Grace Bolch recalls the time she spent as a young girl living in the servants’ quarters at Stamford Park.
“The worst thing about living at Stamford House was trying to keep the two sheep out. They’d always try to follow us in the door when we came inside and we’d have to push them out again.” This is one of many vivid memories Grace Bolch had of the time she lived in the servants’ quarters at Stamford House about 1930 with her foster mother, Mrs Emma McCarthy, and another foster child, Jim.
Grace was born in Warragul in 1916, the daughter of Thomas and Emma Nicholls (nee Petschack). She was the youngest child and the only girl in a family of five children. Sadly, when Grace was two years old, her mother died of heart failure. Grace’s father, a sawmiller, was not able to look after his family and Grace was put in the care of Mrs McCarthy while her four brothers went to various members of the Petschack family.
Grace’s earliest memories are of moving constantly from place to place as her foster mother found work to support herself and her two young charges. Grace remembered being at Mooroopna where Mrs McCarthy worked at the fruit cannery and commencing school at Murchison where her foster mother was a housemaid at the hotel. Grace also recalls being at Upper Beaconsfield, Noble Park and West Dandenong. Her most painful memory is of Camberwell where she was scalded from knee to ankle in a kitchen accident. Another unfortunate episode occurred when one of her brothers, also named Jim, badly burnt himself while playing with matches. Grace’s skin was found to be compatible and she had grafts taken from her legs to heal her brother’s wounds. She recalls having her wrists strapped to the hospital bed head to stop her scratching the painful and itchy scars.
Another minor mishap occurred in Camberwell when a six year old friend assured Grace that she was a hairdresser and cut one of her long plaits off.
At Stamford House
Grace was about 13 when Mrs McCarthy answered an advertisement placed by Mr Murray, owner of Stamford House, for a caretaker. The Murrays had another property in Winton, Queensland, where they spent their winters, motoring up there in their car.
Grace, Jim and Mrs McCarthy lived in the servants’ quarters on the southern side of the house. The main building was locked up while the Murrays were away and Grace had no memory of ever having been in the house. However, she did recall peeping through one of the front windows and seeing a beautiful chandelier suspended from the ceiling.
In her time at Stamford House Grace said that there was no farming activity. The only animals (apart from the two cheeky sheep) were a small pony called Freckles, two cows and the cart horse Mrs McCarthy used to pull the gig into Dandenong. Towards Stud Road on the south side of the driveway entrance there were large outbuildings including a wool shed and a 14 bail dairy but these weren’t used in the time Grace lived there. A strange feature which had stuck in her mind was a whim, that is, a capstan-like wheel in the ground near the sheds. She never saw it used but remembered clearly the circular track surrounding it that had been apparently made by the hooves of the horse used to turn the whim.
Times were very hard then and men would often come looking for work. Grace remembered them cutting firewood and weeding the garden in exchange for a meal; Mrs McCarthy had no money to give them. One day a young man came in a horse and jinker. He had not been able to find a job anywhere in the city so had decided to leave his home and travel the countryside in search of work. Mrs McCarthy would give these men permission to sleep in the wool shed.
School At Scoresby
Grace and Jim attended Scoresby State School and walked up and back along Stud Road every day. It was a narrow, unsealed road then but had a good surface. Sometimes they would be passed by a horse and cart but only very rarely by a car or truck. There was only one tree between the house and the school and that was opposite to where Bowens Timber is now. In the spring, magpies nested in the tree and so for a few weeks Grace and Jim had to hold their school bags over their heads as the magpies swooped them. They also had to be wary of Tampe’s bull on the other side of the road near Corhanwarrabul Creek. He was a big Jersey bull and was often on the roadside.
Grace remembered walking to school with the two Hill girls who lived on a farm where Stud Park Shopping Centre is now located. The Manley sisters who lived near Wellington Road sometimes walked with them too.
The teacher at Scoresby was Mr Sloss and Grace remembered him teaching the children how to prune roses and to dance the Charleston. She enjoyed her time at school but wasn’t allowed to go to the homes of the other girls to play, mainly because she was kept so busy with household chores.
When Mrs McCarthy needed groceries and other supplies, she would harness her bay horse to the jinker and take the children on the long ride along Stud Road into Dandenong. There was never much money but sometimes the children were lucky enough to be given a small bag each of broken biscuits. Once when coming home from Dandenong, the horse gave them a bad scare – although they were able to laugh about the incident afterwards. It was a hot day and as the horse ambled along it suddenly spied a pool of water at the bottom of the deep drain running alongside the road. He scrambled down the steep bank leaving the three passengers holding on for dear life as the jinker teetered on the edge.
Grace remembered going to the Post Office in Wellington Road run by Miss Bergin, whom she recalled as being a very large and very kind lady. She also remembered watching Mr Bergin through the open door of his blacksmith shop shoeing the local horses.
After the Murrays returned to Stamford House the family were on the move again, this time to Dandenong where Grace completed her education at Dandenong State School in Foster Street. In doing so she commenced a tradition: three later generations of her family have been pupils there. Upon leaving school she obtained work, hand sewing shirts in the Memorial Hall in Langhorne Street, Dandenong. Later she worked as a housemaid in a large mansion in Windsor for fifteen shillings a week.
In 1933 Grace married Ron Bolch of Dandenong. They lived in Herbert Street briefly and then moved to their home in New Street which runs along the south boundary of Dandenong State School. She has lived in this house for 58 years. Grace and Ron raised a family of four boys and three girls who have provided them with 15 grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.
Grace had the misfortune to break her hip last year but with her great zest for life hopes to be back on her feet again soon.
Interviewed by Bryan Power