The O’Brien Family by Patty Luke (nee O’Brien)
One of my earliest strong memories was of the night our home in Nyah West burned down in 1937. I was seven at the time and was awakened at about 2.00am and rushed outside. All of us escaped unharmed but lost all of our possessions except for a basketful of washing and Mum’s sewing machine. My brother Ron and I were taken in for the rest of the night by our neighbours over the road, the Rose family. One of their sons, Bob, later became a famous footballer with Collingwood. The following day Ron and I sifted through the hot ashes but could find nothing that hadn’t been destroyed.
Our home was attached to a shop which Dad used as a hairdressing salon so not only had we lost our home but Dad’s business as well. What were we to do? Dad’s brother Bill who had a large house opposite the Ford factory invited us to take refuge with him and his family for a couple of months so that’s how we came to go to North Shore. I remember many of the Ford workers leaving their bikes in the big shed that Uncle Bill had at the back of his house.
To make matters worse for us Dad had developed a problem with his right thumb and so wasn’t able to continue to ply his trade as a barber. However he got a job at the construction site of the International Harvester and was put to work in the building of the foundry.
Mum and Dad rented a house in Anakie Road and we lived there for about 18 months.
When construction of the foundry was completed Dad was kept on working there and was involved in the first test pour which cast small metal kangaroos. Years later he worked on the construction of the boiler house at Grace McKellar.
Dad’s full name was Henry Francis O’Brien and he was always known as Harry. He was born at the Commercial Hotel in Beechworth where his father was the publican. When he was very young his mother Caroline died in childbirth and was buried in the Catholic section of the Beechworth Cemetery. Her tombstone is the first one in the first row of graves in the Catholic section.
Dad and his brother Bill and two sisters were then raised by a nanny.
Their father later moved to hotels in the Brunswick area and as young boys Dad and Uncle Bill loved to go out to the open spaces of Broadmeadows to catch rabbits.
In the mid twenties Dad met my mother, Emily Irene Clark, who was one of six children – four girls and two boys - of Alfred and Ann Clark who lived at Victoria Street, Coburg. Alfred was a stevedore.
Mum and Dad were married in Coburg in 1926 and we four children were all born at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne: Ron in 1928, me in 1930, Carol 1933 and Wilma 1935.
Mum and Dad found a nice, big house for sale at 53 The Esplanade and we soon made it our home. Our neighbours were Mrs Melville on one side and Reggie Reid on the other.
On school days Ron and I rode our bikes through the short cut as far as Separation Street to the home of a family friend, Betty Russell, where we left them for safekeeping. We then walked to the nearby Ocean Child Hotel where Miss Devlin was a lodger and together with her and other kids we walked to North Geelong State School. Miss Devlin taught me in Grade 2 and years later she also taught my daughter Karen in Grade 2. My best friend at the school was Florence Collins.
Riding through the short cut was tricky when there was too much water in Cowies Creek. We used to play games with some of the workers we passed each day: they’d pretend to try to run us off the track and we would do the same to them.
My sister Carol had become friends with Della Evans and so decided to join her at North Shore State School. Later, when she was old enough to go to school, Wilma came with Ron and me. Ron dinked her on his bike.
When we were all at school Mum took a job at Pilkingtons in North Geelong and rode her bike there each day with Mrs Robinson.
During the holiday times we travelled to Mum’s sister’s (Auntie Annie’s) home at Spring Hill, Kyneton and later to her home at Noojee. Aunt Auntie’s husband was a timber worker. Our cousins drove timber trucks and they’d come to pick us up after delivering a load to Geelong.
Dad bought a big blue Pontiac and removed the back interior door handles so we kids couldn’t open them. To fit us kids in, Dad placed two kindergarten chairs on the back seat against the doors and Carol and Wilma sat in these while Ron and I squeezed into the middle.
After I left North Geelong State School I went to Matthew Flinders Girls School until I gained my Proficiency Certificate. We had to travel in the old Wise’s buses driven by “Grumpy” Taylor. I remember the water coming through the roof of the buses when it rained.
