SHIRE OF CORIO ORAL HISTORY
NAME OF INTERVIEWEE George Park
The following story is reproduced in this website with the kind permission of the Geelong Heritage Centre
whose reference for this story is GRS 1437.
AREA OF SHIRE COVERED IN STORY NORTH GEELONG and NORTH SHORE
Q. Tell us about your background.
A. I was born in Melbourne in 1926, and I came to North Geelong in 1929. I lived in North Geelong all my young life until I was 22 years old. I lived in Melbourne Road on the corner of Edward Street and went to North Geelong State School, which is not far from the Shire Office.
In those days, of course, Melbourne Road was only 95 feet wide and shortly after I came to Geelong I well remember the widening of the Melbourne Road to, I think, was________feet. My father had a grocery shop on the corner of Edward Street and Melbourne Road, well, actually, that's not quite right. Initially he occupied a shop in Melbourne Road between Edward Street and Margaret Street. It was well south of Cunningham's garage; that's still there, of course, occupied by Lew Marine. In fact Wompy Cunningham, as he's known, is still in North Geelong. He's well known - Wompy was his nickname.
Getting back to the widening of the Melbourne Road, we were in a timber shop there and I well remember that we had to move out of the timber shop.
The Fire Brigade was pretty close to us, and we actually moved into the Fire Brigade house with the Fire Brigade officers for a couple of nights while the shop was moved bodily back to its new alignment. After that there was a double brick shop built adjoining it on the corner of Edward Street and it proved to be built by a fellow that went to school with my father and dad finished up renting that business. We moved out of the old timber shop which is still there, alongside the State Savings Bank and Ramages. I well remember that being done. I was pretty small at the time, about five years old.
Of course the tram went out about the same time. Probably about the late 1920s, it went along Melbourne Road through to Pilkingtons. There was very little north of Swinburne Street at all then. There was the Harbour Trust Development there, the Wheat Silos wasn't built until the late thirties.
Q. They were called the "Wheat Stacks" before then?
A. Yes, where bagged wheat was stored.
Q. Ford was there then?
A. Ford was there in 25, that's right. I remember that, but really north of that there was nothing and we actually delivered groceries and when I grew up a little older, as a teenager, one of my jobs of a night-time, when I came home from school, was on Tuesday and Thursday to help deliver groceries in the Norlane, Corio area. We went out as far as Herds Abattoirs on the Bacchus Marsh Road, and we went out as far as where the Corio overpass is now. We'd leave about five o'clock and get back about seven, seven‑thirty.
Q. Did you have a van?
A. Yes, we did. We delivered by car until 1936 when dad bought himself a new Ford panel van. On Friday nights we had a delivery run to West Geelong. In those days, of course, in the 1930s, I remember delivering groceries to Norlane; there was very little north of Fords. There were a few houses in Donnelly Avenue; Ray Beckley, of course, lived there, with Mrs Drew opposite. From there we used to go across country to the end of Donnelly Avenue to Wendover Avenue which was in the middle of nowhere. There were no streets constructed then, of course, in those days. Mr McClure lived in a railway home opposite the North Shore railway station. His daughter is now Mrs Phipps and I think the Phipps still live there.
We'd regularly, during winter, get bogged on the way across there and had to dig our way out. And then, of course, into the North Shore area where there was a little more development, over off the Esplanade off Sea Beach Parade. The old Phosphate houses used to be in Walch's Road where the Wire Mills are now. There were three or four houses there; Wildman's and Monkivitch's lived there. One of the Monkivitch's, Gill Monkivitch, lives at Winchelsea, but he grew up there.
I remember the Immigration Centre of English rural migrants who came in the early 1930s from England. They were accommodated at Elcho in houses. There were probably forty or fifty houses set up round the Elcho homestead, which I presume in those days was owned by the Government. It was certainly a Government sponsorship scheme to bring in English migrants to work on the land. They lived there. The houses were sold, late in the thirties and there, if I remember rightly, four of five of them were relocated into Phosphate Road. They are still there. They were relocated by the Phosphate for Phosphate employees.
Q. What did you do after you finished school?
A. I went to the Geelong Junior Tech and I used to ride my bike every day from North Geelong to Moorabool Street to the school there.
