Sunday, January 20, 2019

What happened in Koo Wee Rup in 1917

Here is a look at what happened in Koo Wee Rup  and surrounds 100 years ago. Naturally the town was still focused on the war effort, local men were still enlisting, sad news about injuries and deaths continued to arrive and the town was still raising money for the War effort and the comfort of soldiers, but this is a look at some of the other activities of the town.  These reports all come from the various newspapers available on Trove.

In February, an unnamed correspondent writing from Koo-Wee-Rup to the Dandenong Advertiser wrote We have a wretched train service on this line and I think it would be a God-send if a deputation, headed by Messrs Keast and Downward M.L A waited on the Department, urging something better….the Railway Department sends along a train service which is altogether preposterous and the conditions execrable in the extreme. Why the country people have no consideration at all, while the suburban travellers are pandered to. The letter writer goes on for another few paragraphs complaining about the Cranbourne Shire Councillors, Government waste and representatives [politicians] engrossed with their own private affairs.  So fast forward 100 years and many Koo Wee Rup citizens might be happy to have any sort of train service, even a wretched, execrable one! (Dandenong Advertiser, February 22 1917)

In May, it was widely reported that Carlo Catani had retired as Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department. A function was held on May 9 and the Premier of Victoria, Sir Alexander Peacock presented Mr Catani with an ‘Illuminated address’. Catani was responsible for the all drainage works on the Koo Wee Rup Swamp from 1893 and had been employed by the Public Works Department since his arrival in Melbourne from Italy (via New Zealand) in 1876.

On July 25, the Lang Lang Guardian reported the Koo Wee Rup Red Cross had despatched a number of items to Red Cross Central Depot to be sent to the soldiers overseas. Amongst the consignment were 57 flannel shirts, 13 sets of pyjamas, 30 handkerchiefs, 22 toilet bags, 72 pairs of socks, 8 balaclavas and 7 pairs of mittens.

The Lang Lang Guardian of October 17 had an obituary of an old Colonist, Mr Thomas Boxshall, who passed away at the age of 88 on September 14. Thomas had arrived in Melbourne in 1842 and took up land in Yallock in 1895. He was survived by ten children and had a son and four grandsons on active service. (Read the full obituary, here)

On October 19,  there was a report in the Powlett Express about three convicts who escaped from the penal settlement of French island. They got away in a boat and landed several miles from Koo-Wee-Rup where they engaged a motor car and were driven to Melbourne. They did not seem to be short of funds. A few days later two more convicts disappeared. The newspaper report goes on to say - The condition of this island establishment almost invites the indulgently treated persons to escape.  Thus even 100 years ago people were unsatisfied with the justice system. The McLeod prison farm was opened on French Island in 1916 and it closed in 1975. It was named after the Chief Secretary of Victoria, Donald McLeod, and one report said the prison was intended for the ‘worthier type of prisoner’ who would work on the prison farm and a pine plantation.

Powlett Express October 19 1917

In early November at  Koo Wee Rup a serious accident which might have had a fatal termination occurred. Mr W.L McClure, Accountant, at the London Bank accidently knocked down the bank’s revolver and the weapon was discharged, the bullet striking him in the left groin and inflicting a dangerous wound. He was taken to a private hospital in Dandenong where an operation was successfully performed… and he is now making satisfactory progress towards recovery. Apart from feeling very sorry for Mr McClure this report is an indication of how times have changed - Banks no longer have their own loaded revolver, lying around (which is probably a good thing) and can you just imagine the massive amount of paperwork that would be generated by this sort of accident today - a Worksafe Inquiry, a Police Inquiry, an internal Bank Inquiry at a minimum. (Report from The Argus, November 5 1917)

The first weekend in December 1917 was a busy time for the town of Koo Wee Rup as there were two well attended events - a Flower Show and the Dedication of the Anglican Church.

On December 6 and 7 the first Horticultural show and exhibition of home products in connection with the Presbyterian Church took place in the Koo-Wee-Rup Hall and the results surpassed expectations. The Lang Lang Guardian records the names of about 150 prize winners in 10 different categories - blooms, arranged baskets of flowers, potatoes, baked items, butter and preserves, fancy work (embroidery and sewing) and a number of categories for children.  The paper reports that in the produce class some very fine sample of what the district can cultivate were shown and in many instances the judges had difficulty in making a decision. (Full report Lang Lang Guardian December 15, 1917, read it here)

On the same weekend on the afternoon of December 7, the Bishop of Gippsland, the Right Reverend George Cranswick, officiated at the dedication of St George’s Anglican Church. The Secretary of the Church, Mr Adeney, read a petition from the Board of Guardians asking the Bishop to dedicate the Church. The Bishop started at the font, then went to the lectern, chancel steps and communion table before which different members of the Clergy read appropriate chapters from the Scriptures. In the evening a baptism was performed and twenty people were confirmed. The Church closed in 2012 and the congregation moved to the Uniting Church. (Full report Lang Lang Guardian, December 15, 1917, read it here)

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