Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Oral History Project: 2007 interview with Heather Hamilton - Theme: Lifestyle on Phillip Island

Last updated on 06-Jan-22

Churchill Island Oral history project by Rebecca Sanders, 2007

Interview with Heather Hamilton held Cowes, Phillip Island, 10 September 2007.

Transcribed with editor notes (ed:) by Christine Grayden, December 2021


H: Heather Hamilton

R: Rebecca Sanders


Recording one of 2

R: My name is Rebecca Sanders and I am interviewing Heather Hamilton with the Churchill Island oral history project. Today’s date is Monday, 10 September 2007. I’m just going to start by explaining that Heather has agreed to speak to me even though she doesn’t know so much about Churchill Island. But you are a long-time resident of Phillip Island, are you not?

H: Yes that is correct.

R: Have you lived here all your life?

H: Yes. I was born in 1931. I lived on a farm in Settlement Road until I was 4 and then we moved to a farm on the middle of the island on what was then called Rainbow Road and I believe is now Ventnor Road [sic] (ed: Ventnor Beach Road). I was there until I was 14, milking cows with my family: 3 other sisters and a brother, mother and father. Then we moved to Cowes where I lived locally and worked at guesthouses.

R: So you were involved in the guesthouse industry?

H: Only as a waitress. I worked in the Penguin Café from about 15 until I was about 17, then went into guesthouses as a waitress. I met my husband in 1948 and we were married in 1951. We moved to a farm, which was then Trenavin Park still out there at Ventnor. I raised 5 children and we retired to Cowes in 1986.

My growing up years were mainly out on the farm at Rainbow Road in Ventnor. I remember my mother and father had chickens and we never had cars. It was mainly by bike into the Cowes State School. The only main road on the island was from the RSL (ed: corner Ventnor Road and Thompson Avenue Cowes) down to the Esplanade – all the other roads were dirt roads. Out the road to Rhyll was all sand tracks from Coghlan Road, or all dirt roads.

We had a lovely life and made our own fun – a very simple life; a very good life.

R: Did your parents have a poultry farm?

H: Yes and we had cows and pigs. Just your typical farm. And my father grew chicory.

R: I was going to ask you about that. It was quite a big industry on the island wasn’t it?

H: Yes it was. My sisters and I went topping chicory for other farms on the island that grew chicory. That was a very hard, backbreaking experience.

R: Can you explain how you topped chicory for me?

H: Chicory is a root very similar to a parsnip. When they’d dig it, which was mainly by ‘devil’ in those days – which was a long thing with a digging bit on the end of it – we used to go along the rows behind them and top the green tops off and bagged the roots up. Then they take that to the chicory kiln. There’s quite a few kilns scattered across the island still. Not as many as there was, but there are still some. So that was backbreaking and we were only young.

R: How old were you when you first started topping chicory?

H: I was about 14 or 15 I suppose. So, very young. We used to do that for my father then go across the road and help other farmers.

R: Did you do that to help out or was there a payment involved?

H: I don’t remember any money. I suppose there was a certain amount of payment but I don’t remember handling any of it. Probably when chicory was dried and sent away to Bushells and Robur who made coffee and chicory essence out of it; instant coffee out of it. Probably at the end of that process we might have got a few shillings out of it. But not money like it is now.

R: Please tell us a bit about your working in the café and guesthouses as a waitress.

H: The Penguin Café is now the State Savings Bank I think (ed: approximately 20 m down from the corner of Chapel and Thompson on the east side). My sisters and I worked there. We had a good relationship with the owners. We would work till 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning.

We would go to the football. It was a different way of life – more sociable. People knew one another. The café just stayed open till 12 or 1 o’clock. You could always get a cup of coffee after the pictures, after they finished about 11 o’clock. (ed: movies in the Shire Hall on east of Thompson Ave between Chapel St and Esplanade). There was the Koala Café which is now known as the Jetty (ed: North East corner Thompson and Esplanade); I don’t know if it’s changed its name since then. The paper shop was around the corner from that, between opposite the jetty to the Isle of Wight Hotel (ed: approximately next door to Hotel on eastern side) and the post office was on the opposite corner which is now the pizza parlour. (ed: Isola di Capri restaurant). So things have changed around quite a bit.

R: They have, because I have looked in Gliddon’s book Phillip Island in Picture and Story, and he’s got pictures of what the main street used to look like and it looks nothing like it looks now.

H: No, nothing. We used to tie up horses by the reins you know. Of course there was not a lot of cars. My father had a T model Ford when I was about 4 in 1935. He used to pick up people from the ferry and take them out to the Nobbies or the Penguin Parade. But we had 40 acres and he was a builder, so he did that to supplement his wages.

R: So 1935 would have been just the end of the Depression wouldn’t it?

H: Yes – in the Depression. But we had our own chooks and eggs and we had our own milk, so we milked our cows and made our own butter and that sort of thing, but sugar we had to buy. I remember sausages were sixpence a pound and bananas were 25 bananas for a shilling. But wages were nothing like they are now and the cost of living has gone further up.

R: I think too that the diet has changed. It’s very different now. If you look at an old cookbook the recipes are very different to what they are now.

H: Yes, very different. Well, we mainly grew up on bread and milk because we had our own cows. Bread and milk and sugar. The first time I introduced it to my family they said ‘What’s this?’ But they got to like it. We had bread and dripping and tomato sauce. Those were the days when we didn’t have a lot but we did manage to have a good life. And a healthy life too. We were all healthy, probably we were very lucky. But also because of my mother who was a very good cook.

She was involved in the island, and a real identity. She was one of the Waltons. There is a bit in that Phillip Island Chronicle in which I learnt about my great grandfather and what he did. I didn’t know my great-grandfather but I know my grandfather. There’s a bit in there about my great-grandfather George Walton and that opened my eyes to what he did. There wasn’t a photo of him just an article.

(ed: 11 minutes – Rustling and murmuring as Heather tries to find the Chronicle newspaper article)

R: Explain the Waltons to me. Who were the Waltons?

H: The Waltons came here in 1868.

R: So that was straight after closer settlement?

H: They were one of the first families on the island. He was digging up business, that’s what he was doing. Here it is on page 11.

R: Would you like to read it out?

