Stella Park

Guelda and Polly Pyke were Jono’s father’s first cousins; and were always very much part of Jono's and his sister Anne's life.
Polly was the eldest and an eccentric character with a dry quick wit. Her sister Guelda, also eccentric, was an artist and part of the vibrant Melbourne art scene in the late 40’s and 50’s.
Guelda b:w
Guelda in her studio
Guelda Still Life
A still life by Guelda

At this time Melbourne was awash with new modernist ideas in the arts and architecture. Guelda was taught by George Bell, one of the early modernist painters. In these classes she mixed with other influential young painters of the day, some of whom remained lifelong friends. It was likely that through this group Guelda met Alistair Knox, an emerging young architect, who the sisters commissioned to design their house at Templestowe.

Polly and Guelda with two other friends, also sisters, bought a working apple and peach orchard in Templestowe. Stella Park, as it was called, was named after the orchardists’s wife.They were not alone in moving to the outer suburbs, as the area was becoming a favourite with many young artists. John and Sunday Reid had already established their retreat at Heide, where they nurtured a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals. Heidi had become a place for the discussion, creation and promotion of modern art and literature. Alistair Knox was also working in the area, known especially for his mud brick houses.

The RMIT Design Archives have in Knox’s words a description of the project at Stella Park.
Knox reminisces:
One day in 1948 I was approached by an executive of the Art Gallery of Victoria on behalf of four ladies who proposed to build three houses on a twenty-acre peach and apple orchard in Templestowe - a joint house for Polly and Guelda Pyke, and separate ones for Val and Yvonne Cohen. They were all unmarried at this stage, although Val was anticipating marriage in the near future and her mother proposed to live with Val's sister Yvonne in the second house. As the Pykes' was a joint building, the two women decided to occupy separate sections of the building, especially as Guelda required a private area for her work as a practising artist. They had independent means, and this gave me my first opportunity to produce three sizeable houses amid the pink and white plum blossoms that covered the northern slope and looked over the river towards Eltham. It was an idyllic scene, particularly as these would be almost the first houses that could be seen from that direction. This was before any orchards had been subdivided, and the unbroken pattern of fruit trees separated by lines of ancient pines had remained unaltered since the land was first settled by a largely German community a hundred years earlier.
I had opted for timber construction on concrete slabs because there was a slight improvement in the supply position and because I thought earth-building would prove too great a strain on my elegant artistic lady clients, no matter how they thought about it before it all began.
https://alistairknox.org/buildings/64

Stella Park House
polly in house
Polly in her lounge room (Photo by Fred)
Fred's guelda photo
Guelda in her kitchen (Photo by Fred)

Stella Park was very much part of Jono’s childhood. Below he has recorded his memories of that special place.


children and Guelda
Left to right: Jono, Polly, Guelda, Anne, in the garden soon after the house was built.
orchard
Anne, Jono and friends in the orchard.

Anna and Thomas and I were also lucky to have experienced visits to Polly and Guelda at Templestowe. We too loved sitting on the floor at Guelda’s end eating hot chutney, Guelda bread and other assorted goodies, exploring the house and garden and walking to the Yarra.
kids
Anna, Thomas and friends
Polly etc shed
Left to right: Pasquale, local vegetable grower, Polly, Jono, Thomas and friend

Stella Park was an ambitious enterprise for four very adventurous women. Polly and Guelda both loved their part of it. They lived there until in their eighties they could no longer look after the property. We were lucky to have have known it.

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Drouin Christmas, 1975



The Christmas of 1975 was a huge and exciting enterprise. Jono and I were living in a beautiful house just outside Drouin. It was the old farmhouse on a big dairy farm for which we paid the princely sum of $10 a month rent. It was the perfect venue for an Australian Christmas for Jono’s visiting Danish relatives.
Guelda, Jono's cousin had made contact with the Danish relatives before World War 2, and the families had maintained contact ever since. Eva and Harry lived in Copenhagen, and Jono and I, Anne and Janey had all stayed with them the previous year. Now it was our turn to host.
In retrospect, it was very ambitious. We had Christmas lunch to prepare for Jono's and my immediate families, Guelda and her sister Polly, the Danes and a couple of teaching friends: seventeen in all. We also had several of the party as house guests overnight, before the culmination of Boxing Day’s lunch of leftovers, and the Drouin Picnic Races. Everybody chipped in as usual and it was a great success. The whole two day event was beautifully photographed and filmed by Fred, as always. These images have recently been sent to us, as Fred goes through his archives.

