Melbourne Odds and Ends

Another story, to (hopefully) make you smile

Another story from my Dad’s collection, with my Great-grandfather in a staring role. I hope you enjoy it.

My Dad’s story seemed to resonate with you, so I thought it is time for another. (If you are not sure what I am talking about, you can catch up with my earlier post. Or you can dive into this one.)

Just a little background: The story is told by Dad about his grandfather, Bill Mason, who lived in a little house in Canning St, North Melbourne. Grandpa Mason is quite a character, as you can tell from this story, which probably happened in the last years of the 19th century.

Grandpa Mason was a bricklayer by trade and like most working men of that time he rode a bike to work. He loved to tell us tales of when he worked on the railway viaduct over Flinders St, and the building boom of the 1880s.

One job he was working on was a row of terrace houses over Moonee Ponds way. They were up to the second story and it was time to knock off, and as always the practical joker, he said to his mate, “I’m not going down the ladder, Jack, I’m going to jump into that pile of sand.”

He went to the edge of the scaffold, swung his arms and pretended to jump. You guessed it, he overbalanced and finished up backside buried in the sand, arms and legs pointing skyward.

“What the hell did you do that for Bill? You coda hurt your bloody self.”

On this job were two labourers. Olaf was a Swede, a big solid chap, an ex sailor off the sailing ships. He did all the rigging and scaffolding, and Mick, he looked after the bricks and mortar. According to my grampa these two were always arguing. Olaf said Mick was as thick as two planks.

Here was my grandpa half buried in the sand heap, and Mick telling him how lucky he was that he put the heap of sand in that exact spot. If he had put it over there, “you woulda missed it Bill and hurt ya bloody self.” Olaf pushed Mick out of the way and he and his mates, still laughing, dug Grandpa out of the soft sand and straightened him out.

By now my Grandfather was very stiff, very sore and very sorry for himself. Now, how to get Bill home? He could hardly walk and the last thing he wanted was to sit down. So Bill’s mates decided that Bill wouldn’t be back at work for a few days. They lashed his hod and level to the bar of his bike, his trowel, bolster and brick hammer into a bag, put the bag over his shoulder, lifted Bill onto his bike, and pointed him in the direction of North Melbourne [about 3 or 4 km away] and gave him a shove. Now that’s real mateship for ya. Probably, as soon as he left the site, they would have been laying bets as to whether he would get home without falling off his bike.

So far, so good. Grandpa Mason reached Canning Street and home, still on his bike. But by now he was even more stiff than he was half an hour ago. He couldn’t lift his leg to get off the bike.

So there’s Bill Mason riding around in circles in the middle of Canning St, yelling at the top of his voice “CLARA! Come and get me off this bloody bike.” [Clara was his wife, Dad’s grandmother.] Well, either Clara wasn’t home, she didn’t hear him and knowing my grandfather I find it unlikely that she didn’t hear him, or she thought the old fool had had one too many. For whatever reason, Clara never came out.

Bill had one choice and one choice only ~ fall off the bloody bike. By this time he felt that half of North Melbourne were out in the street laughing at him. He had no option but to fall off the bloody bike in front of all those bloody women and kids. I bet that didn’t improve his temper any.

Mum said “For weeks after, whenever he went out walking he had to walk in the gutter; he couldn’t lift his foot high enough to step up to the kerb.

But t didn’t cure him as a practical joker.

And a bonus shorter story for you, about my Dad’s experience as a bricklayer

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a hod is a portable wooden trough for carrying mortar, bricks etc, fixed crosswise to the top of a pole and carried on the shoulder.

Every builder’s labourer would have his own hod. The length of the shaft would depend on how tall, or short, the labourer was. When it was on his shoulder the shaft would be around 30cm clear of the ground. To load it he stood near the stack of bricks holding the hod in one hand just below the vee of the trough. Around 10 brick were loaded into the vee. He put his shoulder under the trough, straightened his legs, then up the ladder two or three stories, unload, then down the ladder and do it again.

Carrying mortar was the same procedure, except they would go to the mortar board, load the hod with a shovel, hod in one hand, shovel in the other. All the mortar and concrete in those days was mixed by hand, no motorised mixers.

When I was about 16 my Dad was building a brick house in Moorabbin. After spending a day on the board mixing concrete by hand I thought I would die. A day or two later my grandfather handed me a hod and said, “Here lad, have go with this”. I soon discovered that I couldn’t even balance it while loading it with mortar, and when it was loaded with bricks I could hardly lift it, let alone carry it up a ladder. I decided there and then that labouring wasn’t for me!

Even today I look at those lovely old buildings around Melbourne and think of the men that built them and marvel at their skills.

(The house as the feature image is the house Bill Mason lived in, and where my Nana grew up. After a couple of renovations I am sure neither would recognise much about it’s more glamorous self, except the facade.)

By anne54

Botanic artist

31 replies on “Another story, to (hopefully) make you smile”

Dad did win a prize through the Veteran Affairs for his story “Grandpa’s Pipe”, and we were all so proud. His stories of his experiences during the war were accepted at the War Memorial. So sort of published. and now I am doing my bit πŸ™‚
I am glad it made you laugh, Meeks. We can do with a good chuckle at the moment.

Liked by 1 person

If you ever decide to publish your Dad’s writing as an ebook or paperback, I’m happy to teach you how. Self publishing is very different now to what it was back in your father’s day.
As for a good chuckle, god yes. Your post started my day well and it’s been getting better ever since. We’re getting one of those corrugated iron, raised garden bed thingies for vegies – arriving Wednesday! And I discovered that I’m now eligible to enrol in the Medium Partners Program. That means the articles I publish on Medium may bring in some money! A very very very small amount of money, but even a few cents is validation of what I do. lol I suspect I’ll be lucky to earn 20c per month but it still feels good. πŸ™‚
So thanks for starting my day so well!

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Meeks that is excellent news about the Medium Partners Program. Well done you! And it may lead to more.
Thanks for offering to teach me about publishing Dad’s stories. It’s not something I am thinking about at the moment, but I appreciate the offer. I am chuffed that you think that his stories are worth taking further. ~hugs~

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Your Dad’s are a wonderful slice of history. So vivid I can almost see the people and places. This is how we were back then. πŸ™‚ When you’re ready, let me know. -hugs-


Haha! This reminds me of learning to ride with clipless pedals (where your shoe “locks” into the pedal. One time I’d tightened the pedal too much and it would let go when I tried to get my foot out. The only solution…fall over and wrench the shoe out of the pedal. Lesson learned to NOT tighten the pedal mechanism so much :))

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The workmen would have been shattered every night!
There are lots of wooden houses in inner Melbourne. I live in one that was built in about 1910, Nanna’s house was built in about the 1880s, by my great-great-grandfather. Those houses seem old to me, but I image they would be youngsters in Britain!

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I live in a terrace built around 1910 but its not as charming as those wooden houses. My sister lives in a Georgian terrace (1820s) in Brighton and my parents live in a modern house (1990?) in Gloucestershire. So there’s old and there’s old and then there’s really old. I dont know anyone that lives in a Tudor house! lol!


Great story! My husband’s family lived in Canning Street in the 1890’s. Not only were they amazing builders in the old days but the detail that went into each construction was a work of art. Fretwork in timber, gargoyles on roofs such beautiful details.


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