Oral Histories of Phillip Island
On the 31st March 2021, in Cowes, Phillip Island, Victoria, Heather Hamilton together with her daughter Carol, took part in an oral history interview conducted by Andrea Cleland (interviewer).
The interview is part of the Phillip Island & District Historical Society Oral Histories of Phillip Island project.
Early years, family background and memories of growing up on Phillip island
Heather Hamilton (nee McLardy) was born in Cowes on Phillip Island on 19 February 1931.
'I don’t remember being born but I was born on Phillip Island,’ Heather remarks. Her ancestors included George Walton, who was one of the early settlers at Rhyll.
My father was Newton McLardy and my mother was Mary Walton, who was known as Polly.
We lived in a weatherboard house. There were four sisters in one room and one brother in a tiny room off the kitchen. It had a wooden stove, one of those Lux stoves.
Heather’s siblings included Violet, June, Newton and May.
My father had a farm halfway across the island on Ventnor Beach Road. Our neighbours were the Dixons and the Grachans and the Stoppas. The farm was 80 acres. We milked cows and had chooks and raised chickens in incubators. My mother sold the eggs in Cowes.
Heather’s mother Polly had a horse called Lassie but the horse didn’t like the bitumen roads. Instead, Polly had to lead Lassie down the side of the road to get the eggs to the shops in Cowes. There was a butcher and a baker in the main street. The road to Rhyll was just a sand track back then.
It was a cart which Polly used and she would harness it herself. Other than Lassie she had another horse called Dottie. Dottie was the younger horse, so when Lassie got too old, Dottie took over the egg run to Cowes.
(Carol additional information 22 July 2021).
My mum would bring the eggs to Cowes to sell them and she had a horse called Lassie. She was all right but it was only dirt roads, not roads like they are now, dirt roads. The road to Rhyll was sand tracks. Anyway, mum would get to the RSL as you would know it. The horse went round and round and round and didn’t like the bitumen. So mum had to get out and lead the horse down on the side to get her eggs into the Cowes shops.
As a child, Heather remembered playing at her family farm:
My father used to play ‘Hare and Hound’ * and would chase my mother round the paddocks. May and I were on this horse this particular day. We were riding over the paddock and the horse started to jig, and I started to fall off. I said to May, “you’ve got to come with me” and she said, “don’t fall off, don’t fall of”’. So anyway, off I went, and took her with me and we both landed on the ground and the horse decided to go home so we had to get up and walk. She said “now look at what you’ve done!”
We had lots of fun. We had lots of fun.
On the farm, Heather would milk cows and she recalls how she would put the teat cups on the cows and how the family would churn their own butter. Heather also recalled that the milk inspector would ‘test the milk and stay at our house and there’s the window and he was sitting having tea with his back to the window and the window blew in on him!'
Heather went to school in Cowes. The school was first situated on Thompson Avenue on the site which has now become the Cowes Cultural Centre. (In 2020 the Cowes Cultural Centre was demolished in advance of a new building planned for the site). The current site of Cowes Primary School situated on Settlement Road opened with 2 buildings in 1954, while the rest of the school was moved to the settlement Road site in the 1960s.
Carol, Heather’s daughter, remembered: ‘There was a story that they heard the bell from where the RSL is and they had to run the rest of the way because they were late because they were dawdling. They walked along Gap Road from Ventnor Beach Road.’
Heather recalled that they would knit the socks and scarves in khaki for the army during World War Two. Her school teacher liked sports and they were all good runners and jumpers. During the war, her father was a volunteer coast guard (Volunteer Defence Corps).
On Boxing day, Heather recalled that a sports day was held, where the McLardy family took out most of the honours:
A sports day, I don’t know who ran it. It was held at the Ventnor Recreation Centre (Reserve). Anyway there was Violet McLardy, which was my sister, so she wasn’t married at the time. June was married I think, so she was June Stephens. There was May, my brother, my father, my mother and myself. My mother won the hammering of the nail. My father won the old over 60s race over 100 yards, 150 yards I suppose. My father was the old one, my brother was in the next one down, he won that. Viwon the throwing of the broom, and June won something. May won either the running race or the high jump and I won the other one! All the McLardy family took out the sports on this particular day. We came up against the Harris and the Hobbes [families] and all the locals. We had a lot of fun!
Heather played netball – which in those days was called ‘basketball’ – on red courts on Bass Avenue, Cowes. Her mother would come in on Saturday morning and mark out the lines of the courts in lime. The courts are no longer there. Heather would play defence positions and the games were between the 'married and the single ones'. Heather was on the singles team as she was single at this stage of her life.
Heather was 14 years old when she left school in Grade 7 (Form one) with her Certificate of Merit. Heather describes how her father sold the farm in 1946/47 and she worked in the following places:
My father sold the farm. Then I had to go and get a job. My first job was at the Penguin Café which is not there anymore. The second job, I went from the Penguin Café to the Elsford Guest house. They were all guest houses in those days. That was down Chapel Street. Then I went from there back to Elsford. It was sold to somebody else, a subdivision I think it was.
I went from there to Yackatoon guest house which was run by the Nivens which were local people. I waited on tables and the guests. Then I went from Yackatoon to The Continental. It was a wooden building run by Arthur Jones at a certain time. Then Arthur Jones sold to Keith Jobe’s mother and father.
Today, The Continental is known as the North Pier Hotel.