Guelda, Jono’s cousin must have been in her sixties in this photograph. Always eccentric and her own person, she did not disappoint at this party. She sunbaked topless, wore wonderfully bright, way-out clothes and was the life of the party. Guelda already knew Eva and Harry quite well from her many trips to Denmark so they were very pleased to see each other.
Guelda
Guelda back

This was a lovely room with big windows opening to a verandah and a large shady Golden Elm. Jono and I painted this room to brighten it up, when we took the house. You can see on the mantlepiece some of the pots we still have, and on the chair our secondhand black and white television.
Lounge room

Harry and Eva married late in life and lived in an apartment in central Copenhagen. They were a couple of contrasts. Eva was an imposing, vibrant, woman with a booming deep voice and Harry was a quiet and gentle man with a weakness for Blue Castello cheese. He introduced it to us in Denmark and we have been buying it ever since.
Harry and eva
Harry, Jono, Sue
Harry

Forty-three years ago and it was a Christmas lunch we would recognise today: similar food and many of the same bowls, cutlery and crockery. Seated around the table are the extended family from both sides, the Danes and teaching friends from overseas.
Christmas party


Two sisters on the verandah at Drouin on Christmas Eve. Margaret’s dog Saki is by her side and Sue is nursing Beetle or Ben.
Sue green dress

Boxing Day began wth breakfast for house guests and a picnic of leftovers at the Drouin Boxing Day Races. It was a typical hot summer day. Dry grass and eucalypts formed the background to the dusty country track, and the crowd, variously attired in summer race-wear, cheered on the horse races. The largest field in any of the races was only five horses.No fortunes were won or lost and we retired to the cool green garden for a quiet afternoon.



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Poowong Footage

We introduced, in the previous blog entry, the recently unearthed visual chronicles from my first husband, Fred. Leafing through old photograph albums, squinting myopically at black and white or sepia still images, reading old letters…. these are the experiences of exploring the past for most of our generation. Suddenly, thanks to Fred’s generous gifts, there is the daily life of a much, much younger Margaret: walking, laughing, smoking a cigarette, absently patting a long past dog.

In 1976, close to my 25th birthday, Fred and I visited our father and his wife Bev and Bev’s two young sons, Grant and Scott, at their fairly newly acquired property, the old Poowong homestead. Fred, the chronicler of our lives, with his trusty movie camera, recorded the visit on film. Until Fred sent it to me recently, I had not remembered the visit.

The significance of this particular flickering footage of Poowong rests not only on the fact that it is forty years old, not even on the fact that 1976 was during a short window in which we had a fairly normal grown up daughter-father relationship. Its power is much more recent.



Our father died three and a half years after this film was taken in early 1980. He was not even sixty. There was a family history of heart disease, and although, there were occasional bursts of a sunny warm personality, the Jim we had known for most of our lives had been tightly coiled and tense.

As Sue and I watched this footage: our fifty-five year old father walking the paddocks: strong, handsome and happy, clearly happy, I found myself bringing up the possibility of sending this footage to that other family. They had had him for such a short time. We looked at each other in amazement. The process of exploring and exposing our own pasts in this blog, at first staying with emotionally safe pathways, then probing gently the uneven terrain of long disused dark tracks, has led us both to this place. Together we marvelled that our long held animosity and rancour, seemed to have just … dried up.

After getting Fred’s permission, and after a little internet sleuthing, I found a family contact. I sent a tentative paragraph, using Facebook Messenger, together with a link to the film. There was an immediate response.

Bev, still living in that Poowong house, was very appreciative. She said it brought back “lots of great memories”. And apparently lots of us old ladies are good internet sleuths. Bev had been following this blog all along, and she has subsequently sent us some family history booklets and photos.

