Our Little Town - Growing up in Lakes Entrance (Third Edition)

Dec 3 2014
Our Little Town - Growing up in Lakes Entrance (Third Edition)

After being out of print for the past twelve months we have finally put 'Our Little Town, Growing up in Lakes Entrance' up on Amazon as both a hard cover and an eBook. It has been a popular read over the five years since we first published but the time has come to make it more easily accessible.
The book tells the story of one family over five generations who grew up in the coastal Australian town of Lakes Entrance on the very beautiful Gippsland Lakes.
Here is just one sample:
Dave ‘Buddy’ Allen’s story
There is no doubt that I was a big baby. Legend has it I weighed 12 pounds. But family folklore says that because babies were often born and weighed at home in those days, my grandmother, Nanna Allen, would surreptitiously add a bit of finger pressure to the scales at the weigh in. This was in order to score a little one-upmanship over her many sisters who were quite competitive about a lot of things, the size of their babies included.
I was born David Arthur Maxwell Allen in Sale on the July 24, 1925, the second son of Arthur and Elsie (Hewat). How did I end up with such an imposing set of names? David was my uncle’s name, Arthur my father’s, and Maxwell was after Billy Maxwell Todd, the brother of my mother’s friend, Nellie Todd. He became the town butcher after he returned from the War.
I was quiet, whereas my brother Jack was more outgoing. He was born two years before me and always looked out for me. My early memories are sparse but I do remember Jack and I towing our little billy-cart, made from a fish box on wheels, around the town. We would fill it with freshly picked lettuces from our father’s garden, which we would sell for threepence each. We played a lot with our neighbours, the Grays, as there were 13 of them and so there was always a playmate. Billy Gray was my best friend when I was growing up and we did a lot of things together. Unfortunately, he was blinded in the army trenches while on watch. His brother Norm, better known as “Hornet”, always loved his food and still holds the record for eating eight pies at one sitting on a footy club pie night. The Grays had a house cow and after school, Mrs Gray would make us a feast of fresh bread and jam with clotted cream from the top of the milk. She was a lovely woman.
Jack and I didn’t wear shoes to school. Only the wealthy kids did that. Nevertheless, I liked school because I loved all the sports we played – football, cricket and athletics. As for education, my Grade 3 teacher, Della Todd, taught me to write well and to take a pride in my handwriting, a wise lesson that I have carried right throughout my life.
The pivotal point in our lives for Jack and I came in December 1934, when our mother, Elsie, died, aged just 36.
I was only nine years old and Jack was 11 when she became ill. She was taken to Bairnsdale Hospital and within a matter of weeks was dead as a result of problems with her kidneys. As a result, I don’t recall very much of my life before my mother’s death. It was such a traumatic moment, I think I was in shock about it for years afterwards. In fact, I think that I have almost completely blocked this part of my life out of my memory. All I know is that life was never the same for Jack and I after our mother died. It just seemed to come out of the blue with no warning and was a really sad time for both of us. We were just two little boys.
Understandably, our father was deeply hurt by his wife’s sudden and early death and as a result, despite his best intentions, became emotionally distant from us, so I was pretty much left to myself. Of course, in hindsight I realise that I actually did have a lot of love and support, but it didn’t always feel that way then.
I do remember that my mother’s sister, Aunty Ettie, always looked out for Jack and me and had us over to her farm in Bruthen quite a lot. She had a big family, so there was always a lot going on there. Her husband died early, too, leaving her to work the farm and raise the family - so she often seemed quite strict, but she had a good heart. Later, when I was older, I would ride my bike over there for the weekend. I bought the bicycle on hire purchase, paying 2/6 a week for it, and it was my pride and joy. It gave me a certain freedom to get around.
Uncle Pat, my mother’s brother, was also very good and kind to us. He made me a model aeroplane, which I always remember. I was interested in planes right from the start and so it was an easy decision later to join the Air Force.
Aunty Mavis Gaul was also an important lady in our lives. I was very fond of her and she was always very good to Jack and me. She was my father’s sister and lived in Melbourne but came to Lakes often to visit her parents, Nanna (Annie) and Gugga (Robert) Allen. In turn, our father, Arthur, would take us down to the city on the train and we would catch the number 69 tram out to Mavis’ home in Balaclava. It was most exciting. Her daughter, Margaret, also came to Lakes Entrance often and even though she was a few years younger than us, Jack and I spent a lot of time with her. She was like a little sister to us.