H: (12 minutes 50 seconds) Reads: “Digging up business in 1869. It seems Mr George Walton senior was a very adaptable man. After purchasing 8 acres of land adjoining the township of Rhyll he began digging a waterhole, being one of the first needs of a settler. The hole exposed deposits of clay suitable for brick making. A business is born. He then set about building a kiln. His children squelched around in the mud which was then shaped and left to dry to bake in the sun. The bricks were laid, the kiln complete and he made bricks by the dozen.

“It appears Mr Walton senior has been at it again. He has been gathering shells at low tide and floating them at a high tide. He then digs a pit measuring 5 m long and 3 m wide and 2 m deep. Mr Walton then covers the bottom with firewood and after cleaning and drying the shells he layers them over the wood. This is then burned and allowed to cool after which the residue is carefully raked (?) off. The resulting material is lime. What will he think of next?”

That was my great-grandfather. I didn’t know he did that. So I learnt something out of this. Whether it is correct or not I don’t know!

R: So there was lime making at Rhyll?

H: Yes, well apparently there was. That was the 1870s.

R: Because I knew there was lime making at Corinella and further down towards Bass and a few other places. But I didn’t know there was any lime making on Phillip Island.

(ed: 15 – 15 min 10 seconds, difficult to hear)

H: What else would you like to know?

R: What can you tell me about your mother?

H: Well my mother was one of 11.

R: That is a large family!

H: They lost one. She was more or less in the middle. No, towards the end. I think there was only about one after her. My mother was just an ordinary little lady. A very special little lady to all of us. She had my father. She was born in 1901 and she died in 1990 so she was 89 years old when she died. She met my father here. Actually his mother and father owned Glencoe guesthouse, which was now where the car park is behind Coles, going down towards Genista Street. (ed: Aldi as at Dec 2021 south west cnr Thompson Ave and Chapel St ). They ran that for a few years.

R: Glencoe was one of the large guesthouses wasn’t it?

H: it wasn’t one of the first guesthouses. It’s in the guesthouses book.

R: Do you mean the book, the piece of work by June Cutter?

H: Yes. Do you know her work?

R: Yes. I have her book on Churchill Island A Special Place. I had hoped to get in contact with her but the number I have is not current it appears. No one seems to know whether she is still around even.

H: I haven’t heard of June Cutter for a long while.

(ed: 17 minutes 40 seconds. Heather tries to find the Glencoe chapter in June Cutter’s book)

(ed: 18 minutes 27 seconds)

H: Well I think my mother met my father when she went to work. When she was working at Glencoe. Whether she met my father then or whether she met him before… They were married in 1923. They moved to a farm in Settlement Road. They had 40 acres.

R: 40 acres was quite a lot at that time wasn’t it?

H: Well 80 acres was the norm. Most of the farms were 80 acres. Within the Cowes area it was usually 40 but it may have been 20 – I’m not sure. He was building houses and that sort of thing. My grandfather built the churches – Alec McLardy. They ran Glencoe. He built all the churches then. The Uniting Church; not the present one, the first one. (ed: now the St John’s Uniting Church hall, north west cnr Warley Ave and Chapel St) The one here at the Church of England (ed: St Philip’s Anglican Church, north west cnr Thompson Ave and Church St) and the Catholic Church which is now called… (ed: approx. 70 Chapel St Cowes)

R:  The bar? Opposite Coles? (Aldi)

H: I can’t remember what it’s called

(ed: 20 minutes 10 seconds)

H: And a couple of the ones at San Remo. The one that’s now around at Trenavin Park. (ed: Formerly Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Remo. The other McLardy San Remo church was St Augustine’s Anglican Church)

R: So he was quite an influence.

H: Yes. And he was the MC for the dances in the early days. But no, we are just an ordinary family that grew up on the island and saw all the changes that have happened. Some of them for the good and some for the bad.

R: You described your mother as being quite active in the social life of the island.

H: She used to play the organ for the church, she was on the school committee. As she got older she joined the golf club. She started playing golf at the age of 59 and broke her handicap in the first year from about 36 to about 17 I think.

R: Oh my goodness!

H: She endeared herself to all of the local people on the island. She just had that… well, all of the Waltons did. She had a very easy-going nature. So she was made a Life Member of the golf club for the work she did around the place. Unfortunately she had a stroke at the age of 85, 86 I think she was. So she had a couple of years at the nursing home before she died. Luckily for us her memory was good and she knew us all. It was her body failing her more than anything. So that was unfortunate circumstances. But she endeared herself to all her grandchildren. I think at the time she died she had 34 great-grandchildren. She’d have a few more now – she’s got some great-great grand ones now!

R: It sounds like she is very fondly remembered.

H: Yes. Everybody on the island knew her. She had a nickname. I don’t know whether my father gave it to her, but her nickname was ‘Polly’. Her real name was Mary Walton; she only had the one name.… I have a feeling it was my father called her Polly but I don’t know why.

(ed: 23 minutes 46 seconds)

R: We talked quite a bit about how you grew up on a poultry farm venue began your working life I suppose topping chicory and then you moved on to waitressing.

H: Well it was a matter of you had to go out and get a job or you didn’t survive, did you? My last wage was in 1950. I was married in May 1951, and my last wage was 6 days a week for £7.10 shillings. But I managed to save enough to get married.

We had some wonderful times. In those days all the guesthouses on New Year’s eve had a carnival type atmosphere with the floats. Each guesthouse did a float which was judged on the best float. Most of the guesthouses got involved; I wouldn’t say all. The people who came and stayed there sort of participated and people were wonderful. We got to know all the people. They came and stayed not just for one night like a motel. They came and stayed for perhaps a fortnight. I worked for Arthur Jones who bought the Continental Guesthouse, which was totally different to what is now. In fact there is probably a photo of it here in the guesthouses book. He was a wonderful boss.

We used to get involved. Each waitress had 3 tables of about, well you’d have about 24 people to wait on. If you got your guests out of the way quickly you could get away.

We used to have sports days. My sisters and I were always pretty good at sports. We used to go. They used to have sports days on Boxing Day. They were held at Ventnor. The guests would all come in for an early lunch. Get them all fed and packed up and away you go. So we had a good rapport with the people we waited on. We didn’t very often find somebody who was offput or standoffish or anything. They were always friendly people.

R: Do you think that Phillip Island was the sort of place that you went when you are looking for that type of atmosphere?

