Charlie Saunders was delivering a load of linoleum to Streatham when the motor accident happened.
Now almost 89, Charlie vividly recalls the day the International lorry-van he and a workmate were driving for Tunbridges Window Furnishings toppled from the road in the early 1960s.
“I was going to work carpet-laying – that’s what I was doing at Tunbridges – me and this chap were driving this thing loaded with linoleum, going out to do the place at Streatham,” he recalls.
“We were going down a side-road, going in from Streatham down Mininera Road, and the road had only just been resurfaced; it was all just little brown stones, no bitumen there; and it was a very windy day, that day.”
One side of the road was lined with 80-feet high gumtrees, channelling the wind away from the truck until it reached the end of the row.
“I wasn’t driving, Noel Schultz was driving, and the wind caught us. Well… off the road. He was found in a heap of gravel, and I was found – I don’t know how long we were there, because we both went out the windowscreen – and eventually someone came along. We ended up in the Skipton Hospital and from there we were transferred to Ballarat Base.”
This was before the days of seatbelts. The van rolled end over end, twice, throwing the pair through the front glass, before folding into a crumpled heap down the roadside. The two men were found about 60 feet from the wrecked vehicle.
He still doesn’t comprehend how he wasn’t killed.
It took over 12 months for the newly-married Charlie Saunders to recover from his injuries. A broken back and neck, broken toes, coccyx and kneecap. To this day he suffers pain.
“I creak like a rusty gate,” he says.
He and his wife Barbara realised his days of physical work would be limited, so they decided to buy a general store – one that had existed for about 100 years on the intersection of Clayton and Joseph Streets in Canadian.
There are hundreds of these ‘tiny shops’ – stores, garages, butchers, sometimes small factories – attached to houses across Ballarat. They served in the past as a cheaper option to a ‘main street lease’ or a CBD purchase.
From the 19th Century up until the 1950s they were central to the life of cities and towns across Australia.
Vital as so few people had access to motor vehicles, the ability to walk nearby for the basic essentials was a daily need.
Some of them served as clothing and millinery stores for the widows of men killed in World War One, and the wives of those permanently incapacitated.
The earliest of these shops grew from the tent stores of the goldfields era, when proprietors would need to live with their goods to protect them.
As Ballarat moved from tents to timber and then to brick, the stores became more elaborate and more permanent, offering everything residents needed, from dairy to duck feed.
Charlie Saunders remembers selling stock feed, agricultural necessities and hay from one-half of the Joseph Street shop, and ‘everything else’ from the other.
“There’s been about five owners,” says Barbara Saunders. “Buntings had it when we bought it in the 1960s.”
“They used to make lollies here,” adds Charlie. “There was a little room with a big fireplace that went up through the middle. It was like a converted bathroom, but I pulled all that out because it was pretty dangerous; it had started to burn things in the roof. And the water used to run out under the house.”
For Barbara, whose maiden name was Cartledge, the area where they had bought was familiar territory.
“Oh there were Cartledges all through here,” she says.
Charlie adds that they had homes from the bottom of the hill in Canadian all through to Buninyong.
“Oh they were well known around here,” says Charlie. “There’s still plenty of them around here. They're like rabbits.”
Barbara laughs loudly.
“We met at the Myers Mill dance. We always went to dances. Then Charlie went to Red Cliffs and lived with his sister for years, and he used to come down for holidays and see if anybody had claimed me. Nobody wanted me, so he took me on.”
Barbara laughingly calls Charlie a cradle-snatcher, because of the six-year age gap between them.
“I suppose I was 16 or 17 when we started going out,” she says.
Charlie Saunders is a product of the Ballarat Orphanage. His mother died giving birth to his youngest brother, and his father couldn’t afford to work and keep all the children. He went to the home when he was five, and later to the Ballarat Orphanage Boys' Hostel at 28 Victoria Street to be apprenticed out.
“There were six of us,” Charlie Saunders says quietly.
“Lorna, Frida, Dorothy, myself, Joyce and John.
“We were one of the biggest families to go into the orphanage. Five of us went in and John was brought up by Fiskens out at Yendon, they brought him up.”
He is matter-of-fact about the situation. His father, he says, came to to see them at the Orphanage when he could, but there was work to pursue – at the railways, wherever he could find a job. Charlie was sent out to work at 14.
After they married the Saunders had a new house built in Lal Lal street, but Charlie’s accident put paid to those dreams.
They bought the Joseph Street store hoping for a less-physically exhausting existence. But the rise of the new ‘super-markets’ in the 1960s soon made them realise the days of the small grocers were done. They couldn’t compete with the mass buyers – and the carparks.
“It just didn't work out with the supermarkets,” says Barbara. “And we needed new refrigeration, we couldn’t justify that cost.”
Charlie went back to carpet-laying for Macy’s in the Bridge Mall. But they decided to stay with the home they bought.
“We’ve stuck by it,” says Dorothy. “The kids are onto us now, ‘you're too old’, but the garden...”
Barbara and Charlie are very proud of their garden.
“It’s best when all the roses come out,” says Charlie Saunders. “There’s just on 100 roses around the garden.” They grow fruit and vegetables and have created a succulent and orchid house.
They have three children, Wayne, Julie and Mark. Mark lives with Barbara and Charlie. He’s 58, and autistic. Life with Mark is not easy. Barbara has been unwell in hospital, and Mark found the separation from his mother difficult. Assaulted by men in the past, he finds the companionship and conversation of women more manageable, and is understandably wary of strangers.
Between caring for their son and the upkeep of their home, Barbara and Charlie realise they can’t stay in their former shop forever. They’ve been approached by a neighbour for the first option on their home if they decide to sell.
There’s a vacant acre-block behind the Saunders’s property and the Joseph Street shop is the key to accessing it for development.
“It’s stared to fill up all around here,” says Charlie.
“I used to run my trotting horses on the land behind us, in the back there. And there another vacant bit of land between me and the corner, and he owns that and the acre, but he can’t build on it while this house is still here. If he gets this, he can open a road through to the back and he’ll be on clover.”
Another little part of Ballarat’s local history will disappear.