Joyce and Bruce Clifford
For 44 years I have lived with the love of my life, Bruce Clifford, at 33 Giles Street. I came to Alice Springs from Victoria in 1965 because Rev. Fr. Jim Dwyer had offered me a job in his “lottery office”, raising funds for the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (O.L.S.H.) church that was being built at the time. I had a letter of introduction to a Mrs. Pat Holden from a nun who taught music at the O.L.S.H. school I had attended in Victoria. That’s how I met Bruce; he was Pat’s son. My own lucky number came up when I met him.
For our first date, Bruce took me to an Apex (service club) ball. I also have fond memories of the walk-in and drive-in theatres, late nights with the girls at the hotel beer gardens, trips out bush on dirt roads, BBQs under the clear blue skies and camping in the Outback under a carpet of sparkling stars.
Bruce proposed to me in 1967 at Papunya settlement. At the end of 1967, I went home to Melbourne to spend time with my parents before moving to Alice permanently. Bruce rang to say the house at 33 Giles Street was for sale for $7,500, and what did I think? I remembered having visited number 33 but couldn’t recall the house’s features. Anyway, Bruce put down a deposit on it. (Otherwise home might have been a caravan.)
The property consisted of a small house and huge yard, mostly dirt; a wire fence, half falling down; and a shed that the previous owner, cattle station manager Charlie Paige, had used as his “town house”. The main house was built of brick and had two bedrooms. Out the back was the usual Hills hoist. Bruce had the house painted before we moved in.
We married on the 9th March 1968 in Melbourne and, after honeymooning at Hayman Island, returned to our lovely little home. Bruce, ever the handyman, built a ranch-style fence at the front. It’s stood the test of time and still looks good today. The gate’s another story. It was backed into a couple of times and replaced when Misty, our first corgi, joined the family. These days it keeps Max, also a corgi, fenced in.
After we moved into the house, Bruce got busy planting citrus trees, roses and a vegie garden. Our neighbour at the time, Sandy Mostran, accidentally poisoned our well-established trees along the fence line when he thought he was killing weeds but this incident didn’t hurt our friendship.
We had our first child, Johnny, in November 1968, followed in quick succession by Joanne in 1970, Michael in 1971, Kathryn in 1974 and Paul in 1976. I always remind people there was no TV in those days. The house was soon bursting at the seams. One of the kids said, “Why didn’t you buy a bigger house, if you knew you were going to have five kids?” But we didn’t know that, did we?
We built on to the back of the house in 1971, creating a new kitchen and family room. Then in 1977, we added an extra bedroom with en-suite and a big lounge and dining area. Before it had been properly furnished and carpeted, I would tell the kids to go and play in the new area. It ended up being called “the area”.
Out at the front, we have a wide veranda. Years ago, we would sit there and watch the kids playing on our huge front lawn. These days, we have lunch with our daughter Kathryn and her family, and watch our three gorgeous grandkids play on the same grass. We still have the clothesline out the back (a collector’s item now) and I do have an old rocking chair.
I feel we have been and still are very fortunate to live at 33 Giles Street. OK, the kids had to share bedrooms, but we had plenty of room in the rest of the house and outside for playing and relaxing. Our back gate opens onto Crown land, which leads out to the Telegraph Station, a great place for walks.
Giles Street is quiet and residential, with some interesting old houses and well-established trees and gardens, encouraging plenty of birdlife. Not many people can proudly say, “We live in Giles Street, East Side.”
We’ve had great neighbours over the years and still do. At number 35, Bob and Lesley Barford and their three kids were good friends. When our children were small, the Barfords would organise concerts with their kids and ask the neighbours in. The programme was called “The Jazzy Giles Street Gang”. We would be directed to our seats in the lounge. The kids always did a great job. And we would be offered nibbles in the interval.
I love living in Alice Springs and hope to stay here for many more years. It’s the Outback and it’s unique: blue sky, birds singing. What more could you want? Wherever I travel in the world, there’s nothing better than turning right into Giles Street and heading home to number 33.
Australia’s a big place and to see family members from far away is always something to be cherished. I remember how special it was for me, as a little boy, to spend a day with my Melbourne grandfather, planting bushes on the nature strip outside our house. To me, Melbourne might as well have been on the other side of the world or even on another planet. All I knew was I didn’t see Grandad enough and we were lucky to have him at Giles Street, when we could.
At the end of the day, as a token of our time together, he gave me his gardening “tool”, an old butter knife with half the blade broken off. Twenty-five years later, when one of the bushes we’d planted had grown to twice my height, a tradie reversed his truck out of our property and over the bush, completely destroying it. Later, we received a bill for the tradie’s work, with a small, hand-scribbled note at the bottom saying, “sorry about the shrub”. It was more than a shrub to me. The bush may be gone but I still have that old butter knife, and will always hold close the memory of gardening with my Grandad.
