Rex Hamill was born in Kurow in 1934 and died in 2021.
Rex came to live in Mt Victoria with his parents in 1954. They bought the ten-room house he now lives in with plans to convert it into a two-flat property, living in one half of it themselves.
“Dad could just about do anything as a builder – from a farming background. And he wanted the investment to pay for the mortgage, which was pretty high in those days. But there were very few flats around. From memory, there were a lot of these outhouses and sleepouts, and that, but they weren’t properly self-contained with bathrooms and everything separate.”
In the sixties, young unmarried people started living together. “And Dad was horrified.” Even he was persuaded to change his attitude to accommodate tenants, though. “Mum talked him into this and they were one of the best tenants he ever had . . . Mum said, ‘Oh, she’s a beautiful girl.’ And she was an entertainer somewhere – not a strip joint – but she was a top singer. And Dad said ‘Oh, no, we can’t have that.’ But she got her way.”
His father was involved in the National Party for many years and sometimes raised money for the party at Clyde Quay School fair. “I’ve got a photo somewhere of Keith Holyoake and my eldest daughter, Kate, standing on a piano. We sold this piano and it was so hot we wheeled it to some house and the castors were sticking into the bitumen crossing the road, so we had to get all these rugby players – mates of Ken Comber – and we carried a vertical grand over the road by that crossing down at Elizabeth Street. I’ll never forget that – it was crazy.”
When Rex was young there weren’t many different ethnic groups in Mt Victoria, apart from Greeks. “The corner-dairy people . . . they were all white men in white coats, and wives or family. . . . It changed quite dramatically. I would say in the seventies . . . Because it was an ageing population . . . and the off-spring of the previous shopkeepers weren’t interested.”
Like others, he remembers many shops in Pirie and Austin Street. How did they all make a living? “Well, they delivered. Boys in there, after school, delivered on bicycles.”
Rex has also owned a number of rental properties in Mt Victoria over the years. In the early years, “I filled it up with some really rough-type Aussies – shearers – and they were good. They had the money and they paid, and they were there for quite a while; a few years. However it was just old scrim on the wallpaper. None of this lining business. I put a drain in myself, and I had a stainless-steel staple gun – went round and pulled all the scrim back in with a bit of tape. That’s the way it was. Draughty as whatever. But I didn’t worry and they didn’t worry. . . . Yes, it was all boards. Twelve-inch, heart – beautiful timber, beautiful timber. But no gib lining.”
The mongrel mob used to live near one of his rental properties in Elizabeth Street. “This was under Muldoon. They must have terrorized a few neighbours, but they rented it. And Muldoon, CR1, was quite often seen – and he’d shoot out there; a little man – and he’d rush over the road and chat to them and then rush back out again while the chauffeur was waiting.”
“I have a thing about all the cars in this suburb. There’s no communication with a car. It’s a piece of metal charging along. It has caused lots of problems in this suburb – the motor car. Huge problems. The parking, the speed at which they go; the fact that it’s not policed. You always used to see police cars – the old grey Holdens – in this suburb, cruising round. And before that there was the bobby. Before girls were police, there was always two bobbies walking up Majoribanks, along Austin and just doing a circuit, quietly. And that was good. It was part of maintaining a standard; a deterrent. You never see that.”
I feel that the cars – and allowing all these cars into these Victorian-designed streets – is really ridiculous, because it creates problems on the residential structure. . . . . So many people today, they buy a property here because it’s close to town and yet they drive off to town in the flipping cars.”
Historic photographs courtesy of Rex Hamill.