THE use of Wonthaggi Town Hall as a vaccination hub has reminded local historians of the time when it served as a hospital during the so-called Spanish influenza epidemic. For some reason, Wonthaggi was one of the hardest hit small towns in the country.
On March 27, 1919, the Yass Courier reported:
The virulence of the influenza plague when it gets a footing has been exemplified
at Wonthaggi, a small town in Victoria, where a large number of cases have occurred. A report from there on Saturday last was as follows: The death toll from influenza has
reached 19. Three deaths occurred on Friday morning. A patient in the hospital gave birth it a child which died on Friday, and the mother is in a serious condition.
SEASIDE villas, a coffee palace, a shipping port, a railway line and agricultural show grounds … life in Grantville on the Sea was dandy. And all for £2 10s down.
Grantville on the Sea
The situation of this land is all that can be desired, having large Frontages to Main Government Roads, which will ultimately prove invaluable Business Sites, whilst the Inner Allotments are unrivalled for Residential purposes.
The land overlooks the ever-charming and magnificent
By Marion Walker
A LINK with Bass Coast history has been broken with the death of Cam Walker, the fourth generation of a family that settled in Glen Alvie in 1883. In fact, Cam’s great-grandmother actually named Glen Alvie, though the family moved to Almurta in 1909.
More than 360 people attended Cam’s funeral at Bass on April 17 to show their respect and love for a man who had played a vital role in this close-knit community for many decades.
John Campbell (Cam) Walker was born on April 18 1945 at Wonthaggi Hospital. He was the son of David and Rebecca Walker of Almurta and grew up on the family farm, “Montrose”.
He and his three older sisters rode their horses to the Kernot State School. The school had only one room and one teacher for about 30 kids. Cam did all the things kids did in those days: built billy carts, went ferreting for rabbits, fished for eels, raced the other kids on his horse.
By Catherine Watson
WHEN children’s author Christine Bell visited the State Coal Mine museum in Wonthaggi in 2008 she was, like many visitors, in search of her family history.
At the museum shop that day she bought two replicas of the mining token of her great-grandfather, John McConochie. Later she strolled the streets of Wonthaggi and called into the museum,at the old railway station, where she found a treasure trove of newspapers, maps and artefacts. Volunteers were happy to help her fill in the gaps in her knowledge of her great-grandparents’ immigration journey that brought them to Wonthaggi in 1910.
By Carolyn Landon
WHEN you look at a picture of Agnes Doig from the Melbourne University Archive, she looks like your next-door neighbour – bright, energetic, kind – but take another look and you can see something else, something strong and clear-eyed.
“I had a storm in me,” she said when describing herself as a speaker at political meetings in Korumburra at first, then Wonthaggi, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra. The storm was caused by a strong sense of social justice that drove her to political activism. Although she came to it late, she defined herself as a true believer, a Communist through and through.
“Strangely enough,” she said, “I had a middle class, religious background.”
She was born Agnes Smith, in 1908 in Shotts, Scotland, a coal mining town of about 40,000. Her father was a mining contractor, which meant he was in charge of the construction and maintenance of the colliery.
By Kevin Chambers
AFTER the Post published my first lot of Remo Memoirs (Weekends at Remo, September 14, 2020), it was nigh on impossible for me not to think about more poignant and funny times and happenings. As my dear Mum, Florence ‘Fofo’ Chambers would have said, “Tales to everything”.
Given the San Remo pier was such an important part of the town’s social and economic fabric it’s not surprising that so much happened in and around this structure. We kids used it as a playground in more ways than one. Playing in the craypot dinghies on the inside arm, paddling our hollow 3-ply “plank” surfboards in and around it, and using the beach between it and the bridge as the “be seen social place”. Swinging off the crane and into the water below was also popular. But this had to be checked first, otherwise a very hard and disastrous landing on one of the fishermen’s crayfish storage “caufs” would be your fate.
By Geoff Ellis
“I’LL try not to rabbit on – but I am a Quilford!” Reece Quilford was addressing a small crowd who were on the edge of the seats.
From the shade of the old Wonthaggi railway station Faye Quilford looked proudly on as her son delivered a well researched 15-minute historical yarn about Jim McDonald, the last of the “shack dwellers” from along the Bunurong Coast.
It was the finale to 22 short talks as part of “Wonthaggi - Discover Our Secret” delivered in the first three weeks of January.
From The Argus,
31 December 1909
By our Special Reporter
POWLETT RIVER, Thursday –
“The Powlett! The Powlett! Right away for the Powlett!” several coachmen shouted lustily at the Outtrim Railway station as the train drew up to the platform yesterday morning. There was no occasion for the traveller to ask his way. He placed himself with a number of others in the hands of the coachman, and he remained under his care for a number of hours.
The coachman packed his eight passengers aboard the open coach as if they were so many parcels and drove about two- hundred yards up the steep hill to the North Outtrim township. He stopped at the door of the first hotel and said, “You get dinner here.”
By Eulalie Brewster
ONE hundred years ago, the townsfolk of Inverloch decided to build themselves a bathing enclosure for safer swimming in case of sharks in Anderson’s Inlet.
