The Life of Susan Mary Jessie Wiseman
(in her own words)
I was born on 14 September 1893, the third child of Peter Colley McKenzie (b. 19 July 1865, d. 3 October 1949) and Margaret Thompson McKenzie (nee McMaster, b. 5 February 1865, d. 26 September 1955), at (27) Whitehall Street, Footscray, Victoria, the home of my grandparents Robert Thompson McMaster (1830-1903) and Susan Parr McMaster (nee Smith, 1830-1912).
My father was a building contractor. I had one brother, Percival Lloyd McKenzie (1889–1975), and two sisters, Margaret Thompson McKenzie (1891–1906) and Lucy/Lucie McKenzie (1898–1986). Margaret passed away at 17 with brain fever. She was very talented in music, languages and speech. Her teacher, Mr John Tucker of Thomas Street School (now part of Perth Modern School), Perth, considered her his brightest student.
In Victoria, the land boom broke (the 1890s Victoria banking crisis). All building work stopped and banks closed their doors leaving people with only what money they had at home or in their pockets.
My father borrowed 100 pounds (from Robert Thompson McMaster – likely his father-in-law but could have been Margaret’s brother), in those days a lot of money (equates to over $15,000 in 2022), and had a grocery business (City of Williamstown rate records from 1898, 1899 and 1902 indicate the store may have been at Shop 5, Perry Street, Williamstown). Mother and father used to pack all the orders in the day time and my father would deliver the goods when my brother came home from school (he was nine years old), by horse and cart. Later, as they got on, my father bought a phaeton and horse for himself and a horse and cart for my brother. As he got older my brother did all the deliveries after school.
In all his orders father used to put a packet of sweets – boiled lollies. Mr Acke, the sweets man, left all his samples for all we younger ones, and we would get all the children near us and have a sale of sweets for our bonfire and have a party.
Father bought into a small house at (34) Laverton Street, Williamstown. Here many Navy retired pilots lived for 25/- a week.
For our birthdays we would get 2/6 (two shillings and six pence) and would take the horse and cart and go over on the punt (ferry) across Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne to Coles Book Arcade, get a plate of soup and jelly and ice cream for six pence and then go to the Waxworks (no pictures in those days). We would have a beaut day on our 2/6. 2/6 would not buy an ice cream today.
Father visited the markets three times a week to purchase fresh vegetables and fruit and other commodities. We three children used to sit on the carts to watch to see that things were not stolen, as there were so many starving children who were stealing while father was away buying. We saved all our old, unsaleable fruit and vegetables and took it back to the market where we threw it to the hungry people. I will never forget those poor people eating anything. Father stayed on in the shop for nine years and made a lot of money by delivering to people’s homes.
No double we would still be there, but my uncle Robert, Mayor of Victoria Park, Western Australia, wrote to father asking him to sell up the house and shop and go to WA to assist with a contract to build the Central Arcade (which ran from Wellington Street to Murray Street) and our two Coffee Palaces in Murray Street (likely the Royal Coffee Palace). There was no building work in Victoria. Father, being a contractor, could make far more money at his building trade than at the shop. By then he had another mouth to feed (Lucie/Lucy born 1898) and things were getting worse in Melbourne. Father left for WA leaving mother and we children back in our Laverton Street home. Father was in WA for two years before he sent for mother and the four children.
Western Mail, Perth, p. 51, 25 December 1904 – Central Arcade. Source: Trove
Robert Thompson McMaster. Source: Town of Victoria Park Library / Rosemary Ritorto
RT McMaster. Source: AIA (WA)
Mother sold our home and packed our furniture and we sailed over to WA in the ship Winbulla (NOTE: unable to verify ship name), landing in the west on Christmas Eve and it was so very hot my mother fainted – not used to the heat. Uncle McMaster met us at the boat and we traveled to his home in Fitzroy Street (used to be Berwick Street) Mackay. It was the end of Victoria Park then – further out was all bush. There were not many houses in Berwick. I remember the Crays Guides Folkner’s Uncle Crockett Training Yard for his racehorses at the back of the house. Butter, drinks and anything that wanted cooling was lowered down a well. McMaster’s house has now been sold but is over a hundred years old and still looks lovely. It was the workmanship in those days. Uncle employed a lot of men and women – ladies maid, children’s nurse and men to train and groom the horses.
