Memories from Penshurst’s Past

By Jack Chesswas 1997 - Part 2


Jack Chesswas

11. Modern Enterprises Coming to Penshurst

We had two garages early; Tom Hill bought Olle’s General Store and turned it into Penshurst Motors, now owned by Val and John Farley. The first garage was situated behind the Penshurst Hotel, beside Ross & Clarks Butchery. The late Jack Ryan Snr. had the other garage, beside Madigan’s, and later owned by Cottrill’s Plumbers. It was destroyed by fire.

The old galvanised building beside the Shire Office was, at one time, Cooks Hay & Corn Store. Mr Cook operated an engine to run the dynamo for Jack Madigan’s silent movies. Gee, those were the days, when the movies were shown in the old Mechanics Hall. The stage was also the Dress Circle. The late Kitty Kelly played the piano, and the late Adeline Collins (Jack Ryan’s wife) used to help Kitty to turn the music over. Jack Madigan really had some good shows. Most of us used to attend, and at halftime we used to go down to the cafe for a hot pie at McNeice’s shop. The four brick shops still standing, were built for Dad in 1911. My grandfather, Alexander Black, had a flour mill where Thornton’s Engineering is now. One day someone neglected to top up the boiler with water. It cracked, and that was the end of the mill.

Before Penshurst Butter Factory was built, Penshurst had a Creamery out on the Warrnambool road. When the first Butter Factory was built my mother broke a bottle of champagne over the engine. My Dad was the first Managing Director. He and a chap named Barns used to ride push bike to the farmers and station owners in the area to raise the capital to build the factory. There were many dairies which provided cream to the factory so that it could make the butter.

12. Public Transport

Yes, Penshurst was a busy town many years ago, and there were no cars so people shopped in their own town. There were no supermarkets in those days.

A daily train service operated between Hamilton and Warrnambool, and delivered the newspapers as well, which were sometimes late. When the railway line was being built, nine men lost their lives in accidents and many were buried in the Boram Cemetery, where the coffins were taken on a lorry. I can remember an incident one evening, when the train ran over a cow, near the black bridge. Several of the trucks were derailed and grain was spilt everywhere. There was also a railway line to Dunkeld, which was turned around by a turntable at the Penshurst Station. The trains were often used to run up to the gravel pits to get a load of ballast for the use on the rail tracks. On one occasion a truck got loose, and ran back to the station, where it finally derailed.

Billy Evans had an old International bus with hard tyres, and used to take the football teams to play in the various towns. Of course, he had to leave very early, since the bus only travelled at 18 miles/hour. Bill also used to run a weekly bus service to Hamilton on Fridays.

13. Sobriety, or the Lack Thereof

Another feature of Penshurst was Pearson’s Coffee Palace in Bell Street. On many a night one of their boarders would come home “drunk as a goose”. One evening, this fellow, stone drunk as usual and dead to the world had a prank played on him. A couple of people went to the chook yard, got a rooster, and placed it at the end of the drunk’s bed. At dawn, the rooster crowed, and the fellow got such a fright that he fell out of the bed. Did he ever drink alcohol again?

I am uncertain who was the undertaker at the time, whether it was John Colliss, or Tom Walker. Tom married one of the Colliss daughters and carried on the business, when John Colliss died. Whoever of them was the owner at the time, had another boarding house, and again, one of the boarders used to come home drunk. On one occasion someone picked up the drunkard and put him in a coffin, leaving the lid open, so that he could breathe. When he woke up in the morning, he said “God, I am dead”. It surely cured him from the alcohol. 


'Digger Evans' International 'Charabanc'

14. Dead Ends, or the Final Say at Boram Boram

I remember another incident, when I was 12 years old. An old Indian hawker had died, and the coffin with the body in it had been left in the Court House until the
funeral. ‘Porker’ (Eric Cook) took out a load of wood for the cremation. A pyre was made, the coffin was put in place (‘buttered’), and the fire was ready to be lit. However, the attendants could not light the fire, so they had to drive back, got into Dad’s store and asked if he had anything to start a fire with. Dad: “Yes, these things came in yesterday”; the fire was lit, and when the coffin was burning away, the Indian sat up and the people ran frightened in all directions. Tom Walker then said: “You silly buggers, he is dead - isn’t he? He can’t hurt you. Not like the bloke we burnt in Macarthur, where the box burnt up, and the bloke in the coffin stood up. It took six shots with a gun to make the bugger lie down.”

On another occasion, when Hawk Leurs died, his funeral was to leave the house after a service commencing at 3 p.m. The hearse didn’t turn up. O’Halloran, the Funeral Director, left the hearse under a tree and was in the pub. He came at 4 p.m.

People used to walk out to Boram Boran for the funerals, following the hearse. The undertaker walked in front of the hearse all the way to the cemetery. My grandmother, Jeannie Black, was the first “white” baby to be born in Mortlake, where she also died. Her parents lived at Garvoc. My grandmother was married to Alex Black and both were buried in Boram Boram.

