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Tom our TV man

TOMMY Kerkhof is Warrandyte’s best-known television personality. He is the man behind our TV screens. This year his television repair business celebrates a 50-year milestone. For almost half a century, Tom has toiled and tinkered with our Panasonics and adjusted our Samsungs and Sonys.

From the clunky boxes of the 1950s to the sleek flat screen models of today, he has kept us tuned in and switched on.

“But times have changed,” said Tom. “I’m basically in forced semi-retirement because hardly anybody gets their TVs repaired anymore, they just throw them away. But if any work turns up, I’ll do it.”

Tom and the rest of his family arrived in Australia from Holland when he was only nine. The year was 1952 and Tom could hardly speak a word of English. They first went to live in Hepburn Springs, but Tom’s dad heard about a house to rent at Warrandyte and he came all the way down here to inspect it.

“Dad was a nature lover,” said Tom. “And as soon as he saw the beautiful river across the road from the house, he knew it would be a great place for the four kids to grow up.”

The family, moved into 304 Yarra St and Tom remembers becoming excited the day they arrived.

“I saw the Warrandyte sign as we drove into town and thought to myself, this is the place where we are going to live.”

Tom attended Warrandyte Primary School the very next day.

“The first thing they asked me was, can you play football? Although I could only under- stand a few English words, I could understand the question,” remembers Tom. “I replied, yes, and they handed me a red oval-shaped ball and it looked nothing like a soccer ball.”

Although Tom knew nothing about footy at that stage, he was convinced by fellow student Ray Girling to barrack for Essendon and Tom’s been a red and black faithful ever since.

Tom’s lack of English was to get him into trouble early at his new school.

“My classmate Johnny Smith set me up a beauty,” he says, laughing. “He told me to go over and tell the teacher to go and get, well, a very rude word. She blew up and seemed surprised at my colourful language but she soon realised that I had been set up by Smithy and I was let off.

“Our teacher Mrs Cowden cottoned on to the fact that I could hold a tune and later that year she cast me in a school play that was held at The Mechanics Institute. She introduced me to the crowd saying that although I had been in Australia only four months, they should listen to me as I sang to my fellow student Margo Forder. The crowd stood up and applauded at the end of the song and I had to sing an encore.”

Tom picked up English quickly and today speaks without any accent at all. He attended Ringwood High School and remembers travelling on the school bus with fellow Warrandytians such as Frank Schubert, Daryl Pike, Laurie Warr and Willie Merbis.

“The bus driver Dick Termorshuizen wouldn’t take any nonsense,” remembers Tom. “And if there was any ruckus he’d pull over and throw the offending kids off the bus and they’d have to walk home to Warrandyte.”

Tom was keen on high jumping and joined Ringwood High’s athletics team. The ability to jump would serve him well in later years when he played first ruck for the 1966 Warrandyte premiership team.

Tom also became keen on electrical things and interested in radio. In 1956 when TV came in, Tom was even more interested.

“I thought TV repairs could be a good job because it was mostly indoors and would keep me out of the heat and rain.”

After finishing Year 10, a teacher gave Tom some good advice saying: “If you are interested in radio and TV then there is no point in staying on at school.” Tom took his advice and started his apprenticeship at Stoney’s, an electrical retail store in Ringwood. His course lasted five years as an apprentice radio and television technician, which included studying one day a week at RMIT.

“At Stoney’s I started out fixing irons, jugs and toasters but finally progressed to radio and TV,” said Tom. “I also met my wife Penny at Stoney’s where she worked as a sales assistant. I was 20 and she was 16. We’ve been together ever since.

“Penny and I got off to a slow start because I used to squire her around in Stoney’s Vauxhall ute. She wasn’t too keen to be seen in the ute, but she brightened up considerably in 1961 when I pulled up in my newly bought FC Holden.”

Eventually Tom and Penny were married in the Ringwood Catholic Church in 1968. They honeymooned in Surfers, driving there in the FC Holden that Penny much admired.

“The first night of the honeymoon was spent in a motel in Springvale,” remembers Penny. “We couldn’t understand why it was so hot and we spent all night trying to get cool. We opened all the windows and doors of the motel unit and it wasn’t until the morning that we noticed an air conditioner in the room. If only we’d switched it on!”

Tom started playing football with the mighty Bloods when he was 17.

“I started in the reserves but rapidly improved and within two years I was playing in the seniors,” said Tom. “I trained hard because I had a passion for footy, I just wanted to get better and better and better.”

