Phillip Island Oral History Project
Hello. I am Dr Andrea Cleland and today on Tuesday 13 April 2021 I am talking to Eileen Maiden on Phillip Island in Victoria.
This interview is part of the Oral Histories of Phillip Island project, with the Phillip Island & District Historical Society.
A: Andrea Cleland, interviewer
E: Eileen Maiden, interviewee
(This interview took place with background noise present. The recording was also paused several times during the recording due to staff entering the room and a phone call).
A: Hi Eileen
E: Eileen: Hi.
A: Just to start, can you tell us about your early childhood and family, such as when and where you were born?
E: I was born on the island in Warley Hospital.
A: At Warley?
E: Yes in 1927.
A: Do you or did you have any brothers and sisters?
E: I had three sisters. One older, Isabelle and two younger, Nancy and Ruth. And [when] we went Rhyll was all farmland. As you can see by that photo up there, that’s our house in Rhyll.
A: So you grew up in Rhyll?
E: Yes I did. They had a school at Rhyll, Ventnor and Newhaven and Cowes.
A: Do you have any memories growing up that you can tell me about?
E: I went to school in the Rhyll Hall. It stands today, and its number was 3121.
Rhyll Hall, where Eileen went to school. From the society's collection
A: Were there many children in the class?
E: No there was only one teacher and there were only about 20 kids going to the school.
My mother used to be the school teacher at San Remo. That’s where she met dad. I was Eileen McFee in those days.
A: Was your father Jim McFee?
E: No. Len McFee.
A: Len McFee. And what did he used to do?
E: He was a skipper on the ferry.
A: And where did the ferry used to go?
E: To Stony Point. There was no bridge. There was a punt that used to take the cars over in, not windy weather.
A: Do you remember the cars?
Did you have one?
E: We had a T-model Ford and it had plastic windows.
A: Did you used to take lots of trips in the car?
E: No there was only two cars in Rhyll in those days. We came into Cowes in horses and jinkers.
A: Did you have your own horse?
E: No my grandfather did. They came to Rhyll when dad was three months old.
A: So that’s when they first moved to the island?
E: Yes they came from Dandenong and his father, Grandfather McFee used to be the mayor of the Hawthorn Council.
A: What was his first name?
E: William Thomas McFee
Hawthorn Town Hall in early 20th century. William Thomas McFee was on the Hawthorn City Council
before coming to Rhyll. From: boorandarra.vic.gov.au
A: He was the mayor of Hawthorn.
E: They tell me he says he was, and cousin Cherry told me he wasn’t.
A: Ok, so there was a mixed story about that?
A: Do you know why they came to the island?
E: I don’t know. They must have had a holiday place down here.
A: And with your house in Rhyll, was it on a farm? Were there a lot of acres?
E: No it was on a one-acre ground. The farm belonged to the place next door, George Lock.
A: Do you remember the sort of things that your mum used to cook or what she used to cook on?
E: She used to cook on a wood stove. We used to have to clean it with black lead and wash the dishes by hand before we went to school.
A: Was there any particular type of soap at the time that you used?
E: Yes. Velvet soap and we used to clean the wooden top of that table with sand soap. The place is still standing. Mum left it to the four of us and we sold it to the eldest sister.
A: So you were talking about how your mum left the house to you and it’s still standing.
E: My eldest sister left it to her kids, four of them, and they are keeping it. They are keeping it and they come down at summer time.
A: That must be really lovely to know your house is still there.
E: Yes. I’m the only one left out of four of us. They all keep in touch with me, the nieces and nephews.
What were some of the things that you liked doing when you were a child, did you have any special activities or sports?
E: We used to play football with the boys. There weren’t enough kids in the school, and we used to garden, and we built the tennis courts. We used to have a dance once a month to pay for them.
A: So it was like a fundraiser?
A: Were these the courts that were on Bass Avenue.
E: No, the courts at Rhyll.
A: Oh sorry, I know them. Of course, you’re in Rhyll, my mistake. And did everyone from Rhyll come to the dance?
E: Most of them. When we were teenagers, before that, we used to swim. I can’t remember learning to swim. We were taught at school in the sea. They do it in swimming pools now.
A: Yes. Do you have any other favorite memories growing up, anything that sticks out in your memory?
E: We had four boys next door and they were every age, they were. The eldest boy was the eldest sister’s age and so on. So we were tomboys [laughs].
