By Owen Vincent (Vin) Burnham
When I was quite young (about seven, early 1920s) the Nepean Highway was a gravel and dirt road right up to Frankston from Portsea. On the very rare occasion that one went to the city, it was quite a common experience to see eight or ten motorists pulled over to the side of the road mending punctures, remembering that only a very few vehicles used the road then. Boneo Road was mostly dirt with a few patches of limestone.
At this time, if an aeroplane was heard approaching, the whole school was allowed out to watch its progress. In a few more years the school cricket and football teams were taken by private cars to the surrounding towns to play. A Mr Harry Baker (brother to our first baker) and a Mr Dick Baker (no relation) each had a model T Ford, and kindly took us to our matches.
On one occasion when we were travelling to Red Hill to play, we had just gone over the slight hill near Dromana abattoirs when a back wheel came off one of the cars and went racing down the hill ahead of us. The other car proceeded on and the passengers from the stricken car had to walk up the White Hill to the sports ground and play – I think we won. Sixty odd pupils attended and we had a headmaster and one assistant in the school.
In those days we lived in an old shack near where the fish shop was later built. Dad and Wal made hundreds of cement bricks and eventually built the house that stood on the block for many years (corner of Boneo Rd and McCombe St, Rosebud) until being demolished for the Red Rooster building (which has also now been demolished). It was finished in 1929.
For many years we kept a cow and a number of fowls, which were a target for foxes that lived in the rushes and scrub on the west side of Boneo Rd. Our wood heap and playing area was McCombe St among a row of big pines that came down from Hindhope at an angle along the street. (Hindhope is mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this story.)
We boys used to sell fish of a Sunday at the Boneo Rd corner, near the old bent gum tree, mostly whiting and snapper. As there were very few cars, customers were not plentiful, but there were two brothers who each had a Marmon eight cylinder black sedan, and they regularly drove to their weekend properties at Portsea, and they were good customers.
One early afternoon when our cousin George, who lived on the foreshore near where the swimming pool is now (it has since been removed, but was on the foreshore just east of directly opposite Boneo Rd), was helping me, we decided, as we were nearly out of fish, to go eeling in the creek once we were sold out.
In preparation, George rigged up a line on a piece of Ti-tree as a rod. He climbed up a tree and bet me he could hook a piece of paper he had placed on the ground below. Taking up the bet – no stake – I ran out to get the paper and, seeing me coming, he hurriedly tried to hook it up, but only succeeded in hooking me by the lip. So off home we went for Dad to cut off the barb and pull the hook out. As he led me up Boneo Rd I went up meekly – no fighting the line as a fish would have done.
In those days, the foreshore was heavily timbered with Ti-tree and coastal banksias, with an understorey of bracken up to eight feet high, and it was almost impossible to push your way through except by a few narrow tracks. Frequently we would go home along the beach from school if the weather was pleasant.
Sometime about 1925, the old steel trader Kakariki was wrecked whilst negotiating the Heads. Much of her mixed cargo was washed up on the beaches during the next few days. We found a case of soaps – washing soap, toilet and even some shaving sticks – fly papers, both flat and spiral (sticky ones), tea and mixed chocolates. Unfortunately both the latter were ruined by the sea water. Others found cases of tobacco, dried fruits and footwear.
This reminded Dad of the time a ship was wrecked off Sorrento’s back beach, and many cases of spirits were washed ashore. The locals, on finding a case, would carry it into the sand dunes and bury it. Customs officers were sent to seize the grog and would use poles to push into the sand to help in their search, but many a local had no need to buy liquor for a long time after the wreck.
Dad also told how some rabbit trappers had found a dead Chinese in the middle of summer and took the body in to the nearest police station. On being told to leave the body outside to avoid the smell they said “It’s all right, we’ve gutted him.” I can’t vouch for the truth of this.
When I was five the rest of the children and the Pattersons, who lived in Hindhope then, were going to the creek to fish and I wanted to go too, but was considered too young to go. So Ross Patterson gave me a dink on his new bike instead. As we went down Boneo Rd I managed to place my foot into the spokes of the front wheel, which acted as a brake and threw us both over the handle bars. Being bare footed, as most of us were on those days, my foot was a bit mangled. Dad took me up to Dromana where a nurse lived – no doctors nearby then – and she sewed it up. I still remember the smell and choking sensation of the chloroform she used.
