Historical information

Mary Tolhurst

M&DHS - March 29th Dunvegan Willows Park Melton 1992

Ladies Oral History Day

Graham Minns President

Ray Radford MC

Sound recording transfer to CD 2011 by Tom Wood

Edited typescript by Wendy Barrie 2013

I was born in Rockbank, and when I was five years old moved to Toolern Vale and started and finished school there. Toolern Vale only consisted of the Store, Post Office and shop, where you could buy your fodder, and pollard supplies, the Hall, the little Church and the bluestone School. The School changed shape three times from the 1800s[1869] til the time I went there. There was four generations of my family that went there and it was destroyed by fire in 1965.

Marjorie nee Myers Butler. Yes, I remember along with it your lovely Ronisch piano.

Mary, quite true! Marj what you say about the Ronisch piano. When I came the age to learn music my mum and dad couldn’t really afford it, but still what parents do for their children. They had Marj go along with them and pick this lovely Ronisch piano. It was known round the district. Everyone commented about the loss that lovely piano.

After leaving school it was war time, 1939, then it was work, When I was 7 year old I was put out into the cow yard. In 1940 when the soldiers were going away our milk was confiscated it had to go to Bacchus Marsh. It used to go the Sunbury to be brine cooled and then go to Melbourne. Then they took it then to the Lifeguard Milk Factory at Bacchus Marsh. It had to go as condensed milk to the soldiers. This year is 50 years of the Land Army. I was an unofficial Land Army but they still kept check on me. I went onto married life and I followed the cows right through [howls of laughter] and we went on until the 1965 fire. That’s when we got out of the cows.

Marjorie asks, was Granny Watts your grandmother or great grandmother?

Mary: She was my great grandmother, the midwife of Melton.

The 1965 fire started ¾ of a mile above our place, Frank Ryan’s sheds were burnt and his house was saved, then it wiped the School out, the Hall, the Church the Post Office and Store and little house that was Charlie Charlton’s in the early days. Mrs Wilson’s place was saved by the Fire Brigade by pulling boards off the side, and from there it went over the hill and it was stopped at the Rockbank Railway Station. If it had of got over the railway they said it would have gone into Werribee. A lot was burnt out in that strip.

Mary nee Nixon Collins: 18 houses burnt that day.

Audience question, did Melton get burnt that day?

Ray: No. It came down through the Toolern Vale road and cut across about a mile and a half from the cross roads at Toolern Vale from north westerly to the south east and cut through over the Keilor road.

Mary: It came in across the creek at Funstons in Toolern, then through Jim Minns. Dorothy was it your place then [nee Knox Beaty] to Ken Beatty’s and from there it went through to Doug McIntosh’s and to Cockbills and the wind changed and it came across to the railway line, and that is where they stopped it.

[the cause of the fire was controversial, they had been burning off the night before and there was some talk of someone starting it. It was very hot and very strong wind, it was a terrible day]

Ray: When the fire went through McIntosh’s they had a haystack on the north side of their house and the haystack got caught and the fire burnt a hole through the side of the house and the boys pyjamas on the bed. The house was saved. It came through like and express train roaring at you, I was at McIntosh’s when it went roaring past. You couldn’t see, dust and ash and tremendous heat.

The fire started about 12 o’clock Jack [husband] said to me, fire, I said where, where? Just up the road, what have I got to do? and he went out and he had gone to the fire and left me. I tried to get the animals and I put out buckets of water, putting the buckets of water out saved my life. Chas Jones and another friend of his came in and they picked up the buckets of water, I thought I had better get out because the fire was on the haystack up the paddock and when I went to go out through the north side of the house and couldn’t get out, I’ll go through the front gate so I went around the other side of the house. I got caught there and Chassy Jones and his friend came round carrying the bucket of water and I panicked. He threw the bucket of water over me. Well that is what saved my life because I was damp, whenever we tried to leave the ball of fire came over me and over my shoulder and my hair was scorched. Chassy Jones lost his truck and Keith Watt his big truck because he had the water tank on it and they couldn’t get out of the yard. Granny Watt’s house, the first private hospital had condemned and Jack and I pulled it down and had it moved up to Toolern and had it in the yard a fortnight and it was all burnt and we didn’t get the shed we wanted.

Every 13 years right up until Ash Wednesday fires, there has always been fire close at hand. The 1952 fire went down the back of the house, the 1965 fire took the house, and the house that I live in now, it is the third house that has been on that spot. When the Hunters owned it, Mrs Hunter was nearly burnt in her bed. They had a 13 roomed house. In 1924 the house burnt down, and there was another house was built there and that was the one that burnt down.

Edna: So Mary built a brick veneer house.

Marjorie: like the three little pigs [laughter]

Collins - Mary

M &DHS - March 29th 1992

Ladies oral history day at Dunvegan, Willows Park Melton.