(27 minutes 26 seconds)

H: I would think so. Everyone was very friendly. I remember one of my nieces, she was coming down from town. She came shopping. Her husband’s sister it was, and her little girl. She came shopping in Cowes. And in those days – in 1954 I think it was, or 1955 – so you knew everybody. And she went home and she said: ‘auntie knows everybody on the island! She said hello to everybody on the island’. Well you did know everybody on the island then. But I don’t know half the people on the island now! Even when I go to Probus Club now – it’s all right if they put their badges on. But there’s 140 in the club!

R: Goodness!

H: You just don’t get to meet everybody. You know their faces but you can’t put names to them.

R: So how many families or people would there have been on the island in say 1954, 1955?

H: Well I think it was only probably about 3000.… It did swell in the summer time and Easter time there were a lot more. But permanents there would probably only be about 3000.

R: So that gives us an idea of how small it was.

H: Yes, how small it was. They were nearly all farms except for the ones that lived in Cowes. We all knew our farmers and when anything ever went wrong everyone sort of helped out and that sort of thing.

R: So would you travel much from one side of the island to the other? So would you ever have made a trip to Newhaven?

H: No, not when we were young. As I say I never set foot on Churchill Island until my eldest granddaughter, who is 15 now, well she was about 8 or 9 months. I had never been on Churchill Island until that day because we just didn’t have the transport. We went to football when we were growing up and that sort of thing, but that’s the only time we really went off down that area. And we were only just off over the bridge for football and back again, and that sort of thing. So we didn’t spend a lot of time at Newhaven.

R: So the football league around here was comprised of Cowes…?

H: To start with there was Cowes, Ventnor and Rhyll I think. They were the original ones back when my father was a footballer in 1921. He was a nice tall type of footballer. Such a tall man he was. A good footballer. He passed all his football knowledge on to his grandchildren; his children then his grandchildren.

R: (ed: looking at his photograph) He’s got a very classical profile hasn’t he?

H: Yes. Their shorts were long but now they’re short! Revealing aren’t they?

R: Yes, very much so!

H: But they were the style. I’m not sure whether he played for Ventnor or Cowes in that particular photo. But he did kick a football. And he was a very good cricketer. We used to get dragged along to the cricket when we were little. He was a good cricketer but… I don’t mind it so much now. But some of the cricketers would be out there and they used to be what they call ‘stonewalling’.

R: Oh yeah, when they just make little bats.

H: Yes, and they wouldn’t run, and they’d have to go back and bowl it all again.

R: My father used to do that. Not when he was younger, but as he got older he would just make little hits all the time.

(ed: 32 minutes. Heather showing Rebecca photographs)

H: That’s my Stewart and his wife who run the Anchorage store at Ventnor. And that’s my oldest sister Vi. I always think this one (ed: pointing) is like him, but like his father also. But he was tall. There were 4 McLardy boys on my father’s side. My grandmother was a Jeury. There is road named after her going out to Rhyll. That’s Jeury Lane, all that was my grandmother. She used to ride side saddle.

R: Oh! A lady!

H: Yes she was a lady and she used to ride side saddle. A very elegant lady. Not very tall but very elegant.

R: Did many of the women on the island right side saddle or did they ride astride?

H: I really don’t know. I only know she did on occasions. I don’t know whether she ever did ride astride a horse.

R: I just thought it’s far enough out for people to have the option of not worrying about it.

H: I don’t know that I have been very helpful.

R: You are doing very well.

H: You may be able to pull some bits out of it, but not very much. If you keep asking me questions I may be able to answer them.

R: I wouldn’t worry so far. We haven’t had any long pauses yet so we are doing well. You spoke earlier about your visit to Churchill Island. Why did you go?

H: My husband had given Churchill Island an old piece of machinery that they had out on the farm. I can’t actually tell you what the piece of machinery was. I should know, but I have forgotten. They were having an open day then on Churchill Island, so that would have been about 14 years ago. They had an open day where they invited people who had given pieces of machinery, and my husband got an invite. So we went with my mother and my daughter Faye. I don’t know where my daughter Carol was. And my son Donald was possibly there. We lost him 3 ½ years ago. So that is why we went to Churchill Island that day.

R: Were there many people there on that day?

H: Yes, many people. They had the machinery and everything all around the place like they still have.

R: Did they have any of it working or just set up?

H: They had it all set up but none of it working. They didn’t have the Clydesdales. It was just an open day for people to be remembered for the work they’d done and the machinery they’d given.

R: Did you get afternoon tea?

H: Well I think we had to buy it. I’m not sure. It’s a long time ago. We just wandered around and had a look at the old cannon. You’ve been on Churchill Island, there is an old cannon there somewhere in the gardens, isn’t there? We took my mother. I don’t think my mother had ever set foot on Churchill Island either. Because they didn’t get around. They were mainly on bikes (ed: bicycles) or horses and that sort of thing. But we used to go to visit my grandmother who lived at Rhyll. We went in a horse and cart, and on the sand track you’d half get bogged! The roads are a vast improvement now.

R: How bad were the roads? Were there big potholes?

H: Big enough. I remember when my mother went with the eggs into Cowes to sell them. We had two horses: a younger horse and an older horse. One was called Lassie and the other one was Dottie. But the older one must have passed its knowledge on to the younger one because when we lost the older one, mum put the younger one into the cart. With the older one, when we got to where the RSL is now (ed: north east cnr Thompson Ave and Cowes-Rhyll Rd) where the made road started, she would NOT go on to that road. So my mother had to get out and lead it. And she would go round and round and round and round. Mum would be sitting there and say: ‘Come on, come on Lassie come on’. It was just the bitumen under their hooves. But she passed it on to the younger one, because the younger one wouldn’t do it either.

But they were all dirt roads. We used to ride our bikes to school. If we had a flat tyre and couldn’t mend them we had to walk to school. That’s why we were good runners because we could hear the bell when we got to the RSL corner and we used to have to run down to the school where the Cultural Centre is now which was the school (ed: north east cnr Church St and Thompson Ave). Many a time we got the strap for being late! But never mind… We enjoyed it (ed: at school), it was good fun.

R: Did you like going to school?

H: Did I like going to school? Yes, I loved the sports part. The only time I ever passed was when a new teacher came when I was in grade 6. I used to like history. I was very good at tables. Don’t ask me anything about maths. Don’t like maths, never did. I wasn’t a very good writer, but I could spell. And fortunately I could retain it. I liked poetry. I had a very good memory for poetry.

