Bendigo-1950s

By Malcolm Qualtrough

Memories of Bendigo Victoria, Australia in the 1950s

Malcolm-Ian-1957-58

Malcolm and Ian Qualtrough 1957-58

I was born on the 7th November 1951 in the Bendigo Base Hospital. Today Greater Bendigo is a city of about 100,000 and is 130 km (90 miles) North of Melbourne.

In the 1950s up until 1972 Bendigo's predominant form of public transport was electric trams. My father Alan Qualtrough was a tram-driver for my first 20 years. Alan is descended from James Qualtrough born 1832,(Chart 22). Alan and his wife Betty (my mother) rented a miners cottage briefly in Allingham Street, just opposite the Kangaroo Flat Railway Station and I can just remember my Mother pushing me up to the shops along the railway line.

We next rented a house at 38 McIvor Road. The old weatherboard house was on the corner of Michael Street. It backed on to a creek which ran all the way down to Hume and Isers Hardware Store some blocks away. On the other side of the creek was a one-man police station where Seargent Kennedy and his family lived. Mr Kennedy didn't seem to have a police car, but he had a VW, and I would often see him tear round the corner and head up McIvor Road to attend some emergency. 

A couple of houses up, on the corner of Patrick st was Holts Atlantic Garage and Tow Truck services. His yard later straddled the creek which was covered in as a drain. Michael Street was narrow and another creek or drain came off McIvor Road and joined the main drain across a vacant block, (part of the road easement). This block was used on Guy Fawkes night for a bonfire. All the neighbours attended, roasted potatoes in the fire and set off fireworks.

Further up Michael Street lived our friends the Crawfords who had Crawford's Shoe Shop near the Town Hall. Around the corner in Casey St, lived the McKenzies (McKenzies Milk-bar, and later Hire business in Chapel St, opposite the Brian Boru Hotel). They had two houses and my mother cleaned for them a few times each week.

I went to Gravel Hill State School for 4 years. In grade 3 we had Mrs Kelly (something akin to a witch I used to think). She gave the boys you the strap for the most trivial things if you attracted her attention; such as day-dreaming out the window or wandering outside of the lines whilst colouring in a map of Australia with your pencils. She was a bit weak and the strap hardly hurt. She used to lift up the girls dresses and they got a ruler across the backside. 

When we went in to Bendigo we would catch the old blue East Bendigo bus from outside Ashman’s Men's Clothing Store to make the journey home. The buses used to carry prams on the back tailgate. Pictured below is one heading out to Golden Square.

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I can remember the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956; also late nights listening to the wireless serials over and over again. Bed was the warmest place in the house. The wireless was usually plugged into the light bulb socket. Remembered most, we listened to Dad and Dave, Biggles, The Argonauts Club, and Life with Dexter. You could listen to them over and over as the old AM reception frequencies dfirfted in and out from all over Australia. 

We had one cold tap in the kitchen; the old chip heater fed the bath we had once a week and the wood stove in the kitchen never went out.

Every Saturday Mum cooked up a roast dinner and my brother and I had to be quiet while Dad listened to the 12.15 news on ABC radio.

Being a chronic asthmatic all my life had a big impact on my memories. I remember the many nights awake trying not to suffocate or bother my parents, late night trips to hospital, sleeping all of the next day and night, probably full of drugs. I remember the many horrid trips to Dr Straede in McCrae Street. Worst still was the old dentist Dr Batchelor also in McCrae Street who didn't believe in local anaesthetics. You were taken up the back stairs and strapped to a bed and given chloroform.

Dr Straede came round each week before Christmas with a carload of toys for the kids.

I remember the Christmas dinners. Typically Christmas Eve or morning you went out with Dad to buy a live chook or duck. Then you went home and watched whilst it had its head chopped off. Mum would then pluck all of its feathers out. Dinner was not complete without a pudding filled with sixpences and threepences for us to find.

The days were filled with playing 'cowboys and indians' and I don't believe the toy guns and arrows did any harm to us. Our neighbours were the one of the first to get TV in 1956 and we were allowed to watch the Lone Ranger at 6.30 in the evening.

I remember the first Around Australia Redex Rally going past the front of our house. I can also remember the first Boeing 707 flying laps of honours on its inaugural trip to Melbourne. From time to time, possibly Anzac Day, the Airforce sent its big Delta winged jets to do the same thing.

I remember the 'Rabbit-O', a big flat dray cart coming up the highway laden with rabbits for sale.

I remember the summers were extremely hotter than what they are today, and when you got sick you just went to bed for a few days or a week until you got better.

Every Summer Dad packed up the car and trailer. The old Vangaurd took us to Barwon Heads (near Geelong) camping. Many memories of exploring the beach and cliff, many nights at the old Leopold, near Geelong Drive-in.

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Camp at Inverloch with the old Vanguard (NZ 124) - Mum and Dad slept in the trailer.

Bendigo had three picture theatres and one drive-in in the 1950s. We must have been fairly well off because we went to the pictures every Friday and Saturday nights, and most Saturday matinees. At the Saturday Matinee you took a load of comic books to swap with other kids.

Bendigo was a great place in those days and until I started work in 1971 you knew just about everyone in the town. Mum and Dad took us to St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Myers Street, where I briefly went to Sunday school. The church also had a Sunday school hall just around the corner from us in Neal Street. How important you felt when the minister patted you on the head as you left the church.

Every November we went to the Sunday school Picnic, usually by train to Ravenswood about 20 km South of Bendigo through the Big Hill tunnel. My memories are filled with the races, the tents, the long dry grass, the raspberry cordials and the ice creams kept in dry-ice.

Easter time was the Bendigo Easter Fair where the stalls and amusements surrounded the main city block and kept the traffic away. Again we thought ourselves well off because we had enough money to satisfy us on the merry-go-rounds and sideshows. The Easter parade on the Monday was the highlight and today is just a mere shadow of its former self. Again my Mum had to keep me away from the last entrant which I think was the Bendigo School of Mines with a truck laden with Rotten Egg Gas. This was sure to set off an Asthma attack.

My mother played tennis with the Kennington Club, so many hours were spent at Neal Street waiting for her to finish, and hanging around the playground. She played sometimes at Eaglehawk and I remember more Christmas picnics in the gardens beside Lake Neanger.

Life seemed so simple then, we had no one telling us we were baby-boomers and making us feel ashamed of ourselves for contributing to today's' moral problems. We had no problem with our identity, we knew the Queen lead the country. We knew how to entertain ourselves.

It was a highlight for Dad to cook us up some 'bread and dripping' for a main meal. We didn't know we were perhaps poor, and we didn't care if we were. We were invited to birthday parties wherever. I can remember some kids did it a lot tougher and some did it a lot easier.

This video of the History of the Bendigo Tramways shows Bendigo in the 1950s

© 2016 by Malcolm Qualtrough, Elizabeth Feisst and John Karran Qualtrough.
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