For us kids at number 33, the backyard stretched far beyond our fence. Behind the house, over the dry waterway, on Crown land but before the Telegraph Station, there were hills and ranges, scattered with wildlife. Cut into the side of the range, there was even a cave that opened up into a secret room. And there was a waterhole, where all the neighbourhood children swam on hot days; that is, until we built our own swimming pool.
The phone booth that stood for so long on the corner of Giles Street and Winnecke Avenue is long gone; a sign of technological advances. Mobile phones, email, Facebook, Twitter… No one needs an old phone box anymore. Sadly, the “pop in” to say hello may soon be a thing of the past too. I doubt I’ll remember many conversations I had on Facebook in 20 years’ time. I hope we don’t go the same way as the phone box and stop having friends and family round to see us. Now we can substitute meeting people in person by catching up online. But it’s the visitors to our house whom I’ll remember.
I loved growing up on Giles Street. It was, and still is, a beautiful part of Alice Springs. What I loved most were the people. At number 37, the Minderman family was from America, and they really showed us how to do Halloween. The father had a hot little yellow car. My youngest brother, Paul, would hear it start up in the mornings, cry out “the Min-Min car!” and race out the front to see it go past.
The Barfords at number 35 were great fun. We played endlessly “out the back”, making snug little cubby houses and playing Secret Seven (or however many kids there were at the time). We raced our bikes down the street. I’m not sure how we got away with that; perhaps it was quieter back then or maybe people looked out for us. We took advantage of living on the edge of the nature reserve and thoroughly explored Spencer Hill. Our playtimes in the bush were fantastic and, back then, we always felt safe.
Should we go or should we stay?
I look out from my front office window over the rather large lawn to the native trees and the white ranch-style timber fence on Giles Street.
I love this view.
I have been asked by a resident of Giles Street to write some history of our street. Joyce, my wife, has reminded me numerous times. I am unsure if the exercise will get anywhere or, at least, even realize completion however I will bow to pressure but also include my own Giles Street history in a more lengthy description of my life leading up to my current residency.
Joyce and I have discussed a number of times the lack of family knowledge that can be accessed by our children and our children’s children. Perhaps this can be my effort in rectifying some of the Clifford’s history by recording my personal movements to the present day.
The Giles Street history can be extracted as required.
When marriage was imminent to my beautiful wife Joyce from Box Hill in Melbourne it was necessary to secure some accommodation. True to form I had little or no money or collateral and was desperate to ensure that my wife to be had a roof over her head. A caravan almost became the alternative-an unpleasant choice.
After extensive house searches, most of which were impossibly unaffordable to me, I eventually came across a very small and dilapidated house – a pimple on a large unimproved block- that was just financially manageable. The price was $7,200. The house was purchased on the 3rd May 1968. The vendor was Murray Priester and the solicitor acting for the owner was Paul Everingham, later the first Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. For interest sake the current valuation of the unimproved capitol value (land only) is now $324,000.
Coming back to my fence reference, this was the first construction exercise I embarked on. There was no fence on the property, just the remains of a wire stock fence put up numerous years ago that wouldn’t have kept a herd of camels out. A friend, Paul Delahunty of Rumball and Jury supplied the iron poles at a VERY discounted price. I purchased Meranti timber from Bob Baldock’s timber yard and proceeded to erect my fence over a long hot summer. I can remember my neighbours at the time, an American couple working at the space base, being amazed that someone could be stupid enough as to be erecting a fence in the scorching heat of an Alice Springs summer.
So the fence was built. It showed to the neighbours that we had long term plans. Indeed they turned out to be very long term. On reflection now the Clifford’s would now be the longest residents that Giles Street has. The fence has been rejuvenated several times since, breaking down with rusted out bolts or sections of rot.
Looking out from my office, especially in early morning, I can see many people walking, jogging or riding by. The majority I wouldn’t know their names or where they lived. I can dwell on the people I did know in the street, some gone to God-others just moved on. The Juetts, “Papa” Luigi Rufino, the Mostrans, the Barfords, the Connellans, the Smiths, Wilsons, Jennings, McClelland’s, Bonannis-the list goes on. There are still some existing long term residents –O’Loughlan’s, Skipsey’s and Snowden’s.
On reflection there has been a “lot of water under the bridge”. It has been 45 years since we first moved in and many events and tragedies have occurred over the period. Looking at my own position it would appear that I am a “stay where you are” type of person however this contradicts my personal history. Perhaps my tendency to “stay” was influenced by my earlier “nomad” life and my history of extensive travel while a Giles Street resident.
