Mosman Voices - oral histories online

Violet Peters (nee Philips)

Interviewed by Trish Levido on 12 September 2006
Subject: ,

Trish Levido. You are of particular interest to the library because you grew up in what we call the soldier settlement. What do you remember and what was the address?

Violet Peters. 15 Central Avenue Mosman, I was about two then.

Trish Levido. Was the house already built when your parents took you there?

Violet Peters. Yes and my father cemented all the paths.

Trish Levido. The paths leading down from the street?

Violet Peters. Yes, back and front, our house was in the middle of the block and there was a big frontage. We had a beautiful garden of flowers, orchids, dahlias and a vegetable garden down the front.

Trish Levido. That block of land went all the way from Central Avenue down to Bay St.

Violet Peters. The back entrance was in Central Avenue and the front was in Bay St. There was a lovely green weatherboard house in the middle which my husband maintained until he died.

Trish Levido. What can you tell me about living in Central Avenue?

Violet Peters. It was quite unique really – Beauty Point. Apart from the houses which had been built for us the whole place was bush at the front and everywhere.

Trish Levido. Was Bay St a road?

Violet Peters. No, we had a dirt track down the front of Bay St.

Trish Levido. And that dirt track came off Spit Road did it?

Violet Peters. No, we’re down the front in Bay St at the water. Up the back – there were practically no houses there in Central Avenue and Medusa St. Where the little school is in Medusa St there was no school, it was all bush as well. I used to spend my childhood running around in the bush in both those streets.

Trish Levido. OK, so we’ve got you growing up here, of your earliest memories how many people were living in the houses around you?

Violet Peters. Plenty of children; Avis up the top which is number 77 now. There was a mother and father living with a soldier and two boys and a girl – three children.

Trish Levido. He was an English soldier was he?

Violet Peters. Mr. Avis, yes, and then Mrs. Robins, she was a war widow but she remarried a man named Stevens. She already had five Robins’ children but then they had two girls so there were seven there.

Trish Levido. Then we come round into Central Avenue and we have the house of the Carruther’s.

Violet Peters. Well they had three children, John, Peter Keith and Margaret.

Trish Levido. And then we had a block of land and then we have the new brick house where there’s more land.

Violet Peters. There was Mrs. Scott up on the….

Trish Levido. …..we haven’t got to the weatherboard house yet, was there anybody living in the weatherboard house when you first lived in Bay St? Billy wouldn’t have been living there then.

Violet Peters. We were the first people living in those houses.

Trish Levido. So why would Billy have been living in the weatherboard house, he couldn’t have been when you first lived there because he was 10 years younger than you.

Violet Peters. They were always up there. What year did he tell you he went into the brick house where we are now?

Trish Levido. I can’t remember I haven’t got the sheets with me.

Violet Peters. They were all up in the weatherboard house.

Trish Levido. They started in the weatherboard house then, – right OK, that’s fine. And there were three children there?

Violet Peters. Yes.

Trish Levido. So there were lots and lots and lots of children.

Violet Peters. Oh lots of children and we used to play in the streets because there was no traffic, we had billy-carts and everything. The boys used to shove the girls around in billy-carts up and down the dirt roads.

Trish Levido. Did you all play on the tennis courts or weren’t they built then?

Violet Peters. Eventually, when the tennis court was built, yes, Mrs. Avis and myself, we played tennis down there. I must tell you that our houses, after they were built – I believe they were made of excellent weather board, whether it was pine or not, I don’t know but the man that bought my house said what wonderful timber was in our houses. The verandahs back and front were not enclosed, so our mother had ours enclosed back and front.

Trish Levido. Why did she have it enclosed?

Violet Peters. Well the beds on the front verandah which were useful in coming ages after I grew up and had my son. We had a bed on the back verandah eventually too. My grandfather used to sleep there and he died there.

Trish Levido. And lots of the houses would have done the same?

Violet Peters. All built the same.

Trish Levido. And they all enclosed their verandahs like your mother did?

Violet Peters. I think they improved them, yes.

Trish Levido. They were weatherboard houses were they Vi, or bricks?

Violet Peters. Oh yes, the green weatherboard.

Trish Levido. Can you describe the house when you walked into it?

