Despite our stage three lockdown restrictions with only four reasons to leave home, I’ve snuck out and illegally driven to Wangaratta to the Park Lane Plant Nursery to buy more Bergenia and what a surprise--- they had red flowering varieties. And I bought a rhubarb crown. Red must be the in colour and that brings me back to the red bricks of the Glenferrie of my early childhood, from about 1952 to 1955.
Of course the district is built of brick. The speckled Hawthorn bricks are famous and are still highly sought after. Melbourne sits on a rich basalt layer and by the 1860s there were fifty brickyards in Melbourne. Bricks slowly replaced the huge quantities of bluestone that were quarried as the bricks were lighter.
The open gutter lined with Bergenias in our back yard then carried the household water waste to the laneway at the rear. Attached to the building was our smelly outhouse and all the laneways were there in part to give access to the night man. And beside that was a huge patch of rhubarb. So I’m planting another memory.
I vaguely remember eating stewed rhubarb or stewed apple or plum. Everything was stewed and bottled then. How I survived I can only wonder. For school lunch there was a pork sausage and sauce sandwich one day of the week. The next day was sauce only. Next day was a banana sandwich and the next day was a sugar sandwich. One day a week I was given threepence to get a lunch order that was written out on a brown paper bag. Mum never knew but I didn’t ever hand it in. I used the threepence to buy a cream bun with a dollop of jam in it. They are still made the same, well they look the same. I think we really got by on the daily dose of Hypol and Saunders Malt to take up any vitamin slack.
The Manresa Hall was originally The Apollo Theatre, built in a Gothic style in 1923 to provide concerts, film and dances for 900 people. However, being under the auspices of the Catholic Church, women were not to dance the Charleston in the hall. In 1929, the now rebadged Manresa registered with the Charities Board as a free kindergarten for the poor of the parish. I just have to write in the aims and objectives as I was supposedly the target.
The first was to uplift, train and clothe the poor and neglected children of the area. Second was; through this child to carry the habits of cleanliness and order into neglected homes. Then to provide at least one meal a day. And finally; to give proper occupation and healthy recreation under supervision. This was achieved with drawing, cuttting up paper and pasting with clag (made with flour and water). Then everyone got to play outside and before leaving, to recite the angelus as the church bells rang.
Wow! We weren’t even Catholic. I didn’t last long at kindergarten. What I do remember vividly, from the verandah at the rear of the hall, was watching the trains go past, almost at eye level. They were huge, thundering and noisy and always in a cloud of filthy steam. No wonder I was asthmatic. The dinging of the trams on Glenferrie Rd added to the district noise and on weekends the roar and whistles from the Glenferrie oval. Also the noise at the hotel at half-time drinks. Very noisy place . Of course everyone except my dad barracked for Hawthorn. Dad was a Richmond man.
About the time I was there in 1950 the Manresa Free Kindergarten became government funded. Then it transferred to the Health Commission and in 1984 became the Manresa Kindergarten Inc. non-denominational and independant. It houses a child-care group today. (320 Burwood Rd. Glenferrie).
Glenferrie was originally named Upper Hawthorn and I think there’s still confusion about that. Especially now we’ve chucked Booroondara (no-one ever heard that name back then) in--- probably to cancel out the confusion. The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 345 Burwood Rd, on the corner, was built in 1869, in bluestone of course, before the local quarry opened in 1880. That was followed by the Glenferrie Hotel in 1888. Naturally the football club was next in 1902, The installation of trams in 1913 and Scotch College shortly after put the district on the map of modernity and progress. Note the order of things, nothing much has changed.
On reflection I literally grew up in an exciting corner of Melbourne and I am thanking the Bergenia plants for triggering those memories. Even the rhubarb beside the outside toilet plays a part. I’m sure one result of this pandemic will be that we are all issued litmus paper to use in our toilets. Easy to see how we are shaped by the past.