A STORY OF THE EXTENDED FAMILY OF MARY HOLIAN (NEE DOWNES)
This story came about as a result of finding an old photograph of a young woman with an airforce badge on her lapel. On the back was written To Auntie Rose with love from Mary Beavis 24 August 1949. The photograph was amongst the collection of family photos belonging to my first cousin Kay McLachlan who I had just met for the first time. KayÕs mother Kath was my motherÕs younger sister. Auntie Rose was their mother. I wondered how this Mary Beavis knew our grandmother and whether she knew my mother.
I had heard of Kevin Beavis so I gave him a call. He was familiar with the photo of his sister and said the airforce wings were his elder brother MichaelÕs and had never been returned, much to MichaelÕs annoyance. Yes, Mary Dorning was well known to the Beavis family and he would be pleased to meet me. It started as a quest to learn what I could about the early life of my mother Mary Dorning, but I was soon to learn much more.
Although separate interviews were conducted with Michael (b. 1921) and Kevin (b. 1931) Beavis it seems better to tell their story as a combined one with the occasional Michael said this and Kevin said that. Both have excellent memories, but with a ten year age difference, different things stand out in their memories and also they were in different places at different times. Michael and Kevin have early memories of my mother Mary Dorning through to beyond WWII.
Michael and Kevin are sons of Mary Beavis (nee Holian). Mary was the second daughter of my great grandparents Mick and Mary Holian (see family photo below). My grandfather Patrick was the oldest child (1878 - 1919). A major thing I have learnt from Michael and Kevin is that my grandfatherÕs family was a strong extended family who were in regular contact. As is common it seems the women played a central role in this regard. My grandfather had three sisters: Anne Evans (1885 - 1937), Mary Beavis (1887 – 1858) and Florence Thompson (1893 - 1969). My grandfather died at an early age at the beginning of 1919 from the Spanish Flu epidemic when my mother was six and a half. As will become apparent, PatrickÕs widow Rose and her young family became/remained part of his extended family.
Before embarking on our story we should point out there are three Marys in the story: Mary Holian (1858 - 1942), Mary Beavis and Mary Dorning (1912 - 2007). Mary Holian was the mother of Mary Beavis and grandma to Mary Dorning, Michael and Kevin. However, Mary Beavis (the mother of the Mary in the photo above) was known to everyone as Molly. To avoid confusion we will refer to Mary Beavis as Molly, grandma as Mary H, or grandma, and Mary Dorning as Mary D.
Before my grandfather died in 1919, he and Rose and their kids lived in the St James/Devenish area. Molly lived in Devenish until she married in 1920. She would have known her sister-in-law Rose and her young nephews and nieces and would have participated in bereavement activities on her brotherÕs early death. He died in February 1919 in South Melbourne where he may have been taken for treatment and quarantine. After PatrickÕs death Rose relocated her four children to Richmond where she could find a job, earn a living and raise her kids.
The Beavis story, and that of the extended family, is told in detail because it reveals so much about Mary DÕs adolescent and later life. It provides glimpses of MaryÕs early engagement with her extended family allowing development of an understanding that this relationship existed. It also provides a glimpse into MaryÕs religious thinking in her middle to late teens.
MollyÕs future husband Jack Beavis (1888 – 1970, real name Walter John) grew up at Heywood in the far South West of Victoria, but he came to the North East before WWI and joined a blacksmithÕs shop at Thoona. There he struck up a friendship with Vince Holian Snr through whom he met VinceÕs sister Molly. When WWI started Jack and two brothers enlisted and served in France. Happily all three returned from the war. On his return, Molly and Jack resumed their friendship and married in Benalla in 1920. Jack had arranged a job close to where he came from as resident-blacksmith on Murndal Pastoral Station, west of Hamilton. After being married the couple travelled to Murndal where they lived for eight years. Michael was born at Murndal in 1921.
Murndal Homestead (photo from Historic Homes Of Australia)
In 1837/8 squatters came from Van Diemans Land to this remote corner of Victoria. Murndal Pastoral Run was taken up by the Winter family. Murndal Station was 14,000 acres! The homestead underwent a series of additions from the early days with the largest final addition in 1906. It is this building Michael would have known as the Murndal homestead. Life of the English nobility was emulated. The grounds were impeccably groomed. Peacocks roamed the gardens. There were foxhunts and the hounds, pheasants to shoot and horse racing on the Murndal course. The Historic Homes Of Australia (1969) says Murndal once employed over twenty men, but they donÕt distinguish between the homestead and the run. Michael says there were 44 employed at Murndal when his father was there. Either way it was a sizeable workforce. However, there would have been considerable technological change before, and after, WWI meaning less staff were required. Shepherds had been replaced with fences. Jack was made redundant at the end of 1928.
Rose must have kept in touch with her sisters-in-law because Mary D visited Murndal for 6 – 8 weeks when Nancy was born (November 24, 1928) and when the Beavis family were leaving Murndal and moving to Branxholme, a town a little to the west. Michael said Mary DÕs older brother Bonnie had visited Murndal earlier, but when is uncertain. Grandma Holian visited Branxholme in 1931 for six weeks for KevinÕs birth on August 20, 1931.