Violet Peters. Facing the harbour we had the front verandah which my parents enclosed, then coming into the house we had a bedroom each side and a long hall right down the center; a fairly large lounge and dining room and then into a very big kitchen. We never took the chimney out of that house and it had a fuel stove which we never removed it was still there when I left. There was the back verandah off that and then my father had two rooms built on the back so my sister could come up from Adelaide because she was having a difficult marriage, so it finished up having about nine or ten rooms I suppose.

Trish Levido. In your early childhood you mentioned that your father was very strict. Can you expand on your parents’ marriage, was it a happy marriage?

Violet Peters. Not particularly, it wasn’t terribly happy; he had health problems because he lost his leg in the First World War in France.He had these moods and he could turn very moody at homes at times.

Trish Levido. Wasn’t he one of the Rats of Tobruk?

Violet Peters. No, that was my husband.

Trish Levido. Were you frightened of your father, or just nervous of him?

Violet Peters. I was very nervous of him. He was terribly strict but to give him is due, people would say that he was a good father. I can remember having to sit while he showed me how to read the time and do up my shoes. I was never allowed to go to bed until eight p.m., regardless of how tired I was. I was in dread of my father actually, but I used to lye down on the kitchen floor on the lino, or out on the back verandah and I was so tired I felt like going to sleep there, but he’d turn round from the kitchen table and he’d say, ‘you can go to bed now’. He was a bit cruel, so I had to go to bed then but I wasn’t allowed to go before.

Trish Levido. Have you any idea why?

Violet Peters. It was to do with his neurosis from the war. He was buried for a long time before they dug him out and put him on the stretcher to take him to the hospital with a broken leg, but they let him slip off the stretcher and it injured his leg beyond repair and he lost it. He had an artificial leg. Finally he was on a pretty good level, but he was difficult.

Violet Peters. Do you know that those people only paid 300 pounds for the land and the cottage?

Trish Levido. So that was land and cottage?

Violet Peters. Yes, it took her most of her life until she died to pay it off. That’s why she wanted us to go on living at home. After Harry went to the war I put all my stuff in storage – because my husband was wonderful at maintaining the home and my father even loved him. Harry painted that place and looked after it so my dad didn’t have to do it then.

Trish Levido. So that’s what went to paying back the house.

Violet Peters. The business after she paid the house off, I suppose.

Trish Levido. For how long was she paying off the house?

Violet Peters. It took her years and years. The way money was in those days you only had to pay such a little bit off, it took most of her life to pay off the 300 pounds. I remember distinctly when she told me she’d finished paying it off. I’ve got all those papers in that file.

Trish Levido. Tell me about the house, your mother was pleased to have the house? Were there a lot of houses around at that time?

Violet Peters. Only our weatherboards – about nine or ten; it was all bush everywhere. I heard there were Aboriginal drawings down on the waterfront on some of the rocks. I never saw any Aborigines but I heard them talking about them, that they had been there, maybe they moved out when we moved in. We probably scared them out.

Trish Levido. What did your father do after the war?

Violet Peters. He was a lift driver in the city, a manual type of lift, he could do that.

Trish Levido. He could pull the lift up and down do you remember where he was working?

Violet Peters. In one of the big stores in the city I can’t remember which one. It was in the middle of the city where are lot of the big shops were.

Trish Levido. And he continued to be a lift driver until he died, how old was he when he died?

Violet Peters. 63, and he worked right up to when he died. He had heart trouble and he died in the car at the wheel on Glebe Bridge somewhere. He was dead before a bus hit him and cut the car in half just about. I’ve got a picture of that too.

Trish Levido. Why is there such a discrepancy in the names, why is he called Wainwright Philips?

Violet Peters. The same as with my mother, there was a bible that my father’s mother gave to him when he went to the First World War. I think that’s the name his mother had put on the bible.

Trish Levido. Wainwright or Philips?

Violet Peters. James, Wainwright Percival Philips. My daughter-in-law has had all the trouble in the world in London trying to get through registrars. She thinks she’s got the right person but my mother’s got herself down as Florence Rosetta. In those days it wasn’t terrible important you could readily change your name. I think it’s because everything was so lax you know. From when we went to school we had to write our correct name. Both mum and dad seemed to have fiddled theirs a bit.

Trish Levido. Can you tell me anything about this plaque? What is your earliest memory of it?

Violet Peters. When I walked from the front verandah to the harbour, there were three or four stone steps going down to the front garden, it was placed by the side of the steps.

