One Hundred Years (1856 to 1956) by Ann Fleming
Ann and Lawrence Fleming moved from Newport to Altona in 1914 with at least three children making up the family then, and they played a major role in the development of education, health and religious institutions in Altona.
Ann wrote the following account of her ancestors migrating to Australia and life for her family in Newport, Williamstown and Altona in those early years.
We are very fortunate to have her wonderful story written in 1956 as sadly Ann died later the same year on 23 December aged 77 years, to be buried in the Williamstown Cemetery on Christmas Eve.
We don’t have a photograph of Ann Fleming – if any one has one and would allow us to take a copy for our archives, we would be most appreciative.
Warning: This narrative contains a description of an event which some readers may find distressing.
John and Elizabeth Jackson, my maternal grandparents, came to Williamstown in 1856 with their family from the Cape of Good Hope. They started out from England ten years earlier, but the ship had proven to be unseaworthy when she arrived in South Africa so they disembarked.
John Jackson was coming to the colony [Australia] to be a gardener for the governor. Instead he was employed as a gardener at the summer residence of the Governor of Natal, high up on Table Mountain in South Africa.
The house they lived in was strongly built of stone with iron bars at every window and across the across the top of the chimney to keep them safe from the huge gorillas that would come down the mountain-side, jump on the window sills and shake the bars when they were angry. Great cupboards were built as big as small rooms each side of the fireplace, and kept stocked with food and water in case the gorillas got into the house, and there the children could be kept safe.
The slaves were liberated while the Jacksons lived there and my Aunt Lizzie married one of them, Germain Maxwell. He said he had been stolen as a little boy of seven while playing on the sea shore in Scotland and sold to a Dutchman who had no son. He was treated as a son and taught the trade of boot making. They settled in Victoria in a shop in Cromwell Street, Collingwood. How I loved them both and as a special treat I was taken to visit them on birthdays and holidays.
My Aunt Sarah was 20 years older than my mother, Alice Jackson, and married a man named Jonathan Bond who was employed by the railways. He was station master at Geelong and was killed on the station by the open door of an incoming train. His wife and son were given the positions of station mistress and gate keeper at Eden, afterwards called Spottiswoode and later Spotswood, on the Williamstown line.
Years afterwards Jonathan (Jack) Bond was station master at Deer Park. His wife, Tilly, had a son during then naming him John Newstead Bond after the nurse who attended her at the time. Mr Newstead was caretaker at the deer park where Melbourne hounds were kennelled and the stags and deer were kept. A beautiful park, and to look over the stone wall and see
the great stags was a real thrill. I remember one lovely spring day I was down the back garden with my dear dad helping him weed the onion bed when we heard the fearful commotion of yapping, barking dogs. I leapt up on the back fence, “Dad, Dad,” I yelled, “There are a thousand dogs running across the paddock. Why, it’s the hunt club and see the horsemen in their red coats, and look there is the poor stag almost exhausted.” My brother, very frightened by this big beast coming towards him, promptly rolled under the wire fence, but the poor agonised beast ran by in a panic to come to the top of the deep bluestone quarry and leapt down, breaking his neck on the stones below. The hounds ran down the side of the quarry to tear the stag to pieces before it was dead. Old Joe Willie and the men loading stone into drays were horrified and tried to beat off the cowardly killers with their whips, but having the taste of blood the hounds took little notice. Oh, the look in those big brown eyes. Why, oh why, should such cruelty in the name of sport be allowed to give a few wealthy men a thrill?
My Aunt Mary Ann married Peter Christie. There were four Christie brothers who came to Victoria from Scotland under contract to the railways to build wooden stations on the Victorian lines. Along with several other Scotch families, they took up large tracts of land in the Western District and went by bullock dray to settle there. My Uncle Peter owned Blink Bonny, his brother John Carvald Vale next to him at Byaduk, 17 miles from Hamilton. George stayed in Hamilton as a contractor but Richard went to Mt Eccles where he had a sheep station. These Scotchmen brought out the first Lincoln sheep to the country.
Mt Eccles is quite an astonishing place. The side of the mountain appears to have been sliced off. At the foot of the cliff is a larger dark lake, terribly deep. There is a legend that the early settlers put a rowing boat into it and it floated swiftly to the centre, spun around, upended and disappeared out of sight in a whirlpool in the centre of the lake. After this no one bothered. There are great caves on the rocky side of the hill and others on the straight side. The largest is dry, with a smooth sanded floor and full of bats. There’s also a perfect stone bridge, quite wide, easily walked across two abreast, really wonderful.
At Byaduk, the river of stone runs for miles. There must have been a dreadful volcano in this place centuries ago. If you kneel down, it sounds like water running far below; this river is riddled with caves, the largest being down a deep hole, The Pulpit Cave named because of the huge rock shaped like a pulpit. There are wide balconies, five of them. This place is like a great cathedral. Quite dry and light as there is an opening at the far end. It’s quite marvellous and worth a visit. While staying with Uncle Peter I was taken to all the show places. The South Swamp was drained and irrigated, settlers planted long avenues of poplar trees, now grown to a great height. To see these trees in the autumn gently waving in the breeze is a sight not easily forgotten, and to see the Angus cattle knee deep in grass like great black bears on Thompsons’ Station, nearer Hamilton, gives your heart a great lift as you see the wealth of the Western District.
