Sounds of Cockatoo – Mouth Organ & Mandolin

Top left and right: Cockatoo Railway Station & The Tourist Track. Bottom left and right: Cockatoo Creek and Bell’s Mill. Middle insert: Fern Gully. (1921)

“From down along the creek came the sound of mouth organs and mandolins.”

COCKATOO. (The Age, Melbourne 31 January, 1925)

Is all the luggage strapped in?’ ‘Where in the world has my overcoat got to?’ ‘Did you lock the back gate? ‘Here, move over and let me in! Look out, there’s fruit in that basket!’ It seemed too good to be true. The holiday we had looked forward to for at least two months had actually arrived and here we were at 6.00a.m. starting on our journey to Cockatoo. What a happy sensation, speeding holidaywards through suburban streets, almost deserted so early in the morning, except for a few other holiday makers getting an early start, and a couple of children showing each other their new toys, then through the streets of the city itself, where everything seemed strangely quiet, especially after the bustle and the confusion of the night before. The first trams of the day crawled along almost empty, a few people with piles of luggage stood at the street corners or hurried into the station intent on catching the earliest train possible. How delightful to think for one swift moment of the office, with blinds down and locked doors – and then to forget about it for for the rest of the holidays.

Out through the eastern suburbs we sped, and into the country. Along the road towards Fern Tree Gully in the morning sunlight. Birds sang their sweetest among the trees lining the road – surely they know it was Christmas morning. On towards Belgrave, up and down hills, spinning along stretches of good road at thirty miles an hour, then finding a mile or two where we were hardly in our seats for two minutes running. Yes, we enjoyed it all, even the bumps through Belgrave, that busy little township, with its numerous pretty cottages dotted around all over the hills, and on the road to Cockatoo, where one could look down into beautiful ferny gullies all the way along, or up to a glorious vista of tree covered hills, merging into big blue ranges that were alone worth looking at. Past the nurseries at Emerald – to a newcomer it seemed as if there were miles of orchards and gardens there, a striking contrast to the rough bush country around – and finally along an extra good stretch of road, with the township of Cockatoo spread out before us.

(Rose Stereograph Co, 1920. From Pheasant Hill, A Birds-Eye View Of Cockatoo, Vic – State Library Victoria)

“Over the little narrow gauge line, a little way along, the road, up the side of another hill, and we were ‘home’ where some of the party, who had come to the week-end cottage a week ahead of us were awaiting breakfast. And what appetite we had! Why do hundreds of people go away to other States for the holidays with such beautiful scenery only a couple of hours travel out of the city? From the verandah of this house one could obtain a wonderful view. Down towards the creek, where the shining roofs of houses were almost hidden in the tall trees and undergrowth so thick that one could almost disappear a hundred yards in front of the house, over the hills opposite, where houses seemed to be built in the most inaccessible places. The railway track wound round the hills over there, and every day the sleepy little train puffed slowly round towards Gembrook, its very slowness seeming in keeping with the easy holiday spirit of the place. We visited numerous beauty spots, ‘The Springs’, ‘Cullen’s Creek’ and other ferny gullies, where only the murmur of water and the singing of birds interrupted the stillness, and added to the restfulness of it all somehow.

(Rose Stereograph Co, 1920. Rustic bridge, Cullens Gully, Cockatoo, Vic – State Library Victoria)

We boiled the billy and had our lunch among the ferns, in a beautiful green-walled dining room with a roof of the purest blue, and all agreed that the finest drink of all was billy-tea drunk out in the open. We climbed the hills, where wonderful views could be obtained. One day we went away up in the mountains towards Beenak. The car wound slowly round a narrow track cut into the side of the hill, where wild shrubs brushed our faces as we went past. Below us, hundreds of feet, lay a gully, where the tops of the largest trees seemed no higher than the tree ferns and shrubs.

(Rose Stereograph Co, 1920. Fern Gully, Cockatoo – State Library Victoria)

Miles of ranges lay in front of us, sloping down in the centre, where one could see the flats at Kooweerup, away out to where a thin blue line meant Western Port Bay, with French Island in the distance beyond. The Healesville and Warburton ranges in one direction towered above the smaller hills, standing out darkly blue against a typical summer sky. We came home in the evening, the best part of the day we thought. Rabbits scurried in and out of the undergrowth as we came by. Magpies sang their evening songs in trees lit up by the last rays of the sun. The western hills stood out dark against the glowing sky, making the sunset a thing to be remembered.

