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St Leonards: Memories

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The following was written by Lina MOTT, nee Emiline Isabella MARTINSEN (daughter of Lewis MARTINSEN and his wife Annie Mabel) about her memories of St Leonards.

I was born at St Leonards on 21st August 1912. I was born in my Uncle Fred Martinsen's house which was on the same block of land as my father's where the St Leonards yacht club is now built. My father's father came from Norway. He was a sailor. His name was Oliver Martin Martinsen. He and another sailor jumped ship just inside of the Heads. The other sailor drowned. Oliver Martinsen was found very ill on the beach by my grandmother Alice Pywell. She nursed him back to health and married him. They had six children : my father, Uncle Fred and Auntie Lizzie being the main three in my life.

I started school at St Leonards State School on my four year old birthday, 21st August 1916. The reason being, my brother Jim, 2 years and six weeks older than me used to take fits, and if he took a fit on the way to school, I would run home to Mum. I have vivid memories of that first day standing beside the teacher's desk looking through a Chatterbox annual.

Mrs. Kelly was the teacher - a lovely lady and a very good teacher. The school was a one room building with a small porch in which was a wall where we hung our coats, hats & bags. A wash basin was in one corner. A door led into the school room - it was board on the bottom and glass on top. Inside, blackboards with fire place in centre took up one wall with a floor to ceiling cupboard at the end. In front of fireplace was a small raised platform on which stood the teacher's desk. Down each side were big windows, across bottom end windows were high the wall.

All the children's desks were across the room facing the teacher. Classes were 1 to 6 grade. I spent many happy years at that school, leaving at the age of 15. As we lived 1½ miles from the school on the beach towards Queenscliff, on the beach side of the Bluff, we had no children to play with. They all lived the other side of the school towards Portarlington. So my brother Jim and sister Iris (?) who is 2 years & 4 months younger than me, only had each other to play with. As I was growing up we had plenty to do stripping wattle bark so the men folk could tan their nets, gathering fire wood, carrying kerosene tins of water for drinking from houses on top of the Bluff, helping to haul in the score (?) nets with our father, mother & Jim. We loved it and never thought it was too hard.

Behind our house was a gully then thick tea tree up to the Bluff. There was a track cut through the trees to drive the horse & cart up to the school etc. You could drive round the Bluff by the beach only on low tide.

On the right side of our house was big paddocks owned by P.M. Brown, all sand & ferns, then the swamp where my father went duck shooting, and Swan Bay and Queenscliff. P.M. Brown sold his house on top of the Bluff to Tom Henry who lived there for some years with his mother and his two daughters (?) and Harriette. They went to school with me when I was about 10 or 11.

On the left side there was a house where Mrs Baize (?) lived with her daughter Minnie and a boarder Bill Allen. They had a cow and used to give us milk, also two big fig trees always loaded with lovely figs. Many a feed I had. Bill Allen sometimes helped my father & Uncle fishing. Bill Allen and Minnie Baize married and they all moved to Melbourne to live. They had a daughter Isabel. I kept in touch with them until Mrs Baize died. Then their house was pulled down but the two fig trees and a big pepper tree stayed.

Just up from there in the trees Jim Gilbert had his tent. He also worked with my father fishing. We children loved to visit Jim Gilbert's camp fire and often roasted onions and potatoes in his fire. Every Saturday my mother let me bake a cake for Jim Gilbert. He was a very kind gentleman.

There was all tea tree brush up to the Bluff, then gums all the way up to the common. There was a wooden bridge over a gully which ran from the lake in centre of common to the creek which ran into the sea. During high tides the sea would flow into the creek, on the banks of the creek box thorn grew. We loved to get the fruit off them when they were ripe. Also there was a fresh water spring where our families would take up their washing to do when tank water was low. As children we loved it when this happened as a fire was lit and washing boiled in kerosene tins, rinsed then taken home to dry. We made it a picnic day.

From the Bluff up to the common was fenced in - the land was owned by the Trewin (?) brothers Len & Monty. Len's wife was Ruby. They had four children - Clive, Thelma, Lorna and Arnold. Monty's wife was Eva. I cannot remember their children's names as I did not have much to do with them. Also in Trewin family was Mabel who married Arthur Wright. They had three boys - Gordon, George & Val (?). I had a lot to do with these boys, also Thelma Trewin, and Ethel Trewin who married Arthur Cork, and Pearl Trewin who married Roy Langdon and had a daughter Phyllis. The Trewins grew wheat in these paddocks.

On top of the Bluff above our house was Henry's, then a road led to Drysdale. On the corner were Green's then further along Dory Miledges Millers (?) (later Mrs McKenzie and her niece and family - cannot remember their name), Jamesons & Mrs Gilbert. Later Arthur & Mabel Wright lived there. They had mulberry trees - many a feed I had. I even fell out of the tree.

The school was surrounded on two sides by paddocks of wattle trees on the right side towards Drysdale, on the left a block of land with a big house verandah all round well back. Then the shop run by Mrs Sam Holden and her sister Mrs Trent. They sold lollies, soft drinks, fruit and groceries. Many a glass of milk I had there. Lollies were so cheap - 20 aniseed balls for a penny.

