Leo Mason

Leo Mason, 2006

I was born in Hawthorn 1918. When I was about three or four my parents bought this house in Elwood. My parents wanted to live by the sea; Hawthorn had nothing for them. In the 1920s there was plenty of space in Elwood. There were empty blocks of land everywhere, all around here where you can see all these flats. They were great place for kids to play. We’d play cricket and football but on notable occasions, they used to build bonfires to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night and the King’s Birthday. It was a great way to get rid of rubbish. Sometimes you’d hear a neighbour say, “Take this old chair and stick it on. It’s not being used anymore”. They’d build the bonfire up as high as 10 feet and then light it. All the kids would be so excited, because it was cracker night you know. You were allowed to use crackers in those days.

I think Elwood is a wonderful place, lots of entertainment, near the sea and the shops. Have you ever been to Broadway Theatre in Elwood it was only a little theatre and then there was the Palais, the Victory (now the National) and the Memorial Theatre behind the St Kilda Army and Navy Club.

You used to see the horse-drawn carts once a year the when the Sunday school picnic came down to Elwood. It was a big occurrence and the children from the outer suburbs would be on these drays with a plank down the middle and they’d drive down to the beach to St Kilda. That was their big outing for the year, people were easily satisfied in those days.

Up the other end of Marine Parade you’d go down to Luna Park that was a Mecca for all people to go. It had the merry-go-round, scenic railway and it was just past the Village Belle shopping centre – now it’s just called Acland St now. There were lots of shops there, well-known shops in those days. There were no supermarkets and you’d shop in your own suburb and it would supply everything you need. I used to walk to the Village Belle - you thought nothing of walking. They had butchers and drapers, toyshops. My favourite shop was Ford the butcher. They had very good quality meat there. We used to get our bread from the corner of Addison St. It used to come out so hot they had to give you paper to get it home. You used to see people you knew on the way. Once upon a time everybody knew each other and if they had a canary you knew its name. It used to be marvellous.

There was a cable car where the tram number 96 goes now. It stopped at the terminus where the St Kilda railway station was. It was very easy to get around then. The Village Belle changed when people got cars - they travelled out seeking other places. It was an adventure to go to new places to shop.

I’ve been here all my life and I don’t want to be facetious, but I can’t say I grew up here because I am only four foot tall but I’ve lived here since I was very young. There used to be a breaking in school called Netley College. It was a private school where parents sent their kids to get a dose of what the classroom was like. It was on the corner of Barkly and Mitford and was at the back of the congregational church. That’s where most of the kids had their early start. Then I went to St Columba’s. After I got my Merit (certificate) at Christian Brothers, East Kilda I went on to St Kevin’s College to do my leaving.

A lot of the students who went to the college went into professional life - some became lawyers, some judges, some academics. Students with good results that did not go to university joined the public service. First I applied for the Commonwealth Service but I had to have a medical examination. I was checked over by the doctor; he was in a bit of a quandary. They wanted to fail me because of my height, even though I had come thirtieth in the state exams. So I applied for the State Public Service and started in 1938. I was in the public service for forty-seven years. I worked in children’s welfare that cared for the bad boys and girls in the reformatories, state taxation and was regularly promoted. I was in charge of the correspondence branch in the tax office and managed thirty-three women in all. I retired in 1979.

I used to play a lot of tennis and I often found myself umpiring for other people’s matches. I so I decided to apply for umpire classes at Kooyong - that’s how I became tennis umpire for the Davis Cup. My first match was after the war in 1946 - I was there for twenty odd years. All those chaps are dead and there’s little squirt still here. A lot of my friends from round here are long gone. I’m a life member of the Angling Club; I used to almost run it. Des Pickett is still a member and I ring him or he rings me everyday.

When I was growing up I used have a keen interest in photography and I often think of all the landmarks that were here that I didn’t photograph. I just let them pass, fall into oblivion because I thought that would be there forever like the Point Ormond Jetty where we used to go fishing for garfish. I caught my first snapper at the Angling Club and my first garfish on A.N.A. Day (Australian Natives Association now known as Australia Day) in 1926 off the Elwood Jetty. On very hot summers day everybody would be panting from the heat and they would all walk down to the jetty to get the cool breeze. If the change was coming they’d say “isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it a relief” because our houses used to heat up so much. Now Point Ormond Jetty no longer exists, it was washed away in a big storm.

Then there is the brick wall that was down on beach. That’s all reclaimed land now but there used to be this long stretch of sea wall between the road and the beach. We used to sit on the sea wall and look at the cars as they passed and name the cars that were passing. On a rough day the water would bash against the wall and spray the road - some times it flooded the streets.

In those days you thought everything in life will be here forever so you wake up to discover it has disappeared.