Victor Douglas Clack
My Dad, was born on the 29th May, 1899. He was the youngest son, of his parents, Charles Ernest and Mary Ann Clack. He had two older brothers, Ernest and Gordon. Two sisters had also been born but both had died in infancy.
Vic, as his friends called him, was also known, by his close family members as “Did.” That was because when he was very, very young one of his aunts was very fond of saying to him…..“Did um’s eat this or did um’s do that and some how the name Didums stuck. As Didums was a bit childish for a grown boy or young man it was shortened to Did as he grew older.
School didn’t hold much interest for Vic and he would spend most of his days trying to figure out how he could get out of studying his lessons. One story he told was how he and a mate bought some ginger nut biscuits one day. Arriving at school he and his friend broke up all the biscuits, mixed them, to a paste with water and smeared the walls and floor of the boy’s toilet block. Upon discovering the “mess” the headmaster was horrified and all the boys received a dressing down and told their toilet habits were disgusting. He then called for volunteers to clean up the mess. All of the boys cringed and turned up their nose but not Vic and his mate. They volunteered knowing just what the “mess” was and were able to spend all day out of class and were in the headmasters “good books” for a few days.
I guess Dad left school as soon as he could but I don’t know too much about his life as an adolescent.
As a young man of about 18 or 19, I know Dad did a stint as a jackeroo/rouseabout on an outback property. He thought it was a great adventure but a hard way of life. Would tell us how he would have to camp out in the bush for days and when it came time for meals, the cook would often have to brush the maggots of the meat before it was ready to eat. This would have been toward the end of the 1st World war. His brother Gordon had “joined up” as a soldier, in the Infantry, and was in England. Unfortunately he died, at the age of 25 of a disease whilst in the service. Records show that he was given a full military funeral and his name is found on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Vic worked for a short time with his eldest brother Ern, who was a tailor, he was a delivery boy for the local green grocer, and did a stint employed at the brickyards and as a handy man. He spent most of his working life as a nursery man. He was always busy with something to do and always making something from nothing.
Vic loved music and a good melody. He would often break into a little soft shoe shuffle even though he didn’t really know how to dance. He would also love to watch people ballroom dancing.
Vic enjoyed playing his mouth organ.
Clarice Baldwin Clack
Clarice was born 21st November, 1906 to Francis Mills. Her mother Francis and father, Roland Morris were not married. Clarice was raised by her grandmother Emily (Frankland) Mills from birth. Emily had worked as a house keeper for the Morris Family and Francis or Fanny as she was know also worked in the house as her mother’s helper. In 1896 after the death of Mrs Morris Emily had married John Morris, her former employer. It seems that Fanny fell to the advances of the son of the house, Roland Charles Morris or maybe it was the other way round. Clarice had a twin brother who died at birth.
At the age of about 7 or 8 Clarice was taken to New Zealand to visit relatives of the Morris Family. Apparently some time was lived in New Zealand but it is not known just how long. There is a school photo taken at Thornleigh Public School (Australia) of Clarice when she was about 11 or 12 years old.
Clarice not only had Morris relatives but also had Mills relatives. Emily Frankland’s first husband had been Alexander Mills, who died in 1893. It was her Mill’s cousins who told her of her illegitimate birth and that the woman she called mother was really her grandmother and the woman she called Aunt Francis was really her mother. In that era it was a disgrace to be an illegitimate child. She never really came to terms with it and seemed to be ashamed of the surroundings of her birth all her life. In latter years when asked about her birth and family beginnings she would say “Oh, I just grew like Topsy.” (a saying of the time which meant she was an orphan)
Clarice probably would have been about 14 years old, when she began work in domestic service. Her first place of employment was at a hospital, where she spent most of her days on hands and knees scrubbing the floor of the corridors. It was here that she met another young girl with whom she became firm friends. Her name was Ettie and their friendship lasted all their lives.
After leaving the hospital, Clarice found herself working in a private home in the Strathfield area. It was here that she met and formed a friendship with the local fruit & vegetable delivery boy. Their friendship developed, because Vic said he just loved Clarice’s big brown eyes, and it wasn’t long before they married on the 22nd October, 1923 at Concord. New South Wales. Mum was very proud of the beautiful pink glass vase that her employer gave them as a wedding present, it always took pride of place in their homes.