Carol added (additional information by email on 23 July 2021):
Mum went to Deniliquin with her older sister Vi, where they were waitresses. They went up there during the winter months as Phillip Island went quiet for winter (not like it is these days the island is never goes quiet). Vi meet her husband Norm (Marshall) while she was up there, she never returned to the Island to live. Her three children still live in Deniliquin.
It was during the time that Heather was working at Yackatoon that she met her husband Neil: 'I met him in 1948. My sister May and her boyfriend went to the pictures this night and they brought this ‘so-called boy’ with them. I met him [again] and we started going together when we met at the football'. Heather barracks for Collingwood and they loved going to the local football on Phillip Island. 'Football was our life'.
At 20, Heather married her husband Neil who came from Burwood, Victoria and had studied at Dookie Agricultural College in Shepparton. They were married on 5 May 1951 at St Philip’s Church of England in Cowes. They had 105 guests and Heather had two bridesmaids: her husband’s sister and sister Vi [Violet]. The best man was her husband’s brother. Neil was also attended by Heather’s brother. The reception was held at the Koala Café in Cowes, which is now called ‘Hotel’, and Heather recalled they danced the bridal waltz. She and Neil loved to dance.
Heather and Neil 'came back and started a family at Trenavin Park‘, the farm Neil had bought in 1947. They had 5 children and lived in a tiny cottage with 3 bedrooms. 'We shared things in those days ‘. They used to walk to the top of the track at the farm to get the mail and there were cattle grids to stop the cattle getting out.
Carol added (additional information by email on 23 July 2021):
From 1947 my grandparents Arthur and Jess Hamilton moved into the ‘Big House’ as the family called it. After the death of my Nanna in 1962, Dad, Mum and the siblings at the time moved into the Big House (Trenavin Park), and my pa moved into a flat that was attached to the main house. The cottage was used after that for farm hands and their families to stay, while working on the farm. When I was born they took me back to the Big House and I lived in it until 1977 until we built a house on the property of Trenavin Park. Trenavin Park’s property was way bigger than it is now. The Cottage is still standing, I think the last owners did improvements to it.
Heather’s children were born at Warley Hospital Cowes where she would stay in hospital for a fortnight following the birth of each child.
We had cloth nappies. We had rolls or whatever it was. We had to take all our own nappies. All our own nighties. Everything that you put a baby in, three or four bunny rugs. Nothing was provided in those days.
On the farm, Carol recalled that her mother Heather had to care for her children and cook for the farm hands. Heather would make scones for morning tea and casseroles for lunch.
It was only me and the shearers and I had to cook for the shearers while caring for them. I was laying there one night thinking, what the devil did I cook those shearers? I never could remember. I had casseroles one day and prayed to God it would rain so they didn’t come in [laughs].
John Dixon still says my cooking is the best on the island. They were down to earth shearers and local men we knew from growing up.
Heather cooked on a kerosene stove. There was a small cup of kerosene and one day her son Donald got the cup and drank the kerosene. It burnt down into his throat. In those days, vomiting was induced to assist him. They took him to the doctor who told Heather he would be OK.
Donald was independent in a way. At Moonya, he did wood working, painting, rug making and cooking.Moonya made planter boxes out of wooden hammer handles, which I still have the planter boxes at my home. They also made tables out of tiles which I have a few of them some that Donald bought home, and some were purchased, as this to help fund the Centre. My husband and I, and a few other parents of children that attended Moonya, were involved in Moonya appeals committee on Phillip Island that had cake stalls, etc to fundraise for the Centre. All our fundraise money went towards a twin cab ute, for their home maintenance team.Donald was involved in the home maintenance team, which they mowed lawns and attended to people in the community gardens. He also worked at the shop they had in Wonthaggi which sold the stuff that they did at Moonya.
Donald did various jobs with the Phillip Island Football Club from giving the players water to the scoreboard attendant from Juniors to Seniors, also helping out at social functions by picking up glasses and cleaning up. The Club was his second home.
Donald died from a short illness in 2004. He was a very much loved by the community that knew him.
(added by Carol on behalf of Heather 22 July 2021).
Heather has 10 grandchildren with two being born at Warley Hospital. Heather’s eldest daughter Nola married at the age of 20 and she had 4 boys. Heather also has 5 great-grandchildren – 4 great granddaughters and a great-grandson (…at the moment).
I only have 2 children living on the Island now – Carol and my other son Stewart. Stewart operates the Anchorage store in Ventnor with his wife Kay (Jeffery), who is a descendant of the Cleeland family. They have 3 children. I also have another daughter that lives in Melbourne with her husband Peter they have 3 grown up children.
(Added by Carol on behalf of Heather 22 July 2021).
Community involvement and reflection
Heather’s husband Neil was a member of the Freemasons and their Lodge was on Church Street. Heather would often set up for the Installation dinners. Heather was a member of Rotary and was involved in the Rotary Op Shop for 30 years.
Heather does not like to go to the beach but used to sit on the beach at Woolamai as her husband was a Foundation Member of the Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club. Although Heather could not swim, her husband taught half the kids at the beach to swim:
He couldn’t teach me to swim but he taught half the kids on the island to swim. But this particular day we were sitting on the beach, my husband and 2 other lifesavers, and they were on patrol. You had to swim between the flags. These 2 young 17-year-old boys, decided they would be smart. The boys went out and so of course my husband went out to bring them back in. We were sitting there waiting and [they were caught] in the rip, we thought they were gone.
‘I don’t like change,’ said Heather when asked to reflect about the changes to the island she has seen. 'Traffic lights; we didn’t have them in my day. But then we never had the cars either. I daresay it’s busier now than it was then. ‘.