Emerald Messenger

With the demolition in July 2005 of the old post office and store, the last recognisable building from the early days of the Monbulk Village Settlement disappeared from Monbulk’s Main Street. With it went a mural of the 1890s ‘bark hut bakery’ at The Patch with little Johnny Hanna in his sugar-bag suit.
When David Moore’s home in Moores Road became the first post office in Monbulk, school was sometimes disturbed by loungers on the verandah waiting for the mail to be left there. In 1900, Jane and Robert Nation built a shop and dwelling that took the trade from huts and wagons.
When Monbulk for the first time could support two stores, settler Steve Burne in 1908, built a home with two shops under one roof for Misses Sarah and Annie Siddle, nieces of David Moore.
For forty years from then the Misses Siddle were institutions in the sleepy village. Miss Annie Siddle in the Post Office and Sarah managing the small store and newsagency. Meat from Olinda now came down to be left at Siddles’ once or twice a week. A third shop sold sweets to the school children on one side of the shop and drapery on the other.
Once the telephone line reached Monbulk in 1910, Miss Siddle rang Lilydale as soon as she opened the Post Office, to see if the line was clear and to check the office clock. This set the time for all of Monbulk and The Patch, which had no phone until 1920. During World War II Miss Siddle still had only two subscribers.
The two women were very different characters and did not always get on. Sarah liked the races but Annie was a strict but kindly churchgoer who disapproved of short-sleeved dresses on the Lord’s Day and was snappy with dilatory schoolchildren. Respected and admired by the whole community, they raised their brother’s children, who later helped in the shop and did deliveries.
Both ladies went out of their way to help. When the school burnt in the disastrous 1913 fires, those schoolchildren who were cut off from home took refuge with the Misses Siddle and both stores were saved by local residents. During the Depression years needy families could count on extended credit or found their debts forgiven and at Christmas little gifts appeared on doorsteps.
In wartime, Miss Annie walked miles to deliver telegrams personally to servicemen’s anxious families. Japanese assistant Miss Artso disappeared on the outbreak of war, to be replaced by Ruby Seamer. She attended to War Service payments to wives every second Thursday, sent off monthly service parcels to the boys at the front, snipped out ration tickets and dealt with frustrated customers who had to wait for their cigarette quota.
When Harry Hunt took over in 1947 it was still ‘a simple affair of moderate activity; a small room adjacent to and a part of the building which was also the grocery store and the home of the owners. One mail inwards, picked up by the public, mostly the children after school, and one mail out to Melbourne daily. A small manually operated telephone switchboard had only five subscribers. The Post Office clock belonged to Miss Siddle, a typical old-fashioned large-faced pendulum machine like those in every post office and railway station’.
Post-war migration and a growing commuting population saw the focus of the business community move to the other end of the Main Street. A new Post Office was built in 1980 but later moved across the road. Azaleas long retained from Jock Murray’s front garden no longer bloom in their planter boxes.
Nothing visible now remains of the old Main Street. The old shops opposite the school retired behind new fronts and termites completed what fire began. Only the core of Nation’s store and the old Anglican church can be detected with difficulty behind their extensions. It is to be hoped that with future rebuilding in the main street the town’s agricultural history will be remembered, not forever lost.
DOROTHY WILLIAMS
Further information: Monbulk: Living in the Dandenongs (Dorothy Williams); available from Monbulk Newsagency.)

Categories: July 2020