Fremantle and Vic Park (1930)
We said goodbye to Melbourne on or about 3 December when we boarded the M.V. Westralia bound for Fremantle. The Huddart Parker Line launched the Westralia on 25 April 1929. The ship left Belfast on 17 August sailing via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. She called in at Aden on 1 September, then sailed directly to Melbourne before going on to Sydney where the ship arrived on 23 September. The Westralia was a ship of a little over 8,000 tons and had a speed of 16 knots. She had twin screws and diesel engines. Passenger capacity was about 450.
We were hardly out of Port Phillip when Cec and I were scouting around the cabin looking for something to eat. We found a large tin of butter bonbons and soon had eaten more than was good for us, when sailing the ocean blue. We were sick for about three days, and I can remember laying up on deck each day getting plenty of the fresh sea air in my face to speed my recovery. The Westralia tended to vibrate a lot and this did not help anybody who was feeling a bit off colour. Once we were up and about we were able to go down below and see the horses. We called in at Adelaide on the way but I do not recall any more than that.
When we arrived at Fremantle on or about 10 December (NOTE: Trove newspaper records indicate 3 December 1930) we were glad to get ourselves and the horses on dry land. When we left the Westralia we did not realise that ahead for her awaited fame. On 2 November 1939 she was taken over by the Royal Australian Navy, being commissioned as HMAS Westralia on 17 January 1940. She returned to commercial service in 1950 after a meritorious service career which has been well written up in Peter Plowman’s Passenger Ships of Australia and New Zealand, Vol.II.
Our first stop after leaving the Westralia was a hotel near South Fremantle. We were not there long as we discovered, when night came, that the bedrooms were bug-ridden. Dad raised a rumpus and the hotel manager had to arrange transport to another hotel, I think it was the P and O, where we booked in for a couple of nights.
The swimming and fishing soon attracted us. We swam and paddled for a while, and played along the beach although it was very hot. We all got too much sun and suffered the consequences for a few days. We were at the beach till lunchtime, in and out of what was called the “shark-proof” pool. We told Mum what a great time we had but later they were a little displeased when they were told, the same night, that a shark had been caught in the “shark-proof” area that afternoon. We then kept clear of the pool area and spent our time right at the shore, or fishing from the jetty. We went to the jetty several times and were happy to catch quite a few trumpeter and other small fish. The trumpeter were sweet tasting and we enjoyed eating our own catch. We had never fished like this before and, young as we were, we made the best of the warm weather for a bit of paddling and jetty fishing. We often go past South Fremantle these days and when I go up Douro Road I can still point out where we had lived for a short time back in 1930.
The pattern of living we had become used to in the Eastern States changed little in the West. Douro Road was only a short-term stop. We said goodbye to the racing people who had helped us out, and moved to a new location in McMaster Street, Victoria Park. It was a roomy weatherboard house with a high front verandah and the necessary stables. I think that before we came it may have been occupied by another trotting trainer, Stan Woodworth, who was a top-class trainer and driver.
If I remember anything from the house in McMaster Street, it was sleeping out on the verandah, and seeing the big tarantulas which were crawling about the climbing vines and creepers, and across the ceiling. Still, I must say that in the time we were there, not one spider dared to fall on me. One thing I remember is that the people across the road were the Howard family and they made us welcome to the street. Lottie (later Lottie Palmer) and her brother Jim I can remember. Their house (No 35) was on the corner of Hordern Street, and on the opposite side of the street. There was a vacant block next door. We were at No. 38 on a high block. The land next to our house was a large vacant (corner?) block.
The interesting coincidence about the street name of McMaster is that the street was named for Robert Thompson McMaster who was the brother of my future wife’s grandmother, Margaret Thompson McMaster (later Mrs Peter Colley McMenzie of Hines Hill and Merredin). Mr McMaster originally leased the land on which the Perth General Post Office now stands. He was Mayor of Victoria Park. A Boer War and World War I veteran, he went overseas with the 1st AIF 10th Light Horse Regiment in 1915 as a Lieutenant with the 4th Reinforcements.
On 4 June, now a Captain, he arrived with a small platoon of reinforcements at Walker’s Ridge front-line area. He was later killed in action after leading his men “over the top” in a fierce battle with the Turks, probably at Russell’s Top, the right up front position at Walker’s Ridge, early in August 1915. His house in Berwick Street, near McMaster Street, Victoria Park, where he was living when he joined up, is still there at the time of writing.
Dad was looking for a place with a bit of room for the horses to run about in and soon found it. We were on the move again to East Cannington. The Albany Highway runs through Cannington which is about 8 miles from Perth and you turn left down Station Street, or William Street further on, to reach Seven Oaks Street.
Station Street runs into the station which is still there and William Street keeps going over the rail crossing at Beckenham and heads north to the hills. Our new home was on the corner of William Street and Seven Oaks Street, being the last house on the right before the railway crossing.
I think the property was bought, leased, or rented, from Whittakers the timber people. In much later years it was a drive-in theatre. Beckenham railway station is opposite. I remember the house as built of timber with a verandah all around it. It was very handy for me, on my smaller size bicycle, to do a few speedy circuits.
There were enough rooms to accommodate all of us comfortably and there was sufficient land to allow for a long driveway from the William Street gate. Dad always liked to have his horses stabled under a good roof. He drew up his plans and had his boxes and the feed and harness rooms built by good tradesmen. Several yards were built for individual horses to get plenty of sun and fresh air and to give them space to have a good roll. There was a small paddock for one or two horses to graze in and run about. The whole property covered eight acres. On the west side of William Street we built a half-mile training track to work our team on.