Above all, Nanna and Gugga Allen cared for us and we loved them. They stepped in to look after us after our mother died, even though they were old. They were straight-laced Presbyterians and had very firm ideas as to what was right and what was wrong. Nanna came from a large family and there was considerable rivalry between them all. Comparisons were regularly drawn as to who was doing/achieving what, so we were under constant scrutiny from the whole town. We just knew we had to toe the line. Nanna was confined to the house a lot because she had bad health - she ended up in a wheelchair - but she was a great cook and looked after us well. Somehow she managed to manoeuvre her chair around the little kitchen and prepare beautiful meals. With our father struggling to come to grips with our mother’s death, we lived an unusual life, sleeping at our home in Orme Street but eating all our meals at Nanna’s. The thing I liked best was Nanna Allen’s puddings. They were delicious, always made with fresh eggs and lots of butter or suet. She made a variety of them, but the golden syrup dumplings were the best, topped by clotted cream that she retrieved from the top of scalded milk.
There were usually two places that you could always find Nanna Allen. If she wasn’t sitting in the chair by the fire in her kitchen, she was sitting on the north-facing veranda, enjoying the sunshine and chatting to whoever went past. She only ever ventured out to play euchre at the Mechanics Hall or Housey-Housey – a form of Bingo - when the carnival came to town.
Gugga was a nuggetty, broad-shouldered man who was as brown as a berry. He had been a top footballer, the captain of Lakes Entrance, and was so fit and strong that he played footy for Lakes until he was 48 years old. Wherever he went, Gugga was instantly recognizable - he always wore a flannel shirt and he wore braces, rather than a belt, to hold up his pants. Because he liked a drink at the Central Hotel and sometimes didn’t know when to stop, Gugga was often in the doghouse with Nanna and at these times he would retreat to an old shed he had set up down the backyard. If he was really in trouble, he would eat at Elroy Cafe, which was down the main street.
Gugga loved us kids and never let us miss out on much. He often took us down to Melbourne to the boxing at Festival Hall and the football at Richmond and we always went to the Royal Melbourne Show every year on the train. The highlight on the trip would be the ten bob counter lunch at Billy Duncan’s pub in St Kilda. Billy Duncan was a bit of a legend as he had been a great jockey in his day - he won the Victorian Jockeys Premiership 11 times and once rode the mighty Phar Lap to a victory. Gugga loved to escape his wife Annie’s scrutiny and have a beer at places like that because she always disapproved of his drinking when he was at home.
Nanna and Gugga had a house on the West Side that they had lived in before they moved over to the town, and we often went over there amongst the scrub and banksias for a holiday. There was the ocean beach over the hummocks and the lake to swim in on the sheltered side.
Our father’s brother, Uncle Dave Allen, was one of the few people in Lakes Entrance that owned a car and he always took us to the Lakes away games during the football season or came over to the cricket with us. He was a good sportsman himself and played footy and cricket for Lakes.
My brother Jack left Lakes to go to the Post Office in Maffra to work when he was 14 years old and I was only 12. That was a real wrench for me because until then we had been an almost inseparable pair. Two years later, I also left school at 14 and, like the Allen men before me, I sat and passed the exam to get a job in the Postmaster-General’s Department - the PMG. My first posting was to Bairnsdale Post Office and as they had an Air Force Cadets in the town I joined that when I was 16 years old. I was on duty on a sleepover the night that the Morse code message came through that Teddy Bulmer, a Lakes Entrance local and father of three little girls, Florence, Sylvia and Dorothy, had died in action. It was awful.
When I turned 18, I joined the RAAF, did my training and became an air gunner in the 23rd Squadron, flying Liberators during World War 2. You can see the aeroplane we flew on display at Point Cook, where it is still preserved today.
I joined the services in Preston and Uncle Dave and my father came to see me off. They were jay walking across Swanston Street and were pulled up by the policeman on duty who was going to book them. When he was taking their names and they told him of the reason for their journey to Melbourne, he laughed and said, “Dad and Dave come to town, eh!” and let them off.
I enjoyed the company of the other men and made some lifelong friends. I served in Townsville, Ballarat, Sale and New Guinea and made a lot of mates amongst the boys I was with. In Townsville they say that it is a mystery to this day as to where the wartime defensive bunkers are located, but I reckon I know exactly where they are - I could take you there and show you right now.
Towards the end of 1943, when I was stationed at Ballarat, I got word that my father was very sick, but I was not allowed leave to go and see him until the last moment. He died on October 6, before I got there, which was very upsetting for me. Father had retreated into himself with his grief after my mother died and perhaps Jack and I felt he had abandoned us, but I never had the chance to resolve this with him, so that left me with a very empty feeling. I had to make my own way home to Lakes for Father’s funeral and always remember the kindness of a stranger along the way. It was a hot, muggy day and I was hitching a ride and walking through Trafalgar in uniform, pretty downhearted because of the reason for my journey. A kind lady came to the front fence of her home and offered me a cool drink and a rest. I always remember her when I go through that town.