The family contact I had found was Robyn, wife of Grant, one of those little boys in the film, and Grant has a very special interest in this story. By chance, I had sent the footage to the very person who had found Jim, after he had died. In Grant’s own words:

One of the reasons for our move to Poowong was the poor health of my stepfather. He had suffered a serious heart attack and had been pensioned out of the teaching service, and a less stressful lifestyle was recommended. Sadly for Jim, he would only enjoy the more sedate lifestyle for two years, as he passed away early in 1980.

… Every summer without fail, my family would join with my mother’s sister’s family in a month-long Christmas vacation at our big old
(holiday) house. The summer of 1980 was no different except that, at the end of January, Jim and I returned to Poowong to attend to some work around the farm, leaving my mum and younger brother still vacationing at Inverloch.

It was one of those long daylight saving summer days and, towards the evening, Jim set off to search our boundary fence for his tobacco pouch that he had lost during the day. He had been gone for a long time and it was almost dark, so I decided to go for a walk to find him. My dog Butch led me out to the side paddock, and immediately ran to a steep incline covered in long grass, by our fence line. The world today is permeated with death, and even children as young as eleven are far too familiar with its many faces. But for me at eleven years old, death was foreign and the stuff of nightmares. To me at eleven and to me now at 44, it will always be the same - the face of a 58-year-old man drained of blood, sheer white, pale blue eyes staring up into a twilight sky. Jim died of a massive heart attack leaving me alone on the farm, waiting for mum’s ritual telephone call that night.

The details of the chaos of that night and the weeks ahead can be imagined. The trauma inflicted on our family was immeasurable, as anyone who has suffered an unexpected loss would know.

A few months after this, Grant had a life changing experience on the very spot where he had found Jim’s body.

He goes on to write,
In the more than 30 years since that experience, I have had much time to reflect on what it means to me. It has given me great comfort at times and has given me an unwavering belief in the hereafter.

Inspired by this, Grant went on to investigate and research the Paranormal,
travelling throughout Gippsland, interviewing people and compiling evidence on some of Gippsland’s greatest mysteries. His book, “Great Gippsland Mysteries” was published in 2014.

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Fred's films

My first boyfriend, later husband, Fred, has been out of our lives for a long time. Sue and I have written about the amazing foursome friendship we had between 1967 and 1970, in a post entitled “Sue, Margaret, Rikki and Fred” published in this blog on November 11, 2015.
Because he was a photographer/filmmaker, Fred recorded our lives: not the special-occasion-everyone-smile-for-the-camera sort of record, but the everyday. Some of the photographs we have included in various posts have been Fred’s.
And while Sue and I have been talking, writing, blogging about our lives in these posts, so Fred, hunched over a flickering screen, sorting through dusty boxes, has been working through his own story.
So throughout this winter, we have been blessed with little visual gems from our past, some still images like the ones in this post, and others scraps of super 8 film, sometimes just for our own private viewing, and others that will be put together into something more substantial, as Fred works through his archive.
Here then, is just a taste of this rich collection. Over the next while we will put together some more detailed stories of these years.

M and F 1967
Margaret first met Fred, when he was in second year photography at RMIT and was running the Photography Club at Burwood High School, where Margaret was in Year 10. After Margaret played a part in one of the club’s movies and Fred went to the Year 10 Form Party, Margaret and Fred started ‘going out’. Fred then became an important part of our all of our lives for many years.

Fred photographer
Fred, camera in hand was quite a usual pose in those days, as he recorded the minutia of our daily lives in Super 8 movie film.

Sue brushes
Fred also took many black and white stills with his Pentax SLR.This one is of me in first year of my Art course. I am wearing an old dust coat of Dads to paint in. Teachers in those days, particularly Science teachers, had grey dust coats to wear over their clothes as protection from both chemicals and chalk dust.

Margaret 1967
At the Botanical Gardens. Margaret about sixteen years old.

