By Jack Moyle
OUR family started a carrying business in Wonthaggi in 1924. I left school at 14 in 1949 and came to work in the family business.
Back when I started, virtually everything came to Wonthaggi by train and left by train, which made the railway station the commercial and social centre of the town. It was, therefore, the focus of the carrying business. There were two passenger trains and a goods train every day. The different trains came in on different tracks: cargo trains pulled in at the Goods Shed where the crane could lift heavy cargo off the open trucks, and the passenger train came in beside the station platform. Everything came that way: shop goods, feed, machinery.
I couldn’t get a licence until I was 18, so I was in charge of getting the goods that came in on the passenger trains to the shops on the horse and cart. The passenger train had one goods van on it and it normally had perishables like ice creams, cakes and parcels for the drapery stores.
The is an edited transcript of a talk that Jack Moyle gave at the Wonthaggi Museum in early 2020. It was first published in The Plod, the newsletter of the Wonthaggi & District Historical Society.
The horse would walk along, say, Graham Street and I would run parcels into the shops and houses as he went, and bring other parcels out to take back to the station. It was good.
Over where the cars are parked for Woolworths, that used to be a paddock and Taberner’s Hotel used to have two house cows in there that they milked every day to use the milk for the pub.
Back then Worth Circus used to come in on the cargo track. They had their own train, which had all their accommodation and equipment and the lions, tigers, monkeys in cages. The circus ponies had their own stable car, and at the end of the train there were three big flat trucks that the elephants were on. They were just standing on the open truck. There was nothing around those elephants except for a chain around their ankle. When the train pulled in, they let the elephants off and straight away they got to work. They knew what to do. The circus men would hook them to the big animals’ cages (lions and tigers) that were on rubber tyres to be moved. When they put the big tent up they get the pole and put an elephant on, and you know they way the big tents get pulled up the pole? The elephants would do that. The elephants just worked like men. They were gentle as anything with their trunks. The trainer would point to something and the elephant would pick it up as gentle as can be. It was a real experience to watch the circus come and unload.
The station was a hive of activity all the time. The railways at that stage had their own cattle yards down where Big W is now. A branch line ran down there and the railway had a big set of stockyards for sheep and cattle, usually bullocks, coming in and going out. The local farmers that had bought stock at Newmarket – bullocks and sheep – would wait for their animals to offload into the yards. If they had stock to sell at the eastern Market in Dandenong, it would go out by rail. All that to-ing and fro-ing was interesting to see. There weren’t trucks to take the cattle away then. The farmers would come from the outlying districts on horses with dogs and they drove the cattle home. It was interesting to see cattle being driven out past North Wonthaggi having quite a job hazing the bullocks and the sheep out through the town. That was a hive of activity.
About 200 yards away, Wonthaggi had its own saleyards, too. It was a nice little local saleyard. Everything was done by horse then. A chap called Ross Batten did quite a lot of droving and locals who had beasts ready to go to market would just call on him. I’d often go with him on my horse. We’d ride out to the furthest farm first to pick up their lot – a few cows maybe – then we would head them towards the next farm and pick all these animals up. We’d go from the farthest farm out one at a time and drive them all into the yards. That was fun to do, but all that changed after WWII.
We carted beer, groceries, pollen, brand, flour… We carried for the bakeries. Sixteen tonne of flour would come in every fortnight and we would divvy it up and deliver it. All the Co-op goods came by train. There was super phosphate, wine and all that. There were a couple of local chook farmers and they bought the feed in bulk, just an open truck with a tarp over it full of loose wheat. The farmers supplied the bags and we had to fill them. Back then you could buy a ready-made tin [corrugated iron] chimney and so we had one of these and put some hooks it and hung it on the side of the truck, then hung bags on the end of it. We used it as a chute for the wheat. So there would be two of us shovelling the wheat down the upside-down chimney to two others, one bagging it and the other sewing it up. We couldn’t stop until it was all done. Big job. That was just the way it was. You did it all by hand. Very interesting.
When I was in school the bottled beer came in crates. That was two dozen 26oz (700ml) bottles in a wooden crate and they were heavy. And it came in barrels. A whole shipment was 56 gallons (250 litres): a barrel was 26, 18 or 9 gallons. We were supposed to pick the 9 gallon (40 litre) barrels up one in each hand to carry them off the train. We had to put the barrels down in the cellars of Taberners and the different pubs. You had to slide the big barrels down the ramp into the cellar through the special entry in the footpath. With the big barrels we would wheel the barrels at the top of the ramp and put two ropes on each one and we had to use all our strength and weight to hang onto it, usually wearing gloves so the rope wouldn’t burn our hands.
Skins and hides also went from the knackeries to Melbourne. They’d be packed and tied and sent to be made into leather. We used to have to unload drums of molasses, and the large crates of rolled paper for the newspapers. They weighed half a tonne. A couple of us used to get a hold of them and move them end over end. As a carrier, you get good at swinging loads about, but the tallow was the worst.
The crane that is still out near the Goods Shed has been out there all my life. Initially, you had to crank it by hand. You could lift a lot of weight that way, but it was slow. You could slide a cog across and make it even slower but lift a lot more weight. Then they changed it to electricity and then you just had to push a button.
Back then, after the war, Volkswagen cars came in crates on the goods train. They were unloaded with the crane. They would unload the crate with the car in it and when they lowered it to the ground, they would undo a few bolts and all the sides would drop down. All they had to do was just put a bit of petrol in the car and drive off. They were all complete. We bought a lot of those big car crates and made sheds on the farm with them. They were beautifully made crates with good timber. People used them as playhouses for the kids. They were terrific.
Something else I remember about the crane: back in 1937 Dad was going to buy a new Ford truck. The local agent said to wait until next year because they are coming out with hydraulic brakes. So Dad waited until the new year and got the new truck. Lovely truck. Because we used to cart a bit of furniture all over the place and there were no motels then, Dad got the Ford motor company in Geelong to put a special cab on it with a back seat you could make into a bunk bed for two people. That worked out very well. Then when the war broke out, the army commandeered our truck for the war effort because it had hydraulic brakes. That was a bit rough, but Dad was glad to do it for the war effort.
After the war we got a very nice letter from the Army asking us if we would like a new truck? Well, Dad said yes, of course. So in 1946 we got a new Ford, but the army had painted it in 1938 colours and trim absolutely exactly the same as the one they had taken. The only way to get it off the railway car was with the crane. So they put slings around the vehicle and they wound it by hand and put it on the ground ready to go. I remember we were carting super phosphate out to the farms just then. We had already loaded three trucks ready to go out and so we put some super on the new truck just arrived ready put her straight to work, but before we could get going, the local Ford agent came in to pick up the newly delivered truck. He had a fit when he saw that she was already loaded.
“Aw, Bert, you shouldn’t have done that. I’m supposed to do a service on her before she goes out!”
Since the truck was loaded, we told him we’d bring it in the next day. It went fine. So it came off the train, was loaded and delivered its load before it went in for its first service.
Just the story of the crane unloading the big truck tells you how important that piece of machinery was to Wonthaggi. It unloaded roofing iron, timber, cars, trucks… it was in constant use. It is still standing out there right now all newly painted and as clean as a whistle. It is now an important historical display. It stands next to a polished up Goods Shed and across the track – no longer there – from the passenger side of the station that itself is polished up and on display. Standing out the front of the station, you can imagine the activity that took place there: when the passenger train came in at lunchtime the car park would fill up with taxis to take the passengers away. There was just constant coming and going. The station was certainly central in my life. It was a hive of activity in our town right until 1977.