Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung
Roses at the Cottage

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A walk down memory lane

Recently I went exploring with a friend who was brought up in Richmond and then escaped to the UK for almost 50 years before returning to his hometown Melbourne (not Richmond) a few years ago. It was such a special day as we retraced his Richmond life. So join me us we walk down memory lane. 
John (holding Struggletown - my gift to him) outside his family home
The book Struggletown by Janet McCalman (you will find a copy in the Cottage 'library') is a reminder of how tough it was to live in Richmond where many were caught in the poverty trap particularly between the war years. It was tough to survive, it was tough to make ends meet. And if you were someone who wanted to escape it was even tougher. John forged a wonderful life in London as an actor, teacher and much more - and you will hear him with his partner Chuck (the one with the Yankie accent!) on the ABC 774 Sunday Arts Programme talking about the arts in a way that is invigorating, charming and most importantly - knowledgeable. I heard one listener recently describe them as 'those charming gentlemen' - and they are!
The programme for their Cabaret Festival performance - a couple of years ago!
So let's go walking and reminiscing with John!  We head off to the eastern end of Abinger Street (see my post here about the Nonda Katsalidis conversion of the Malt Silos in November 2012) with John reminiscing as we go. And then we find it - the house he grew up in - which amazingly is still there (the hideous over-development on the opposite side of the road doesn't bare thinking about - and I couldn't bring myself to photograph the 3 storey monstrosity!) 
Down the laneway - the development at the end - where the horses were kept
A laneway just one house from John's took us to another development - this one was not gross. It was on this site that his father kept his horse in the paddock (smelly, horse manure - one can imagine) and from here his father would head off to work in his horse and cart. John became quite emotional as we were walking down the lane - he recalled that when he was very young his mother would tie him (not unkindly) to a long rope so he didn't run away. We spent some time peeping through fences at backyards in which nothing much had changed in all that time. 
Sack merchants (established 1934) - a development in keeping with the original building
And then on the corner of Abinger and Lord Streets we discovered the Bag Merchant where his father used to sell recycled bags which he had travelled to the country to collect/buy. Remarkably it is still there - albeit with a sympathetic development of townhouses on it - but it retains the facade! I could feel the waves of emotion as we worked our way though his past. 
The Murphy Street home where his brother still resides
From there we headed to Murphy Street where the family moved as things improved. Horse and cart were replaced by car and truck and his father and brother went into business together. In the 60's/70's his brother bought the 2 houses behind for their own Bag Merchant factory. His brother still lives in the house. Still today, for some, it is 'once a Richmondite, always a Richmondite'. Not John!
The original Yarra State Primary School - a rather grand building
Whilst living in Murphy Street, John went to the local school - built in 1888. Yarra Primary in Davison Street stunned him on arrival. In his day there was just the original building but now almost every space is covered with buildings, awnings and ramps leaving just a small playground. 
Granny's house - original fireplaces awaiting their return to the house
Perhaps the piece-de-resistance of our sojourn was another trip down memory lane when we went to Edinburgh Street to find his grannys house! Not only did we find it but the door was open wide and massive renovations were being done. John was reluctant to go in - but why not - the door was open - so in we plunged. It was the typical 2 bedroom cottage and he popped his head into granny's room - where he told me that a cocky used to sit in the front window saying "Nothing today thankyou" - in his Grannys voice! - when salesmen - or those collecting money owed - would come aknocking on the door!!
The original archway in the passage - down to the new extension
Down the passage we went with John chatting all the way about his memories of the house. Out the back the workmen were laying concrete/tiles beyond the new 'family' room. We opened the door and peered out. "There was a toilet out there on the lane" said John. "Yes, we pushed it down a couple of weeks ago" was the reply. Just imagine it had been there all that time! "During the depression my aunt used to run a sly-grog shop at her home along the lane. When the Police arrived the grog was pushed down the lane to Granny's place, and when they had gone it was pushed back down the lane". Lanes were useful for all sorts of things - nightcarts, playing and sly-grog moving!

I'll leave you with a rare sight these days - chatting in the street (outside his original home) "Everyone chatted in the street then" said John
It was a fascinating walk and a privilege to be taken down memory lane. Thankyou John for bringing alive a Richmond I knew had existed but knew little about. The small area we covered will always remind me of you.

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