The Lady was distressed. Crying, she rapped loudly on the door. The light flooded out over her naked body. Embarrassed by nudity at any time my mother shepherded her inside the detached kitchen and closed the door. Today I wonder who the local woman was. She must have been upset beyond belief to appear without clothes at that time. I saw nothing of the intrusion and no more was ever said of this incident than, “and Mum never got her new coat back.” This must have been a huge loss to our family because the annual wages my father earned would not buy dinner for four at a restaurant today. In all likelihood to buy the coat my mother would have earned the money by selling a calf she had raised by hand. Or for a while, at a later time, from the sale of sponges and scones she baked every weekend to sell from one of the picnic shelters as afternoon tea.
On moonlight nights lovers frequented he cypress avenue leading to the Park. Really it was not unusual for people to caress in cars parked at regular intervals around the gardens after dark in any season. Indeed a local priest, with a big black car. included a visit to the Park in the driving lessons he gave many local young girls.
Abraham Waddell, was appointed curator of the Park by the Chairman of the Committee of Management on the 10th of August 1948. One of the several entitlements given to Abe was the use of 3 acres for our private use. On this land he grazed 2 or 3 dairy cows. When milk was abundant campers were often given a bucket of milk when they booked in.
Dad commenced the job on 9th September that year. When he arrived with our furniture to start his new job he didn’t know how to break the news to my mother, who followed later, that the house was a hovel. There was no electricity, no hot water, no toilet facilities and no floor coverings. When he visited the gardens prior to his appointment the incumbent curator, an old Mr Fuller, said his wife was unwilling to open the house to inspection. My parents accepted this because they had a letter from Mr JJ Walls, the Secretary of the Public Park Trustees, promising that they would paint the house throughout and wire it for electricity. I cannot remember new paint ever and the electricity was not connected until 1956, eight years after the promise to do so.
In the late 1940’s there were shortages of many kinds. Rationing did not finish until the beginning of the 1950’s, so it is easy to understand the privations of the time. But they never got any better for the gardens despite the growing wealth in the district. The Trustees obviously had a very meagre budget because they had a resource that barely gave a return. They leased part of the reserve for cattle grazing. There was a period, before the introduction of myxomatosis when rabbits ruled the pastures! Fortunately a rabbit-proof fence kept them out of the gardens enclosure. For all intents and purposes the local shire, later Borough Council, considered the Public Park outside their responsibility because it was off the beaten track. The road was only used in the mid fifties when the golf links was established. Prior to that golf was played at Talindert.
After the war Abe had been assistant to Mr Leech, the curator of the Warrnambool gardens. The gardens of the time owed something to my father’s connection with him. As there was no budget for the purchase of seeds, seedlings, corms or bulbs, Mr Leech once sent stock seedlings to Camperdown for my father to plant. On my father’s invitation, Mr Leech came to see how his gifts were growing only to discover there was no show. On the night before he was due, to my father’s consternation, possums had attacked the blooming plants and devastated any display. I can only imagine how he felt showing his boss around. Later Tom Beaumont from Ballarat also provided some stock for the greenhouse.
Abe worked hard each year to ensure that at “picnic time” flowers would be blooming. Poppies, ranunculus, gladioli, chrysanthemums, dahlias and other annuals and perennials bloomed each year in season. Beautiful rhododendrons and camellias flowered in the winter.
The truth is the gardens were maintained without a capital budget for all the time my father curated. Nearly all the maintenance work was done by hand on the two official days he was employed to work. The remaining days were spent looking after council property. But every day the animals and birds had to be fed, camping fees collected and, in summer, the gardens watered.
Every weekend at the end of the year, or in autumn, there were organised church, school or social groups picnics. People came from far and wide to picnic in these most beautiful gardens. The picnicking was done outside the garden’s enclosure but this, too, made a lot of extra work. So picnickers could enjoy the day, Dad would wash down the tables in the picnic shelters. He would laboriously clean out and heat an old copper so everyone could enjoy a “cuppa”. Confident in his saying: “wood heats you twice”. He would carry, cut and stack sufficient firewood for the day for the picnickers. Also, the long grass has to be scythed by hand as there was no such thing as a slasher pulled by a tractor. There was no tractor, nothing but a large wooden wheelbarrow, a few garden tools, a small motorised Atco “by appointment to King George V” lawn mower and a lot of perspiration made up the equipment list. Is it any wonder the beautiful rotunda became hazardous, or the gardens never fully recovered from the neglect of the war years?
So poorly paid and overworked was he that in 1955 the Municipal Councils’ Union organiser took up Abe’s case for better working conditions and pay. The Union was able to use the Tustees own Letter of Appointment to highlight the areas of breach of promise for him to obtain some improvement. By then his stoic Scottish breeding must have been at breaking point but he never gave up bringing about the transformation the gardens needed. He sought to match those gardens he had learned his trade in in Scotland at the Castle in Duns, at the Hydro in Peebles and at beautiful Marchment House.
Of course, from a child’s perspective, none of this mattered. I grew up in the most beautiful of surroundings. From on high we could se the Grampians rising away to the west. Across the lakes to the north we could see the humps of Mount Elephant and Buninyong. To the south across Lake Bullen Merri, we saw smoke from the rows of fires burning night and day as the bush around Simpson was turned into farmland or the flickering fires of the Aurora Australis over the south pole.
Camping at the Park was always popular. Two shillings and sixpence gave nothing but space. There were no facilities of any kind to make campers stay. Some used the solitude to re-build their lives after being in prison. Some engaging in illegal lifestyles. Some visited so frequently that they became family friends. Several Country Roads’ workers would set up home for a time rather than live in the camp conditions provided by the C.R.B. Showmen came at showtime. The Rayner sisters, who entertained school children around the country, always camped when they visited the district with their show. In about 1953 the R.A.C.V. caravan club visited for a week. Conditions were always primitive but worse, during the winter for the folk who visited then. They would vow never to return because of the facilities, to my knowledge they never did even when the proper facilities were later established.
Music was everywhere. Music was in the birdsong, or lack of it because of the peacocks and cockatoos. Music sang in the wires that whistled from the cold winds that blew from the south west. And once only the music rang out from an orchestra. It was the Victorian Symphony Orchestra and they performed at an afternoon concert in the gardens in 1956 (I think). It was very well attended, citizens who had never seen a violin were engrossed in the programme that also included a vocalist or two.
The gardens were popular with photographers and artists. Local teacher and artist, Edith Cummins, often used the location as inspiration. People will always be attracted to a location that restores balance to their hearts and minds.
Lichen grows well in the damp atmosphere on the hillside, trees of many kinds have made it their home for over a century since Guilfoyle started them. Ours was but a tiny moment in its history. The friendships we made in Camperdown were lasting.
A WORK IN PROGRESS
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