The Swan Bay Estate used to have gum trees around there and the koalas and they used to go to the trees down the flat and one got on the fence and jumped onto my sister. She was patting it and she still had the claw marks on her face.
A: They are rough aren’t they, koalas [laughs].
Can you tell us about when you met your husband and what his name was?
E: I was staying at a friend’s at Gelantipy. That’s up the mountain from Buchan with friends for the weekend. I used to have to come down to the Buchan pub and his sister owned the pub and she took me in to her lounge instead of staying with all the drunks. Ted was there. I met him there. During the war he was a soldier in New Guinea. He was in New Guinea for two years. When he came home his wife had a baby to someone else.
A: o he was married before?
E: Yeah and I’ve got two step-children.
A: How many children do you have?
E: One. He lives on the island.
A: What’s his name?
E: Allan. Two L’s in Allan.
E: And the step-kids, their father died of war injuries in 1980. And I could have lost them, but they’ve got closer. So, I count them as mine.
A: And what are their names?
E: Lendsay and Nancy
Lindsay with an ind?
E: Lendsay LE N D SA Y
A: Thank you and Nancy. Did you have Allan at Warley?
E: No I had him in Orbost.
E: I lived in Cabbage Tree for twenty years.
A: You spent some time in the air force, didn’t you?
E: Yes I did. When I was 18. I joined up and I was in in for 12 months.
A: And what year was that?
A: Just after the war.
E: No just before it finished. I was only in it for 12 months.
A: What made you want to join the Air Force?
E: I just wanted to be involved.
A: Where were you living at the time when you joined the Air Force?
A: Oh so you were in Rhyll. What was it like on the island during World War Two? Do you remember how people felt?
E: They used to have a Home Guard out of Ventnor on Bass Strait. And it never affected us much.
A: Were people worried, or did they feel a bit removed being on Phillip Island?
E: Some of them. May’s, Heather’s brother-in-law, was a prisoner of war and Arthur Luke was too.
A: Did you go through high school on the island before you joined the Air Force?
E: No. We did leaving by correspondence. The state school used to go to 8th grade. We got our merit in 8th grade and my mother was a school teacher at San Remo. That I told you, that was where she met dad and she taught Jim McFee’s mother and aunties.
A: And what were your parent’s names?
E: Len and Margaret.
A: That’s right, Len you said earlier and Margaret.
What did you do after eighth grade? You did your leaving by correspondence.
E: My dad’s brother had Narrabeen Guest House and his sister had Widgee Guest House which is in Findlay Street. When I was 14 I left school and went to work at Narrabeen and then I went to Widgee with my cousin.
That was on the corner of Findlay Street where The Continental was.
A: A lot of those places are gone now aren’t there?
E: They used to have a parade down the street on New Year’s Eve and each guest house had, what would you call it? A truck. Some of them had trailers and dressed up as something. And they had a New Year’s Eve parade down the street. The school was where the Shire Offices were.
A: Did a lot of people go to the parade?
E: Yes we all went. The band led the parade. The older islanders used to play musical instruments in the band.
A: Did you have any other jobs apart from the guest house?
E: I worked at the Shire Office before I joined up.
A: And what work did you do there?
E: Typing and bookkeeping.
A: And that office was in Cowes?
E: Yes, it was down in the main street and the Shire Hall was upstairs and lower level.
Phillip Island Shire Hall, which was in Thompson Avenue. From society's own collection
We used to have a youth club down in the yard. The newsagents was down there next to the Isle of Wight.
A: Do you remember any other shops that were on the street? There was the butcher I think on the corner?
E: Yes there was. Where the Greek café is now on the corner of Chapel Street, and Wests had the bakery opposite where it is now.
A: Were there a lot of cafes? Sorry, you continue.
E: No. The Post Office was on the corner of the Esplanade and Thompson Avenue to the left and Loughtons (ph.sp) had a café the opposite corner.
A: Do you know what the café was called?
E: The Koala.
Koala Cafe, cnr Thompson Ave and Esplanade, at time of Eileen's wedding reception. From the society's own collection
A: The Koala, that’s where Heather [Hamilton] had her reception, I think she mentioned.
E: She did. We got married in the “Presbie” [Presbyterian] Church on the corner of Warley Hospital Avenue and Chapel Street. It was only a little church then, a church hall.
Original Presbyterian Church, cnr Warley Ave and Chapel St Cowes in its current use as the church hall.