Mary D was sixteen years of age when she visited Murndal. In those days teenage girls werenÕt allowed to travel around by themselves. It would have been a well organised trip planned in advance by Rose and Molly. Mary would have been taken to Spencer Street Station and met at the other end at Branxholme. It would have been an important experience for the young Mary.
Jack finished up at Murndal at the end of the 1928. Jack and Molly moved to Branxholme where they lived until the end of 1932. Jack leased a blacksmiths shop in Branxholme, but the Depression hit in 1931. Early in the Depression life was hard. There was demand for JackÕs blacksmithing skills, but people didnÕt have the cash to pay. A barter economy developed to a certain extent. In 1932 the family decided to move to Annuello (south of Robinvale) where MollyÕs brother, who had a job with the railways at Ouyen (west of Annuello), told them there was a need of a blacksmith. When Kevin was fourteen months old, the family travelled in their horse and buggy from Branxholme to Annuello where Jack opened a blacksmithÕs shop. It took them about two weeks to make the trip. JackÕs blacksmithÕs tools had been sent ahead by train.
Life was tough at Annuello during the Depression years. Jack joined the army in 1940 at the beginning of WWII. He lowered his age by twelve years to forty to be eligible. Jack was assigned to Home Defence and served in various capacities and locations in Victoria – Seymour, East Oakleigh, Dhurringile POW Camp and the Royal Australian Engineers, Broadmeadows.
Kevin Beavis has a strong recollection of Mary D, but it is from memory of what his mother Molly told him. Mary D was 19 years older than Kevin. Michael said his mother Molly was a good letter writer. She and Mary D corresponded often. Kevin said Molly had a high regard for Mary D. Molly spoke about Mary a lot. She said Mary D was very intelligent and was interested in religious questions. She said Mary D often asked the priests direct questions which they didnÕt answer to her satisfaction. In her eulogy at our motherÕs funeral, my elder sister Judith said MaryÕs aim in life was to train to become a Nun in the Catholic Church. This would have been around the time Mary went to Murndal/Branxholme in 1928. In the 6 - 8 weeks she was there it is likely she and Molly discussed her thoughts about religion. Therefore it is possible Molly learnt of MaryÕs early doubts firsthand.
Michael Holian Snr had died in 1914 aged 64. In 1925 a Holian foothold was established in Northcote at 155 Beavers Road where Mary H purchased a new house and lived with her youngest children Florrie, Billy (1896 - 1960) and Freddy (1901 - 1934). In 1927 the Beavis family came from Murndal to Melbourne for the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. They stayed at Beavers Road where the young Michael peered over the back fence and saw some aeroplanes performing. Not much has changed (I do the same).
Rose would have been in touch with her mother-in-law when she moved into Beavers Road, Northcote, which is not far from Richmond where Rose was living. Mary D soon struck up a close friendship with her Auntie Florrie.
Kevin said Mary D visited Auntie Florrie regularly (and may have lived with her). Mary and Florrie married within two years of each other despite Florrie being nineteen years older than Mary – Florrie in 1934 and Mary in 1936. Mary married Bob Dorning who had a small business making tents, tarpaulins and other canvas goods. After marrying it is likely Mary visited Florrie less often as she settled into her new life. My sister Judith was born within eighteen months (Florrie didnÕt have any children). Kevin said Florrie was very popular with her extended family and became a rallying figure within the family and her home became a popular gathering point. Christmas evening at Caroline Street became a popular annual family event with large numbers coming together over a number of years. Mary and Bob came also.
Florrie had a job as a barmaid at the United Kingdom Hotel on the corner of QueenÕs Parade and Heidelberg Road, Clifton Hill and where she met her husband Archie who was a regular. I have a recollection of my mother Mary D telling me latish in her life that she had served beer at the United Kingdom, but at the time I discounted what she said because all my life she and my father were strongly opposed to alcohol consumption. Now I can understand how Florrie may have got Mary some casual work at the pub when she was a young woman.
Florrie married Archie Thomson (1890 - 1958) in 1934 and moved into 1 Caroline Street, Clifton Hill. The house was owned by ArchieÕs dad who still lived there. Archie worked as a maintenance carpenter at the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital and walked to and from work each day. At some stage grandma moved into Caroline Street and remained there until she died in 1942. In her will she left the Beavers Road properly equally to her children Billy and Florrie, but Florrie gave her share to Billy.
The title on the building in the background is Sheep Pavillion. Each year Mollie and Florrie went to the Royal Melbourne Show on a free pass provided by Billy Holian who was on the Brown and Dureau Stand.
Molly and the kids remained at Annuello until 1946. Jack would come home on leave each 6 – 8 weeks. It seems unlikely Molly visited Melbourne when she was at Annuello until around 1938, when the Government began issuing free train tickets for returned soldiersÕ families to come to Melbourne for Anzac Day. Before the free tickets MollyÕs contact with her wider family would have been constrained by her geographical isolation and limited to letters (Michael says a train ticket cost £2/6/9).
