Copyright Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd
- I'VE BEEN BLOODY LUCKY
JIMMY’S FIRST HOME: With the Aylward family in Northcote.
May 29, 1918. Aged 13 months.
“I WAS born at the Royal Women’s Hospital Melbourne on April 3, 1917, and handed over to the Child Welfare of Victoria. I was in the comfort of the government see. They put me in a house in Pascoe Vale where they used to send the babies and the nurse would teach em how to suck a dummy and drink from a bottle.
When I was 13 months old, I was taken by the Aylward family of Hopetoun St, Northcote, to fill the gap in the family left by Mick, her son who was killed in the First World War. I was a sort of replacement you see. One night Mrs Aylward’s two girls, Stasia and Ann, were coming home and a couple of neighbors pulled em up and said “If you don’t do something about your mother you’re not going to have her for very long.” Mrs Aylward pined so much over Michael’s death and the neighbors could see she was going down. They talked the two girls into talking the rest of the family into getting a little boy from the home. That’s how they got me.
Mrs Aylward was a widow. I don’t know when her husband died and never questioned it. I think he must have died in Ballarat. I only recently found out, from Betty, who was one of Mrs Aylward’s grandchildren, that Mrs Aylward’s maiden name was Mary Ann Walsh and she was born near Ballarat. Her husband was an Irish fellow named Michael Aylward. He and his sister Anastasia came out from Kilkenny. He went with their son Jack to Western Australia for gold mining, but he took ill over there they reckon. Mick was their first born, the one killed in the war. Then came Jack, he had no children. Then Katie, she died as a baby. Then Anastasia, who stayed single; William, who became a baker in Sydney; Ann, who married Tom Boyce; Thomas Edmund (Ted), who married Barbara; and then there was Frances (Frank) and Joseph.
Mrs Aylward was very good, very kind. She used to take me everywhere. She’d take me to church but I’d play up, interfere with people’s bags or prayers books and that, so I’d get a good talking to and sometimes a smack. Joe and Frank used to sing in the choir. They’d stand on the seats upstairs and I’d be crawling under the seats. But then they barred me from the choir for mucking round. We had to walk nearly three quarters of a mile up the hill along Separation Street to catch the tram, past the brickworks. It was a quarter of a mile further to St Joseph’s for church.
Right opposite us lived this old Italian chap who smoked a pipe. I think his son lived with him. I used to go to his place and he used to sit me on his knees and blow rings with his smoke and I’d poke the hole with me finger. We’d go for a walk down the street and he’d talk to different people. Then he’d say “You run on home now Jimmy.” One day I wasn’t allowed to go over and they told me he’d gone to heaven. The next day along came this big glass hearse with two black horses and the men in their top hats and all the people were hanging over their front gates and putting flowers on top of the hearse. I saw em carrying out the coffin and asked what was going on and they said “He’s going to heaven Jimmy.” I said “Why does he need the horses to take him to heaven?” I couldn’t work out how he was getting to heaven with the two black horses.
The brickworks was on the corner of High Street and ran down the road to our street. One day, this kid and I, I can’t remember his name, we were playing at the brickworks even though we shouldn’t have been there. The gates were crossed at the bottom diagonally, but we pulled em just enough to squeeze through. We walked bout 20 yards and there was another fence with cable tram wire on the top. We could just reach up to hold on to the cable and see all the chaps down below, loading up the trucks with clay, and all the horses and drays.
We were hanging on and we must have felt dizzy looking down into this big hole and all of a sudden this boy disappeared over the side. It must have been 100 feet deep or something. I went and told everyone in the street and his father came up. The boy had blood all on his head and everything. His Dad saw me and said “Go on, you get inside you” and took his kid home. I told everyone he got blood all over his head and they were all shocked. That’s the reason we shifted to Brunswick, and because Stasia and Anne had to go up the hill to get the cable tram into the city.
JIMMY’S SECOND HOME: Moving with the Aylward family to Brunswick.
March 1, 1922. Aged almost 5.
We moved into a new shop and house in Lygon St, Brunswick opposite the East Brunswick Club Hotel where Ann worked, which was on the corner of Lygon Street and Albert Street. Ann told her mother they were building these houses and Frank said he’d like to get a shop and do his boot mending, and that’s how we came to shift there.
