Back-to-Port Melbourne Preparations 1932
by David Thompson
A letter to the editor from someone identifying themselves as RRR appeared in The Record on 14 November 1931 bemoaning the lost opportunities of not staging a Back-to-Port Melbourne event to coincide with the visit of the ocean liner, “Strathnavar”, to Station Pier and the visiting warships berthed at Princes Pier.
The letter opened, “Port Melbourne has suffered from depression, strikes, etc, and the shopkeepers have had a gruelling time. But the clouds are passing.” Mentioning the visiting ships, it continued, “Thousands of visitors have been coming by tram, train and motor car, all reminding one of the busy scenes of long ago. To my mind it would have been a great opportunity of staging a Back-to-Port Melbourne. Bay and Beach streets could have been bedecked with flags, and this would have given a great impetus to the business people. I would suggest we look ahead, and in the event of such an opportunity occurring again, make the most of it and stage a Back-to-Port Melbourne. The Port was one of the pioneer places. Every country town has a come back, why not Port?”
The mood was ripe for a large “come back” event as a Back-to-Graham Street school celebration had been held on Saturday, 3 October and a reunion of former parishioners at a Back to St Joseph’s celebration had been held on Thursday, 8 October.
Obviously it struck a chord with the Mayor, Cr Thomas Griffin as two weeks later he indicated that it was his intention to “wholly support the proposal. If the business people and public enter into the scheme wholeheartedly good results are in store.”
A month further on, in December 1931, The Record newspaper, under the heading “Back-to-Port Melbourne” reported that the Mayor “intends organising a committee after the holidays, and is very enthusiastic for a celebration late in February”.
Cr Griffin convened a meeting for 8.00 pm on Wednesday, 13 January 1932 in the Mayor’s Room at Port Melbourne Town Hall inviting all business people and residents to attend “as this means much to them”.
The meeting was a great success and well attended. “There was no indication of apathy … and the Mayor was delighted at the unanimous feeling of the people.” Councillors Crichton, Southward, May, Edwards, Woodruff and Quinn attended along with “Messrs R Weichardt (Garden City), Briggs (Bowling Club), W N Power (Traders), Brookshaw (Bowling Club), McGee and Legge (hotelkeepers). Paisley (Band), Amy (clubs), Moffatt (footballers), Burns (Traders), Aanenson (Assistant Town Clerk), and many ladies and gentlemen who have resided in the Port for up to sixty years, all of whom had responded spontaneously to the call to bring the old place once more before the citizens of the Commonwealth”.
The only woman mentioned by name was Mrs H Gaylor who was an apology, as were Crs Howe and Walter.
A sub-committee was formed with joint secretaries, Mr P Moffatt and Mr R Parkinson; treasurers, the Town Clerk (Syd Anderson) and the Assistant Town Clerk (Andy Aanensen) plus Messrs Legge, McGee, G Amy, W Briggs, J Partridge, Weichardt, Baines, Whitford, Power, Paisley and Burns. All Councillors would be, ex officio, members of the sub-committee.
The celebration would take place 22 to 29 March with proposals that a day be set aside for an event on Station Pier and that the Bowling Club and many other clubs would be open to visitors. Cr Edwards moved that Council provide “a Doomsday Book” for each visitor to sign.
The committee met on Wednesday, 20 January and adopted a suggested programme for “a week of reunions and festivities” which would now be held from 19 to 28 March. “A civic welcome on the Saturday afternoon, church reunions (on Sundays), Gymkhana on Station Pier, a ball in the Town Hall, inspection of places of interest, inspection of industries, children’s display, back to schools, display on band rotunda, yachting, swimming and life-saving displays and concerts, etc”.
Reflecting the mood of the times in depression-era Port Melbourne of the 1930s, the article in The Record concluded “The success of the celebrations depends on the united efforts of the people generally. No one is asked to give a large subscription, but all business people should at least be prepared to bedeck their places with flags and present a good appearance, putting away pessimism and hoping for a return of the good old days”.
A meeting, open to all who were interested in the Back-to-Port Melbourne movement, was held in the Mayor’s Room on the evening of Thursday, 27 January and a more detailed list of functions was decided.
Saturday March 19:
Civic reception at 3.00 pm at the Town Hall. Port Melbourne Boys’ Band to play selections outside. Mayor, Cr Griffin to receive past and present residents. Visitors to sign the Doomsday Book. General festivities and exchange of reminiscences. In the evening a social, dance, euchre, etc.