R: What sort of poetry would you learn at school?

H: We learnt ‘My Country’. All the poems that were in the grade fives and sixes readers, which you don’t get now. But My Country had so many verses! By Dorothea Mackellar it was. I remember going home and had to learn this poem. We had to stand up. We only had one night to learn it. But anyway I did it and we had to stand up (ed: to recite in front of the class) but I got through it. The only thing I remember of it now is ‘I love a sunburnt country’.

R: ‘… A land of sweeping plains’.

H: Yes that’s right. I’ve got the book here somewhere. Every now and again I get it out and have a look at it. The teacher we had… there is a bit about it in this week’s local paper, at the Ventnor School. It’s 85 years since the Ventnor School started. The paper was on Thursday. My children went to the Ventnor School. Not that I went to Ventnor, I went to the Cowes school. We lived right on the boundary of Ventnor and Cowes. Because we were living in Cowes until I was 4, the others had started at the Cowes school. So we all went to Cowes.

But with the school sports some of the girls there said they had a real thing about beating Cowes. There were 4 McLardy’s on this side, and 3 or 4 Harisses on the other, and we had a real thing about lining up against each other. Sometimes they would win and sometimes we would. I don’t know if you know any of the Harris girls. Julie Box is a Harris.

R: I haven’t spoken to her yet but she is on my list.

H: She’s into the historical things.

R: She is or is going to be the new president of the Historical Society.

H: Yes, she is well and truly into the historical thing like Cherry McFee is too. Whereas I just hang on the outside.

R: Oh, I don’t think so.

H: I don’t delve into history. My husband Neil was always into the old history part of things. So that is why we have Joshua Gliddon’s Phillip Island in Picture and Story.

R: So do you know much about how that book was put together? Because a lot of it is not by Joshua Wickett Gliddon but by other authors. It’s a bit odd. It’s very useful but a bit different.

H: No I don’t but – I’m not sure about it, but I think he went around and interviewed different people to get the version that he’s got. But most of it is pretty true. Just like June Cutter you know. She went around and interviewed different ones about the guest houses and that sort of thing. And I think she interviewed mum on Glencoe when she did that book. And Mrs Oswin Roberts was at Broadwater guest house.

R: Quite famously.

H: Yes, famously. And she had the bear in captivity. There is a photo of him in the paper there. You will find the little teddy bear and the little dwarf which was Percy Drawbridge. She went, they went down to meet him off the ferry and he was just a tiny gorgeous fellow.

(ed: 45 minutes 30 seconds)

R: Do you remember him well?

H: He was a cheeky little fella. (ed: Looking at photo of Percy with Edward koala) See his cheeky little grin? And he used to tease the kids. He’d go along and he would pinch them. We used to think he was gorgeous though. My mother lived down in Rose Avenue which is down past the football ground. He’d be walking along the street and we’d be going down to the football ground and we would pick him up. Gorgeous little guy! He is buried up at the cemetery.

R: So he was well loved in the community? Or only by certain sections?

H: Well I don’t know whether too many people loved him or not but he never did any harm to anyone. But I think it was there where somebody says about going to pick him up from the ferry expecting to find something different. He was employed as a handyman and they were looking around for somebody tall and he was this little tiny guy. Our Donnie used to love him. Because Donnie was slightly handicapped.

And what else would you like to know?

(ed: 47 minutes, discussion about how long they have been talking and that Rebecca will have to stop the recording in 15 minutes or they will run out of space.)

R: I think I’d like to ask you about the fact that people didn’t travel much around the island for a long time and the reason that people didn’t see each other very much was the bad roads and it took a long time to get around. Everyone knew each other and felt very comfortable. I guess it was different in Cowes and having people come off the ferry. But do you think all that would have created a kind of insular environment as well? Where people felt odd about strangers?

H: I don’t think so. Most of the people in those days were genuine people. There’s a lot of genuine people around now; don’t get me wrong. But there did not seem to be any of that fear. I lived out in Trenavin Park in the 2 storey house and we never had a lock on the door. My husband used to go off to meetings and I’d be there with 4 or 5 children. And I never once felt afraid that someone would come in and cause trouble or anything like that. A lot of the people on the island were the same. And when John Oswin bought Trenavin Park from us – you know Anne who writes for the paper – when they bought Trenavin Park from us in 1976 and we moved up onto the farm and built our other house there… My husband had a heart attack so we sold up and came in here. That was a family concern. The 2 storey house set in the centre of this 730 acres which Hamiltons all owned. So that all got subdivided because 2 of the other Hamilton children wanted money so it got split up

(50 minutes 10 seconds – inaudible)

We moved and built a house on what was our share before my husband got sick, so we moved up here in 1986. But most of the people on the island trusted one another and there was no fear of anybody robbing anybody or that your things weren’t safe, you know. It was a good place to live.

R: Can you describe what it was like when the first bridge from San Remo to Newhaven opened?

H: Well I was only 9 when the first one opened. So I don’t really remember much about that but it made it possible for people for people to travel without the punt. I know my grandfather – how old was he I think 80-something when he died – went to stay up with one of my aunts when he was living with my mother out on the farm. That would be 1939 before the bridge was opened. I remember him jumping off the pier down onto the punt to go across and go to Melbourne. I remember he went to Melbourne, got pneumonia and died there. So we didn’t actually see him again. He was fit and healthy jumping off the pier onto the punt and went to Melbourne, and that was it.

(ed: 52 min 12 sec)

But the bridge did make a difference. As it says somewhere in the paper the first bridge could only take a certain weight because it was a swing bridge. I know my husband – they came here in 1947 – they had a beast and they had sheep. They had a block of land over at Officer and they used to take the cattle over and fatten them up on the 80 acres or whatever they had over there. They had to unload them at San Remo and walk them across the bridge and then pick them up again on the truck on the other side.

R: Now I’ve heard stories of similar happenings with tourist coaches – people having to get out and walk across.

H: Yes that’s true. But the bridge did make a difference to people who had cars, who could then leave the island and travel.

R: You describe your father as having a model T Ford. Is that right?

H: Yes, that was his first car. I don’t remember much about that because I was only 3 ½ to 4. I just remember sitting in where he used to take the passengers.

R: What happened to that car?

