My name’s Len and I’m 83 years of age. I came to Punt Road, Richmond, on the fourth of April 1951. It happened to be my brother’s seventeenth birthday. We grew up in Surrey Hills and my father died just before I left school.
I've lived in this same house on Punt Road for 64 years. I’m the longest residing resident between Bridge Road and Swan Street. And how I know that is, I go to a lot of auctions and my observations over all those years is new people have moved in here, old houses have been pulled down and flats have been put up, this type of thing. So I’m the only one remaining. And I would guess that probably I’m the longest residing resident between Bridge Road and the river because there’s not many houses along there.
My mother’s sister, my aunt, was born in a house opposite this one in 1896. She never married. She bought this house for us because we didn’t own our place in Surrey Hills. But my aunt wasn’t saying anything about rent. So my mother said to me, 'When your aunt comes to dinner on Wednesday I want you to bring up the subject of rent.' I was 19. So I did that and my aunt said, 'What are you paying in Surrey Hills?' And my mum said, 'One pound ten and sixpence.' Which was three dollars and ten cents. And my aunt said, 'Well, forget the sixpence. One pound ten a week.'
Now that rent never went up, from 1951 to 1984, believe it or not. When my mum died, my aunt was like a second mother to me. In 1984 she gave me the house because, about that time, the gift duty was taken off – there was gift duty payable on any gift over $10,000, you had to pay duty to the government. So that was taken off and my aunt said, 'Look, it might be put on again, I was going to leave you the house in my will anyhow.' So she gave me the house and I had to pay $1500 stamp duty to put it in my name.
I remember standing on the front verandah our first day here. We got back from work, my mother and my brother, and what we call peak period now, there were still cars but they only banked up to about two houses down the street, that was it. We said, 'Look at all these cars!'
And then there were no traffic lights at Rowena Parade of course. They were put in after the death of a neighbour. People used to have to run across the road. It was only a four lane narrow road. If people wanted to go to the park you had to dodge the traffic, there was no lights. And this poor lady had a dog, and took it for a walk, at about dusk one night. She was crossing the road and she was hit by a car and killed. And those lights were put in about, I’d say, fairly early 1950.
When we first came we used to go and kick the football in the park, that sort of thing. So the traffic lights were put there for that reason. The accident highlighted the need for them. But it’s unfortunate she had to die.
I used to walk to work. Go across the park, across where the tennis centre is now. I used to go the long way, I could’ve walked straight through down to Flinders Street. But I used to go around by the river, because I enjoy walking. It pays dividends. I don’t know how you convince people of that, but it pays dividends. And I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a lucky life and I’m very thankful for it.
These days, you’re getting more and more people travelling to work at 5.30 in the morning, in big numbers, and right along through till six o’clock. A lot of them probably start at seven o’clock in a factory somewhere and they probably go in early, might start at eight, and they go in early and the boss lets them start work and they come back earlier. There’s a big amount of traffic going up the street here. After 3.30pm, you’ll find them banking up from Bridge Road going north. That’s how it is. The traffic’s got them beat in Melbourne. I don’t know what they can do. At this moment, you could go anywhere, you know, within 3kms and there’d be busy roads everywhere.
There’s an interesting story about Punt Road that not many people would know. We came here in April ’51. A few weeks later, a family named Keon came to live next door. Now Stan Keon, he was the Local Member of Parliament in the State Parliament in the late 1940s. And then the local member, the Federal Member, died and Stan Keon got the seat of what was called Yarra in those days. So he was our Federal Member of Parliament. And in 1954 the Melbourne Masterplan was put on display. It was talked about for several years, they were going to do all sorts of things, roads widening and so on and so forth. From time to time these things crop up. It was on display at the Town Hall. So I said to my mother, 'I’ll go and have a look at this.' Because you never know.
So I went in to look and on the wall there’s a big, black line coming down Hoddle Street, a dog-leg bend at Bridge Road, coming down this side of the road, and another dog-leg bend to go under the railway bridge. So I told my mother and she said, 'You better go and see Stan.' He was an intelligent bloke, a nice fellow, but a very confident fellow. So I rang his bell there and I said, 'I had a look at that masterplan and they’re going to take this side of the road.' He said, 'No no no, that’s the logical side over there.' I said, 'Well, I saw it.' 'No no,' he said. So, that’s all I could do.