So what causes a 72 year old male to be a Giles Street resident on the East Side of Alice Springs-in the centre of Australia?
Perhaps it was because I had a sick father that made it necessary to come to Alice Springs but this in turn leads me back to my origins.
I was born Bruce John Clifford on the 8th of April 1941. While my father was overseas during WW11 I was born and named Bruce John as my birth certificate shows. Apparently my father wanted me to be named Bruce Charles after my grandfather. Mom quickly changed my name to be called Bruce Charles. So there is an anomaly on my birth certificate although I have managed the discrepancy to this day.
Dad was first sent to Alice Springs for a short period during the war then sent to North Africa, returned to Australia for 6 weeks (I think) when my sister Carolyn was conceived, then returned overseas to New Guinea and Borneo. I believe six years in the army, most of which were in the war zones overseas, took a physical and mental toll on my father which caused all the family stress for years after. The exception was during the war years when Mum and I lived with Charlie Clifford, my grandfather, at the post office in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills. Grandad, a good man, was postmaster at Stirling and we all lived in the residence at the rear of the post office. All I can remember is Farex and porridge , the girls in the telephone exchange, and being accused of weeing in the official government rain gauge. Apparently I was also sighted peddling my car in the centre of the Adelaide-Melbourne Highway that went through Stirling in those days. To my disgrace I was also accused of quickly vacating this same open peddle car loaded with meat from the butchers when accosted by dogs.
Before the end of the war mum and I moved into a rented house at 8 Osmond Terrace Norwood. Carolyn was yet to be born. Osmond Terrace was then a rather poor area – a far cry from today. I can remember that on a Saturday I looked forward to 9 pence – 3 pence for the Saturday movie matinee on the Norwood Parade and 6 pence for an ice-cream. Where the house stood there now is a small but beautiful park – unfortunately not named Clifford Park.
As I have said the days at Norwood were stressful with my dad sick and mum was forced to seek part time work. This was at the Berlei factory in Kent Town packaging lingerie.
My first school was in Kent Town. On my first day I lined up to march into school but I didn’t take the left turn into the class room. I just kept marching straight on home.
Mum wanted me to have a good education so, although very poor, she sent me to Christian Brothers College Wakefield Street in Adelaide.
Unknown to me the “stress” situation with dad must have become so bad that mum must have contacted a distant relative, Mona Minahan, who ran an “emporium”, called Centralian Traders in Alice Springs-someplace I had never heard of. Mona sent a business partner Joe Costello to see mum in our home in Norwood.
Mum’s previous background before her marriage was helping her mother in food catering for the men who built the Murray River Barrages near Goolwa in South Australia during the Great Depression. Mum had been sick and was sent to Alice Springs to rehabilitate from her work environment in SA. Mona was then barmaid at the Stuart Arms Hotel in Alice Springs owned by Steve Kilgariff. Thus the connection with Mona.
So we all packed up to undertake an adventure trip (or at least for me) to Central Australia to see Aborigines and kangaroos. This was in 1951. There were four of us including dad and my sister Carolyn. The journey WAS a real adventure. The Ghan train took 3 days with train changes at Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Marree. Mum remembered some of the crew from years ago, particularly Aspro and Marty in the restaurant car. We helped to polish the silver. Mum also knew “Bluey” King the engine driver. With great secrecy it was organised for me to hop out of the train at a boiler watering stop and walk up to the engine. I was allowed to ride in the engine for most of a day and watch the crew shovelling coal into the boilers. I was grateful although my eyes became clogged with soot.
So I was 10 years old when I arrived at Alice Springs, and my sister Carolyn was 5. Mona (who I always later referred to as Aunty Mona) had arranged accommodation for us at the Stuart Arms Hotel where she and her partner Ron Haines lived. After a short period it was obvious that a hotel environment was unsuitable for Carolyn and I. The OLSH Convent was the only alternative so we became boarders, not the most desirable experience. Meals were very basic and I can remember being effected by pussy sores probably caused by the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. In those days the only fresh produce available was that grown by local market gardeners (including Mick Heenan and an Italian – Mr Golotta), but they were expensive and in very limited quantities.
Boarding at the Convent obviously also meant that we attended school at OLSH in Bath Street – it’s current location. All through my school experiences I was never a good student and I found it very difficult. My mind always seemed on other things – either dreaming or adventure… anything other than school work. My experiences with other students was varied. Initially I was teased because of my dress standards, my Adelaide college garb – flannel shorts, long wool socks, black shoes and blue stripped cotton shirts. A distinct difference to the local cotton shorts, thongs, T shirt etc.
