Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Busy Bees of Coburg

Busy Bee Club. Alice Wood, President of Coburg Branch of the Red Cross, is in the centre of the middle row (with white hair). Her daughter Alice (known in the family as Lal) is the last on the right in the back row. Daughter Myra is last on the right in the middle row. Image courtesy Ian Wood.

The Education Department initiated a Young Workers' Patriotic League during the war and the Busy Bee clubs were part of this scheme. You can read more on this, and other things related to the Education Department and the war, in Rosalie Triolo's excellent book Our Schools and the War.

You will see from the photo below that there are a number of school age girls in Coburg's Busy Bee Club. I am guessing that some were from the State School and others from the High School across the road.  It seems that sock knitting was the focus of attention when this photo was taken.

There were also a number of older teenagers and women involved.

I have been trying to establish the location of the photo and think it may have been in what is now Bridges Reserve, next door to the then-High School. I can see that there is a label on the tree behind these women and I can make out the letters '...nycarpus' and what I think is the word 'Excelses' underneath that. It appears to be a native of Japan, but I haven't been able to identify the species. I also don't know whether any of the trees planted at Bridges Reserve would have had labels or whether the plantings would have been this well established in that location. The only other appropriate location I can think of is Coburg Lake Reserve.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who can add any information about the girls and women in the photo, the Busy Bee Club, the tree in the background or the possible location of this photo.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Coburg State School's Memorial Garden

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image R2_1_5C.001. This photo is taken looking north towards the main school. It is believed that these were then the gardens belonging to the Infant School, although they now make up part of Bridges Reserve. 

I've been trying to find out more about the memorial garden planted in memory of the old boys of Coburg State School who died in World War One, which was planted to the south of the Coburg State School's Infant School (on the south side of Bell Street).

Coburg Infant School, c. 1980. Image R.2.50. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Recently I spent a day at the Public Record Office of Victoria looking at various school files and I found a number of items of interest, including an early planting scheme for the Infant School garden. It is hard to tell now whether this planting scheme was ever put into action, but it seems that at least some of it was.

The Infant School was built in 1911 after the land was cleared of a thick covering of thistles. 

This plan was prepared by the School Committee in 1915 and drawn by a pupil of the school. It shows that as well as cypress trees, the plantings around the periphery of the school grounds were to include Acacia Pycantha (Golden Wattle), Acacia Baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle) and Acacia Mollissima (also known as Acacia Pubescens or Downy Wattle). The letter accompanying the drawing reveals that because the school grounds were unfenced, earlier tree plantings (at least six cypress trees (Cupressus Horizontalis Labertiana) were planted in 1913) had been destroyed by wandering cows etc. 

On Friday 8 October 1915, Arbor Day, the Mayor, Mayoress and various Councillors planted 10 cypress trees and 4 Acacia Mollissima. Members of the School Committee, teachers and pupils planted wattle seeds.

(Source: Public Record Office of Victoria, Victorian Public Record Series 640/P1, unit 1444)

At work in the Coburg State School garden, 1911. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image 15862.

The school was an enthusiastic participant in the State Schools Horiticultural Society's activities and at the time of the plantings, the Society's organiser, Cyril Isaac was based at Coburg State School. 

So keen was the Head Teacher, J.E. Sheehan, that he and Isaac intended to make the school a 'model school in agricultural and horticultural work.' One of their first big tree plantings was on Arbor Day 1913 when the Premier, the Hon. Mr Evans MLC, planted six Cupressus Horizontalis Lambertiana along the boundary of the Infant School. I have recently spoken to someone who lived in Russell Street and he remembers climbing cypress trees along the Infant School boundary in the 1930s. These were probably the same trees.

Towards the end of the war, in late October 1918, the memorial garden to the old boys who died in World War One was planted.

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, Friday, 25 October 1918, p.4.

Tree planting ceremony, Coburg Infant School, October 1918.

This photograph comes from a souvenir of the visit of the French Mission to Melbourne in October and November 1918, only weeks before the Armistice was signed. The exact date of the Mission’s visit to the school is unknown, but it probably took place on Wednesday 23 October 1918.

Although identified in the souvenir only as an ‘Ecole de l'Etat à Melbourne’, the accompanying newspaper article confirms that it was taken at the Infant School at the time of the tree planting.

My investigations into this now lost memorial to Coburg's war dead continues. Expect to hear more!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

And it’s off to war we go

Australian Expeditionary Force. Broadmeadows. Breaking Camp prior to their departure for the front. From a stereographic slide by Geo. Rose. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. 

In this image we can see that the city of tents at Broadmeadows  is being dismantled. Those ‘crop circles’ you see in the centre of the image are actually the spaces where the tents once were, trimmed with wooden tent pegs. The men are sitting around on their bedrolls and belongings, finishing their meals (I’m sure those are spuds in one of those pots), reading the newspaper or having a chat. It must be later in the year now and at least one man has a scarf wrapped around his ears and part of his head to keep out the cold.

The camp doesn’t look as tidy as in earlier images, but very soon it will be empty space and the men and their belongings will be sailing for the war. Quite soon they will be surviving (or not) in the trenches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and what quite possibly seemed at the time primitive conditions at Broadmeadows will transform in their minds into a month or two (or more) spent in a luxury holiday camp. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

WW1 cemetery walk at Coburg Cemetery

Last Sunday a group of 40 people braved the weather and went on a highly successful WW1 cemetery walk that featured eight old boys of Coburg State School.

Part of the larger Coburg Historical Society ANZAC Centenary project, the walk has been funded through a grant obtained by the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust and  was organised by members of the Friends of Coburg Cemetery and Coburg Historical Society.