H: After that car I’m not really sure. We did finish up with a Paige which was a much bigger car. One of those old type compared with the cars today. We had that but I don’t remember what year it was. We had the T Model Ford and then we had that Paige but I don’t remember a car in between.

R: I want to ask you about – I suppose when various technological advances were making their way into people’s homes like refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, because they were seen as…

H: Extravagant.

R: Yes, they were. And I can remember even when I was little having a carpet sweeper rather than a vacuum cleaner. And I was wondering if you remember when your first fridge would have turned up?

H: I had – when I was married in 1951 I lived with my mother and father – behind them. And then we went out to the farm 

(55 minutes and 8 seconds)

We had electricity run by a generator hooked to big what’s their names (ed: batteries? Inverters?) that they charged that used to be 110 (ed: 110) and that was used for lights. We had no electric iron. No washing machine. We had an old copper. We lived in the cottage and then after I had 4 children

R: That’s a lot of washing in a copper!

H: Well I only did the sheets in the copper, and the nappies in the copper. I had 4 children down there and then we moved up into the 2-storey house in 1963 when Neil’s mother died because it was too big for my father-in-law by himself. 

(ed: 56 minutes and 5 seconds – inaudible until 56 minutes 14 seconds)

So I had no iron, no washing machine, I used a double trough with a wringer. The clothes used to be washed by hand then run through the wringer. Washed with the ‘blue bag’. Remember the blue bag? It used to whiten your clothes. Very good for bull ant bites so my mother said, which was quite true too.

R: What was in the blue bag?

H: Oh just some blue powdery stuff. You just put it in the rinse water and it would whiten your sheets. Because they were all white sheets; there was no such thing as coloured sheets in those days. White shirts. I had a flat iron, I had to run the flat iron – put on top of the hot wood stove to heat it up and then get a handkerchief because the husband had white shirts when he had to go to the (ed: Masonic) Lodge. And you had to get the first part of the soot off (laughs). So then I invested in a petrol iron.

R: A petrol iron?

H: Yes and you put Shellite in it. But you just have to make sure you emptied the iron after every use, because if you had too much you could blow yourself up (ed: both laugh). So you had a can about that big, so you emptied your iron. And I invested in that so that I could iron the clothes flat. You get about an hour and a half’s ironing. You’d have a little bowl. I wish I still had it. Not to iron with, but just as a…

R: As a souvenir?

H: Yes. But it had a bowl; it was just like a silver bowl, an ordinary silver bowl. But it was just like an ordinary iron. I never did blow myself up. But I was never satisfied

(ed: 58 minutes 28 seconds – inaudible)

It had a little can that you had to fill it, but no further than that, and then you used to have to pump it to get the pressure up and then you would light a match and away it would go. And the kerosene fridge – the first fridge I had was a kerosene fridge. We had ice chests before that and a Coolgardie safe. You would come into the butcher’s once a week and you’d buy your meat and you used to put it in the safe. You used to take it out and smell it and wash it under the tap and hope. Like steak and that sort of thing. And hope that it was all right.

But the first fridge I had was the kerosene fridge and you’d have to light that up. And it kept everything cool; kept everything cold.

R: Did it change the way you did things?

H: Yes, I think it did in a way. You could buy your meat and sort of know that it was going to be all right (both laugh). You didn’t have to smell it and wash it under the tap and that sort of thing. But no, it was a good life. The young ones today – and probably you too – you couldn’t imagine now. I have washed… When the washing machine has gone bung and I’ve stood there and washed clothes (ed: by hand), I’ve thought Now how the Dickens did I ever do this for 4 children

R: Four children is a lot of clothes to wash!

H: Yes, four children is a lot of clothes. Not that they had a lot of clothes; not like today where there are clothes everywhere. They’ve got far too many! We couldn’t afford a lot of clothes so they barely had their clothes they go to school in. But they had good clothes.

R: Which you would make?

H: No, no I never made them. But they had a lot of pants and socks and that sort of thing and all those clothes had to be washed. But the first; we had no hot water. We used to light the copper to get the hot water for the kids to have a bath.

R: Did they bath once a week?

H: No a bit more than once a week probably. We had an outside toilet (laughs) which I wouldn’t let them use because it used to blow here in the winter time and you’d be frightened it would come down on top of you. But this was only when they were little of course.

But then we bought a Raeburn stove where the water went and my husband found an old big round concrete pipe – I don’t know what it actually belonged to – down in the lagoon, McHaffie’s Lagoon. So they brought it up and dug a big hole in the ground and they sunk the tank in there and we got this Raeburn stove, which we then put the water through the stove. So therefore I had hot water over the sink and over the bath.

R: I will just stop and save this 

(ed: recording stopped at 1 hour, 2 minutes and 16 seconds)


Recording 2 of 2

H: But I’ve been talking about me and my family life and not what you want to hear about the island.

R: No! You don’t see your family as being part of the island?

H: Oh yes, yes, we are part of the island. The McLardy part. And great grandpa Walton came here in 1869. The other grandfather didn’t come here until the 1870s. He first started off in San Remo and then moved into Cowes. He wasn’t what you’d call an original ancestor. But he was original enough because the island only started being developed in 1868, being subdivided into settlement. So yes, I class my family as an island family.

R: How long do you think you have to have been here to put yourself in that group?

H: Well, to be an islander you have to have been here 25 years and I’ve done that! Tripled that I would say – 25, 50, 75 – yes, tripled that. So yes well and truly established as an islander and very proud to be an islander too. I’ve seen a lot of changes. As I say, some for the good and some for the bad.

R: What would you describe as some of the biggest changes?

H: Well all of the high-rise buildings, all of those buildings going out here on the left-hand side. What we call ‘dog boxes’. 

R: I’ve heard that name a couple of times!

H: I came back from Ventnor the other day. We’d been out to the Ventnor school. And I looked across the paddock at that and I thought it was such wonderful farmland. In a few years’ time they’ll just be slums. There is no design to them, or no niceness.

R: So you would be much happier – there’s 2 problems here as far as I can work out. One is that they are on what would be good farmland and the other is that they just don’t look very nice. Would you be happier if they looked – 

H: What is going to happen to them? I don’t know whether you’ve got to buy them or whether they are called ‘timeshare’. What actually they are going to be? Whether you’ve got to buy them outright, as an investment for – What’s going to happen to them in a few years’ time? Are people going to be living in them, or are they just going to be using them as holiday homes?

