Christmas at the Walker and Roberts households

The Walker and Roberts families lived next door to each other in Sylvan Road, Toowong. Cecily Walker moved to here with her parents in 1929, while her cousin Erl Roberts and his family, didn’t come to live there until the 1940s. Erl was born about 15 years after Cecily.

When Erl and Cecily were interviewed in 2003, Erl provided the following memories of how his family celebrated Christmas during his childhood (from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s). Erl remembers:

I can remember the ice cream—people considered it a treat to obtain ice cream but there was no way of keeping it without freezers. We eventually bought a big flash refrigerator called a ‘Silent Night’. It had a freezer and then, of course, Mum could make ice cream. You could buy a cardboard cup of ice cream like Peters from the shop next door and take it home. You couldn’t buy chicken commercially like it is now. It was something you had at Christmas and Easter.

We used to go to Maroochydore. My grandparents on Mum’s side, the Smiths, had a little house they owned at Maroochydore and so Mum and Dad had the old Chev ‘ute’ (which we covered in at the back for holidays) and we’d take most of the baggage up there. We used to stop at Burpengary on the way up to have a cup of tea and a break.

We used to go up there every Christmas and every Easter with a couple of chickens on the running board—that was Christmas dinner! At the time, chicken was a luxury and you only had it at Christmas and Easter. [Cecily says: We all looked forward to that chicken twice a year.] The same with ice-cream — you only had it at Christmas and Easter. Mum used to make ice-cream, but prior to that, we used to buy it from the shop.

Elaine_Roberts_with_chooks

Elaine Roberts and the backyard chook pen

Dad used to kill the chooks, then we would pluck them, clean them—and those sort of things! Dad used to get young chicks and fatten them up for Christmas and Easter. Of course, I used to give them all names and got to love them all—nurse them and everything. And then the time would come! ‘You can’t kill Susie!’; ‘You can’t kill Betty’ and ‘You can’t kill Sebastian’. And he’d have to go and buy a chook! He spent all those months fattening them up and then he had to go and buy one! Uncle Dick used to buy the chickens from the Chinese market gardener down at Sylvan Road. You could buy ducklings from him and day-old-chicks.

An article featuring Erl Roberts and Cecily Walker’s memories of Toowong titled Cousins Share Memories of Toowong is published in Toowong: A Tram Ride from the Past, Memories of the Toowong Community Vol. 4, ed Leigh Chamberlain and Lindy Salter, Toowong and District Historical Society, 2008, p.14.

To order see details on the Publications page.

The Ferris family of 102-104 Sylvan Road

[Click on the thumbnails for larger images. There are additional photos of the Ferris family in the Gallery.]

Both these allotments belonged to Mr Thomas ‘Tom’ Ferris, the Toowong Station Master. Mr Ferris’s residence occupied allotment 104. Thomas Ferris had married Bridget Morton on the 9th April 1895.

Tom Ferris

Tom Ferris

When Tom and Bridget arrived in Toowong, they rented a house down by the railway line in Sylvan Road until they could afford to buy a property. Then at last they decided they could afford to purchase a block of land upon which to build their home. Tom had heard that there were blocks for sale around the Kate Street area, but when he went to inspect these, he found that there were only two blocks in the street available for sale. One was on the eastern side situated next door to the school on the top of the hill while the other was on the western side at the bottom of the hill.

Tom was enthusiastic about the block at the top of the hill because of the beautiful view it had. However, his wife reserved her opinion and declared that she wanted to have a look at the two blocks herself. So the next day, she walked around there to have a look and when Tom came home from work, she declared, ‘No way! You can buy the block on Sylvan Road, but not up there!’ She would be the one that would be pushing the stroller and carrying the groceries home, and there was no way she’d be carting them up the hill!

In his retirement years, Tom’s great source of pleasure was to sit in his squatter’s chair on the verandah, and watch the daily funeral processions make their way past his home along to the Toowong Cemetery. He would have his newspaper handy so he could look it up and see whether he knew the person about to be interred—and what religion they were! If it was a member of the Catholic Church, he would send for the children to come and stand erect beside him as a mark of respect, with hats off and the boys with a hand over their chest. He wasn’t so concerned about the Protestants in his midst. If he had gone ahead and bought on the top of the hill, this delight would not have been his.

When Tom’s son, William Ferris was to be married, Tom arranged for his block to be surveyed for re-subdivision. On 23 May 1939, the survey plan of allotment 102, which was a 16 perch block, was prepared and Mr Tom Ferris subsequently sold the allotment to his son, William ‘Bill’ Ferris. Sadly, Mrs William Ferris died, and later, Bill re-married. His second wife’s name was Mary. After she was widowed, Mrs Mary Ferris lived at 102 Sylvan Road until 2003.

Ferris house

102 Sylvan Road

Bill Ferris applied for permission to build his house on allotment 102 at a time when City Hall was in the final stages of a process of conducting a civic survey. This civic survey had been commissioned in 1934 when Alfred Jones became the Lord Mayor of the Brisbane City Council (BCC). One of his first acts as the new Lord Mayor was to re-institute a civic survey, which had almost completed when the City of Mackay and Other Town Planning Schemes Approval Act was passed in 1934. This act required elaborate definition of the area to be zoned and also required Ministerial approval of any town plan prior to publication in the Government Gazette. As result a new survey was instituted and R. A. McInnes was appointed on a part-time basis to prepare a new survey which would form the basis of ‘a living scheme’ to ‘shape, control and idealise the growth of Brisbane’. McInnes was appointed to the permanent staff as City Planner in April 1938. Eventually, the project was completed in May 1939 and zoning boundaries were defined thereafter.

Ferris_Blueprints_Sylvan_Rd_Subdivision_sml

Blueprints for subdivision

Thus, when Bill Ferris applied for permission to construct a house on the block, initially the BCC had reservations. It appears that under the BCC’s new Town Plan, which had to comply with the guidelines of the new Act, the block was considered too small to build a house on. Mrs Mary Ferris’ understanding was that this was the first time that the BCC was asked to approve the building a house upon a 16 perch block (probably in the Toowong area). It would seem that the difficulty resulted from the adoption of the new Town Plan. Lord Mayor Alfred Jones wrote a letter to the family (which Mrs Ferris still had) and proposed a truncation of the corner of the block. It seemed that permission to build on the 16 perch block was dependent upon the provision that the BCC be allowed to truncate the corner of the block. Lord Mayor Jones felt that truncation of all corners was necessary so that car drivers could have a better field of vision and thus prevent accidents. He could foresee that in future, car usage of the road would increase. This was done in this case and was probably the first truncation to occur in Toowong, and maybe even in Brisbane. In retrospect, it seemed that Lord Mayor Jones’ dream to introduce truncation all over the city of Brisbane did not eventuate. The reason is not hard to explain. The Jones’ administration used a financing strategy based upon debt, rather than rate increases which was electorally popular and the increasing levels of debt was causing significant disquiet in some quarters. The issue came to a head when war was declared and of avenues of debt raising through loans available to Council dried up completely. The Ferris family are of the opinion that their truncated corner was the first and probably the only one in Toowong – part of Alfred Jones’ grand vision for the future of the City of Brisbane, for which the necessary underlying financing was not forthcoming.

Bridget died in 1951 and Thomas died in 1954.

Mrs Mary Ferris was interviewed by Leigh Chamberlain on 25 February 2003.