My dear little mother, Alice Jackson, was only four feet ten inches tall with tiny hands and feet, the loveliest mother in the world. With her brother Sam, they lived in Cox’s Gardens Williamstown, a little street off Ferguson Street at the Savings Bank corner. A little bit of old England with the old houses made of old fashioned weatherboard, oh so charming, and the back of the Congregation Church with its beautiful spire at the end of the street. You feel you are back in England just to walk along this street.
My grandfather was the postman. He and grandmother were English gentlefolk, most prim and proper. My mother was ten years old when they came to the colony. When she was thirteen, she was sent to Madam Ernst’s Finishing School at Williamstown. She met Annie and Eliza Hall and was school friends with them and used to go to Hall’s Farm on Saturdays
to tea. One Saturday, their brother Tom, just home from taking horses to India, a big rough sailor man, seeing little Alice picked her up in his arms saying, “This is my little wife,” and kissing her heartily. She promptly smacked his face and demanded, “Put me down you rough beast.” She was 18 at the time. My grandparents were horrified when Tom Hall came to call and mother was forbidden to see him, but they were married in the Presbyterian Church at Williamstown when mother was 21.
My parents first lived in Mariner Street then father bought an acre of land in Yarra Street and built a house where eight children were born. The land was opposite Smith’s paddock. How we children loved to visit old Mrs Smith who had a huge elderberry tree in her back yard and used to make wine from the berries. We had a big garden and grew all our fruit and vegetables and a hedge of roses of all colours along the side fence. Some rose bushes were grafted with red, white and yellow roses as my dad was a great gardener. We have great clumps of irises, blue, brown and white; a great golden chain tree; pink and white English daisies each side of the path leading to the gate. Masses of shrubs, lilies, statice, forget-me-nots, violets, dozens of Japanese golden ray lilies, a poinciana tree, japonicas and lilacs, and grape vines trained over bush houses.
We also had a retriever dog that a sea captain had left with dad, and a terrible magpie that talked all day yelling, “Fan, shut the close door,” and “Long Legs, squindle guts.” Mr Korey, school master at the first public school this side of Melbourne and built of bluestone from my dad’s quarries in Mason Street, came into the house to complain about the children calling out to him, when Mag with his wings scraping the ground, said “Long Legs, squindle guts,” just near his feet. “Oh! It’s the bird,” he said, “I’m so sorry.” Mr Korey was certainly long and thin. He lived further down Yarra Street from us. My older brothers and sister went to that school, just where the Newport Flour Mills are built. We young children went to the North State School at the corner of Melbourne Road and Stevedore Street; we called it Mr Ulbreck’s school. He was a German gentleman who taught us to sing Larblie when we were in the sixth class.
School teachers in my day believed in the cane and plenty of it, and turned out better men and women. How the teacher of the sixth class loved to get hold of the boys who teased the Chinamen who came to the school to complain. These boys were soundly caned on the hands and legs.
There were big Chinese gardens between Stevedore and Ferguson Streets where they grey vegetables for Williamstown and Newport and for the sailing ships leaving port. Chinamen with two large baskets hanging each end of a long pole carried over the shoulder selling tea and preserved ginger, came around each fortnight. Old Gipsy women with clothes in great bundles on their backs and old smiling faces, would unroll their wares at your back door. Gogs visited for bottles, rabbit and fish hawkers came too. With our food open to the wind and dust, it never killed us. The worst were the night-men with their heavy drays who went rumbling along the back lanes at night. How terribly frightened we little kids were of them, having been told by our elders they would take you away if you were naughty. How we would cower down, cover up our heads and tremble until they had passed by. Their load was taken along Millers Road to be emptied on a certain vacant block of land. That land today is thought to be able to grow anything and is now being sold for building blocks.
When I was 10 years old, my grandfather died. He came to Williamstown in 1840 with his family by his first and second wives. My father, Tom Hall, was the baby of the family at one year and nine months old. All the money they had was a half sovereign given to the baby by his godmother. When he died at the age of 84, he was worth £750,000. My father’s share was £30,000 cash, government debentures, gas shares and land at Bendigo. Grandfather bought the half mile square block between Blackshaws Road and Mason Street, Newport with the first money he earned from taking flour by the ton to Bendigo on a bullock dray, which also passed into my father’s possession. There were big bluestone quarries in Mason Street, the most flawless bluestone in the world.
Centuries ago a terrific volcano blew the top off Mt Cottrell at Truganina and the lava flowed down into the bay creating seams of bluestone. There are brown coal deposits under Altona, of far better quality than Yallourn. Before WWI, the Altona brown coal mine was working at full speed, but being owned by a German syndicate was closed down as tunnels ran for two miles into the bay under the magazine.
