NEIL LUCAS takes a trip down memory lane, half a century to the day since he arrived in Pakenham to start work as a rate collector with the shire.
On 13 November 1967 I drove into the car park behind the shire office in my brand new Chrysler Valiant to commence a position as Rate Collector at the Shire of Berwick.
I had applied for the position assuming the Shire of Berwick offices would be in Berwick – but they were at Pakenham!
The shire office telephone number was Pakenham East 1.
I had been interviewed by six or seven councillors plus Shire Secretary Barry Wallis and Shire Engineer Ron Chambers.
The key opinion maker in council was the dynamic councillor Peter Ronald.
When I entered the office for the first time I nearly tripped over a black Labrador dog which seemed to be quite at home in the office.
The dog was called Puddles and came to work each day with Barry Wallis’ secretary Betty Taylor, whom I came to know as a close friend (Betty ran the sheep committee at the Berwick Show and following her recruiting me I’m still involved with the show nearly 50 years later).
As Rate Collector I was responsible, apart from making sure everyone paid their council rates, to maintain records of the ownership of every property in the shire.
This meant some liaising with Miss Beatrice Thomas, the Secretary of the Gembrook Cockatoo Emerald Waterworks Trust to compare and if necessary update each other’s ownership records.
Miss Thomas was the sister of the editor of the Pakenham-Berwick Gazette Herb Thomas and had held the position of Shire Secretary at Pakenham prior to my boss Barry Wallis.
Miss Thomas conveniently had the Trust Office in the front room of her house adjacent to the Gazette office which, in turn, was next to the shire office.
Miss Thomas and I enjoyed many a conversation on matters, sometimes including ownership records.
Another opportunity for a chat was when printing or local advertising was required and I needed to go next door to the Gazette office to arrange either (or both).
Herb Thomas enjoyed a chat regarding current local affairs – unless there was a rush on to complete the next edition.
As an aside, when Herb died suddenly, I was Deputy Town Clerk at Berwick. The Gazette had to be produced in spite of Herb’s passing.
With a view to assisting I wrote up a number of reports on the council meeting which had just occurred and sent them to Ian Thomas who was understandably under huge pressure.
Much to my joy, the reports I had written appeared word for word in the next edition! I could have obtained a job as a reporter.
After promotion to position of Deputy Shire Secretary I attended council meetings which were held on a Monday commencing in the morning and most times not concluding until well into the evening.
At lunch break the whole council and senior officers would walk down the Main Street to the Railway Hotel where a roast meal would be served with a beer for those who partook and then we wandered back for a quieter afternoon continuance of the council meeting.
When Neil Armstrong was planned to walk on the moon in July 1969, the council hired a television set for the council chambers but only the councillors and senior staff were allowed to watch.
Accordingly, most of the remainder of the staff downed tools and walked up James Street to the home of the Paymaster Stuart Williams to watch this momentous event.
The Pakenham Cup was another memorable day, with a half holiday declared. Shire staff would attend the races and rejoiced greatly one year when a local horse Telopia, part-owned by Stuart Williams and George Wilson of Berwick, was first to the line.
When I commenced at the shire the town was known as Pakenham East. The old town on the highway was Pakenham and when the railway was constructed the area around the station and shops became known as Pakenham East.
The Shire Secretary Barry Wallis was a local boy and his father was the postmaster at Pakenham, where a number of women were employed on a telephone exchange. The shire had a similar system where the telephonist plugged calls into the board connecting callers.
My buck’s night was a joint affair and conducted at the Garlepp’s Hotel on the Princes Highway across the road from the Toomuc Creek. The other bridegroom-to-be was Ray Canobie, who was the shire accountant and later a most capable and appreciated Shire Secretary of the Shire of Pakenham. I got out of the buck’s night unscathed – not so Ray, I believe.
The shire, which administered a huge area from Doveton in the west to the Bunyip River, was expanding rapidly and the shire offices could not contain all the necessary staff.
The shire rented a shop in John Street across the road next to the former historical society building where the Health Surveyor and Valuer and their respective staff were housed.
Fortuitously the Nooy family established a bakery and cake shop next to the Valuer’s Office so the purchase of lunch was facilitated during my visits to see the Valuer.
As the shire continued to grow portable buildings were established in the car park at the rear where a family of cats, fed with milk from the kitchen, lived.
One pleasant duty delegated to me by Barry Wallis was to arrange for the purchase of Mt Cannibal, which would have been around 1972.
I walked across Main Street to Noel Webster’s Estate Agency and we negotiated a price to purchase what turned out to be most of the mountain. The price was something like $17,000.
On a number of occasions I visited the mountain at lunchtime taking various members of staff and guiding them to the top and always to the cliff at the southern end (no tracks or car park in those days). It was spectacular and special and I still think of those times fondly.
Fox scalps were no fun at all. There was a bounty paid for each scalp which meant that they had to be counted! And they smelt something awful! If you saw someone coming in with a big bag of scalps – you ran and hid.
Not only did they have to be counted but then they had to be burnt in the incinerator at the back of the office.
There was very little traffic on the roads in those days and the majority of cars heading from Berwick to Pakenham were council staff.
It was not unusual in wetter months for the highway to be under water at Officer in a north-south line running about where the new shire headquarters is located.
Another flooding situation occurred at Beaconsfield North from the Princes Highway along the Beaconsfield-Emerald Road (the new Cardinia Dam seemed to end that problem by reducing the watershed).
In 1967 Pakenham Main Street still contained a number houses and vacant blocks among the shops but one shop I made use of was Fred Treloar’s Barber Shop in Station Street.
Urban development was, basically, on the south side of the highway with some subdivision and a couple of extra streets northwards up Ahern Road.
The old Pakenham Hall was a much used facility and the dances and balls were much fun – the band was called the Trutones with (McMillan MP) Russell Broadbent as the upfront singer and MC with Ray Canobie on piano and Graeme Treloar on the trumpet.
They were great days.