For a time they lived at Flemington where their first child, Mervyn was born on the 3rd June, 1924. Probably, with only a midwife to help with the birth. Two years later, when Joyce was born the little family was living in another rented house in John St, Lidcombe. (Parramatta Road end) Joyce was born on 1st May, 1926.
About this time Dad became friends with the local doctor. A German man. Who felt that he wasn’t quite accepted in the community because of the memories people had of the 1914 – 1918 war. Doctor Kortum lent Dad some money so that he would have a deposit for a home for his little family. This was something that he often did for his friends and patients when he knew they were good and honest workers and could be relied upon to pay him back. The family’s new home was in Hampstead Road, Auburn. Dad would ride his push bike to work, at the State Brickyards in Homebush Bay.
Mervyn went to North Auburn school and when Joyce was 5 years old she too was enrolled at North Auburn. She remembers that it was her Dad who took her along to be enrolled as her Mum would have been at home looking after her little sister Jean who had been born on 15th October, 1930. Jean’s birth had been a home birth with a midwife in attendance. This midwife’s name was Myra. Clarice and Myra developed a friendship which lasted throughout their lives.
In Joyce’s 5th year (1931) she developed scarlet fever and was sent to the Prince Henry Hospital for contagious diseases near Long Bay Goal at La Perouse. Whilst there she contracted diphtheria and became seriously ill, so ill in fact that the hospital thought the parents needed to be notified. As working class families didn’t have home phones the local police were informed and they then went to notify ad and Mum. As personal transport was also a rarity in those days, Mum had to ride in the police motor cycle side car for well over an hour to be at her daughter’s side whom she thought would die. Joyce still remembers being in the steam tent (one of the treatments for diphtheria in those days) and hearing movement and voices around her. Thankfully Joyce recovered and returned home in due course.
To welcome Joyce home her Dad made a beautiful swing in the form of a boat which allowed up to four children to sit in it at the same time. Unfortunately after a short time one of the neighbourhood children, who had come to play, came too close to the swing and was hit in the forehead, so badly that the gash needed to be stitched. Dad was so worried that the swing might seriously injure someone else that he dismantled the swing much to the children’s disappointment. Joyce was next stricken with tonsillitis and because of the trauma she had experienced at her last hospital visit the caring Doctor Kortum advised that they should be taken out at home. So the operation was preformed on the kitchen table.
Not long after this Dad lost his job, and because of the “Great Depression.” Dad was working at the State brickyards and because no building were going up no bricks were needed. Getting another job was virtually impossible. Having no job meant no house payments could be made, so feeling very humiliated Dad had to go and tell Dr Kortum. He was very sympathetic but without the regular payments Dr Kortum would be in jeopardy of loosing the money that he had given as a deposit. He was very understanding and aid that Dad was not responsible for the problem and that it couldn’t be helped. He was so sorry that the family would have to leave the home. This made Dad feel a little better, but from that point he determined never to be in this position again. The family left Hampstead Road, Dad and Mum with a heavy heart and their dream of owning their own home in tatters.
The local milkman, Mr Hogan, heard of their plight and because he knew them to be honest, hard working and reliable, offered Dad a shack which consisted of one bedroom and another room which acted as kitchen and living area. Fortunately the home was surrounded by a large block of land which was fully fenced. The property was at Little A-Becket Street, Rosehill (Granville) and the rent was only one shilling (10 cents) a week.
This was around 1931 and shortly afterward Dad’s parents, Grandpa and Grandma Clack also lost their employment and home. Dad and Grandpa built a corrugated iron shed on the property, at A-Beckett St., for them to live in. Joyce still remembers that it only had an earthen floor which was covered with hessian bags.
Both Grandma and Mum did the family wash in the back yard. A big fire was lit under the copper, after it had been filled by carrying buckets of water from the tap in the yard. Soap was scarce so what scraps of soap could be found where combined with dripping and boiled and boiled together and made into new bars of soap. Grandma had learnt how to do this from her mother and grandmother.
As it was the depression and jobs were scarce people came up with all sorts of ways to earn extra money. Some people would come around pushing baby prams (minus the baby) filled with little inexpensive items that were needed by the lady of the house. This included such things as packets of pins, needles, buttons, combs and ribbons, all sold at a small price but in those days every penny counted.
