A So you go from one extreme to the other. It’s like a person who might have a very happy childhood. Suddenly they’re thrown into the senior prison camp and the rest of their life, somehow they’ve got to try and overcome the effects of it and if they’ve had a good childhood, then if they’ve got any brains, they’ll try and throw it right out of your mind, which they never will, but cling to the memories of his happy childhood. Then he’ll find some sort of peace. Get it? And that’s why I come to Preston, because I live in Box Hill.
Q That’s why you come all the way back to Preston?
A That’s why. I don’t have to talk to anybody, just back in the atmosphere of Preston. And Preston’s got its own character. Just like Carlton and Fitzroy which were once slum areas, now they’re not anymore, Kew which is a complete contrast to Richmond, but Preston’s got its own character. And it comes from this, which took me two and a half years to put together. I’ll tell you all about that later. But there it is. And my childhood, I’ll describe that as I know it.
One of eight kids, slept four to a bed, my mother and father through the depression, with great courage and integrity they brought these eight children into the world and looked after them and fed them, mended their boots.
I said to my father before he died “You know, you thought I’d forgotten about them aye?”
I said to him “One of the things I always used to look forward to is when you mended my boots at night time”. I’d go to bed, put them by the side of the bed, he’d come in and take them and out in the kitchen and you’d hear it when you’re half asleep “knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock”. And you knew in the morning when you got up they were polished and clean, you didn’t have to clean them.
I told him that and his face lit up with a smile because, as I know at 85, I’ve got five children, but some of them have turned their back on you. It happens, and some of them turned their back on him too and I was in there fighting for him all the time. I painted his house, painted the roof once, painted the outside three times, wanted no money. Painted the inside once. That was my way of sticking to what I thought.
So I’ll briefly explain what this is, and you’re welcome to it, you’re welcome to anything you can get out of it.
This is the heart of Preston. The heart of Preston. It used to be called Irish Town and mainly because, down the bottom of Gower Street, this is in 1838 when they had to survey this land to keep out the people who were coming in and claiming it. They had to survey it, official now mate. So Hoddle surveyed all that land. I got this out of books. Abel Gower bought it from London. He never set foot in Australia, he died in 1860. His wife didn’t know he had this, and so she arranged for it all to be sold.
That was sold and I got this. See where the parchment was on the back of it? I got it in Preston Town Hall. They didn’t know what it was, but I got involved with the Historical Society after I restored the equipment for the Lancaster and the Canberra War Memoriam, which they put me in for the Order of Australia for, which I didn’t want, and don’t want it.
A friend of my Frank <Dimmock>, solicitor, he organised all the Bomber Command Dinners in Melbourne, they brought out the great air aces of the Second World War, General <Galland>, Sir Basil Embry, Sir Hughie Edwards, he bought them all out as guest speakers and he got the Order of Australia. So I rang him and congratulated him.
But what did I say that for? Oh yes, he got the Order of Australia. I’ve got it at home in an envelope.
What happens? They put you in and then it’s up to you to get referees for you. You’ve got to find three or four people who will stick up for you.
Well Dame Beaurepaire, who was the president of the War Memoriam and the politics up there I wouldn’t like to go into, but she was a victim of some of these politics. But when they opened up the amateur radio, the hams around Australia, every year they have a remembrance day and they have a guest speaker. Prime Ministers have opened it, this was her turn.
I’ve got it at home where she said “I understand one of your members is Maurie O’Keefe”. She would have put in a good word for me.
Bishop Stewart up there, I was his newsagent for 18 years, he would have. Another one, Tony Klein. Who’s Tony Klein? So I have two PhDs, physicist.
Stuck with them all the way for 15 years. One of them now is one of the top scientists over at the Austin Hospital in charge of the PET (Positron Emission Tonography) which makes a picture of your brain. He did nuclear physics, 12 years at university.
Every Monday I’d go in with cokes, lemonade, fruit, money, help him with the car, and did it for 15 years and when Graham got through there was about 200 there, they all got up and got their Bachelor of Science. Four on the stage got their PhD. Graham was one of them.
When he’d finished, the fellow came up to me and said “Congratulations Mr O’Keefe, Tony Klein”. “Oh thanks”, I didn’t know. Graham came up and said “That’s Professor Tony Klein, he’s in charge of nuclear physics at Melbourne University”. He would have put in a good word for me.
I didn’t want it. All I did, I sent it back to wherever it was, I said “See the RSL and see the Air Force Association”. I’ve got it at home. Why don’t I want it? That doesn’t interest me. I just want some peace and quiet. It’s not going to do me any good. And for 18 years I was in Bendigo running, a fifth of a newsagency for 18 years in charge of those 1500 homes. I didn’t want to be the king of the little pond anymore. So that’s why I wanted to do this.