Alice by heater
Our mother, Alice, in the lounge room at Moore Street, in about 1967. She was forty-four years old and had recently gone back to work for the first time since she was married in 1945.
When he sent these shots Fred commented, “I like it when you see your parents as young and attractive, virile. These two show a very frugal environment, with the only decoration someone’s school pencil case. If I was photographing her today, I’d automatically retouch that stocking top (and I can if you’d like) but it’s part of the reality of the time.”

M and S 1967
By 1968, Fred was working as a professional photographer. The Studio he shared with two other ex students from the RMIT course, was all set up with special lighting and backdrops. This shot of two sisters was taken there.











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The Croydon Years

Our mother’s and aunt’s formative years were spent in Croydon. Alice was six and Marge nine when they moved. They remember the seven years at Croydon as very happy, despite the shortage of money.Their parents worked very hard but also had stimulating and interesting friends. Alice and Marge attended a very progressive school and also had many playmates. Not only are their recollections of interest in terms of family history, but because they paint such a vivid picture of everyday life, so different from ours today.

When the Coates family moved to Croydon it was the beginning of the Great Depression and many men were out of work. To complicate matters, Alf had been in partnership in a hardware business in Bacchus Marsh that had burnt down. Not only was the fire a personally traumatic experience for the family, as their house had also burnt down, but the business was not insured. As manager, Alf was responsible for the lack of insurance. He was therefore "lucky indeed" to have the job as the hardware store manager at the Croydon Timber Yard. He was on a reduced salary as recompense for the losses of the other Bacchus Marsh partners, who now owned the Croydon business.

Croydon was at that time a pretty, country town, connected to the world by the railway that ran, as it does now, from Flinders Street to Lilydale.
White settlement had reached Croydon in the 1850’s, as timber cutters arrived seeking new sources of timber for the needs of rapidly expanding Melbourne. Many small, and a few large land holdings were taken up, and fruit trees were found to flourish in the area.

Main st Croydon 1930s

The town that the Coates family found, spread out from the railway station. Businesses and shops were strung out along the long, wide, slightly curving main street. The Dandenong Ranges made a lovely backdrop to the town that was surrounded by small farms, orchards and bushland. Home for the Coates was a small house, painted battleship grey, in Hewish Road, very near the corner of Main Street. This was the wrong side of the tracks. The expensive houses were built over the railway line in Wicklow Avenue, extending up the hill towards what is now Maroondah Highway.

They remember their house as having a beautiful backyard, graced by an enormous Mulberry tree and a large vegetable garden. There was a cow paddock on one side of the house and the Wine Hall on the other. Hewish Road at that time was unmade, covered in hard stone embedded in the clay. The Coates were right in the business end of town: Cook’s Grain Store was directly opposite and Croydon Timber Yard, not far away, also in Hewish Road. Not only did this fiercely teetotal family live next to the Wine Hall located on Main Street corner, but on the other corner was the Croydon Hotel. These two establishments loom large in their childhood memories, as they were the source of the moaning drunken men that they sometimes heard outside. Occasionally their father had to take the men home.

Croydon Hotel:
Croydon hotel

Croydon Wine Hall:
Croydon wine hall
Alf worked weekdays, Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the timber yard. Once a month he also drove the truck to the wharves to collect timber.

Money was tight, especially as Alf and Alfreda wanted their girls to have a decent secondary education at MacRobertson Girls' High School in Albert Park. One-third of Alf’s wage went on rent and by the time bills were paid and weekly expenses were covered, there was not much left over. At secondary school, fees were charged, books and uniforms would need to be purchased and weekly train fares paid for. Daily life therefore included the care of livestock and the processing of milk and eggs: all quite time consuming.



As well as their home grown vegetables and fresh eggs, the Coates family produced their own milk and cream.



All was not hard work however, and the Coates’ kitchen, warmed by the one-fire stove, was the venue for cups of tea and chats, many of them about cricket. In the picture, Alf is second from the top left:

Alf cricket team 30s



Marge and Alice had a very happy childhood in Croydon. They played often with the Cook sisters, Yvonne and Margaret, who lived opposite. The Cooks had once owned the Croydon Timber Company, Alf’s employer.
Their house was on the other side of Hewish Road, next to the hotel. Connected to the Cook’s house was the grain store, which was now the core of Mr Cook’s business. There were delivery horses in a nearby stable too, and cows in the paddocks behind. The grain store was packed with bags of chaff and grain. The girls spent many hours playing in there, climbing right up to the roof.

