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Eight new things I learnt about Ashburton reading Progress Press (1946-56)

Title Page of Progress Press, 1954

Once upon a time in Ashburton, there was a community newspaper called Progress Press. This was a locally produced and edited publication from a time long before Rupert Murdoch owned and discarded almost every local newspaper in the country.

Progress Press came to life in January 1946 from the office of Mr W G Giblett, an estate agent based at 243 High Street (the Bendigo Bank site today). At this time the only regional newspaper was the Camberwell Free Press. While this was a worthy publication, Mr Giblett wanted to provide the residents of the Ashburton district with a truly local paper.

‘It is obvious that many important happenings within the district do not get the publicity they might deserve,’ he explained in the first edition on 23 January 1946.

The Progress Press was founded as the official mouthpiece of the Ashburton Progress Association. Progress Associations were community-based grassroots organisations dedicated to lobbying state and local government for services and facilities specific to the area. This was a time before Councils provided basic services we take for granted today, like drainage, roads, sanitation and street lighting. The Progress Press acted as a way to inform people about the goings-on and decisions being made by Camberwell Council. Or not being made, as was often the case.

The Ashburton edition of Progress Press was an immediate success. Within a year, it had gone from a monthly to a weekly paper. Foreseeing that the post-War period was about to herald an unprecedented level of population growth in the area, Mr Giblett remained dedicated to keeping the paper free of charge.

To subsidise its production costs, he sold advertising to local shop-keepers. The first few issues contained simple, modest-sized advertisements (such as the ones pictured below). Within ten years, Progress Press included full-paged advertisements with pictures and several pages of classifieds (remember those?!) that advertised local tradesmen’s services.

It’s not clear who wrote the more comprehensive articles in Progress Press because they never included a by-line or if they did, an obvious pseudonym. Certainly for the sporting team scores, Mr Giblett relied on the teams to send them in to him directly. Occasionally he included a paragraph admonishing them for failing to do so in a timely manner.

By the 1950s, Progress Press had a handful of regular (unnamed) columnists. Aside from Council news, correspondents provided regular content and advice on home maintenance and horticulture. Elizabeth’s Shopping Pointers provided regular tips on where to find the best deals on produce, clothing, and repair services. There is no mention of who Elizabeth actually was.

Elizabeth's Shopping Pointers, a regular feature of Progress Press

By 1956, Ashburton’s Progress Press claimed to reach 28,000 households: the largest circulation of a local paper in Australia.

Every issue of the Progress Press is now available at the State Library of Victoria. At the present time, I’ve only looked at 1946 to 1956 but so far I’ve found some interesting insights into this key period of Ashburton’s development that I thought it would be fun to share.

Residents had a David and Goliath battle to obtain public transport in the area

It seems that once Ashburton Station arrived in the 1890s, the local and state governments declared that was enough public transport in Ashburton for the next 50 years.

By the foundation of Progress Press in 1946, residents had already spent at least 20 years trying to persuade the Tramway Board to extend the tramline from Glen Iris Station up High Street to Warrigal Road. At the instigation of the Ashburton Progress Association, even Camberwell Council appealed to the Tramways Board. But as there is no tram up High Street now, it was to no avail.

Bus services also proved just as difficult to come by. The Progress Association lobbied the Transport Board for some kind of bus service around the streets from the station, but nothing emerged. There was a bus that ran up High Street but it was constantly being threatened by funding cuts. Things had improved by October 1950, when a terminus was built for the bus at Glen Iris station. This was long before the building of the Monash Freeway divided Glen Iris station from High Street.

The only public transport movement that occurred was the opening of Alamein station on 28 June 1948.

Libraries were privately owned and operated

It’s a given today that local councils provide library services to residents in return for our rates payments. However, this was not the case in the 1940s. Although the Victorian Government established the Melbourne Public Library (i.e. the State Library of Victoria) in 1854, it took until the Whitlam Government in the 1970s for libraries to become publicly funded as community hubs.

Progress Press revealed that 1940s Ashburton hosted at least two privately owned and operated libraries. There was Markham’s Readwell Library at 255 High Street (currently Star Gift) where residents could borrow books for a fee. A few doors down, Mr I P Abbott operated the Ashburton Lending Library. By 1954, the Progress Press had moved into the newer shopping centre on the other side of Welfare Parade. An advertisement in December 1955 announced a Progress Press Bookshop at 299 High Street, the current location of the post office boxes for Australia Post.

Although the founders of the State Library in 1854 believed that access to knowledge was critical for the development of a civil and prosperous community, it appears this was not the case in Camberwell.

