Historical information

Isabel Wells was born in Beechworth in 1914. Her father, Mr. Newey, was a butcher; his shop was in Ford street and he took over from his grandfather. The family business, along with the local residents, was supplying the main government institutions in the region, like Mayday Hills Hospital and The Ovens and Murray Home, making a large percentage of his profit. Mr. Newey was also a captain of the fire brigade and Isabel mentioned that there were more fires happening in those days.

The menace of a huge fire was impending in Beechworth for many years, due to the lack of adequate water supply and the absence of trained firefighters. The first fire brigade in the town was voluntary and was formed in 1858 under Superintendent Luke Reilly. A few other schemes deployed the following years, with all failing to sufficiently control the fires that occurred, until the creation of the first reliable fire brigade in the 1870s. The worst fire in the town's history happened on 23rd March 1867; it swept through many shops and the post office, leaving behind a damage cost estimated at £12,000.

Isabel's mother was in a wheelchair, suffering from osteoarthritis; thus, Isabel had taken over the responsibility for looking after her mother and assisting her with daily living needs and personal care activities. She used to play golf and tennis and she was a member of the town tennis club. In terms of social life, Boxing Day was a big occasion for the town, with horse-races and games taking place. According to her narration, the use of cars was a turning point in the town's social activities, since people were able to visit nearby places and take day trips, such as having a picnic at Lake Kerferd or Buffalo.

This oral history recording was part of a project conducted by Jennifer Williams in the year 2000 to capture the everyday life and struggles in Beechworth during the twentieth century. This project involved recording seventy oral histories on cassette tapes of local Beechworth residents which were then published in a book titled: Listen to what they say: voices of twentieth century Beechworth.

These cassette tapes were digitised in July 2021 with funds made available by the Friends of the Burke.


Isabel's account of her life in Beechworth and the local area during the 20th century is historically and socially significant as it offers valuable information about the business activity in the region and provides a deeper insight into the operation of butcher shops and meat supply during the first half of the previous century. Additionally, it offers invaluable information about the everyday life of people living in Beechworth, and highlights aspects of the overall social life and activities.

Physical description

This is a digital copy of a recording that was originally captured on a cassette tape. The cassette tape is black with a horizontal white strip and is currently stored in a clear flat plastic rectangular container. It holds up 40 minutes of recordings on each side.

Inscriptions & markings

Mrs Isabel Wells/