Sunday March 20:
Special services in all churches in the morning. The Boys’ Band and other plays to play on the Rotunda, Beach Street in the afternoon. Community singing. More special church services in the evening with everything possible done to bring old friends and new together.
Monday March 21:
In the afternoon, a tour of inspection to places of interest such as the proposed site of the oil works, the new ferry, the Fisherman’s Bend, Garden City, Lagoon land, etc. A grand concert would be held in the evening.
Tuesday March 22:
Back-to-Childhood morning 10.00 am at Nott Street State School (old scholars not to be caned). A children’s display at the football ground in the afternoon and in the evening picture shows of the town at the pictures houses.
Wednesday March 23:
Back to School Days at Graham Street State School. In the afternoon, inspection of industries. Back-to-Port Melbourne Grand Ball in the evening.
Thursday March 24:
Back to school days at St Joseph’s (All faces must be clean and boots polished). In the afternoon the Bowling Club’s rooms and green will be available to all visitors and the afternoon spent in any way desirable. A grand procession with torches and illuminations led by the various bands will take place in the evening.
Friday March 25:
An afternoon at the mouth of the Old Lagoon – yachting, life-saving, swimming and general sports. Cricket on the Lagoon land. The Bowling Club, lodges or other associations to arrange a night.
Saturday March 26:
In the afternoon and evening, a grand gymkhana and confetti battle, dancing and music on Station Pier.
Sunday March 27:
Special farewell services morning and evening in the churches. A Pleasant Sunday Afternoon on the Port Melbourne Football Ground – band selections and community singing.
At 11 o’clock on the Monday morning a civic farewell by the Mayor at the Town Hall was planned.
The report of the meeting in The Record requested all residents “to make the Back-to-Port Melbourne as widely known as possible and forward any names of old friends to the secretaries of the Back-to-Port Melbourne Movement”.
Hotelkeepers, A Legge, of the Rose and Crown Hotel, and J McGee, of the Flower Hotel, who were both members of the organising committee, were already doing their part in spreading the word in newspaper advertisements for their respective hotels.
Things were progressing well during the first week of February with the Council granting several applications of the Back-to-Port Melbourne Movement committee and agreeing to provide a Doomsday Book and an illuminated sign at the Town Hall however there was a major issue looming over the horizon.
The meeting of the committee on Wednesday, 3 February was attended by Rev J Kessel Taylor and Rev Prior Cleary while an apology was received from Rev W Seamer. Rev Taylor pointed out that the proposed celebrations during Easter week would clash with solemn Church functions. He did not protest but would like the committee to try to avoid any interference. Prior Cleary also thought it would be better to “avoid the solemn days of Eastertide. He did not come protesting, but would have preferred another time.” The meeting did not hesitate in acceding to the clergymen’s wishes. A proposal to postpone the celebrations was carried unanimously with the new dates scheduled for 30 April to 7 May.
Another problem struck the general meeting of the Back-to-Port Melbourne Movement held the following Wednesday, 10 February, in the Supper Room at the Town Hall. Shortly after the meeting commenced the lights failed. However, “A peaceful calm settled over the meeting when the Mayor’s table was illuminated with candles”. The programme was rearranged (subject to approval by the sub-committee) and a further call was made to residents to assist. “Circulars will be issued to arouse citizens, who evidently think this is for a few who are running the functions for their own benefit. All citizens are invited to help in this effort to place Port Melbourne once more on the map. This has been Port Melbourne’s trouble for some time – too much apathy. Everyone should help by taking an interest in their city”.
At the next Council meeting free use of the recreation reserve was granted to the Back-to-Port Melbourne Movement for a carnival on Wednesday, 27 February. Arrangements would be made for lighting and for a “monster street sign”. Proceeds would go to the Ladies Benevolent Society.
An advertisement in The Record encouraged residents to let the Secretaries of the Back-to-Port movement know the details of former residents so they could be made aware of the upcoming festivities.
The Record of 5 March 1932 included a revised schedule of events.
Saturday 30 April:
Civic reception at the Town Hall at 2.30 pm. Football match at the Port Melbourne Football Ground. Euchre party and dancing in the evening organised by George Amy and committee who will represent the Port Melbourne Glee Social Party and Returned Soldiers.
Sunday 1 May:
Church services in the morning and evening. Port Melbourne Boys’ Band, Ladies Pipe Band, community singing and speeches at the Rotunda. Organised by the Boy’s Band committee and Mr R Young representing the Ladies Pipe Band.