Somewhere about this time a flock of ostriches was driven up Boneo Rd to the Cape Schanck area to start a farm, but the weather proved too cold for them.
In those early days our fish were taken to the Melbourne market by the Williams brothers in a horse drawn vehicle. They left Boneo corner at seven o’clock in the morning and caught the train at Mornington. As there was no ice about then, on hot days and nights it was quite common to have the fish condemned as “unfit for human consumption”.
Earlier than that, the local fishermen used to sail to Queenscliff to put their fish on the train there. If the wind dropped out or the flood tide proved too strong to allow arriving on time to catch the train, they’d throw their catch overboard and return home.
When Dad first started fishing, all he had was a fifteen-foot boat with an outboard engine, of which he knew very little. When Wal was old enough to leave school he used a ten-foot dinghy to fish in, rowing or sailing it everywhere. I inherited it later, and remember sitting low in it whenever a big shark was about.
At one time Wal was fishing for snapper at the old Hurricane wreck, using heavy cotton lines as usual, when a whale swam between his dinghy and the wreck and became fouled on his line. As Wal pulled hard on his line to break away, the whale lifted his tail out of the water, giving our Uncle Walter, who was fishing nearby, a fright.
As we boys grew older we gradually had new boats built and fitted them with inboard engines, mostly old Rugby car ones. As diesel engines were developed to run more smoothly, we installed these and were able to work further afield, both up the bay and outside.
Before the war, we used to sell fish out of an old ice-box, and when we all came home we built the fish shop to cater for the increasing demand due to a growing population and more cars on the road. We installed one of the first stainless steel benches to be used in Victoria. The unit for the seven foot by seven by seven cool room was designed by Harry Dunn and was also put in by him – an ammonia plant of one ton. We soon had to double the size of the cool room and installed a three ton compressor from Werner Bros of Richmond, which gave sterling service over the years.
About this time we took up long-lining for snapper in the bay, probably a few years before the war. After the war we bought a bigger boat so we could work outside as the long-line season in the bay was only open from May to October, later changed to April to September. During this season, we could use up to seven hundred and fifty hooks on our line. Much later the season was extended to year round, but only two hundred hooks were allowed.
In the earlier seasons, catches of twenty or more boxes a boat a day were quite common, but with the shorter line of latter years, twelve or more boxes was considered a good haul.
We caught mostly barracouta and flathead outside and these were good for shop sales, giving us quantity, although snapper and whiting were the most popular. We would arrive on the couta grounds at break-of-day and catch enough for the shop, six or seven boxes, then go long-lining for flathead and get ten or twelve boxes of them. If couta were selling well in Melbourne market we would stay on them longer and catch twenty to thirty boxes.
In the 1950s we started beach seine netting for mullet and salmon at Portsea, and so had a supply of other fish for both shop and market. When the mullet were running, between Christmas and the end of March, an average day’s catch would be about twenty boxes with a maximum of fifty. Salmon trout would come in all different sized shoals, from two to hundreds of boxes.
We then developed a method of towing the net dinghy behind out bigger boat with a look-out up the mast, and caught many thousands of boxes of trout along the beaches as far as Mornington.
The shop trade grew continually and finally became so great that we had to close the shop three days a week to allow us to go fishing. Eventually the four days of trading became too hectic and so we regretfully had to close the shop altogether and just fish for the market. This caused consternation and regret among our faithful regular customers. But prices in the market had improved greatly, so it made for an easier lifestyle.
Through the years we had a number of fish carriers – Messrs Bill Peterson, Len Dunk, Jim Black and a few others. At times we lacked a carrier so had to take the fish to Hastings for a few years and for one year had to take them up ourselves.
We took a large number of people out fishing over the years and met some characters. One old chap had a long moustache and always wore a hat. One day while moving from the dinghy to the big boat at the moorings, he went in head first. His hat came up to the surface, then his head appeared, blowing out air and water, just like a walrus.
A Swede named Axel used to live in a hut on the West Rosebud foreshore, and fish for a living in a small boat. One day when he was out, Bert White (mentioned later) took him in tow and they went into the channel to catch some flathead and have a drink. A steamer was bearing down on them and Bert tried to start his one-cylinder engine to get out of the way. When the ship blew his siren as a warning to move Axel said “I think I’ll save the dinghy Bert.”