So I restored the radio for G George. That’s why they put me in charge of it. When I went through that aircraft, now I spent six months flying on Lancasters and got 100 hours flying in them and there was a lot of jealousy between the fellows that came back from Europe and the Australian airforce blokes.
Because the Australian airforce blokes had had nothing to do with the intense equipment that the backroom boys had been designing to try and beat the Germans, to try and beat them, and the Australians knew nothing about it.
Air Commodore Parsons, Keith Parsons, he was in a collision in Belgium. He was the only one to get out of it. The only way he got out was by punching his fist through the Perspex on top and he had a back parachute and he was the only one…all the others were killed.
I spoke to him, “What happened down there?”, he’s been at the Anzac Day march a couple of times. He said “I told them at briefing, watch out for aircraft. I was flying and we just came out of this cloud and there’s this other Lancaster right in front of me and I hit him”. He lost two of his port engines, lost a quarter of his port wing and whoosh…and he got out of it. He told me when he came back to Australia the boss at Point Cook, Jones I think it was, he said to him “We’re in charge here now Parsons”
in other words, you’ve got no say. He told me. So you can imagine how I felt.
They made 7400 Lancasters. At the end of the war about 600 were flying. All the rest had been shot down. Of those 7400, about four or five completed the 100 ops.
One’s in Canada, one’s in [Hendon, UK], and one’s in Canberra. So the poms said “You’d better have it”. So they flew it out and left it on a field and the Australian airforce blokes pulled it to pieces. They sabotaged the thing and they cannibalised the thing. No one told them not to, they weren’t interested in that.
When I went through there about eight years ago, here’s all my radio missing. I said “I’ll see what I can do”.
Well, after the war I was halfway through an apprenticeship, finished it down here in Preston by the way as a matter of fact, best thing I ever did. Everything that was in that window was made by hand. Went back to it 20 years later after the news agency, they remembered me.
At Epworth Hospital, well I worked as a sweets cook for about six months and had a bit of a barney with the foreman there. He told me, all the patients you see, I made these scones, about 900 scones and they came back and said they were nice. He said to me “You teach Shirley how to make those.” I said “I don’t have to, she’s not apprenticed to me. Ring up the apprenticeship commission, they’ll tell you”. Well, it was just a matter of time then. But they remembered me.
Q Where is that that you did the apprenticeship?
A I was a telegraph messenger here at Preston for a year and a half, and it was tough to get a job and if you got a job in the post office you were permanent.
Q Do you remember roughly what time that was?
A Oh yes, I’ll tell you. I was 13 and a half, that would be 1938.
My first job and been working ever since. You had to go to the Postal Institute and pass the exam. I went to the Postal Institute for a year in Melbourne.
Over 400 passed, I came 113th and they called for 70. Which meant, out. So then my mother put me to an apprenticeship as a pastry cook where her brother served his apprenticeship, George Rath, the top man in Victoria. He had a shop in Melbourne right next to the Capitol Theatre. Top man, beautiful stuff. He was famous.
And I hated it. I hated it. So at 18 I joined the airforce and after four years. Then I went to see, still in uniform, Peter Gibbs advertised they wanted wireless operators for the DC Sixes to fly from here to start a route to East Ceylon. “You go and get your commercial ticket and come back and see us”. Why I’m saying this is how I was able to restore that radio.
So I said right, I went to Melbourne Tech for nine months, slow…waste of time. I heard that AWA Marconi, who trained all the radio officers for ships around the Mercantile Marine around the coast and rented them out to the Mercantile Marine.
They said “We’ll get you through in two years”. Right. So I started. Fifteen started, two and a half years later, three finished. It was tough. Physics, physics, physics. You had to get your speed up so you could write it like this. So then there was a DC Six had crashed at San Francisco, all killed. I’ve got the photo at home, a big page in the Sun and I knew the wireless operator on it. He did the same as I did, left behind a wife and baby in Melbourne.
I’m finished with flying, no more. Alright, go to sea as a radio operator. Yeah, we’ve got a ship for you. Before I do that I’m going to ride my pushbike around Tasmania for a holiday with a sleeping bag. Been up through Japan, but the best holiday I’ve had, Tasmania.
So before I take on the ship, I’m going to ride my pushbike around Tassie.
Halfway through, in the centre of Tassie in a big snow belt four feet deep in the snow, 20 miles south of the Great Lakes, I came across this big construction camp building a dam, hydro electric, 400 Poles.
Learnt a few Polish words. Dzien dobry – good morning. Dobranoc – goodnight. Prosze – please.Dziekuje - thank you.