They held several working bees. Working at low tide, they made blocks of concrete. Then they set timber piles in the blocks with angled stay poles at the outer corners of the enclosure. During other low tides, they bolted two parallel rows of flat pieces of timber to the inner and outer sides of the piles, one at the top and one lower down. Finally they inserted upright lengths of milled timber between the two horizontal rows.
Thus the townsfolk had a safe bathing place.
By Hugh Videion
I’D BEEN an engineer at Holden for 24 years when I was appointed manager of the Proving Ground at Lang Lang. It proved to be one of the best jobs I ever had in my 43-year career with Holden!
Every new Holden since the 48/215 model was subjected to a rigorous and extensive testing program before its release to the public. In the early 1950s, General Motors - Holden recognised that using public roads to test vehicles under controlled conditions was unsustainable in the long term, and that a purpose built test facility was essential for the development of its future models.
By Kevin Chambers
FOR nigh on 70 years, Western Port – and especially San Remo – has been an integral and lasting part of my life. It started in 1952 when my parents, Ernie and Florence ‘Fofo’ Chambers, bought an old shack from “the wilds” of Thomastown, put it on a low loader and plonked it down in Edgar Road, San Remo.
I remember that day, cos Mum took five-year-old me to a nearby park and, because the swings were not properly anchored, I promptly came a cropper. This building and the subsequent extension, was the genesis of our families 60 years of owning holiday houses in ‘Remo’.
My parents and the guests they entertained were a sociable lot, resulting in the unofficial house name of ‘Hangover House’. By dint of the fact that Ernie was a very good pub pianist, this situation extended to either the bottom or the middle pubs. Some unkind soul may have suggested that our place at Edgar Road was the top pub.
By Pat Macwhirter
IN 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent two ships out to Australia as part of the Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands, led by Nicolas Baudin. In April, a party of explorers from one of the ships, Le Naturaliste, surveyed Western Port.
Four years earlier George Bass and his crew had seen fires burning on the cliffs on the eastern side of the bay. Now the French explorers finally met with Bunurong people, close to what is now Settlement Point at Corinella.
The following extract, taken from my thesis, is based on diaries of the expedition.
‘Toolumn’s people, who were connected with the Bonkoolawal (Bass River) clan, may have seen the pale men in George Bass’ whale boat sail into Warn-mor-in. Bass named it ‘Western Port’, ‘from its relative situation to every known harbour on the coast.’ ‘Bass River’ was the name given to the stream the Bonkoolawal called ‘Yallock Weardon’ and the island ‘Corriong’ became ‘Phillip Island’ after the white peoples’ Governor.
By Catherine Watson
ANNIE Gilmour, as usual, hadn’t noticed the car she’d just run off the road and onto the nature strip, so naturally she had no idea that it was a police car. So she was confused when she got out of her car at the Cape Paterson car park and saw a policeman waving his arms and shouting at her.
And that’s when the campers got involved. They didn’t know the policeman but they did know Mrs Gilmour. She was the one who taught their kids to swim in the shallows of the bay, and fired up the boilers at the surf club so they could have a hot shower after their swim. Five pence a shower, with the funds going into the club’s coffers. Annie Gilmour was a legend at Cape.
As the policeman pulled out his notebook and pen, the campers started booing and hissing. More campers arrived to see what it was about and joined in. “Oh, forget it!” the copper said, and stormed away.
By Ian Hayward Robinson
CASSANDRA Pybus's new book about Truginini, a Nuenonne woman from Bruny Island, off the south-east coast of Tasmania, is of special relevance to Bass Coast residents, as one of the most fateful episodes of her life occurred right here, near the mouth of the Powlett River, when she and her four indigenous companions were responsible for the deaths of two white whalers, an action for which the two males in her party were subsequently hanged.
Truganini survived and became famous in her later years as “the last Tasmanian Aborigine”. That she was the “last” was of course wishful thinking on the part of the Tasmanian white population. According to the ABS, there are currently about 20,000 people of Aboriginal descent living in Tasmania. Truginini’s celebrity presence in Hobart lasted until her death in 1876, and, as we shall see, for many years beyond.
By Carolyn Landon
CHANGING the name of a street in Wonthaggi – or anywhere – is quite a process. On February 6 2020, the Bass Coast Shire Place Naming Committee met to consider road naming, specifically re-naming the short southern section of Loch Street, in Wonthaggi.
Submissions for a new name had been called for a year earlier, in February 2019. In March Irene Williams, secretary of the Wonthaggi & District Historical Society, wrote a letter on behalf of the society requesting that the street be renamed either Ciconte Close or Lane or Place.
By Brad Lester
FOR decades, an old time staff clock sat in a Wonthaggi Hospital workshop after being used possibly 100 years ago.
Just last week, the clock ticked again thanks to the magic of Bass Coast Health maintenance man Mike Linsell.
Mike fashioned a new part to replace a broken bit, enabling the pendulum to swing once again and the hands to move.
“We were pretty excited when we got the clock going again,” Mike said.
