Aug 01

In January 1944 fires swept through South Hamilton causing much destruction to property. It was something that my father spoke about many times over the years.  His family lost the house leaving his parents and their eight children homeless.

nan and pop-2In 1981, when my grandparents, Nell and Percy Storer were 81 years old, my brother Shane and his (now) wife Mary Lou, my little brother Craig and I sat down with Nan and Pop to talk about their lives.  We covered much in the afternoon, and here is a small snippet of the day my Nan watched her house burn to the ground.

I’m not sure it was on Friday January 13th 1944 as Friday was the 14th.  I think there is probably confusion with Black Friday fires in Victoria in 1939.

Anyway, have a listen and read along.

Nan: Just reading here where we sold our Portland Road home, it must’ve after the fires certainly, 1960.
Mary Lou: Were you married when you were burnt out?
Nan: Oh yes. Pat and Lo (Lois), Pat was about 7. 1944. Whatever Pat is now, and I remember Lo and Pat said to us, there after Christmas, Santa had been of course, at that age, and Pat had what she used to call a bunny rabbit thing, it was about that high and it was all fluffy, you know.
And that was one of her gifts with her Christmas stocking, and Lo had the doll and that’s the only things that they took with them.
Ray took us, our son Ray, they had the milk round at the time, he and Tom. They kept the cows over in another paddock and they sold them. They had a milk round for the town.
And Ray bundled us all into the float and Dad’s away fighting fires and Ray takes us away from the fires which began in the other direction you see.
It came roaring down the railway line out here at Portland Road and we could see it, we knew it was coming, and Ray got us all bundled into the float and we went down here right down here to the cutting. You know, down here at Digby Road and we stood up on the top there on the high part and we watched the house go and dad had a haystack, for once you had sowed something that was going to be feed for the cows anyway, what was it? wheat? Oats? Oats it would have been in those days, wouldn’t it?
And he had the stack and we saw that stack go up.
And first one we saw was Fyfe’s they, you know old Maurice Fyfe, they lived over near the Abattoirs, over there now, and they had quite a new house and we saw their house had … pine trees all around and the fire started in their cut, their, what do you call it? The spouting and it went all right around the top of the house and I said oh my god, look at Fyfe’s, and there it was, it went right around the top of the house first, we could see it from the cutting, you see. And way went their house and we knew ours wouldn’t be long. You couldn’t do anything you see, because you can’t fight fire.

Shane: And what year was that? That was in the 40’s?
Nan: That was 44.
Shane: 44
Nan: 44. We buried dad on the Monday, my dad, O’Connor, and … we were burnt out on the Friday.
Gregory: What month was that Nan?
Nan: That was January
Gregory: January 13?
Nan: 1944
Gregory: That was a Friday. That was Friday 13th
Nan: Yeah it was the 13th we all said that was unlucky day
Shane: So what did you get left with after the fires?
Nan: We didn’t have anything left but the chimneys and we had an iron kettle at the time and flat irons, you know, way back, and the old flat irons were still there and what was left of the stove wasn’t it. We had a wood stove and we had these flat irons. No electricity out there in the area then, it did come later didn’t it?
Shane: You must’ve been pretty disheartened?
Nan: Oh, so disheartening.
Shane: Did you cry for a week?
Nan: No, no you felt like a lump of lead in there.
Pop: You had to start again.
Nan: You did
Shane: No choice I suppose.
Nan: You knew you had your family there depending on you, you just had to pull yourself together.
Pop: Start from scratch
Craig: Did you rebuild a house or move to another place.
Nan: Tell you what, we moved into a little place and you thought you were going into the army or something. We moved into this tiny place. There were only two places and Glares, Dad’s sister, you see, they were burnt out at the same time opposite us and they got in before us and they got this big place that, they had the coffee shop use to be further down near the railways. They rented that. There were only about 2 places available by the time we got around to it, and we got this little place out near…
Pop: Scoresby St
Nan: Scoresby St, and we got Red Cross came to the aid of us all, everybody, not only us, all of us and and ‘coz you hadn’t anything, nothing, barely anything
Craig: And all the children were still at home where they? The 8 children?
Nan: We had the whole 8 of them, yes, Pat was only 7, and all home. And they brought us these, anything in emergency, you know the old iron beds? You fold the legs back, like that, and type of straw mattress and that and grey blankets. But they were good, they were clean in fact they were new, real new blankets that Red Cross kept for emergencies.
Pop: That was all army stuff
Nan: It’s what you call a real emergency you see, not only us, but we were happen to be bad luck.
Anyway all this army stuff came and we had the beds in this little house, they were lined up like this, the boys, Tom, Ray, Brian, I suppose Leon and Norman. I don’t know where we put them, oh no, our sister Stel took a couple of them and Julie Brebner she took them, John use to be friends with Ray and them you know she took Ray and gave, Tom and gave them a bed. Oh it was well, it was hell let loose, it really was. Because it just swept everything right from beneath your feet.