Trish Levido. Why was it there?

Violet Peters. I don’t know you’d have to ask the stonemason or the builder. It was attached to the house you see before the garden was put in.

Trish Levido. Because it says, ‘Private J.W. Philips’…..

Violet Peters. ….the plaques were on the foundations of the cottages.

Trish Levido. So every single house had one of these plaques.

Violet Peters. I think each one where there was a returned soldier. Huntington’s have got one in their home. They called their house ‘Perone’ and I think that’s the name on their stone. Don and Robin live there now, theirs is the only weatherboard still there, and they’ve put planting around it.

Trish Levido. Is theirs number 21 Bay St?

Violet Peters. I was 71 they must be 69.

Trish Levido. What’s their last name?

Violet Peters. Huntington’s were there. I knew they had a stone, but Don and Robin excavated and had rooms underneath for their two children, whether they still put the plaque on their wall I don’t know, but we were interested in asking where they were keeping the plaque and the young man who has since worked there, he said that certainly it is there. They put it down in the front they knocked down the wonderful (phone)….

Trish Levido. Were these special houses when they were built in any way, seeing they were built by the Voluntary Workers Association?

Violet Peters. They just loved all the soldiers, they had been to war and came back and they’ve done their bit and they were limbless.

Trish Levido. Do you know anything about anybody else in the houses, were they all limbless, or were they war widows?

Violet Peters. Two of the war widows remarried men here.

Trish Levido. Vi, we start off with number 77 Bay St which was Avis.

Violet Peters. He was a limbless soldier.

Trish Levido. That was him, his wife and children?

Violet Peters. Yes, his original wife with two boys, and a girl.

Trish Levido. Then we move to the next house along which was the (overtalk)….

Violet Peters. …..Mrs. Robins, she was a war widow, her husband was killed in the First World War, and she had five children. She married Mr. Stephens who was not a returned man at all and they had two children. Tibbett’s were in there for a short time, he was the brother of Mrs. Robins and somehow or other she got him that house, the family paid rent and they were gone again.

Trish Levido. Who was in the house after the Tibbett’s?

Violet Peters. Harry and Edna Thompson, they did away with the end of the house looking over the harbour and he had half bricked that, he was going to do the whole cottage. He was not a returned man. He served in the Air Force for a short time during the last war.

Trish Levido. So your father was a limbless soldier.

Violet Peters. Harry my husband was a Rat of Tobruk he was away for six years.

Trish Levido. That was the limbless soldier and then again your husband was in the war. Let’s move to the Huntington house.

Violet Peters. He was a returned soldier, he was wounded at I think at (indistinct) Peronne because that’s what they called the house. They were there practically as long as I was in mine because Vera was born in 1921 in that house next door to me. They were first in there too. I was first in there by a few months I think.

Trish Levido. Levy – they had one child, was he a returned serviceman?

Violet Peters. Yes he was a returned man but his wife, she was a Mrs. Carter first of all and she was a war widow from the First World War, and then she met Levy. He was a widower and they had this little Jewish girl. He was a returned man and he had a damaged heart. Her first husband never came back from the war.

Trish Levido. Then we move around the corner to Central Avenue and in the house we’ve got Billy Carruthers, who was the dad?

Violet Peters. He was a limbless soldier too.

Trish Levido. Then we’ve got a block of land and then we’ve got the weatherboard house. Who was living in that house?

Violet Peters. Billy hasn’t lived in that brick house for too many years I can tell you.

Trish Levido. You mean in his father’s house?

Violet Peters. Yes, it was his father’s house.

Trish Levido. Who was living in the weatherboard house before Billy?

Violet Peters. There was the man and the mother and the three children, Keith, Billy and Margaret.

Trish Levido. They were in the weatherboard house first.

Violet Peters. Yes with their legless father.

Trish Levido. So they started off in that house and then they moved down to the corner later on when he sold the weatherboard house.

Violet Peters. They came back down to my places….

Trish Levido. …..towards your houses?

Violet Peters. Yes, he’s built this big brick one.

Trish Levido. That was just land before he built that wasn’t it? OK, was there anybody on other side of where Billy lived? Who was in the other weatherboard house?

Violet Peters. There were two weatherboard houses but I don’t know the people – they were obviously renting because people used to come and go in those two, I didn’t know them at all.

Bay Street, Euryalus Street and Central Avenue