Uncle Tom, or Toby as he was known, and Aunty Kath, decided to drive me to Benalla. It was the longest drive I had ever experienced. My only memory of it is the many trees on the side of the road between Mooroopna and Shepparton.
We arrived at Benalla in the late afternoon and booked into the now extinct Broken River Hotel. After tea we located the office of the VPC in the main street, where the barber David, now operates Warehouse Cuts. It had grey shaded windows with a little peep hole in the front section. There was a light on. We peeped through the window but saw very little.
Next morning the three of us went to the office and met the manager, Mr John Gilbert Short, and the other two staff members, Charlie Hancock, and Ed Lewis, whose position I was taking.
I was told that Mr. Short had arranged accommodation for me with Mr Devine, the publican, at the Broken River Hotel (not very appropriate for a 17 year old) and that my wages would be 3 pounds and 5 shillings per week, with 2 shillings and 6 pence to be taken out for tax. I was later to discover that my board would cost 2 pounds 10 shillings per week and I had to do my own washing. That left me with 12s.6d. per week pocket money. The office provided me with a bike. I had been used to riding horses, and a bike was a relatively new experience.
I was given a rough description of what my duties would be, with the result that there was much I just had to pick up for myself.
After I’d been introduced to the Catholic Priest and Uncle Tom and Aunty Kath had left I settled into my accommodation, only to discover that Mr. Devine had put me up as a favour to Mr. Short, and my presence was really regarded by him, as an imposition. My room was at the very back of the building above the boiler room, so it was very hot in the summer month of February.
I located a commercial laundry and when I could afford it, had my shirts laundered.
My job at VPC involed working with the farming community, attending sheep and cattle markets, handling farm chemicals, woolpacks and other merchandise, and doing all the bookwork. It also involved phoning farmers, advising them of their wool and stock prices. This phoning occurred after the evening meal in order to accommodate farmers who generally were in the paddocks all day. Consequently I had a lot of contact with the telephone exchange girls, with whom I became very friendly.
I also became friendly with a number of youths who I met at the church, and there were frequent dances at St. Joseph’s hall. I also attended the Saturday night dances at the Memorial Hall.
There were a young couple (Frank and Jean) with a young daughter, staying at the hotel and they had just moved to Benalla for a change of lifestyle. They were looking for work. Eventually Frank obtained a job at Harrison’s Hardware and Jean was employed as a waitress at the Hotel.
They were also looking for accommodation, and through their efforts, after some months, I obtained private board with Mrs McFarlane and her daughter in Charles Street. One of the greatest assets here was the fact that Mrs. McFarlane did my washing.
I joined the C.Y.M.S. (the Catholic Young Mens’ Society) and enjoyed going to their dances and playing table tennis, which I had never played before. As a clerk, I was soon roped into the job of being the society’s secretary. We used to go to the other towns C.Y.M.S. dances regularly. The president didn’t go to the dances, so at every dance I was expected to give a speech. This was a good learning curve.
After some 12 months or so Mrs. McFarlane became ill and I had to seek other accommodation. This I found in George Street at the home of Frank and Eileen Elliot, the parents of (now) Trish McCabe. They were fantastic people and when I turned 21 they put on a surprise 21st birthday party for me in St. Joseph’s Hall, with so many of my friends attending.
I became friendly with Kevin Hernan who boarded near the Elliot’s. He came around frequently to the Elliot’s and each week-end I would go out to his parent’s home in Winton. He had six brothers and sisters and I fitted into his family, playing Santa Claus at every Christmas Dinner and proposing the toast at all of their 21st birthdays. The Hernans gave me the home that I had never before known. I then started to play football with the Winton Football Club.
I left Benalla in 1955 and returned in 1963. It is my real home town.