(ed: 3 minutes and 24 seconds)

There’s a lot of places down Church Street – we’ve got one across the road here – that are made out of corrugated iron. Well this street is mainly bricks, except for this one across the road which is weatherboard. It’s a neat little weatherboard. A neat little house. But the one up the road here – I don’t know whether you noticed – but it’s corrugated iron; it’s straight up and down. There’s 2 or 3 of them off Church Street. Is it Vaughan Street? Are they supposed to look like chicory kilns?

And the whole of the Esplanade is just high buildings now. Bayview guesthouse was there. It was a lovely guesthouse.

R: It’s very interesting that a lot of the guesthouses aren’t around in any physical form anymore. There’s actually no trace of them.

H: It doesn’t seem to be, does there?

R: What happened? I know the Isle of White burnt down as did Broadwater. Is that correct?

H: They pulled that one down. They pulled Elsford down, which is Elsford Close now. Marldon house in the Main Street down from the National Bank. Down towards what used to be a chicken shop. Marldon house was quite a nice-looking guesthouse.

(ed: 5 minute 21 seconds inaudible)

I don’t know what happened really. People sold out and other people had other ideas. Probably the guesthouse people needed the money I suppose. They just sold up and moved away. Some of them died I suppose. But no, it’s nearly all motels now. I don’t think anyone runs as a guest house on the island.

R: Because it’s kind of an old idea. You can still go to guesthouses in Europe. They have them as well as motels. It’s another accommodation option.

H: But the motel is – Well you go to a caravan park and you’re in a caravan. You’ve got a caravan next door to you so you get to meet those people. You come out your door and you can talk to them and you go to the community toilet blocks and you meet people there. My husband used to love to meet people there. You’d only go over for a shower then half an hour, three quarters of an hour later: ‘where have you been?’ ‘Oh just talking’

But if you go to a motel you close your door and you don’t come out until you go out and get into your car the next morning and you don’t see anybody. It’s a very unsociable way of life.

R: it’s very lonely.

H: I like to meet people and see how the other half lives. But not in motels and it’s all motels. But that’s the way of life these days. We used to do a bit of caravanning. Not as much as we would have liked to have done.

R: Do you think there could ever be a move back to staying at a guest house?

H: I don’t think so.

R: Do you think people are happy to just have their own little enclave?

H: I don’t know whether it’s more money, or people want bigger and brighter and more modern things than guesthouses because guesthouses were just basic. They had a chef and they were just basic rooms and they were just basic happy holidays. But life is too fast these days; a lot faster than when I was young. The time goes so fast now; you haven’t got time to turn around today!

I didn’t have a car, my husband and I. He had a truck, but Stewart was 7 months old I think when we got our first car – a Mini Minor.

R: You had a Mini Minor? How cool!

H: A ‘Morris Minor’ as it was called. That was our first car. There was a chap who used to live out there. He used to go rabbiting; kill the rabbits and get the skins and sell the rabbits to the butchers. So I’d catch a ride in with him to come to Cowes. Or Neil would knock off what he was doing if we had to go to Cowes for something. But nearly always I would come in with the chap who was catching the rabbits. It was different; it was a slower way of life. We didn’t have the water on out there on the farm. I think that came in the late 1960s, and the electricity. We moved up in ‘63.

I remember our eldest daughter plugged in her radio – a 240 (ed: volt) radio – and they were charging up the batteries for 110 and we had this thing that converted from 240 over to 110. Anyway she decided she wanted to listen to the (ed: inaudible). Anyway she turned it on and it was too much voltage going through and she set it alight! (Laughs) She had to go and get her grandfather. Luckily he was around. She wasn’t very popular because it was the only radio we had and it cost us a bit to buy it and she’d burnt it all. So it was in the late 1960s also, when we got the electricity I suppose.

I know they used to – when did television come in? I think about 1956. We used to have this little television about that big (indicates size). We used to start up a little motor under the house, watch TV and then have to go under the house to turn the motor off when we were going to bed. But you made do with different things. The kids didn’t miss out on much. They were always taken to their sport and youth club.

R: Now you’re very keen on your sport, aren’t you? What sorts of sport did you participate in, because you obviously took a great deal of active – 

H: Well, nothing really professional. We ran, we high jumped, we had long jumps, we had egg and spoon races, we had sack races, we had three legged races. We had three pots, which you had two pots; one pot in front. You used to step on one pot then bring the other one back. All those sorts of games. We had ball games – tunnel ball and cross ball, all those sorts of things. Yes, we loved all sports and football. We used to love our football.

R: And still do.

H: And still do. Stewart started playing football when he was about 9. Donny never played but he was well and truly into the football club. They made him a Life Member down there. He used to leave here at half past eight on a Saturday morning and never come home til half time or midnight or something!

R: Helping with the juniors and seniors?

H: The juniors and seniors and seconds and thirds. He was time keeper. Or not time keeper, but he was score board and would sell the raffle tickets. But my father was sport. Mother wasn’t really. She took up golf, but that was the only sport mother ever played. 

R: She obviously got quite keen on it though. 

H: My sister was very into golf. I actually babysat the 2 sisters’ children in 1957. I was pregnant and my baby was born in 1958. So I looked after their 2 kids after kindergarten and they took up golf. They were good golfers. I didn’t take it up until 1976. I won a few trophies. May was club champion 15 times down here.

R: There’s quite a bit of prowess in your family!

H: Yes. Mum won a few trophies too. My eldest sister was the only one that really wasn’t into that much sport. She could run. She wasn’t as good as us other 3. 

I went down to the juniors, because I’ve got a grandson – one of Stewart’s boys. The two of them should be playing, one in the under 18s and one in the under 15s, but the under 18’s got a sore foot. He’s over 6 feet (ed: only 16?) but he has to play in the under 18s. So they had the junior Best and Fairest the other night.

R: The local leagues have just had their grand finals haven’t they?

H: No, this Saturday for the 2nds, 3rds and 4ths. We’ve got the whole 3 of them in it. They were hoping for 3. But I felt like a fish out of water. I was the only old person around at 76, and I was still there. But I saw the football club start off in an iron shed where we used to cook hot dogs and have pie ovens and that sort of thing and boil kettles. But I was down there and I felt like a fish out of water. 