I said to them, what happens if I meet a Polish girl? They said you say [Polish phrase]. That’s “My darling I love you”. They heard I was a pastry cook. I’d finished my time, learnt the trade well too. They said to me, “You come back here and work as a sweets cook. You’ve got to work seven days a week but you get enormous money plus your keep”.
Well one of eight kids in the depression, you know, you couldn’t knock that back. “Right, I’ll come back”. I came back to Melbourne. They said, “We never thought you’d come back” and I stayed there three years feeding the Jerrie’s that were trying to shoot me down five years before. Feeding 200 of the Hitler Youth Movement, who were a bunch of larrikins.
I said to the Polish one day, they’d never had chocolate. Hitler said chocolate comes before butter, they’d never tasted chocolate and they flew them straight out that first day too.
And I counted one Jerrie one day, he came back ten times for the sweets.
And Molly Hayes, the nurse there, said to me “I don’t know why the Germans are coming over sick”, I said “They won’t eat the food, all they’ll eat is the sweets”.
So I stayed there three years and I got enough money for my home. That’s where I started ham radio. Had to build my own transceiver, and that’s how I was able to do all the stuff at Canberra. That’s how. So I did it. Two years it took me, I’d go till two o’clock in the morning.
I was working at Telecom at the time, in telephone exchange. It took me two years. Went up there, big newspaper articles, I’ve got them all at home. They gave me the editorial in the Canberra Times. I’ve got it all at home.
Then they said, “Will you do another one for us?” “Alright”. It took me three years. Now the first ones inside the aircraft which I didn’t bring any photos over, the first one’s in an aircraft, no one will ever see it, working perfectly. And I got out all around Australia on it, and I got out to Canada, got his letter back.
In his letter he said, “I was in the Mercantile Marine during the war, torpedoed twice”, he said. The first time everybody got out including the ship’s cat, second time lost 14 of his shipmates. I’ve stuck that inside the case of the transmitter inside G George. But the second one’s on display outside and everybody sees it and it’ll be there for 20 years.
They built a mock, a beautiful piece of work, a carpenter did it, of the inside of the fuselage. You’ll see it up there and at home, they sent me progressively the photos of the progress.
I didn’t bring it in, it’s all there, you can see it anytime you like. So that’s G George.
I had to find out how to be happy like I was when I was a kid sleeping four to a bed. We had our own cow. My mother, she knew Mrs Hodson had a cow and she wanted a cow. My father didn’t want it because he knew he’d have to milk it. She got him to get the cow and anything she wanted, she got and she had no money, so she had to hock her sewing machine to get the money for the cow.
I’ll break in with a funny story. So any milk that was over, we used to take it to Walkers in Dundas Street who used to work with him.
And sometimes we didn’t have enough milk to fill the billy can, so we used to put a bit of water in.
So I went over there one Monday, she used to pay every Friday, and mum said to me “Tell Mrs Walker could she pay for last week’s milk”.
Knocked on the door. “Mum said could you pay for last week’s milk?”
“Yeah, we’ll pay for the milk when you stop putting water in it”.
So we had our own cow and that is why I’m in Preston all the time. Had our own cow and how our parents survived in the depression with eight kids.
Okay, now I’ll compare it. Why I went into that a bit was to compare my childhood with somebody else’s childhood. My tail gunner. I’ll show you a photo. See there’s my crew.
I flew with them for a year. There’s the tail gunner, who’s he? Vick Smith the engineer, Taffy Bryce, he used to smell like a pole cat he did, Bob Mannings came in from Brunswick, my pilot Bob Turnbull, a good pilot too. He only let his head go once.
I’ll break it down and explain it to you. So when the surrender took place in Germany, all the aircraft in England, they let them go over Germany. They call them Cook’s Tours. I went over six times in six days and we shot the place up. Two hundred feet high and oh, the rubble.
I didn’t bring any photos, but he let his head go just once. Went up to Hamburg and the Kiel Canal and flying along the Kiel Canal right down to the water and the banks on either side and Lou in the tail said “All the water from the propellers is coming up behind me, the spray from the waters”.
I’ll never forget it. This is great fun, wacko, boy oh boy, 250 miles an hour. Suddenly he turned around a corner and there’s a ship right in front of him. It comes up on the intercom, and he says “I’ll never do that again”.
Who’s Lou? Lou was worth 20 houses. How did that happen? His father came out from Lebanon with a sewing machine, made towels and sheets and things like that, hawked it from door to door. Built up an empire, employed 400 people. Nile underwear. Talk to the older people, it was all over Australia.
Every year he gave Lou a thousand pounds, which was a house. He never said it, he’s scruffy. He’d go to sleep sometimes in a tail turret and he told me 40 years later that they sent him to Kings College at the age of eight and he was there till the age of 16. He used to hate it.
