The Ballarat Heritage Weekend program
BALLARAT annually turns back the clock this weekend in May to celebrate our outstanding buildings and opulent cultural heritage. The best stories of Ballarat are those that can still be told today by the people who grew up here.
Born in Sebastopol on August 3, 1917, George Albert Prolongeau was the sixth child of John and Alice Prolongeau. His childhood memories of growing up in South Ballarat, despite being hard, were some of the best times of his life.
Now that I am 95 years of age, I feel qualified to write this brief note telling of the transformation, i.e. the changes and practices, which have taken place since I was a young boy.
I was born in my parent's small cottage in Sebastopol, Ballarat in March 1917, the 230th anniversary year of the French Revolution. My parents lovingly cared for me as best they were able. I started school at the age of four and a half years; I lived only forty yards from the school. It was the only school I ever attended.
I started working in the family goldmine before I turned fourteen years of age. This was in the depression years - a poverty not experienced in Australia today. Bread cost five pence per loaf, we grew our own vegetables, the grocer, in his horse and jinker, called in for the order and delivered the groceries the next day, the butcher came around in a box like cart pulled by his horse. Windfall apples were three pence and a meat pie four pence.
It was a time of wood fires and kerosene lamps. Saturday night was bath night in a tub on the kitchen floor. I had my first ride in a motor car when I was nine years old. Petrol cost one shilling and sixpence per gallon and you could by two four gallon tins of the colourless fuel that came packed in a box.
I was also lucky enough to be a passenger on a train to Buninyong from Ballarat, which only a few people can say as it closed to passengers in 1930. It was known as the Bunny Hop Line.
I worked on an early morning milk delivery for five shillings per week, as well as helping to exercise greyhounds for two shillings and sixpence per week. My mother was grateful for the money.
I always had a flair for writing — essays and poetry.
I won the boys section of the Ferguson Annual Literacy competition two years running, receiving 12 shillings and sixpence each time — a positive financial windfall. The hold from the mine was worth four pounds, two shillings per ounce. Many families lived on thirty shillings per week. But, we managed. We had to.
Pardon me saying so, but those times are often referred to as ''the good old days''. We never locked our doors and to the best of my knowledge neither did any of our neighbours. About once a fortnight my father put lighted newspapers up the chimney to burn the soot out with flames reaching out the chimney top. The neighbours were accustomed to it.
Janet Dale's grandchildren are the fifth generation of her family to grow up in Ballarat. Born in her Inkerman Street family home in 1933, Janet's childhood was a blessed one filled with fun times alongside her brother, John and sister, Heather. Her freedom as a child was the key to many of her memories.
I am one of three children and was born in our family house which my mother, Jessie Scott, designed and built. I went to primary school at Pleasant St, and then followed onto the study at Queens Church of England Girls Grammar School (now known as ACU in Mair Street).
Remembering back to primary school, I can recall running home every day for a two-course hot lunch and then running back to school for the afternoon. My mother would spend every morning cooking on the wood stove.
On my eighth birthday, my mother asked children to bring donations for the Red Cross instead of a present. My childhood was during the depression and thinking of those less fortunate than us was the normal way of life for my family.
One of my fondest memories as a child was when my mother would prepare a picnic and after school we'd walk up to St Patrick's Point and enjoy a picnic together. We walked of course, because we didn't have a car back then.
In our spare time we'd go up to the Waller Estate. It was just clay pans back then and we would walk across there, find the frogs and play.
It always used to fascinate me because every time I went there was always this one shoe and I, as a child, wondered how someone could lose one shoe. Of course as a got older, I realised it was a tip for someone to dump their rubbish.
When I grew up, the whole of the Newington Estate was just paddocks. Queen Victoria is a very old street and I can remember houses being there, but other than that paddocks surrounded our house in Inkerman Street. My brother had a pony and I always rode it. I would ride up to Victoria Park, although we were always told not to go up to the park because of the mullock heap there and it wasn't a safe place for children. It's strange to think that I used to do that because, of course, you can't ride your horse up there anymore. But, we always used to play up there and we used to spend a lot of our time up there — we thought we were very brave. We had a lot of freedom as kids.
Something I'll always remember is when the Americans camped out in Victoria Park during the war. It was something like 10,000 American's in Ballarat and everyone had to billet out a soldier. At the time, my mother had a three-month old baby, and I was sick with yellow jaundice, now known as hepatitis, and the two American's came home drunk and walked through the glass doors so we had every high ranking officer in the house the next morning apologising. Amongst them was a child medical specialist who gave my mother Epsom salts which made me better. In an ironic way, we were lucky that it had happened.
I remember they used to drive up the street and throw coins out to the children. They were gorgeous; you can imagine having young 20-21 year old soldiers roaming around town. Many of our neighbours continued their friendships with the Americans for many years.