At the start of the war we had two boats of twenty feet and one of seventeen. When we were all in the army, these boats were pulled up onto the foreshore among the trees for shade, and Dad kept a certain amount of water in them to stop them opening along the seams, also covered then with hessian. Although they were there for some years, they were none the worse for the experience and, once we returned, were soon commissioned again. (See also ‘Letter from Jack Bates’ by clicking here.)
Seeing the need to fish outside in the ocean, we bought a twenty seven foot couta boat from Jim Everall of Westernport in the early fifties. It had a Rugby car engine, but we soon installed a heavy-duty Thornycroft diesel. In 1962 Alec Lacco, who was working at Rye, then built us a broad-beamed twenty four footer, and we put another Thornycroft in it. We used both these boats for snapper long-lining inside, but the larger one had too much draught so had limited use.
During the long-line season we would tie up to the inside corner of the Mornington pier – no scallop boats then. One night, when a howling nor-wester was blowing, we had to pump for hours as the seas were breaking over the pier and landing in our boats.
In my very early years, our house was the only one on Boneo Rd between the highway and McCombe St. Then our cousin Alf Finger built a weekender, followed by H Liversidge, who lived there and built the corner store. He put his older son Harold in the grocery and his other lad Ernie in the butcher’s shop – now a boot repairer.
This area was all short bracken, and from our place we could see the highway. Then a fire burnt the bracken and after that the Ti-tree grew in abundance and soon blocked our view. Hindhope Park and The Thicket were the only other houses in Boneo Rd at Rosebud.
Both Roy and I were born in Hindhope, the rest of the family in Sorrento. Hindhope estate covered the area between First Ave, Bonoe Rd, the highway and the Thicket. When the estate was sub-divided, Dad bought our block for ten pounds. The Thicket, opposite which we now live (the end of Boneo Rd near the high school), went up to Ropers Lane – now Eastbourne Rd. Then Ropers property went to Sims Creek but continued further back to Jetty Rd on the north side of Ropers Lane, but had been mostly sub-divided many years before.
There were not many houses on the highway in those days, about four between Boneo Rd and the creek and twelve to the east, and the three shops – Wheeler’s, Webster’s and Miss Knight’s, who had the school tuck shop on the corner opposite the school.
There wasn’t a great deal of camping on the foreshore early on. About eight families used to come down regularly for the Christmas holidays, mostly from the boot-making factories of Richmond. Names that come to mind are Bert and Ern White, George Hughes, Bill Campbell and George Moore. Later most of these built holiday homes in Rosebud.
There was quite a bit of musical talent among them, and each year they would put on an outdoor concert, our only form of entertainment. They had a portable organ, mouth organs and an accordion with some quite good voices, and others were not so good. Food and drinks were supplied free and all locals were welcomed. The friendliness and gaiety was a thing to remember.
The old bent gum tree on the foreshore opposite Boneo Rd was a real landmark, as it had grown into an arch under which the cars used to drive. Many photos were taken of it. One day a koala appeared up it and stayed for a while – there were a few on the slopes of Arthurs Seat.
When in our teens, we would frequently climb Arthurs Seat, using back tracks through Clacton to reach it (then known as the Clacton-on-sea estate, today known as the “avenues”). In Clacton, near the corner of Ropers Lane and Jetty Rd, there was an old hut called Rats Castle, and when young we were scared of the place. A Mr Alexander used to grow fine apples on a nearby property.
The only church was the Methodist, to which we children went for Sunday school. Mr Ben Wilson senior used to supply the Sunday school picnickers with a churn of ice cream free each year. This would be the only ice cream we’d have unless we had a rare trip to the city. On occasion the picnic would be held in the Sorrento park if enough kind motorists were available, although we frequently had to walk some of the distance as a car would take one load then return for the walkers.
The Wong Shing family had a market garden on the east of Chinaman’s Creek and supplied the district with fresh vegetables. Later the two sons, first George then Ted, used to take their produce to the Melbourne Victoria market, bringing back fruit, so kept the local green-grocers supplied.
Their uncle, also George, used to hawk vegies in a horse and cart from Rye to Dromana. On his way home from Dromana he would call at our place, usually about sunset, for us to buy. One evening, a couple of us decided to hop aboard his cart as he drove slowly down Boneo Rd, to get a banana each. It was dark, but he must have heard us as, with typical Oriental cunning, he slipped quietly out of the front of his cart and waited till it passed him, then whacked us on the backside with his whip. Next time he called, he was his usual friendly self, never mentioning the episode – in fact, I think he gave us a banana each. Good psychology!