Q. Do you remember the stand pipe and horse trough where Forest Road meets Melbourne Road?
A. I remember the stand pipe. That was where the Fairbrothers were. There are Fairbrothers still in Geelong. We used to get milk from them; they lived in the old stone house that unfortunately was pulled down. There are photographs in the council records of that house. It was owned, the land, by the Country Roads Board.
The Dallimores lived in Melbourne Road on the west side between Purnell Road and Plantation Road. Frank Dallimore became, in later life, the Shire Engineer of the Shire of Bellarine. One of his sisters married a Whitcombe who had an orchid nursery in Plantation Road until about twelve months ago when he sold out to a cousin. I think it's still there. He is related to the Dallimores. Fynbo's lived near the abattoirs; there were a couple of houses there.
I might describe Melbourne Road for you. There was a bakery there between Vautier Street and Swinburne Street operated by Robins. Swinburne Street was called McGuire Street. McGuire was an occupant of Osborne House. Why it was changed to Swinburne Street, I'm not sure, but McGuire was an occupant.
We as boys used to play at Osborne House; it was owned by the Harbour Trust. The jetty at the foot of Swinburne Street was well used for the Naval boats that came into the bay. There was a small swimming area we used to swim in occasionally but the pier was barricaded, a bit unsafe, but we used to be able to get around the barricades and we used to go into Osborne House and play around the grounds there. There was a fine billiard table there in the room that's now the Council Room. If you knew Starling, he had a few old cronies who he used to allow in to have a game of billiards, including a friend of mine, an old resident of North Geelong, now dead, Bill Bennett. Bill had a drapery shop in Melbourne Road; he had a girl, a Dorling. Bill used to be one of Starling’s friends and used to go up there occasionally and have a game of billiards. Starling was an ex‑Royal Navy Officer. His son I knew and went to school with.
In my local life, I had the opportunity to join my father but I wasn't impressed with the work which was a bit hard. I finished up with an architect in Geelong called Fred Parnell. He built some well known buildings including _______
and, with a Melbourne architect, the spire of St____ Church, Shenton Methodist church on the corner of Garden Street and Ryrie Street and a lot of the wool stores. Then I commenced an architectural course but things weren't the best. Jobs were few and far between and although at that stage I did make the acquaintance of Tom Buchan and Evan Laird who were in partnership working together.
I joined the Air Cadets; I wanted to fly. In the cadets I met Ian McDonald and he was the City Surveyor for the City of Geelong although, in effect, he was the city engineer - it's an old English title. He had a vacancy as both his draughtsmen had left and joined the forces, and at that stage I had developed a reasonable amount of skill in draughting. So I gave up architecture and joined Ian McDonald at Geelong City Hall. I took this job and never regretted it - a wonderful man, great engineer. In fact I don't think Geelong has ever prospered as it did under the leadership of Ian McDonald. He was responsible for Eastern Beach and the concrete roads that you see around Geelong.
Then I joined the Air Force - the Air Force recruiting offices were, in fact, at Geelong City. We handled all the preliminary applications. I'd had a couple of years in the Air Training Corps which included a lot of the training for air crews such as navigation and aircraft identification so that when you joined the Air Force you were well on the way to air crew status. We used to have camps and bivouacs at Laverton. Unfortunately I knew I was colour blind, red- green colour blind, and thought I might be able to get away with it but I couldn't bluff my way through. I did have a bit of knowledge about something that was done that others may not know about and that was the airstrip that was constructed opposite International Harvester. What happened was the Air Force occupied part of the Harvester in the war and they assembled 'Fairey Battles' which were rushed out here when Japan entered the war. Fairey Battles were used for training purposes at Sale in Eastern Victoria. The Air Force were there for a year or so assembling these and Ian McDonald and I were involved in the construction of the airstrip. It was north and south of the railway line which led into the Phosphate. The paddocks in themselves were quite suitable although there's a fair hill. The aircraft at those times were unladen. The only problem was the railway line and our job was to supervise its construction and grade up to the railway line so that the planes could take off and land. There was a fair amount of work involved, in that, it involved grading up from a couple of hundred feet either side of the railway line.