You can read some press clippings from the papers at the time on the Western District Families blog

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Jun 18

In my collections of cassette tapes I have some of my grandparents and parents telling stories.   I would have recorded these on my tape deck using a tiny little microphone.  The quality isn’t that great and there’s lots of background noise.

These are moments in time.


Percy, called Pop. 1980

This story is about 1938 when my paternal grandfather, Percy was out making roads at a place called Mooralla.  That’s just out of Hamilton, near Cavendish. As the story goes, my grandfather somehow pull a horse down on his leg and it broke his leg.  That’s my grandfathers leg, not the horse.

In 1980 Percy, my father, Brian and his eldest son, Daryl, were sitting around the dinning room table telling tales.  Shane, No. 5 son, the not-so-attractive-as-me, was also there and has a very minor role in the telling of the story.  Asking as he always does, the probing question.

I recall, or I imagine, it’s hard to tell this many years down the track, that it was a Sunday afternoon.  We would have been home from church.  Dad would have started the Sunday roast while we were at church.  My grandmother and mother would be in the kitchen talking about how to get the flour lumps out of the gravy, you can hear the sounds of the grand children in the back ground.  The tale unfolds.

Here’s the audio recording and the transcript below to help you make sense of what is being said.

Brian: What year did you break your leg?
Percy: 19… Pat was a baby..
Brian: Yeah, I know Pat was a baby
Percy: And that’s 42 years ago
Brian: 1936 or so?
Percy: 1938 it would’ve been
Brian: 38, 1938 when you put that little horse down on your leg
Percy: Yeah
Brian: And you know what he done? Lenny Presser’s father was bringing him home in the car, he had a motor bike helmet and he had to have a piddle so he piddled in the motor bike helmet and threw it out the window.
Daryl: [Laughs]
Brian: Now that, that thing that he threw out today.. was one of those you know…
Daryl: Yeah, leather type, yeah
Brian: Yeah, would be worth half a million bucks
Daryl: Yeah
Brian: Coz Percy pissed in it
Percy: We just started this road work up at Mooralla
Daryl: Oh yeah
Percy: I pulled this horse, young horse, I pulled on my leg and it just went [snap] just like that and he drove me to the hospital, the old hospital and he went in and seen Doctor O’Donnell and he came out, he said, you drive him back to the hospital he said, they’ll be there to meet you. And I got up to the hospital and they had a stretcher, put me on it. But they wouldn’t admit you in those days
Daryl: Without your doctor
Percy: Without going to your own doctor
Brian: That’s 1938, just before the war, you couldn’t work for 12 months. He was on crutches for a long time, then your arms give way under the crutches and I remember he finished up with a leg in plaster and an arm in plaster
Shane: Why did the arm give way?
Brian: Hey?
Shane: Why did the arm give way?
Brian: Nah, hey, with the use of the crutches
Percy: They were too long
Daryl: Your legs were too short
Brian: No, no. All that was wrong the crutches were, weren’t adjusted for him. And now there was Miller’s, Thompson’s, and ah, no, Miller, Miller’s, Laidlaw’s, Bullock’s, they all finished up knocking back credit.
Percy: That’s right. Yeah.
Brian: They all knocked back credit. Now. Father Edwards come out home, Port Fairy Road, ah, come out home and they ran a ball.
You or for us people and they ran a ball at the town hall here to help dad and family and this other bloke and his family, no I can’t either [remember who it was], I forget the other fellas name, but he was in the same… he had a big family too.
They put this ball on town hall for Pop and the family and this other bloke and his family. Now, it was a sell out.
Now I remember Father Edwards, now he come out home on the, it was on the Friday night, he come out home on the Saturday morning and we’d been eating rabbit for twelve months.
My mother when she cooked rabbit, nah, nah, she could cook them and we loved them.
He come out home then and he had all these left overs from the ball, you know,
lammingtons, sandwiches, chicken, you know, whatever might have been there, and he put them on the table.
jove, I can see myself and, I can still see myself and two bigger brothers, Tom and Ray, pushing others, yeah, it’s ours!
That’s it, we all had a good feed.
That was one of the things that the church and the town come to.