Ten days later my doorbell rings and it’s Stan. He said, 'Listen, we’re having a big meeting at the Town Hall, this is ridiculous, I want you to come down.' This was before the Labor split of 1955. This was 1954. So he had a lot of influence and was talked about as possibly being a future leader of the Labor Party. He had the influence to get the thing changed to the other side. It was meant to be this side. All would’ve been taken. There wouldn’t be many people who know that now.
There’s an overlay now from the river up to Union Street, Windsor. I understand there are 47 properties owned by VicRoads. That was the obvious side because there weren’t so many houses to pull down. I took photos right through the process. Stan lost his seat in the election of ’55. A lot of other Labor men did too.
When I first came here they were still using horses and carts, and sweeping the gutters with a broom. And the fellow would go ahead and sweep up a heap of stuff and the other chap would come along and shovel, and throw it into the tray. Milk was still being delivered by horse drawn vehicle and there was one tremendous crash out there one night and the car had driven into the milk cart. And that was the end of the horses. They didn’t have them anymore.
I went and got a job at the brewery. Started work on the second of February 1950. It was my first job and I stayed there for two and a half years. I got three-quarters of an hour for lunch. And when I went to the Customs, the public service, I got an hour. And I used to go for a walk up to Bourke Street. At that time they were pulling out the cable tram lines, they were still there. I remember leaving an exam at the Exhibition Centre, they had double deck buses in Bourke Street. Then they put the trams in.
I was living here when the Olympics were on. They broke the gate down, I got into the opening ceremony, just by going in the broken gate. The police couldn’t do anything, there were hundreds of us. We ran right up onto the top floor of the northern stand, which has been pulled down and rebuilt. And I saw Ron Clarke come around. Didn’t have a ticket of course. They broke the gates down, the wooden gates. It was only a few police there and hundreds of people. We just pushed through, the cops couldn’t do anything about it. Better not tell anyone…
Around 1988 I changed my front fence. Some entrepreneur opened a nightclub nearby. The standard was the lowest of nightclubs, from what I can gather, I haven’t been to one myself. It was acceptable to go in thongs and singlet and shorts. And the patrons would sometimes come and knock on my door, or ring the bell, then run off. Or urinate on my property. So I applied to the council to have a steel picket fence and lockable gates. I went to see this chap, he was the planning man at the time. He said, 'That’s a heritage area, you can't do that, it would alienate the Punt Road streetscape. Punt Road’s got a lot of brick walls – you can have a brick wall.' I said, 'I don’t want a brick wall. I’ve been here 40 years: I like to look out, people walk past, I know them, we have a chat.'
I challenged them and won my case. It took a bit of getting it together. I photographed all the streetscape from Bridge Road to the railway line. I won the case. As a matter of interest, a mate of mine told me that my case was quoted in the Victorian law journal without mentioning me. This house was built in 1922. The hedge is probably the original. The only condition of my case was that I had to let the hedge grow through the fence. That’s what I was going to do anyhow. I like the hedge, it looks nice, so I was happy.
A lot of accidents used to occur on Punt Road before they widened the road. And you could ring the tow truck and they’d give you $50 a call, but you’d have to be the first to get them. Sometimes you’d ring up and they’d say, 'We’ve already got the one near Rowena Parade.' Someone else had got in first. I remember one year, one of the tow trucks gave me a box of chocolates, a bottle of champagne. He said, 'You gave us $600 worth of business last year.' We’re talking 40 years ago now.
The accidents stopped happening with the widening of the road. Cars are more highly engineered these days and better at braking and so on. Road engineering and traffic engineering are vital ingredients for making life safer on the road.
I’m the only living person in Australia who bought an early model Holden, still has it and still uses it. I bought it at Queensbridge Motors on Queensbridge Street, South Melbourne. The day I brought it home, I told my mother she'd have to keep the garage gates open. I was nervous. I ended up leaving Queensbridge Street around five o’clock. Peak period on a Friday night. And even then it was a busy night. Lots of trucks. There were no blinkers, you put your hand out to give a right turn. I came up here and put my arm out and Mum had the gates open. Got in the garage and sat here for 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.
Now if you want to do a righthand turn into Rowena Parade you’ve got a slip lane there. And that’s safe. And you’ve got a green arrow. Whereas before…
I park in Rowena Parade, right near the corner. There used to be a No Standing sign there but someone knocked it down. Doesn’t matter, they don’t enforce it. And then I walk around, open the gate, open the garage, then press the pedestrian light button, which gives me double the green light for Rowena. And then I come around and get in.
Photographs of Punt Road over the years, taken from Len's front garden. Courtesy of Len.