R: Do you kind of feel that there should be more older people going to those sorts of things?

H: Well, a lot of the ones who play football now are newcomers to the island. Not so many older families. I’ve had Stewart go through from when he was 9 and then his boys are going through now. My sister May has had her boys go through – she’s had 4 boys. One her boys had a bung, he got injured. My other sister who is no longer with us, she had a boy who played for quite a few years, but he had a girl so he hasn’t kept going. 

Do you know Snow Dixon? Have you ever heard of him? He’s an old islander. He was one of the originals in the Ventnor School started 85 years ago and he’s a great character. He’d tell you lots about the island. He’s 85,86 now and still bright. He’d tell you a lot about the island. Actually he was on the DVD of the ah – 

R: Historical Society 

(ed: 17 minutes and 19 seconds)

H: Yeah, the one they got out of the war years – 1939-45 – what it was like on the island and a lot of the island people – 

R: What a fantastic project. 

H: Yes, so they got a DVD on all that. 

R: It’s interesting.. you can’t help but notice when you drive onto the island that they’ve got the Vietnam Veterans’ Museum there. Certainly things have changed from when I was little. You certainly never used to see anything about the Vietnam War.

H: We didn’t in my day either. 1969 it was. Well I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War either. But I was grown up with 4 or 5 children then. You knew something, but we didn’t know a lot about it and what they went through. And they did go through a lot. How they suffered afterwards, and this Agent Orange.

R: Yes, they’ve just started a full investigation into it. 

H: A lot of people have been affected by it. I don’t know too many down here but I know my eldest daughter went to Tasmania to live and met a few of those over there at the bowls club which the RSL is involved in. She met a lot of the Vietnam Vets who had been affected quite a bit. It didn’t get recognised for a while, did it?

R: No. It’s becoming a bit different now. But it’s interesting when you go back and look at old records about the First World War and the Second World War. People would often not talk about problems they had as a result of the war years then either. And the recognition - again came a long time afterwards. In some ways it’s kind of funny that we have this idea that you came back and were suddenly heroes instantly, and it really didn’t work that way. 

H: No, it didn’t work that way. My brother-in-law, he’s now in Melaleuca (ed: Melaleuca Lodge Aged Care) but he was captured by the Japanese. He was nearly blind. But the only thing that he said was to my sister was after the war. In 1947 they were married, but he met her in 1946 or something like that. He came back skin and bone and Vegemite was the only thing that he could eat. It helped keep his eyesight and that sort of thing.

R: Because it has Vitamin A and iron in it. 

H: Yeah. He won’t talk – he’s got dementia now, but he would never talk about the war. Japanese – he just couldn’t handle them at all. No, it was amazing, because I don’t know if it was Changi he was in, but he was in the POW camp for most of the war and he came out when the war was finished. But he was an amazing boy. ‘Cause he went through absolutely Hell too. 

R: The war would have been on when you were only a child. 

H: ’39 yeah I was 14 I think when the war ended in 1945. 

R: Did you ever hear much about it then? Did your parents talk much about it?

H: No, my father was one of the – what do you call it?

R: The Militia?

H: Yeah, well. We had blackouts and that sort of thing. Rationing, food rationing and you had to have tickets to buy butter. I don’t think we ever had to buy butter. But they used to have to go and man the beaches. I think they were called the Voluntary Corps or something like that (ed: Volunteer Defence Corps VDC). That’s what mainly this DVD is about in the war years between 1939 and 45 and what it was like on the island. They interviewed a lot older people than me about what it was like. Cherry (ed: McFee) and they grew carrots and whatever out on the farm with their father. The only thing I can remember about the war was at school knitting scarves (ed: laughs) to be sent off to the troops. 

R: Do you think they ever made it?

H: What, the scarves? Oh yes I think they probably would. Yes, they’d go through the Red Cross. So I’d knit scarves, but I could never knit the socks. I remember Cherry saying  - we were talking about it recently – and she said she could never turn the heel. She made a mess of it and her mother said she can’t do that because they’d get blisters. (ed: both laugh) so her socks never went. But the scarves, yes it was that odd – knit 2, purl 2. I knitted lots of scarves for the war. 

(ed: 23 minutes 42 seconds)

R: To move back to Churchill Island before we finish up I guess. I’m very interested by the fact – and this is not unexpected I should say – that you know very little about Churchill Island and that you’ve only kind of visited it just the once.

H: That was the first time. I have visited it several times since. But that was the very first time I ever set foot on Churchill Island. 

R: So why did you go back again?

H: Well we went back at Easter time this year to take my daughter from Tassie (ed: Tasmania) and son-in-law over and they had the Easter Horse Festival. So we went and really enjoyed that. I’ve been back a couple of times at Easter. Mainly at Easter I’ve been. And I’ve been there on a Probus day, luncheon we had there. And the Rotary Club have had their Christmas nights a couple of times over at Churchill Island. So I’ve been back for those just in recent years. 

R: That’s just as interesting to me. 

H: Oh yes, Churchill Island. See there was no bridge to Churchill Island. So you couldn’t access it, but as I say you never had a car and it was never opened to the public. 

R: No, because it was privately owned.

H: No it was never opened to the public when we were growing up. And to go that far on a bike! (laughs) It was just out of the question. Too far! Three and a half miles to Cowes to the dances was enough. 

R: So you used to go to the dances?

H: Yes, father and mother taught us. Oh yes, we used to go to the dances. We used to dance for an old fellow who played the piano for the music. Some young ones as well. Hilda Foster played the piano. The young ones wouldn’t dance to that sort of music these days but it was the music in our day. You’d have somebody on the piano, somebody on the drums and somebody on the sax (ed: saxophone) or a mandolin or something.

R: And would you do things like the Foxtrot?

H: The Foxtrot and the Modern Waltz and the Pride of Erin and the Barn Dance, the Progressive Dance, the Charmaine, the Tangoette – all the old dances. The Lancers. The Alberts.

R: That one I don’t know.

H: That’s where there were 8 people, 8 of you to a set. You met in the middle, and whats-his-named, then around you came. (Ed: watch the Alberts and variations here:

And then square dancing. Have you ever done square dancing?

R: Yes, all of the ones you’ve mentioned except for the Alberts and the Lancers. 

(ed: watch the Lancers here:

H: And the tangoette when you went down on one knee?