His life compared to mine, a complete contrast. We had no money but we had just the opposite to what he had. He had no home life. He hated it. He came out to Preston and I showed my parent’s house to somebody else interviewing me at the time, I said “That’s where we lived, we had our own cow”, I was rubbing salt into the wounds.
But I said to him once, “What about Kings College Lou?” about 40 years later, “Oh, they used to bring along this plate of bread and treacle” and I thought to myself my mother never used to buy treacle. That’s the lowest of the low, she’d buy syrup but wouldn’t buy treacle.
He said “I was the littlest kid there and I never got any”.
He was worth 20 houses and he took the place of the pom that refused to fly. No one could force you to fly. You could refuse to fly at any time. One day we had two English gunners. See, here’s Snowy and there’s Lou from Perth. So one day we were at the main gate at Moreton-in-Marsh near Wellingtons and we had these two English gunners and Bill from Yorkshire, he was useless, completely useless. Jordie from Newcastle in England.
We were out by the main gate there one day and Bob the pilot, Bob, the nav and me, and here’s Jordie with his kit bag.
“Where are you going Jordie?”he says. “I’m not flying anymore”. He didn’t have to fly, all he had to do was go to the chief flying instructor and say “I don’t want to fly anymore”. That’s all. They had no choice.
If you didn’t want to fly, you didn’t want to fly but in the First World War they just used to shoot them. They shot about 12 Canadians for desertion. But there was conscription in Canada and in New Zealand. They shot two New Zealanders, and there were about 6 Australians for desertion and they were getting ready to shoot them and the Prime Minister sent the word over, Billy Hughes, little Welshman this high, “Don’t you shoot those men” he says, because if he had shot them, he would have been finished as a member of parliament. And then you had two referendums about conscription, both kicked out. So they didn’t shoot them. But in the second war, anybody who flew in bomber command could refuse to fly at any time.
Q Would they be transferred to somewhere else?
A Oh, what did they do? We used to have our jokes. We’d have our little aircrew whistle in case we were shot out in the North Sea.
At night time you blow your whistle, instead of singing out “I’m, over here”. That’s what the whistle was for. And they use them today in all the civil airlines. Whistle and blow up...jackets. That’s where it came from, the whistle.
We used to have our joke that if we went LMF, lack of moral fibre, which they used to brand you as, they’d take our aircrew wing and our aircrew whistle off us. That was our joke.
So that’s how we got Lou and Snowy. Two of the maddest gunners in the squadron.
Then I have to remember my childhood and try and throw all the rest away. You can’t do it, but you can get close to it. So we come back to this.
So my great grandfather came out from Ireland after the potato famine. I’ve got the book “The Great Hunger”, I’ve gone into it all. He and this lass they married, came from Cork, which is O’Keefe country, funny. There’s a crest in here, the O’Keefe Crest you see.
When I showed Father McCarthy “That’s funny, he said our’s is the same”. And Monsiernor McCarthy, I told him. He was the Dean at St Pat’s and one day I went there and I told him what I’m telling you now.
I said “Yeah, but who got it first?” he said “You”, I said “Yeah, but who got it first?”
So I look up and get the history. I find all the bottom south west corner is McCarthy territory, to late 1650, and anybody who lived in there fought for the lord and copied his crest but put your own name onto it. That’s what I can make it out to be. It’s in here.
So then we heard that this land was for sale with Gowers wife selling it from London, and they split all the land down to the creek in ten acre blocks. So my great grandfather bought seven of them. The title’s here. I found the title. Two and a half years it took me.
That’s why his name’s up here because he was on the council for 20 years and then became the president of Jika Jika, it wasn’t a city, a shire. Preston North and Thornbury.
So I go along to the Preston Historical Society, I went there for quite a while and in the process somebody produced this map and they didn’t know what it was. I knew what it was. You see the parchment on the back? I’ve got it at home, and Albert Street is here. Albert Street finishes, when we were kids, it finished in Gower Street, there. There’s Gower Street and all that was just paddocks.
So he bought that land and all the banks went bust in 1890, big land crash and he sold it just before then and I’ve got all the records here when he sold it.
He bought three houses in Fitzroy and bought a block of land in Thornbury and built a house on the other side in Raleigh Street, and on the block of land that’s where I was born, and where I lived for three and a half years.
So he collected all the money for St Pat’s Cathedral when it was being built. This was in the gold rush days. First of all they built one and we always thought it had been built, it had never been built. It had just been built up to the bottoms of the windows. I’ve got a drawing of it at home, what it was meant to be. It was never built.
Then Bishop Gould said “Right, we’ll have to build a big one with the gold rush”.
So they did and then he said after a while “It’s not big enough”.