On the other hand I began to make some great friends; and some that were to be lifelong friends. Brendan Heenan, Warren Seymour, Denis Hersey and Peter Jones to name a few. Some of these I later attended Rostrevor College with several years later.
My first fight at OLSH was with Peter Bloomfield – over a marble I believe. I can’t recall if either of us connected. My second was with Warren Seymour who beat the hell out of me. As is often the case we were good mates after that.
Several months of school passed when a change of lifestyle occurred.
Firstly my father decided that he had enough of Alice Springs and, I guess, that mum and he mutually accepted that he should move elsewhere, either temporally or permanently – I don’t know. At that time I would have still been only 10 or 11 years old. Although mum said she still loved dad I am sure the situation was for the best. We later heard that he was in Queensland – Yeppoon I think. Years later we were notified by the RSL that he had died in Mount Isa –pretty destitute.
Secondly Aunt Mona purchased a residential block in Hartley Street from the Brinkworth family. Aunty Mona used the house for “staff” quarters so the Clifford’s moved in. For a short period Dave and Barb Michel also moved in. Dave worked for Mona in the grocery section of Centralian Traders while mum worked in the dress and haberdashery section.
The house was rather unique. It was brought up from Oodnadatta when the rail line was extended to Alice Springs. Although well built it was clad in “Custom Orb” galvanised iron. The internal walls and ceiling were lined with kalsomined hessian. Very effective really – but a little scary when the wind blew along the hessian, especially when we had visitors. As a contradiction to the simple building materials of hessian and iron in the living area the floors were done in beautiful polished Jarra timber. The house had added on lean-tos for additional space. These add-ons were galvanised iron, only without the “benefits” of the hessian lining. Obviously the house was freezing in winter but, worse, unbearable during a hot summer. In an attempt to beat the heat we used to sleep outside under a grape vine covered veranda. Mosquitoes were always a problem and Citronella was the order of the day. But it was better than the heat.
Although our living situation was fairly basic they were relatively good days. Mona was always supportive – we went for many outings and picnics out bush. I learnt to use a rifle and demolished the world’s tin cans. After school each day I worked at the store filling shelves, polishing floors and twice a week hopping on my bike to secure the grocery orders from clients. I didn’t mind the work but I don’t think I was the greatest worker.
Yes college again. Mum believed that I, and later Carolyn, should have a quality education. God knows how she did it earning approx 13 Australian pounds per week – perhaps Mona helped her – but she organised for me to attend Rostrevor College in Adelaide as a border. It must have been a great sacrifice for her. I looked forward to it as it was another adventure; adventures seemed to appeal to me. I also liked it because I was not alone. Several school friends were also going to Rostrevor -or already were. Brendan Heenan, Warren Seymour, Peter Bloomfield, Peter Jones, John Hayes were included. Similar to Wakefield Street I again had a refit back to city clothes – suit, Rostrevor jacket, hat and tie. Add on the travel costs etc and it really was an expensive exercise for poor mum.
I did enjoy it. The comradeship, meeting new friends and enjoying current ones – both from Alice and those from Adelaide. Even “day scrags” were included as friends. Gerald Doodie was one. I later renewed my friendship with Gerald in later years when he made regular visits to Alice as a government valuator for the ATO.
Brendan Heenan during that period became my best friend. We had a lot in common aside from our Alice Springs connection. We were in the cadets and quickly realised that one of the “soft” jobs was to be in the cadet band. The uniform also came with remarkably bright and prominent lanyards and badges making us feel a little like generals. We wore white gloves to complete the picture. Brendan played the drums while I endeavoured to get a reasonable sound out of the cavalry trumpet, an upgrade from a standard bugle.
Another “soft” job was to be a sacristan at the Rostrevor chapel, which meant we set up the altar for each mass, put out the wine and water etc. It also meant getting out of a number of mundane kitchen jobs and the like. An added bonus was that we were shouted to an expensive dinner and show in the city once a year – one I remember was Gone With The Wind. Unfortunately this did not occur on the second year. When I questioned the reason I was told that we were stealing the altar wine. I was shocked at such an accusation. It was many years later that my good mate Brendan owned up that he was the culprit.
In later years I was Brendan’s best man and he mine.
Sadly, and in line with previous comments, as a “head down and bum up” student I was rather hopeless so, after several years, it was prudent for me to return to Alice Springs to complete my schooling at the Alice Springs High School and so save mum the enormous expense of retaining me at a boarding school in Adelaide. I don’t believe however that my tenure in Adelaide was wasted. It broadened my attitude which, I believe, benefited me in later life.
