Alva Pickett

Alva Pickett, 2006

I was born in 1929 in the front room of 136 Mitford Street. I think I might have come a bit early. We lived there until 1932 and then moved fifty metres up the road. When the owner decided to sell the house my parents bought it.

I went to Scott Street Primary and Elwood Central School and then to MacRobertsons High for a year but I wasn’t academic. My Mum didn’t know what to do with me. So when Miss Goodwin the local dressmaker came around to say she wanted a lass to learn dressmaking and would my mum be interested, my mum jumped at the opportunity. She couldn’t get rid of me quick enough. Miss Goodwin’s mother lived nearby so I guess they must have had a natter in the street.

Miss Goodwin’s business was in her home in Kendall St. It was a very exclusive clientele, not from around here, women used to come from places like Malvern and Toorak. The ladies would come to the front room of the house but I never really found out what happened in that part of the business because we were in the workroom at the back. We weren’t told anything about what happened there. There were a few other local girls who worked there too, sewing up the garments. We were never to allowed to talk to each other, it was nose down except she used to let us have the radio going. Her husband also helped with the business, he used to make the covered buttons etc. out the back in the bungalow.

It was an OK job. In those days you had to hang onto your job - if you walked out you wouldn’t get another one. I was never that interested in fashion but I did make my own clothes and clothing for my children. After I served my apprenticeship for three years I left Miss Goodwin. My mother knew Mrs Field, another local dressmaker, and when she said she wanted a girl I went over to her and worked there until I got married. She remained our friend over the years, I knew her for fifty years.

When I was growing up we used to always play out in the street. I was a tomboy and my sister Lorraine was a lady. When we were teenagers we were never allowed out but I just went. I used to go skating every night at St Moritz and stay until it closed at 11 pm. I’d walk home every night, it wasn’t dangerous then. I was even in a couple of pantomimes in the chorus line. When I wasn’t going skating there were so many other things to do. On Friday night there was the orchestra at the Palais, and Candy Corner which was an American-style cafe Victory Theatre on Saturday and sunburned on Sunday. If you went to the Memorial Hall picture theatre you’d get fleas on your knees. That’s why it’s was called the fleahouse.

After I got married to Des I did kindergarten work for Miss Biddle. She lived in Southey Street. I did a half a day a week and looked after thirty children at the Presbyterian Church in Scott St. They were three to five years old and quite a handful. I can remember lots of times looking around to see fifteen children hanging off the fence. You’d just get them all down and the other fifteen were up the other fence. I worked there for three to four years. Whenever I go to Ormond Road the children’s mothers still remember me and say, “Hello Alva, how are you going?”

When Des and I first got married we lived in quite a few different places but when my mother died we moved back into the family home to look after my Dad and we’ve been here ever since. It was enjoyable bringing up the kids because we always had the beach. Trevor would always be off down to the beach and you wouldn’t see him for the rest of the day and our daughter Debra used to walk the dog a lot because that’s how you met fellows.

In 1986 the Council started a gardening club and Peg Dorain and her husband ran it for twenty years. We’ve still got friends we met there. We used to have a stall and sell our plants at the Blessington Street garden festival to make money for our club. We used to raise the money to pay for our bus trips and special lunches.

Then there are our friends who live close by. There’s Roger Backway the electrician, we got to know him digging for bottles behind the Palais. It all started when they decided to widen the road that is now Jacka Boulevard and they had to excavate the land that used to be the St Kilda tip in 1890 – 1900. We’d find all sort of wonderful things because there were so many mansions around here and people were so wealthy nearly every bottle was from another country. We would find little doll’s heads and legs because when a doll fell apart they were tied up with bits of string but eventually they were just thrown in the rubbish.

It was about 25 years ago that we met Roger one day digging away there. We’d all go down on Friday evening after the workmen would knock off at about 3 pm and if the police came we’d have to hide. One Monday morning they couldn’t get their backhoe out because we had dug that many holes that they all caved when they tried to move it. That was an era and our whole family got into it. It was like busy bees down there all weekend. You’d say hello to Des my cousin and then you’d look back and he was gone because you could dig yourself out of sight.

Leo Mason is here too. He rings us up every day we met him through the Elwood Angling Club. He can remember when the Norfolk Island Pines at Elwood Beach were three feet high.

I don’t ever want to move out of Elwood. You ask most people who have moved and they always want to come back. We’ve got neighbours who used to live in the street and they want to come back but they can’t afford it anymore.