As a child I wondered at the re-action of people when told we lived in Preston.
ooh! Was the re-action. I thought there must have been something wrong with Preston.
(Preston was an area with many ‘Housing Commission’ dwellings and a lot of industry)
whereabouts in Preston was the next question? West Preston (largely privately owned housing) – Oh, ha ha! Somehow Preston seemed to now be O.K. – The next question – where exactly?
Stephen Street, just off Oakover Road. ooh! What was it about this place Preston I called home?
I thought it was great! Yet there were obviously questions in the minds of others.
Another thing I puzzled about; what was it that made living in the country so much better for a child than living in the city/suburbs? I thought it was great! And I thought about this often.
It wasn’t ‘til I was much older that I came to the conclusion that the things that I thought
made the place I called home so great, were the very things that many people held against
Preston – the factories! – some of them quite smelly at that! And we lived right in their midst.
The “spine” if you like, Oakover Road, the next street to ours, held so much to explore and to investigate for a small boy.
The Merri Creek on the western end, with it’s black mud which immediately told Mum and
Dad where I had been as it clung tenaciously to my boots. The Creek never gave up it’s
treasure of fish to me.
Just off Oakover Road, as you come up the hill from the creek, was our Sunday School, Oakover Methodist.
We usually had a roast for Sunday lunch, and on a hot day, heading off for Sunday school
trying to remember the catechism for the day, was – arduous!
The Rivoli picture theatre on the corner of Gilbert Road was a popular venue and was usually
full on Saturday nights and at interval, the owner dressed in his dinner suit, played the Wurlitzer organ to entertain the patrons. Our next door neighbours, Walkie and Daddy Dick! ( All the adults living around us had
nick names) went to the Riv, RELIGOUSLY, every Wednesday and Saturday nights. The usual fare was a newsreel, cartoon, feature film, break for interval then a second feature film
There were two milk bars servicing the theatre, one on the north west corner was a general
milk bar open during normal trading hours, the other on the south east corner opened only
during theatre screening times. It was somewhat up market and sold a more exclusive line of sweets and chocolates. We couldn’t afford the ‘exclusive’ fare at the up-market store.
Moving on to the corner of Scotia Street, and on the left, Bell Training School: Contrary to
what my wife Lorraine might try to tell you, Bell Training was not a school for delinquents or back ward children! It was a well regarded school and was one of a select group of schools in the metropolitan area where student teachers came for in-field training.
Moving on, we come to the SOUTHERN STATES DRILLING COMPANY. How exotic! We must have been learning about the United States of America and I was quite sure that these “Heath Robinson” like machines came from across the seas from that mysterious place of The United States. I remember feeling a little sheepish when I learned they refererred to the Southern States of Australia. Directly opposite this factory was Devon Street, vacant right through to Miller Street- three blocks away. Towards Stephen Street was where the bonfires were held to celebrate the various dates of note on the calendar – Empire Day, Guy Faulks day – two I remember.Following one big bonfire, the woman next to the paddock told us she did not want us to have any more” bonnys” there. It must have been quite scary to see this big blaze so close to her house.
So that tradition ceased, however, the poor woman suffered. As the children went home from school rocks rained on her tin roof and her water was constantly turned off at the meter. This went on ‘til the kids lost interest.
There is a large storm water drain running under Devon Street which became an open drain at Miller Street. A great place to play and a secret place to hide cigarettes on the steel girders which supported the road and trams as they thundered over head. Feeling really adventurous, one day, a few of us decided to explore this under
ground labyrinth and crawled up ever smaller drains until we could peep out from the kerb drain to see the comings and goings by the corner of Bell Training School! Reminiscent of Mr Bean looking out from inside a mail box! We had never heard of flash floods!
Back to Oakover and on the next corner was the UNITED CARPET MILLS.
All we really knew about the carpet mills was there was a lot of constant subdued clicking and clacking, what went on in there? One very hot day, the roller shutter door was up and peering through the cyclone gate all was revealed. Long lines of extraordinary machines with cones of wool above them and devices shooting backwards and forwards and – magically – a finished carpet was coming out the other side! The PURAX FEATHER MILLS on the corner of Austral Avenue was largely a mystery. We knew two things, it stank to high heavens and occasionally something would go wrong and there would be feathers, – feathers everywhere!
Directly behind the feather mills in Austral Avenue there was a bottle depot. An enterprising lad could do well with beer bottles, sixpence a dozen. Sixpence ( five cents ) would do you very nicely thank you. Back in to Oakover, and on to the abatoirs. If you peered with one eye through the picket fence, depending on the day, there would be yards full of either sheep or cattle, we didn’t noticethe smell.
Next door to the abattoir was the pottery. A small venture whose machinery was driven by a horse drawn whim clearly visible from the gate way. Around important days ,like Mothers day, Mothers birthday and at Christmas time, for exchange of a pile of newspapers, a gift of a small vase could be obtained. I usually chose a green one. Mum always showed the right amount of surprise and delight to receive such a treasure! Bless Her.
Behind the pottery, accessed from the ice works, was the wood yard. At the start of winter there was an impossibly high pile of mallee roots. Enough to see the winter through and towarm the hearth of many homes. I marvelled at the skill of the woodman who was able to construct such a mountain of wood. Years later, I was listening to an American physicist who was being interviewed on the wireless prior to returning home. His field of enterprise was thoroughly gone into and at the conclusion he was asked “ What is the one lasting memory of Australia you will take home? “ To my astonishment, he replied “ MALLEE ROOTS” And went on to tell of the benifits of this discard of mans attempts to tame the wilds of the Mallee. He liked these gnarled pieces of wood so much, he went to the extent of having them sliced into thin pieces to make a feature wall in his home in Carlton!
If the weather was hot and the ice melted before the iceman cometh, Mum would send me round to the ice works to pick up a block of ice. If the timing was right, you could see a big long metal box rise up out of the brine and disgorge it’s load of ice. The man would set to with his ice pick and hive off enough for you to carry home in a gunny sack to keep you going. There were a number of freezer chambers attached to the ice works the last of which was occupied by a rabbit dealer. I have never seen so many rabbits in one place. We were ferreters and if we hadn’t been out for a while, Dad would send me round to get some rabbit heads. The man had a large wooden block and the head came off in an instant! Just what a small boy needs – has to see. Rabbit heads were a reward for the ferrets after a days work. These were bonus days, no work and still rabbit heads!
Davies Street was right opposite the iceworks and if the timing was right, after school, we felt the drovers needed help as they herded the sheep , on foot, the last couple of hundred yards to the abbatoirs. I had no idea where these animals came from. Later, I was to figure they had travelled overland from the Newmarket sale yards. Quite a journey for the drovers, probably around ten or twelve miles through the suburbs and the traffic too!
Over St. Georges Road on the left was the smelliest of the lot. The Sterling Soap Factory won The Prize. Dad told us what they did in there to make soap-how could some thing that made you clean come from some thing that smelt so bad? Turning around , here was another wonderland. The tramway workshop. Wow! Look at those funny looking trams! There’s those really short ones, one bogey, and they sort of lurched and rocked and rolled down Holden Street Fitzroy. There is that other short tram, the service vehicle that sprays sand on the tracks-why do they do that? And lots of others just – parked there.
Every other Wednesday, if you hurried after school , with a short piece of hose, a bevy of small boys could help chase the pigs which were unloaded from the cattle trucks at Bell railway siding along to Huttons Hams and Bacon where the mail exchange building is now.
What is best? Growing up in the City or in the Country? Living in a pristine suburb or in a bustling, noisy, smelly suburb?
I know what was good for me and wouldn’t wish to change a thing