Tom remembers when they won the 1966 Grand Final. “It’s a great feeling when you’re doing what you love, playing well as a team and actually winning the flag.”

Tom’s hard training paid off when he was voted Warrandyte’s best and fairest player in 1971. He was invited to train with Fitzroy but declined saying, “I just started my own business and I love playing with the local boys.”

Tom and Penny started up Tom Kerkhof Television in 1966 when his job at Stoney’s began to interfere with playing football with Warrandyte. It’s interesting to note they have loyally advertised their business in every single edition of the Warrandyte Diary since 1970. Tom fully acknowledges his wife’s involvement in the family business saying: “Penny has done all the paperwork for the past 50 years. She has also worked for 40 years as a medical receptionist.”

The Kerkhofs had one daughter, Melissa, now 43, and they spend a lot of their time with their granddaughters, Ebony 7 and Chloe 2.

Penny looks back on her time living in Warrandyte: “I really love Warrandyte even though I didn’t live here as a child,” she says.

“We do a lot of socializing with our friends and neighbours and have a long and close involvement with the tennis club.”

For Tom it’s been a wonderful journey for a little Dutch boy who came to live here 63 years ago. One who quickly learnt to speak English and then assimilated into the melting pot of our culture, business and sport and found a place to call his home.

Tom has the last word: “I’ve never had a reason to shift and never thought of leaving. We’ll probably live here forever.”

Fire & rain

THE drama of fire and rain featured in Chris Scott’s young life. She was born in Warrandyte in 1934, the year of the great flood, when the Yarra River overflowed its banks and spread as a single lake from Richmond to Warrandyte.

The heavy rain throughout the state caused the river to rise above Yarra Street and the locals had to wade across the river at the football ground to get to the township.

“I was only a couple of months old at the time,” Chris said. “So I have no memory of the flood, but I remember well the Black Friday bushfires of 1939.

“My mum Phyllis, sister Robin and I were sitting in the river opposite the cliffs when the fire roared across the top of us as we huddled under wet blankets. I wasn’t scared and thought it was exciting. I was only five at the time.

“Our house in Castle Rd survived, but the ferns growing alongside the house were all scorched. Unfortunately the family car was burnt. The next week when we passed some burnt out stumps in Everard Drive, I told my little sister that there were witches living in them.”

Chris was born into one of Warrandyte’s oldest families and can trace her ancestry back to the gold rush days of 1853, when her great-great Uncle John Hutchinson arrived here. John held the position of pound keeper from 1855 until 1872. Her great-great grandfather William Hutchinson arrived in 1855 and eventually owned all the land from the top of Melbourne Hill down to the tunnel.

Her father Richard Spetts married Phyllis Hutchinson and they both worked in the local butcher shop. They set up their home and started to raise their family in Castle Road.

“It was great living near the river and us kids spent all summer swimming there, but we had to scurry home for tea when we heard our father’s whistle,” Chris said with a smile.

When Chris was eight years old, her parents split up and both she and her sister were sent to live in a boarding school in Killara.

“We both hated it, some of the sisters were very strict.”

Two years later their dad came and rescued the girls from Killara and took them to live with him and their grandmother in Croydon.

“They were good years and dad tutored me in mathematics and algebra. After his tutoring I received top marks,” she said with pride.

Eventually Chris and Robin returned to live in Warrandyte when their father took them back to the family home in Castle Road.

“I loved being back in Warrandyte and it felt like I had come home,” said Chris. “We were much more independent and free living here. I loved it so much that after I married, I imported my husband Jack to Warrandyte.

Chris remembers walking to Warrandyte Primary School in the mornings.

“I mostly enjoyed school but wasn’t too happy when one of the teachers picked me up by the fringe of my hair,” she said.

“At school during WWII we used to train in case of air raid attack. The boys dug trenches and we had to crouch in the trenches with our erasers clamped between our teeth. The teachers made us do that in case a bomb went off and we damaged our teeth.

“We were also trained not to look up in case the Japanese fighter pilots could look down and see the whites of our eyes,” she added with an incredulous grin. “During the war when the men were away fighting, my mum drove Walsh’s bakers van and Babe Stewart drove the Ringwood bus.”

Chris was 17 when she met her husband Jack (then 22) for the first time outside the Melbourne Town Hall. They were friendly at a party three months later and married within two and a half years at the historic Christ Church in South Yarra.

“It was a year after the Queen visited that same church,” said Chris. “You couldn’t get down Chapel Street the day the Queen was there.”