When we first came to Altona to live 42 years ago, we could buy this brown coal, as much as one could pack on a spring cart for 2/6. It burned beautifully and would always be alight in our big open fireplace. There were huge logs that cut like thick cheese. My mother-in-law said it was just like the “turf” they burned in old Ireland. There is only water pouring out of these shafts now, and it causes flooding in parts of Altona. When motoring through Pentland Hills on the Ballarat Road, if you look across to Melbourne you will see a lovely pastel picture of the extinct volcano, Mt Cottrell, like a picture against the skyline.
We shifted into the house next door in Yarra Street when father got the money as it was larger. Two more children had been born into the family making us ten, five boys and five girls. Dad shifted the fence and took in the rose hedge and all the fruit trees and let the old house. We lived in the new house for four years and then Dad built in Blackshaws Road, a fine nine roomed house and what a happy time we had in it with nothing to do and all day to do it in. There were five of us girls at home. Each one had her allotted task and when it was done, could do or go where she liked after the midday dinner and we had changed into
our afternoon frocks. We were beautifully brought up with all the old English traditions to be loyal, honourable and God fearing, to honour our father and mother. If our dad had said the moon was made of yellow cheese, we would have believed him. He taught us to sing all the old sea shanties and mother taught us all the hymns and good songs of her day. They both had lovely singing voices.
We went to all the plays in the old Theatre Royal in Bourke Street, and all the best concerts and operas. We would sit by the hour to hear Dad tell us about the ghosts and bushrangers of his bullock driving days and tales of his trips in sailing ships on his trips to England. There are quite a few local ghosts around these districts; one a little girl who sat and sang on a fence by the crossing of Kororoit Creek on the Ballarat Road. The bullocks would stand stock still, their eyes glaring out of their sockets mad with fright, and when flogged would bolt across the creek and up the hill beyond. For years afterwards when we drove a horse and buggy the same way, the horse would refuse to go and had to be led across.
At Skeleton Creek where it crosses Geelong Road, a woman and her baby were drowned in flood waters in tragic circumstances and on bright moonlit nights she still calls for help. One has difficulty driving a horse through this crossing. At Stony Creek in Spotswood where the creek crosses Melbourne Road, there was Dead Man’s Gulch. That was when there was only a bush road leading to Melbourne. Someone had built a bush shelter where travellers would spend the night. One night a sailor murdered his mate by cutting his throat so savagely that the point of the knife broke off in the man’s back bone. The police caught the murderer later eating dinner with the very same knife. No horse would go across the ford without being led and a woman who tried to force her horse across was tipped out of her dogcart and killed when she fell against the stone wall. Altogether six people have been killed or drowned at this crossing.
Mysterious shapes have been seen flirting around the burial ground where the Cut Paw Paw Sanatorium was at the junction of the Geelong and Altona railway lines. When my son John found a polished black axe near the Millers Road bridge, a huge Aborigine haunted him, grabbing him by the arm and trying to tell him something. It got so bad that John was almost afraid to go to bed. After he shifted his case of Aboriginal specimens out of his bedroom the haunting stopped. Altona was a happy hunting ground for anyone searching for Aboriginal relics. After a real blow of wind you could find circumcision knives, scrapers and many other stones. A polished perfect stone axe was worth £5.
Altona was a thriving station when my grandfather came to the country in 1840. There were sheep and cattle and large wheat crops. There was a gang of Chinamen who grew peas, onions and magnificent asparagus. A man taking a load of hay to Williamstown took a short cut across the mouth of the creek and was bogged in quick sand. Four horses, the load of hay and the driver were never seen again. The quick sands are now silted up owing to the terrific floods that have come down the creek. The local oil refinery should clean this creek out and make a clear waterway with pleasure parks on both sides, or they will have trouble. I have seen five feet of flood water across where their tanks now stand.
The homestead house was there in 1840. This house is built in Acremain Staple, beautifully built to withstand the fierce Westerlies. It originally had a slate roof but when it was sold the new owners put on a tiled roof, as it is today. The stone buildings opposite were the stables and there were two great Moreton Bay fig trees in front of them, the largest trees in Victoria, their trunks reminding me of huge elephants. Their branches stretched right across the road but the Werribee Shire Council had them cut down, destroying trees both wonderful and beautiful.
During WWI there was a soldiers’ camp here, often referred to as Billy Hughes Bluebirds, as well as many other names. We had to have a passport to go across the lines which I still have. We came from Footscray to Altona on 1 August 1914 and have lived here for 42 years, watched the place grow from six houses in a sand pit to the living suburb it is today, but I would rather have it as it was when we came – when we could get a rabbit between our house and the beach, gather wild sea poppies and evening primroses flowered everywhere. The skylarks filled the heavens with their glorious song and my kids were happy and healthy and not scattered abroad, but safely at home.
30 Blyth Street