Uncle Dave had promised my father on his deathbed that he would look out for us and he did just that until Jack and I both married. After the funeral I had to find my way back to the barracks and just get on with my life.
The crew of our aircraft consisted of 11 men – pilot, co-pilot, navigator, wireless operator, engineer and six gunners covering the rear, waist and nose. I would have loved to have been a pilot and I actually passed the exams to do so. But I didn’t have my own teeth, so I was precluded. I reckon that this “false teeth” rule was brought in to limit the number of working class boys taking up flying.
While the Liberator was big plane, there was very little room in the front. And because I was slightly built, I became a nose gunner. The nose gunner had to fit himself in the front turret before take-off and would stay there for the whole mission, sometimes up to 14 hours. It was not comfortable and not for the faint-hearted, but we were young and invincible. We often flew very close to the enemy in face-to-face dogfights with the Japanese. I can still see the fear in a Japanese front gunner’s eyes as his plane whizzed past and we took shots at each other – we were so close for that few seconds he could probably see the same anxiety in mine.
We had some interesting missions, but we never knew where we were going to go or what we were going to do before we took off, which only added to the stress and the intrigue. It was a very demanding business. One of our crew cracked up on his first mission and was sent home early with nerves. They called it “LMF”, which stood for Lack of Moral Fibre, and which was something not to be spoken about.
Our main job was to drop provisions on the Pacific islands for the commandos. The Japanese were setting up bases there and so we had to be careful to take it slow and easy and not to bring attention to ourselves. They would build decoy ships from bamboo to try and entice us into bombing them, thus giving away our presence. One time we had dropped the provisions and were low inside the mountains when we went over a hill and suddenly found ourselves looking the armed Japanese lines in the eye. Fortunately they were just as surprised to see us and couldn’t get their guns up quickly enough. As we got to hell out of there, shells began exploding around us!
Another time, the second pilot, in charge while the skipper slept, failed to see a mountain looming in front of us until almost too late. With the engines screaming, how he pulled it up and over I will never know.
We used to get up to some interesting things. When we were dropping bombs over Borneo, on every second pass we would drop empty beer bottles. This was because there was a shortage of ammunition and the bottle made a whistling sound just like a bomb, thus keeping the Japanese awake and on edge between the real bombings.
My time in the Air Force enabled me to see and experience things that I wouldn’t otherwise have done had I just stayed in Lakes Entrance. I went sailing on Sydney Harbour, played on the lawn tennis courts of Kooyong, played football for Ballarat and was shocked to be propositioned by Kings Cross prostitutes.
At the end of the war we were required to drop pamphlets over the islands to let both sides of the conflict know it was over. Some soldiers were still fighting, so it was a nervy job as we still could be shot at. After a while the wireless operator had enough and said, “let’s get the hell out of here!’ And with that, he threw all the pamphlets out at once!
When the war in the Pacific finished, we were flying back over the Samoan Islands and all the people came out to wave to us, so happy that the fighting was over. My mates, Norm Fiddler and Gordon Stubbs, and I came back to Lakes at about the same time. For a while, Norm and I boarded together down at Aunty Cissy Neal’s at Kia Ora Guesthouse. Nobody else really understood what we had seen and done, but we could talk and help each other through it and get on with our lives. I suppose today they would call it debriefing or having counselling.
My brother Jack, who had also served in the RAAF, had come home to live with his new bride Theresa. Nanna and Gugga welcomed us back, but of course our father had died during my time away and was no longer with us. Theresa made a 21st birthday celebration for me at Orme Street and I cut the cream sponge birthday cake, which she had iced with passionfruit icing. I knew it was time to get on with my life.
Now, I was always shy with girls and was not one of those blokes that played the field. By the time I left Lakes to join the Air Force I had only had one innocent teenage relationship with a girl who happened to be my second cousin. It didn’t last for long because Nanna Allen got wind of it and set out on a little detective work of her own to confirm whether the town gossip was true or not. I had written my girl a love letter in fountain pen. Of course, the ink needed to be dried off with blotting paper, which I duly did. My mistake was to leave the blotting paper on the table. Nanna got hold of it, and in true detective fashion, held it up to the mirror, thus reversing the letters and reading it. Well, that was it, then! I was read the riot act and it was made clear to me that I was to have no more to do with the girl. There would be no marrying cousins in this family.
In 1947 I noticed a young girl, Valerie Shelley, working in Lakes in the grocery section at Harbeck’s store with Lainie Hancock. Valerie was only 17 years old and as pretty as a picture - petite with beautiful blue eyes and a wonderful sense of humour. Her mother, a single mother, had died when she was only two, and, after being bought up by her maternal grandmother, Susan Allan from Mallacoota, and her mother’s sister, Molly, she had come to live with her sister Sheila and her husband Sid Wells in Bairnsdale. They had moved to Lakes to live in Jemmeson Street and that is when I noticed her. Val was vivacious, the talk of the town, and all the young blokes would have loved to take her dancing.