Society's own collection
A: What year did you get married?
A: Did you have a reception at the Koala as well?
E: No, at home at Rhyll.
A: Lovely. Did you have a lot of guests?
E: You only had – no friends – and uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters in those days. And Thelma Forrest – she became Thelma Richardson – and she made big sponges.
A: Oh great!
E: I can see her walking up to mum with the tray of sponges.
A: So, they would have been a big hit I imagine?
E: Yes, they were. My sisters cooked the meal.
A: Do you remember what was served?
E: A roast chicken I think.
A: Where did you get your dress from? There’s a photo of you over there isn’t there? [Eileen had a wedding photo on her bookshelf in her room at Melaleuca Lodge].
E: I wore me cousin’s dress.
A: And you have some beautiful flowers in your hands?
A: Do you remember where you got the flowers?
E: I must have got them. The Shire secretary’s wife did the flowers in the church, Jan McCadie.
A: So before you got married, you went to the Air Force. Did you want to talk a little bit more about that?
E: I loved the Air Force. I did me Rookies in Sydney in Penrith and I came back and went to Bairnsdale for 12 months. It was out where the aerodrome is now. We used to go into Bairnsdale – the Mechanics Hall had a dance – Bairnsdale – before it got supermarkets – and there was a Coles there. Everything – nothing over ‘2 and 6’ [laughs]! They charged ‘2 and 6’ [2 shillings and 6 pence] for the bottom of the pyjamas and ‘2 and 6’ for the tops. And they served you – they had the counter down the middle.
E: And did you do a lot of training in the Air Force?
E: In Sydney. We walked into Bairnsdale to the dances. It was a couple of miles out of Bairnsdale where the aerodrome is now.
A: Did you have a favourite dance or a song?
E: No. I liked music. I enjoyed dancing. My husband was a good dancer.
A: So when you got married, you settled down and lived here on the island in Rhyll?
E: No we lived at Cabbage Tree Creek.
Cabbage Tree Creek was a major timber area in Eileen's time of living there.
Photo from: http://www.cabbagetreecreek.org/history.html
A: Oh sorry for twenty years.
E: 17 miles out of Orbost.
A: And you had Allan there? Yep.
E: I didn’t move back here till 1972.
A: Did you work when you had Allan or did you stay home?
E: I worked at the store at Cabbage Tree, at the post office. And there was only a little store at Rhyll and it was a post office too.
It [Cowes] wasn’t as big as it is now and there were houses down the main street. Arnold West lived in one and the fellow by the name Arnie Brown, owned the house where the newsagents is now and there was a little house beside that. There was a chemist, we used to call him “Donkey Bray”, and that State Bank, he had there too.
A: So he had that in Cowes. Yep.
E: There was a lane where it is now when you go around the back between the restaurant and the bakehouse used to be behind there and there used to be a shoe shop on the corner, Bray’s the chemist next to it and a greengrocer. Greengrocer Morrison and it was the best fruit on the island.
A: Were there particular days that people shopped or was it during the week?
E: They shopped every day. The main store was on the corner of Thompson Street opposite the butchers and Herb Parry used to deliver at Rhyll.
A: So you didn’t have to always travel in to town, you would get deliveries?
E: No he took your order the day he came and delivered the mail.
[After the interview, Eileen added that Herb Parry was the butcher and he would bring the meat and anything else you wanted twice a week. You could buy groceries at the Rhyll store.]
And there was a General Store at Rhyll, a wooden place. It was the post office too and the exchange. There’s no exchange there now.
Rhyll General Store and Post Office. From visitvictoria.com.au
A: And what made you come back to live on the island?
E: My husband liked his brothers-in-law, and I thought we’d build at Orbost and he said “no, you go back”. Mum was alive and he made me come back to be amongst my own family.
A: And how old was your son at that time?
E: He was 18.
A: Did he come with you?
E: No. He got married to an Orbost girl and she went off with his mate and left him with an eight-month-old baby.
A: Oh no, that would have been tough.
E: And he re-married to Sue.
A: Do you have any more grandchildren?
E: I count me stepchildren’s grandchildren. Lendsay has got three, Nancy has got two and Allan has got three. And they’re my great-grandkids [Eileen pointed to the photos on her wall].
They’re brother and sister. I’ve got six. Allan’s got six. They’re my great-grandkids.
A: Do you think raising children has changed a lot from when you had children?
E: Yes it has. You’re not allowed to hit them now and I think as long as you didn’t hit them around the head, it doesn’t matter. It does them good.
A: Did you have a lot of help when you had children, or did you have to do everything on your own?
E: I did everything. I had a girlfriend that had two boys and she used to babysit for me.
A: Do you remember going to the hospital to give birth? Did you have a lot of help there?
E: I went into Orbost and stayed with Ted’s brother and his wife. The Princes Highway wasn’t made between Orbost and Cann River and it was a windy road. I had trouble having him. The afterbirth came first. I was in hospital a fortnight before I had him. My husband and I had black hair and he had red hair and I couldn’t believe he was ours.
I got on with – we were like sisters – his brother’s wife, Middy. Their kids still ring me.
We started – the friend and I, Jessie Richardson and I – started the service station at Cabbage Tree. The Mobil company gave me the building rent-free as long as we put the petrol through them and it had to be Mobil.
A: So the petrol was Mobil and you ran that station service?
E: Yes. We used to do the lunches and the school lunches and we used to do hamburgers and sandwiches.
A: Oh yum.
E: The lorries used to toot us coming in and put their order in on the way out and they would toot when they came in for a ‘loggies’ and we would start cooking and have them ready by the time they unloaded.
A: So when you came back to Phillip Island in 1972, were you happy when you returned?
E: Yes. I started playing golf. I played tennis in Cabbage Tree and my sister and her friend said ‘you can’t play tennis, we’ve left tennis and we’re playing golf’ and I said, ‘I can’t play golf’ and they said ‘we’ll teach you’. And they sent me clubs and saw I liked it and it’s not a game, it’s a disease! [laughs]
Screenshot of video tour of PI golf course From https://www.pigc.com.au/course-tour
A: So it was a good decision that they got you to play golf?
E: Yes. I was on the committee and I played golf for 40 years and I was captain for 12 years. I was on the committee. May was too.
A: Did you have other involvement in the community?
E: No I was playing golf two or three times a week.
A: And what’s your favorite hole on the golf course?
E: The seventh.
A: And why is that?
E: I had a hole in one there.
A: Where did you live when you came back to the island? Back at your house?
E: Rhyll. We built. Mum’s was on an acre ground and she sold us a block off that.
A: What’s your favorite thing about Rhyll?
E: I love Rhyll. I love going out. Every time they come down – my nieces and nephews – they take me out to Rhyll for the day and it’s still on three-quarters of an acre and it looks over Churchill Island and San Remo and Bass Hills.
I just love Rhyll. I don’t know what it’s like, what it’s become.
Ours is the only one with the land around it. I’m sure you’ve been to Rhyll.
A: I think I know which one it is. It’s the one slightly up the hill, a white house, it’s beautiful.
E: On Beach Road.
A: Yes. Do you think the island has changed a lot?
E: It has. Too much.
A: Do you think there are good things or bad things about the change?
[E: Bad things. I liked it as it was.
They closed the Ventnor School and the Rhyll School and they bus them to Cowes. And at Newhaven the Boys Home…
We were talking about how they closed the Ventnor School and they bus them to Cowes and some of the things you don’t like, the things that you feel how the island has changed.
E: It’s too many houses.
A: Do you think it’s lost a lot of…
E: Yes, it used to be I don’t know what the population is now, it must be over 10,000 and it was only 3 [thousand]. The school used to be Harry Matthew’s farm.
A: Oh Harry Matthews. I understand the school, used to be, the one in Cowes.
E: Yes. It was all farmland.
A: Do you remember a lot more woodland and bush and native?
E: There was a lot of wild trees at Rhyll.
A: What do you hope that Phillip Island will become?
E: I don’t know. The racetrack used to be on the roads. Used to be Young and Jackson’s Corner and Angel Heaven and Hell Corners. You used to go out the Nobbies Road. Young and Jackson’s used to be on that RSL corner.
Publicity for a big win in a road race on Philip Island, 1920s. From the society's own collection
A: Oh yes.
Do you have a favourite story …I have only got a few more questions, are you OK to keep going or would you like to stop?
I’ll stop as soon as you can.I’m happy to finish.
Notes: After the interview, Eileen thanked me for listening to her. Eileen also said that she appreciated that what we were doing in terms of recording stories and memories of Phillip Island.
Thank you so much Eileen!