Dublin House 1950 – Port Fairy
Dublin House was up the Highway end of Bank Street. Perfection for me, got me to any place I wanted to go in minutes. Funny that memory always has me living in a time when it was always sunny. Is this memory lane then, is this the walk that touches everything that has made me the way I am.
The Street beckoned, it always did. There was magic in the street, things to do and places to go. There were people in the street, and things, lots and lots of things. Dreams are made of things, dreams are what you do when you are young. Things are what you want, things are the dreams of youth. As you get older, you dream less, want less. Magic is still there, but filtered, put through a lens, not spontaneous, not as immediate.
Dublin House was the centre of my magic world. Not self contained but the glue that held it all together. I knew it all so well, I could feel the house and the house could feel me. I knew every nook and cranny, nothing hidden, nothing not seen. It was my sanctuary from any fear or uncertainty. And then I gradually absorbed the whole town and it became my place, my town, my home. I got old, I don’t go back there now, not much anyway. Others have changed it, taken it away from me, made it theirs. Maybe that how it has to be. But there were times that I found it hard to take, how could new people know what I knew, feel what I felt, love the way I did.
Could anyone know the cordial factory like I did, always getting into trouble from Mr Gibson, sometimes even a bit afraid to go in through the front door. The front door opened straight onto the street and then straight into the factory. The smell was sweet sugar and steam. Big tanks filled with sugary water waiting to be flavoured and then filled with air bubbles. For its time the cordial factory was way ahead and by far the most industrially advanced business in town. My all time favourite section was the filling area with its bottles running along a kind of pulley system. The bottles were the old fashioned glass types, some even had glass marbles in the necks and all were closed with screw in black cap. My stays were always short, I suspect that Mr Gibson was worried I would disrupt the flows and make his men not work as hard or, that I would somehow get caught up in the whole mechanised affair and become hurt. The colours, the labels, the bottles, the bottle washing, all magic, the drums of flavours, the small chemical section where Mr Gibson concocted the brews, pure magic. The cordial factory had its own delivery truck and it would sit in the yard next door, it not only delivered the cordials, but collected the empties.
Across the road was the austere and cold Presbyterian Church, austere in the way that was expected of that Christian group, honed back to the bare necessities, nothing slightly popish about them, pure bible. The large cold pine trees that fronted the church and lined the drive leading to a front facade that owed its beginnings in ancient Greece or Rome, opened into a wood filled warm interior that for me, was hard to recognise. Not much magic here, a reminder that the kirk was a place of bible study and that the small foot pumped organ, played each week with much gusto by Little Tommy Digby and the choir led by Lilly his sister was all the theatre you were getting here, this place was serious. Poppy had left instruction that he was to be buried from that church, why I will never know, since I am certain that in his whole life he never set foot there once. Not much for a kid to do there, climb a tree, watch a wedding, try and sneak a hit of tennis without the caretaker catching you. Not a lot.
Heading home, but Mum wanted bread, so the nearest and one of my favourite bread baking establishments was Emms Bakery, down the other end of William Street from the Church and Cordial Factory. Emms Bakery had a ancient wood fired oven that had been baking bread for more years than anyone could remember. You could smell the bakery long before you got there and by the time that I did get there, food magic had begun to work and I was completely beguiled and seduced by the whole bread thing over again. Every day I was sent to get bread and every day I got into trouble, I broke apart the double high tin loaf with its blackened top crust and helped myself to a large and choice piece of what we called the kiss crust, the bread at the joining of the two loaves. It was unspeakably soft, tender and utterly delicious. Mum roared every day and every day I was told I would never be allowed to get the bread again, but in the end Mum knew that food for me was a special thing and that bread was some how born in me and I was forgiven. Emms made only two types of bread that I can recall, one was the high tin white and the other a high tin brown that I suspect had very little to do with the 100% wholemeal loaves we now find, but a lot more to do with finely milled wholegrain flour, some caramel colouring and a great wodge of white flour. While I suspect that the magic of sour dough bread was not spoken of as a riser, it did play its part in the bread kitchen since the yeast spores would have inhabited the place for many years. I grew to love the taste of yeasty rich bread and to this very day, the magic of great bread can weave its spell on me and I will be seduced back to the days of crusty high tin and kiss crust.