I was shy and quiet and Val tells me that it was made quite clear to her by the older ladies of the town that I was to be saved for a local girl and that she was an outsider and was not to dare enter into the race for my affections. I, however, had different ideas. I thought she was just lovely, so I always tried to be near her at dances and other outings. I wasn’t much of a dancer, but I would dance with her whenever I got the chance. The big problem was that I was too shy to make my intentions known, in case they were rejected. One night, after a dance at the Mechanics Hall, a group of us went down to the hamburger shop at the end of town near the footbridge to extend the night by having something to eat and a milkshake. It was my time to make a move.
As we were leaving, I manoeuvred myself so that I was next to Val - and I took her hand! I held my breath as I waited to see what her response would be. To my eternal delight, she didn’t take her hand away and so I knew that I was in with a chance. My heart jumped and I felt the luckiest bloke around. After that, I became bolder and Val seemed to like being with me. Val tells me that she knew finally that we were a couple when, one Saturday when I was playing football, I came over to where she was standing at the fence to watch the game, and handed her something wrapped in a hanky to care for while I played. She opened the hanky to find my false teeth smiling up at her. She knew then that we would get married!
Val would come to tea at Nanna’s house in Church Street where it would be noted that she was far too thin. To rectify this, Nanna fed her with all her delicious meals, particularly her famous sweets, until she almost couldn’t move from the table.
I didn’t actually propose to Val, it was just understood between us that we would marry, so we made a trip to Melbourne where we chose a diamond ring, which was a solitaire mounted on a high setting, and took it home with us to await a suitable time to announce our intentions to the whole of Lakes. Before we did this, however, we went to Sydney to meet Val’s beloved grandma and to ask her permission to marry. I passed scrutiny and she gave us her blessing.
We announced our engagement at the annual Lakes Entrance State School Ball in the Mechanics Hall because, by doing that, we could do the barn dance and everyone could congratulate us and inspect the ring. Most of the town was there and we were all having a wonderful time talking and dancing when Val looked down and saw to her horror that the high-set solitaire diamond had fallen out of her new ring! Well, they stopped the music and asked everyone to stand still and look down around where they stood. It was one of those awful moments – one minute we were so happy, and the next, the symbol of our love had disappeared and there was silence. I looked down and my eye caught a sparkle on the floor and there it was, the new diamond. I had saved the day!
We were married on October 14, 1950, in St Brendan’s Church. Val’s bridesmaids were her sisters, Sheila and Lola, while Vivienne Wells, her niece, was flower girl. Norm Fiddler was my best man and my brother Jack was my groomsman. We had our reception at Bellevue Guest House, which was run by Lucy Sandberg at the time, and on our first night we made it to Sale on the bus and stayed at a hotel in town. We then got the train to Melbourne and a Qantas flight to Tasmania where we honeymooned. Trouble was, at the airport luggage carousel, I inadvertently picked up what I thought was my luggage and it wasn’t until we got to the hotel where we were staying that I opened the bag and realised it was not mine. I had a case full of lacy underwear, pretty bedclothes and a lovely pink angora bolero. Definitely not my style! It took a couple of days to get my own clothes back and I had to wear my wedding suit everywhere.
Up until then, Val had been boarding at old Mrs Harbeck’s house. After returning from our honeymoon, we rented a home in McCrae Street and later we built our dream home in Daniel Street and moved in there when our eldest, Sue, was three and our second child, Wendy, just a baby. It was, and still is, a very well designed house and modern for its time with all the living areas together, the bedrooms along one side and big windows that let in plenty of light. The weatherboards were stained wood and it was all trimmed in white. It was one of the first homes on our hill and we loved it. Out the back, we had a huge underground tank to store water and ensure that we would never run out. There was a lot of vacant land around but there was a neighbour on our left, Theo Lasnick and his family, and behind us was Bob Jameson. Bob was a bit difficult to live close to. Once, our son David had a pair of pet rabbits that got loose under the Jameson’s house and produced a litter of nine kittens. Bob took out his shotgun and shot them all. He didn’t like the bonfire that the kids made at the bottom of the hill on Guy Fawkes Night, either, and would call the fire brigade to come and put it out. Bonfire night caused a bit of friction in one way or another between the townsfolk.
I was brought up around boats and was more familiar with them than I was with cars. My father owned a small fishing boat called the Erin and we spent many happy hours up the lake with him when we were boys. He was not only a professional fisherman, but he loved to fish in his spare time, as well.
