A Conversation with Jack and Judith

27 August 2008

IN 1935 Jack lost his father, who passed away in the General Hospital from peritonitis. He was survived by his wife Ruth and two children, a girl named Joyce and a son two years younger, Jack. (Jack was born in the Craigneish Private Hospital on Moray Street. It was owned and operated by Dr Windsor). His mother remarried choosing Leslie, Ernest’s brother.

Following Ernest’s death, in 1938 Ruth purchased a run-down house at 33 Griffith Street. She renovated it and added an extra room and a verandah on the Sydney Street side of the house. This verandah wrapped around onto the street front. After the war she utilized the slopping block to put two flats underneath the riverfront part of the house. This renovation was architect-designed.

As a boy growing up in this house Jack remembers the way the lawns rolled down to the river’s edge. The primary aspect of the house was towards the river. This made the house quite unique. It was a large block of 53 perches. Griffith Street was named after Sir Samuel Griffith. Merthyr Road was named after his birthplace in Wales, Merthyr Tydfil. It was a quiet area without much traffic.

The memories Jack shared were from the war era. There were many big vessels in the river during the war, in particular the US Navy ships. Jack described the river as a “stink hole” due to all the oil which was discharged into it. His parents had a dinghy that he would take out onto the river but it was a chore to do this because when he finished he would have to upend the dinghy and remove all the oil from the hull.

Griffith Street is almost opposite the Evans Deakin Shipyards on the other side of the river. During the war many ships were commissioned for building and the yards operated day and night with much banging. The family had trouble getting to sleep. After a period they adjusted and when the war ended and the shipyards returned to normal operations, it took them longer to adjust to the quiet. This house was destroyed by fire many years later. They no longer lived there at this time.

Jack’s stepfather was a pharmacist. His mother Pauline built the shops situated on the corner of Brunswick Street and Merthyr Road in 1934/35. There are flats above the shops where she lived with her sons. Leslie opened a pharmacy in the corner store. He had a buzzer installed so that people needing medication out of shop hours could call him in the flat above.

When the war came, Leslie joined the VDC (Volunteer Defense Corps) in a part-time role. Unfortunately his experience was required and the job became full time so his brother Bertie, who was also a pharmacist, took over the running of the chemist shop. Eventually Bertie decided to move to Sydney and the shop was sold to Mr. Sorbello. This possibly happened in the 1960s. Leslie continued as a pharmacist choosing to work on Wickham Terrace. Jack worked during the holidays as a delivery boy for the New Farm Pharmacy using his bicycle.

His maternal grandparents lived nearby in Merthyr Road, just off the corner with Griffith Street, in a house grandfather designed himself. He had a Cash Order business prior to the introduction of hire purchase. He was a very social person and designed the house with interconnecting sunroom, followed by lounge room then dining room and lastly the kitchen. Concertina doors connected the rooms and all had polished floorboards covered with large Persian carpets. For parties, these doors were opened back, the carpets were rolled up and a ballroom was created. He had a thick notebook that was indexed into topics for jokes. An example of the categories would be navy jokes or commercial travellers’ jokes. Amazingly, he only recorded the punch line.

Jack attended the Holy Spirit School for about six months until he was old enough to go to the New Farm State School. He remained here until his mother became concerned about the risk of bombs being dropped on the submarine base nearby and he was moved to Churchie. His mother felt that this was far enough away to be safe.

As he was at school during the war, his mother worked hard for the war effort. She regularly entertained soldiers/sailors for dinner and erected on the verandah were two large poles and a cross bar. These obstructed the verandah but were used to knit large camouflage nets for the war effort. Two days per week she went to the city to pack parcels for the soldiers overseas. This was known as the Comfort Fund. A government department named Manpower organized for billets to stay at their house. Jack remembers a lady from Warwick who had been brought to Brisbane to help address the labour shortage.

Jack married a local girl Judith and they settled into a house at 918 Brunswick Street until 1990 when they moved to Ascot. Jack worked as an Industrial Officer. He was an employers’ representative for the shipping industry and remembers the many strikes which took place, describing many as being of nuisance value. He worked as a shipping clerk at Brett’s Wharf for Burns Philp.