Monday 2 May:
Afternoon inspection of places of interest such as Garden City, Fisherman’s Bend land, Lagoon land to be arranged by the secretaries of the Movement. In the evening, a Grand concert to be arranged by the White Hand Social Party and Messrs Southward, Keyhoe and Kennedy.
Tuesday 3 May:
Back to childhood at Nott Street State School, 10.30 am arranged by the school committee and the mothers’ club. In the afternoon a children’s display on the Port Melbourne Football ground arranged by the combined schools committees assisted by Miss Tubby Woods. In the evening picture nights at both picture houses arranged by Mr Moubray and Mr Cameron – Clan Social.
Wednesday 4 May:
At 10.30 am Back to Graham Street State School arranged by the school committee. Inspection of local industries in the afternoon arranged by the secretaries and a Grand Ball in the Town Hall in the evening arranged by Messrs H C Southward, R Burns, Moubray and Howard and Mesdames Edwards and Whitford.
Thursday 5 May:
Back to St Joseph’s School in the morning. In the afternoon, a football match – Old Timers versus New, arranged by Mr Wilson. The evening to be arranged by the churches.
Friday 6 May:
Morning and afternoon free. Old-time Torch-light Procession evening to be arranged by Messrs Wilson, Jennings and Taafe. A cup will be presented to the best decorated vehicle in the procession.
Saturday 7 May:
Morning and afternoon free. A Grand Gymkhana on Princes Pier [sic] arranged by H C Southward and Mr Partridge along with the swimming clubs and yacht club.
Sunday 8 May:
Farerwell services at the churches morning and evening with a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon on the Port Melbourne Football Ground.
Although the sports day at the mouth of the Old Lagoon and cricket match had disappeared from the Friday schedule and the Grand Gymkhana on the Saturday had been reduced to an evening function only, probably because of the change of sporting seasons, there were now two football matches scheduled and specific people and groups had been made responsible for organising events.
The Back-to-Port Melbourne celebrations were back on track.
At the monthly meeting of the South and Port Thistle Society on Tuesday, 8 March, Mr R Young appealed for funds for new uniforms for the band as there were ten members waiting to join if uniforms were available and also confirmed that “the band will assist in the Back-to-Port Melbourne celebrations”.
In 1932 (and perhaps at other times) The Record included a column headed “Garden City News”. In the issue published on 19 March the column took the opportunity to invite Port Melbourne Council to take more interest in the area.
“Back to Port – It is noted that the programme includes a visit to Garden City. Visitors who have not already seen this little settlement will no doubt be amazed by the development that has taken place on the one-time waste land. The improvements added to the properties by home purchasers speak volumes for the energetic pride on the part of the occupiers, who will not own their little homes for 33 years or so, unless they should receive a windfall. The Port Melbourne Council, no doubt, realises that this subdivision is worth any little expense of maintenance, which at present mainly consists of garbage removal and street sweeping. It is hoped that the Council will take steps to attend to one or two little matters that badly need attention, before the ‘Back-to’ visitors come along.”
The column continued with details of those “one or two little matters” as well as other concerns of Garden City residents.
At the Back-to-Port Melbourne Committee meeting on 23 March it was reported that the arrangements for the various functions were well in hand. Programmes would be sent out to former residents. There was to be advertisements in the daily newspapers and posters on all important railway stations throughout Victoria.
“Great interest is manifest with old residents and there is no doubt that the reunion of old Portonians will be a great success. This is typical of the old-time people of Port Melbourne who always took a great interest in the old place, where many happy days were spent.”
“As with many other things, a percentage of business people are taking very little interest at present but this can be excused under existing conditions. All that is required of them while the functions are in progress is to make the most of their opportunities, and bedeck their places with flags or some similar display.”
As the festivities approached the committee met on Wednesday, 6 April in the Supper Room at the Town Hall, reporting good progress and that many old residents had signified their intention of coming back. The article included further reassurances that the festivities were for everyone. “All are welcome at the Back to Port, and everybody is invited to take part.”
During the week of April 11, Port Melbourne Council listed four “Garden City Requests” that had been attended to. The Garden City News column had done its job.
Miss Tubby Woods advertised in The Record, 23 April, for “Girls and Boys of All Ages” to attend her school of dancing every Saturday afternoon to take part in the coming Pantomime and the Back to Port Melbourne Display.