I went into fishing, too, my first trawler being the Eloise, a little white boat and the smallest in port. I had one adventure in her that was more frightening for my family than it was for me, as I knew I was okay and they didn’t. A big blow came up while we were out fishing east of Lakes Entrance, and being a small boat, we got blown completely off course. I managed to steer her around to the sheltered side of Gabo Island, off Mallacoota, where we could wait out the storm. We were out of radio contact, so there was no way of letting anyone know what happened, and the continuing rough weather, which lasted several days, prevented us from getting out of there. When word got around Lakes that the Eloise hadn’t made it back to port as scheduled, most people had written me off as being drowned at sea.
It was a very harrowing time for Val, who was engaged to me at the time. Harbeck’s store, where she was working, was opposite the main jetty, so there was a constant reminder that I had not returned. Old Mrs Harbeck gave her a kind shoulder to cry on. “It’s best to keep busy,” she told Val, giving her some windows to clean in the raging gale, all the time reassuring her that I’d be okay. Gugga came into the shop especially to comfort Val and tell her that I was lost but not dead. “He’ll be all right, he’s run with the wind and as soon as it dies down, he’ll be back,” Gugga told her. One day soon, he promised, I would walk into town along the beach and tell everyone where I had been shipwrecked.
Sure enough, when all appeared lost, the battered Eloise suddenly appeared on the horizon! I steered her into harbour and the whole town was very happy – no one more pleased and relieved than Val.
Much later, after we were married, we got a two-way radio connected from the boat to the house and Val could always know what was going on, how many fish we had on board and what time we were expecting to be home.
I continued working the Eloise with Gordon Stubbs for a couple of years, but the boat was simply too small. I sold her and, after initially working as a deckhand on the Minotaur, bought in on it, going half shares with Jim Semonds. Then Keith Bryce, who had come to town from Huskisson near Nowra, bought Jim’s share and the Bryce and Allen families became very firm friends, running the Minotaur together. Anne Bryce was Val’s rock and got her through many a crisis when I was out fishing and not contactable. The Minotaur was a great boat, a pretty aqua colour and she sat beautifully in the water. She was affectionately known as ‘The Minnie’. We moored her at Harbeck’s jetty and I bet there are many holiday snaps taken by visitors with the Minotaur in the background. I loved that boat like one of the family and she returned my devotion by providing for our growing clan over the next couple of decades. On one occasion we came home with 200 bins of the best whiting. Now that was a good day.
On weekends we would sometimes take the boat up to the Barrier, near Rigby Island, with the family on board for a barbecue or a picnic. Often on a summer’s night Val, Anne and the kids would meet us at the wharf when we got in from fishing and we would turn around and go over the West Side for tea and a late swim. The water over there was pristine, as it came straight from the ocean. For the annual Blessing of the Fleet at the Post Office Jetty, the Bryces and Allens would decorate the Minnie with bunting, streamers and balloons and on New Year’s Eve we always had a bird’s eye view of the fireworks as we cruised around Cunninghame Arm enjoying a beer and party food.
I eventually bought Keith out, but only had the Minnie for myself for about six months when we got wrecked coming in across a pretty foamy bar at the Western Spit. One wave caught us off guard and turned us around and another knocked us right over. I was in the deckhouse at the time and I was trapped. The ropes and boxes had washed up against the deckhouse door and it just wouldn’t move. I was certain I was done for. My deckie at that time was Cam Stuckey and I will always give him credit for saving my life. He was preparing to get off the boat but could see me scratching frantically at the deckhouse door trying to escape and realised my predicament. Cam wasn’t going to save himself without looking after me. He assessed the situation and started frantically to pull all the paraphernalia away from the door - but the wash of the waves pounding over the boat kept pushing it right back.
That’s when my faith came in. I was frantically praying in the deckhouse. I could see what Cam was trying to do but realised that things didn’t look good. Then, as if a gift from God, a huge wave washed over, clearing the decks enough for Cam to wrest the door open and pull me out. Then it washed everything back against the door again. A miracle had happened and I was saved. We grabbed a 44-gallon drum and got out of there and into the water. By this time our plight had been witnessed from Jemmy’s Point and a rescue party, my brother Jack included, was on the way to the West Side with all the ropes and gear. We were in the water for more than an hour as the sea raged around us, but eventually they got a rope to us and pulled us into shore.
When we got back to Harbeck’s jetty, poor Val was waiting for me. She had heard the Mayday call on the kitchen radio and had run from our home to the jetty after leaving the children next door with Joan Lasnick. That night, in the privacy of our bedroom, I just broke down and cried. The story was so big, the next morning we were on the front page of Melbourne’s daily newspaper, The Sun.
It was just the beginning of our worries in a very challenging 12 months for us as a family. The insurance company mucked us around with the salvage operation and the Minnie lay on the sand for ages, during which time there was no money coming into the house and we were trying to meet our mortgage commitments on both the boat and our home. It took almost 12 months to get the boat back into the water and start fishing properly again. I look back now and wonder how we managed, but somehow we pulled together and got through. The Minnie was salvaged and lived to sail on many more fishing expeditions.
