Number 49 – Bill’s Story

n49

 Bill Davis

The Davis family have lived at 49 Giles Street since 1982. Ann came to a lawn sale to buy a cupboard one Saturday morning and got very excited to find that the Ellis brothers, Mike and Peter, wanted to sell the house, albeit reluctantly. We could only manage to buy 49 if we sold our house in Norwood, SA. This was done and we quickly became proud residents.

I could never have predicted when I came to Alice Springs in 1967 that this would be the place where I would spend most of my life. I was fresh out of teachers college and travelled to Alice on the Ghan with my best mates Aldo Floreani and Paul Fitzsimmons. Aldo, Fitz and I played football together. Aldo was a champion; he was captain of West Torrens and played state footy.

The Floreani family was a big part of my life when I was a young fella living in Adelaide because my own family had moved back to WA. In that long, hot summer of 1967, living with the Floreanis in Alice Springs, I learnt how you have vino with everything, pasta with everything and vino and pasta with everything else. With this kind of intake I would wake parched during the night and find my way in the dark to the laundry fridge to slake the palate with cold watermelon.

Alice Springs at that time was a quiet little dusty place. Hot. I got a job working with TNT unloading everything arriving in Alice by rail and redistributing around the town. It was hard physical work and turned out to be a unique way of finding my way about. Pubs, stores, building sites were all visited during the unloading, usually via the rear. When the perishables arrived it was in and out of the cool rooms all over town. In out, in out – hot cold, hot cold.

Very few Aboriginal people were on the streets in those days; I remember seeing people around town just sometimes and being impressed by their dignity and gravity. Itinerants from the region did not populate the Todd River which had much steeper banks and was deeper back then. The main media-entertainment form was twice weekly pictures at either the Drive-in or the Walk-in. These were exciting times; I was only nineteen.

** ** ** ** **
Fifteen years later I found myself a full, rate paying, resident at 49 Giles Street, Eastside. I was married to the loveliest woman in the world and had two beautiful children. Professionally I had traversed terrain which included classroom teaching, teaching as a Music/Drama specialist, Aboriginal adult education, management of an Aboriginal health organization, community artist-performer and manager-administrator of a regional land-holding body.

After the birth of our first child, Rory, I had worked with Araluen Bush Arts and travelled to 29 remote communities in the bottom two thirds of the NT. Visiting these locations twice throughout 1981 and travelling with a wife and very young child I saw the need for a more stable existence. In 1982, now with our daughter Nyree, the decision to put down our roots in Alice Springs was made easier by the fact that Ann had gone to a lawn sale to buy that cupboard.

My life was fired by passionate people, the politics that saturated Aboriginal issues of health, education and community development and music. I was like that bloke in the song….
He was born a Sydneysider
Or maybe he came from Adelaide or Melbourne town
He finished his degree
At the university
And eventually he wound up in Alice town.
He got a 4WD and he learned you have to sit cross legged
If you wanna getalong in the Abbaaboriginal biz.
At the bottom of the pile he was just another white advisor
And The Organization made him what he is.

Our house had a lot of traffic then as it does now. Friendships which often originated in our work environment blossomed and grew into many and varied relationships lasting to the present. Many people who worked out bush would come by and stay over. The friends of these friends would evolve into long-term friends. Sometimes they ‘found’ one another at 49 Giles Street, got hooked, and had their own children; their children played and grew up with our children. Our children also brought their own friends independently into our home, we would meet their parents and their parents would become our friends. A constant stream of birthday parties resulted from these interactions, the celebration of which was often a 49 Giles Street affair. We have our own kind of fame for the production of birthday parties.

There is something about the space and light of 49 that makes for a good feeling in the house. I think it is the vibe of people who have come to visit or stay and spread their goodwill about. So many fine people; what is remarkable is that complete strangers or first-time visitors have so often voluntarily proffered the view that a good feeling exists in its space.

When my father was alive we once went for a walk to Spencer Hill and clambered up the lower slopes of that landmark. Dad had worked on ’the track’ as a signalman during the war and had completed some very hard yards putting in the new line between Port Augusta and Darwin. From the vantage of Spencer Hill he first pointed to where his division was camped, where dirt roads had previously existed, where all the heavy machinery had been parked. Nowadays should you dig down if you happen to be renovating along Gosse, Giles, Warburton or Chewings Streets you’re likely to strike the crowbar against very thick pieces of concrete – remaining slabs whereupon the machines of war were parked not so very long ago. He waved towards the east, in the direction of our house now and said back then there wasn’t much up our way.

Dad, who came from Williamstown Victoria, was in his early twenties; he was waiting to get posted to New Guinea but after working on the north-south telephone line his division was posted to Western Australia. One day he walked into the tiny post office in Argyle, saw my mother and was smitten. Mum was very beautiful. He was dragged to his duties, even back to Victoria, but returned to marry and settle in Donnybrook.

There were many who saw service during the war in the hinterlands of this country including Ann’s father. The Greatorex brothers Tony and Michael were also posted here; interestingly they had also come from Western Australia, from Darkin in the wheat belt. Greatorex is a famous name in these parts. There is the Greatorex electorate for the Northern Territory legislature, the Greatorex building in the CBD, The Greatorex Pavillion at the showgrounds. Tony and Michael Greatorex were prominent businessmen about Alice Springs during the posr war period. They both served on the Town Council and yes, Tony Greatorex was the first owner of 49 Giles Street.

Tony bought Lot 812 in 1957 though the house wasn’t built until 1960 by Paul Sitzler. Tony was married to Mona Saliski who was from Collie, a coal mining town about 50 kilometres from Donnybrook where I spent my childhood. Mona was an actress and helped form the Alice Springs Theatrical Society during the war years which evolved into the Totem Theatre Company using a converted army building at the present site on the banks of the Todd.
At a point early in the house’s history Tony sold the house to brother Michael who lived in it until 1963 when he sold it to solicitor Brian Martin who was made the mayor of Alice Springs when Jock Nelson moved to Darwin to be the first Administrator of the Northern Territory. In 1967 Tony Greatorex, who was also a town councillor, succeeded Brian Martin as the mayor of Alice Springs.

Harry Purvis was a famous airman. For years he was co pilot to the record breaking Charles Kingsford-Smith; in fact he was quite a record-breaker himself, being the first man to fly from Australia to South America. He flew on many adventures all over the world, owned his own aeroplanes and lived a swashbuckling existence in the earlier days of our aviation history. During the war years he flew transport planes to supply the troops in New Guinea and Pacific region; he was renowned as a skilful pilot and squadron captain.

When the war finished he flew with his men to Bali for some badly needed R&R. On arriving he found himself surrounded by Japanese who wanted to place him under arrest. He explained to them the war had finished, that the ten thousand Japanese on the island were required to surrender, and take up residence in the POW camp – after they had released the prisoners. In the evening the Japanese general presented himself replete with his samurai sword carried on a cushion. Captain Harry Purvis, who had prepared the documents of surrender, gravely carried out the ceremony and signed off as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When Harry Purvis bought 49 Giles Street from Brian Martin in 1968 for $11700. He was in a business partnership with Reg Harris.

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