I had to get back to bank street and that meant dawdling while I ate the kiss crust and then picking up some of the great long bracts of leaves from the Norfolk Island pines that lined the streets and seeing if I could make a sword from them. Then came McLarrens hardware and wood yard. That place had a special smell, first the delicious smell of sawn wood and a long gaze through the fence at the shelves and shelves of timber that would eventually go into every house that was built in Port Fairy, including in the end, the one that Dad and Mum built down on the river. Then the hardware shop with its big red framed rounded top windows and the pair of swing doors that opened into the shop proper. This was a complete Victorian shop and the smell of its was that hardware shop smell that seems to have changed little over the years, maybe with the exception of the large drums of kerosene and methylated spirit that seemed to be used a lot in that time. McLarrens was a long shop with many different kinds of product, although I was not a practical person and certainly not one given to outbursts of work involving hardware and tools, it fascinated me and I could spend a happy hour wandering the aisles sniffing the smells and getting glares from old Mr McLarren who knew well I was not going to buy something, but who he felt had to be answered.
On the off chance that Mrs Caulfield and Mrs Miller were chatting across the road, it was better to go past their house and shop quietly. Heading towards Dublin house, there was always the blacksmith to call into and see what wonders were going on. The blacksmith’s forge and workshop were in the side street that led up to Tiemans Dairy, the air was always hot from the forge right out onto the street, you knew that you were about to go into a place, hellish in the sphere of magic. Jim the blacksmith always looked the same, thick black leather apron over a pair of dark blue pants and a blue singlet, huge thick soled boots. He glowed along with his fires. The welcome was always out for me as I carefully put the bread down where it was not going to be damaged and took over the giant bellows that pumped the fire up to enormous heat and allowed him to melt and bend steel. Jim had been at this game for over forty years and was deeply respected in town and country for all the work he did. Shoeing horses, repairing farm equipment, keeping ancient carts on the road when they long since should have passed into history. Jim was great at mending garden tools, pots and pans or anything else that needed a spot of welding. Dad was fond of Jim and would amble across the road to spend a cigarette or two’s time with him. I loved the magic Jim created and the need that he fulfilled for the community, I was scared to death of the glowing metal and the sparks that would fly when he was bending the metal to his will on the anvil. Jim had a way with horses, many were very skittish at having to be shod, from the first time that I saw this, I was not surprised, the sight of a large square nail being driven into the horses horny feet, I thought it looked like it was going to hurt a lot, Jim always said they felt no pain and they were skittish because of the pressure and having to lift their feet. Jims wife packed him about six big thick white bread sandwiches to get him through the morning and if I timed my arrivals, he would share some with me, she made a mean meat paste and pickled onion sandwich. But Jim always went home for a hot lunch, his wife insisted.
Out of the blacksmiths and a quick look into the old shop that was now occupied by Dalgetty, not that much to see or do there, the old shop was a double fronted ancient wooden building with a large workshop at the back. The shop had three large desks covered in papers and a telephone that seemed to ring constantly. In those days the telephone exchange was manual and if you wanted to speak to someone on the phone, you turned the handle like mad and the exchange would then answer. Half the time if you asked them to connect you with this or that person or place, they would, no need to remember the number, the exchange ladies knew all and everyone along with all the gossip. The ladies that worked for the Telephone Exchange were a sweet bunch, always courteous, we didn’t have a phone at Dublin House, but the butcher shop did, so that if the phone at the shop starting ringing in the middle of the night, we all knew it was a bit of bad news. I dreaded that sound. I have a collection of the very chairs that the ladies occupied, made to twist and turn in every direction and no sides so they could accommodate the ladies commodious skirts. A quick hello to the girls working in the office and a run down to the General Store, owned by some people who had moved to the town from up country.
They did not seem to quite understand this boy that lived over the road and dropped in to say hello a bit and often bought nothing. There was always a sort of reserve from them, but that was maybe a hangover from the area they had come from. After they had been in town and Mrs Tolliday had contributed a swag of her recipes to the CWA ladies and the small recipe book they produced each year, she was in and the business started to prosper. The shop had several sections, on the left hand side was the fruit and vegetables, these were mostly in the front window, much of what was sold in the shop was locally grown and even grown at the back of the shop. Many of the towns folk contributed. The lolly counter was also to be found on the same side and consisted of a large glass display case with a lift up lid in which stood rows and rows of boxes of sweets with small hand made signs telling how many you could get for a penny. Mum was not much into the kids being allowed to eat too many sweets, so we were not given money to spend. The ice cream section was on the right of the entrance and was a long much cleaned and scrubbed refrigerator of shiny metal that had enough room for at least four ice cream types, as I remember, white or plain, chocolate, strawberry and one other, I think it varied, pineapple and so on. The last remaining two lidded round drum shaped containers were for milk. In those days the milk was delivered every morning by the milk man and you had to leave out your billy to be filled along with money. The billy would be filled in accordance with what you left. The milk was from Tiemans dairy and had full cream, so in our house, Mum would put the milk on to boil and the cream would be skimmed. If you ran out of milk, then a dash to the general store was the only way and for that you also took a billy.
