This story originates from the family history that I wrote in 2020. Lalor was my first known ‘community’ for eight years, until my parents moved to Wollert in 1956. I do remember many of the residents, and events where families would share meals in their homes, and also the functions that were held in a Nissan Hut, on the land near the railway station. Many special events were held there, such as birthdays, Christmas and other community get-togethers, with almost all of the community attending. I do have vivid memories of the tables groaning under the weight of the food that everybody had made especially for the event. I also have vivid memories of the masses of crayfish that were obtained by members of the community. I am not sure which family had the contacts, but there was always more than an ample supply of crayfish at every event.
My father (Allan Murray or ‘Bill’) and his eldest brother (Austin James or ‘Jim’) were experienced woodworkers and carpenters. After the war they became involved with a project involving returned servicemen who were tradesmen. The group formed themselves into a co-operative, and with assistance from the Government and the local MP, they commenced a project to build each other’s homes.
The co-operative was the brain child of Frank Purcell. Frank Purcell was a member of the Australian Labour Party and planted the first ‘seeds’ for a special committee to assist with the rehabilitation of returned service personnel. The PLC evolved out of a number of years of ‘wheeling and dealing’, which Frank was known for. Whilst he did not hold an executive position in the PLC when it was formed, he remained the public relations advocate for the project. He took over the role of Chairman in 1947, when the current Chairman, Peter Russell, stepped down.
The project commenced in a paddock located on the eastern side of the railway line between Epping and Thomastown. Initially the streets were unmade, the water had been reticulated, but the electricity was not to come until 1952. The lack of electricity added a considerable amount of time to the completion of the early homes, as only hand tools could be used.
The name for the area was chosen by the men themselves. The new suburb was named after Peter Lalor of the Eureka Stockade, who later went on to become a parliamentarian. (Just a note on the pronunciation: The older and original residents always called it La(w)lor. The newbies call it La(y)lor).
An area of the suburb Lalor, near the railway line, was allocated for War Service Homes, within which returned servicemen and women could secure finance to build a home. My father, was the nominated builder on these homes, however the owners were to do as much of the work themselves using local specialist tradesmen, with Bill supervising the work.
In 1954 there was an issue with the finances of the Peter Lalor Co-op. Whilst Jim and Bill were the nominated builders on the project, they did not have any early involvement in the management or the finances of the organisation. At its peak at the end of 1947, the PLC employed 153 workers. They had a factory set up to make prefabricated walls, which were then transported to site. The plan was to build 1000 homes. The plan was not achieved due to the PLC being placed into voluntary administration in 1954.
The Administrators findings are some 30 pages of legal technicality. The bottom line was that the executive of the PLC accepted deposits for land and houses, did not keep an accurate record of the terms of the deposits, did not place the funds in trust, but used them as general revenue. The exact number of houses that had been built by 1954 is unknown, but from records it appears that there were around 200 homes and a total of 388 rateable properties in Lalor at that time. The failure of the PLC was attributed to a number of additional causes. Some being the fact that early homes were sold for around £400 ($800 or 25%) under the construction cost; there were constant material shortages including cement, roof tiles and timber; decisions were being made on compassionate grounds rather than actual costs; and the obvious lack of support from Whittlesea Shire Council and other Government Departments.
The PLC did own some of the land, however the administrator sold it to Coolnong Estates Pty. Ltd. who quickly on-sold the land at an even bigger profit. A search of company records suggests that Coolnong Estates was a company of NSW based investors. It is most unusual for the administrator to have sold the land to people who profited, when many of the shareholders in the PLC actually lost money. It was reported that the PLC held deposits of £25 each for some 800 blocks, which had not yet been built on.
Bill O’Connor on the right, standing behind the stud wall.
15th April 2023.