George Wesley Gilding 1923-1996
his life story
I was born in Broken Hill in 1923 and weighed l0½lbs. and at the great age of 9 months I shifted to Laura where my family stayed for 4 years. We shifted to Auburn where I started school. My main memory of Auburn was of our young female baby sitter in a “show and tell” session in the bedroom explaining the facts of life. I was 5 years old. We shifted to Balaklava when I was 6. Balaklava gave me great opportunities to develop my initiative. Being too poor to buy cigarettes, I had to smoke pieces of the cane lounge. Cane is good for smoking because it has holes from end to end to suck smoke through. But it is very hot. On holidays I went by train to Kadina going through Bow-mans. I had an aunt and uncle on a farm near Kadina. There was no cane, so I had to smoke grass in newspaper. That was even hotter.
A train terminated at Balaklava. The engine had to go to a turn-table for the return journey. We hid in the back of the engine (mainly because it wasn’t allowed) and went for a ride. We were warned over and over again. Finally, the full weight of the law fell on us.
One exciting time in Balaklava was when the grain sheds were nearly empty. The men carried the bags of wheat on their backs to load the rail trucks. When the last bags were shifted, we lads came in with sticks to see who could kill the most rats. There were hundreds of them. Another favourite occupation was to ring the doorbell at the Bank Manager’s house and then hide and watch his angry wife. I liked Balaklava because I was friends with Adrian McEwen and his father, the doctor, who kept silk tipped cigarettes in his surgery. In the Primary school at Balaklava. I failed in Grade 6. My father, being a minister, couldn’t tell a lie. So when he took me to enrol in a Boarding School in Adelaide, he told them I was in Grade 6 last year, so they put me in Grade 7.
The family shifted to Magill. Times were still tough and I was keen on creating things like melting down lead and making different shapes. The only available lead was on the flushing on the roof of the church next door. I didn’t want to remove it and cause leaks but there was no alternative in those days. My worst trouble was with cars. At the age of 12 and during a Sunday Service when my father was preaching, I got into a parishioners car and as Chapel Street had a good slope, I ran the car down the road for a ride. I probably thought all good drivers learnt young. My father was quite unhappy. I was only 12, but I had a girl friend who was quite old, about 16 or 17. Not as good as the girl friend, I had in Balaklava. Her father drove the night cart. When I walked home with her you could tell when you were getting near the house.
We shifted to Fullarton. There was petrol rationing in the shed so the car was left idle. That was until I found that if you put self-starter, it in gear and pressed the battery would take it up the drive. The trouble was it didn’t take it back again.
I matriculated at school and got a job at National Mutual Insurance Co. This was great because the policies were kept in a strong room and we had to keep the door shut. There were so many policies we had to use a ladder to get those on the high top shelves. It needed two of us and I being a gentleman, held the ladder while the office girl climbed up to get a policy. I looked up to make sure she was safe. I applied to the Navy to join, but there was a delay and in the meantime I was called up in the Army. We camped at Wayville and were allowed a weekly pass-out. I changed mine to make it permanent, so I could go out every night. I was sent by the Army to Alice Springs in the old Ghan. After a few months, my Navy call came and I gloated to my friends that I was leaving Australia. But the joke was on me. The Navy sent me to Darwin, via Alice Springs where we stayed overnight in the same Army camp. The trip to Darwin was pretty rough because the road was being made, so the trucks went off through the bush.
Unfortunately we all developed dysentery but fortunately there was a tail board on the truck so we could take it in turns of sitting on it and do what one does in an emergency. The residents of Darwin were more nervous of bombs than we 18 year olds so they quickly left their houses in good order to go south and we moved in. We could have any house we chose. Unfortunately our house was near the oil tanks and harbour and these were the targets for the Japs. I worked in the food stores supplying the ships that weren’t sunk so we received all the food and distributed it. Our motto was first come first served so we ate better than the other sailors.
I started a laundry business as I had access to a copper. I would boil the Officers shorts and shirts and iron them at a cost. Business was good but had work so I told a bloke that if he lit the fire under the copper and kept it supplied with wood I would do his washing free. This worked so I told another bloke I would do his washing if he did some of the ironing. It turned into a cooperative with them doing all the work and I kept all the money.
Liquor was not available so as I had access to a copper and the food store I decided to make a few gallons of wine with dried apricots. The copper looked like new after the tarnish joined the wine and those who partook were very ill but it was a great party. The padre picked me up the morning after the party because I played the portable organ that we took to ships in the harbour for a church service. The padre looked at my face an gave me a little talk about the demon drink and I believed him.