I was 16 when I started looking for a paid job. In small towns similar to Alice Springs the prospect of gaining employment for a young lad was categorised into three options:
1. For the clever and for those who sought to quickly climb the ladder to success-the public service was clearly the first choice.
2. For those, perhaps not of that standard or who wanted private enterprise and perhaps the opportunity of moving to the big cities – the local banks were worth considering.
3. For those less endowed, local towns (similar to banks) all had a selection of stock and station agents who employed trainees initially as clerks or similar.
Obviously option 3 was my choice.
I was fortunate enough to secure a clerks position with the stock agent Goldsbrough Mort & Co Ltd who had an office in Todd Street- approximately in the position where the Westpac Bank is now. I was employed to work as a clerk in the “Merchandise Store” situated behind the main office with its rear loading/unloading facility bordering on Leichardt Terrace.
I clearly loved the job from the start. It was my cup of tea. I was not bogged down with too much paper work – certainly I had my fair share –however much of my working time comprised of serving “bushies” by completing their long list of supplies to take back to their station homesteads. For some I used to also supply or purchase from other retailers their requirements and load their truck ready for (some) to extract themselves from the local pub. There were times when we would take their truck to the outskirts of town and allow the client to “sleep it off” before driving himself home when he woke up.
When not attending to merchandise I used to grab every occasion to do “bush trips” or assist in loading or feeding cattle. If I had any problem with the job – it was the low pay, particularly for a lad who enjoyed the “ after hours” leisure times in a small town. I remember we were paid once every month. For the first week we lived like a king, the second week we were more prudent, the third we were scratching around for any change and, finally, the last week we were borrowing from the substantial (thank God) petty cash tin which became full of IOUs.
I had been with Goldsbrough for about 4 years and continued to enjoy both the work and, I must admit, the substantial social life of Alice Springs. I was not however improving my position to progress my employment position and was still not experienced in the responsibilities of controlling the workings of an office. My superiors within the company with whom I had a great regard recognised this and it was on their instigation that they offered me a transfer as a “relieving clerk in charge” to their various offices in South Australia – starting with Murray Bridge to gain some grounding in controlling an office. The large town is approximately 50 miles from Adelaide. In my usual way I jumped at the chance of expanding my horizons, particularly since I had friends and relations in Adelaide.
Mum now had my sister Carolyn at home so she at least had company at the house we now lived in – a small housing commission house in Winnecke Avenue on the East Side of Alice Springs, not a great distance from the object of this exercise- Giles Street. So my decision to move south was relatively easy.
My first job on arrival at Murray Bridge was, in a ski boat, to help locate some cattle that had deviated into the Murray River. We found the cattle. Life was great.
It was necessary for me to borrow some funds from old family friends (who lived near our original house in Osmond Terrace) to purchase a new Holden Station Sedan. It was bright red and the love of my life. I had a large stereo unit – a phonogram in a polished timber cabinet with a separate matching speaker. With the station wagon and the stereo in the rear I would travel to the moon and back. I loved my travelling and I loved my music.
Murray Bridge was good. I boarded (as was the case everywhere) and met some good friends. Most weeks we would drive into Adelaide and take in a show or two-and usually end up in some strip restaurant before driving back home in the wee hours. Memories of the Golden Goose (or similar) in Hindley Street come to mind.
After gaining experience in Murray Bridge it was time to do some “relieving work” around the traps. At first I was offered a permanent position at a place called Kalangadoo near Millicent in the south east of SA. I thought I would check it out so I (with my red car and stereo) travelled down on a Saturday, did a reconnaissance of a tiny cold timber construction hamlet, did a U turn and came home. It was definitely not for me.
Next came Loxton – again on the Murray but close to the Victorian/NSW border. I loved it. A warm river town with great friendly people. Except for the river it was not dissimilar to Alice Springs. I boarded- the other tenants mainly being single bank staff.
My next position, while relatively short, was at Naracoorte in the south east. Cold and foggy; completely different to Loxton but perhaps a grounding for my next and last position with Goldsbrough Mort – Mount Gambier, the largest town/city in the south east.
Mount Gambier was a 2 year stint. I continued with Goldsbrough Mort until they were taken over by the larger stock and station firm Elder Smith & Co. The company, after the “merger” was renamed Elders GM.
