Proud to be a Port girl, Part 2

Beverley Stephens (nee Dredge) remembers growing up in Port. She takes up the story after her grandmother and uncle were tragically killed in a house fire as told in Part 1.

After the fire, Uncle Bill decided to bring his daughter Val to 82 Evans Street so that the brothers could bring up their children together.

Shortly afterwards my eldest brother Bill contracted rheumatic fever which led to a rheumatic heart.  He spent several years in the Austin Hospital Convalescent Ward. Every Sunday Dad would iron my best dress and we would catch trains and buses to visit Billy in Heidelberg.  He always looked very thin and wasted but he had always made a special gift for us to take home.  He made leather wallets and match box holders as he was not able to get around much.

I was becoming a problem for Dad.  I was growing up!  What can a man do during six weeks of summer holidays with two sons and a young daughter while he worked as a wharf labourer?  Sometimes he worked the midnight shift or the twilight shift, so he had to find someone to look after me.  The answer was to buy a flight to Sydney with TAA and leave me with Aunty Rene and Uncle Henry for the school holidays. 

I learned to get a double decker bus to Double Bay to the swimming pool.  I watched the sea planes coming in and taking off from Rose Bay. Later Aunty Rene asked me if I would like to live with her and Uncle Henry and I eagerly said yes.  A letter was sent home and Dad agreed that I could stay if I wanted to.

I was enrolled in the Dover Heights Domestic College.  I was not happy!  The other children snickered at my lack of a uniform. Aunty Rene spent a week hand sewing a cooking uniform.  The stitches were so small and neat. I was truly proud to wear it. Again, after a few side remarks,  I became ashamed of that home made uniform.

I could not eat at school.  My throat would close, and I could barely talk, let alone eat at the canteen.  I didn’t make any friends and I was totally miserable.  I was given to crying at any time for no apparent reason.  Aunty Rene understood what was happening before I did. I was homesick.  After a couple of letters between Rene and Dad  I was again on a flight, but this time back to my home and back to my DAD. 

Back in Port

I started school at Middle Park Central in 1952. I passed most subjects but had problems applying myself.  When I was fourteen I was enrolled at Zercho’s Business College in the City to learn shorthand and typing. I had convinced Dad that this was where all the girls from Middle Park were going and that he should let me go too. I needed new clothes to wear to this college, money for train fares and to buy lunch and to hang out with the crowd.

I lasted about six months.  I learned a smattering of shorthand, couldn’t touch type for love or money and had a hard time keeping up with the more sophisticated crowd that I was trying to stay with.  I convinced Dad that I was better off at work and got a job at a local paint manufacturer in Port Melbourne as a colour consultant. I was employed to assist in pasting up small colour samples cut to shapes as rooms within a house.  The samples were colour coded and I had to follow directions to paste them up for clients to see how their rooms would look after painting them.

I got bored easily it seems because soon I was looking for another Job.  It was a time of prosperity and growth and jobs were easy to come by.  I worked as an office junior for a tea and coffee importer in the city, and then as an invoice typist and relief telephonist for Knox Schlapp in Port Melbourne. I again went into the city to work in the office for Jeeves Electrics in 1956 at the time of the Olympic Games. My last job before I married in 1958 was as an usherette at the Metro Theatre in Russell St.

The years between 1952 to 1958 were filled with living, loving and enjoying life to the full.  I went to a dance hall nearly every night.  There was Leggetts in Prahran on Monday night, Zigfields in Caulfield on Tuesday night, the Arama / Orama in Footscray Wednesday nights, then back to Ziggy’s Thursday night. Friday was the College Club in South Melbourne and Saturday had a host of venues to choose from.  Mostly we went to Moonee Ponds Town Hall.  I spent most of my pay packet on material from Norman Bros in Bourke Street and raced home from work Thursday night to get the Singer Sewing Machine out to make a skirt and blouse for that night’s dance. I enrolled in an evening class at Emily McPhersons to learn to sew.  I made a couple of suits that were nifty for that era (mainly on the Audrey Hepburn style).

I also loved to go bike riding with my friend Lynette Palmer and spent most of the weekends biking along the beach to St Kilda or even further sometimes.  I was a member of the South Port Life Saving Club. We used to swim out from South Port to a line that met up with the end of the piers at Port Melbourne.  We held competitions with other clubs around the bay and one time I was a participant in a relay race that involved swimming and board riding to the Elwood Club.

Billy

It was around 1950 that the Doctors told Dad that Billy would never lead a normal life. He could come home but he would be a semi invalid. He would need to stay in bed for the rest of his life as his heart could not take the strain of normal daily activities.  Billy stayed in bed for a few weeks but then he told Dad that if he was going to die early in life then he was going to make the best of it.  In those days it was rare for a young man to set off to travel on his own but that’s is what he did.  I don’t think he had much money and I believe he hitch-hiked/swagged his way around Australia.

When Billy came home he became very active in the football club as their treasurer.  Dad was on the committee of the Wharf Labourers Union and Billy stepped in to help there as well.  He met and married Kathleen and had two children – Krystin and Peter. They started off their married life in Clifton Hill.  When the flat at the back of the Barber Shop in Bridge Street became available they moved back to Port Melbourne to be closer to the family. Billy had decided to paint the interior of their flat.  The paint fumes were making it hard for him to breathe, so he came over to our place and slept in the back room off the lounge.  He passed away in his sleep.  He would have been about 25 years old.

Alan

My brother Alan used to hang around the local shops with a group of friends – just skylarking and talking about football and probably girls too. When he was about sixteen years old he was walking home, with his back to the shops, when one of the boys threw down a matchbox with metal pieces in it, a sort of home made fire cracker. The shrapnel hit Alan in the head and he was taken to Prince Henry Hospital where they had to operate to remove the fragments. He was in hospital for quite a while, but he recovered and continued his studies and became an accountant.

The story of Beverley June Mary Dredge ends here with her marriage to John Stephens in 1958.

Nanna Dredge (nee Jane Simpkins) married Oliver Dennis Dredge on 24 October 1903. They had eight children, one of whom was Harold Joseph Dredge who married Mary MurphyThey had three children: Billy, Alan and Beverley.

Museums Victoria Collections Glazebrooks Paints Australia, Woman with Paint Swatches, Victoria, 21 Jan 1960                                                         

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