I was posted to a ship in New Guinea so it was back to Adelaide than Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns. I finally flew to new Guinea in a Catalina Flying Boat of course by this time the ship had left. We had a navy camp in Alexishaven near Madang It was a Lutheran Mission Station before the war. We took it in turns of being on guard alone at night. I certainly needed my laundry then I was terrified.
I got hepatitis, then Beri Beri then Dengue Fever and finally Malaria. Otherwise I was very well.
A villager offered me his daughter for a blanket but the nights were too cold to give up a blanket.
A ship was blown up at our wharf an I can still see 2 mates who were blown ashore running past me and calling for a Doctor. They were both on fire and fortunately for them they died that day.
When the war ended my brother who was taken prisoner of war in Singapore and worked in a coal mine in Japan was sent home. My parents were advised that he would arrive at Adelaide Railway Station. They were overjoyed because they hadn’t heard whether he was dead or alive for these years. When the boys arrived at the Station one said to my parents “didn’t you know jack’s plane crashed on the way home. Clive James Father was killed in the same crash.
I went back to the Insurance company. Then I got a better paid job with the with the Commonwealth Bank and started a University Course at the Governments expense. Then I decided to go into a Grocery Business with a friend Jim Ward and we bought a shop on Main Nth Road Enfield. We had a little motor bike to collect orders from Dry Creek to turnovers and we delivered the orders in a van. When it got too much for us we employed a driver but he was found to be a drug addict and we had to wait until well into the evening for him to return home. He got lost every day.
After a few years I got married and we had a Honeymoon going on the Strtheden to the Coronation and riding our bikes through the UK Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
We made friends on the “Stratheden” with people from India and went to stay with them in Bombay and later in Madras. In Madras, we were put up in an Hotel in an enormous bedroom. The Indians next door had their servant with them. The servant slept on the floor outside their bedroom door in case he was needed. Our friends had us to their home for meals. As we ate, they put more on our plates. We nearly exploded before we realised that it is good manners to finish with a plate full to show you are satisfied. The milkman called with his cow and milked straight into their billy.
I later bought a grocery shop in Payneham where Marden shopping centre is now. I eventually turned it into a Supermarket and cut prices much to the horror of S.C. Eyles & Co. our suppliers. We did up biscuits in cellophane bags and they became so popular that I decided to set up a biscuit bar in the Adelaide Arcade and sold factory and home made biscuits. While still running the grocery shop we took a cottage as house parents of 12 teenage boys in the Children’s Home at Magill. Most of the boys had been sent out from the U.K. and couldn’t trace their parents as names had been changed purposely. One lad loved fires and lit one in the shed. Another was excited when his alcoholic mother rang to say she would visit. She didn’t turn up. One night we decided to go out for the evening. My wife’s sister agreed to baby sit for us. When we got home, she was frantic. The boys had been playing hide and seek in the ceiling. Our assistant was a sad girl. She became pregnant in Perth and was sent away to Adelaide to avoid embarrassment.
I then took an interest in Aldersgate village (village for aged people) and this took so much time I put a manager in the shop and managed Aldersgate. In the 5 years there I planned and had built accommodation for an extra 300 people. There was no bureaucracy. I had an idea for a group of buildings, had the Architects draw up the plans and specifications and get tenders then took it to a Committee for approval. They always approved.
I was told by the Dept. of Social Security in Canberra, that any time I had anything to say about Aged Care Policy they would provide a Commonwealth car, plane fare and hotel accommodation.
There are so many stories of the old people and staff. I remember one lady in the Nursing home asked the Nurse if she could have her Mogadon (sleeping tablet) early because she couldn’t keep awake.
A trained nurse went mad and I had to chase her and hold her down until the police arrived and we forced her into the back of the police car and off to Parkside (mental home) as it was called then.
I was then appointed Administrator of the Adelaide Central Mission which had Kuipto Colony Alcoholic Rehabilitation. It was a farm and also a pottery factory specialising in flower pots. There were Children’s’ Homes, Old Folks Homes, Goodwill Stores, Life Line, Radio Station 5KA with Peoplestores Community Singing and the “Pleasant Sunday Afternoon” and many other services and I was involved up front in all of them. The Mission now has a staff of 500 and 1,000 volunteers. I travelled Australia for the Mission because there are Missions in every Capital City. And there was a world tour to study the various overseas counselling services. When we eventually started “Life Line”, I was on the trouble team. If someone threatened suicide, the telephone counsellor would ring me and with a helper I would go to the person while the counsellor kept the person on the phone.