Judith was the young girl across the road in Griffith Street. Her aunt probably found this house for the family when they moved from New South Wales in 1939. Judith’s father David was a tailor and came to Brisbane to help his brother-in-law in his tailoring business. The business was called Stewart Suit Specialists. Later David established his own business which he called Burton’s Tailors after the company he worked for in England. Judith’s mother Mary already had her mother and sister living in New Farm.

At the time they arrived, Judith was almost five years old and her sister was 10. There were two older half brothers but they were not home very often. Judith remembers going to Miss Stevenson’s Private School with her sister as the New Farm State School was closed for a short period due to the war. They were able to move to the State School approximately 6-12 months later.

She remembers her time at Miss Stevenson’s as happy. Miss Stevenson herself was ‘stern looking with a stern manner’ but the two other ladies were very kind, not at all frightening. She used a slate to write on, but doesn’t remember doing a great deal of schoolwork. Her memories are filled the work of knitting and crocheting for the war effort. The school itself was “quite wild looking, overgrown with vines and the big house at the end of the path had a ramshackle look”. It was a place to investigate.

Later, at New Farm State School, she remembers having individual wooden desks with lift-up lids. Slates were only used in the lower grades. Some students wore a navy box-pleated tunic but a uniform was not compulsory. Mr. Curry was the headmaster.

Her father’s business did well during the war as he made clothes for the American soldiers. Sometimes he would bring soldiers home for a meal and Judith particularly remembers a Chinese gentleman by the name of Mr. Chang. Mr. Chang and other US servicemen were kind enough to give Judith’s father American comic books for the children. With the outbreak of war, comics were no longer imported, so this was a welcome gift indeed and probably brought Jack into their home. Hours would be spent reading these comics. Judith kept them for many years.

Judith enjoyed going to the end of Merthyr Road to sit and ‘look across the river’. The shipyards were always busy with much activity and lots of men and people. Little boats were always on the water. At home, the family had an air-raid shelter in the rear garden complete with internal steps and a roof. It was a favourite place to play even though you weren’t supposed to. Groups would regularly go to the Astor Cinema. It was a hub for social activity. Their family booked permanent seats for the Saturday night show, as did other families. There were always friends there. It was a very nice theatre with proper seats. They would have a light tea before the show and then afterwards would go across the road to order fish and chips which were eaten on the walk home. The trams had finished for the night. Mary and Rose were the two daughters who served in the shop.

Judith and Jack recall the Jewish community in New Farm as being significant both before and after the war. New Farm was a popular choice for housing as families could walk to the Synagogue in Margaret Street on Saturdays keeping the faith that work is not done on the Sabbath (by themselves or by others such as tram or taxi drivers). This habit became less strict and in the late 1960s and then the 1970s, people followed the popular trend of moving to the newer suburbs.

They recall supporting all the local businesses if the service was good but there were some businesses operated by Jewish families. These included a bootmaker in the shops on Merthyr Road, a dentist and the Meadow’s Grocery Store on Merthyr Road towards the intersection with James Street. Judith’s mother, Mary, was the President of the National Council for Jewish Women and she decided to open an Op Shop. She found a venue in the area that is now New Farm Village and opened a store. The women ran it so well that they were able to buy the building. Eventually the concept became more popular and the shop was sold. Judith was to become President of the Council for 14 years. She assisted with the running of the shop also.

Jack’s father supported the Guardian Society, which helped fund the passage of young Jewish men/teenage boys who needed a new start after the war. At times they would have a young person come to stay with them. He recalls how disturbed some of these individuals were as a result of their experiences. The Society had a farm at Redland Bay and Joyce, his sister, taught English there.

A very significant event after the war was the closing of the Power Station. The black soot had been such a nuisance that the women were really delighted. Jack and Judith’s home remains but their long narrow block has been reduced to allow another house onto the rear of the property. Jack says the rules were very strict about one house per allotment although building flats was allowed.

The lower end of Brunswick Street near Welsby Street can be affected by runoff when rain is heavy. Jack remembers during the 1974 floods when the tide was high, the water backed up and there was five feet of water in their yard. People became very concerned however when a ship being constructed at the shipyards broke its mooring, threatening to block the river and divert the river flow through New Farm. They were evacuated up Brunswick Street in a dinghy. Later, the Brisbane City Council undertook a drainage programme to ensure that the runoff water could get away to the river. Jack recalls the huge drains which were put into the Park.

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