(‘The Store’ – January 3, 1927)

Cockatoo has its social side, too. There are two halls, which catered for the dance loving public, and both were filled almost every night. Perhaps you felt like a walk after tea, then you went down to the township, sat on one of the seats outside ‘The Store’, and watched half the population of Cockatoo stroll down to the station to see the train coming in, and get the evening paper, about 10 p.m. Crowds of city people were spending the holidays up there, jolly, care-free people many of them, looking forward to a good time, and having it.

(Mrs Friee’s General Store near Train Station)

Sitting on the verandah in the dusk one imagined that every second house possessed a gramophone, judging from the sounds of different records carried on the evening breeze. From down along the creek came the sound of mouth organs and mandolins, a piano from somewhere joined in the medley of music, an accordion had an argument with a couple of tin whistles. Truly, we did not lack the charms of music. Sounds of singing came from all directions, as people coming home from the township climbed up the narrow tracks to their own particular cottages.

(Rose Stereograph Co, 1920. “Eastgate” Guest House, Cockatoo, Vic. State Library Victoria)

Very few of the weekend places are built near the main roads, and tracks have to be cut through the scrub, sometimes only wide enough for one person at a time. But this lack of roads, and instead of them the pretty tracks, where the shrubs and ferns are higher than one’s head, only adds to the attractiveness of the place, although one is likely to take the wrong track and arrive in some other back yard. In a place like Cockatoo, the holidays soon slip round, and it seemed no time before we were packing up to come home again, by train this time.

(Rose Stereograph Co 1920. The Narrow Gauge Train, Cockatoo, Vic – State Library Victoria)

With what altogether different feelings we left the station, crowded with holiday makers seeing their less fortunate friends and relatives off, and revelling in the fact that they ‘still have a couple of days left.’ The township disappeared round a curve. Our holiday was over. How long would it be before we saw it again? The little train crawled along between the hills, a beautiful panorama of hills and gullies spread out in front and we forgot the hard, uncomfortable cattle-truck seats and the crowded carriages as we gazed at the picture painted by Nature’s hand. Into Fern Tree Gully, where there was a rush for the first train into the city and back to the noise and bustle again, with thoughts of work again on Monday morning, work that seemed suddenly uncongenial now that it was so near.” (Unknown author, The Age 31 January, 1925 – photographs were my addition)

You could choose to live there.

Cockatoo Pool, Jerry Dawg & Kurt Kaminski.

(Rose Stereograph Co 1920. The Swimming Pool, Cockatoo, Vic – State Library Victoria)

Cockatoo Swimming Pool was officially opened by Councillor D. McBride on the 19th January 1939 (it had been operating since New Years Day). At the opening a large gathering of residents and visitors witnessed a swimming demonstration by Mrs Treloar. The following month Mrs Treloar would thrill the local crowd by winning the inaugural trick swimming competition. The pool (filled by creek water) at the bottom of McBride Street was built in conjunction with the construction of the bridge and improvements made to the flow of the creek. The latter had been achieved by eliminating two significant bends with a straight cut and in the process creating a suitable embankment for the pool.

In 1944 approval was given to grading and concreting a section of the pool for children’s bathing. This end was about two feet deep while the diving end was about ten feet. In December 1950 Cockatoo residents were disappointed with Council (not for the first or last time) for failing to obtain promised steel sluice gates. The pool had been drained for sometime awaiting their arrival. Residents decided to take matters into their own hands and installed a wooden gate instead. In fact, well before Cockatoo had a pool, a Swimming Club had been operating and it was on their insistence that a pool eventually came into existence. As early as 1930 they had requested Berwick Shire Council to acquire a site for such a facility. The local aquatic centre held carnivals, swimming and diving lessons and was a major attraction for both residents and holiday makers up until some time in the 1960’s.

Remnants of the pool in 2021? (Picture EssDawg)
Sounds by the old site
(The Herald, Melbourne 2 May 1934)

Hey Jerry Dog what ya doin’ down here?

Ridin’on the train or chug-a-luggin right near.

Chug-a-luggin, Chug-a-luggin, Chug-a-luggin right here

Hey Jerry Dog no time to dilly dally.

Where off to race the train down to Cockatoo valley.