We collected a series of knives, tablets, and abuse. It was always between midnight and 4am and we just talked to the people until they calmed down and changed their minds. They always felt and said nobody cared. We had to stay until they believed we did. If they had taken too many drugs we took them to hospital You have all heard of Goodwill Stores. I’ll read a sentence from the History book confirming that I started Goodwill in SA.
One major drama I faced at the Mission was when we established a Nursing Home on Marion Road, Glenelg and the front page of the “Sunday Mail” carried the story. I had to go to Sir Baden Pattinson’s house in Glenelg and face (on my own) all of the protesters. I felt as though I had been through a mangle afterwards.
In 1970 I was appointed C.E.O. of the Australian Council on the Aging in Melbourne and my family had to move with me. This job incurred travelling all over Australia regularly and overseas. I addressed an American Association of Retired Persons Convention in Atlanta. When they asked me to talk, I said what about? They said it doesn’t matter what you say we just want to hear the funny way you Australians talk. When I got sick of travelling and arguing with Politicians in Canberra, I left the Australian Council and got a job as a Builders labourer (a builder was a friend of mine) and then I bought a take-away food shop in Melbourne. It was a quick service centre with pre-cut sandwiches, hot take away dishes, mornays, etc. and the usual hamburgers, fish and chips, potato cakes, dim sims and Chicko rolls. It was in Little Bourke Street, near Myers, but the competition from Greek and Italian people employing their families on the cheap made the prices so low that profit was negligible. The lady who fish and chips complained that her knife was too blunt to cut the fish into thin enough fillets. I asked my son to go and get the knife sharpened next day. When he came back the girl said it was much better, thank you very much. I later asked my son where he got it sharpened. He said couldn’t find anywhere.”
I sold the shop and took charge of the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence, aged care services. I worked with Hazel Hawke and we became good friends. No credit to me. It was just that Bob was never home. I employed an experienced Chef to over-see the kitchen cooks because it provided meals for all our other services. He went to the Prahran market to get fresh provisions. I asked him to buy fish for me each week. It cost $2.00 for a week’s supply of the best fish. One day he was very busy and asked if someone could go to the market for him. I said I’d go but how do I order my fish? He said just say, “I want the fish for the boss” and give him $2.00.
We had a Greek girl in the kitchen who had been washing the greasy pots and pans for six years without a sick day. I said to the Chef that she should be given a break and allowed to serve meals in the dining room. She broke down and came to me and cried and said, “It’s not fair, I’ve been doing the pots and pans for six years and you do this to me”.
We had a gorgeous looking, but bitchy man who saw me every day to complain that he wanted a sex change because he was really a woman, but the Doctors wouldn’t agree because he couldn’t get a Psychiatric Certificate to say he was stable. He wore pretty dresses and used the Ladies wash room.
The Brotherhood set up a home for dead beats to keep them off the streets. A kitchen was provided to encourage them to be independent and not live on just beer and pies. One day, when the caretaker came home, he was very happy because he could smell some cooking from the kitchen. But when he went in to congratulate them, the kitchen had not been used. So he traced the smell wondering if someone had brought home a take-away. He opened a bedroom door and to his horror, one of the drunks had fallen over the radiator still switched on and was dead and cooking. Tom wanted to get married. He came to see the Sister at the Brotherhood and told her and she said, “There are too many disreputable women in Fitzroy, Tom. If you see a woman you want to marry, bring her to see me and I’ll give you the O.K. if she is all right.” He brought several who were not suitable as they were known to be ladies of the street or known to the Brotherhood for things that are too strange to mention here. Finally, Tom came with one and marriage was agreed to. We gave them a wedding, providing the wedding dress and the reception. Three weeks later, Tom turned up with another woman to marry as well. His wife came with him. Sister, said, “Tom you’re already married.” He said, “Well Mary wants to live with us.” He persisted and came back later to say the three were living together and Mary was sort of adopted as his sister. Well, Tom and his wife and sister were found a room in a share house. They had one room and all slept in one bed. Unfortunately, Tom had a foot complaint and even when he washed them, which was rare, his feet smelt badly. I know, because when Tom had been in my car I was reminded of him long after he left. Well, the owner of the house where Torn and the girls were staying complained to me that they were unusual.