By Carolyn Landon
IN 1911 Wonthaggi was trying hard to become a respectable town. Early in that year it became a borough, which meant that the Progress Association gave way to the Borough Council in making decisions about the goings on in the town. The council took responsibility for: supporting Dr Lancelot Sleeman in administering vaccinations to all children on the first Monday in the month from 2 to 4 pm, under the Victorian Vaccination Act; setting fees for collection of ‘pans’; making regulations about stray dogs; distributing licences for men’s clubs; supporting new businesses and making demands of the state government to supply the town with an adequate number of police, among other things.
The need for more police was apparent on New Year’s Eve 30 December 1910. Wonthaggi was a town of just over 4000 people. Most were single men, many married but with wives nowhere in sight. On this particular New Year’s Eve, according to The Sentinel Times, groups of ‘Sports’ gathered together and indulged in carol singing. They sang “We won’t go home until morning” at top volume and it was reported “a few didn’t reach home until afternoon, but no bones were broken”.
By Libby Skidmore
WE ARE living through interesting times. I hope that we are recording events and impressions of these times.
Here at the Bass Valley Historical Society, our most valuable archives are those first-hand accounts of events as they happen. We have an ear witness account of the explosion of Krakatoa volcano by Harold Hughes in 1883 when he was in Derby as a surveyor. We have the daily accounts and letters of the 1826 settlement at Corinella. We even have the more recent accounts of efforts to save the Corinella Jetty.
Photos and cuttings, artefacts and ephemera – all are valuable and worth collecting and recording.
Imagine in 50 years’ time someone finding our archive and exclaiming at our efforts to protect our community during the COVID-19 epidemic!
By Carolyn Landon
“SPANISH Flu” or “La Grippe”, the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, was a global disaster that killed more people than the Great War, and more people in a single year than four years of the Black Plague 300 years earlier.*
It erupted in the world just as the First World War was ending and soldiers were being de-mobbed en masse from Europe back to their home countries. Of course, towns like Wonthaggi were preparing for welcoming celebrations of each returned soldier. A few such celebrations were reported in late 1918 as the first soldiers began to trickle back home.
On November 29 1918, the Sentinel reported that Private George Wall, who had been gone since 1914, returned home to Wonthaggi on the morning train:
By Carolyn Landon
NEXT week the students and teachers of Wonthaggi Secondary College move to a sparkling new school. Not quite a century earlier, 110 eager pupils assembled for the opening of Wonthaggi’s first post-primary school
Wonthaggi Technical School, a weatherboard building on Watt Street, first opened its doors to students on Monday February 6 1922. The Powlett Express called the opening “successful” with an attendance of about 110 eager pupils who were “assembled and arranged according to grade”.
This fragment of memories was found among the papers of Jim Glover, a founder of the Wonthaggi & District Historical Society. It is written in the vernacular of the day and gives us a sense of actually being in the past, listening to a man tell a story.
Visiting a remote Phillip Island beach in 1926 in search of nautilus shells, Raymond Grayden could not have imagined that one day this beach would draw thousands of tourists each evening to view the little penguins.
By Carolyn Landon
THE years between the wars – 1919 to 1939 – were hard years for the working man in Australia. After the First World War, the British Government sent Otto Niemeyer, a London banker, to tell Australia how to get out of debt. His advice was to slash government funding and wages by 30 per cent.
“The State Coal Mine began sacking many miners and cut wages,” Lyn Chambers wrote in a history of the Wonthaggi Miner’s Union Women’s Auxiliary. “It wasn’t long before they stopped improving safety in spite of thirteen miners being killed between 1930 and 1933. The Union called a strike in 1934 that lasted for five months.”
During that time, the miners and the community rallied together to keep their families’ heads above water. They created a committee that oversaw sub-committees for Relief (wood, clothing, food, fuel), Propaganda (speakers to explain conditions and raise funds), Entertainment (raising funds for food and alleviating stress), and Distribution (sharing food to each according to family size).
FORMER Bass Coast mayor Pamela Rothfield’s history of the Phillip Island cemetery has been shortlisted for the Victorian Community History Awards.
Ms Rothfield, who is secretary of the cemetery trust, has researched and documented the first 73 occupants of the Phillip Island cemetery.
In an article published in the Post earlier this year, she relates that her interest in her own family history expanded into an interest in other pioneer families and the stories held by their descendants.
“I led a few walking tours of some of the graves and found there was great interest in these walks and a desire to know more about our pioneers and the lives they had led.
By Bronwen Davies-Griffith
IN DECEMBER 1878 just months after his arrival in Australia, Welshman Llewellyn Rhun Davies-Griffith applied for allotment 20 in the Parish of Wonthaggi. It consisted of more than 318 acres and he received his Crown grant for it in September 1889. He also applied for the 19 acres in nearby allotment 32a. He received his Crown grant for this place in May 1898.
He and Georgina Hull were married at All Saints Church, St Kilda, in 1880 and made their home on allotment 32a half a mile from Clump Tree Hill in the Parish of Wonthaggi. Six of their seven sons were born while they lived there. Llewellyn and Georgina's Wonthaggi home was a six-roomed weatherboard and plastered house with an iron roof and front verandah. They had four acres of cultivated orchard and gardens, stockyards, sheds, hut and fencing and two waterholes.