ALAN GUY of 22 Myrtle Grove, North Shore (married to Sheila Dean from Separation Street)
Interviewed by Bryan Power on 16 July 2003
I came to North Shore with my parents in 1931 and lived in a house rented from Bill Hunter at the corner of Myrtle Grove and Phosphate Road. Myrtle Grove was empty paddocks then until you got to Steele’s. My father Alfred kept his horse in that empty paddock. Father drove around in a horse and jinker to the wharves to connect the ships to the SEC and phone.
The only bus service was on a Friday in those days so if my mother wanted to see her sisters, all three of whom lived in North Geelong, I would take her in my father’s 14 foot boat from the jetty that was then at the end of Seabreeze Parade across to St Helens. It took me about an hour to row there.
I was born in Victoria Street, North Geelong on 25 January 1916, the son of Alfred and Alice Guy (nee Stevens). I had one brother and two sisters. Then my parents built a house in Bay Street next to North Geelong State School which I attended for most of my school life. My father worked for the Harbour Trust as an engine driver. He had learned that trade from his father who was a gold mining engineer at Walhalla and later at Smythesdale near Ballarat.
My father later became a teacher at the Ballarat School of Mines and when the First World War broke out in 1914 he attempted to join the army but he was not allowed to enlist because he was a teacher.
In the meantime the Geelong Harbour Trust was installing its own Parsons steam turbine generating plant at its small goods works. In 1916 my father successfully applied for the job of running the plant and while running it he studied to gain qualifications as an electrician. After the war he worked on there for a while until the plant was converted to AC power. After that he was employed to ensure that each ship as it berthed was provided with electricity and phone connections.
I often went out fishing towards the Grammar School and regularly caught bags of up to 80 whiting.
In 1927 the Phossie first produced superphosphate. I started there as a 15 year old as a general cleaner and helping Joe Power take samples. Employed in the Acid Plant then were Joe Power, Dick Lee and Carl Schacke (who later moved to the corner of Lunan Ave, Drumcondra).
Dick Lee’s daughter Joan became a nurse and went to Perth. When Dick retired he moved to Perth to be near Joan - his wife had died before he left North Shore.
The Phossie trained chemists - Bill Nelson and Bill Clarke. (Mrs Clarke was an Allen). Her sister Bessie (Mrs George Thomson) lived across the road in Myrtle Grove in a house built by her father, Jim Allen. He also built the house at 3 Phosphate Road with cement sheet cladding. He eventually sold up and returned to Lara.
Gordon Howard came from Tasmania to Melbourne and got a job with Wirth’s Circus that had just moved back to their Melbourne site. Gordon was given 15 shillings to buy chips as his first job but had to walk so far by the time he got back the chips were stone cold. He left the circus in N.S.W. to work on an orchard. Eventually he decided that he wanted to return to Victoria and the orchardist told him to go to see his son George Thomson (who was then the foreman of the dispatch section at the Phossie) and he would get him a job. Gordon boarded with the Thomsons for a while before buying two blocks together on the north side of Myrtle Grove and then building his own home there. He married Ruby and they had two children, Lorraine and Kevin. Lorraine married the head accountant at the Phossie and lived down near the Barwon.
The Phossie work was seasonal at first so I also worked as a slaughterman at Sims Cooper. I also studied fitting and turning at the Gordon Tech. Later (in 1955) I studied chemistry at the Tech.
In the 1950s the production at the Phossie was huge. The extension of the big Phossie shed allowed production to go on throughout the year to produce an immense stockpile for the sowing season. The statistics of the shed were compared to the Queen Mary at the time. The shed was a little longer and its capacity exceeded the displacement of the famous ship.
I didn’t know the reason why the four British Phosphate Commission ships were all called ‘Tri’ ships. There were the Triatic, the Triasta, the Trienza and the Triona. All were lost during World War 2.
When the Phossie began production they were selling super for 14 guineas a ton but eventually brought the price down to six guineas a ton. The British Phosphate Commission threatened that they would no longer supply them with rock if the price was reduced any further. However, Cresco and Commonwealth Fertilizers then cut their price to 2/6 below the six guineas and the Phossie lost many customers as a result. Eventually the Commission was no longer able to satisfactorily administer the supply of phosphatic rock and the Phossie took over. Shortly after doing so they dropped the price to four guineas a ton.
The manager of the Phosphate was Trevor Davies who boarded with Nicholls. He was followed by Bob Goodyear.
Corio Distillery commenced operation at the same time. The distillery had an agreement with the Phossie to share the generation of electricity. They bought a WW1 submarine diesel engine and generator but when the engine was first tested it vibrated so strongly that it wrecked the concrete foundations. The distillery couldn’t wait any longer and connected to the SEC supply. The Sydney contractors had to replace the foundations of the engine at the Phossie and it was still there until the 1970s.
My father was a keen cricketer who virtually founded the North Geelong Cricket Club. He still holds the season’s record of 93 wickets at an average of 8.
The Phossie had cricket and football teams in the Industrial Association. They played on the ground behind the Presbyterian Church. (There are photos of the North Shore sports teams in the church hall. Mrs Donovan has the key). Donovan was a driver at Cresco and when it closed down he moved to Phosphate Road and worked at the Phossie.
Kevin Power’s death (in 1937) was a terrible shock. He was a nice little boy. Kevin used to come down to my home when he was a little fellow and say, “I want to see your pissy cat.”