Many, many years later I was instrumental in getting the road to our local cemetery, Boram Boram, sealed for which I take much of the credit. On the way back from a funeral, on a very dusty day, I was asked by one of our locals if I could write a letter to the Penshurst Free Press in this matter, which I did, and my late wife also did so. The Shire of Mt. Rouse and its councillors agreed to seal half the road. At another funeral, the late Des Greed said to me, “Jack, I read in the old Free Press that you wrote a letter about having the Cemetery Road sealed, but only half was done.” “Yes”, I said, “and I will get the other half done too!” And it was eventually done. 

15. Ambulance and Hospital

Penshurst’s first ambulance was purchased by money donated by collection. It was garaged at Billy Evans’ until we got our new ambulance station. I was on the committee for 30 years and a life governor. Our ambulance service was manned by volunteer drivers, who did a mighty job day and night, whenever the ambulance was required. I myself was a member of the Ambulance Committee, while we still had our own ambulance service. Later I was also the Secretary of the Penshurst Auxiliary Ambulance Service, and was the Penshurst representative on the Committee, for which I was presented with a tankard bearing the ambulance insignia. I was eventually honoured with a Life Governorship after 30 years of service to the ambulance organisations. I loved this involvement. The ambulance service was eventually taken over fully by the Glenelg Ambulance Service HQ in Hamilton. The late Janet Watt was our doctor in those days, and she was also here when we got our new Memorial Hospital. The then Manager Secretary of Hamilton Hospital, was also responsible for our district hospital, but would not actually do anything to get the hospital functioning. Our hospital board president, Pastor Weibush, came to me and asked if my wife Jeannie would go to the hospital and get it ready for the opening and running as well. My answer was:” Pastor, I am agreeable, but it is up to Jeannie”. Next morning Jeannie went to the hospital in uniform and told the sisters present, Srs. Dawn Ley, Lois Herman, and one of the domestic staff, Jean Hatherall, and possibly others I cannot remember: “The Hospital is now open, and you are all on duty”. Jeannie and the other staff got busy to list everything that was needed for the Hospital. The Manager Secretary Keith Pittock was asked to write down the list of the requirements. After a few minutes, Jeannie asked Mr. Pittock to read back what he had written. He had not written down one single item! Jeannie said “Mr. Pittock, you had better write down everything I tell you, and if the items are not at this hospital by 3.30 pm, I have a truck standing by to come and get the goods!” All the items were at the hospital by 3.30 pm that day, and the hospital was ready for its first patient. Wasn’t Dr. Watt pleased? Jeannie was the first Charge Sister (Matron, now Director of Nursing). The very first patient was Mrs. Elsie (Garry) Uebergang; the first baby born there was Steve Nicolson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Nicolson, and Bill Keilar was the first to die there. I myself was a member of the Hospital Committee for about a year.


My wife Jeannie was the Tutor Sister at Hamilton Hospital, when I first met her. That was on the postponed Guy Fawke’s Night in 1953, and we were married 10/7/1954. We were married for more than 28 years. On Good Friday in 1983, having played with our dog, Jeannie complained of heart pain. The then doctor rushed Jeannie to hospital, with a serious coronary attack. She was taken to Intensive Care in Hamilton and died at 7 am on Easter Monday 4/4/1983, shortly before her 71st birthday. The funeral took place at Christ Church Cathedral, Hamilton, two days later, on her birthday. Jeannie was a wonderful person and we shared a very happy marriage. I was very proud of her and believe I was a better man for marrying her.

16. The New State School

It should be remembered that Alister Robertson donated a portion of his Kolor property for the new State School to be built there. It started when the school committee experienced problems where to build; I am taking some credit for getting it going; when I attended the opening of Heywood’s new ambulance station, by Mr. Malcolm Fraser, I asked Mr. Fraser if he could do something to help us get a new school? “Mr. Chesswas, it is a State matter”, he said. “But Mr. Fraser, couldn’t you poke your nose in and help us?” A couple of months later a Government man called in to see me and said, “Mr. Chesswas, the new school will be commenced in about one month’s time.” Wasn’t I pleased?

There were several other schools in the district, at Lake Linlithgow, Boram Boram, Purdeet, Burnbrae, Gazette, and Kolor. There could have been others, which I do not remember.

17. Sparrow’s Nest at the Catholic School

I can also remember when the then new Catholic School was built. It is a nice school, but like all schools today, there are no big families, so school attendances are low. There was an old wooden Catholic school there, which was shifted but I do not know where. It has had many happy memories of card parties and dances. They sold the bricks for the fencing for 10/- each, and I bought some.