Soft drink, from the Port Fairy cordial factory filled the shelves down beyond the ice creams, the benches behind the ice cream fridge were where the milk shake mixer and the ice cream cones were kept, the doors below the counter on the fridge was were the take home ice cream was kept. That was a whole other story, and a very recent invention. You had been able to buy ice cream wafers (we called it a cream between) for some time, slices of ice cream wrapped in a grease proof paper and a separate couple of wafers given to you to make your own. Mum was quite fond of this and I would be sent over to the shop to get one each for the family, since we didn’t have a refrigerator at that time I was sent across the road between courses. Mum would have the fruit cut and sugared ready to go. Not long after that the ice cream bricks started to come in and these were blocks of white, chocolate or strawberry and a new invention, claimed by the Americans, but in fact created by Italians, a brick called Neapolitan and it was a combo of white, pink and brown ice cream. At the time of their introduction we did not have the means to keep them cold, so they were not much in vogue in our house, my Auntie Mavis did have a fridge and would often give us slices of rockmelon (called Cantaloupe) with a sprinkling of sugar and a scoop of ice cream, such a treat. The General Store had at one time been a cafe and still sported some tables and chairs but the days of serving a meal there were long over and the most you could get would be a sandwich. The vacant tables and chairs had a kind of lonely look to them, parked down the back in an empty open space where the light didn’t quite make it. No magic there, a sense of loss. Back in the times when the cafe was fully functioning, the dining section was filled with laughter and people eating. Every cafe in town had the same sort of floor plan, the front of the shop nearest the street was where the ice creams, lollies, milk was sold, the cafe section was down the back. Of the three cafes that once over flowed with eaters, only one now remained in operation.
Time to get home with the bread or I would be in trouble, Dad would be on his way home for lunch and none would be there for him. My favourite was cold corned beef sandwiches. Corned beef was an institution, it was one of those meats that was loved by all both hot and cold and seldom a week went by without Mum getting out the large boiling pot, a huge heavy great iron thing that when filled with water and meat was impossible for one person to lift, Mum would put it on the stove, lower the meat into it, a few bay leaves, some cloves, some peppercorns, and a whole onion or two and then pour enough water into the pot to cover the meat, then on with the gas and slow cook for three or four hours. The onion would be rescued and then mashed into the white sauce along with some parsley, a great mound of creamy mashed potato and a large plate of buttered cabbage. Dad liked his with hot English mustard and Mum would mix a bit of mustard powder with some hot water, salt and sugar. Mum was the sugar queen, there was barely anything that she said didn’t benefit by a splidge or a great heap of sugar. Her magic. Cold corned beef sandwiches made from white high tin crusty bread, good country butter, thick slices of meltingly tender corned beef and a good slather of mustard were hard to beat, with the possible exception of those sandwiches that had all the above, but also contained a slice or two of tomato and some of mums home made mustard pickles.
Lunch was never a big affair during the week and before long I was off again to resume to wandering about town. The Drill Hall and the Fairy Palace had a special fascination for me, they were part and parcel of the same complex, the Fairy Palace was the picture theatre which for dances and balls was stripped back of all its seats and the floor swept and dusted with talc to make the movements of the dancers smooth. The band was assembled to the right of the picture screen and usually consisted of piano, drums, saxophone and guitar. In those days there was no sound system as such and the depth of sound depended on the ability of the band to play and sing with gusto. The Drill Hall became the supper room and was entered from the opposite side of the theatre and this was always laid with long trestle tables loaded with food. The town’s ups and downs were celebrated in this venue, the triumphs of returning from war, the deep despair at going. The farmers celebrating a successful year and the council asserting authority, all was part and parcel of this place and every week, Friday and Saturday nights would see the screening of two popular movies under the watchful eye of Mr Riordan who had arranged that the movies be sent down on the local train from Melbourne, had put up the movie posters in the glass cases out the front and then who sold the tickets in the little ticket office just inside the front door and when it neared time to start, sprinted up stairs to the projectionist booth which was already occupied by Mr Riordans projectionist Noggie Dalton and he would supervise the showing of the movie. Occasionally the movie film would break and this would cause the screen to be lit up with flashes and a general large murmur from the audience as they accepted the idea that the repair of the film would take a while. I vividly recall on one occasion one of the local women got bored and started to sing, she was soon joined by others and before long she had risen to conduct the spontaneous music. Mr Riordan for some reason took a dim view of all that and ran down the stairs to silence his paying customers and assure them of his hasty repair. The magic of theatre!