When I was a teenager I played basketball with Della and Lila Evans, June Burns, Marj Thompson and Val Power in the North Shore team.
Dad and Mr Burns were the doorkeepers at the North Shore dances and he was very strict when we wanted to leave the hall to go to the shop. He put a time limit on us.
Dad and Mr Burns, together with Ron Evans senior, started up a boys’ club in the hall on Thursday nights. Dad and Uncle Bill had done some boxing when they were young so Dad could help Ron Evans, who was a very good boxer, to teach the boys the basics.
We went to dances at the Palais and also to country dances at Little River and Lara and travelled there in the back of Norm McLeod’s truck. Norm was a market gardener at Little River. He would drive to North Shore to pick up Ron and me, Ivan, Lila and Della Evans, June and Keith Burns, Mac Berry and others to take us to dances at Little River and Lara. He had a strict rule that there was to be no alcohol and we girls were only allowed to go if our brothers came too.
I started work at Bright and Hitchcocks but soon got sick of serving the snobby women customers so left there and got a job as a weaver at the Federal Woollen Mill with June Burns, Lila Evans and Val Power.
Carol worked at Kodak in Ryrie Street opposite Griffiths Book Store.
I met my future husband, Percy Luke, at the Mill where he worked on the warping machines. We were married at Christ Church in Moorabool Street in 1949. Percy was a very good footballer and cricketer with West Geelong. At first we lived with Mum and Dad but soon bought the house at 36 Myrtle Grove that had been previously rented by Sam and Lil Martin. We were there for four years until my brother Ron decided to move to Port Campbell and we then bought his home at 24 Pine Avenue – the one made of the white Mt Gambier stone.
Our daughter Karen, like me, went to North Geelong State School and had the comparative luxury of travelling there in the far better buses owned by the Bender family. Later she went to Norlane High School and from there she enrolled at the Austin Commercial College in Geelong where she studied shorthand and typing. After that she got a job as a secretary in the office at International Harvester.
Karen married Brian Evans, an Englishman, and their children are Christopher and Andrea. Their grandchildren are Jamie and Dayna.
Ron went to the Junior Technical School in Moorabool Street opposite the Palais and from there he won a scholarship to the Gordon Institute where he studied to become a draughtsman and then worked at Fords. He was always mucking round with cars and studied motor mechanics by correspondence.
Ron married a girl from Herne Hill, Betty Selvidge, at St Paul’s in Latrobe Terrace in about 1954 and they have a son and three daughters: Terry, Rhonda, Lesley and Valerie and now, ten grand children and four great grandchildren.
Ron bought an old garage with an attached residence at Port Campbell in 1956 and this put him on his feet. Eventually he built a new service station and home across the street from the old garage.
Carol married Tom Lawlor in 1952 and they had three boys and a girl: Wayne, Jeffery, Bruce and Tracy. When they were first married they lived in Myrtle Grove next door to Marj and Boyd Tomkins but later they moved to Queensland where they bought a fishing boat hiring business. It proved a fateful decision for their son Bruce who, when he was a 16 year old, was attacked by a shark while surfing at Stradbroke Island. The shark took one of his legs but fortunately he survived the attack. He now owns a barge with which he transports supplies to Stradbroke Island. Carol and Tom divorced and she later married an Englishman, Peter McGlynn, Sadly, Peter died in ???. Carol now lives in Brisbane. Carol has twelve grand children and four great grandchildren.
In 1955 my youngest sister Wilma went with Val Power to New Zealand on a working holiday and there they both met their future husbands in Wellington: Wilma married Keith Josling and Val married Bill Collins.
Wilma and Keith have two children, Brent and Faye and one grandchild, Callum. Both Brent and Faye live in Darwin so Wilma and Keith decided to retire there, a big change from Wellington.
My husband Percy suffered ill health for many years and died in 1987 at the age of 67. Our friend Jacky Chapman died a month later.
I now live at Leopold and keep busy with my garden and my knitting.
Each Tuesday I drive To Norlane to catch up with Gwen Chapman, Lila Evans and other old friends at the Senior Cits’ luncheon.