On his first visit to Melbourne in 1938/9, Kevin met his grandma for the first time at FlorrieÕs at Caroline Street. The family made use of the free train tickets to come to Melbourne on subsequent Anzac Days. The Beavis family moved from Annuello in 1946 and moved into Albert Park. After 2 - 3 years the family moved to nearby South Yarra. In an adjoining street lived a young French woman, Monique Mondon, from the Seychelle Islands. Kevin and Monique went to the same church and got to know each other. Kevin and Monique married in June 30, 1956. Jack remained in the Army until he retired working at the Royal Australian Engineers Depot at Broadmeadows, travelling to work each day by train.
In the early to mid 1930s Billy Holian worked for Brown and Dureau as a saleman/demonstrator of farm machinery. At a demonstration of ploughing equipment he hit the removable tip of a plough with a hammer and it flew off into his eye which he lost. In hospital there was a nurse Ivy Craven with the outcome being they married in 1937. Apart from finding a wife, the result of Billy losing his eye, according to Holian folklore, is it meant he had a job for life. In those days some employers were loyal to their employees. It is said to have helped Vince Snr in 1942 to get the managerÕs job of the flax farm on Donnybrook Road, Kalkallo, which was also owned by Brown and Dureau.
Kevin visited the flax farm often. Vince SnrÕs son Laurie had got a job in Melbourne with the PMG and was taken in by the Beavis family. Laurie would go home every second weekend and Kevin would often go with him. Uncle Vin became his favourite uncle. Laurie and Kevin would catch the Albury train to Donnybrook station where they would be picked up at the station in the farmÕs jeep/small troop carrier and later the Dodge Ute. This would have been how Rose and Mary would have got there in 1945.
Punt Road and its extension Hoddle Street was a short walk from MollyÕs home in South Yarra and FlorrieÕs in Clifton Hill. The road provided a convenient public transport corridor for the two sisters. It became a custom for the two to meet each week for lunch, going to each otherÕs home on alternate weeks by bus.
Michael joined the airforce in February 1942. He came down from Annuello and spent the weekend at Bob and Mary DorningÕs new home at 21 Wallis Avenue, East Ivanhoe. On the Monday morning Bob drove him into Russell Street in the city to No. 1 RAAF Recruiting Depot where he was issued with his uniform. Michael canÕt remember the make of the car, but recalls it was a sedan and was a nice car and a recent model (probably a 1939 Ford V8). Michael served as an airframe fitter in Deniliquin NSW, Darwin, Milne Bay New Guinea, Goodenough Island and Sale VIC. Towards the end Michael was being paid eleven shillings and sixpence a day. Later Michael worked at GAF at FishermenÕs Bend and became a supervisor.
Jack Beavis got to know Bob Dorning during the war and they became good friends. Jack admired Bob for his good works with the needy children around the Collingwood Free Breakfast Mission (CFBM). He would have met Bob through Mary. It was the end of the era when individuals and volunteer groups helped the poor and before it became a responsibility of government. Apparently Bob put on a Christmas lunch each year at the CFBM and Jack would come along to help. Around 1938 Bob had moved his manufacturing facilities to a shop at the top end of Swanston Street, at number 512 opposite the CUB brewery. Jack would visit the shop from time to time to say hello. Bob and Mary attended the wedding of Jack and MollyÕs daughter Nancy in 1957.
Michael was an executor of FlorrieÕs will. She died in 1969 and left £300 to Mary D. Michael telephoned Wallis Avenue and Bob answered the phone and was told of the generous bequest. When I told Kevin recently about MaryÕs sizeable inheritance he commented Gee, Florrie must have liked Mary. I got only £10! To which Monique laughed and said And you bought a motor mower with it!
Kevin was a successful salesman in the footware industry beginning as a youngster at Victoria Market from where he moved in 1952 to Brooms Shoes in Richmond, a large shoe shop which was the first to introduce self selection footware. In 1962 he went to the footware manufacturer Koala Shoes in Grange Road, Fairfield where he rose to Assistant Sales Manager. Six years later Michael joined the company as Purchasing Manager and remained there until he retired. Koala Shoes was close to Beavers Road and Caroline Street which Kevin and Michael visited regularly. Kevin went on to establish two successful shoe shops – the first at Highpoint Shopping Centre in 1975 and the second in Glen Waverly in 1978.
I hope this story has answered my original question – how did the young woman in the photograph know my grandmother Rose. The date on the back of the photo was 1949 which is around when the Beavis family moved from Albert Park to South Yarra. Both suburbs are not far from Richmond where Rose was living. I havenÕt found the direct connection, but Rose was MaryÕs motherÕs sister-in-law, so it would seem the photo and note were just a fond card from a niece to her auntie on a special occasion. They were part of the extended family who kept in touch. Before interviewing Kevin and Michael all this was unknown to me. Their stories have opened up a new view of my motherÕs early life.
Robert Dorning, August 24, 2014.
Postscript: Anne Evans was the third (oldest) daughter of Mick and Mary Holian. She hasnÕt appeared in this story as it is understood she and her children lived in St James until the mid-1950s.