(From the tune Hey Jerry Dog-EssDawg ©2020)

Our famous canine ‘Jerry’ a black and white bit of this and a bit of that, definitely plenty of working dog (probably a Kelpie cross – I’m no expert). Always immaculately attired in waistcoat and bow tie, Jerry (also known as the ‘Marathon Dog’) was a celebrity not just locally, but across the breadth of the nation. When a wee, stray puppy arrived on the doorstop of steam train driver Dick Down’s home he would’ve had no idea how this little canine would impact his daily life. Jerry would run alongside Puffing Billy (for most of the trip) on its four day a week return journey from Fern Tree Gully to Gembrook.

Even though he chased a rabbit or two, swam in a dam, and called at certain houses where he knew a glass of milk awaited him, Jerry always beat the train to the station…..His most popular pastime was to bathe in a fire bucket on the station along the line, and drink from another. He never drank from his bathing bucket.” (From the article Train Kills Dog That Raced It)

I doubt that it was a glass of milk (he wasn’t a feline) more likely a cold frothie. Sadly it was chasing a rabbit where Jerry came a cropper running in front of the train and being caught by the cow catcher. He is buried by the tracks at Cockatoo with a marked grave. R.I.P ‘Our Dog’ Jerry Down and my good friend Molly (Moo) pictured below – not that enamoured with my playing, probably on the lookout for wascally wabbits.

The Sporting Globe February 12th, 1949

Another little story I’ll throw into the mix is regarding Kurt Kaminski, who converted a room at the Eastgate Guesthouse (pictured earlier) into a boxing gymnasium for Australia’s elite boxers. “Sorry Dad I used that word, elite.” Father didn’t like the word – always wondering how and when someone had became elite. Kurt picked Cockatoo because of the rugged hill-climbing roadwork, the tree felling or wood cutting it offered and because it was an idyllic spot for relaxation. The camp was modelled on American and Continental gymnasiums. A trained nurse was on-site and special dietary meals were prepared in the kitchen. Kurt would accompany boxers on roadwork and provide a sports massage if required by athletes.

Pix, Vol 15 No.2 13 January 1945

Kurt had experienced a very eventful life. He was born in Berlin on the the fifth June 1900. He fought briefly in the Great War for Germany turning seventeen just before its end. He was a champion heavyweight wrestler for Germany after the war. Kurt stood five foot ten inches tall and was a ball of muscle (remember muscle weighs more than fat) weighing fourteen stone ten pounds. On his left forearm he wore a distinctive snake tattoo befitting his strongman image. He had various roles, which included – a strongman in the circus bending steel with his bare hands, a tractor driver and a furniture remover.

At some time before the outbreak of WW2 he found asylum in Great Britain after having spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp (possibly Dachau) where on release he was required to leave the Reich or be contained once more. Sadly he had to leave his wife Frieda and son behind in Berlin. With trouble a brewing in Europe Kurt was arrested in London by police and interned as an enemy citizen on the 16th April 1940. His Alien Registration Card – marked friendly stood for nought. For several weeks he slept in primitive conditions in horse stables on a Liverpool racecourse with other refugees. From here he became one of ‘The Dunera Boys’ – shipped out to Australia on a horrific voyage on the S S Dunera where detainees were treated not unlike prisoners of Nazi Germany.

S S Dunera Contemporary Sketch – The Australian Jewish News, 31 August 1990

Kurt arrived in Australia on the third of September 1940 at Port Melbourne. He was classified as an enemy alien and detained in Loveday Internment Camp in South Australia. In 1942 he was transferred to Tatura Internment Camp – both facilities were arm guarded and fenced by barb wire. Kurt formally requested the Australian Defence Force not to communicate his name and particulars to the Nazi German authorities. In the camp he was described by fellow internee Bern Brent, “Then there was Kaminski, a ninety kilogram Berlin furniture remover. He often sang popular tunes from Berlin, such as ‘Sitting next to Emma on the bench’. He was in charge of our washrooms, and threatened anyone he caught peeing under the shower with a double nelson.” (Federkiel Newsletter No. LXVI October, 2018). On the ninth of December 1943 as part of his repatriation Kurt volunteered his labour for the Australian 8th Employment Coy (they couldn’t enlist for active duty, carry a rifle or wear the Australian badge). He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal and was discharged in January 1946.

Cogitation Corner (Shep’s) – Cockatoo Creek (Photo – EssDawg)

Ch EssDawg

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2 thoughts on “Sounds of Cockatoo – Mouth Organ & Mandolin

  1. Wow. Who would have thought that our little township of Cockatoo would be the backdrop to so many delightful stories.
    Thanks EssDawg on shining the spotlight on the whole of beautiful Cockatoo.

    Liked by 1 person

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