, so the Society asked members and others to come in and identify them for us, so that was my first job. And then there was another little booklet, it was called – I can’t think of it.

Q I think I know the one you mean. Is that the one that’s long and it’s <overtalk>?

A It’s about this size. If I had my original books here I could get it out for you, but it’s all boxed up, some of it
Q I know that there are couple of ones on Preston.

A Anyway, when I was researching that I got involved with the actual proof reading and then the preparation for the printer, so it was all sorted, put together, and it was sent off to the printer.

Q And so that was approximately when?

A 1970’s. Harley Forster we had 1965 or there abouts. And so I just went on from there I suppose. I got involved in other things and I got hauled in to do – they had a very strong social life, the Historical Society, and they were always running afternoon teas for the ladies, and they would have a monthly bus trip somewhere or car trip somewhere to see something or rather.

Q And was this to raise money for the Society to buy artefacts or whatever?

A Donations and you would pay for afternoon tea and all this sort of thing. So it became a very strong social group, not a lot of historians amongst them. They all had memories which over the years I extracted but in the past I suppose I’ve helped so many people research other project, other books. Brian Carroll and Rule I helped. In fact it’s virtually half my book. I wrote most of the stuff for them, a lot of the stuff for them, and then they rewrote it in their own style, kept the tense right and all that sort of thing. However, I’ve also given a lot of historical talks to various groups. I’ve visited other societies to give talks. I’ve been up to Bundoora Homestead, I give Talk and Tea talks. I’ve been to Latrobe University and given talks there to the Wildlife Group at the Latrobe, given them talks about their stuff, about the wildflowers and photography is another hobby of mine and I’ve taken a lot of pictures of magnificent group of wildflowers, natural in their pristine state.

Q Have any of the people actually on the Council or any of the Mayors stood out in your memory as characters perhaps?

A Oh yes. I can’t remember all their names now, you forget, but John Hall was a bit of a character over the years.

Q Sorry?

A John Hall, and the butcher, what was his name? I can’t remember them.

Q I was just trying to think if there were some particular people on the Council who were involved with maybe things that you were doing or who kind of stood out in your memory as…?

A There are, but I can’t think of their names.

Q I might follow that up with you because I’m actually doing some things to do with…

A I will think about it and I will come down to your office.

Q Were there any sort of momentous decisions made by the Council in the 50’s and 60’s, anything that stands out?

A Oh, yes there’s been lots of things like that. There’s been the decision to convert the City Hall to office space. That was one of their bad decisions and I was on the committee – there was about 50 people on that committee and they would met about every two months and I was one of the ones that pushed for a separate building to be constructed and that the City Hall be returned to the people and that at that time the Shire Hall was office space and divided up into office space and I requested that that be returned to the people.

Q So this was around about when?

A Twelve, 14 years ago, 15 years ago, quite a while.

Q Was that when we went through the amalgamation stage?

A Before that, about that time it was, about that time.

Q Because the amalgamation was ’94.

A I think it might have been just before that.

Q Anything prior to that in the 60’s or so that you can think of that was a momentous decision that affected people in the area particularly other than the rates going up?

A No, it sort of ran along quite smoothly. They introduced better garbage services. We used to have old trucks and things and then we got decent pick up set up and the garbage containers and so on. No, they were just a fairly ordinary Council with their own bickery and their own hierarchy and there were people that got elected by popular vote and got hounded until they chucked it in.

Q And were they mostly people who were perhaps shop owners, businessmen?

A Most of them were. We had a fish monger who was a mayor once, we had butchers and so on, so trades people were well represented. Probably their most momentous decision in the early days was to get rid of the tanneries and to enlarge the shopping centre and make a Market, build a Market. They were probably the most important central Preston projects devised except for the Town Hall. I will list some of the committees that were going at that time because the battle to save the Panch Hospital.

Q And that would have been around about?

A I would have to look up the date, I just couldn’t think of it. This is on half an hour ago I wrote this, and also there was a committee to work towards the building of a medical centre in Bell Street, also called Panch, to replace the day physio *17:16 stuff for specialists. Then there was Wood’s Pioneer Store was demolished. That was one of the tussles that the Historical Society had with the car yard that wanted to pull them down to make display space. That was taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and we lost and that night they pulled it down and it was in big bins and carted away by nine o’clock, all blue stone blocks, so they didn’t waste any time because they knew we would appeal and it’s a pity we didn’t get the chance, we would have saved it. So we did get the multi-storey office block after all, that was one of the big things.
[break in recording]

A Now during the period when Councils were stood down and Administrators took over the running of the City.

Q That is sort of getting too recent because we are a bit more interested in…

A You don’t want to tell the people about that.

Q I am sure it will appear somewhere, but it’s really more the 50’s and the earlier sort of stage because that’s where we’ve lots of gaps and things. With the more recent things there’s plenty of documentation and what have you.

A Of course.

Q So we are just trying to…

A Well it’s hard to think back to the 50’s. Can you?

Q I was a child.

A And I had a lot of other interests and I wasn’t that much interested in the 50’s.

Q I suppose at that time you would have been bringing up your family at that time?

A Well I was married at 26 and we moved in here a year later, so we’ve been here a long time.

Q Yes, we were talking about the house on there previous one. The different cultures, in the 50’s and 60’s what cultures were around at Preston at that time, apart from the good old Anglo Saxons.

A Today Darebin is very seriously multi cultural.

Q Yes.

A I see every colour skin the world go past this window.

Q Yes, and so what’s the main difference between then and now?