After that the couple bought a house in Houghton’s Road.

“We worked hard and had the house paid for in two years,” said Chris. “It was a good start.”

They started a family of four children. Michael now is 61, Susan 59, Linda 58 and Macgregor 54.

Next March, Chris and Jack will have been married for 62 years.

“When I first met Chris, I asked her where she lived,” chimed in Jack. “She replied Warrandyte and I said where the hell is that? But there has never been a dull moment and we complement each other.”

Chris agreed. “We are both Libras and balance each other out. It’s funny though, all our kids have married Libras too.”

“Jack spent 10 years as a councilor on Manningham City Council and served for a year as mayor in 1977. He is very civic-minded and wanted to represent our town with a voice in council to keep from excessive development of Warrandyte. Not to stop development, but to make sure it was appropriate.”

The couple has four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren and keep busy tending their garden in Knees Road. But life is not all roses and about five years ago the Scotts were given a new challenge.

“Jack was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and that has slowed him up a bit,” said Chris.

Recently she was asked to share her experience with Alzheimer’s by being a guest speaker with Alzheimer’s Australia.

“I’m not used to making speeches but I think I did OK,” she said.

Jack immediately smiles and offers his heartfelt support.

“You did it well Chris, you did it well!”

Crikey Crickets

MOTHER and son duo Nicole and Joel have seized a window of opportunity in the business world through their new entrepreneurial initiative, Crikey Crickets. The pair teamed up to breed and sell live crickets from their home in Warrandyte to local reptile owners.

school crickets - joel 3 copy

The idea stemmed from Nicole’s light-bulb moment when she was fed up with spending excessive amounts on crickets to feed Joel’s five hungry bearded dragon lizards: Jupiter, Rocky, Regis, Hamish and Charlie. It was costing the family about $36 every 10 days to keep the lizards healthy and satisfied.

With that, Nicole suggested to Joel they go into business to breed and sell crickets themselves. Although initially apprehensive towards his mum’s ambitious venture, Joel was quick to jump on board.

“My mum’s like my business partner. She helps a lot with the crickets and everything because, after all, it was her idea. She does a lot of the work because she was the one who learnt how to do it and then you know she’s kind of teaching me.”

Anderson’s Creek Primary School allowed Joel to survey the school in order to gauge the level of interest in their endeavour. He then proceeded to design and hand out fliers to local reptile owners, offering a cheaper alternative to the leading cricket vendor.

“I just went down and asked who has reptiles. There was a fair few and I gave a flier to whoever wanted them.”

Many instructional YouTube videos later, Nicole and Joel came to realise that the process of breeding the critters would not be easy.

“It takes around 8-12 weeks for them to fully grow and there’s a lot of death with the babies,” Joel explained.

“They’re all very dumb, they like to go into the water and drown them- selves or clog up together and eat each other, and then get squished by things. We have to make [their enclosure] pretty much baby proof.”

Eventually the pair came to perfect the science and business began to boom. Joel also handles the marketing side of things and designs the buckets for delivery.

“I have around eight or so customers at the moment all wanting crickets every now and again. And I just got my school to purchase crickets from me for the Animals Program. I’ve got a few kids from there getting crickets and then a few mothers from ACPS,” Joel said.

When asked how he goes about getting the product to his customers, Joel told the Diary he sometimes does the deliveries himself.

“People come here [for pickup] but with the people at school I bring the crickets to them on the bus. The bus driver sort of gives me a weird look but I just make sure to greet them and say goodbye and then they’re happy.”

Joel advises other like-minded, entrepreneurial young people to “just research what you want to do and pursue it”. For his next ambitious venture, Joel intends to establish his own part-time dog grooming business.

Joel told the Diary the teachers at Templestowe College are very supportive of his goals through the Animals Program.

“I want to be a part-time dog owner when I’m older. I’m already going to groom two dogs tomorrow at school,” Joel said.

For inquiries, contact Joel and Nicole via sales@crikeycrickets.com.au or check out their website at www.crikeycrickets.com.au

Do you know a child or teen in Warrandyte exploring their entrepreneurial side? Let us know at info@warrandytediary.com.au

Christmas gift ideas

ethical girlCHRISTMAS is fast approaching and with busy lives it can be challenging to complete all the shopping in time.

This year, a little pre planning will take away some of that anxiety so you can forget the frenzy of last minute purchases.

Here are 10 clutter-free gift ideas that you can make/create/ buy that are useful, practical, fun and often consumable.