The senior football team would travel in Len Dunk’s low-sided open Rio truck to away matches. One day when going to Flinders via Boneo Rd, he couldn’t take the first bend in the serpentine bend down to the Main Creek, so had to continue over the bracken, dodging the trees, down the quite steep slope and re-joined the road past the last bend, jolting and bouncing about. No one “abandoned ship” and we all arrived unharmed, physically at least.
In those days the football ground was on the foreshore opposite where the hotel is now. When a home game was in progress all the citizens would attend and the shops would close.
A Mr Durham had a holiday house on the beach opposite Broadway theatre at Rosebud Parade and he worked for Swallow & Ariels, biscuit makers. Each year he would give us a tin of mixed biscuits for Christmas, a gift greatly appreciated by us kids. Later, his daughter Judith made a name for herself by singing with The Seekers.
A few families lived on the foreshore, originally on professional fishing permits. The Freemans lived opposite where the Shell garage is now, which was then owned and run by Len Dunk. A Mr Lou Buscher lived just west of the present hall, and a little further west a Mr Bill Anderson. And, as stated earlier, Uncle Walter and Axel were further west yet. A condition of the permit was you had to pay the rates on the property for, I think, twenty years, then you could claim complete ownership. Uncle Walter did not pay rates so his family lost ownership.
When Wheeler’s shop and post office combined was burnt out, he built a new shop and separate PO, just east of where the National Bank stands today. Webster’s shop was where Peebles is now. As the years passed, more shops were built. A garage just west of Wheeler’s was run by a Mr Anderson, followed by another in Ninth Avenue run by a Mr Whittaker, brother to Frank (who later owned the Dromana Drive-In).
A Mrs Leech has a green-grocery near Anderson’s garage and a lolly shop was opened by a Mr Peters on the corner of Ninth Avenue. Mr Bill Adams had a dairy near where Short’s newsagency is now and, as stated earlier, Charles Baker had his shop on the east corner of Eighth Avenue and made delicious pastries.
In my later days in school, we cleared an area on top of the hill for a sports ground – there had been too many windows broken. Buildings now occupy this site. On the opposite side of McDowell St a Mr Taft grew tomatoes and one lunchtime half the school went into his paddock and threw tomatoes at each other. We were duly chastised and missed a few play times.
About the mid-twenties, a Mr Ern Watts built Broadway theatre and we were becoming civilised. Mr Wheeler and Mr Peebles would stage a concert in it each year using local talent. The pictures were in black and white and silent – the speech would appear on the screen after the picture or action, but we thought it was marvellous.
There was no, or very little, theft or vandalism in those early years. Oars and rowlocks would be left in the dinghies all the time, and nets would be left on the beach to dry until they were wanted next time, frequently wherever you finished netting. At various times, a swagman or two would be camped on the foreshore. On one occasion, one of these was found dead in his camp, having cooked and eaten some toad fish we had discarded from the net, or perhaps some other fishermen. After this, all toads were religiously thrown well out to sea but, as they have a habit of puffing up with air, many would wash up again. Many cats have been poisoned by them, including some of our own.
The Burnham Bros military service, 1939-45 Second World War
Charles Wallace, (Wal) Sergeant.
Spent some time in a provost (military police) unit, then transferred to the 15th Small Ship Company. They ferried boats to New Guinea and later took supplies around that island.
On one trip from Melbourne, all crew members were seasick by the time they rounded Cape Schanck. The engine cut out soon after and they wallowed in the heavy seas and no-one would go below to fix the motor until Wal decided he’d have to go or they’d remain there forever. Although sick himself, he managed to re-start the motor and they continued on their way.
On another occasion, while nearing McKay, they had a rope wrap around the propeller just before dark, so limped into that port. Early next morning a couple of them were diving under to try to cut clear the rope when an old local walked down the pier. They asked him if there were any sharks in the area. He replied “No, the crocs eat them all.”
In New Guinea waters they had a few locals aboard as guides and interpreters. It was common to use gelignite or a hand grenade to stun fish for a feed. Even though sharks would come around after the explosion, the natives would still dive down and retrieve the fish, coming up with one in each hand and one in the mouth. They’d say “Shark no bite – too much kai kai” (food).
Stanley Robert, (Stan) Sergeant.