Elders in Mt Gambier was an unusual case of being commercially self sufficient from head office. Elders had previously bought out De Garriss, a large local stock and station firm that was managed by a Bob Clezy who had married the daughter in the De Garriss family. It was a condition with the Elders purchase that Clezy continue to run the Mt Gambier operation. Clezy came with a reputation of being a tough hard man who was difficult to work for. Surprisingly I found the opposite. If you gave him a good days work then he would look after you. I found this the case. He really was a good boss. Coincidently he had a farmer brother – Bruce Clezy who, years ago was the manager of the ES&A Bank in Todd Street, Alice Springs. He had been a friend of Mona Minahan. My mother also knew him during her first trip to Alice Springs.
I enjoyed the work in Mount Gambier and made many good friends BUT –it was cold.
My work involved administration, with emphasis on insurance and travel.
Back to the Alice
My mother had finally remarried. He was a good guy, originally from Melbourne, but now a long and true Territorian – George Holden. He was with the Northern Territory’s Welfare Department who mainly concentrated on the aboriginals. George was involved with the “lost” children issue and the “Bungalow” (Alice Springs Telegraph Station) where some of these children lived.
George and mum got on extremely well and were happy together.
Unfortunately George developed prostate cancer and it was too late to reverse it. He died on an Ansett aircraft on his way to Adelaide to seek further medical help. Mum was distraught. In her entire life mum had only 5 complete years of marriage.
I returned to Alice for the funeral, and since mum was basically alone I felt obliged to return permanently to be on hand. I must admit that it gave me an excuse to escape the Mt Gambier cold.
Carolyn met a USA Air Force sergeant, Arlyn Bartel, from the local Detachment 241 Base. They married and lived in the USA (Washington DC/Maryland) for some time before returning to Australia to live, firstly in Whyalla (for BHP) and then Perth where they now have a grown up family and grandchildren.
To prepare myself for an Alice return I needed a job. With some knowledge of insurance from my work in Mt Gambier I managed to secure a position as an “Insurance Inspector” for the Commercial Union Assurance Company. They gave me an office, a car and said go to it. I was employed with them for about two years.
It took me that year or two to realize that insurance wasn’t my scene. I felt like a salesman bent on collecting premiums for the gods in Adelaide. Trying to obtain premiums from businesses that, I felt, couldn’t afford it. Selling insurance, to me, was like selling fresh air. I obviously had the wrong attitude.
I grabbed at the opportunity offered with a position at Territory Transport (or Co-Ord as it was usually termed). The previous “assistant manager” Phil Highett was leaving town to take up a position with Ansett Airlines in charge of their reservation section. I had known Phil years earlier when he also was employed by Goldsbrough Mort in Alice Springs. It was a good steady position involving office administration work including the control and allocation of loading to the several member companies making up Co-Ord. These members were Buntine Freightways, Fleet Owners, D.R.Baldock, Des Jury and Tom Corry. Well known Territorian Noel Buntine owned Buntine Freightways while the O’Neil’s of Sydney owned Fleet Owners. Jim McConville was one owner of Baldocks .That Company also operated independently to Tennant Creek. Noel Buntine also owned a large cattle transport business operating out of Katherine. The Buntine Highway was named after Noel.
Co-Ord was a lucrative business holding a contract with the Commonwealth Railways to carry all the freight from the railhead at Alice Springs to meet up with the rail line at Larrimah in the far north. We also carried freight to and from Mount Isa in Queensland and occasionally to Kununurra in WA. During that time Co-Ord back-loaded copper ore from the mines of Peko and Warrego near Tennant Creek.
My one major “gripe” with my job was having to put up with phone calls at all hours – usually from drivers wanting some instructions or, worse, having a call in the middle of the night that a truck had rolled over or was involved in some type of accident. This entailed making urgent arrangements for recovery of truck, equipment and load and usually meant an immediate trip to the accident site, either by light plane or vehicle to make an “en site” report which was required by the Commonwealth Railways- a federal government body. This was not always an 8 to 5 job.
Married with children
It was during my employment with Co-Ord that I was the lucky man to meet Joyce. I don’t know that it was entirely my doing. I feel that a number of persons from the Catholic Parish –including the parish priest Father Dwyer, Les Loy and, not least, my mother were involved in ensuring that I did not lose this great “catch”. Thank God they were all successful.
We were married in Melbourne (Box Hill) on the 9th of March 1968 and honeymooned at Hayman Island. While on our honeymoon I had arranged for the painters to move into our tiny little home at 33 Giles Street. They removed some 350+ nails from the walls.
The house wasn’t much but it was ours and we were happy.
We didn’t waste any time; especially since there was no television. John was born on the 30th November 1968 – a honeymoon baby. Joanne followed on the 9th January 1970; then Michael, Kathryn January 1974 and last, but certainly not least, Paul in 1976. Three boys and 2 girls; I liked to say 2 ½ “pigeon pair”.
