Ruth is the fourth child of the seven children of James and Edith Wright who came to live in Lysterfield in 1919. Ruth is an older sister of Clare Wright whose story about growing up in Lysterfield was told in the June and July 2002 editions of the News.
TWO DIFFERENT GRANNIES
Ruth was three years old when the family moved from Willaura in western Victoria to the one-roomed house on five acres in Brae Road, Lysterfield. The house measured 28 feet by 14 feet and her father James divided it into two rooms with a “wall” made of chaff bags sewn together.
Edith’s widowed mother, Mrs Jenny Whitehead, lived in Dandenong and it was she who loaned James and Edith the money to buy the property. The children didn’t enjoy granny’s visits because she was, as Ruth said, “ a hard old German lady” who was much stricter with them than their parents ever were. One day she went mad at Jack, the second eldest boy, who ran away from her and climbed a tree outside the kitchen. However, Jack had first armed himself with a few eggs and he threw these at his grandmother whenever she came near the tree to scold him. Jack was always a free spirit and later in life became a rabbit trapper. He spent his life wandering from place to place.
Westy, the eldest son, was quite different. He settled to a trade and ran his own business in Ferntree Gully all his life. As a young man he made good pocket money as the local barber in Lysterfield by charging one shilling and sixpence for a haircut.
Ruth’s father’s mother was a lovely old Irish woman, quite different from Edith’s mother. Every Christmas, she sent presents and home-made puddings down to them from Willaura on the train. James was soft-hearted like his mother. If ever he was cross with the girls he’d threaten them with a slap around the legs with his leather razor strop but they’d promptly wrap their skirts around their legs and squat on the floor and James would invariably just finish up laughing and walking away.
LOTS TO BE DONE!
However, Ruth assured me that the children didn’t misbehave much: “we were too tired to play up!” By the time they’d milked the cows twice a day, fed the calves, separated the milk and walked to and from school, they were ready to fall into bed each night. As well, Edna and Ruth, were good with the axe. Often they’d each put on a pair of the boys’ trousers and go down the paddock to chop a load of firewood.
On Saturdays the children enjoyed taking some eggs and potatoes down to their hut in the paddock where they cooked themselves lunch. If they were ever short of potatoes they’d “bandicoot” some from their Uncle Joe’s crop. One of the annual treats occurred when the maize crop was harvested. Most of it was put through the chaff cutter to make feed for the cows but the children were allowed to keep plenty of corncobs that they roasted on the hot coals of the open fire in the house and then ate them with plenty of Edith’s homemade butter.
Other seasonal activities they enjoyed were mushrooming in the autumn and picking wild flowers in the spring. Both of these activities provided them with pocket money as their cousin, Gordon Hobbs, sold the mushrooms and wild flowers for them at Victoria Market. They gave their own names to the native orchids that grew in Lysterfield based on their impressions of what the orchids looked like. Some they called “nanny goats”, others “cockies” and others again “spiders”. They also gathered the bluebells, buttercups, everlasting daisies and, especially, the white, pink and red heath which they bundled up with gum tips for sale.
James worked for the State Rivers and he was in charge of a group of men who had the big job of clearing the creeks from Hallam to Seaford. He was called a “ganger”.
He was away with the gang for many weeks on this project and only came home every second weekend. During the school holidays the children loved going to stay with him in the workers’ camp. James had two tents, both with wooden floors, and one had a stove for heating and cooking. After he left State Rivers James worked at the quarry in Lysterfield run by the Bladin family who were Croydon people.
SIMPLE ENTERTAINMENTS IN LYSTERFIED
Ruth’s mother Edith was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church so they were not allowed to play cards or go to the pictures. However, on Sunday evenings they would sometimes go to the home of their Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Joe Hobbs to enjoy a sing-song around the piano.
