Melbourne Odds and Ends

Hearing my Dad

Well, this will be a coronavirus free post ~ no lockdown updates, no quarantine blues, no case numbers.

Instead it will be about my Dad and my Nanna, with a tale told about my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I hope it might bring a smile to your face.

My Nanna was a great story teller. I have many loved memories sitting listening to her stories of the family. She had a knack of making the ordinary events of family life into funny and interesting stories, a talent she passed down to Dad.

Dad recognised how precious those stories were so over time he taped her memories. However, he didn’t leave it there. In the last decade or so of his life he wrote those stories down. This wasn’t just transcribing Nanna’s words, but creating books of family history around those stories.

We were all amazed by what he did for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, he always hated school, leaving at 14. Reading and writing was a chore. So all the stories and books he wrote for us was a great achievement. Imagine how proud we were in 2004 when he won second prize for his story “Grandpa’s Pipe” in the True Life Section of the story writing competition run by Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Secondly, all of his work was done on a computer. These days that sounds like a very mundane statement, but he had never typed, much less used a computer, and was on a steep learning curve. He taught himself to scan, print, add and move photos and documents, as well as setting up files and documents. Interspersed with the stories and family histories are world timelines, letters written from the Western Front in WW1, maps and so on. How amazing is that?

Dad always gave us copies of his work, and they have sat on my bookshelf. A few weeks ago I had reason to read one of his books, looking to see if my Nanna had mentioned something I had been reading about.

As well as reminding myself what a trove of funny, family stories there were, I realised these stories were written just as Dad spoke them. It was as if he was in the room speaking to me, I was hearing my Dad again. It was a special time, partly because it was so unexpected.

Let me give you a little flavour with Dad telling this story “The Cable Tram”, set in North Melbourne where my Nanna grew up, in about 1919. I hope it brings a smile to your face.

The Cable Tram

My grandpa Mason’s grocery shop had a bike for deliveries. Now, my grandpa’s shop wasn’t busy enough to afford a boy to do the deliveries, so my grandpa did them. Imagine if you can my grandpa on a bike, a middle aged man, tallish, 5 foot 9 inches, thin but wiry, a black moustache, glasses, a brown fur felt hat, a longish apron and smoking a pipe. He always smoked Havlock plug tobacco. In my mind’s eye I can see him on that bike puffing away like an old steam tram.

He would come home at night worn out, complaining about pushing that bloody bike all over North Melbourne. Mum [my Nanna] was house keeping at the time and her reply was “Dad, buy a small van.” “I can’t drive girl” was his reply. “Len will teach you.” [Len was my grandfather, returned from the war and courting Nanna.] Eventually grandpa gave in and agreed for dad [Len] to teach him.

They got a Ford T van from somewhere, where I don’t know but knowing how canny my grandpa was, I doubt very much that they bought it. Probably the Ford T would have been one of the hardest cars to try to reach anyone to drive. The hand and foot movements were completely different from any other car, and for someone like my grandpa, the fastest thing he ever drove was a horse and jinker.

Here we have an inexperienced driving instructor and an even more inexperienced learner driver, with all the levers and controls on the right had side of the driver, out of reach of the instructor. In a ten acre paddock may be, but here they were driving around the streets of North Melbourne. All went well for a while, no stop signs at intersections, no roundabouts. Their main thing to watch out for would have been kids playing in the street.

After a while it was time to head for home. They drove into Canning Street, up the hill past no 47 to the top of the hill. The idea was to stop, turn around and gently roll down the hill to number 47 where the three girls were waiting.

Grandpa must have relaxed and lost concentration at this point, because the Ford didn’t stop, instead it headed down the hill towards Abbotsford St. This is where the panic started.

Cable trams ran along Abbotsford St, and it just so happened that at that particular moment one was about to pass the end of Canning St. The Grippie saw the Ford heading down Canning St, straight for him. He panicked, threw the cable and stropped the tram.

Here’s grandpa, in the Ford, heading straight for a cable tram, and he did what any normal person would have done in the same situation. He panicked. He planted his two feet firmly on the floor, gripped the steering wheel firmly with two hands, pulled back on the steering wheel and yelled for the bugger to whoa!

But the bugger wasn’t a horse and the bugger didn’t whoa until until it ran into the side of the tram. Luckily they ran into the side of the dummy and knocked it off the rails. The dummy is the enclosed cabin where the passengers sat in bad weather.