So our habitation of Giles Street got off to a great start. We enjoyed great neighbours at 31 Giles Street – Sandy and Faith Mostran and their young family – Patricia, Peter and John. Sandy ran the Shell fuel depot – Rumball and Jury. During the war Sandy, in the Australian Air Force, was interned in Italy as a POW and, I believe, was in the latter days of the war sent to Germany to see the war out.
They were great supportive people who became almost family. After Sandy and Faith retired to Port Macquarie Peter and his wife Jenny lived in the house until such time as they, like us, needed extra room and purchased the house previously owned by Len Kittle on Cavanagh Crescent. Cavanagh Crescent always makes me smile. Several blocks were created on the hill and were taken up by Reg Harris, Les loy, Paul Delahunty, Len Kittle and Peter Sitzler as well as a house allocated to the manager of the Joint Defence Base. All these people were held in high regard in the Alice community and were not without wealth, and so, when the service road was built to these homes the street was officially signposted Bons Hill. There was a lot of sniggering from people when they spelt the name backwards. It wasn’t long before it was renamed Cavanagh Crescent.
But I digress. I was talking about Giles Street.
The house on the opposite side to us from the Mostrans was a standard grey brick government owned home that was let out to USA couples working at the Pine Gap Base, and later to staff of Parks and Wildlife which included well known Dr Ken Johnson who now lives in Sturt Terrace and finally Bob & Lesley Barford who later purchased the house.
The rather dangerous looking river red gums between this house and ours (35 & 33) were planted by one of the Parks and Wildlife residents about 40 years ago. One large root attempted to make an entrance through our lounge room floor, with some success.
As mentioned our house was small but we loved the area, our neighbours and our shed.
“A man must have his shed”.
I believe the garage, a Sydney Williams shed, was built long before the house. Charlie Paige must have initially purchased the land and built the shed as “a town house”. Charlie was the manager of Bushy Park Station north of Alice Springs on the Plenty Highway, not a great distance from what is now the Gem Tree Roadhouse. When we arrived the two swinging front doors were fixed open, with a roof over the top of the doors and the end filled in. This “alcove” was their kitchen and the rest of the garage their living area. Charlie had a large family of wife, a son and two daughters. One daughter Lyn later married a policeman (surname Grant) and lived down the “bottom” end of Giles Street for many years before they retired to Adelaide (I think).
From a truckie to the rag trade
Mum, then remarried to George, was now Pat Holden and it was with this name she went into business. Mona Minahan had closed her store Centralian Traders to make room for her (and her partners Ron Haines and Joe Costello) new hotel The Riverside. The hotel took up all that space occupied by Centralian Traders plus the large corner block on Wills Terrace owned by Joe Costello.
Mona allocated a corner room with external access as a shop for mum to run as a boutique. The rent, I believe, was fairly minimal. Mum’s starting capitol was 50 pounds of Berlei stock plus consignment stock of “frocks” from an Adelaide manufacturer – Lucy Secor. Mum called the shop Pat Holden Frocks.
Mum managed a reasonable living out of the shop. Of course, while George was alive, there was no problem. Mum usually had the assistance of a friend to do the bookwork but when he died I assisted during my after hours from my day job in transport.
After time mum ran into three commercial problems. Firstly she was running out of room in her very tiny shop, secondly Mona was endeavouring to sell the Riverside Hotel (now known as the Todd Tavern) and lastly she was competing with several competitors – especially one called the Dressing Room which was well run with plenty of capitol backing from the owners – especially George Smith the Mayor.
I convinced mum that she needed to move and we secured a retail store in an ideal position opposite the post office – a front shop in the Ermond Arcade in Hartley Street. It was a good move. It was a popular store however the work load was too much for mum and she asked me to go into the business full time, especially since I was already assisting her as much as possible.
This was a difficult decision for me – a “macho” man in the transport industry!!!
I was also aware that it was a very competitive and fickle industry. Anyway, I knew that mum needed assistance so I agreed to enter the business full time.
We grew to 4 stores – 5 at one time. We had Pat Holden Fashions, The Bra Bar, Miss Alice and Pat Holden Fashions in Tennant creek.
The shops went well – very well – for many years until problems developed.
Firstly the Ermond Arcade was sold to developers who built the Yeperenye Shopping Centre to install Woolworths and other retailers. We were basically forced to accept a move into Yeperenye on completion. Obviously the rent was very high. By my calculations we would have had to increase our sales by 15% to be viable – we didn’t make it.
The problems first started with our relocation premises (horrible) while the centre was being developed.
We were progressively hit by competitive national stores moving into Alice – Kmart, Sportsgirl, Katies, Sussans and others. The fact that some of these no longer exist in Alice now doesn’t help.