Guy Fawkes Night was good fun too and for weeks they’d collect branches to build up the bonfire. Part of the fun of that night was to wrap old hessian bags into a big ball enclosed with chicken wire. Then the bags were soaked with kerosene, lit and the children delighted in kicking the flaming ball around the bonfire. Another special treat on that night was when old Bob Campbell (who worked on the Hobbs’ farm) dressed up in a pair of apple catchers and did a tight rope walk between two of the gum trees. Bob also used to put on picture nights in the Hobbs’ barn with an old fashioned projector which was lit with a kerosene light.
Ruth recalled a time when the Lysterfield School was being enlarged and the children had to attend classes for a few weeks in a house in the Major Crescent area. When the school was reopened a concert was held to mark the occasion and Ruth and Edna dressed up in black clothing and sang “Old Black Joe”.
When they were teenagers they managed to talk their way into being allowed to attend the dances at the Lysterfield hall. First they’d ask their mother whose usual response was to say: “Ask your father.” Then they’d go to their father who’d say: “Have you asked you mother?” Finally father would agree – but with the firm stipulation that they must be home by midnight.
Blain’s Band played at most of the dances. (Mr Blain was a gent’s tailor in Dandenong.) On one occasion that Ruth remembers, a Mr Verey who owned a shoe shop in Dandenong, performed as a ventriloquist with a doll on his knee. She also remembered that Alf (“Snowy”) Bailey was much admired because of his skill in making crepe paper flowers to decorate the hall for the dances. Snowy worked as a powder monkey at the quarry and once injured his spine when he fell down the quarry face.
Ruth first met her future husband, Ted Saddington, not at a Lysterfield dance but at one of the annual Arbour Days held at the school. (On Arbour Days everybody gathered at the school to plant trees.) Ted was a cousin of Jim and Frank Moore and regularly came to stay with them at Lysterfield at weekends. One day some months later when Ruth was walking to the Lysterfield store Ted walked along with her and they eventually became close friends. Ted was a very good sportsman and played cricket and football with Boronia.
One day while Ted was at their home with a friend named Len Harrison, James was out in the paddocks checking his rabbit traps. Suddenly they heard him calling out. Edith sent Ruth out to see what was wrong and she saw her father with one of the legs of his trousers rolled up. He called to her: “Snake! Snake! I’ve been bitten by a snake.” Ruth ran to him and could see the marks on his shin where the snake had struck. He stumbled to the wash-house where Len Harrison cut across the bites with James’s cut-throat razor and then sucked the poison out. Len wrapped a leather belt around James’s leg as a tourniquet and twisted it tight with the handle of a hammer. Ted helped James into his car and drove quickly to Dr Farrow in Ferntree Gully. The doctor told them that they mustn’t let James fall asleep so they gave him lots of black coffee and Ted drove him around and around the district. Ted had not long had retreads put on his tyres but he drove around for such a long time that day that some of the retreads started coming off. Anyway, the story finished happily because James survived the bite without any lasting ill effects.
Ruth and Ted were married in 1934 and lived for a time in the old house with Ruth’s parents before moving to Ferntree Gully where their four children, Dawn, Margaret, Beverley and Robert were born.
Dawn was named after the daughter of a Mr Sharp, a hawker who visited the homes in Lysterfield. This lovely little girl accompanied her father in his old car as he drove around the district selling clothing and she made such a great impression on Ruth and Edna that they both declared that the first of them to have a daughter would call her Dawn. Ruth won the “race”.
Ruth recalled the names of many of the people who lived in Lysterfield in those days. Not all of them were permanent residents, however, as there were a number of cottages and shacks along Wellington Road that were only used as weekenders by Melbourne people who included the following families: Madigan, Prentice, Drew, Spotswood and Porter. Later the McQueens bought Porter’s home and they sold it eventually to the Foy family. The house was later moved further up the hill, off Powells Road.
The Pendleburys bought McColl’s place.
The Cavill family, who had bought from the Rumbles, grew vegetables on a property on Wellington Road but the daughters did most of the farm work.
