Des Pickett

Des Pickett, 2006

I moved to Melbourne from New South Wales with my family when I was nine years old. We travelled down the coast in a steam ship and arrived at the docks at Station Pier.

I lived in St Kilda when I was growing up but when I married my wife Alva we moved back into her family home in Mitford St to look after her father after her mother passed away. In all I’ve lived in Elwood and St Kilda for seventy-one years.

When I was eighteen years old I started playing footy for the 3rd Eighteen St Kilda City at the Peanut Farm. There was no clubhouse then so we used to use the garage at the back of a shop in Barkly St as a change room. It was a butchers shop and was owned by the president of club. I played there for two years and then joined the St Kilda Football Club at Junction Oval where I played for five years. I made lots of good friends there and we used to knock around together always in St Kilda because there was so much to do. We had some very wild times.

After Alva and I were married and we moved back into her family home and I joined the Elwood Angling Club. In 1953 the bay was full of fish. I used to bring home a lot of whiting and snapper, the biggest was twenty-one pounds. Sometimes we’d catch ninety-nine fish in a morning and the only downside was having to clean them. We used give them to our neighbours and family and we’d also put them into the deep freeze for the days when I didn’t catch any. We made lots of friends at the Angling Club.

Alva doesn’t like going out in the boat, it makes her seasick. She can’t stand the motion of the boat but she used to always join in on the Ladies Day. All the members would get together and have a lovely afternoon cooking fish. The chaps used to make a special batter the day before and that they’d put it in the fridge over night. I don’t what was in the recipe because they used to keep it a secret. There was this fellow called Jack Scanlon who worked for a stove company and he knocked up four electric deep fryers – each one could take three gallons of oil. So you can imagine how much fish we used to cook.

We used to invite the Mayor and the councillors. The kids would also take turns to present the Lady Mayoress with a bunch of flowers. They’d put on their best clothes and they’d present a fresh snapper and the bunch of flowers, and then do a little curtsy. Our daughter Debra had her turn when she was six years old, she’s fifty-one now. For us they were happy days. Now people spend their time watching television.

We also used to have a special day once a year that we called Hospital Sunday. The club members used to go out and catch flathead for the War Veterans Hostel in North Road. We used to clean all them all and they’d put about five hundred pounds of fish in the deep freeze for the returned servicemen that had been injured in the Second World War.

At Christmas time the club used to put on a Father Christmas day. One of the members would dress up and be picked up in the club boat from the North Road (Brighton) jetty. All the kids would wait on the beach for him to arrive. The parents provided the presents for him to distribute but never anything that cost a lot. When he arrived with bag we’d go up to the clubroom that had been all decorated for the occasion. The children would sit on hay bales as Father Christmas gave out the presents.

It was a workingman’s club. The Angling Club used to be made from timber and it was destroyed by fire, so when we were rebuilding, the Ormond Club said we could use their rooms. It took twelve months and was mainly done with volunteer labour because we had lots of tradesmen. I gave them a hand too. They were good old tradesmen. They could use a tomahawk with the same results we use a wood plane these days.

When we finished in 1957 it was a beautiful club. We had forty-seven boats and five that belonged to the club. You could pay 2/- to use the club boat and there was always plenty of fish around. They were the good old days (when) the average snapper was eight to ten pounds. Sadly it has all changed. Originally the clubhouse was build to store fourteen footers but because we were short of members we had to let the big boats in and the change was quite dramatic. When the boats were all the same size you used to launch from the club and when you came in, we would give each other a hand to get the boats up on the hoist. But the bigger boats would always launch from the marina so we didn’t see those members. Then we didn’t get to know them socially so there were two lots of chaps in the club. The new members really only used the club for storage.

In about 1998 when Wayne Dorain was the president, he tried to revive the old spirit by setting an example. He did a hell of a lot of work but he couldn’t get people to help him because they didn’t know how to do anything, they just didn’t have the skills. Eventually we got rid of the locker room and turned it into a room to rent out for social events to stay financial because we were losing so many members. That doesn’t work very well for members because you can’t say, “Don’t come down on Saturday because there is a wedding on”. So it’s a bit of a vicious circle.

Our family loved living near the sea. On a hot day there were sometimes ten thousand people on the beach but it did take some management. The angling club would tell us to cut off our engines one hundred yards from shore when we were coming in from fishing because the kids used to dive under our boats while they were going. But we never minded the people, if you got down there early you’d get yourself a good spot for the day. We’d take our own tea and you used to be able to buy a billy of hot water for 3d or 6d from the Blue Lagoon Kiosk just near the Life Saving Club. People used to be mad about a cup of tea in those days; they never used to drink coffee.

We loved living in Elwood because it was more refined than St Kilda even though St Kilda was more cosmopolitan; the kids were tougher there. In those days we had a better class of people like bank managers however Elwood does have a bit of a history.

A friend of Alva’s lived moved into a house in the Broadway that was originally a brothel. It was a big house with two storeys and it used to have a ladder at the back. The story goes that whenever the police used to raid it the clients and the working girls used to get down the ladder into the back lane and take off.

And in the 1950s I used to have a boxer and walk it everyday along the canal. The things you’d find in it (such as) cars that had been driven up Keats St and ended up in the drink. People used to throw all sorts of rubbish into the canal including stolen property. We found a safe once and another time some jewellery. The people who had stolen it had thrown the unwanted pieces into the canal and they’d landed on the concrete ballasts. That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, there isn’t as much thieving going on in this area.

A lot of people have a special affection for the canal, especially if they’ve fallen in it, and it certainly seems much cleaner these days.