This got Dad to thinking that maybe he could supplement his family’s income, which consisted of food coupons and the meagre dole by making something that people might be interested in. Dad scrounged wooden fruit boxes from the local green grocer and being able to use the small amount of tools that he had, he set about making match box holders. He painted them up nicely and was able to sell them around the neighbourhood because every household used matches and every lady of the house was always looking for the matches. By having a little match box holder she would always know where they were. The holders even had a little place to put all the dead matches.
As Dad travelled around the neighbourhood he noticed that whilst some people had vegetable gardens the majority of people did not, and he reckoned that having fresh garden produce to sell would also go down well. This led to him acquiring some good over ripe tomatoes, not for eating but for obtaining the seeds. Through trial and error Dad worked out that to obtain the best seed for germination he needed to remove the seeds by squeezing the tomato into a sieve. The pulp was then washed out with running water leaving behind the seeds. Brown paper was placed on the kitchen window sill and the seeds were put on this to dry out in the sun.
This was the start of Dad’s tomato business. Upon harvesting the crop, which had been tenderly nurtured, Dad prepared to go out selling his tomatoes. Off he would go on his old push bike with his little homemade trailer following on behind. His first crop of about twenty plants soon became fifty and it wasn’t too long before he was planting up to one hundred plants. This meant that every one was needed to attend to the tomato patch and the preparing of the tomatoes for sale. The income from the tomatoes added considerably to the family finances, not to mention being able to eat and enjoy those tomatoes that weren’t good enough for sale.
At this time Mervyn and Joyce went to school at the Rosehill Public School, Mervyn in early primary classes and Joyce in kindergarten. The school was situated nearby the home of John Macarthur (which is still standing to-day) who is known as the Father of the Australian Wool Industry.
The family also attended the nearby Anglican Church and it wasn’t too long before Dad became the church handyman. He took it upon himself to do all the odd jobs to keep the church building in good repair which was greatly appreciated by the church elders.
Mum always saw to it that the family attended church each week and made sure the children were washed from head to toe and dressed in their clean best clothes, with Dad making sure their shoes were always polished. Even though the family may have been experiencing lean times Dad and Mum always tried to do their best for their children. At times when Mum was in hospital or seriously ill Dad would always tell us children to pray for her recovery, so you could say we had a Christian home.
In approximately1933 whilst travelling around the neighbourhood, Dad noticed a large house , on a good block of land in South Parade, Auburn which was up for SALE. He felt that it would be an ideal home for his family and a great spot to begin a garden nursery business. He found out that the estate agent was Mr J.T. Lang (a former premier of New South Wales). After considerable negotiations with Mr Lang and the bank manager they begrudgingly gave Dad a loan to buy the property. This was a very big undertaking because both gentlemen thought Dad would fail and Dad wasn’t too sure about the undertaking either.
The big move was made. Grandpa and Grandma also went too, but it wasn’t long before they moved into their own little semi-detatched home in, of all places, Hampstead Road, and with in walking distance of the new home in South Parade.
In latter years Dad called the home “The Cottage Nursery”. His customers mainly referred to it as “Clackies” but the family always called it “One Eighty.”
What a luxury to have a home that consisted of four bedrooms, a lounge room, a wide hallway that opened onto a very large room, (referred to as the verandah) which had a large dinning table and several other pieces of furniture, a good sized kitchen, with a fuel stove and a combined bathroom and laundry. The laundry contained a fuel copper and this was used not only for wash days but for boiling up the bath water. The toilet was found out side, but not too far from the back door.
For a time each of the children even had their own rooms.
The hard work began!
Mum set about making the house into a home. She took great pride in her home and it was always spotless. Her chores included scrubbing the bare floor boards, polishing the lino that was in some of the rooms, both those jobs being done on her hands and knees, polishing the brass front step, blacking the fuel stove in the kitchen, sweeping and washing down the front verandah and front path every day, regular cleaning out of all cupboards, even though everything was kept neatly folded, cleaning all the ornaments and knick-knacks every Friday. Monday was always wash day and not only were the clothes and linens washed they were also ironed and put away on the same day. Wash day meant firing up the big copper and squeezing water from the clothes by hand. Along with her cleaning duties each day usually had a trip down to the shops for some daily shopping.