One day Fr. Glennen said to me: “Jack, ‘Sparrow’ (George Olle) is to be evacuated from the old red house behind the church. So up a tree I went and got a bird’s nest, put it into a good cardboard box, with tissue paper, and added a ticket: “Hearing you are to be evacuated. Sent you this nest; tents are very much dearer - prices on application”. I tied the box up and labelled it “Mr. George Olle”. I left it at Penshurst Hotel, at the Ansett’s depot. Jack O’Connor brought the parcel to George.

Did he go crook when he opened it. He blamed “Snowy” McLean. The police constable, Jack Ryan reckoned that it was a great joke. Another time, a storm blew “Snowy” McLean’s dunny away and left the can just sitting there, so I printed a sign and put it on Schramm’s Electricals door; “Snowy” worked there - “Lost one outer house, finder please return to “Snowy” McLean.”

18. Not so Innocent New Year’s Pranks

Penshurst used to get a good going over with the white wash on New Year’s Eve. On one occasion someone put up a sign from Madigan’s store, to the “Monument Painting Place”. On yet another occasion Roy Schramm’s T Model Ford was winched up by a crane in the Shire Yard. Lonies Baker’s cart was put in a bowser hole in front of Shramm’s electrical. Stonkey Walker’s hearse in front of Penshurst Hotel, with a notice “For the dead drunks”. Bill Forest asked me to help him to right his baker’s cart. It tipped over in Chesswas St., and we found a dozen bottles of beer. Some fools missed out?

19. Community Services

At the age of 15, I started doing community work. I was also the Honorary Secretary of Penshurst Rural Fire Brigade, under the captaincy of the late Garry Uebergang. I was presented with a Special Badge for my services, and my name is still on the Fire Brigade’s Roll of Honour.

During later years, I was also a playing member of the Penshurst Bowling Club, from 1959-95, when my heart condition forced me to give bowls away. I was presented with the Super Veteran’s badge. For many years, I was a member of the Penshurst Race Club and participated in the Penshurst Easter Monday Races. I am no longer member. They eventually amalgamated. Another organisation I belonged to for many years was the Friends Club. Incorp. and I have also been on the committee of the Penshurst Football Club. For six years I was also a correspondent for the Hamilton Spectator, and a short time also for the Sun News Pictorial, and the Trading Post.

I was honored for my community work, when I was presented with the Lions Club Community Service Award on 26/6/1996.

Penshurst has a lovely Bowling Green and Club House, and the Tennis Club also has a nice Club House. But it is a crying shame to see that the courts are only seldom used. Also, the Race Course has a good administration building, and we have good Senior Citizen’s Club Rooms. I myself have been a member for many years, and I was also a committee member. We also have a Pre-School and Infant Welfare Rooms as extensions to the Shire Offices.

Penshurst also has an asset which is the envy of many others, and that is the water supply. The spring has never dried up - it has been going for years and years.

After the proprietor of the Free Press, Henry Ross had a stroke, he could not carry on, which was a great pity. But the Penshurst News, which is published fortnightly at the Shire Offices by volunteer workers and sells for 50 cents, is serving the town and the district. It is a good publication, and those volunteers who publish it deserve the highest praise! 


20. The Memorial Hall

I suppose that I would be in real trouble if I failed to talk of our Memorial Hall. It started with the old Mechanics Hall. I was for years one of the committee

members. The Mechanics Hall was eventually demolished, all bar one wall, and the new brick Memorial Hall was built on the old site. And a lovely hall it is! There are many towns which are envious of our hall. The original stone wall left standing never had the wear weather wise, as it was part of the old hall supper room. This wall is still in use as a supper room wall.

An annex was added to the Catholic Church side of the hall, to provide more floor space. I had the pleasure of being President of the Hall Committee for seven years, having been on the Mechanics Hall Committee, when I was co-opted to the new hall committee, when all was in motion to collect funds for the new building. My late wife Jeannie was the Secretary. 

21. Reflections on Our Assets - and the Future

We also have a wonderful Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home, and also 10 new units on the hospital grounds, for older folks, who can live there under the care of the Hospital. The Botanical Gardens has many trees and pondage and its care should not be forgotten. I myself used to water many of the trees in our local park. Also, where the Penshurst Rail station was, there is now a new Fire Station and training ground. You can also drive almost to the top of Mt. Rouse for a barbeque.

During later years I was on one occasion Penshurst’s candidate for the ‘Penny Serenade’, run by the radio station 3HA, and compared by Ron Athalwood. The event was conducted in order to raise money for hospitals in the transmission area. I received a silver cup, donated by three anonymous donors, for my help to raise the first $100,000. Votes were one penny each.

I do not know what else I can tell about Penshurst; only that it is a pity that the town does not have more support. But the supermarkets in the bigger towns lure folks away from their own towns. It is our own townsfolk who can make or wreck the town!

I dare say that there is much more early history of Penshurst I have forgotten about. Perhaps other ‘oldies’ could write it up!

I wish the Penshurst Reunion all the best and that it will continue for years to come. I cannot promise to attend them all in the future, since it depends on my health, and on the weather.

Penshurst, 28th July, 1997.

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