An Almost Forgotten Man
Margaret Bride writes:
This is a story told to me by my Grandmother and also by my Mother. The period is some time in the ten years before the First World War, perhaps about 1910. Johnny was a young man with a moderate intellectual disability who lived with his mother in Port Melbourne, I think in Graham Street. Johnny was paid a small wage by a rag and bone merchant to push a hand-cart around the back lanes of Port collecting bottles and rags. In a time before widow’s pensions or disability pensions this money supported he and his mother. When fruit was cheap or free, his mother made and sold jams as well which Johnny delivered on his handcart.
Johnny’s great ambition was to own a horse and cart, Just think, Mr. Bellion, how much further I could go to find bottles if I had my own horse and cart, he used to say to my grandfather Albert Bellion who had befriended him. Johnny could never save out of the very small amount of pocket money his mother allowed him from their meager income. The pence just disappeared. So he hit on a plan: each week when his mother gave him his money he would give it to my grandfather to save it for the horse. More often than not, so my mother told me, Johnny would be back in a few days to try to get some of it back to spend on lollies or another little treat.
In spite of this, the money gradually grew and he often asked: How long before I can get my own horse, Mr Bellion? Finally the day arrived and he became the proud owner of an old cart and a horse to pull it.
At this stage of the story my Mother’s eyes would mist over with sadness and sympathetic compassion for Johnny and his mother, because the story has a sad ending. Johnny did indeed now drive out of Port Melbourne in search of rags and bottles, he drove into Melbourne and would return down Elizabeth Street. One evening, only a week after he bought his horse, it shied at another horse in Elizabeth Street and bolted. Johnny could not control it. The cart overturned and Johnny was killed.
It might seem strange to you that I do not even know Johnny’s surname, it was not mentioned in the telling of this story. Yet I remember the story so vividly, perhaps because it reminds me of the thousands of men and women who have built up the fabric of the life that we now enjoy. They have contributed their share of trust and hope to our store of trust, hope and compassion.
I believe it is by our remembering such almost forgotten people of Port Melbourne that we can maintain our sense of who we are as a community.