“We’d lived in Fern Tree Gully for 30 years, but I knew Castlemaine was the place I wanted to be. I had done a lot of sketches of the old Castlemaine in the past, and I kept returning here. We were looking for a place, I didn’t want a convent or old school – I wanted a warehouse or a pub. But we ended up looking at the old Convent and St Gabriel’s secondary school (built in 1860.) When I walked in I knew I had found my dream, the studio at long last! I didn’t want to but I could feel this place; I just knew it was the place I wanted to be – it has a certain feel. I felt like I had no choice I had to be here (in Castlemaine). People bring something in and leave it behind here. There is something here, unbelievable, a spirit of the place.”
Jean’s father worked at Thompson’s foundry and her two brothers did their apprenticeships there too. Jean, aged 15, went instead to work for the local solicitors, HSW Lawson on Lyttleton St. (now the Copy Centre). Sir Harry Lawson lived in Melbourne at the time but came up every Friday and in preparation for his visit they had to go the Vin Whaley’s bike shop ( now antique shop next to National Bank) and make sure his bike was well serviced, for Harry liked to use the bike to go visiting. He visited the Levinny sisters at Buda who made cakes and decorated them with Calendula flowers. He also visited Alice King, a nurse who lived on Myring St. He helped turn Emma in her bed; she had a hip problem and couldn’t turn herself.
Jean lived on Myring St. When she and her sister were young their mother would call out “Here comes the Desmond boy on the horse,” and they would run out and watch the Desmond boy pass on his black horse which was 17 hands tall and had been ridden all the way from Happy Valley, up the steep hill, across Kalimna Park. Sometime later and somewhere between HSW Lawson offices and the Post Office, Jean would meet Ray Desmond again. The boy on the black horse had returned from the war, now a quiet war-wearied man whom she would later marry at the Congregational church. At that time the corner of Barkers St and Lyttleton was a popular meeting place as there was a tree there with a circular bench seat beneath it. People would say, “Meet you on Harris’s corner”, named after the merchandise store on the corner. Jean and Ray took 3 years to build their house on north as bricks were scarce and Ray rode his bike over to the place where they were manufactured on ten foot hill and begged for them.
Listen to Jean’s telling of this story
While Jean worked, the market building was a thriving market. Jo Russo came form Melbourne with vegetables, next to him were flowers, further along, rabbits. Everyone kept ferrets to get the rabbits. It was wartime and food was scarce. But people would put on their best for Friday night shopping. Jean remembers a woman who came in from a farm , wearing her kid gloves and furs. Farmers all came in for provisions on a Friday and to meet up with each other.
Jean would buy large slabs of Adams cakes at Carols on Mostyn street that would last for them for the week. There were horse troughs outside the market building. When the war ended they closed the street, erected a maypole and everyone danced. When she started school (current IGA) Jean was brought a second hand “superior” bike from Vin Whaley’s. At that time Jean remembers having to do exercises on hessian sacks at camp reserve and feeling humiliated at having to do these exercises in her skirt. Her favourite teacher, Miss Mosley, a large lady with white wavy hair, walked up and down between their desks knitting socks for the soldiers at war and teaching them Strauss Waltzes. They sang The Blue Danube and Shubert’s The Trout.
While Jean worked at HSW Lawson, there was a Popular Girl competition in town, set up to raise funds for the new swimming pool. A girl was chosen from different work places in the town and which ever of them raised the most money won. Irene Elliot was the Thompson’s foundry girl, Sylvia Eastman was from the Woollen Mill, Jacqueline Dillon was the town girl and Winsome Barlow from the Theatre Royal (Jacqueline later worked at the photographers (now the chemist on Barker St.) on Very’s corner, colouring photos). Walter Lindrum, the billiard player came to town as part of one fundraiser, but that one didn’t win. The Popular Girl competition was won by Sylvia Eastman.