A In the past the early settlers were English, Irish and Scottish with a few left over from China and other countries, *1:55 States and so on and America, after the gold rush, but they didn’t comprise a large portion of the population. The biggest part of the population were settlers that came out and not necessarily convicts. Some convicts came across from Tasmania, but the bulk of the early settlers were English, Irish and Scottish and you could say from here to Whittlesea was the Granary of Melbourne at that time and they grew from this site here *2:37, the wheat fields stretched all the way to Whittlesea and that is why flour mills, water driven from the Plenty River, from ducted channelling, open drain ducting, operated the flour mills to provide the City of Melbourne with flour, all of Victoria with flour, it was exported and it had the largest starling and sparrow population in Australia because of the wheat.

Q Yes, I think you mentioned that to me. So I am just trying to think, so the 50’s being post-war and a lot of Europeans, displaced persons coming out, was this an area where a lot of them came to?

A It was a working class suburb, it still is, and it was a natural place, accommodation was cheap enough, there were hostels built, down near Northland, a large migrant hostel, and other places, the Snowy Mountain Scheme was about to kick off, a lot of them went to work on that but, I don’t know…

Q Did you have much to do with them? Did they come and work where you were at the paper mills?

A Yes, we had all sorts come in there. There was a lot of Italians came over in the early years. There was very few Asians, mostly Middle-European and Mediterranean people and a lot of Poms, of course. The Poms were always regarded as dills. If anyone was going to get his hair caught in a machine it would be a Pom [laugh].

Q We might leave that little bit out I think.

A [laugh] What else about the?

Q What about churches and things? Were there any different churches set up then?

A Church got pretty popular because it was a carry over from the war years where they went to pray and hope their sons weren’t killed in the war. Prior to that, in the early days, the churches were part of the social life and they were the centres around which people congregated. The scattered farms, they all got together on a Sunday for a chin wag, which is natural. There were church-based schools in the place. I can’t think of them all at the moment, and what else? Sports too, they played cricket, a lot of cricket, and not Australian Rules at that time I don’t think, it was very early days. It was mainly cricket and tennis and croquet and whatever they did, guessing how many marbles are in a bottle, but I didn’t give a great deal of thought about that. It’s not written down anywhere much about what the sports were. Down in Croxton they had baseball before the Yanks had it. Check with Paul Michelle because I think he told me about that.

Q I will do.

A And so we probably led…

Q I know that there used to be a racing track down there, but that’s the century before last.

A There was a sports area there. Behind the Croxton Hotel there was a fairly narrow span of land to the railway line and it wasn’t large enough for a cricket ground but it was large enough for a footy ground if you didn’t worry about kicking the ball over the line and they also used it for foot running and they also used it for race horses.

Q I knew that there was a race track there.

A And then there’s the Northcote Cricket Ground in Westgarth Street, is it?

Q Yes.

A Or thereabouts.

Q Yes, I know that one.

A All the other sports grounds were all early or later, they’re all up in the area you’re not interested in. There was a sports ground at – over on the Merri Creek side of Reservoir.

Q Oh, you are misunderstanding, it’s not that we are not interested, we’re just trying to get, because you’ve spent most of your time in Preston, it’s not that we are not interested in Reservoir or anywhere else, and if you’ve certainly got information about that, we are quite happy to include that, it’s just that because of your longevity in Preston.

A Well there was another one at the Larundel Hospital too. There was a very nice bit of flat land there and there was another oval at Mont Park.

Q Yes, you just mentioned that earlier too.

A Yes, so that sports wise the city was pretty well endowed with ovals and places to play.

Q Did the migrants who came out after the war, did they bring any other sort of activities with them?

A The Italians brought out bocce, is that called bocce?

Q Yes, that’s the one.

A Skittles.

Q They would have played a fair bit of soccer with the round ball as opposed to the oval ball, they would have played their football as well?

A And there was hockey.

Q But I was thinking of things other than sports, like did they have festival type performing, what about performing arts? Did they have choirs or anything like that?

A Well at the Shire Hall they had flower shows annually. They would have had the Mayoress' Ball or the regal ball. Once a year they would have a big night out and in the 1950’s they had like a Billy Sharman’s Boxing Troupe, so we had boxing in the Shire Hall as well and the school end of year celebration concerts, the orchestra.

Q Any famous people come and sing at concerts in the Town Hall that you can think of?

A There was a local woman, Nesbitt.

Q Oh, yes, I think she’s actually mentioned in “Preston’s Prominent People”

A Margaret Nesbitt, she only lived around that corner, up there.

Q And another one I can think of is Leonard Weir, did you know him?

A Yes, he was a baritone I think.

Q And I do know a little bit about him because, again, he’s mentioned in “Preston’s Prominent People” but he apparently ended up in the West End singing with Julie Andrews in “My Fair Lady” and I know that he was a Preston person but he might have been in a slightly different part of Preston. Any other names that you can think of?

A No, can’t think of any others. Unfortunately I might have lived here, but I didn’t socialise much.

Q I suppose if you were doing your sailing and things elsewhere.

A Well I worked shift life in my early life too, so I couldn’t get into a routine of local affairs, that’s why I didn’t join the Tennis Club or anything like that.

Q Do you know if there was a theatre club or anything, an amateur dramatic society or a musical society?

A There probably was but I can’t remember them. Bruce Jagger, do you know Bruce?

Q No, I don’t, can’t say I do, no.

A He would be a very difficult interview, worse than me, but he’s lived here all his life and he’s more – his mind would have filtered down to that sort of level of information I would say. His father was a butcher and he ended up as a meat inspector. He used to go around butcher shops and say, “Not clean enough or your knives are dangerous.”

Q Okay, Paul might know of something more about that so I might follow that up. Well I think we’ve covered just about everything that was on the list.