When the stables were being built all the children of the family were setting off for new schools. Alice and Roland, going to the primary school on the opposite side, just over the railway line. Cecil and I had to enrol at Perth Boys School, the nearest high school.
We came to know many people in the district. The primary school headmaster was Mr Fred Wittber. The school was in Railway Parade on the northern side of the railway line opposite our house. In the schoolyard, or nearby, was a big mulberry tree which gave me stained shirts when I was picking the berries and getting leaves for silkworms. We all had “silkies” and shoe-box homes for them. Fed on mulberry leaves, the caterpillars would spin for themselves a cocoon of fine white or yellow silk. The silk could be unwound in a single strand two or three hundred yards long if you were careful. I think some people had reels to wind onto. The young moths would wriggle out and then fly away to start the process all over again as they did in China thousands of years ago.
Fred Wittber lived next to the school. He had two sons, Ralph and Carl. Ralph took us with him when he searched the nearby bush for native pear trees suitable for woodturning on Dad’s lathe which was set up on an enclosed verandah on the east side of our house. We used to be fascinated as Ralph worked at his hobby. Some fruit bowls he turned for us remained with the family for many years. In July 1986 I heard Carl Wittber’s name read out at a Probus meeting and I spoke to him on the telephone later that day, 55 years after I first met him. He is now a retired schoolmaster and told me that a “Back to East Cannington” day was being planned.
The people next door were the Coyle family. I remember Mrs Coyle, her daughter Nancy, and her son Barney. Bill Castles and his younger sister, Irene, lived with the Coyles. Young friends on one side of the line or the other, were Gwen Holmes, Hazel Luck, Ray Smith, the newsagent’s son, and Harold Crofts, later the State Manager for MacRobertson’s Chocolates, who lived in a big house west of the Church just over the line. I still see him at bowls. Others were Ron Holford, Tom Ockerby, George Hicks, Joyce Darch, Laurie Squires, and Harry Wooltorton.
We went by train to Perth Boys School (James Street, Perth, on the site of what is now the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts), Perth Girls School was next door, and a few went to Perth Modern School or to private schools. The morning trip into Perth was peaceful most days as students were mixed in with regular passengers but the trip home on the school special trains could bring plenty of mischief.
My story here can only relate to the trains travelling from Perth stopping at East Perth, Rivervale (where Bruce Oakley, the SM’s hopped off), Victoria Park, Carlisle, Queens Park, and then at East Cannington before going on towards Armadale. The trains were usually at the main platform when we got out of school. We walked across Roe Street before climbing up the wooden steps to the top of the Horseshoe Bridge and then we disappeared into the railway station after showing our school concession tickets. I must say here that I had to pay normal fare for the first four weeks I was at the school because I had ordered the concession ticket for a non-existent Cannington Station instead of East Cannington. The bureaucracy had trouble handling a problem of such magnitude and pulled the plug on me for four weeks. Mum was not happy about it.
Our home-bound train was usually at its regular platform when we rushed down to get a window seat, or to get in with friends which was often the wisest policy. Sometimes you could be running late and you would make a dive for any door as the guard blew his whistle. A full compartment of strangers could mean a debagging somewhere along the line. Mothers were often protesting to school and railway authorities about such pranks, but with minimal effect. Right at Perth Station the more foolish incidents would start when the students would take lumps of coal out of trucks standing on the next line and toss them at the fishermen on the Bunbury Bridge. A softer line was taken by the more conservative schoolboy passengers who would stretch a strong rubber band across the open window of the door section and fire pellets made from sheets of school paper. The anglers were not slow in setting up a good defence. At the first sign of one piece of coal they would produce buckets of river water and give any venturesome heads a free shower. Later everybody got bored with it all and a sort of truce was declared. In a brief line I must mention that the schoolgirls had a few jokes and pranks in their school cases.
Life at home, and school, was still going on between trotting meetings, with a little excitement and celebration going on when we had a good win. At home we had plenty of fun with our friends after school and on weekends. Mum made sure we had time to go to the Church on Sundays and we did attend till we moved to the city later that year. Mum was an Anglican and Dad was a Baptist.
Children’s lives are made happier by good food and Mum did her best to see that we ate well. We were lucky that take-aways as a regular meal were never on the menus of those days. We had plenty of our favourite meat dishes, which included rabbit, lamb’s fry, brains, chicken and the weekend roasts. Rabbits were only about sixpence a pair, and now and then you could catch your own. Mum used to make great pancakes American-style. Pumpkin pie and lemon meringue pie were the favourite family sweets. We used to make our own ice cream in a wooden bucket or churn. A metal container containing the mixed ingredients was placed in the bucket and ice was packed around it. A special fitting, which sealed off the lid of the ice cream can, fitted across the top of the bucket. When this fitting was screwed-up a handle could be operated which turned the paddle or mixer blades and stirred the ice cream mix. As the contents got colder and colder, and stiffer and stiffer, the handle would get harder to turn. We used to work in relays as the rule was everybody for their turn or no ice cream. Eating it was the easiest part. Mum was a great one for making confectionery and her chocolate and sultana fudge blocks were marvellous. The fudge and her toffees had flavours that were out of this world.