So they pulled part of it down and they agreed on one condition. That what was built on the left hand side stayed there. And if you go in there now and you look up the road you’ll see it’s all different on the left hand side than on the right hand side. But he collected all the money for this district and that’s what he gave him. But Bishop Gould went overseas and brought back a lot of artefacts. He spent a lot of money on them, but they wanted it on the cathedral.
This was given to John O’Keefe, and in the display of St Pat’s Cathedral and all the artefacts and everything, I came across this remark here. One of our prized possessions. I searched for that, I couldn’t see it and there it was with nothing at all to tell anybody what it was, just the number here. I picked it out and that’s it. Now, here’s the family tree. Here’s articles in the newspaper. I searched and searched and found where they came from. See, Water Grassy, and all this was McCarthy Territory on another map I’ve seen. This is the land I told about Gower, this is the land I just talked about, here is the title. Here, Costigans. He had a lot of land here, all up here and down here too. Costigan.
Q Where’s that sorry?
A Up on Murray Road from Gower Street up to Murray Road.
I’ve got other maps or might come across it here, but he had that land. And his house is still standing. If you go down Gower Street, and you go to O’Keefe Street, the next street on the left hand side, go along to the next street that goes up there, a white house, it’s that. Tetroff Motors.
They pulled one of their houses up and brought it up, they’d never do it again. I suppose they had 20 horses to pull it up, and they put it in the corner of Gower Street and Plenty Road.
The farmhouse was there when we were kids. It was Bill McLean, who used to live in O’Keefe Street who went to see the council here to ask them could he build a service station there, and he did. But that was where they had one of their farms, Costigan.
Now Costigan, she wrote the story of, how lucky I was to get this, she wrote the story of it. You won’t see it in books.
So now we come to titles of the land. This was Kupsch I think, who had the land on the corner of Albert Street and Bell Street.
So O’Keefe had the land down from Gower Street to halfway in Albert Street, the Kupsch had the other half. Here you are, here’s more about Adrian Costigan and I’ve got his phone number and I can ring him anytime if I need to. When I showed him what I’d got together, his face lit up. Now here we have the farms.
This is Sullivan’s land. Costigan, their name was Sullivan not Costigan, the married name came into it. Sullivan, Sullivan, Sullivan, Walsh, Mutimer and Sullivan again, and Sullivan again and John O’Keefe down here. So Sullivan had all that, that’s Costigan. And Costigan who died recently, and they gave him a hell of a big turn up, that was one of the Costigans.
I look up in the old Town Hall here and there’s no photo of John O’Keefe. Forty photos, six missing. Six from the start. So I’ve got to get a photo, I went everywhere, searched everywhere, couldn’t find one. Finally I spoke to Allie McCauley was the grandchild. Her mother was the youngest child, she died a while ago.
I spent about $10,000.00 on the graves over at Heidelberg because they’re buried there, about four graves. Hadn’t been done for 100 years, they’re done, just simple mind you, but they’re done.
Anyway, I went to the Melbourne City Library to see if I could get a photo of John O’Keefe. But Allie McCauley who knew, she said “There was never a photo made”. So I told them here, and they were searching for these photos.
So I went to the Melbourne City Library, 1893 the Northcote Paper, how John O’Keefe died. What a gem. There it is. I won’t go into this story. My mother had a bit of a snout on the O’Keefe’s, like in-laws you see. She used to tear them to pieces. They thought they were pretty good.
Anyway, she always told us when we were kids she used to say to my father “Your grandfather, he fell off a tram when he was drunk, that’s what killed him”.
And we believed it. What else?
But here’s the story. I often said if only my mother was alive today, I’d say to her “Look, all this brainwashing that was being given to us, there’s the truth”.
Then we come now from there to the death certificates and all the history about him. This one here’s a gem. This was written in 1865 by his grandmother, John O’Keefe’s grandmother, Julia Walsh, and you saw Walsh up here, there’s relations there. And she wrote over to ask him how he was going. Fancy that. I got this off Allie McCauley. She got it all.
Here’s the death certificate and the land titles. Then when he died, there had to be an inquest because he was killed and it wasn’t a sudden slow process of dying. Like that, you have an inquest. I got it all. All the opinions, and I got the opinions of the passengers in the tram, and the conductor who described him. They said he was a pretty surly sort of a customer and he got off the tram at Clifton Hill because the tram came out from Melbourne to Clifton Hill. It stopped and then a different service opened up to Dundas Street. He got off the tram and tripped on the bluestone and fractured his skull on the bluestone. He was knocked out and they took him and sat him on the footpath. He recovered and he was the shire, everybody knew him.
They said to him “What’s your name?”, he said “Robin Hood”.
I’ve got it all here. Robin Hood. His wife said that “Look what the toughs did to me”.
