BILL Twite’s mother said he was an accident, but a good one. And so it has proved, with the former policeman’s life being one of service to his family and to the community.
At four years of age, he walked with his brother and sisters three and a half miles each way to school at Tyler Street, Preston, until a school was built within three-quarters of a mile from their home. He spent six years at the new school then caught the train each day to Northcote High School where he gained his Intermediate Certificate. At 14, he was told he had to leave school and go to work.
He put his age up from 14 to 17 to get a job making women’s stockings, not realising that four years later, at the fictitious age of 21, he would be sacked because he was too expensive. In these Great Depression years, there followed only part-time employment as an usher at Hoyts Theatres while he ran a business employing boys on bicycles to deliver parcels around Melbourne. The business just broke even, and Bill decided to join the police force for security.
The police entrance examinations lasted three days. Being well down the queue, Bill listened to the questions and answers and was able to answer correctly when his turn came. He remembers the doctor who conducted the fitness tests saying, “A bit thin, but I can fatten him up”. Of the 500 applicants, just 70 were selected for training.
Each day during his six months at the St Kilda Road police barracks, he and the other recruits were pulled out of bed. They cleaned their rooms and the stairs, and made their beds. They also studied, learnt police procedure and built up their physical fitness. Tall, with a spare frame, Bill reckons he had an advantage because of his training on ring and bar exercises at a gymnastic group that had been started by an Asian man at his church.
He graduated before Christmas in 1939 and was deputised to work at the Port Arlington police station for the holidays. Here fate took a hand. When he and Bet passed on the street that first day, there was mutual admiration. He was surprised to meet her that night at the dinner table of the boarding house where they were both staying.
Back in the city, he courted her from Bourke Street West Station and they were married in 1942. Their marriage has lasted more than 70 years.
After transferring to Bet’s home ground of Brunswick, he extricated himself from shift work by taking the less appealing jobs, such as handling statistics, jury rolls, filing, inquiries and summonses, all of which translated into a day job. But Bill didn’t like the mundane. “Things seemed to happen to me,” he says. He admits that he did some crazy things, once jumping over a very tall fence from the roof of a van when chasing SP bookies.
From Brunswick, he was posted to Dromana. For 10 years, Bill patrolled an area stretching from Safety Beach to Red Hill and Crib Point. ill to H “I was happy to be there. There was a lovely safe beach for the girls [Barbara and Robin], there were flounder to spear and stingrays.”
By selling their partly built beach house and Brunswick home, they were able to buy a home at the bottom of Arthurs Seat. One night their beach box mysteriously burned down. “It was probably someone who was displeased with me,” Bill said. He and his brother rebuilt it.
His involvement with school councils began at Safety Beach and he also volunteered at the Rosebud library. He was always interested in what was happening around town, a characteristic reinforced by his police career.
His next posting was to Bass, where he spent 17 years. He says the people were friendlier and had an innate respect for authority, perhaps because they had been in the area for generations. Generations of farmers took pleasure in supporting local activities and policing was easier than it had been amongst the “city refugees”.
He worked patrolling, licence testing and handling inquiries, files and summonses in an area stretching from San Remo to The Gurdies. One of his regular tasks was to apprehend escapees from McLeod Prison, on nearby French Island.
There were no medical services for the area, and Bill was asked to attend a meeting to set up the San Remo Health Service. He was elected chairman, a position he held for 13 years. He retired from the post after moving to Wonthaggi but still attends the annual general meetings.
He was also a Mason for 40 years and a life-long member of the Anglican Church, serving on the committees of churches at Dromana, Bass, San Remo and Wonthaggi. His family – wife Bet and daughters Barbara and Robin – always supported his work for the community. Bet and he shared everything. “I can’t ask for anything more,” he says.
He helped renovate the Bass Church and, with a little bit of help, painted the inside for his daughter’s wedding. Shortly afterwards, he began building his and Bet’s retirement home on a large block of land at San Remo. “I was always working moving and renovating houses to build up the family’s finances.”
As Bill and Bet aged, the garden became too much for them. They sold up and shifted to Canberra before moving to Wonthaggi, where they live now.
With retirement there were many winters in the sun of Queensland, first caravanning then, when Bet’s health began failing, in a flat at Kinka Beach. Their daughter Robin would travel with them to help with the driving, fly home and return later to help with the homeward journey.
With the progression of Bet’s illness, she is now a resident of Kirrak House in Wonthaggi.
Bill hurried away from this interview to be with her for tea, as eagerly as in first love.