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Oct 18

My family has 11 children.  My mother gave birth to 5 sons and then a daughter.  I understand that there was much rejoicing when the first girl arrived.  It was said that she would be able to help my mum with all those boys and then look after my parents in their old age.

My sister was Helen, the 6th child.  She died before Mum and Dad and I don’t know how well she looked after my older brothers, and I’m not at all sure she looked after her younger siblings – as I remember rightly she introduced me to smoking and was once told by Sister Jean that girls that wear jeans have abortions.  (It was the 70’s!)  When we were young we fought with each other on a regular basis!

When going through some of Mum and Dad’s things, I came across a folder of letters to Mum when Helen was born.  This first letter is from my grand parents, Dad’s parents.  This is written in 1960.

Handwritten by Nell Storer - June 1960

Handwritten by Nell Storer – June 1960

Dear Ev,

Well what a lovely surprise for us all with your dear little daughter we hoped and prayed you would be blest with a little girl so now we are happy.

I’m sure you can hardly believe its true, you would be surprised how many people enjoy our happiness too, and a lot are outsiders.

Dad & I are going to try and see you Wednesday night, if they will allow us in, & isn’t Pat thrilled to think baby arrived on her birthday & wasn’t she pleased when Brian asked her to be God mother.

How do you feel Ev, well I hope, Brian says you are back to your old form, he is a happy man indeed they all say you both deserved your daughter.

Jeanette rang last night & she was so pleased when we told her, she says there is still hope for her. I must close Ev & hope to see you soon. Lots of love,

Mum & Dad & Pat xxx

for baby

Let me just help decipher the family tree here for you!

Dear Ev,

Mum’s name was Evelyn, she was called Eve, Ev and sometimes Evie.

I’m sure you can hardly believe its true, you would be surprised how many people enjoy our happiness too, and a lot are outsiders.

We have a very large family – I think outsiders refers to non-family members.

Dad & I are going to try and see you Wednesday night, if they will allow us in,

Uncle Graeme, Aunty Pat and Helen

Uncle Graeme, Aunty Pat and Helen

It was 1960 and not everyone got into the hospital to see patients!  I also like this quaint idea that she refers to my grandfather, Pop, as Dad.  I think that my Mum did call them Mum and Dad, but I don’t really recall.

& isn’t Pat thrilled to think baby arrived on her birthday & wasn’t she pleased when Brian asked her to be God mother.

Pat is my Aunty, Dad’s younger sister – I’m guessing she was still living at home with Nan and Pop.  Brian is my dad.  Helen was born on the June 18th, same date as Pat, something I’d forgotten about.  It must have been a thrill to be asked to be God Mother!

Jeanette rang last night & she was so pleased when we told her she says there is still hope for her.

Jeanette is my Aunty, Dad’s sister-in-law she also had a number of sons and no girls.  She did have one girl, maybe just after Helen was born.

I’m making my way through a small box of memories, there is a lot in there the provokes the thoughts of childhood and fond memories, and letters like this written before I was born, things that I knew nothing about.  I don’t know if Nan and Pop lived in Hamilton at the time, if they did, why did they write a letter?  Was it delivered to the hospital inside a card perhaps?  Did my dad take it to her?  Things we can only guess now.

Family stories.  Do your bit to ask those questions now.


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