Graham Minns President

Ray Radford MC

Sound recording transferred to CD 2011

Edited typescript by Wendy Barrie 2013

Mary Collins nee Nixon born in Terang 1907 down in the Western District and we shifted to Melton when I was 5 and a half then I started school here in Melton, and spent all my school life at Melton State School, next to the Church of England, it’s called the Primary School now. I got my Qualifying and Merit Certificate then I left School because there wasn’t a High School. When I was 16 I got and job in the Melton Post Office and I worked there, I was the first girl in Melton to deliver the mail, and worked on the telephone and the Bank business. Mrs Ross and myself behind the counter, there were about 500 – 600 people in the Shire at that time and now when I go into the new Post Office there is 36,000 here there’s still 2 people behind the counter [laughter from the audience] and wait in a queue right out to the door. Times haven’t changed much have they!

There was a manual telephone and you had to ring the handle, and there were eight subscribers when I went there and when I left there were 46 I had coaxed that number to join the telephone, even the police station didn’t have the phone on. The two Hotels and the two Chaff mills and Mr Ernie Barrie, Parkers the butcher, the Shire Office was No 8, and the Police house was next to the Courthouse on the corner. They were number 9. I can remember a lot of the numbers still.

The Post Office was the Agency for the Commonwealth Bank [comment from audience member] I used to do the Bank business too, I left after four years there, mother wasn’t very well. The Inspector who used to come up to the Post Office asked me if I would take up casual Post Mistress and to go around the different districts but I refused and when Mrs Ross’s holidays were due I was the replacement. I wasn’t 21. I loved my work meeting everybody and most people had horse and jinkers and when the elderly would come in there would be Mr Tom Morrow, he only had one arm and Mrs Dunn came from Bulman’s road in their horse and jinker. They were elderly I would see them pull up out the front and quickly get their mail and run out to them because they didn’t have to get out of the jinker to tie up their horse. If someone had a baby in arms I would tear out and hold the baby while they got down. Mrs Ross was very very strict. I had to sweep the Post Office, she had a couple of mats and there would be a threepence or a sixpence under the mats show she knew whether I lifted the mat, I was whether I was honest or not.

Graham: How much were your wages?

I got 27/7 pence a week for a 52 hour week. I had to work every holiday except Good Friday and Christmas Day and even when it was Monday holiday I always had to go to work from 9am - !0 am, the Post Office was always open. In the winter I had to wait until twenty past six in case there were any telegrams to deliver. I delivered them on a push bike.

One time Tom Barrie told me this years afterwards. I used to go home for lunch. We lived on the Keilor road and I used to ride my bike home. On the hot days the boys used to go and swim in the swimming pool down near a turn in the creek there was a hole where the boys would swim in the nude, they didn’t have any bathers and they didn’t have any watches in those days. Tom Barrie said they always used to watched for me as I was always about 3 minutes past 1, my lunch hour was from 1-2. One particular day they missed seeing me and swam on, and of course they were all late for school when they got back and were all kept in a night.

I did get a fortnight holiday. I loved my work and I knew everyone in the district right from Toolern Vale to the Marsh and everybody at Melton South.

Did you listen into conversations on the Switchboard? Oh no. [laughter]

Melton did not have electricity then. I had to fill the lamps everyday with kerosene.

The Staughton Memorial was outside the Post Office. It had four posts with the chain looped around it, and that’s where the people used to tie up their horses.

Marjorie nee Myers Butler comments about sitting and swinging on the chains.

Mr Fred Coburn lit the acetylene gas light in the Memorial. It was the only streetlight in Melton. There was no electricity until 1939.

Ray Radford comments about another gas street light which was on the corner of Station road. [later]

Mary passes around her school photos.

Mary mentions the names of those who have passed away, Maisie McDonald, ,Marian Wraith, Hilda McCreey, and Valda McDonald. I have written the names on the back.

Marjorie comments about Marie Jongebloed and Greta are the only two girls left out of big family of ten I think there were [hesitates] 4 or 5 girls and the rest were boys.

Mary. Flora Woodley, Dorrie Flynn and Margaret McDonald are still alive. They are my age we were all born about 1907.

Marjorie points out herself in a later photo [1921 and 1922 School ]

Mary mentions the name Walsh and identyfies following names, the Parker boys, Ken Beaty, Malc and Linda Cameron, Maisie Mc Donald, Ted Radford, George Nixon, Norman Minns, he was later the Shire Secretary of Werribee. One of the Woodley girls. [Maisie Arthur]

Marjorie: Rosie Shearwood, June Whiting

Mary. Lily Mc Donald, she has passed away. Isabel Harrison nee Tinkler, she lives at Werribee, Doreen Rogers, Marjorie Walker, Jess McIntosh, Mary Gillespie. Mr Malone was the Junior teacher Mr Roe and Miss Cooke. Fred Myers, my sister [Elizabeth] and the year was 1921.

Myers (Barrie) School Photo Collection. Many of the names were identified at the 1970 Centenary of Melton State School No. 430. Edna Barrie organised, compiled and typed the lists to accompany these photos for the year 1921. The 1922 photo shows the higher grades.

Physical description

Ladies Oral History Day event held by Melton and District Historical Society, article featured in the Telegraph