Subsequently the Americans arrived with Tomahawks, Kittyhawks and Air Cobras. There was the odd other plane that came down there. Unfortunately some people said that the planes landed on Fords property at the back of Fords. Certainly it was behind Fords but not on their property. The reason for planes going down there was that at that time Fords were making drop tanks which had to be fitted, for petrol. It became a salvage unit there towards the end of the war when all the Fairey Battles were returned. I guess they were sold for scrap. They weren't suitable for much. The Fairey Battle was out‑moded when war broke out in 1939. They were used for training purposes mainly.
I went into the Air Force as a draughtsman and worked in intelligence. We'd got intelligence news from the Americans and our own people.
I sailed from Townsville to Biak which was a Dutch Island, one of the _____ Islands. There were two airfield construction squadrons that attended to American forces out there. About that time the Australians decided to conduct some mapping operations. The Americans were well up in the Pacific by then. I was there when the war finished and was fortunate to be in the survey party that went to Japan. We were actually in Japan straight after the end of the war.
Q. When you came back from the war was that when you joined the Shire?
A. I came back and undertook a civil engineering course. The two fellows whom I'd replaced during the war had returned and taken up their duties. Ian McDonald, out of the kindness of his heart, gave me a temporary job - he had a couple of jobs. The City of Geelong had just taken over Kardinia Park - although it was in their Municipality it had been administered by Newtown and Chilwell. He wanted a survey of Kardinia Park done so I did that.
However, work was plentiful in those days, all types of work; there was a scarcity of labour, a great scarcity of labour, and I had no trouble picking up a permanent position with the C.R.B. (Country Roads Board) in Geelong.
It was about this time that the Housing Commission commenced their development in Norlane. They bought up about a square mile - every block from Thompsons Road that was vacant. The shire had an engineer but no engineering staff and they encouraged the commission in their development and took the responsibility for putting in the roads and drainage of the areas. A position of consultant to the engineer was advertised and I was at Caulfield. I wanted to get back to Geelong where I had grown up, so I applied for the job at Corio Shire and got it.
In those days there was the Shire Secretary, Alec Anderson, his assistant, Bill Myers, who was later to become Secretary, Laurie, a typist, Mr Sutcliffe, the Shire Engineer, myself, his assistant engineer. The Building and Health Surveyor at that time with the City of Newtown and Chilwell was Mervyn Toyne. He joined the Shire. He was not qualified for the building area at all and he only had a bicycle. But still he had a Health Surveyor’s Certificate. It wasn't long before we had to have a building inspector, Bill Short. Bill is dead now. He lived on the corner of Edol Street and Cowie Street. Bill was a carpenter and we put him on as a building inspector; then he eventually relieved Mervyn Toyne. By that time Barry McMurrich had joined as a Shire Engineer.
We had sustenance workers living in the North Geelong railway yards. In the depression there was great unemployment. The level of payment was low, like unemployment benefits, but they had to work, of course. They were called Susso's. The sustenance workers used to work 'napping' stone. The stone was delivered from the crusher anything from six inches in size upwards and cleaned by labourers using napping hammers and passing it through a gauge ring. They'd nap it at 2 inches or 2 ½ inches in size; it had to go through the gauge ring. They were paid on the measurements of broken stone. Sam Gabbs tells how the susso's used to get up to all sorts of tricks such as putting things in the heap to increase the size of the load.
George Wallace looked after Osborne House for years. I had the job for many, many years looking after the Presidential cupboard and arranging the liquor supplies for the Presidential functions. At the end of the function, with one or two others, Wallace turned up. He knew the function was over, stood stiffly to attention whilst the Queens was being played. He'd had one or two whiskies that night and his shrapnel had been playing up. Anyway, he just fell flat on his face from this rigid position. Years later we renovated Osborne House. George Wallace had died and Alec Anderson, secretary, had died previously. An opportunity presented itself to remodel the whole place. As part of the renovation we pulled up a timber verandah - it was badly rotted, it had baseboards with gaps in them. When we pulled the boards up, lo and behold we found fifty or sixty empty whisky bottles under there. No doubt George Wallace had thrown them there as he had finished them whilst doing his rounds.
He kept the place well; he mowed all the lawns, dug all the flower beds - and they were extensive - by hand. He dug it all by hand.