In the final days before the celebrations commenced, the Mayor, Cr Griffin, asked councillors “to give their whole-hearted support to the Back-to-Port Melbourne, one of the objectives of which was to raise funds to relieve local distress. He expected the coming winter to be one of the severest on record. The committee of the movement had done good work but the support, otherwise, had been very limited. There must be funds to relieve distress and, with reasonable patronage, at least £200 should be raised.” In reply, Cr Edwards said, “a special effort would be made to clean up and brighten the city. The shopkeepers had been asked to decorate their premises.”
On 30 April, the first morning of the Back-to-Port Melbourne festivities, the following poem appeared in The Record.
BACK TO PORT MELBOURNE
(by J Christopher)
Back to old Port Melbourne!
Where the bluff sea breezes blow;
Where the seagulls scream and circle.
And the salt tides ebb and flow;
Where the wind hums through the rigging.
And the foam-capped rollers play;
Where memories sweet and tender,
Cling around old Hobson’s Bay.
Back to old Port Melbourne!
Where the phantom clippers are;
Where the sailors sang their chanty.
“Heave, ho!” on the capstan bar;
Wraiths of old windjammers.
With crews that knew no fears;
Whose spars, like a sea-born forest,
Lined the “Old” and “Railway” piers.
Back to old Port Melbourne!
Don’t you hear the pier-bell call?
Don’t you glimpse the donkey engine.
See the cargo rise and fall?
Don’t you hear the winches winding.
Hear the foreman lumper swear;
As the wool and wheat go skyward –
Go swinging through the air?
Back to old Port Melbourne!
Back to Sandridge, one and all.
She is waiting here to greet you.
Where the bosuns pipe and call:
Where the old “hulk”, and the “jetties”,
And the “sandhills” used to be:
A welcome, royal, awaits you
Where the shoreline meets the sea.
The scene was set for a week of reunions and festivities. Continue reading about the Back-to-Port Melbourne celebrations 1932.
[If you have anything related to the 1932 Back-to-Port Melbourne festivities please contact PMHPS, we’d love to see them.]
 1931 ‘Back to Port Melbourne’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 14 November, p. 1. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164968855
 1931 ‘BACK-TO-GRAHAM STREET CELEBRATIONS’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 10 October, p. 6. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164967221
 1931 ‘REUNION OF FORMER PARISHIONERS.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 10 October, p. 7. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164967247
 1931 ‘BACK-TO-PORT MELBOURNE.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 28 November, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164963591
 1931 ‘BACK TO PORT MELBOURNE.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 19 December, p. 5. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164967876
 1932 ‘BACK TO PORT MELBOURNE.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 9 January, p. 8. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164958265
 1932 ‘Back to Port Melb.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 16 January, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164958954
 1932 ‘Back to Port Melbourne’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 23 January, p. 3. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164962928
 1932 ‘”BACK-TO-PORT”‘, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 30 January, p. 1. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164963402
 1932 ‘Advertising’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 30 January, p. 6. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164963462
 1932 ‘PORT MELBOURNE COUNCIL’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 6 February, p. 7. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164962050
 1932 ‘”BACK-TO-PORT”‘, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 6 February, p. 1. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164962066
 1932 ‘”BACK-TO-PORT”‘, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 13 February, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164969456
 1932 ‘PORT MELBOURNE COUNCIL’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 20 February, p. 7. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164969682
 1932 ‘BACK TO PORT MELBOURNE.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 20 February, p. 5. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164969660
 1932 ‘”BACK-TO-PORT”‘, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 5 March, p. 4. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164967378
 1932 ‘THISTLE SOCIETY MEETS’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 12 March, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164962535
 1932 ‘GARDEN CITY NEWS’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 19 March, p. 7. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164960199
 1932 ‘”BACK-TO-PORT”‘, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 26 March, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164965023
 1932 ‘Back-to-Port Festivities’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 9 April, p. 5. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164966830
 1932 ‘Port Melbourne Council’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 16 April, p. 5. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164968954
 1932 ‘Advertising’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 23 April, p. 7. , viewed 10 Mar 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164964430
 1932 ‘Pt. Melbourne Council’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 30 April, p. 8. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164968173
 1932 ‘BACK TO PORT MELBOURNE.’, Record (Emerald Hill, Vic. : 1881 – 1954), 30 April, p. 5. , viewed 28 Feb 2023, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164968194