Meanwhile Dad was busy establishing the nursery. First job was to build the raised up garden beds for growing the seedlings. He obtained most of his materials from the nearby railway yard because the old discarded railway sleepers were just perfect for the job. Next he needed to place a layer of ashes and broken bricks into the beds to allow for drainage and finally came the top soil which he had prepared by adding various types of manure and fertilizers.
Then came the seedlings. Upon investigation Dad found that he could buy his seeds wholesale from the Yates warehouse in Sydney. He would take the train into Central station and then walk down to the warehouse in the Haymarket. Sometimes Joyce would go to the Haymarket and was awed by the number of Asian people, who would be there selling all sorts of goods (some rather weird and wonderful) they would smile at Joyce, but Dad would say “Look out they don’t grab you.” Dad not only bought the seeds, he would spend time talking to the workers, making friends with them and also gathering as much information as possible in regards to the best way of raising the seeds and planting out the seedlings.
Once the seedlings had grown sufficiently they were sold straight from the beds. The going price was 4 pence (just a little less than 5 cents) a dozen (12) with the fancy varieties of flowers at 6 pence (5 cents) a dozen. Lettuce and spinach plants went for 3 pence for 30 plants. As it was a bit difficult to count each single plant the customers always received good measure for their money, usually a dozen turning into 20 plants and 30 becoming 50 plants.
For awhile whilst the nursery was getting established and to help with the finances, Dad worked as a gardener for Mr Lang whose large home and grounds was situated next door to North Auburn Primary School.
During the growing season (spring, summer and autumn) business was good but during the winter some time the takings for the day only amounted to 6 pence, but slowly and surely with lots of hard work the business grew. In addition to selling seedlings, packets of seeds and fertilizers were added. Once again a tomato patch was established and the fruit was sold, poppies and other flowers were grown and bunches of blooms were sold.
The local picture theatre, which was within walking distance at the bottom of the hill, was happy to give the family a weekly theatre pass, in exchange for Dad supplying them with bunches of fresh flowers to decorate the foyer of the theatre. Likewise when the circus came to Auburn, Dad would talk to the boss and offer to place advertisements boards on the property in return for tickets to the circus.
One of Dad’s favourite pastimes, especially when business was a bit slack, would be to visit the local Snooker Room. Here the men could play a game of billiards or pool or cards usually with some money wagers on the side. Dad was a bit of a “hustler” especially if there were some new comers or smart young lads in the Snooker room. For a few games he would pretend he wasn’t too good so the bets would get higher and then he would play his usual game and clean up the prize money.
As “180” was close to the railway station Dad built some sheds at the back of the nursery, fitted out with bike racks which he hired out for a small fee to men who worked in the city so that they would have the security of knowing their bikes were safe whilst they were away at work.
Another money making idea involved selling peanuts. Dad would buy a large sugar bag of peanuts and with Mervyn’s help would bag them up into smaller bags to sell at the nursery. He also obtained permission from Mr Lang, who owned a vacant block of land in the middle of Auburn shopping centre, made himself a little portable stall and was usually found selling his bags of peanuts to the Friday and Saturday shoppers.
Another outlet for his peanut sales presented itself in the form of the local Saturday football matches, usually held at the Lidcombe football oval. Whilst selling his bags of peanuts, Dad came up with another bright idea. In those days football ovals were just that, “ovals.” No fancy stands or amenities just people standing around watching the game. Dad’s idea was to make small folding stools for the spectators to hire out at 6 pence (5 cents) each. The idea was for the chairs to be returned at the end of the match but more often than not Dad and Mervyn would have to walk around the grounds at the end of the match and pick them up from where they had been left. But both Dad and Mervyn weren’t afraid of a bit of hard work especially when they would have some good takings for the day.
By this time Dad had graduated from his old push bike to a horse and cart and it was used to transport the chairs around. One of the favourite horses that Dad had was called “Toby” and he had a little yard at the back of the nursery near the bike sheds.