My father rented a house in (891) Wellington Street. We children had to walk to Newcastle Street school. After Thomas Street school was built we went there as it was closer. We had to walk through Delhi Square (unfortunately named to commemorate the suppression of the Indian Mutiny and the subsequent crowning of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877 and now known as Harold Boas Gardens), under the subway past Alexander’s biscuit factory and the Chinese garden on the way. For a shilling you could buy a big bag of broken biscuits and hand them around – no chocolate biscuits in those days. We were never allowed to go down Murray Street as all the Chinese dens were built there. We gathered pine nuts for the fire where St Margaret’s Hospital is built today (later the Princess Margaret Hospital, now closed). No trams in those days. To get across the causeway you had to go in a horse bus and it only went three times a week (day?). If you missed the bus you had to walk or get a hansom cab, and it would have cost us all our pocket money.
We learnt piano music from Uncle McMaster’s wife, as she was the organist at St George’s Cathedral in the Terrace. Uncle and wife had five children, two girls and three boys. The family were very musical – had their own orchestra. Uncle – ?, Aunt – piano, Ray – violin, Alwyn – drums; the other three were too young, but later joined the others.
After father and the men finished the Arcade they worked on the Horseshoe Bridge and His Majesty’s Theatre. By then my elder sister had passed away and mother wanted to go back to Victoria. At that time land was thrown open in the country. Father and uncle bought land at Hines Hill and Merredin. Father went to Hines Hill and built a weatherboard home giving mother and we three children a good home which other people dubbed as the Crystal Palace. We used to have dancing as were the only ones with a piano and a wooden floor. My brother played most times. Other houses were only hessian with a mud floor; later they built brick homes.
As our first house was burnt down, father built a cement house which was cool in summer and warm in the winter.
During the depression many men left their women folk on the farms and went seeking work, as most farms were able to support families but there was no money. One farmer, Mr Annear of Geraldton, founded the Edna May Mine (NOTE: Edmund John Annear founded the mine in 1911. It was closed in 1922 and resumed in 1935). On walking to Kalgoorlie he picked up a nugget of gold near Southern Cross, and became wealthy. To my knowledge his children are still living in WA. Ethel and Dulcie (Mr Annear’s children?) were on a trip to Noumea in 1936. I took my niece Joan, aged twelve, with me.
And that is where Jessie’s story ended.
Jessie passed away in late 1990. She had no children but was very close to her niece Joan and Joan’s children and grandchildren.
Jessie married Henry (Harry) Goodhill (1862-1934), 31 years her senior, in March 1933. Harry was a newsagent.
Henry died on 12 September 1934.
It appears he left Jessie the sum of 711 pounds (equivalent to around $70,000 in 2022) and the premises at Bates Street, Merredin which records indicate later sold to the Agricultural Bank.
Joan recounts that Jessie took her on a boat trip to Nouméa (capital of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, about 1,500km NW from Brisbane). They traveled on the “P&O Mongolia” departing 31 December 1935 and returning in February 1936. In Melbourne they visited lots of relations as Percy, Jessie and Lucie were all born in Melbourne and had been back many times. In Brisbane they met Jessie’s cousin, Violet Arthurs (Vilie).
ssMaritime. Source: ssmaritime.com
P&O Mongolia ad, journal of the N.S.W. Public School Teachers Federation. Source: Trove
Jessie married John Alexander (Alex) Wiseman (1890-1961, note military records indicated 1896 birth but this appears to be incorrect) on 9 December 1937.
Joan recounts: “When Auntie Jessie married Alex Wiseman she suggested that I come and live with them in Perth. They had a room with a verandah and a small kitchen in Adelaide Terrace, just along from the RAC and on the same side.”
Joan continues: “Alex was a chef at the Adelphi Hotel and worked long hours as all chefs do. He had very good credentials, learning his trade on one of the passenger boats before the First World War. Back then they had to learn the whole lot: butchering, baking bread, pastry cook etc and he understood every facet of food. When they had balls at the Embassy he used to do the food for some and would decorate little pigs with an apple in their mouth and flowers etc all over them. He also made vegetables into flowers and made the whole table look very attractive. He was always praised for his efforts.”
In 1958 Jessie and Alex lived at 445 Hay Street, Perth.
Alex died in 1960.
Australian Electrocal Roll records show the following addresses for Jessie:
1943 – 21 Victoria Square, Perth (the home shared withJessie’s sister Lucie and the Moore family)
1949 – 9 Victoria Street, South Perth (with Alex)
1954 – Woodvale Street, Scarborough (with Alex – no record of a Woodvale Street so this may have been an error)
1958 – 445 Hay Street, Perth (with Alex)
1977 – 835 Hay Street, Perth (apartments at His Majesty’s Theatre)
1980 – 51 Alexander Drive, Menora (RSL Mt Lawley).