I tried to find ways of reducing our fall in sales and high costs but to no avail. I was living in stress land.
I knew I had to get out. Mum had long retired.
So eventually we found a buyer to whom we gave vendor finance. We didn’t get our money as the new owners went bankrupt in a year. I didn’t feel too bad as I had offered them my help and advice as well as warning them prior to purchase that they would find it extremely hard.
Irrespective of the outcome and our loss of funds it was a welcome relief that the shops were finally off our hands. I could then look to the future.
We sold the shops in the year 2000 and I looked around for something to keep me occupied. By chance I noticed a small advert in the Centralian Advocate from the Darwin Area Consultative Committee (ACC) seeking two applicants for a six month term to assist the Federal Government in disseminating information and material on the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be introduced on the 1st July of that year. I applied and was successful in getting the position for the southern area of the Northern Territory. A Rod Murray secured the position for the top end. We were required to be in Canberra within a few days for extensive training. We were to be called GST Signpost Officers. I didn’t like the name. I felt I was too short to be a signpost.
This was a very interesting and rewarding period. I was basically my own master and the job gave me so many wonderful travel opportunities – both interstate, regional and remote. I believe I was good at the job due to my background in both business (insurance, pastoral, transport and retail) and my knowledge of Alice Springs, its business people and all the remote areas following my days as a stock agent and insurance rep.
My contract was renewed several times until funding for the GST program dried up. Before I had a chance to look around for another position the Business Enterprise Centre Darwin Region won another contract with the Federal Government for the supply of two Small Business Field Officers. Again the southern region position was offered to me. I jumped at it. Unlike the first job the title suited me better but even this title, through to future contracts, changed a number of times until finally we were called – Business Advisors.
When funding for the BEC’s last contract ran out it fortunately coincided with my pre planned retirement. I was then 71 years old. I had serviced the business community in my region for 11 years and gained considerable training and experience with both the private and government sectors, especially the Australian Tax Office and Northern Territory government departments. I also feel good about the people and businesses I have assisted over the period.
Room to move
Our house, I believe, would have been one of the first built by the Bonanni Brothers before they expanded into making bricks. Mrs Teresa Bonanni, who recently died, lived out her years at 54 Giles Street, a house with a beautifully kept garden. She was a lovely lady with a magnificent family.
Our facilities in our home were limited. We had two bedrooms, a front lounge area leading to a very small veranda, at the rear a small kitchen leading out to a “breezeway” that extended over to a toilet and laundry.
Our kitchen included a wood stove and a small sink. Our hot water service consisted of two stacked 44 gallon drums. The top drum held the water while the bottom drum was the “furnace” for the wood fire. Rain or shine I had to get up early every morning to fire it up; but actually it was quite effective.
One of the first additions was an evaporative air conditioner on the roof that forced air down into the bedroom passage way which then dispersed to most of the house. There was no room for ducting in a flat roof. At the same time we installed a solar hot water system. Thank god.
As our family grew it was obvious that we would have to extend. We did-twice.
The first extension was to fill in the “breezeway” and making it into a kitchen. We did this and finally removed the wood stove.
Several years later we made a major extension to the western side of the house by creating a large lounge and dining area with a “master” bedroom and ensuite. The extensions included a large front veranda along the width of the house. With all this done we were reasonably comfortable at 33 Giles Street – at least we were happy. The children grew up –pre school, school, college in Adelaide and, in several cases, university. After that they all went their own ways with their careers.
Now they are all- not just grown up- but hovering around the 40 years mark and blessing us with seven beautiful grandchildren. So they are obviously off our hands as far as accommodation goes but we still look forward to their visits and the opportunity to see our grandchildren. And of course we also look forward to travelling to see them. John’s unit in Kirribilli has a beautiful view of the harbour, Michael lives in a stones throw of the MCG in Melbourne and Joanne doesn’t mind seeing us on their beautiful farm.
So this leads me back to my opening remarks: –
Should we go or should we stay?
As mentioned we would now be the longest term residents of Giles Street. We are retired and live on an exceptionally large block that requires the usual repairs and maintenance. The children are spread around Australia. There is only Kathryn and her family in Alice Springs. We are aware that this could change within the next year or two leaving us without family in Alice. This does not concern me as they all are doing well and live in the area of their choosing. While we are still very mobile we have the ability to visit them.
I am happy that I spent 45 years in Giles Street. It is not our house –it’s our home. I will miss the 5k walk each morning into the Telegraph Station with its kangaroos, wallabies and birds of all types. But there will be a time when we must say goodbye to 33 Giles Street.