Was in an infantry unit for a start and, when the Small Ship Companies were formed, he transferred to the 13th. For a while he was stationed in Darwin and used to run General Blamey around, at times taking him fishing.
Like Wal, he later moved to New Guinea and helped supply various units stationed there along the coast. The sea was the only real means of transport as the roads were either non-existent or in poor condition.
Hector Royland (Roy), Corporal.
Roy was in an artillery unit, an anti-aircraft one I think. He was stationed in Darwin when the Japs attacked, so would have had plenty of targets. I feel sure he later became a Corporal Cook.
Owen Vincent (Vin), Sergeant (right of picture, with Stan on left).
VX66132. I applied to join the Coastal Defence Force of England in 1940 but they were only taking uni graduates at that time. So in 1941, at the age of twenty four, I enlisted in the Armoured Division and was posted to 2nd Armoured Training Regiment. Then was taken on strength of 2/9th Arm Reg in July 1942 in NSW.
As Japan had come into the war our move to the Middle East was stopped. I did a two month course at the Marconi School of Wireless and was later made Sergeant of the squadron’s wireless operators.
We embarked at Townsville on 15 May 1945, having been stationed on the Arthurton Tableland at Wondecla (near Cairns) as a mobile defence force, as a Jap landing on the mainland was feared. We landed at Morotai on 26 May then moved to Borneo on 3 June where we supported the infantry in the Brunei area.
One day, when our tanks were aboard our individual landing craft, some natives brought in two prisoners, a captain and his batman, as we lay alongside Brunei wharf. We escorted the prisoners and natives to our headquarters and left them there. Later learned the natives wanted the heads after the prisoners had been questioned and were loath to leave without them.
The natives, especially the Dyaks and Kadeans, wore the skin and smoked scalps of their victims around their waist. A rather grisly sight.
After Japan had surrendered, I transferred to 66 Infantry Battalion of BCOF on 22 October 1945. We moved to Morotai on 8 November for brigade training, having signed for 12 months service in Japan.
As time was passing and nothing seemed to be happening, the men grew restless and went on strike. Our Brigadier ordered all men to parade, the disaffected ones marched on and formed up under the odd corporal, some fourteen hundred of them, and did it in a very soldierly way. The rest of the men, the unaffected ones, marched in under their officers and NCOs. I was pleased to have a full platoon. Many of the others were down to two or three men.
The Brigadier called a spokesman out for the rebels and listened to their complaints – no uniforms and no sign of movement the main ones. Being in the tropics, we had no service dress uniforms, and out time of twelve months service didn’t commence until we were in Japan.
He announced our uniforms were on ship and were due in a few days and that we would be embarking in a few weeks. The half-dozen ring-leaders were sent back to Australia for dishonourable discharges and on 17 February, we left for Japan, arriving on 23rd having passed through the edge of a typhoon off the China coast. One meal, there were only twelve of us out of some eight hundred, plenty of seconds available.
We berthed in Kure on a cold snow-laden day, and did we shiver. We all had the tropical issue of two blankets each and the rest of the blankets were in the bottom of the hold and took four days to come to light – some very cold nights. We camped near Hiroshima and saw the devastation caused by the atom bomb.
We did two one-month tours of duty in Tokyo, where we mounted guards on the British embassy in Kobe, and the Australian consulate and, in tandem with the Americans, on General MacArthur’s HQ and the Emperor’s palace.
One day when I was Sergeant of the Guard on May Day, there was a crowd of seven hundred thousand unionists milling and shoving around the open space in front of the Palace. The Sergeant of the Guard always wore a wide red sash across his shoulder and I think the crowd thought I was a commo as they smiled and grinned at me.
They didn’t treat their police so friendly though, pushing a few of them into the moat. It was a frightening experience for, though we were issued with ammunition for the occasion, it would have been suicide to shoot.
Once, when it was quiet, I and the officer in charge of the Yanks drove our jeep into the Palace grounds and had a good look at the horses and ornate carriages.
On 15 February 1947 we left Japan in a snow-storm, just as we’d arrived a year earlier, and reached Sydney on 28th of February and I was discharged on 1st March. In 2/9th Arm Reg I was in numbers 1 and 2 Troop A Sqdn and in 66th Battalion I was in C Company.
Whilst camped at Kure we were buffeted by a typhoon and found you just couldn’t walk into it – you had to go on hands and knees. Quite a lot of galvanised roofing and other material was blowing around, making being outdoors rather dangerous.