JOHN Phillips is a purveyor of tall tales. These are true stories of the people of old Wonthaggi where John was born and has lived all his happy life; where he knows who goes away and who returns to the country life after years in the suburbs of Melbourne; and where he also finds time to acquaint himself with many of the new residents.
He tells one tale about his father Jack, who owned Phillips’ Grocery Store at the top end of McBride Avenue. Jack wanted some chimney bricks so he approached Gus Cuman, who pointed him to some in Broome Crescent. Thinking the place belong to Gus, Jack borrowed a horse and cart and began loading the bricks – until another man asked, “What are you doing there?”. The house and bricks belonged to him. Jack had no doubt that if he had offered to pay Gus for the bricks, Gus would have accepted the money.
John worked in his father's store and delivered the groceries in a utility van. One customer, when John delivered her groceries, asked if he would teach her how to drive the utility. When John came out of the kitchen she was waiting with other things in mind.
Yet another of John’s tales, told to him by the baker’s wife, relates to the days of bread delivery when there were lots of vacant blocks of land around White Road. In one of these paddocks, Tony Carr kept a horse that each day whinnied at the baker’s horse as he trotted past on the delivery round. Both horses were glad to see each other, and one morning when the horses whinnied, the baker’s horse got the better of him and rushed over to the back fence, spilling the bread rolls to the edge of the road. The two horses had a lovely feast, to Tony’s great embarrassment.
At this time, there were six other grocery stores in Wonthaggi besides the Phillips’ one. Most products such as flour, sugar, tea and sultanas came in bulk in wooden boxes and John had to weigh and package them in the shop. If a grocer couldn’t supply a customer with an item, the other grocers co-operated by supplying the missing items.
Phillips’ grocery shop was opposite where Westpac Bank is now. Alongside it were a chemist, a clothing shop and a café, as well as Bob and Mrs Easton’s cake shop and café. After the shop closed down, John went to work for four short months on night shift at the cotton mill.
He hated it and soon got another job: this time with the Bass Shire Council, whose offices were in the old bank building on the Bass Highway in Dalyston for 10 years, before they moved to Archie’s Creek.
Altogether John spent 25 years working for the council, first on a patrol truck doing maintenance work and patching roads, then at San Remo putting up signs and making sure the streets were clean and the tourist roads tidy. In Bass he checked on the reserve and cleaned the toilets at Corinella, Grantville and Coronet Bay. He spent the last few years at the depot as groundsman, mowing the lawns, cleaning offices and maintaining tools.
Whenever residents complained to John when he was working on the roads, he’d point to the phone box and say, “Ring up the right people; we don’t take complaints.”
But where was the mine in all this? John’s grandfather on his mother’s side worked in the mines, enduring the ever-present risk of earth falls and other dangers. Three of his sons worked in the State Coal Mine, but he managed to talk two out of working in the mines. He survived the rock falls, but died of dust on the lungs, the scourge of a bygone era.