In situations like this, and all through our lives together, Val has been my greatest support. By its very nature, fishing outside the entrance in the open sea severely limited the time I could spend with my family. I seemed to be working all the time. If the weather was good, I was in the boat and out by dawn - and it was often dusk before I returned, unloaded my catch and cleaned up. I would walk in exhausted and have to go to bed early so that I could be up at dawn the next day, ready to go again. Meanwhile, Val kept the family running. She ferried the kids around to all their sports, almost a full time job in itself. Not only would she take our children, she would often have numerous other team members aboard. One time she had 11 kids in the station wagon and was amused when the bloke on the gate looked into the back of the car in horror and said, “They’re not all yours, are they?” Val always had a sense of humour and simply laughed and said, “Thank God, no, they’re not!”
I had some characters for deckhands – it seems to be an occupation that attracts the more unusual types - and I enjoyed working with them all. Kevin ‘Kanga’ Stevens fished with me for the longest time. He was a big, tall fellow who loved a beer and drove a red Ford Customline. Kanga would enjoy a drink of an evening, pull up in the morning in time for work, lumber onto Harbeck’s jetty and fall onto the Minotaur, sleep all the way out, get up and work like a Trojan and come home and repeat the process. He always ate his dinner at Elroy Cafe in the Main Street and would then go over to the Central Hotel. Once he met Caroline Sanford and they started going out together and eventually had a baby. One night, after we had secured the boat, cleaned up and were walking off the wharf together, Kanga said to me, “Buddy, can I ask you something? Can you be my best man? I’m marrying Caroline.”
I said, “Sure, when’s the wedding?”
And he said, “Tonight!”
So I went home and asked Val to clean my suit up a bit, had a shower and got over to the Church of England in Bruthen in time, handed the rings over during the ceremony, went back to Sandford’s for a cup of tea, and then Kanga dropped me off at home as he was going down to get a litre of milk for their baby’s bottle.
Other deckies who worked with me included Graeme McGuire and Allan Curtis, affectionately known as ‘Brolga’. It was Brolga that was with me and witnessed what must have been the goriest of my escapades on the high seas. We were scalloping and were miles out when I tripped and fell over the razor-sharp prongs of the dredge and slashed a part of me I don’t like to talk about much - the family jewels. Not the nicest thing that could happen to a bloke. There was blood everywhere. Brolga wanted to take me straight back to port, but I was a tough fisherman, wasn’t I? I soaked up the blood with a rag and insisted we finish what we were doing before we came home. Well, as soon as we tied up, I hobbled off the boat and went home and got straight into the shower. Val came in, saw blood all over the place, and nearly fainted. So it was straight to the hospital for me, where the nurses whispered amongst themselves and the doctors looked at my predicament in horror. They whisked me straight off to be stitched up. I was in hospital for four or five days and Val reckons I was the first Catholic man ever to have a vasectomy. When I went back to playing golf again, I was a hero at the club and everyone wanted to shout me a beer.
Brolga was also the man who did not put his papers in for the draft in the late 1960s. All 20 year olds had to register for national conscription in those days. If your birth date got drawn out of the barrel, you had to go in the Army. It was two years’ service, including the likelihood of being sent off to fight the Vietnam War. Instead, Brolga had hotfooted it down from Melbourne to work on the boats at Lakes where he thought he would be out of sight and out of mind. Not so. He had been with me for only about 12 months when the Federal Police met us at the wharf one day to collect him and take him back with them. He clung to the mast shouting, “I’m not going! I’m not going!’ I had to say to him, “Listen mate, you have to go. They’ve come to get you.” We eventually prised him from the mast and he reluctantly left to join the Army. As it turned out, it did him the world of good. He came back for a visit looking a million dollars and his days as a deckie had ended.
One time, about dusk, we were coming in with a load of fish on board. It was about 6.30 pm, and in those days the pubs closed at 6.00 pm – the famous Six O’Clock Swill. George and Joan Egan, who lived on the West Side, were on their way home in their rowing boat after a drinking session at the Club Hotel. Joan was happily asleep in the bottom of the boat while George as rowing. Without lights, their little boat was hard to see and the oars made no noise, so as we headed into port we nearly cleaned them up. George didn’t miss a beat. He shook his fist up at us and yelled out, “Use your bloody light!”
Later on, my three sons - David, Mark and Chris - all worked on the Minnie. One of the best times in my life was the 12 months we spent scallop fishing out of Williamstown. It was great - we were making good money and both Val and I enjoyed the suburban life. Val bought a twin-set and pearls and enjoyed all the good services and the shopping and lunches with the other wives. She loved it.
