Free fuel - Caroline's Story

When I was 5-years-old we lived in a house on Hoddle Street almost opposite Albert Road. Once a week, and right on time, a truck would rumble past piled high with briquettes. When it started up the slope of the hill, lots of briquettes would slide off the load and tumble onto the road. An opportunity not to be missed: free fuel for our kitchen stove, the laundry copper and two fireplaces. My thrifty mother and I would run out with a potato sack, fill it up and drag it back to the house. We were pretty safe darting all over the road back then as there was hardly any traffic. It was the mid 1940s and a far cry from today's non-stop stream of cars.


Billy carts, newspapers and stars - Edmund's Story


When Edmund was around 11-years-old, he lived on Hoddle Street with his mother. This was in 1942 and 1943. His father went away to the Second World War and never came back. So Edmund and his mother lived in a small flat on the corner of Hoddle and Victoria Streets. 

Edmund went to school at Yarra Park on the corner of Victoria Street, and he and his friends raced billy carts down the hill. Due to the petrol rationing, there weren't many cars on the road – people would save their petrol for the weekends so, during the week, the road was free for billy carts! You could get a lot of speed up on the hill – but Edmund never won the races because his friend’s cart had bigger wheels.

One day, a guy on a bike came along and grabbed Edmund's billy cart and disappeared up towards Smith Street. Edmund ran after him but couldn’t find it. He was devastated.

Each night Edmund had to be home by 5.30pm to put dinner on for his mum, while she worked in the city. What he didn’t tell her was that after school he would sell newspapers on the corner of Victoria and Hoddle. In those days it was a much smaller intersection. Trams still came down the middle and they were packed, with people hanging off the boards.

Edmund would sell papers to people as they got off the tram, or as he rode the tram up and down Victoria Street/Wellington Parade. But one night his mum came home from work early and caught him selling papers. He was in a lot of trouble.  

During the war there were blackouts at night. On summer nights, he would lie on the nature strip in the middle of Punt Road and look up at the stars. When the lights were on, you couldn't see the stars.

A truck full of fox terriers - Robert's Story


I grew up in Clifton Hill, a fancy name for the northern end of Collingwood; a desirable address in the 21st century but pretty much a low grade suburb in the 1940s despite the glories of the local football club.

Our house was at 372 Hoddle Street, which was, and still is, the major north-south artery of Melbourne. My parents rented the front half of the place from a Mrs Phillips, a vile tempered witch who lived in the rear half. There was a Mr Phillips, I vaguely remember him as a harmless old bloke who was forced to live in a small shed in his own backyard until he drowned himself in the Yarra River, which was only a few hundred metres from Hoddle Street. They found his shoes on the bank. Why do people take their shoes off to suicide?

Despite the proximity of the landlady, the house was quite pleasant and spacious and had an elegant front bay window opening onto a shady timber verandah and a small front garden. Small may be an understatement as I can remember mum cutting the lawn with hand shears.

I doubt if there is still a private residence on Hoddle St now but back then it was a mix of factories, freestanding houses and rows of single story terraces as were next to our place.
I don’t recall feeling hemmed in by our surroundings but, thinking about it now, it must have been frantic for the time. A bus service ran on Hoddle Street connecting Northcote to Elwood in the south. And the Princess Bridge train service to both Hurstbridge and Thomastown ran along the back fence. Maybe this was the reason Mr Phillips ended it all rather than the popular theory of escaping his wife!

My earliest memory is of my mother reading the riot act to the driver of a horse and dray for hitting the horse. In the forties it was still common to see garbage collectors, bakers, milkmen, junk merchants and tradesmen using this sort of transport.

Shoe factories were the main source of employment in both Collingwood and Fitzroy and my father and all of his six brothers worked in the shoe trade. Clicker, maker, finisher, stuffcutter were some of the recognised trades and the smell of the leather and glue at Henri Vanel, where my father was a pattern cutter and clicker, are still easy to bring back to my memory.

As well as shoe factories next door and over the road, we had a wool warehouse and a huge paper storage depot within a hundred metres of the house.

There was a specialist rat-catcher who would arrive on a regular basis with his truck full of fox terriers. These were unleashed at the woolworks or the paper plant and the place would explode into a killing field for an hour or so.

Sounds terribly industrial but, in fact, Alexander Parade, which is now a feeder to the Eastern Freeway, was then a very wide boulevard with a centre garden area running all the way from Carlton to the river at Collingwood. I can remember the trenches that had been dug into the lawns during the Second World War were still there in 1947. Apparently, in my father’s youth, Alexander Parade had been named Riley Street and what was the park with peppercorn trees in my childhood had been an open ditch drain (with the accompanying dead dogs and rubbish). Old-timers still called the garden the Riley Street drain.

Also on this major thoroughfare were the landmark Fitzroy gasometers and the red brick shot tower. The gasometers are gone but the shot tower’s still there. The tallest remaining shot tower in the world according to recent articles! In the days of low rise buildings, these two high rise structures were spectacular. 

The Darling Gardens were a short way up Hoddle Street and were where I spent most of my childhood leisure time playing on the the cannons, climbing trees or driving a billy cart. As well, it was my route to school. Fond memories of a place that now has the shadow of the Hoddle Street massacre hanging over it.

Like my parents, all of my relatives rented houses in the Collingwood or Fitzroy areas. The figure that comes to mind as weekly rental is seventeen shillings ($1.70) on houses that are now selling in excess of $1,000,000. Gentrification!

Image courtesy of the State Library Victoria: www.slv.vic.gov.au
Date(s): [ca.1900 - ca.1927]
Creator: Bane, Joseph 188--1927, photographer.
Copyright status: This work is out of copyright.

John's Story

Image from www.oldclassiccar.co.uk

Image from www.oldclassiccar.co.uk

I was about 7-years-old and my younger brother was 5. We rode with our father in his 1930s model Morris – a very small car with a very small engine – south down Hoddle Street. It was a bright Sunday morning in the late 1940s.

We crossed Punt Road bridge and Alexandra Avenue and proceeded to climb Punt Hill. The car ascended about halfway then stalled. We had to back down a little to the gutter, then push the car out to do a U-turn to drive back down the hill. (The little car had a crank handle to start the engine, but in this case the engine would restart as the clutch was let out when the car gathered speed.) My father thought that, with a bigger run at the hill, we could make it. 

But alas, on the second attempt the car reached only three-quarters of the way to the top before we had to stop. This time, however, my father was prepared and he stopped the car before it stalled. We could then safely back down and turn around under engine power.

My father still thought we could make it, but was concerned that if he took too big a run at the hill we would pass through the intersection so fast that we may not be able to avoid a collision if another car happened to be crossing Alexandra Ave. (At that time there were no traffic lights at the intersection so, although there was not much traffic, it was too dangerous to speed through.)

Fortunately a pedestrian saw our predicament and indicated that he would wait at the intersection and attempt to hold up any cars travelling east or west along Alexandra Avenue while we sped past! 

With the way supposedly clear, we travelled back up Hoddle Street some 200 metres past the end of the bridge, then gunned the little engine and flew through the intersection. The car proceeded beautifully up the hill, slowing considerably for the last 100 metres, then finally crested. Great rejoicing!