The drinkers from the Homebush Hotel thought it was a great joke. They laughed and gave all sorts of advice, most of it not helpful. But when it came to putting the dummy back on the rails there were plenty of helpers.

When it was all over and the drinkers went back to their drinking, the cable car headed on the city and Len took the Ford T back to where it came from. Grandpa said that he thought he would stick to the bike. It was cheaper to run.

37 replies on “Hearing my Dad”

That is such a wonderful story Anne! I wish my parents and grandparents had been as good at telling the family stories and to have them written down is perfect. From time to time I have tried to piece together what little I know about my family background and sadly there is no-one left to ask for more information. I do have some photo albums but most are not labelled well enough to know what they are showing. I wonder if I should write what I do know down for my grandchildren?

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Do, I wish my grandparents had. I didn’t know my grandfathers well at all and when I did get the chance to spend proper time with my nan, I’d left it too late, and it was tiring and upsetting for her. I wish I’d spent more time with them all, and I really wish I had asked them to record their histories.

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I think you should Sue…..and maybe write about your life too. Even if they put the recollections on a shelf, they are there when they are needed. But then I come from a family of who loves to record and document everything!

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It is a bit like going through the photo albums and annotating them with names and dates – always going to happen ‘soon’. But you are quite right I should do it and while I still have all my marbles – that is assuming I haven’t lost some without realising it !

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That’s the part that made me laugh too. My great-grandfather sounds like such a character, but Dad’s love for him comes through strongly.
It is a shame you don’t have your Dad’s stories, especially as I am sure there would be some really good ones there.

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I read part way through your post and had to stop. I want to savor your dad’s story but I can’t until this evening when I am done teaching. I am looking forward to it. What a special thing to have these books of family history!

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Oh my Anne… I love stories, and this one is a real treat. I’m so pleased it was recorded. Memories and stories have a shelf life otherwise. My Dad has some written down in an ad hoc fashion. The G.O. who loves to recount his and those of his family, bought me a recorder but loses the words when it appears… Maybe like his grandfather did, one day he will record or write them down. In the meantime I will read your Dad’s story to him… he will love it.

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I love stories too, and loved listening to my Nanna’s. We are so lucky that Dad got inspired ~ and even obsessed ~ to write these stories down. They are a picture of life that is way behind us. I hope the GO will write/tell his stories, and that he enjoys this one.


A great memory and one where you “hear his voice, his mannerisms and anything else pertaining to him”.
I’ve got my Mothers’ well thumbed and handwritten recipe book – lovingly written in. I had only really flicked through it but the other day I wondered did she have a recipe that she like for sponge cake – appears not. And when I truly looked at it, very little could be made now – unless I had the temperatures – most her cooking done in a cold-range oven and if there was temperature anywhere – it would say “medium oven” which means very little to me. There isn’t just food recipes but fly spray, cough medicine, and one that you need Belladona for …I think that might have been the indigestion remedy, but also Chilblains. Various recipes that relate to someone like Dorothy’s pie or similar.
The book appears to be recycled from a household accounts book…but other than a few pages with my Dads’ writing on them – looks like a score for some game, have no idea about the monetary accounts of their life. I think the earliest magazine cutting is from the 1940s! The last about the late 1960s

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What a wonderful treasure trove, Catherine. Even if you can’t make the recipes it must be lovely to have as a reminder of your Mum, as well as a slice of history. We have the records for the grand events, but it is usually ones like your recipe book that are really interesting.

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As with all those other commenters, I agree, such a legacy! But I’ll add, the ‘learning curve’ your Dad diligently climbed and ultimately conquered is what really touches me deeply. His motivation was more ‘love’ than mere ‘desire’ to record family stories. And ‘back then’ yeah, scanning and dpi, and early word doc programs etc…wow!

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That’s an interesting observation Laura. Dad certainly was motivated by love ~ love for his parents and his grandfather, who seemed such a character, and love for us to have these stories. My Mum, sister, brothers and I were always in awe of what Dad was learning and able to do.

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I wonder if your Dad actually found it easier to use the computer to record stories than writing them out by hand (once he had mastered the basics of course). You are fortunate indeed to have such a treasure, both in the physical record and in the recounting of the stories in your father’s voice. ❤


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