When we sailed the Minotaur down to Melbourne for this stint, my son Mark and Tony McKean, husband of our daughter Wendy, came. David was already down there but came to meet us in another boat, the Silver Gull. On the way through the infamous Rip – the notorious stretch of water at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay – the Minnie almost disappeared in the giant swell. Those watching us from the Silver Gull said it was an astonishing sight. When we would disappear into the valley of a wave, they could only see the tip of our mast.
One day, when we were dredging for the scallops, Tony went overboard. His waders filled up with water and we were having trouble pulling him in. Tony, who had taken time off from his job as a plumber to work with us, was a very good footballer and is a pretty big man. As we were struggling with him, Mark called out, “Tony, we bought you down here to fish, not to swim!”
We only had a licence to work in Port Phillip Bay for 12 months so after it was up, we returned home to Lakes. Remembering our trip down, I was a bit toey about going back out through the Rip again, but even though we bounced around a bit, we made it. Sadly, we returned to Lakes to discover that all the fishing close to port had almost been completely wiped out. We had to scallop 10 to 12 hours out to sea in a boat that was far too small for the job. We worked hard and did our best, but always struggled to make a good living because we didn’t have the money to invest in a bigger boat and adopt more modern methods. Looking back, I realise that fishing is a very hard life, particularly the daily battle against the elements in a small boat. There are much easier and safer ways to earn a living.
It was a sad day when we sold the Minotaur, made even more so when, during her voyage back to Melbourne, she sank near Cape Patterson. She now lies on the bottom, providing shelter for fish and other sea life. A fitting end for a good old girl!
In the early days of our marriage we didn’t have a car, so for many years I used to ride my bike down to the boat and leave it resting against the tree until I got back. Everyone in town knew that it was my bike, that I was out fishing, and that I would need it when I got back. However, one day I got home from fishing and the bike had been stolen. The little town of Lakes Entrance was losing a bit of its innocence.
The kids were often with me down at the jetty while I was doing my nets or they would be there waiting for me when I got in of an evening. One day I had Wendy with me when she was a toddler. I heard a splash, turned around and she had fallen in. I immediately jumped in and pulled her out. I had a ‘corky’ – a corked thigh - from football the previous Saturday and the cold water did wonders for it. I was cured! That was in the days before icing was considered a good treatment, so I was a bit before my time.
Another day, Sue was with me at the jetty. She was on the foreshore and could see me working with my nets near the boat, so she started to walk towards me not taking into account that she was going from dry land through water. I could see her sinking deeper and deeper into the water like a Laurel & Hardy sketch before I eventually got to her and pulled her out all soaking wet.
Our big day out for the year was the footy trip down to the VFL Grand final. We went with the same blokes each season and never missed. There was me, Keith Bryce, Black Mick and others. We’d stay with Val’s Aunty Molly in St Kilda and have a great time. The best was in 1966 when the mighty Saints won the flag by a point over Collingwood. They haven’t won one since.
The annual Lakes Entrance club footy trip was also always great fun. On one of these trips I came back from a few drinks in the bar and was about to hop into bed, when I discovered there was a bloke already in it! Peter Egan had come back early and got into the wrong bed and was sleeping like a baby. Another time a bloke called Scranny (Max Cranberg) had the job of organising the beer for the next day, Sunday, as the pub would be closed. He ordered two dozen bottles in the bar from a waiter who was a new Australian and didn’t have much of a handle on the English. Everyone was just settling down to sleep when there was a knock at the door and a voice calls out, “Room Service”. We opened the door and there was the smiling waiter with 24 long necks, all opened with the lids off. What were we to do? We had to drink them then and there, of course. Otherwise they would be no good by morning.
When our son David was born he was very sick. He was what they called in those days, a ‘blue baby’. He was born in October and from the time Val brought him home she knew that he was not well. Eventually we were told that we had to get him down to Melbourne immediately. We had no car and no way of getting there, so Val had to go down with him to the old Queen Victoria Hospital in a small aircraft. Just as well, too, as they said later that if we had left it any longer we would have lost him. Val and Sue stayed with dear Mavis in St Kilda for the five weeks David was hospitalised.
Val had Sue with her because she was a shy child and refused to stay with anyone but her mother. Shelia Wells was looking after Wendy. One day, Anne Bryce came to visit Val in Melbourne and they went shopping. Somehow Sue got separated from them and disappeared. A lady found her crying and gave her to the cop on point patrol. Of course, Val and Anne were panicking, having discovered that Sue was gone, but not for long. Here she was, in the middle of Swanston Street, between the policeman’s legs, while he directed traffic. Of course, they claimed her back.