When he died, she wouldn’t sleep with him that night, it’s all there, and then she went to see him in the morning and he was on the floor unconscious. She called in the police, he died a day later. And an inquest. So I got all that. She couldn’t read or write.
The penal laws where the English government said “Right, no Irish person is allowed to read or write”.
They used to have bush schools under the trees. She couldn’t read or write, that’s why. Most of them couldn’t read or write, that’s why. The rules from the penal laws.
There’s my parent’s marriage certificate. There’s my next job.
Tony Robinson. So there were two sisters who married two brothers. Two Robinson sisters married two O’Keefe brothers. One of them was my father’s father. The other one, the <Nangles> came in. Prominent Nangles, they named the squash courts the Monagle. But there’s one of the sisters Robinson. She married a Pat O’Keefe and the other sister was my grandmother and I’m often curious about this because the name Robinson came into here and I’ve got a feeling that Tony Robinson might be connected to that.
I’m going to find out, but I haven’t been in too much of a worry about it all. I paid money to get the names put in in the city, at the immigration so and so. Here’s books, here’s another. This is Costigan, the woman Costigan, she did all this.
Here’s a map taken in 1933 of Preston. Here’s David Street here, comes down to here, it finishes in O’Keefe Street and that’s where my father built the house in 1928. So from that house down to the Darebin Creek in that block, there’s six houses. There it is. I knew them all. Bolgers, Walsh’s had the farm over the road, you saw the name Walsh, there’s the truck we used to get our milk from. I used to do it when I was about three, four, five years old, and they had all that land through to Murray Road. Had about 40 cows.
Q So it was quite built up and then it just went farmland.
A They took all the houses away, squashed them from Collingwood, all the slum houses. The residents rought them out to Preston. The Housing Commission built all those houses there.
Here’s another photo here in 1918 of Preston.
Here’s the tanneries where the Preston Market is now.
There’s the Council Club Hotel which used to be there, now it’s over here.
Zwar, he used to live up in Gower Street, that was his place. Pulled that down, the pub’s there now. That’s been pulled down and they’ve shifted the pub over to there.
That was Braithwaites or Broadhurst, I don’t know which. They built the bridge over High Street, Northcote over the Merri Creek, and before that, Preston Northcote was very much underdeveloped, because they couldn’t get across the creek.
There was a bridge there and it was pretty rickety. They couldn’t get across the creek. So they built the bridge over High Street in Northcote and the newspaper articles used to condemn them because it was bigger than the Princess Bridge at the time.
But they put a stone there [my Great Grandad’s father’s name is on the stone – John O’Keefe] and when they put the double-decker buses there, they pulled the stone down and never put it back. My auntie came to see my father and said “They pulled the stone down, what are you going to do about it?” but the only way he survived in the depression was to put his head down and never look anybody in the eye.
He said “If you look your boss in the eye, you’re out mate. Don’t look at me like that”.
He knew that and he had eight kids to feed. So he couldn’t do anything.
Forty years later, after I came down from Bendigo and after I’d restored the radio, I got the bug. I wonder about that stone, I’ll see what I can do.
I went to the Northcote Council and I said “Look is there a stone?”, “Yes there’s a stone inside here”. It was the stone, broken in two pieces. I went to see my father in the lounge. “I found the stone”, “Oh” he says.
I said “But how am I going to get it back?” Well I got it back and it’s there now.
And they wrote the article on it, I’ve got the article on it. Trouble with me is, once I start talking I don’t stop.
This was in the Northcote Leader about three or four months ago. So Tony Robinson is up in, where did I see him, Bundoora Homestead, he was Minister for Veteran Affairs or something, involved with them at the time and he’d be up and down to Canberra.
I said to him “Did you see the radio gear I restored up there?”; the one in the Lancaster.
“What did you do it for?” he says. I glared at him, and he glared back. I never heard anymore.
But I think he had something to do with this, because they rang me before Anzac Day, they said “We’re writing an article”.
Well I’ve kept my old helmet and old oxygen mask, and they took a photo and put it on the front and then they did that article.
Oh, this button. I’ve got it at home. If we were shot down, we were worth a lot of money to them. They used to say to us “It took them two years to train us but if you do three operations over Germany, you’ve paid them back, the amount of damage that you do”. Well, we were worth money to them.
A Lancaster was worth about, on today’s figures, oh say for argument 20 million dollars.
Well the crew is worth ten million and the aircraft is worth the other ten million.
Escape aids, little compasses inside, your studs, I used to go to the Heidleberg Town Hall and dancing around there with these in, I kept them, sticking into my neck. I knew what it was. But the other thing they did, built a compass inside a button. Pull the button off and untie it, now you’ve got a compass there. I’ve got it at home. And then the Jerrie’s woke up. So then the next time they screwed it anti-clockwise. There it is. You might have seen this, I don’t know.
