Bryant and May

I’ve always known that I’ve had some family links to Cremorne, but I didn’t, I never realized how deep these roots went and my grandfather wasn’t born in 1900, he was born in 1890. His story probably more relevant that my mother’s growing up here but he had my mother when he was 55 but he lived to the ripe old age of 90 something. There’s a lot more anecdotal stories about grandfather who worked in a company called Bryant & May.

                            He was a qualified carpenter by trade but didn’t quite like it and he did all sorts of odd jobs in Cremorne as well like sold insurance. We’re told that he grew up in a street called Wellington Street. At an early age he was subject to some things you wouldn’t necessarily like. You know he was forced to work on railways, you know, steam trains, you know, his father drove steam trains. They had a very small little house on Wellington street and the house is still there. My grandfather, his name is Vincent Downey, he had a job from an early age and he was called a ‘cockatoo’. So a ‘cockatoo’ back in the day was a scout that would keep an eye out for the police. You know he worked for Bryant & May for many many years and I couldn’t find a photo of him coz’ they’re all at my parent’s place, but I do have his hat.

                            And he walked to work, I’m told that he walked to work. And so this from the Myer Emporium, Melbourne. He used to wear this to work and what not, back in the day. It’s probably 60 years old. Now he worked for Bryant & May for some 50 years. We know that he walked to work and I know that he was a qualified carpenter. Now he was..they finished there..They had a..back in the day you had to finish..there’s a compulsory age you had to finish at. But he was close friends with people who owned and managed another company and they allowed him to stay past the retirement age. Yea..which might have been about 50 back then. He might have worked there till 60. I mean look I don’t know exactly what he did in there but I do know that one of his jobs was operating the lift. Back then it was probably a probably needed a lift operator because it would have been exposed. There might have been moving parts. And he operated the lift there..believe it or not. He probably would’ve done other jobs i’d think. You know maybe in cutting mills, saw mills. He was a qualified carpenter sort of thing.

                            One anecdotal story that we do know is that he..they had a nickname for him and they called him ‘ The Count’. And I thought, “Why is that, Mum?” and I asked my mum “What’s that about?” and “is it because he looked like Count Draculla?”. Coz’ he was quite tall and he had sort of you know dark sort of swept back black sort of hair grown on the sides a little bit from the photos i’ve seen of him but I do remember when he as alive. And they said no it was a joke on him! I’m like how could that be a joke on him, they called him ‘The Count’. We’re told certain things about Bryant & May, I mean what a progressive place to work. You know they had dining rooms, they had basketball and all those things. I supposed it would have been a happening place to work and you know they had their own hospital and what not.

                            You know it was very much girls and boys a separate thing. You’ll find in Cremorne, and in pubs in Cremorne and in Richmond and all over Melbourne for that matter there was a front bar and a back bar. The front bar was for men only and the back bar was the ladies lounge. Anyway i’ll tell you a story of the thing. Remember a thing they called it the ‘Six o’ clock Swill’. Now you went to work and then after work you went to the pub. That was it. And they would for saw dust down at the base of the bar. And they did this because at 6 o’ clock pubs would’ve shut and they policed it and the police were on to it and they would line up the beers, and say “Come on guys 6 o’ clock swill” and swill means chugging down six or seven beers in under ten minutes and they’d have the saw dust all ready to go know. So these were the things that we know about their work-life balance. We know this because these were the stories that were told by my grandparents to my parents and by my parents to me. You know we get the idea that to stay 50 years in that company I think they got maybe a watch or something for the service. Not like what today’s provisions have in retirement. Some companies pay retirement. Retrenchment packages cater for a defined benefit post retirement. There was none of that back then. I do remember him being pretty poor. I remember he didn’t really have a lot of money. Not that we’d ever ask but you kind of knew that he didn’t have a lot of dollars. He wouldn’t take you out for dinner or go and spend up big on you. He died in 86’ so if he was alive today, he would’ve been 120. And for only a couple of generations.

                            There is a bit more actually that comes up when you think through it. You the Richmond footballer, he was good mates with Jack Dyre. He got Jack Dyre a job at Bryant & May. He was the captain of the Richmond football club, and he said “Hey look you know can we get Jack in?”. So definitely he was a local face, and this was way back in the day. So it’s a very interesting little part of Melbourne and although with the two kids and the small house, we do love living here because it’s so close to everything. And walking around Cremorne, walking home from i’ll pass in the same footsteps that my grandfather walked. That holds a lot of resonance with it and these sort of things that I connect with if I go for a walk around the town with my kids, i’m tracing the same footsteps as mum and I’d like to think that was a happy time for them and this is is  happy time for me.


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