Q. Was there a nursery there then?
A. No, the nursery didn't come until Gordon Sheerwood was appointed. He did all the propagating.
Q. Were there any things going on in North Geelong that are not done now?
A. The area to the west of the railway line where the brick works were, was the clay pits. It did commence operation in the thirties and then for a short time after the war. It was not a viable proposition. That area we used to play in a lot, where the Geelong Arena is now and through there were open paddocks. We used to fly kites over there and play cricket. There were a few houses in Oxford Street and Roseneath Street. Sargents (the knackery) commenced operation probably in the thirties, but he was north of the railway line.
There were a couple of houses in Douro Street - the Dunns lived in Durro Street. Durro Street ran into the clay pits, of course, and it wasn't continuous. There was an old weatherboard place, north of the railway line owned by Tom Collipe; he worked for the railways. It had an old shingle roof. I remember too Mrs Pashley who lived up there. She used to live near the dairy; it was built in later years, possibly after the Second World War, in Separation Street. It adjoined the house and had access into the house. Mrs Pashley had an adopted son, Reg, who finished up running the business for her. That’s on the north side of Separation Street. I used to ride my bike over there to get milk and cream, take a bottle over. It was that thick you could spread it like butter.
We used to have milk delivered to the door. We'd put a billy out, hang it just inside the back gate. The milkman would come in the early hours of the morning -Fairbrothers from out on Forest Road.
During the depression, my father, being in business, finished up being owed a lot of money. In the area very few people there had work; an enormous number were unemployed and dad was pretty soft hearted. He finished up almost going broke. If it hadn't been for one of the wholesale grocers bailing him out, backing him with finance, he'd have gone out backwards, due to the fact that he supplied groceries without payment. In fact, there are still people who come up to me and say, "I don't know what we would have done in the depression if it hadn't been for your father." Mind you, it almost finished him too. They were bad years.
When I went to school I was one of the few that had footwear. A lot of the kids in my class went to school in bare feet, even in the winter. All the infectious diseases were about and all the kids got the lot: mumps, measles, whooping cough, you name it. Sores were another thing, in the thirties. I suppose it was all to do with nutrition but you'd get sores, boils were common; they took a long time to heal.
My father was the first lessee of the kiosk at St. Helens. I remember St. Helens; there was a Progress Association. They built a small shark-proof enclosure which was extended in about 1940 by the Harbour Trust. This local group would raise funds, probably with the assistance of Council, I'm not sure, to develop St. Helens Park. They put in a brick retaining wall, concrete stairs down the cliff face, graded the cliff face and put in dressing sheds. The opening would have been about 1931. There is a photo in existence of that opening. The kiosk was built on top of the cliff, near the stairs to the foreshore. I well remember going down there on the warm weekends when we used to open the kiosk, with a gramophone which I still have. We used to sell sweets and ice creams. That no longer exists, it has all been remodelled.
There was prospecting for oil in North Geelong in the thirties. There was a firm, I have an idea Smith's were involved in it. Smith's lived on the corner of Holden Avenue and Victoria Street, the north-west corner. In the thirties some group of people believed that there was oil in the area and they built a drilling rig in the back of Smith's property and at the weekend it was always drilling merrily away. They approached all the people in the North Geelong area, by letter, asking them if they could prospect on their property. That went on for a number of years as a part‑time venture. It was a black‑pipe rig about some 40 feet high. They didn't find anything.
Regarding the widening of the highway, I do believe that the railways tried to squeeze the roads board in their land acquisition for Melbourne Road, when they constructed their shed that exists on Melbourne Road opposite Pilkingtons. They built that shed for the unloading of wire so that it could be unloaded under cover, in wet weather. I believe really that it was built there to put a bit of pressure on the C.R.B. To make them think twice about acquiring land on their side of Melbourne Road. The road is a little bit tight at that point.
No doubt you have heard of North Geelong shopkeepers like Bertie Best. He had the grocer’s shop there, it's still there, the old building, although it’s had a new front put on it. It's now the newsagency.
Further north, alongside North Geelong Hall, on the south is Princes. He was a hair dresser and tobacconist. The Princes lived at the back of the shop. That shop is still there on the south side of the hall. The hall itself was his Billiard Saloon. He had two or three billiard tables in that, a public billiard saloon. That was on the Melbourne Road frontage but when the Shire acquired the property, in my time, we moved the hall back into its present position.
To the north of that there are two very old shops that are still there between the hall and the car park on the corner of Bay Street. They were occupied by Findlay. He was a dealer in second hand furniture.