We used to love going up to the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and visiting the zoo as a family. It used to be where the Sound Shell is now. There were a lot of wallabies and kangaroos there and I think it was only a sixpence to enter.
The trams throughout Ballarat was something that was special about my childhood because people didn't have cars so other than walking or riding your horse, trams were what got you around in. It used to be a day out getting on the tram and going to the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and having sandwiches and a cup of tea with your family.
My aunt, as a special treat, would take us on the tram route up to Mount Clear, down to Sebastopol, Lydiard Street and around the lake. At the end we would end up at Mr Netherway's for a milkshake. Everybody of my generation would remember Mr Netherways in Sturt Street. We loved his milkshakes and it was an absolutely glorious interior — if we had it now, it would be an absolute crowd catcher.
The other thing we used to do is ride our bikes out to the Creswick Swimming Pool. Those distances weren't far in those days. It wasn't unusual for my mother to say, "Run down to your grandmother's in Windermere Street", or "Take this cake to your aunt's in Raglan Street". The other beaut thing I loved doing was going over to the swimming pool at Sovereign Hill. You could walk straight across cross country to get to it and I never thought anything of how far that walk was.
The horse and cart would bring the milk and bread around every morning and also got groceries delivered and they would often put them in the pantry for you.
The church life was a huge part of our lives. My parent's marriage was a mixed one — Anglican and Methodist. I was baptised in St Peter's church and then always went to the Uniting Church in Pleasant Street. On Sunday's we went to Christian endeavour at 10am, church at 11am, Sunday school at 2pm and church at 7pm. During the week, our lives centred around church. We used to play tennis and badminton through the church and I played in B-grade. Life was very much structured around church and I am an elder there still today.
When I got older, I remember going to Her Majesty’s to see
My father was a baker and it used to be very hard to get people to help out, so I would be taken out of school to help my mother deliver bread in the Haddon area. I used to have to carry a great big basket of bread and take it to each of the farmer's wives. I would have been 13-years-old at the time.
The other thing I did was work at Neider Weisel in Webster Street in the school holidays. I was a ward assistant. I lived there and we didn't think it was hard work at the time because I so badly wanted to be a nurse. When I was 14, I started work at Coles in Bridge Street on the stationery counter over the Christmas break. It was always busy because of all the Christmas cards that were being posted — everybody sent a Christmas card those days.
When I was in college, we rode our bikes everywhere and you'd have your hat and gloves on, your school books and hockey stick and time and time again I would go over the front of the handle bars from getting my skirt caught.
I was very sporty when I was younger and knew all the other students from the other schools because of sport. One of the lovely things I would love doing is playing hockey on a Saturday afternoon against the other schools and we'd have to walk through the rain to get to the other schools and then afterwards we'd go to Mrs Mitchell in Ripon Street. Her milkshakes were something to behold.
For York Street Church of Christ senior pastor Tim Clark, Ballarat is full of iconic places and memories which have continued to shape his life from childhood to now.
When it came time to remember back, his best childhood memories stemmed from the Sovereign Hill National School and Carols by Candlelight at the sound shell.
I remember in the early 1980’s, as a student of the Alfredton Primary School, being excited about missing a whole week of school as our class was going to spend a week at the Sovereign Hill Primary School. We all had to wear the 1850’s clothing, which for us boys included the dreaded knickerbockers.
One day while we were in class our classroom teacher gave a few of us boys a lolly which we thought at the time was fantastic until the trooper came into the class room. The Sovereign Hill teacher saw that we were chewing and told us boys off for eating in class. She then sent us outside with the trooper.
The trooper told us that in 1850’s we would all have received the cane for eating in class. He then told us to yell as if we were really being hit with the cane as he hit the school wall. I remember us all trying not to laugh as we were yelling while the trooper was hitting the school wall. The trooper then told us to put water on our eyes to make out we had been crying and told us not to tell the rest of the class about our little adventure.
I also remember as a family attending the Carols by Candlelight at the Sound Shell at Lake Wendouree. Every year we would get the picnic rug out and find a spot and enjoy a night of carolling. Frank Clark (who is a friend but not related) was the compere and he would lead the night of singing, guest artists and fun as we celebrated Christmas at the lake as a family. Fast forward a number of years and it is a privilege to be working with the churches in Ballarat to continue this tradition by presenting the Ballarat Churches Eureka Carols.
This is an exciting time of the year that creates many amazing memories as families gather together. After all these years Frank Clark still comperes the Eureka Carols and we are back at the North Gardens in 2012, near the Sound Shell at Lake Wendouree (weather permitting).
It is exciting to see that many of my childhood memories are now continuing with my family as we attend the Eureka Carols together and have a membership at Sovereign Hill, enabling our family to drop in whenever we want. Now our children are creating their own childhood memories of this great city.