The Hobbs ran the Lysterfield Store and post office. Behind the Hobbs’ farm was the Church of England Boys’ Home where Edith relieved Mr and Mrs Wraight on their days off. The boys loved Ruth’s mother so much that some of them went out of their way to visit her long after she’d moved to Ferntree Gully.
The Van Brummelins were a Dutch family who milked Friesian cows. One Sunday Uncle Joe Hobbs came to their place and called to James, “Come with me quick, Jim; the bull’s got Peter.” They hurried to his farm and found Peter lying in the stockyard but they were able to reach in under the railings to drag him clear of the bull. They carried him to the verandah but they could see that he was dead as he had been gored through the heart.
Peter’s brother Bill had gone on his Indian motorbike to pick up his sister Suzie to bring her to the farm for Sunday lunch and later bitterly regretted that he had left Peter alone when he had decided to put a ring in the bull’s nose that morning. The next day the bull was shot and taken away. It was found to weigh just on a ton.
George Smith was a rabbit trapper who lived alone in a tent down on the creek. He did beautiful crochet work and wore a vest that he’d crocheted himself. He used to come to Edith to buy butter and eggs.
The McDougalls were the biggest family by far in Lysterfield with 15 or 16 children. Mr McDougall did the housework while his wife and eldest son Bill did the farm work.
Old Mrs Coster lived on Willowvale Creek and Ruth and her sisters often went to help her with her housework. One of her sons went to war and is remembered in the Lysterfield Avenue of Honour.
In Lysterfield Road there were the Watsons at “The Leasowes”, the Whites at “Willowvale”, Violet Lambert at “Netherlea”, the Gillies, the Selmans and Joyce Rigby whose house burned down. Mrs Lambert’s husband was a jockey who was killed overseas.
Further along was Poll Buckley. Ruth remembers her riding her horse side-saddle while wearing a long velvet dress, bonnet and button-up boots. She had no family and when she died she left her property to her farm worker, Mario Lizza. This property is still owned by the Lizza family. During the depression Ruth’s father and husband worked for the dole by cleaning out table drains for the Ferntree Gully Shire. They were allowed to get other jobs for themselves for up to three days in the week and were employed on the Lizza farm by Tony, Mario’s son.
The Poulters, Taylors and Albernis lived in Kelletts Road. The Dickers lived in Wellington Road. Mr Dicker was a photographer and Ruth remembers seeing him at district functions beneath the big black cloth attached to the back of his camera.
The Rossiters lived in Wellington Road near Bladins’ Quarry. Stan Rossiter used to come to school without shoes and socks, even in the winter, and Ruth can still recall how sorry she felt for him as he shivered with the cold. Quite a few of the children came to school with bare feet but Ruth and her brothers and sisters, by contrast, were always well dressed. Edith was able to buy good quality second hand clothing for them and they always had shoes and socks.
Freddie Williams was a small man who lived in Major Crescent. His wife was a big woman who had been a nurse during World War One and as a result of her war experiences she suffered badly. She owned a little shack up in South Belgrave and would go up there to be by herself at times.
RUTH’S LATER LIFE
Ted and Ruth for a time after the war ran a milk bar/fruit and vegetable business in Main Road near the Ferntree Gully Shire Office and did good business, especially when there were functions held at the hall. They were able to save enough to buy a home but tragically, shortly afterwards, Ted was stricken with cancer and passed away in 1948.
In1951 Ruth remarried, to Bert Shugg, who worked as a glass beveller. Unfortunately the marriage was unsuccessful and they were divorced in 1954.
For many years after that Ruth maintained her independence by managing a dry cleaning depot in Carlton. After her retirement she lived in various places around Victoria and now, at the age of 87, she is a resident at Lansell Lodge in Bendigo.
Ruth’s four children have given her 26 more descendants – ten grand children and sixteen great children. Although they are widely scattered, Ruth enjoys hearing about all of her family members and is also kept up to date with happenings in the place of her childhood by one of her granddaughters who lives in Rowville.
Interviewed by Bryan Power