On the opposite side of the road Harry Pigdon lived. I knew Adele, she was grown up, but Queenie went to school with me. Many a party we had at their house. I remember as a child about 7 or 8 winning one shilling for dancing the Polka. Down behind Harry Pigdon was the Church of England church where I was christened, confirmed and married, and my eldest son christened. My brother and sister were also christened there.

Down on the beach lived a lovely couple - she was a white woman married to a Chinese, but was well liked by everyone. As a child I often visited them. Then on the banks of the creek was a clump of trees where the campers used to camp during Xmas and holidays. That was before that land was surveyed and sold as blocks. Uncle Fred bought a number, my father a couple. Uncle Fred finally moved his house up there to what was named The Esplanade. He also gave the block of land the St Leonards Hall is built on. I think my wedding reception was the first held in the Hall, that was 25th September 1930.

From Mrs Holden's shop there was vacant land until the hotel on the corner. In the hotel yard was a hall where they held the dances. My father played the violin, Jim Gilbert the accordion, and Jack Pigdon the concertina. My mother looked after the supper in the hotel kitchen and made the coffee. What lovely times we had, even the children were allowed to do some dances and the supper was out of this world. Everyone brought something and they were good cooks. On the opposite corner was an old broken stone house owned by Bill Holden.

Beside the hotel a road ran up between the hotel and Mrs Bell who had a dairy. She has three boys, Les, Jack and Keith. Keith married Dolly Rigby. Up this road lived Harry Wood who was married to (?) Wright (Amelia). They divorced and she married Don Rigby. Opposite Mrs Bell was the Post Office on the Bluff above the Beach and the Pier. The Post was run by Len Corrigo (?) and his wife Ruby (Johnstone), who adopted her sisters baby when she died. Then they had two daughters of their own. Ern and Harold were brothers of Len, also two sisters Ethel and Eileen. Eileen went to school with us. She won first prize in fancy dress as Britannia, my brother Jim also won first prize dressed as a soldier.

Next to Mrs Bells were Buchanan, on opposite side was Jim Pigdon and his wife. He had the coach run (horses), he also carted the fish from St Leonards to Portarlington to go by the Edina or Courier to Melbourne.

........... George Rigbys there was a large family George, Dan, Burnie, Don, Jim, Clara, Kath, Dolly & Stella. Stella died very young. (I remember making a wreath out of yellow jonquils for the school and taking it up to Mrs Rigby.) Then there were Frank Gilbert. I only remember May, Edie & George. On the opposite side, beach side, the Locks lived. They later moved. On the Bluff there were Mr and Mrs George Holden, then further Ned Rigby. They had all girls - Chrissie, Kitty, Mary and Margaret. Further on were Cox. I cannot remember their names. They drove a horse and sulky to school. Then Joe and George Hood. George Hood had a son who married Peggy Paisley. Then Indented Head and White Womans Rock.

On the road from the school heading to Drysdale were Dunny Hood and his wife both were deaf and dumb. I learnt sign language so could talk to them - often had to for others. They had two daughters, Sylvia who was much older than me worked at Queenscliff and rarely came home, Jean went to school with me and was my friend. We often walked home from Portarlington, also Edie Gilbert. I still keep in touch with Jean and Peggy Paisley (Hood).

At 19 I left St Leonards to go to New South Wales as there was no work for my husband Alex Mott, then came back in 1941 while Alex was overseas in the army. St Leonards had changed. Opposite school were houses, hotel was rebuilt, the Reliance was not calling in of a Sunday dropping the picnic people and taking the others out into the bay, dropping anchor and letting the fishermen catch some fish.

The creek has gone, so is the lagoon, all houses now, even Uncle Fred's house, has gone, but I still have my happy memories of my life in St Leonards. We were poor. Fishing was very poor in those days - lucky to get 1 shilling for a box of fish (45 lbs). But we were happy, made our own entertainment, and every one helped others.

I remember one night at a dance, one of the campers tents caught fire. Everyone raced to help put out the fire before the other tents caught. A collection was taken up for the people. My father had two suits, one old and one new - guess which one he gave - the new one. Although my father was crippled from war and shot through the knee, he was always ready to help others. I never heard him say a cross word or anything about anyone. Uncle Fred was in World War I, got mustard gassed, never married until he was 63. He married a widow also 63.

Fred and Len Martinsen built their own boats, also Jim's - us kids helped. Last boat built was for Fred. It was specially for netting, had platform deck on stern to put net on for easy laying out. It had no mast and an engine. It was named Ivy May, spent last years in the creek. Fred Martinsen also made most of sails for Queenscliff fishermen on a treadle Singer machine.

I could tell of a lot more amusing happenings but this has taken too long as it is.

Source : Transcribed from handwritten document in the files of the Bellarine Historical Society

Last Updated on Monday, 11 May 2009 06:12  

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