Roger Backway

Roger Backway, 2006

I came to live in Tiuna Grove in 1940 as two-year-old baby and that’s where I grew up. Elwood wasn’t a rich suburb, it was a family kind of place where people came and lived in blocks of flats. I grew up in a two-bedroom unit with my parents and a brother.

We didn’t have too much in those days so we had to make our own fun and improvise with whatever we had. The whole of Elwood was like that. We used to make our own footy from rolled up newspapers. If you had an elastic band you’d bind it up with that otherwise you’d use string so it was really just a plug of newspaper that you could kick to one and other.

In the old days all these London Plane trees used to be pruned every year right back to their five basic branches so they used grow long thin branches that used to get pruned every year. The rest used to be hauled away and be put on the tip down here. We used to collect them make spears. We could make bows and our own arrows out of that and make our own swords for fighting. You had to be inventive, that’s what kids did in the 40s.

The first dwellings in Elwood were the large mansions built in the 1860s, but most of this area was developed in the 20s and there were a lot of flats built in those times to satisfy the needs of poorer people who couldn’t afford to live in the richer suburbs. In Tiuna Grove there must have been at least ten families. People wanted to live in Elwood because the flats were cheaper but the city was accessible. We used to have a tram here that ran down to St Kilda Railway station so you could be in Flinders St in fifteen to twenty minutes. For all the people who worked in the city, that was the beauty of living in Elwood. And we had the beach too.

My family came from Preston and Footscray and when we moved to Elwood all the relations from over there used to come every weekend to go to the beach. So it was always picnic day. All the cousins used to come too. That was the attraction of living in Elwood. There is a bus that still runs from Collingwood but it used to terminate at Point Ormond. On summer days it used to be chock-a-block, people would come in their thousands. The beach the boats and all that sort of thing, kids playing on the sand, that was the allure of Elwood, that’s why families wanted to live here all the time.

Point Ormond had some nice little reefs where mussels used to grow. When my father moved to Elwood he joined the Elwood Sailing Club (back then it was Elwood Canoe Club) so that’s where he spent Saturday and Sunday At the end of the day we’d often go and collect the mussels off the rocks and have a fire on the beach in front of the clubhouse. We’d boil up a four-gallon drum of water to cook them in and sit there and eat mussels on the beach.

As kids we used to know all the lanes that had the best fruit hanging over the fence at different times of the year. We’d run all along the night cart lanes and we’d pick grapes, apricot, everything, all fruits that were in season. If we got caught, we’d drop the fruit we’d picked to make a quick get a way and run for it. Sometimes we’d find an old fence on the back laneways and tear off a few palings. They were really nice when they were old because the timber used to spit into quite fine sticks and if we could find some string we’d make our own kites from brown paper glued together with flour and water because we didn’t have proper glue.

We’d fly them down on the beach. Everything was related to the beach. If you got the fruit you’d go down there to eat it. The park was different much more open then, it was our backyard. There was no television, only silly plays on the radio, so our family and most other families in our street used to eat relatively early. Half past five or six o’clock was when we had our main meal in summer time so you’d have some hours after and the kids would want to go outside after dinner or tea as it was called in those days, and play in the street. There were no cars then. In the forties Tiuna Grove probably only had three cars.

Elwood is cut in half by what we call the Elwood canal that used to be called the Elster creek. It was a natural watercourse and then it got turned into a drain for all the storm water. When we had heavy rains it used to flood out into Wave St, Tide St and Foam St. They all used to get up to four feet of water through them. I have a photo of me swimming down Glenhuntly Road, swimming home from school. All that stopped in 50s when they put in the Head St drain so we haven’t had a major flood since then. From a kid’s point of view it was great fun, it was an opportunity for us to get out our toy boats and paddle up and down the streets. It was another place to play running around in the water the way kids do.

In summertime when we had heat waves the council used to come around and water all the trees. They’d bring the water around in a huge steel boiler type container pulled by a horse and if you asked the bloke nicely, most of those blokes were pretty good with kids, they’d let you jump in the hole in the top and dive into the tank. That’s if you weren’t at the beach. We used to have a whole heap of horse and carts come down Tiuna Grove. There used to be an oriental bloke that used to sell vegetables and we’d run behind his cart asking for specks that is anything that was damaged that he couldn’t sell. The milk came by horse and cart and we had our own dairy, Taggart’s Dairy. Then there was the Rawleigh man who used to come around but not on a horse. He used sell ointments and medicines door to door. The Watkins man used to come regularly selling his products too, he sold food colouring and other baking products. The iceman came regularly on a horse and cart. We had our own ice works down here, in Glenhuntly Road opposite St Columba’s Primary School. There used to be a timber yard and ice works and if you couldn’t go down there and get your own block of ice they’d deliver it for you. I can remember that quite clearly because we used to have an ice chest that took a block of ice that would take three days to melt and it was my job to empty the drip tray. So there was always something happening in the street and the kids were always out there to see this, see that.

The street life’s changed a lot over the years but because I was an electrician I got to know lots of people in the area. They still come here and want things done. Sometimes if I’m out in the garden little old ladies will come by and ask if I can help change a light bulb and I always say yes.