Six months before the war finished, the Dutch went on strike on the railways. So the Jerries said “Right, if you go on strike, you don’t get any food”.
Queen Wilhelmina in London encouraged them to go on strike. I heard that. Six months, 13000 died of starvation.
So then before the war finished the poms, the Americans and the Germans came to an agreement that if you dropped food on them 11000 tonnes of food was dropped.
I’ve got the book at home, the Dutch wrote it. 11000 tonnes of food, we’d carry about 2.5 tonnes in the bomb bay rifles. I went over there three times, Rotterdam to 45:04. But the Gerrie’s didn’t shoot flak at us, but the riles, they shot the rifles at us, got back with a few bullet holes in.
But I was under a homestead there, there was a woman there, I thought she was polish.
I said “Jean Dowbray, what’s that, you’re polish?” she said “No, I’m Dutch”.
I said to her “Did you get any of that food that was dropped?”.
“Aahh!”, she says. And there it is. Three times we dropped it.
It was easy, I looked up my flying log the other day, three hours it took to get there and back, but they thought we were wonderful, and she thinks I’m wonderful.
Well now, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ll show you a few photos.
So that’s the crew I’ve talked about. The true story of bomber commands never come out.
It was Churchill who said in one of his speeches to the English masses that you can never repay the debt you owe to the Canadians, Australians and New Zealander’s that flew in bomber command, because we didn’t have to. I’ve shown you that.
Now if you started with 30 tour ops, at the end of the war they weren’t shooting down that many, but if you look at that, at the end of 30 ops about that many would be left. A third would be left, two-thirds would have been killed. And you didn’t have to, you could refuse.
That’s why I was so lucky to have a childhood like I did, sleeping four to a bed, that after all if you’re searching for any peace in your life, some people haven’t got it, they’ll never have it.
And I look at some of these faces of some of these people walking around Australia today, young ones, and there’s no hope for them. You know what I’m saying, there’s no hope for them.
There we are, that was on the squadron. That was the first aircraft used by Qantas after the Lancastrian. But they could only carry about 12 people, but it was the only safe aircraft they could find. Wrote a book on it. Now here you are. Now there’d be a squadron there, and they were all killed, all killed, all killed. And you didn’t have to do it. They’re were all killed.
I was up in Bendigo in this newsagency, and in The Age there’d be a notice there put to Trevor Clark. His name’s in there, so I found out where it came from Benalla.
So I wrote to him and I told him “Your son was on 460 squadron”.
He wrote back and said to me “That’s the first thing I’ve had since I got the telegram to say he was killed”.
So I kept in touch with him. I sent him this book. He sent it back to me. Then I sent it back to him and I said “No, you keep it”.
A family of solicitors in Benalla, I didn’t know, but here’s his letter and he called into the shop one day and said “Mr O’Keefe, I just wanted to come and thank you for being so kind to me”. The destruction of Dresden. Why am I dropping that in? The truth has never come out.
I was a newsagent, kept all the newspaper articles. What happened? When the war finished they called for volunteers to go out to Okinawa and bomb Japan from Okinawa.
My crew volunteered, I did, but got an Australia bombaimerr over who was on Dresden.
He said “I dropped bombs on Dresden”.
He told us this, that when they pulled the shee off the map, there’s Dresden, he said the squadron refused to fly.
They said it was an undefended target, it had no military importance and they knew it had no military importance. Of course, all the fighting was up north. So then they were told the real reason and this was only hinted at in Southdown press used to make the New Idea, TV Week, Truth in their parade magazine, they only hinted at it, and the words were that they had to show their friends and enemies alike what bomber command could do.
Well, who are the friends, who are the enemies? The Jerries didn’t have to be told because their country was flattened. But the reason was this. And they were told at briefing, and that’s what Jesse James told us.
He said “When we refused to fly, 140 air crew, they said that in the Yalta conference when Europe was divided, Russia, America, England, they knew that Russia wouldn’t stick to it and Russia never had a bomber command. Russia would have copped it from bomber command if she hadn’t played ball and that was why they had to show Russia what will happen to her if she doesn’t stick to the agreement in the Yalta conference.
So then they bombed Dresden. That’s what he told us and that’s what they were told at briefing. Books on the strategic of air affairs.
Got all the books, got a whole row of books, to look for the truth of the whole thing. The scourage of the swastika. In the battle for Stalingrad, you had a million men fighting a million men, and you know what happened to Napoleon. But in their flak batteries, to try and shoot down those 600, there were a million men and they were there all the time.