To the south of Bertie Best’s there were a string of old timber buildings with galvanized roofs. There was a shop adjoining Berties Bests grocery which was Hatleys boot repairing shop, a very small shop.
There was a blacksmith’s shop, a favourite place of ours that we always called into on our way home from school, to see the Smithy and watch him. We would give him a hand on the bellows in his forge. Out the rear he had a small pool of water for shrinking his steel tyres onto the wooden wheels of the carriages. At the back of that was another building. I think it was a public building, maybe for dances. It burnt down in the early thirties.
Once a year a tinker called in on a horse drawn vehicle, sharpening knives and selling pots and pans, doing repairs. Every so often a band of gypsies would call in and camp at the back there too.
Then we had the wood yard between Victoria Street at the back of the shops - Motts Wood Yard. Mott lived on the corner of Victoria Street and Lothian Street. It was a popular place.
We used to play "track the arrow" around the streets with chalk. We introduced a rule, no going across the wood yard because it was difficult to see the arrow on the blocks of wood. Knocking on doors, pinching fruit - we used to get up to all sorts of mischief, smoking pine needles down the back of the school yard, right down the back. Those pine trees are still there in Vautier Street.
Q. That sounds like quite a vigorous shopping centre in the thirties. Where did people come from to shop there?
A. We'd get quite a few passers by, mainly local trade, some 90% of it, I suppose. People shopped locally - they had to walk or ride their bikes. They could catch the tram into Geelong but the tram was 20/25 minutes and that was possible but you had to carry everything home so people did shop locally. It was a thriving little place, but there was a lot of traffic past the door.
The woollen mills employed an enormous number of people in the thirties and forties. Fords were major employers. I remember one day in the depression when Fords laid 1600 people off in one night. The people rode their bikes there or came home in buses which stopped in North Geelong. During the war Fords put a couple of buses of their own on. I well remember a major strike at the woollen mills in the thirties when the people who continued working were escorted home by a policeman on motor bike with a sidecar. He would escort the bus down the street and circle it till the person got out and go inside his gate.
Q. Do you remember the distillery at all?
A. I well remember the distillery and, of course, we delivered groceries to practically all the people that occupied the houses. The distillery was built, I think, and opened in 1929 but it was financed by a Scottish distillery who brought out, probably, about 8 or 10 Scottish experts including a manager to the distillery. They built those houses that are still there. The Donnelly's, and Scott was the manager. He lived in the larger house on the north side of the main driveway. They were all broad Scots, I remember.
Ballantine's were another family, just Mr and Mrs Ballantine, lovely Scots people in their middle years. All of them, I remember, in their little living rooms, they had this small timber cask with whiskey in it. It would hold about a gallon; on the sideboard in almost every home. They had a coopery too where they made all their own barrels. Of course, the Bond Stores are still in operation. I'm not sure how many years’ supply of whisky is still there, even though they haven't produced a drop for probably the last ten years. Vickers Gin was also produced at the Corio Distillery.
As kids we used to swim mainly at Rippleside.That was where the Harbour Trust had their wharf. They moored all their ships there when I was a boy. Their workshops were down on the foreshore.One of the buildings still remains there. Geelong West operates it as a recreation building on the beach. They had the "Thomas Best", the "Walleroo", the "Mekin" which was a powered barge, a hopper barge. They had the "Pelican" which was a coal-fired tug and then they had the _____ which was also a coal‑fired tug. They had numerous mud barges and coal barges.
I was very friendly with the harbour master; he was in charge of all the floating stock. He was Axel Biggin. His wife was a Wise and they lived in Balmoral Crescent, at the back of the original Toyne family. During the thirties, the Harbour Trust was actually engaged in deepening and widening the channels. The dredges would come in for maintenance and be left at their moorings. A caretaker lived on them at the weekends. I was very fortunate with Axel Biggins; he would occasionally take me out to the tugs and the dredges.The bay doesn't silt up but there is a sand bar from Bird Rock to Point Henry and a channel the North Channel was dredged through in early days, in the 1860‑1870s. Remnants of some of the beacons still exist out there. There is talk that at extremely low tides you could drive sheep from Avalon to Point Henry but I don't know if this is true or not. They found a more suitable site for the present channel and it was dredged through and widened on several occasions. The Geelong settlement proved to be a more suitable settlement than Point Henry.