Autobiography

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL

I was born Rosebud, Victoria, Australia, in December 1961 to Kay Watson(Street) and Donald Charles Andrews. My mother had fallen for Donald who must have been a bit of a charmer. Don came from a musically inclined family, his parents being Hal and Dawn Andrews who owned and managed Hoyts in Melbourne in the swinging days of the early 1900’s. Both Hal and Donald were classical pianists, with Don playing small concerts down the Mornington Peninsula where my mother was(is still) living.

My mother was young(16) and pregnant and the parents of my father were not at all keen for her to have his baby, actually they pushed to have me aborted. At any rate, they demanded that Donald, (19 at the time) let my mother go and any love child that came of it. So mum and I lived with her mother, my grandmother in Sorrento until mum married my Step father Billy in March 1962. Thus I took on the name Rhodes from Bill Rhodes, my origins being kept a secret from me until over 30 years later.

Mum’s family on her father’s side came out to Australia in the 1850’s — the Watson brothers- from Banff in Northern Scotland, they were fisherman. These brothers fished the waters just east of Portsea at Fort Franklin on the end of the Mornington Peninsula. During the first world war however, the Victorian Government commandeered the land with it’s high bluff to be used as a lookout and cannon site to protect the shipping channel to Melbourne from any enemy vessels.

The fort was sited on land formerly occupied in the 1850s by the Watson family who came to Australia from Scotland in 1856. John Watson occupied an area of land which now forms part of the Portsea Camp and built a six room limestone house there, as well as a hut on the foreshore….The land on which the fort stands was compulsorily acquired in 1885 from John Watson by the Victorian government at a cost of £1500.

“Watson’s land was first to be go into Queen Victoria’s hands in April 1885,..” Source

After the war, the land above the fishing grounds was eventually bought by a group to build a summer camp for children–The Lord ,Mayors Children’s camp school.  This meant that access to the fishing site and the home that Watson had was lost. Apparently my great, great grandfather and his brothers were not very impressed with the decision and spent the rest of their lives fighting the Government over it. I can see where I get my inbuilt distrust of Government from!!

View of Portsea front beach from Fort Franklin children camp land. I spent much of my childhood on that beach and in the water and on the Portsea pier fishing and jumping in the water to splash the tourists as they walked by in their pretty clothes.

Growing up in Sorrento and Portsea

Red marker is where I lived between 1961-1980 and also during that time at Portsea General store.

I have many memories of Portsea, Victoria as the son of Bill and Kay Rhodes shopkeepers at the Milk-bar(General store) combined with a post office and News agency. At one point, for a number of years, my 3 sisters and I along with mum and dad lived behind the shop only 50 metres from the beach. At another period we all lived in our home in the nearby larger town of Sorrento at 49 Bowen road. Dad’s mother and father- Maizie and William Arthur Rhodes lived in a granny flat on the same block. Dad was buying the whole thing from them. But his grandfather W.A Rhodes passed away in  1964 when I was 3…leaving nanna a widow.

They, I assume, owned some land with a little shop on it just down the hill from that Sorrento house in Bowen road called “Estelle.” That is where I first lived with mum and Billy after they were married in 1962. That place was only a few hundred metres from the lovely Sorrento “Front” Beach in Port Phillip Bay. I have many memories of being at that beach getting sunburned and swimming and paddling foamie surfboards with my sisters and Michael Riley the son of my mum’s girlfriend.

Bowen road is the second street past the Pier with the large house on the corner—that house belonged to Dame Nelly Melba at one stage. The small boatsheds on the beach are in front of St Paul’s road, where my ancestor John Watson fought for the right to build a fisherman’s hut alongside them.

The rich and famous holidayed at Sorrento and Portsea and my dad served them faithfully in whatever way he could.

The pock pock pock of a tennis game floats over beds of flowering agapanthus. Electronic surveillance is on continuous loop. Vast properties step down the slope like hanging gardens laden with fruits of abundance. Some homes are as big as office blocks. A clear footprint can be seen from Google Earth: most blocks have the powder-blue oblongs of a swimming pool, and judging by the number of lurid green rectangles, it could be true that Portsea still has more tennis courts per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. Land values on the cliff, on the bay side of Point Nepean Road, the most sought-after stretch of real estate in Victoria, start at about “five something” – as in $5 million (and the rest), according to local Kay & Burton agent Liz Jensen.

Year-round locals have for decades quietly observed the comings and goings. “It was them and us,” recalls Eunice Watson, 87, who long ago married into the Watson family who, from 1862, were the first fishermen of Portsea. “Those people with all the big homes were the people with money from Melbourne. They would keep to themselves.”Source

It seems though, that John Watson was a thorn in the side of the rich and wealthy men of substance who lived near his fishing grounds in Sorrento.
My great great grandfather, John Watson, wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper at the time saying….
Now I should like to know why Dr. Blair and others are allowed to have bathing boxes on the beach, while I am debarred from having a hut there. Unless I can have a place to secure my fishing gear, and that close to the water,I shall be compelled to give up fishing, as the damage to my nets,boats etc. in rough weather would be ruinous. As your paragraph states, I have given up the fight.
I am only a poor fisherman, and cannot afford to lose the few pounds I have left, and ruin my family in endeavouring to get justice. I intend, however, applying for permission to build a bathing box for my family, the same as the Doctor, as I have a house and ground at the back. I don’t think the department can with justice refuse this. If, however, I fail, I shall then be convinced that it is impossible for a poor man to get justice. Yours, &c. J. Watson.(Full letter)
Having read what John Watson was like and how he fought the authorities because of perceived rights and injustice…how he thought nothing of the rich and famous having a greater right than him to build on land….to the point of taking it to court….I can see that I carry these same traits to this day.
Sorrento in those days was a town full of local founding families who were hard workers, heavy drinkers, and generally a struggling bunch of people. Portsea on the other hand had some local people too, but a large transient summer holiday crowd of mansion dwellers who drove fancy cars and whose children- my age- received cars and motorbikes and boats for Christmas presents.
Living in Sorrento, then Portsea, then back to Sorrento during my first 18 years of life ensured that I would know the divide society places between rich and poor. I learned to work hard in our Milk Bar- general store and for local builders as a labourer, and my uncle Terry Street(Watson) putting roofs on the holiday homes of the rich. I learned that us local people were hard workers serving those who were wealthy. I learned that the customer is always right as my dad would always remind me after being mistreated by one of them. I learned that poor boys don’t date rich daughters from wealthy families from Toorak and South Yarra.
Photo of Banff, Scotland by Ann Burgess– The population in 1851 was 49,679 when my great great grandfather John Watson headed to Victoria in Australia.
The Banff Watson boys came from a fishing town, but who may have been simple servants of other families in the town, who left their parents and their homeland to go to another country far away, where they fished for a living. I did the same at age 18 travelling to western Australia for a holiday which turned into a lifetime away from my dear mother and sisters and the towns of the Mornington Peninsula. I worked on trawlers during most of my twenties and then Fisheries Department patrol boats before quitting the ocean after becoming a believer in Jesus Christ.
My step Dad –William Walter Rhodes– served in the Second World War in the RAAF 36TH Squadron in Bougainville and the Solomons.
Some pictures are stored here – https://36thsquadron.condemnednomore.com/