R: That and the other one I haven’t done. I’ve seen it though. 

H: I watch this ‘Dancing of the Stars’ and that’s not dancing to us.

R: No, ballroom dancing looks very different now. But you can still learn the older ones. They call it ‘Modern’, then there’s ‘Latin’ and then there’s something else which was the old traditional dances that everyone used to do. 

(ed: 28 mins 13 seconds)

H: The dances when you danced with a partner not like the Twist where you dance opposite one another and you never touch. We went through the Jitterbug and we got good – this way and that way and through the legs. You never did the Jitterbug?

R: No, I’ve never done the Jitterbug. 

(ed: watch it here:

H: No, but we used to go into a lot of dances. All the old silly things we used to do. 

R: I wouldn’t call you silly. 

H: We didn’t have much, but we had a good life. We appreciated our life I think. I think that’s the main thing. You’ve got to appreciate what you’ve got. Which helps. 

R: I’ll just return briefly to that fact that you have visited Churchill Island a bit more in recent years once it’s opened up to the public. I’d like to ask you firstly if you ever thought about it much? Whether anyone ever thought about it much during the earlier part of your life? And secondly if anybody thinks about it much now?

H: I think a lot of people think more about it now. Because I never ever thought I’d go to Churchill Island at all. 

R: No?

H: No. I knew it was there. But probably because I never visited there I didn’t know much about Churchill Island at all. I’ve learnt more about Churchill Island in the last few years than I ever knew about it before. But a lot more people do think about it now, and do visit. When we were down there at Easter time it was amazing – the people that were there. We were just wandering along with our daughter and son-in-law. She was young, married and she had some children. I don’t know whether it was her husband, but she was on the mobile phone talking to him and saying she was on Churchill Island and how amazing it was, and just wonderful! So I think a lot of people do think about it and it is an interesting place.

(ed: 30 minutes and 55 seconds)

R: Why do you think it is?

H: Because of what happened years ago, and who bought it, and what they did. And they’ve got those hairy cows – what do they call them?

R: Oh, the Highland cows.

H: ‘Hairy coo’ they call them I think. 

R: I always just called them ‘Highland cattle’. 

H: They’ve got a name. ‘Haaa-ry coo’ I think it is.

R: It’s probably the Gaelic. 

H: I think with the Clydesdales: they add another dimension, they are just beautiful. The work that they do opens up the younger generations’ minds to what the horses did. My husband had a couple of Clydesdales when we were first married. Well, we weren’t married at that stage but when he first bought the farm. You know, how they’d clear the land and ploughing and that sort of thing. So I think it is a lot more interesting there.

R: Do you think in some ways it’s showing how things were done rather than what it looked like? Do you think the how is the important thing, or would you put those things the other way around?

H: No, I think it’s showing a lot more of what it was LIKE – of the way things were done. With the sheep – at Easter time they had the sheep dogs rounding up the sheep and how the sheep dogs work and that sort of thing. People from the city would just think ‘oh well, they get the sheep in. I don’t know how they get the sheep in’. But those dogs are just so brainy, they’re just so clever. How they obey all the commands. Some of those dogs were only 8 weeks old that they were working one time we were over there. And they are just amazing – they really are. 

Until I went out to live on the farm and used to see my husband send the dog around to get the sheep. I mean we used to send our dog around. We’d say: ‘Go and get the cows’, and he’d go around and bring them home. But that was just part and parcel of growing up. Now I can’t stand the smell of a cow! (ed: both laugh) Or its milk! 

Ed: (33 mins 40 secs inaudible). 

But I hate milk! It’s got to have coffee or Milo in it or something for me to drink it. Even now with the pasteurised milk. 

R: Oh, cow’s milk straight out of the cow is very rich and creamy and strong. 

H: We used to do our own separating and that sort of thing.

R: All the cream floats to the top.

H: You’d put the separator together wrong and you’d never get the cream separated.

R: So would you sell the cream?

H: Mmm. The milk and the cream. A lot of the milk we used to feed to the pigs and that sort of thing. The cream was always sent off (ed: to the Archies Creek butter factory). We used to have a separator with ‘cups’ they call them – so many cups. But one cup had to go on the bottom. It had a little lip on it. But if you didn’t look what you were doing and you had it wrong, you could never get the milk to separate from the cream. Unbelievable! But we learnt; we learnt. 

R: The hard way?

H: The hard way (both laugh). But no, I think Churchill Island is a good project down there and they’ve done wonders with it. 

R: You think so? You think it’s a worthwhile project to keep going?

H: Absolutely, absolutely.

R: It’s important for showing younger generations what life used to be like?

H: Mmm. It’s a pity we don’t do more of it on the (ed: Phillip) Island instead of putting these silly looking things out there (ed: ‘chook sheds’ referred to earlier). (ed: both laugh).

R: You can find scraps on the island but once you get into urban areas there isn’t a lot left. 

H: I don’t know that there’s anything left on the island as far as – the kilns, the chicory kilns. There’s nothing being done with them.

R: One’s been turned into an art project down on Ventnor Road. 

H: Yes, well the Nature Parks got one out there haven’t they? Are they doing anything with that?

R: I don’t think they’re doing anything with that at the moment, no.

H: Nobody grows chicory any more, because it’s all instant coffee.

(36 mins 52 seconds. Family member arrives, greetings all round)

Do you want a cup of tea? (ed: to family member) Put the kettle on please, good girl. 

R: Yes, let’s finish it up. So thank you very much for talking to me Heather. It’s been very interesting Heather. It’s been fantastic.

H: Well, you won’t find much out of that.

R: Oh yes I will. 

H: Will you? So this is for…?

R: This is for my PhD. I’m writing a PhD on Churchill Island. I’m looking at the fact I suppose that it’s a heritage tourist destination and not just writing about its history, you know 50 years ago.

H: (ed: asks family member) How many times have you been on Churchill Island Kath? (ed: Carol?) You’ve been recently though. Not with me though. Oh yes, you and I went..

R: Ok then, well we’ll finish it up. Thank you very much. 

H: Is there anything else you want to know? I’ve been rambling on here for over an hour and (ed: directed to family member) I’ve told her all about us and about how naughty you were. 

R: (ed: laughs) I am turning it off now. 

(ed: End of 2nd recording at 38 minutes and 16 seconds)H:  Yes, H: