Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Oral histories 2015: The Cleeland Family with Ted Jeffery

Last updated on 27-Apr-22

This talk was one of a series of 17 talks broadcast on South Gippsland community radio station 3MFM during 2014-2015 with the assistance of a Local History Grant from the Public Records Office of Victoria.


Captain John Cleeland – my great grandfather – sailed the South Seas as a trader in his early days. He came to Australia in 1850 and went to the Bendigo gold fields. We believe he was successful because in the early 1870s he bought a large parcel of land on Phillip Island. These properties were known as Shevasas – what is now Fishers Wetlands – Fletchers, Rennisons, Loves, Sunderlands. These with Woolamai – the home block – and Cape Woolamai, made up a very large parcel of land.


He also owned the Albion Hotel in Melbourne, the Western Port hotel in San Remo, and approximately 100 acres at Bass Landing. In addition to the land he had a fairly large stable of race horses including Woolamai, which won the Melbourne Cup in 1875, Shenandoah and Newhaven. Both had some success. Some of great grandfather’s horses were stolen from Euroa by the Kelly gang and ridden to New South Wales. But they were never any good after that as they had been ridden too hard.


My grandfather, John Cleeland, married twice, with three children from the first marriage: Eileen, Ivy and Reita who was my mother. After the death of his first wife  he married Ethel and had six more children: Jack, Harry, Patricia, Marianne, Joan and Jim. Ivy became a nurse, and toured the world as a private nurse. Eileen lived and worked in Melbourne. Joan married a fisherman and spent her life in Lakes Entrance. Jim, after some time working in Melbourne, ran the Genoa Store in Eastern Victoria for many years with his partner Pat. Later he retired to Lakes Entrance.

The girls from John’s first wife were schooled at home by a governess, which was unusual in those days. After their school days Eileen and Reita decided to open a tea rooms in Newhaven to provide refreshments to people waiting for the punt which operated to and from San Remo before the bridge was built in 1939. A Post Office was opposite, run by Olive Justice. Her husband Reg ran the punt. To help Newhaven get a hall and tennis court, my grandfather donated the land to build both.


Woolamai House – the home of the Cleelands – was always an extremely busy place. We spent time there during World War Two. They seemed to have a lot of friends and family coming and going. The big property was run mainly by Harry, Pat and Jack, and included Cape Woolamai. Captain Cleeland had Shetland ponies there. They were Anchor brand. John Cleeland continued with them. The Cleeland family eventually sold the cape very cheaply to the government because they wanted the place preserved.


They also milked cows for cream and delivered milk by jinker to people in Newhaven. And they grew chicory. They’d all grow chicory and help each other and dry it in someone else’s kiln as they never had their own kiln. Chicory was not really a very big enterprise with the Cleelands. They did have a huge woolshed and ran a lot of sheep.


Each of the properties was passed to each of the family members as they got married or got older. My dad Ted and his brother Bob worked for some years on Churchill Island for Gerald Buckley. Then my parents got Woondooma, which means House on the Hill, in Churchill Road, now Island Bay Ranch.


When Harry Jenkins had Churchill Island he bought 10 acres from the property at the bottom of Churchill Rd, and that was where he kept his cars. I knew his son Ted Jenkins, who was a lovely fellow. He was a very keen ham radio operator, and built me my first crystal radio set. I remember his nurse Sister Margaret Campbell, known as Auntie Jimmie, used to make the most wonderful passionfruit Pavlovas, using the passionfruit they grew on Churchill Island. Harry Jenkins tried to get my dad to buy shares in the Tennant Creek gold mine, but dad thought it was too risky. It turned out to be a very wealthy mine!


Even though my grandfather farmed he always loved the sea. He spent a lot of time looking out at the water through this beautiful big brass telescope. He became quite friendly with the crews of the Alma Dopel and the Julie Burgess, which were trading ships. The Burgess family became good friends with the Cleeland family. When those ships came in, I would sometimes wake up in the morning and see them anchored out there and then I’d know it was going to be bad weather. Likewise if I woke up and they were gone, I’d know the weather was going to be fine.


There was a rocket shed at Newhaven which Grandpa looked after. He was also in charge of the Cape Woolamai light. The government body concerned would bring these big gas cylinders down. It usually fell to Harry to harness the sled and head up the top of the Cape to change the cylinders. Harry hated it, but anyone who went with him thought it was a great day’s excursion.


During World War Two the authorities thought there was going to be a Japanese invasion and informed Grandpa that they would have to turn the light out. Harry said he’d do it the next day, but Grandpa said it had to be as soon as possible. So Harry had to ride up in the middle of the night to turn out the light and he was not impressed. He was worried that the horse would put his foot in a mutton bird hole.


Grandpa’s other passions were his vegie garden and extensive orchard. With such a big family he needed a big vegie garden. In the orchard he had apricots, apples, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, plums. Everything extra was bottled and put away for the year.


A lot of the Cape Woolamai flats in those days was covered in swamp tea tree, with only certain areas of grass. A chap by the name of Vaughan Crole bought a light plane – one of the first we ever saw on Phillip Island. Grandpa decided he’d built an airstrip. Vaughan used it a lot so the plane became another major interest for Grandpa. He wasn’t a well man so didn’t do much manual labour. It’s been said that Vaughan flew his plane under the arch of the first bridge between the bridge and the water.


When I was about 8 years old I had to ride my bike on my way home from school in Newhaven to collect the bread and meat from Woolamai House once a week. Herb Parry was the butcher then, and had a shop on the corner of Chapel Street and Thompson Avenue. Wests had a bakery in Cowes too, and the butcher and baker would deliver to Woolamai House once a week, and I’d pick it up from there and ride home to Woondooma.

When living at Woolamai House, there were about 6 or 7 people working at the shed during shearing time: 2 shearers, one working penning up the sheet, one picking up the fleeces and skirting, one on the wool press, and a few others. The shearers would be there for the best part of a week, and they got a roast dinner in the middle of every day in the breakfast room at Woolamai House. Jack Love and Alan Cleeland were the shearers.

Woolamai was subdivided as Woolamai Waters in 1959, and that was the end of the farming there.