The walk will be repeated on Sunday 17 May, Sunday 21 June and Sunday 15 November and bookings are now open for these walks. 

If you have an interest in the Coburg area or if you'd like to support the organisers, why not come and join us on one of these three walks. 

For more details or to book your place, you can either email me at or email Friends of Coburg Cemetery at

Friday, 17 April 2015

Moreland remembers World War One travelling exhibition

Last Tuesday I attended the launch of Moreland Remembers World War One, a travelling exhibition commissioned by Moreland City Council.

You can see the exhibition, which is comprised of 10 themed banners and some memorabilia, including the Coburg State School Soldiers Book, as follows:  

Exhibition at Brunswick Library 14 April – 8 May 2015 during Library opening hours.
Exhibition at Coburg Library 11 – 29 May 2015 during Library opening hours.
Exhibition at Glenroy Library 1 – 19 June 2015, during Library opening hours.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, it is available online on the Moreland City Council website at

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Battle to Farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria

(From The Empire Called blog)

This fantastic online resource has just been released by the Public Record Office of Victoria and you can search it here.

I've already located a number of Coburg men who took up soldier settlement blocks, including Cyril Westhorpe.

1655 Private Walter Cyril Roy (Cyril) Westhorpe, 8th Light Horse Regiment and his brother 18755 Private William Wilson (Wilson) Westhorpe, 5th Field Ambulance, were the sons of Walter and Emma Westhorpe of ‘Myrtleford’, 14 Dean Street, Coburg. They were both old boys of Coburg State School and are featured in Coburg Historical Society’s ANZAC Centenary project, ‘A hundred men, a hundred heroes: the old boys of Coburg State School go to war’. 

Image courtesy AWM. Image ID P04700.003. c 1916. Studio portrait of standing, 1654 Signaller (Sig) George Leslie Newstead, and seated, 1655 Sig Cyril Westhorpe. Sig Newstead and Sig Westhorpe both attended Signal School between October and November 1915, before embarking, as Privates (Pte), with the 8th Light Horse Regiment, 11th Reinforcements, on 13 November 1915 aboard HMAT Clan McCorquodale (A6). Both survived the war, with Pte Westhorpe returning to Australia in 1916 and Pte Newstead in 1919.

Cyril Westhorpe arrived in Egypt in December 1915 but within a few months was admitted to hospital with influenza and by April 1916 had been declared medically unfit and was returned to Australia in June suffering from phthisis, a disease of the lungs. On his return, he was placed on a pension and soon took up life as a farmer on a Soldiers’ Settlement block at Balliang East, just 45 kilometres west of Melbourne in the Shire of Moorabool. You can read the records relating to this here

He married Grace Whiteoak in 1919 and it seems he took up residence at Balliang East in the early 1920s. He called his property ‘Sunnyside’ and farmed there until 1937, when he moved back to Melbourne. He moved around a bit and last appeared on the electoral rolls in Box Hill in 1968. He died in Brisbane the following year aged 75 and is buried at Fawkner Cemetery with his wife Alice, who died in 1958.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Members of the Coburg Presbyterian Church congregation go to war

Presbyterian Church, Coburg, built in 1899 and at that time located on the west side of Sydney Road near the corner of Munro Street. Image found in Coburg Historical Society collection. Source unknown.

Members of the Australian Expeditionary Force from Coburg Presbyterian Church. Left to right: George Waite (3431 Private George Harold Waite, 5th Infantry Battalion); Jack Aitken (7471 Corporal John Eadie Aitken, 1st Divisional Train Supply); T. Williams; Arch Murray (2nd Lieut Archibald James Murray, 29th Btn.); Mel Robertson (3484 Private Melrose Noel Robertson, 14th Infantry Battalion); Jim Buchanan (6133 Private James Reid Buchanan, 2nd Field Ambulance). Image courtesy Coburg Uniting Church Archive.

3431 Private George Harold Waite, 5th Infantry Battalion, was a 20 year old civil servant when he enlisted on 3 July 1915. He lived with his widowed mother Isabella in White Street, Coburg. Although he embarked with the 5th Battalion, he transferred to the Army Pay Corps and worked at Admin. HQ in London. He returned to Australia in November 1919.

7471 Corporal John (Jack) Eadie Aitken, 1st Divisional Train Supply, was a motor body builder aged 21 when he enlisted on 30 July 1915. He lived with his widowed mother Nannie at ‘Oamaru’, 40 Walsh Street, Coburg at the time of his enlistment. In May 1918, he was invalided to England with a sprained ankle but was otherwise injury and illness free. He returned to Australia in July 1919, became a career soldier and lived in Coburg until his death in 1976 aged 82. As an old boy of Coburg State School, he will be featured in Coburg Historical Society’s ANZAC Centenary Project.

Apart from the fact that T.R. Williams is listed on the Coburg Independent Order of Rechabites Honour Board and is featured in this photograph, I have yet to identify him.

2nd Lieutenant Archibald (Arch) James Murray, 29th Infantry Battalion, was a Coburg Lacrosse Club member and had been in the Victorian Scottish Regiment (52nd Infantry) for 6 years prior to enlistment.

3484 Private Melrose (Mel) Noel Robertson, 14th Infantry Battalion, was another member of the Coburg Lacrosse Club and had served in the Victorian Scottish Regiment for three and a half years before enlisting.

6133 Private James (Jim) Reid Buchanan, 2nd Field Ambulance, was a 24 year old tailor living with his mother Margaret in Reynard Street, Coburg when he enlisted on 11 June 1915. He, too, was a member of the Coburg Lacrosse Club. He also played for the Olmurita Tennis Club and was a member of the local branch of the Australian Natives Association.