Jenny was born at the same time that Sue, who was 11, was having an operation on her knee, so at one stage we had Val and the two kids in the Bairnsdale Hospital in different wards. Meanwhile, Anne Bryce and Sheila Wells helped to hold everything together for us.
I always loved sport and tried to encourage my boys to play cricket and football by playing with them in the backyard when I got the chance. They all inherited my interest in and love of sport, which I reckon just by itself makes life more interesting and enjoyable. I was a pretty proud Dad when my boys did well on the footy field or the cricket pitch. David, Mark and Chris all played a good game of football although Chris enjoyed surfing more. Mark was an extremely gifted country footballer while David was very good but didn’t have the stamina because of his heart condition. Wendy loved her basketball and after playing went on to become a patron of the local and district basketball leagues, working tirelessly to promote the game in our town. David was a good country cricketer and his two boys, Michael and Nathan, have both gone on to play district cricket, Michael for Northcote and Carlton, and Nathan for Dandenong. Michael captained Australia in under age teams and won the Jack Ryder Medal for the best player in the Premier League. Nathan’s team, Dandenong, won the 2006/7 Premiership and I think they are still celebrating.
Jenny’s two boys are into motorbike racing, while her daughter, Laura, is an award-winning equestrian, and may try for the Olympic Games in London. David’s daughter, Megan also has her own horse and loves to ride. Suzanne’s daughter, Katie, a marketing and promotions executive, has travelled the world with the Formula One Grand Prix circuit and the World Speedboat Championships and worked on the Commonwealth Games Torch Relay in Australian in 2006. Wendy’s son, David plays an excellent game of football and her daughter, Danielle has won numerous awards for her Netball. All our children and grandchildren have appreciated and enjoyed their sports and we have enjoyed watching them and seeing them develop. We are very proud of them all.
In my later years I loved golf and played twice a week. David and I made history when we were the first father and son to play in the Open Heart Open, a unique event for men and women golfers who have undergone heart surgery. The late Don Lawrence, co-founder of the tournament and the doyen of golf writers, wrote an article in The Herald about us, complete with picture. David and I had both suffered from blocked arteries, which required open-heart surgery - a huge, very invasive operation in those days. The recovery time was lengthy and we both took up golf in order to include exercise in our programs. As it turned out, we were both reasonably good at it and enjoyed it very much. Jenny and her husband, Norm Golding, owned a nine-hole golf course at Lakes at one stage and I could be often found up there manning the till and organising the play.
When I look back, it’s been a struggle rearing a large family on a fisherman’s wage, but it has been one we have enjoyed - both Val and I agree that it was all worth it. The only thing I may have changed is that after the war when the Government gave returned soldiers opportunities to study or retrain, I should have at least considered it. I didn’t. I simply came back to fishing and Lakes Entrance because it was the place I knew and loved and because what was left of my family were here. Perhaps it is the place where I am meant to be!

David Allen’s Service Record


NAME: David Arthur Maxwell Allen
DATE OF BIRTH: 26th July, 1925
RANK: Warrant Officer
ENLISTED: 6th September, 1943
PROMOTIONS: Aircraftman 2 06-09-1943
Leading Aircraftman 06-12-1943
Sergeant 20-07-1944
Flight Sergeant 20-01-1945
Warrant Officer 20-01-1946

MUSTERINGS: Aircrew V 06-09-1943
Aircrew (Gunner) 29-11-1943
Wireless Operator Air Gunner 20-07-1944

Warrant Officer Allen started his career with the Royal Australian Air Force on September 6, 1943, at 1 Recruit Centre, Melbourne, and served at the following Units: RAAF Station, Point Cook; 1 Initial Training School, Somers; 1 Wireless & Gunnery School, Ballarat; Air Gunnery School, West Sale; Personnel Depot, Ransford; Aircrew School, Watsonia.
Warrant Officer Allen was posted to 1 Reserve Personnel Pool, Townsville, on November 30, 1944; Heavy Bomber Refresher Training Unit, Nadzab, New Guinea, on December 3, 1944; 1 Reserve Personnel Pool, Townsville, on February 25, 1945; 2 Personnel Depot, Bradford Park on February 26, 1945.
Warrant Officer Allen was posted to 23 Squadron, Manangle, on March 1, 1945; moved to Long NYT on April 1, 1945; embarked to Darwin on June 17, 1945; disembarked Morotai, New Guinea, on June 30, 1945; then to Balikpapan, New Guinea, on July 17, 1945.
On October 8, 1945, Warrant Officer Allen was posted to Personnel Depot, Ransford, and discharged on April 15, 1946, ‘On Demobilisation’.

1939-45 Star
Pacific Star
War Medal 1939-45
Australia Service Medal 1939-45
Australia Service Medal 1945¬-75 with Clasp, SW Pacific
Returned From Active Service Badge