Thomas and Elizabeth Meddings & family

Thomas and Elizabeth Jane Meddings and their family were the caretakers of the Altona Homestead between 1920 and approximately 1935. During this time the Homestead was used as a holiday accommodation for the workers of a company in Footscray called Cuming, Smith and Company that produced fertilizer products. The company would offer accommodation to employees over the summer months and they stayed in old Tramcars on the lawn area of what is now Logan Reserve. Events at the Homestead during the summer were organised by the YMCA.

Meddings family near the Homestead. Back row: Elizabeth, Thomas and Ellen. Front row: Ronald, James and Edward.

The Meddings family resided within the Homestead building, at the time called Sickleholme, but parts of the building were open to the holiday makers, for example the current dining room was used as a dance hall. Their responsibilities also included the property surrounding the Homestead, which would have taken in the majority if not all of what is today Logan Reserve which is situated in the block encased by Queen, Pier, Sargood Streets and the Esplanade.

The site was surrounded by boxthorn hedges, which were removed circa 1925 and replaced with a high corrugated iron fence. By then there were no beds or shrubs to the grounds and only the circle part of the turning circle and drive remained, with a large flagpole in the centre. The site was very popular with the workers for around six months each year and they were brought down from the factory by horse drawn wagon, used also to bring surplus timber for firewood.

The 1936 Electoral roll notes that the family were still living at the Homestead, but we are aware that new tenants moved into the Homestead in 1937 when the property was purchase by the Werribee Council who governed Altona at that time.

The Meddings family had moved to Altona from Footscray to take up their new position. There is no indication that there was a connection between the family and the company prior to commencing at the Homestead.

The family comprised:

Thomas Medding (circa 1924)

Thomas Meddings was born 1886 in Footscray to Thomas Meddings (1864–1954) and Catherine Meddings nee Drysdale (1867–1916). Thomas married Elizabeth Jane Balmer in 1906 in Footscray.

They had eight children all born prior to their move to Altona. The eldest was Thomas William Meddings (1907-1973) who married Hilda Ethel Palmer in 1928 ((1905–1985), then Dora Queenie Meddings (1909-1981) who married Frank Alex Joseph Howard in 1930. Then Austin Henry Meddings (1911-1984), Ellen Elizabeth Jane Meddings (1912-1913), Edward James Meddings (1914-1914), James Patrick Meddings (1918-1993) who married Thelma Rose Climas in 1944 and Ronald Meddings (1922-1945) who married Ruth Glenis Boak in 1941.

When the Homestead building was bought back by the then Werribee Council from Cuming, Smith and Coy a number of the family remained as residents in Altona or the surrounding area for some time. The Homestead was handed back in good order to the new tenants which is a tribute to the family and they care they took during their occupancy period.

When the Homestead was handed over to the Altona Historical Society around the mid 1960’s, James Meddings assisted the Society with his knowledge of the Homestead and his experience with historical restoration work. In 1988 when the Homestead undertook major works a conservation historian was employed to record the life and times of the building including all the iterations it had gone through. James was of invaluable assistance to this project.

There is another more tragic story connected with the Meddings family during World War 2. Ronald Meddings joined the Royal Australian Navy in July 1942 (WWII) and following basic training at Cerberus he was assigned to HMAS Australia in November 1943. HMAS Australia with Ronald aboard saw action in the Pacific against the Japanese navy. It was within one of these battles, in early 1945, that unfortunately Ronald lost his life.

HMAS Australia’s five-day action began when she was south west of Manila heading for the landing beaches of Lingayen Gulf. Typical of the sterling work done by her personnel was the coolness of two young gunners who at one stage of the action held their fire until two bombers were within 200 yards, then they fired. One plane exploded in mid-air and the other struck the water in flames.

The successful conclusion of this latest and most dangerous operation was in Itself a tribute to the meticulous care with which all phases of the operation had been planned, said Mr. Makin.

The dramatic events attending the passage of the convoy were matched by the cold courage of the men in the mine sweepers and survey ships, and by the devotion to duty of the “small-ship” men, who maintained communications and convoyed supplies between the mainland and General MacArthur’s forward base.

To these men he would like to pay a special tribute. He had recently experienced a voyage in a frigate, where he had seen something of the zeal and adapt ability of the men of the R.A.N.

Their spirit was that of their comrades in every ship of every size. When H.M.A.S. Australia was in action on October 21 she suffered 63 casualties— 19 killed. including Captain E. Dechalneux, and 54 wounded, Including- Commodore J. A. Collins. The Age, 27 Jan 1945

Meddings Court in Altona North was named for Ronald’s association with Altona and his ultimate sacrifice during WWII.

References:

  1. ALHS records and images, accessed June 2020
  2. NAA Naval records – Ronald Meddings, accessed July 2020
  3. Electoral Rolls 1903 – 1980
  4. Homestead Altona Conservation Analysis, 1988, D V Bick Architectural Historian for the City of Altona

Research by: Graeme Reilly, ALHS (2020)