At the time, a lady offered a house to let at a very reasonable rent in Richmond. So I told Tom and arranged for a ute to transfer them. Tom was delighted with the house and said he would work in the garden and keep the house painted and he would get a bike and go for rides. He got to know the neighbours quickly because he was very friendly. But soon the neighbours started to complain to the Council who called me. So I went with a social worker to visit. When the front door opened, the stench was so bad I went straight back to the car. When the Social Worker came out she said Tom smelt more than usual, they were still sleeping in the one bed and the place was cluttered and there were faeces and lots of empty bottles in the bath. We arranged for an ambulance for Tom. The hospital doctor rang me to say the legs were very bad and the bandages had not been changed for months and had become entwined in his flesh. He said he would have to amputate. As it happened, the legs were saved but the owners of the house said the three couldn’t stay there any more and the Council sent a truck to take away a truck full of rubbish. The mind boggles at what was in the rubbish. I found them accommodation in a rest home. In one room of course. Tom rang me regularly and said they weren’t really happy at the rest home and could I find them another house just like the other one. He said, “We were very happy there.”
A man in Fitzroy rang me to say he wanted to give his house to the Brotherhood if we would look after him in a hostel. I went to visit him with a Social Worker and once again, the stench was very bad. This time, the trouble was he had two dogs that lived inside. They were fed on the kitchen floor and after they had processed the meat, they excreted it on the same kitchen floor. One dog had mange and smelt very badly (apart from the house smell). The owner had an old V.W. Beetle car in the drive. I said, “Do you drive the car? , the tyres are all flat.” He said, “No, that is where I sit with the dogs in the cold weather. It’s nice and warm with the windows up.”
One day the Police rang me to say a block of apartments had been sold and every-body had moved out except one old lady who refused to shift. Could I find some-where for her? I took a Social Worker with me to offer accommodation. In spite of several calls and knocks on her door, she refused to answer. I rang the Police and said, “If you want us to help, you will need to get us into the apartment.” They said they couldn’t force a door. So we persisted and eventually the lady opened the door. She had not been out for years. A man next door had taken her pension cheque to change and had done her shopping. She lived on practically nothing but she must have ordered sugar every week. There were dozens of unopened packets of sugar piled up on the mantelpiece. The man next door obviously kept most of her money for himself. When she finally agreed to shift we had to talking while I sprayed lots of Mortein in the cases and quickly shut the lids. Nothing could have lived in those cases.
As it happened, the day before, Channel 10 rang me to ask if we had people in need. They came and photographed me taking the lady from the flat. Unfortunately, the flat I found was one of many in a house converted illegally. The owner rang me and abused me for exposing them on TV.
When I left the Brotherhood to retire in 1983, they gave me a grand farewell. They prepared an enormous cake and asked me to gently put a knife into the side of it. I didn’t feel like doing it gently. I was excited and raised the knife to jab the cake. A colleague grabbed my hand and helped me to gently put the knife in the cake. As I did it the crowd cheered and a friend of mine popped up from a covered tea chest under the cake. Luckily, I didn’t jab him.
I built a house in Lobethal after looking at sites in Melbourne and Sydney. My sister Chairs the Festival of Perth and as she is not married, she paid for me to go to Perth each year to accompany her on official gatherings and to cocktail parties for overseas artists after their opening nights. This goes on every night for three weeks. In this way, I met many well known performers and got to know the local VIPs like the Governor, the Premier and Canberra Ministers. It’s a buzz to go into Festival Hall with the Governor and have everybody stand for the National Anthem while you walk in. I reckon they looked at me and thought “Who’ s that goon think he is?” I often sat next to Carmen Lawrence or Richard Court at concerts and was invited by Janet Holmes-a-Court to accompany her to the Theatre. Janet introduced me to Ernie Dingo and brought us coffee and cake while we talked.
The most fascinating performer was Evelyn Kenny, a deaf timpanist. She could play with a Symphony Orchestra and although deaf, could pick up the music from vibrations in the floor. She wore no shoes. She is the world’s greatest timpanist and drummer. When I talked to her, she could lip read so well that we could converse without hesitation.
While dropping names, I should tell you of my connections with Elle McPherson and Dame Edna Everidge. My son commissioned them to produce calendars. When Elle came to Adelaide, I met her with my son under tight security. When Elle met me she said, “I can see where your son gets his good looks.” It appears she has chosen Kevin Costner over me. I don’t know why.
Here is a copy of Wes War records