MALCOLM BERRY INTERVIEW at his home at 2/67 Sparks Road, Norlane on Monday 30 May 2005.
My parents, Frank and Ada Berry, migrated to Adelaide from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1927. They brought with them their three children, Alec, Jessie and Gordon. Three years later I was born in Adelaide, becoming the fourth - and the last – child in the family.
Dad and Alec were coopers and were employed by Babbages, a large cooperage business in Adelaide. Eventually Gordon commenced his apprenticeship as a cooper with the same firm but in 1942 he enlisted in the army.
In about 1940 Dad, Mum and I left Adelaide for Melbourne where Dad found better employment with Fletcher’s Famous Foods in Richmond. Fletchers made pickled goods that were stored in brine-filled barrels before bottling. However, Alec and Gordon both remained in Adelaide as did Jessie who had married Ron Lines who also later enlisted in the army.
In Melbourne we lived first at Hawthorn and then at Kew and I walked down each day across a bridge over the Yarra to attend one of the Richmond schools. It wasn’t long, however, before Dad received a better offer from the Corio Distillery in North Shore so we packed our bags again and headed for another new location.
We first lived in the house in Pine Avenue previously occupied by Carl Schacke, one of the Phossie chemists. Before long we moved once more, this time to one of the three houses in Seabeach Parade close to the corner of Greta Street. The house was owned by people called Meek and Dad bought the house from them.
Our home was the closest of the three to the distillery. Next door were the Pilgrims and then Mrs Mackie. Mrs Mackie was a widow and her two sons were at the war. Once she injured her hand and I milked her Jersey cow for her and separated the cream. She was a lovely old lady.
Mr Pilgrim worked at the International Harvester.
I attended North Shore State School for one year (Grade 6 in 1942). The following year I went to Geelong Tech. I can still remember Ollie Roberts was a very tough teacher there.
Like the other kids who lived east of the railway line, I walked across the paddocks to the North Shore school with the Burns children, and Mum grumbled about having to remove the grass seeds and burrs from my socks before washing them.
There were about 60 pupils with two teachers at North Shore State School.
Some of the children were the Kings, Swansons, Beckleys, Maplesons and Walkers. And, of course, there were the Evans children and it was at school that I met Lila for the first time. I remember that she was always asking me questions – and I refused to answer!
I was a good mate of Pat Gamble (who lived in Madden Avenue) and we played together after school. One day we decided to go rabbiting and Pat suggested we take one of his father’s greyhounds whose racing name was ‘Snappy Line’. The greyhound took off across the paddock to chase a rabbit and was hit by a train. As a result, Pat and I were in serious hot water with Pat’s father, Theo.
During the war there were zig-zag air raid shelters opposite the distillery. My father dug a shelter for us. Dad was in the ARP and had a tin hat and gas mask.
The Yanks took the kids over the air strip each morning and afternoon to and from school in a van.
Opposite our house there was a ‘dump’ of 44 gallon drums of petrol buried. A sign read “Guards instructed to shoot to kill. Do not loiter’. There was a road around the dump and the Yanks drove around at night with a searchlight.
Keith Burns and I were going to Geelong one day on Wise’s bus. As always, it was full of people and when it stopped at the Telegraph Bridge Keith and I stepped out to let more people get aboard. But then we ourselves couldn’t squeeze back aboard the bus so we travelled the rest of the way into Geelong lying across the front mudguards – one on each side – clinging to the small light fittings on top of the mudguards.
Benders took over the bus runlater in the war and provided a far better service. Everyone remembered Jimmy Loveday, one of the Bender’s drivers, with particular affection.
Jim’s brother, Bob, lived in one of the small cottages at the distillery. Bob was a boiler attendant. His father, Mort and another brother, Charlie, also worked at the distillery. Others who lived in the distillery cottages were Jock Donnelly, a brewer, and Charlie Martin (Mrs Sherlock’s father) who was responsible for growing crops of angelica roots in about five acres running north beside the railway line.
The angelica roots were sliced up and mixed with coriander and other ingredients used as flavouring agents in the production of gin. Then the boss, Stan Bellchambers, came down and I had to leave the room while Stan added the last secret ingredient. All of these elements were packed in hessian bags and steamed for several hours. The condensed gin was bottled and could have been sold the next day (unlike whiskey that had to be matured in American oak barrels for several years).
The distillery also produced vodka, ouzo and white rum in its later years. However, the whiskey distillery plant eventually became obsolete and it was uneconomic to replace it at its Corio site. Thus the operation was moved to a new distillery in Sydney in about 1985.
When I started to develop arthritis at the age of 28 I was taught by John Donnelly (Jock’s son) how to make the gin.
Three of the houses at the Distillery were occupied by excise officers including Mr Swan, Mr Irving and one other.
Norm Hilcke, Harry Phillips (an old Englishman), my father and I were the coopers at the distillery at the time I did my apprenticeship. Dad was my chief teacher. We didn’t make the barrels but only repaired those that were imported from a big American company named Lowrie
Bill Stewart, a Scot, was the first manager. The whiskey distillery was five storeys high and when it was going it really rumbled.
A whisky hogshead holds 64 gallons and they would fill 230 hogsheads a week at full production. There were 35,000 filled casks in store. Every day four rail trucks each holding 26 hogsheads were sent off to the Federal Distillery in Melbourne for bottling. In later years the whiskey was transported by road in stainless steel tankers. About 70 men worked there. Frank De Stephano, who later became the Mayor of Geelong, commenced his working life there in the office.
Tom and Ollie Ward (who was Mrs Parker’s sister) lived in one of the two houses in the eastern extension of St Georges Road. The Burns family lived in the other house before moving up to the only house in Greta Street.
I first played with North Shore Cricket Club when I was 14. Roy Green and Phil Wildman were two members of the team that I can recall. I used to leave my cricket gear at Mrs Thomson’s home in Seabeach Parade and the team trained and played on the malthoid wicket at the end of what had been the airfield during the war. The wicket would have been somewhere between the present day Seaforth and Seabright Streets.
The Phossie had football and cricket teams that played in an industrial association. Cliff Thiele was an outstanding cricketer for them ,
I played with North Shore Football Club in 1948 throughout the year but Keith Burns and I were dropped from the grand final team to make way for two ring-ins.
There was a good deal of ill feeling after that and as a result the club could not field a team in the following season.
I went to Lara where I played for a couple of years but returned to play for North Shore when the club reformed in 1953.
I later coached the team to a preliminary final but was overlooked for the position in the following year.
I can recall the first night that Arthur Burns came down to training. He showed us what a good kick he was by kicking a ball through the door of the old shed down at the Phossie ground. To show that it was not a fluke he took the ball and did it again, despite just wearing his old work boots. (Arthur was no relation to Frank Burns’ family.) Arthur was a sewerage trench digger on the Norlane estates and, of course, a lot of the work in those days was done by pick and shovel. His hands were so toughened from this work that he would impress the players by stubbing out his cigarettes in the palm of his hands.
I was the initial captain of the North Shore Men’s basketball team but handed over the role to George Serch when he and Alda Petrass, two very good Hungarian basketballers from the Phossie, offered to play. Keith Burns and Basil Gamble were two other members of the team.
When our daughter Raelene played softball, I was conned into becoming an assistant coach of the Geelong softball team.
The North Shore softball team trained in the paddock behind Blisses’ house. Neither the girls’ softball nor netball teams were organized as clubs. The netball matches were played at Kardinia Park on Saturday afternoons.