I have often said to people, “When we know that it was bomber command that was their greatest lost battle, if you just think a bit further, bomber command was the biggest factor in stopping the concentration camps”.
Don Charlwood comes from around this area. He’s written a number of books. I’ve met him. This one was a good book. He lived over at Eltham. I think his wife died.
He used to fly in an English squadron. “The Eighth Passenger”, well the aircraft carry seven, pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, engineer, wireless operator, mid upper gunner, tail gunner, seven, but the eighth passenger.
He was on Lancs, and he’s a solicitor and he wrote that book, “The Eighth Passenger”.
Fear, that was the eighth passenger, fear.
There it is. What else have I got here? I don’t think there’s anything else. That’s all.
Now I have been thinking about this all this morning and last night.
Why do I want to get involved here? I’m too shy to get away from all of that and you hear me talking, you can’t stop talking. That happened 50 years ago.
How lucky I was to be one of eight kids in the depression, where if you did something wrong, I told the Priest down at the Presbyterian the other day, the new priest there.
I told him what I did when I was in the fourth grade. Forty or 50 kids. On the ledge of the blackboard, the nun, a beautiful woman she was, she was dedicated to teach these kids.
I’d be about eight years old. She’d left eight shillings on the ledge of the blackboard, which would be worth $80.00 now. I’m watching it. I’m going to get that money. Playtime came along. I went out, grabbed it, put it in my pocket, looked around, no one saw me, took it home and gave it to my mother.
The next day she said “Now, there was some money left on that ledge, the person who took it I want them to own up”.
You couldn’t shift me. It went on for three days and she’d lost the class. She started to blame Murray Hallwood that lived on the corner of 54:20 Street now, and Gower Street.
“No, I didn’t take it”. I went out and told her I’d took it. I told the priest down here the other day. She thought I was a saint from then on.
So you see I can’t describe my childhood except to say how lucky I was to have a childhood which is a complete contrast to what they’ve got today, where the wife’s working to get her new car.
The kids, I look at some of my grandchildren sometimes, out like this. Nothing I can do. And I hear of other women. We had nothing like that.
Once you get over to England, we went through Durban, South Africa about 300 poms got on. They knew we were all virgins. Nineteen years old. Purists. They thought it was funny.
They said “You won’t stay long like that over there”.
Well you get over there and what a bunch of harlots they were. They were right, but I kept away from them.
I’ll tell you this story, it’s funny. So my rotary hose-line at home packed up, I had to get a new part.
So I got over to Hills Factory, and the woman on the counter, a pom, “Yes?”.
I thought, I’ll get you. So I told her what I wanted. Like she owned the whole show, you see, they’re like that.
It goes back, it’s not their fault, it’s the way they’ve been brought up.
I said to her “What part of England do you come from?”
I said “Do you know that Leeds was out of bounds to all troops during the war?”
I said “Because the rate of venereal disease was so high”. That fixed her.
The Australian girl behind laughed her head off. That fixed her.
You asked me to come in today and talk. Right, I did. But you can see it’s obvious that what happened 50 years ago, you can’t get rid of it.
My pilot died, I’ll tell you a funny story. Sir Hughie Edwards, governor of Western Australia. I’d never met him except down here.
He was the guest speaker and I’m looking at him and I walked over and he’s looking at me.
They say you never forget a face. I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me and I walked over behind him, “Hughie Edwards aye? I’ve got a book at home written about you.”
I go up to Sydney about 30 years later, I walked in there with the squadron, with my pilot.
“I know that man”, he says. I’d never spoken to him.
I had to go over and speak o him.
After a few minutes my old pilot came up, I said “This is my old pilot Bob Turnbull.
He used to look after us like an old chook”, because it was the pilot’s responsibility to look after his crew.
Oh, Hughie Edwards say chook, and I left them talking.
Well ten years later I went up there to see them in Sydney, as I was going he said Chook”, he says, “I like that”, he says, “Chook”.
Does that tell you anything now after I’ve been speaking?
Q It does.
A My loyalties are to Preston. I live in Box Hill. I’ve been there for 30 years.
I bought the house because my son, PhD now, did solar heating, the other one did nuclear physics in charge of the PET in Austin Hospital.
I bought the house because he was coming down from Bendigo and I thought I’ll have to get a roof over his head. So I went over and bought the house, paid cash for it and then he goes and lives in the halls of residence. So that’s how I got the house. I’ve been there now 30 years and it’s okay. I mind my own business. I’m friends with the neighbours, she’s a concert pianist this one, the one over, a nice little couple just expecting another baby.
A larrikan on this side, they’re gone now, on the marijuana.
It’s okay. I’m happy there. But I know nobody. That article in there…that’s…but Preston is where I’m close with. So that’s why you see me.
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