One happy memory is of “penny concerts”. Hours of preparation: planning, costume making, and rehearsing, culminated in a concert performed on the Cook’s wide side verandah. This seemed to be mostly in the summer holidays, when the Cook girls’ cousins came to stay. Marge and Alice sang part songs, often Elizabethan madrigals they had learnt at school: Alice singing soprano and Marge, alto. The adult audience (probably only their parents) paid a penny to attend.

Alice remembered playing a sort of scavenger hunt, following written clues to find a prize. “Next clue under the camellia bush”.
She also remembered marbles, played in the dirt on the side of the unmade Hewish Road. When Sue and I stood on the same spot in our Croydon visit, we could hardly cross Hewish Road, for traffic! In the 1930s, it was a quiet gravel road with no gutters and unmade footpaths.
The Coates and Cooks lived opposite each other, and used to signal out of windows at night across Hewish Road. They planned, but never carried out, midnight feasts.

The wild games and excitement of playing with the Cook contrasted with the much more demure and restrained Hebbard girls. Pam and Honor Hebbard were the daughters of Frank Hebbard, the Primary School Principal, and friend of Alf and Freda. Their huge library of books were available for Marge and Alice to borrow, and the garden was a delight to play in. The Hebbards lived up on the Hill, at the top of Kent Avenue, which wound up to what is now the Maroondah Highway, through foothills bushland. A favourite activity with the Hebbards was to wander this bushland looking for native orchids. The remnants of this forest are much prized today, though much of it is degraded, and many of the species of orchid are now only to be seem in a museum.

Visits to the beach, during Marge and Alice’s Croydon years, were limited to School and Sunday School picnics. But they did learn to swim. They would go by train to Lilydale, where there was a huge concrete tank, right on the side of the Olinda Creek. Fresh water would flow in and out with this quite large perennial creek. Alice remembered Mr Hebbard lining them all up along the side and getting them to enter the water with a shallow dive. Nowadays the pool has become a more modern outdoor pool, but it’s still in much the same place.

Friday night shopping was another form of fun. Marge recalled it as a chance for everyone to parade up and down the street. Alice remembered buying “sixpennorth” of lollies and sharing them out. It was a simple life for these country kids. It is notable that, three years apart in age, much of their leisure time was spent playing together.

Marge and Alice of course went to Primary School during these years at Croydon, Marge as far as Grade 8. We will spend more time on this important topic at a later date. Suffice to say, at the moment, that their parents’ friend, Frank Hebbard was the Principal, and he ran a very enlightened, rich educational program, in which the girls flourished. The Croydon Primary School has new premises these days, but the old buildings are still there, now occupied by a Community School.

Family entertainment included hikes from Croydon to Kalorama, and visits to friends, the Cheongs. They were a wealthy and prominent family in the area. At our visit to the museum in Croydon we found many mentions of them, in particular their importance to conservation of remnant foothills vegetation. Even now Cheong Wildflower Reserve, near Croydon, still fulfils that role.

Mr Cheong, from our mother's photo collection:
Mr Cheong



In their leisure time, many happy hours were spent in the Coates’ warm kitchen, “yarning’.



Even though much of the good food the Coates family ate was home grown, some things had to be purchased at the Main Street shops.



The Croydon years were remembered very fondly by both Marge and Alice. They were formative years for both of them. Alice actually names the four areas of interest from those years that became her life long passions.



In 1936 the Croydon years came to an end with the death of Martha Holm, Alfreda’s mother. Presumably the family had to move back to Boronia Street, Surrey Hills to help Alfreda's sister, Berta take care of Roger Holm, now quite an elderly man. Berta was working full time at her dressmaking business. Alf found a new job in the city and Alice embarked on her secondary schooling at MacRobertson Girls’ High School.






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