The Story of David Gibbons and his family
The Gibbons story is about a family who travelled half way around the world to battle tough times in their early days in Australia before establishing themselves and their descendants as successful citizens in this country.
My grandparents were married in England but grandfather was of Irish descent and grandmother’s people were Welsh. After initially settling in well in the Castlemaine area the intervention of the Great Depression and World War II made life very difficult for them as it did for millions of others in Australia during those dark days.
My father, Gilbert Gibbons, was born in England in 1905 and came with his parents and a brother and two sisters to Australia in 1922 because his father Arthur had been appointed as the manager of a woollen mill at Campbells Creek. My father also worked at the mill and met my mother, Florence “Polly” Maybury there. They were married in 1926. They were both young; Mum was only 16.
My grandfather had a disagreement with the owners of the mill and resigned and, as a result, not only he but Dad was also out of work. Dad went to Eildon to work on the construction of the Eildon Weir
I was born on 25 June 1930 at the Alexandra Bush Nursing Hospital during the time my father was working on the weir. I was the second in the family. Phyllis, the eldest, was born in 1928, and after me there were Marina (1935) and Bobby (1939).
When the work at the weir cut out during the dark days of the Great Depression Dad heard from his father Arthur about “susso” work being available at Sorrento where the government was providing funds to build sea walls along the beachfront. Dad and Mum with Phyllis and me, set off in a horse-drawn wagon for the Mornington Peninsula.
Dad eventually was able to buy a 20 acre block for 2/6d an acre in Jetty Road, Rosebud and set about clearing it of trees to create a farm. When he’d finished that he leased a neighbouring 100 acres of crown land and set about clearing that too. He sold the timber as firewood for one shilling a ton.
Developing the farm was very tough work for my parents and I remember my father leading the horse while Mum managed the plough to cultivate the land for planting potato crops. We eventually had pigs and two cows.
Phyllis and I attended Rosebud State School and I have unhappy memories of a harsh Miss Moore who was one of my teachers there.
Life continued to be very hard throughout the 1930s and when WW2 broke out in 1939 Dad enlisted in the Army, leaving Mum to manage the farm and us four kids by herself.
Dad was sent to Egypt as a truck driver with the Signals Corps of the 7th Division and he was engaged in the desert warfare in North Africa which included some time in Tobruk. He was wounded once when clipped by a bullet but refused to report his injury as he wanted to stay with his mates.
However, in the dreadful conditions in the desert he developed a condition known as ‘sand on the lungs’ and was evacuated to a hospital in India. When his condition didn’t improve he was repatriated to Melbourne where he was treated at the Heidelberg Military Hospital.
For Mum to visit Dad, she had to walk the three miles into Rosebud, take the bus to Frankston, catch the train to the city and another train to Heidelberg and then, after spending time with Dad, make the long return trip.
When Dad came out of hospital, his sister Florrie who was married to Ernie Harris and was living at 22 Donnelly Avenue, Norlane offered Dad and Mum accommodation in a unit at the back of the house. (Ernie Harris later became one of the bosses at Ford, in charge of transport.) However, there was so little room that I returned to Rosebud for nine months and stayed with Mr and Mrs Proctor, our former next door neighbours there.
I went back to Norlane when my parents moved into a more spacious place in North Shore Road. It was the old Temperance Hall next door to the butcher’s shop owned by Thomsons. However it was no longer being used as a shop then and Admiral Martin and his wife “Lavender” were living there. Dad got a job at Ford so he didn’t have far to walk to work.
Dad was keen on fishing and Norm Rachinger senior was one of his fishing mates. The Rachingers lived at No 8 Donnelly Ave. Mum made friends with the women at the Mothers’ Club at the school.
I walked across the paddocks to North Shore State School with Phyllis, Marina and Bobby and soon made friends with Ronnie Grant, Max Beckley, Norm Spitty, Phil Wildman and Alan Minns who were a pretty wild lot in those days. I remember one day at Alan Minns’ house his mother became angry with him and locked him in the wood shed and told the rest of us to clear off home. We hadn’t gone very far when we were joined by Alan.
“Did your mother let you out?” we asked.
“No,” he answered, “I cut a hole in the wall with the axe.”
We played together in North Shore’s first Under 18 team where my claim to fame was that I kicked one goal. Alan Minns was a tremendous footballer who could have gone on to play League football, I’m sure.
Except for Norm Spitty, they are all gone. Alan Minns died in about 2003. Max Beckley, Phil Wildman and Ron Grant are also dead; Ron was killed in a car accident. Norm Spitty suffered a bad accident when he was caught in a reaper and binder.