Frank started his boot and shoe business and I thought it was great having trams passing the door. Ours was the third of 10 shops along Lygon Street from the corner of Albert St. As soon as the trams started off at Albert St, I’d run along the footpath and race em to the end of the shops. I’d try and beat the tram see. Some of the drivers would yell “Keep it going, keep it going” and the bell would ring “ding, ding, ding.” Some of em didn’t give a bugger you know. They were electric trams. The driver and the front and back sections were open and you’d go inside through a door and there were a couple of seats on either side of the aisle so you could sit in out of the weather.
I used to get many a smacked bum. Stasia was the worst at smacking me. I slept in a cot in Mrs Aylward’s room but I used to wet the bed. Stasia found out and her and her mother had a blue over it and Stasia started belting me. That upset Mrs Aylward and she told Stasia to leave me alone. One day Ted walked along the side of the house and pushed me window up and pulled me out the window, to save me getting another belting from Stasia. Stasia was a redhead like meself. Oh they used to have some arguments, she was a fiery one. I remember once I got in trouble cos I broke the mantle for the gas. Joe had to get a new one and boy did I cop it, cos mantles were expensive, bout a shilling each.
SCHOOL AT ST AMBROSE IN BRUNSWICK
The next thing I was starting school at St Ambrose in Sydney Road, Brunswick. It was great to play with kids my age. I was in the Bubs, then up to Grade One. On the first day playtime came and I ate me dinner. So when lunchtime came I put me bag on and went home. I came in the back door and Mrs Aylward was there having her lunch with Barbara, who was Ted’s wife, and Stasia and Ann. Ann said “What are you doing home Jimmy?” And I said “I’ve come for me meat and potatoes.” Ann said “We gave you your lunch.” I told em I ate it at playtime so they cut me a quick sausage and Ann took me back to school. I’d got confused cos they’d only given me sandwiches. Ann explained to the teacher what had happened and the nuns went crook at me too. The next day they said “Now you’re only going out for playtime Jimmy, so don’t eat your dinner.” Lunch was sandwiches with butter and jam, and maybe a bit of cake. They used to have musical nights at different places or they’d play cards and I’d get the leftover cake.
On weekends we used to go on a lot of picnics, to Warrandyte and down to the beach at Port Melbourne where we’d watch the ships going out. It used to run to Portarlington across the bay. We’d leave early on a Saturday or Sunday morning although Mrs Aylward didn’t like missing mass. Then Mrs Aylward got sick and went to live with Ann, who was with her husband Tom Boyce at Tom’s mother’s house in Brunswick. Ted had already moved out to his new home in Preston with Barbara. He worked on the trams.
JIMMY’S THIRD HOME: With Stasia Aylward and Fr John Cain in Portland.
Stasia used to look after Catholic priests; cook and clean for em. I stayed with her and Fr John Cain in Portland for four or five months. We lived near the train station and when I heard the train starting off I’d go out on the front verandah, break a little bow off the tree and wave it at the engine driver as the train went pass and he’d go ‘toot, toot’.
Nearly every morning I went swimming at the beach with the nuns who lived in the convent next to the school. The beach was just across the railway line. The nuns would go into their dressing box at the beach and send me into another box. After our swim I’d take off me swimmers and put on a pair of pants and me little dressing gown, and they’d change out of their wet togs into their dressing gowns. I was only allowed to go with em cos I belonged to the presbytery.
Fr Cain was fond of me. Every afternoon we used to go down to the cellar and we’d have a small glass of lemonade each, while Stasia was up doing her housework. No beer. I used to knock around with him and we’d visit the school and go around the grades. The nuns would say “Good morning Father, Good morning Jimmy” and I’d answer back “Good morning Sister” in a shy way. Fr Cain would say “I’ve got me mate with me today.” I’d just stand alongside him and he’d talk to em and find out someone’s birthday or something he could give em credit for. The kids knew I was at the presbytery. Sometimes I’d see em down the street and they’d say hello to me. Once, Fr Cain gave me a shilling and I spent it all on pears cos I loved em. I ate about four before I got home and Stasia said “You shouldn’t have bought so many Jimmy,” but Fr Cain stood up for me.
Fr Cain took me with him visiting different places and they’d all be filling me up with cake. He used to take me hand whenever we went walking round. But one day I let his canaries out and oh, he didn’t like me after that. He had em on the end of the verandah in a cage, about eight or 10 there were. And I let em out, but he paid some bloke to get them back. He said to the schoolkids “We have a disgraced Jimmy today.” After that, he put a mark on the floor of the verandah and I wasn’t to go past that mark.