In the 1950s, Camberwell residents began a significant public push to get the Council to establish a public library service. Camberwell Council was in deep financial debt at this time and strongly resisted this move. As I examined in my blog post about the dearth of public high schools in the area and the negative attitude of some Camberwell residents about the value of public education, this is not at all surprising.

By 1955, the ascension of Henry Bolte to the premiership had ushered in a new progressive era. Camberwell Council announced a plan to establish a library in Canterbury Gardens by taking advantage of the State Government’s policy of subsidising expenditure on pound for pound basis, providing the municipality spent at least one shilling for each resident.

There is no mention of a similar effort for a public library in Ashburton. At this time, the Progress Association was still trying to obtain Council funding for drainage and to get them to deal with the unholy stink coming from Gardiner’s Creek and the Markham Reserve rubbish dump.

Ashburton Primary School Fairs were organised in record time

Recently, I attended a meeting of the newly re-formed Ashburton Primary School Parents Association. Readers may remember that the School’s Fair was once a cornerstone of the Ashburton community. Unfortunately, for several reasons not limited to Covid-19, it has not run for several years. So it is wonderful to see that plans are afoot to bring the Fair back.

Progress Press revealed that the sixth School Fair was organised in record time. The Ashburton School Committee decided in February 1946 to run it on 11 May 1946. Today it takes three months just to organise the committee to talk about organising the Fair in two years’ time!

Ashburton’s School Fairs were originally designed as Empire Day fund-raisers for the State Schools’ War Relief Fund. The first five events raised over £800. This is around $55,000 in today’s currency. That’s pretty impressive given a World War was going on.

With the war over in 1946, the School realigned the Fair’s fundraising goals to raise funds to improve the school grounds. Two acres of land had recently been added to the playground and was in desperate need for development. Back then for every £1 raised by a school, the Government kicked in £2. This sounds likes a pretty good idea to bring back today!

The attractions at the Fair included a merry-go-round, Aunt Sally (this is apparently game where players throw sticks or balls at a wooden dummy – isn’t the Internet amazing?!), Punch and Judy, conjuring, a fancy dress procession, and stalls for sweets, cakes, drinks and produce.

While the attractions may have changed over the years, the one thing that has not since then is how the donated labour of women made it all possible.

People protested against the building of Ashburton Scout Hall

In 1946, the absence of facilities for ‘Scouting needs’ in Ashburton was a pressing issue. Scouting in Ashburton had begun two years earlier. Mr G H Burrowes founded the 9th Camberwell (1st Ashburton) Troop on 15 September 1944 with a membership of eight boys. Mr E N Sanders formed a Cub Pack a few months later on 29 November and this enjoyed an immediate membership of 18 boys. Scouts has remained popular ever since.

The initial venue was the Ashburton Recreation Pavilion on High Street but the building of a Scout Hall was an early consideration of the Troop’s Parents and Friends Committee. It was proposed to be located in the north-west corner of Ashburton Park. For those directionally challenged like me, this is the Fakenham Road side of the park.

This idea went down so badly that there was a protest organised against it by the residents of Fakenham Road. Their objections sound, well, pretty much like the objections of every resident ever who doesn’t like development or change anywhere near their land. These included:

  1. When purchasing land opposite the Reserve they did not anticipate a hall being built immediately opposite;

  2. Past experience had shown that scout halls, as built in other districts, deteriorated to such an extent that the modern homes opposite depreciated in value;

  3. The noise coming from the hall would constitute a common nuisance; and

  4. Halls other than buildings for sporting facilities should not be erected on a public reserve.

Cr Eric Raven suggested that perhaps it could be built on the High Street side of the reserve. It remains there – still in pretty good shape – today.

The mere existence of teenagers meant they were always causing ‘trouble’

As the Housing Commission expanded on the south side of High Street, it did not include the building of a youth centre.

Wrote “Magistrate” in Progress Press in November 1950, ‘a few boys and girls in the Glen Iris and Ashburton suburbs are getting into mischief – for want of a club; a place to go where they can meet those of their own age instead of having to loiter about streets and congregate on corners to do nothing.’

‘Youth needs athletic and games activity,’ he continued. ‘Churches reach only 20% of our youth. That leaves 80% in need of your sympathy and interest.’

On the other side of High Street, having successfully NIMBied the Scout Hall, the stodgy Fakenham Road residents turned their attention to the noise of Ashburton Reserve. Their complaints never related to the sport played there, only the cheek of children using it.

A very popular pastime for young men was building and flying model airplanes at Ashburton Park. But the noise was unfathomable for the Fakenham Road residents. One of them was the Councillor for South Ward, Arthur Pearcey. Under his influence/pressure, Camberwell Council passed a by-law forbidding model planes from being flown anywhere in the area.

