Don Taggart

Don was President of the St Kilda Historical Society from 1975 – 2000

Don Taggart, 2006

My grandparents came to live in to Elwood after they married in Melbourne in 1888. My grandfather originally came from Northern Ireland to make his fortune on the goldfields His first job was in a house called ‘Eildon’ that is now a backpacker’s in Grey St. He was their gardener. When the owner, Mr Curri, a western district pastoralist died, the thirty-roomed house was too big for his widow so she sold up and my grandfather lost his job. He’d been brought up on a farm in Northern Ireland so he decided to open a dairy to sell milk. His first dairy was on the corner of Dickens and Barkly St. They only lasted a couple of years there because the landlord was from Southern Ireland and my father was from the North so they used to fight like 'billy oh’. In the end he couldn’t stand it and neither could my grandmother so they decided to leave there and set up another dairy called Wiltonia near Point Ormond in the early 1890s.

As well as selling milk, they also ran cows that used to just wander along the Point nearly as far as Brighton because there were no fences. The landscape is very different now, in those days it was just sheer cliff and the cows would fall over the edge when it was dark. It was my father’s job when he was about seven or eight to deal with the problem. At night you could hear the injured cows sing out and he would have to get up and go with a kero lamp to see if the cow’s neck was broken. If they were in a bad way he’d shoot them and just leave them there, if they weren’t he’d have to herd them back home.

Every morning he got up and helped milk the cows, then he’d go to school, come home, help milk again and do his homework and other chores round about. They used to deliver the milk at one or two am in the morning. There were two other boys in the family that helped out with the dairy and even my grandmother used to help deliver the milk. My father had to leave school when he was about twelve.

The dairy delivered milk all around Brighton, Sandringham and as far as Port Melbourne. They used to have it on a cart in bottles and cans and leave it on the doorstep. The business was going well so just prior to the First World War my grandfather bought three small blocks of land in Wilton Grove. He had a house built on one block, horse yards on the next and a dairy on the other. He regularly told the story about asking Mr Ward, his wealthy brother in law, to loan him money to buy more land. He asked for one hundred pounds to buy three acres of land in Elwood. Mr Ward said, “No way, there is no future the other side of that swamp.” He said, “If you come to the north of the Yarra I’ll lend you a thousand pounds”. My grand father declined, he preferred Elwood because it was the bush and like the countryside. You can imagine what it would be worth today.

Nobody wanted Elwood in those days; it was Crown Land for many years nobody paid rates or taxes. Brighton didn’t want it, St Kilda didn’t want it, they thought it was nothing because it was birds and bush and it had a large swamp between Elwood and St Kilda.

My grandfather ran cows nearly up until the First World War, and then they brought the milk down from Wandin. When the war broke out father his brother Jack and grandfather decided to join up. So they decided to close down the dairy during this period. They realised the land was too wild and wet and it wasn’t the kind of place that my two aunts and my grandmother should live on their own. When they came back from the war they started the dairy up again.

Unlike my grandfather and father who had to work on the Elwood land when they were young, I had a completely different experience of growing up in the 30s and 40s. There was a gang of kids that used to play together. We’d play by the canal and push one and other in, go yabbying, all that sort of thing. We used to play cowboys and Indians in the paddock across the road from our house too. It had long aniseed grass so when I’d come home my mother could smell it and she’d say, “You’ve been over there, what have you been doing?” She was a bit doubtful about what we were up to; she thought I might have a girlfriend, which is what a lot of them used to get up to especially under the canal. That was a favourite place to go - a bit of a lovers’ lane.

During World War Two they built air raid shelters around Elwood and used to have lots of air raid practices. When the siren was sounded all the kids at Elwood Central School were herded over to trenches that had been built in the park next door. We’d have to stay there until we were given the all clear. Down at St Columba’s Primary they’d go to the beach. We’d have practices all the time, even in the middle of the night. Frank Yeaman, our next-door neighbour was the Head Air Raid Warden and he co-ordinated all the other voluntary wardens in Elwood. When they were doing their practice, they used me for as an air raid victim because I was little and skinny. They would say, “Don, we’re going to have an air raid, now go over there and lie on the footpath.” Then they’d all come down and put my arm in a sling or tie my head up and then they’d carry me on a stretcher to the trenches. That was great fun.

All the houses had to have black out curtains on the windows. My Mum had to make ours by hand because she didn’t have a sewing machine. We also had to stick strips of paper on the window so if they blasted the glass wouldn’t shatter all over the place. It was thick brown paper in a big X. When the siren went you had pull across your curtains and keep it like that until the all clear siren went. If you didn’t do it properly the wardens would come knocking on the door and say, “You’ve got light showing!”, and tell you it would be it could be seen from the sky like a beacon. We weren’t scared or anything. There just wasn’t the publicity about those sorts of things, not the way they’d play things up these days.

In 1950 the family decided to sell the dairy because they were getting too old for that sort of thing. There was a big dairy in Tennyson St so they were struggling. If either of my two male cousins or I had been willing to take it on they would have kept it going…well it wasn’t my cup of tea, that’s for sure. So they decided to sell the same year the Queen had her Coronation. I’ve stayed on, though, in our family home that Mum and Dad bought seventy years ago in 1936.