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!