When I left school I had a number of jobs: I first worked on a fishing boat in Corio Bay for Billy Blackney, then I went shearing for a while and later worked at Sims Cooper and at the Phossie. I didn’t last long there because I was put in the dens where the dust was terrible and my mother was worried that I might finish up like my Dad with damaged lungs.
Jim Murray offered me a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship and I saw that through and it became my career for 49 years. I worked for Murray and Rowe for many years. I once complained that I had never had experience with roof framing and shortly after that they got a contract to roof a number of pre-fab Commission homes along North Shore Road. I worked with an old tradesman named Arthur Elliott who taught me a different way of roof framing on each of the differently designed houses.
When I set myself up as an independent builder I was contracted, among other things, to do the maintenance at Jackson’s Meat Works at Corio Quay.
Phyllis worked at the Grammar School and was also a colourist for Robert Pockley, the Geelong photographer. Marina went to work at the Federal Mill in North Geelong but later became a florist. Bobby became a mechanic and worked for McEwans.
My sisters teased me about not having a girlfriend but I knew that there was only one girl that I wanted to go out with. One Saturday Marina brought her to our place and I asked her to go with me to Normie Rachinger’s 18th birthday party that night. She agreed and Valerie Dillon and I have been together ever since. Val grew up in West Geelong but the family moved to a new home at the corner of Tennyson and Loch Streets in Norlane when she was 16.
Valerie was a private secretary to one of the managers at Ford. We were married at St Paul’s in Latrobe Terrace in 1953 so this year (2011) we celebrated our 58th anniversary. On the day of our wedding Val’s father laid planks from the front gate to the road so that Val’s dress wouldn’t be soiled as she walked to the car across the unmade footpath and road.
We have three children, David, Debbie and Gaye. David, like me, was also a carpenter but later became a trade teacher and now works as a theatre technician at Geelong Private Hospital. He and his second wife Sue, who works for a computer business, have three boys each from their first marriages: Ryan, Dylan and Shannon; Benjamin, Thomas and Jesse.
Debbie is a palliative care and rehab nurse at the McKellar Centre. She is married to Terry Hopkins and their children are Ben and Andrea.
Gaye is a clinical nurse specialist in the theatre, anaesthetic and recovery section at Geelong Hospital. She teaches theatre procedures to the trainee nurses from Deakin University. Gaye has a daughter, Amber.
My elder sister Phyllis was married to John Marshall and they have five children. Their names are Philip, Peter, Bruce, Andrew and Wendy.
My younger sister Marina married Herbie Moffett and their two daughters are Lyndall and Susan. Sadly Marina died in 2004.
Younger brother Bobby has two sons: Wayne and Craig and a daughter, Vicki. He is now living in Hervey Bay, Queensland.
My Dad became a wharfie in Geelong for some years but his bad lungs prevented him working in dusty conditions such as loading at the wheat terminal.
However, despite his chronic ill health, he survived to the age of 79.
Mum died in 1995 at the age of 84.
There was another Gibbons family in North Shore in the 1940s. My cousin Edward “Ted” Gibbons joined the army in England and was posted to India after the Second World War. He later came to Australia with his wife Iris and three sons Michael, Paul and ??. They lived in one of the two houses at the end of St George’s Road down from the Distillery. The Water Board took over his property and as part of the deal the family was built a new home in Seabreeze Parade next to the block owned by Alex Popescue. When the Pivot took over that land they were built a new home in Bell Park. Ted died in early 2011 at the age of 89.
In our early married years when the children were young, Val and I were involved in the fund raising for the Norlane-North Shore Kindergarten and in making much of the furniture and the equipment. It was decided to conduct a Queen Competition to raise funds and Val’s sister Shirley was chosen to be Miss Norlane and Maureen Gamble to be Miss North Shore. Val was the secretary of Shirley’s committee and worked very hard to raise almost £900 to help her sister win the contest.
As our children grew up they became members of the Lara Swimming Club where Debbie excelled and they also became good athletes so we supported them and their club, the Geelong Guild.
Val and I were also involved in a number of committees over the years including the building committee that guided the construction of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Bacchus Marsh Road opposite the Corio Village. In the early days the Anglican services had been held in Plume Street in a hut made from packing cases. The hut also doubled as the scout hall for the 1st Norlane Scout Group.
I have always had an interest in coin collecting since my Dad brought back some old Roman coins from the Middle East. I have been a member of the Geelong Numismatists’ Society since 1962 and Vice President for many years. I am a Life Member of the club.
Val and I have been kept very busy over the last 20 years with our commitment to the Mission to Seafarers Club on The Esplanade in North Shore. The club provides good facilities and several services for an average of about 1000 visitors a month. We live not far from the club in Seaforth Street.