Both Dad and Mum loved animals. Dad liked both dogs and cats, but only cats when they were kittens. Trixie, a white and brown fox terrier was one of Dad’s favourite dogs. Dad taught Trixie all sorts of tricks like playing dead, rolling over, walking on back legs only and sitting up begging for food. He also had a cockatoo, called Cocky. Cocky’s cage was at the back door and Dad would spend a lot of time sitting on the back door step, with his boots off, having a smoke and talking to Cocky. Subsequently, Cocky could talk quite well and would be more than happy to say, “Hello Cocky” to any one that came to the back door, amongst other things. One of Mum’s favourite dogs was “Pudgy” a stray Pekinese dog that wandered into the nursery one day and after Mum’s kindness to it decided to stay.
Whilst Dad was building up the business and running his little enterprises, Mum was always there doing her part. If Dad was out, she would always be there for any customers who came into the nursery. She felt it was her responsibility to have a well run home and was all ways mindful of her families needs. She did like to have her flower garden with lots of colourful flowers, one of her favourites being Linerias. She also had a garden that was completely devoted to cactus and succulents. A most interesting garden, with lots of unusual plants.
In August of 1935 the family was blessed with a new addition. Another daughter, Norma Fay.
She too was born at home. Joyce being 9 years old was able to help out by being a little mother to the family, although she did have the help of Grandma Clack. Mums relationship with her own Mother was mostly strained at this time, but in latter years, Grandma Fanny would come for meals and visits would be made back and forth. Fanny would always come for Christmas and she was accepted by the children as their grandmother.
Even though Mum had the young baby she felt that there might be something that she could do to help out with the finances. Dad always had a soft spot for the underdog, and in those days, because people were still recovering from the depression, people were often looking for good lodgings, so with Dad’s suggestion it was decided that they would take in boarders. Mum took in boarders for about 10 years, one of the first being Mrs O’Riley who just happened to have been a teacher at Rosehill school and knew Mervyn and Joyce. The longest boarder they had in the home was a Jack Smythe who stayed for the 10 years so became a family friend. He would only stay Monday to Friday so he was closer to his work. Weekends he would travel home to Woy Woy to see his sweet heart whom he eventually married after quite a long engagement. The board money was always for Mum to use in a manner she thought fit.
Round about 1940 Dad purchased another house in Gibbons Street, Auburn. This house was being rented out to a family so they continued to stay there paying their rent to Dad. He kept the house for a few years and then sold it to purchase some land at the end of Hunter Street, North Auburn. The land had a small house on it, which was just right for Grandpa and Grandma Clack to live in.
There were plans to extend the nursery, by constructing more seedling beds, but that didn’t eventuate.
Dad used all his money to provide for his family and to better their way of life. His main aim was to pay for the house because of his earlier experience with losing the home in Hampstead Road.
He not only purchased “180” but he also bought extra land around the property and expanded the nursery as well as other properties. He was very proud of himself, when a certain Auburn business man asked him for a personal loan. Dad felt a little inferior to some of his business men friends because he wasn’t very well educated and only worked with his hands.
Having a little extra money, which continued to grow, meant Dad could provide some of the little “niceties” of life for the family. His pride and joy was the pianola which he bought around 1942.
Dad would love to invite friends over for a sing-a-long as the pianola came with lots of music rolls.
Many happy hours were spent and it was always a great hit at family parties.
From about the early 1950’s, as Dad had established himself and his savings he was always ready to give a money loan to the children (now adults) but to maintain their self respect he charged them a small amount of interest.
Around the late 1950’s Dad joined the local Lawn Bowls club which he greatly enjoyed. He loved Saturday’s when he could get into his “creams” and with his bowls bag, head off for the day or afternoon for a game. He was quite good at the game and would often bring home trophies that he had one. These ranged from a tray of meat or vegetables to lovely household items and gifts.
Dad and Mum also discovered that they loved taking a cruise. This was all the go in the late 50’s and 60’s and Dad and Mum had several trips around the Pacific islands. As Dad grew older, he employed a man, whose name was Cliff, to help in the nursery and then another chap who’s name was Les. After awhile he left the running of the nursery to the men and Dad got himself a job as a delivery man for a local electrical firm. Not because he needed the money, but because he was always a worker and needed to stay active.
Eventually, Dad sold the nursery, to Les, and he and Mum retired to the beachside town of Umina. “Cocky” went too and his cage was set up on the front foot path where once again, people would stop by to have a talk. Even people in their cars would stop. Dad still had His vegetable patch with tomatoes taking pride of place and Mum had her lovely colourful flower gardens.