Eventually, the only place kids could take their model planes was Greythorn Park in Balwyn. This was way too far to carry everything on their bikes so they stopped building them altogether.

Now, complained Mr Farnan, a model plane builder himself, ‘they hang around my shop, the street corner, the park – with absolutely nothing to do.’

The problem of idle teenagers only got worse in 1955. Milk Bars were the next target. They were a ‘menace to youngsters’, Mrs C Quinton told the Solway State School Mother’s Club in June that year. ‘For the lack of something better to do, [teenagers] gather into clans in milk bars and plan escapades, which invariably result in an ‘illegally using’ or ‘breaking and entering’ charges in children’s courts,’ she said.

For once, Mrs Quinton was a person who could speak with some authority. She was a special magistrate at the Children’s Court. She placed the blame squarely on the children’s parents. It was their lack of parental control, drunkenness, and allowing children to watch ‘unsuitable’ films that was the cause of the growing delinquency of Ashburton’s youth. No mention of what these ‘unsuitable’ films were unfortunately.

The problem would only build from there. Progress Press increasingly reported problems with vandalism and ‘louts’. The adults all agreed they wanted youth clubs for teenagers (except one old priest who thought they needed church instead) but by 1956, nobody had come forward to organise one.

Ashburton supported four cricket clubs in the 1950s

Ashburton was all about sport back then too.

After both World Wars, sport provided Ashburton’s large population of returned servicemen and their families with social connections and collegiality. This was vitally important given many of the men suffered from post-traumatic stress.

In summer, cricket was very popular. By the 1950s, Ashburton supported four separate cricket teams: Ashburton Cricket Club, Ashburton Methodists, Alamein Cricket Club, and Ashburton IOR. IOR stood for ‘Independent Order of the Rechabites’, a friendly society dedicated to abstinence from alcohol. This meant no matter what the outcome of the match, everyone sat down and enjoyed a nice cup of tea.

I’ve yet to determine how long these clubs lasted but they were still going strong into the 1950s.

Soccer threatened the supremacy of Australian Rules football early

Ashburton Football Club Premiers 1956

In the 1940s and 50s, Melbourne was staunchly the home of Australian Rules football. Soccer was a game for those upstarts in Sydney. There was certainly no soccer team in Ashburton (not until Ashburton United started in the 1970s) and in winter, Australian Rules football reigned supreme. The Ashburton Football Club, who played at Ashburton Park, enjoyed considerable success during this period.

Nevertheless, Progress Press included several articles in the 1940s and 50s about the ‘threat’ of soccer to the supremacy of Australian Rules football in the area.

By 1955, that threat was a reality. Soccer was building considerable support in Camberwell. Soccer officials claimed that the Camberwell (Australian Rules) Football Club had such a small and indifferent following – due to its woefully bad performances – that the Club was a liability to ratepayers. Soccer, claimed the Victorian Amateur Soccer Association, had thousands of fans in Camberwell and the surrounding areas that could not wait to come out and support their team. They tried to assure the readers that soccer would be played every alternate Saturday, so as not to clash with the Camberwell Football Club’s home matches. The Council would still receive the full payment of ground rental fees for the season.

The Council was not convinced. Battle lines between Australian Rules vs Soccer were drawn.

Pugh’s Carpets has been there a loooong time

Pugh's Carpets advertisement from 1954

The longest-running continuous business in Ashburton is Pugh’s Carpets at 291 High Street.

The initial shop buildings along High Street were built in the 1920s at the same time as the houses. Mr Munro, of Munro Avenue fame, and Mr Ward of Ward Street note, built several of the houses and shops on the eastern end of High Street. By the 1940s, the shopping strip stretched up to Welfare Parade and the railway bridge.

A half-page advertisement for H Pugh & Sons appeared in December 1954 announcing the opening of ‘Ashburton’s Finest Complete Home Furnishing Store’ indicates its location in the ‘new’ shopping centre. Two years later, Mr Pugh bought the space adjoining his shop and it remains there today.

By 1955, the Ashburton High Street housed 80 separate businesses, including the chain stores Coles (cheaper clothing and variety), Snows (a department store), Dickens (a supermarket – later acquired by Coles), and Crofts (groceries). The arrival of Rockmans (women’s and children’s clothing – still around) was its 81st business.

‘More and more people are finding that they can get all they wanted in Ashburton’s flourishing shopping centre,’ Lou Cookson, the President of the Ashburton Chamber of Commerce told Progress Press.

This would be the heyday of the Ashburton shopping district. Within a decade Chadstone Shopping Centre emerged.

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