  1. Homemade voucher.
 Time is precious so make a voucher for someone special that would be meaningful for them. New parents: babysitting. Elderly: help in the garden. Busy family: cook one dinner a month for a year.
What are your talents? Sewing, cleaning, wash car, computer help. A voucher of your time is valued by everyone.
  2. Movie vouchers. Why not give them with a packet of popcorn and Maltesers.
  3. Classes. Yoga, dancing, pilates, gym; pay for a term and wrap
it along with a couple of health bars.
  4. Mani/pedi. Take one nice empty glass jar, add nail polish, acetone, cotton balls, nail file and wrap with ribbon.
  5. Homemade food treats such as chutneys, pickles, sauces, jams, biscuit, curry paste, baked goods and so on.
  6. iTunes voucher. Always a favourite with the younger ones.
  7. The gift of green. Succulents, cactus, native plants, maybe a trailer load of mulch? Think big.
  8. Tickets for fun and being active, such as mini golf, ten pin bowling, the zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, Melbourne Aquarium, a water park. Tailor it to suit the individual or family.
  9. Massage. So who doesn’t like a massage? A little pampering goes a long way.
  10. Wine or Beer, an all-time favourite but present it a little differently. I made these last year for my colleagues. I called them Rein Beers.

Giving us the Trotts

WE’VE laughed at them. We’ve marvelled at their mistakes.

But finally, after eight years or so of bringing us doozies like the Nevillectomy, Trotts creator Alan Cornell is waving them off, both in search of new horizons.

Warrandyte’s fallible family first appeared on page-two of the paper in July 2007 after Diary founder Cliff Green approached Alan to write a regular column.

Page 2 was precious to Cliff. It had been the nook of late Herald journalist Lee Tindale, his Smoky Joe column a superb fit.

“It took Cliff a while to work out what to do with it and he left it to me to come up with something,” says Alan. “I didn’t really have an idea, I only knew I didn’t want to do ‘Alan Cornell’s opinions; there were plenty of other people giving their take on things.”

He eventually decided on something amusing: a Warrandyte-flavoured situation comedy.

“It’s always confounded me, there’s so much comedy on television and radio but newspapers are dry. There’s barely a smile to be found – with rare exceptions.”

Alan says inventing the little family gave him a number of different characters who “could do all sorts of things and react to different situations”. He admits the character of Gran was “an afterthought”.

“It quickly turned out Gran was a very valuable addition who gave the writing an edge. She might only be in a storyline for a couple of sentences but could instantly give it the focus.”

I ask him, tongue in cheek, how much of Living with the Trotts is a case of art imitating life? (I’m thinking of the time Cinnamon penned the “balletic tour de force” Duck River after borrowing Black Swan, Billy Elliot and Flashdance from VideoEzy, curious whether Alan has a script tucked away in a drawer.)

He laughs: “Yes, a storyline can be based on something personal. But that’s a trap because then people presume you’re as crappy a handy- man as Neville is – which happens to be true!”

“The surprising thing is, after the initial enthusiasm when you seem to have any number of things around you to draw from, I always imagined it would get easier and easier. But it doesn’t actually. It gets harder as time goes on.”

Which brings us to his decision to end the popular chronicles.

“Everything has it’s own life. I’ve probably been finding it harder to write the Trotts over the past 12 months. When I looked back and realised I had been doing it for eight years – about 90 episodes – I just felt the time was right for something new.”

‘Something new’ is something of a tonic for creative people.

Along with various literary projects, (he’s written novel The Gentle Art of Tossing and had short stories published) Alan’s quick wit and stellar performances with a guitar are well known to Warrandyte Theatre Company audiences.

“It was a very Sunday-school-concert concept when I started performing in the Follies 30 years ago. With some awful things, some quaint things, and every now and then a good thing which sparkled by comparison. But it had a real naïve charm about it that I always liked,” he recalls.

The amateur production was Alan’s introduction to performing on stage. Low-key, he characterises his Follies involvement over three decades more or less by saying he “got quite good at writing silly songs”.

However, this belies his visible growth as a performer – his improved skills led to paid gigs outside of Warrandyte – and as a writer/director who has created about 100 Follies sketches and directed three productions.

One skit, which Alan developed with the help of his Bushfire Press colleagues into the musical Open Season, has since been published and performed by high schools and adult amateur theatre groups.

Follies aside, Alan recently co-directed The 39 Steps and this year directed one-act play Arctic Fevers, which has likewise been touring successfully, picking up awards.

“I wouldn’t say I have remarkable insight into theatre,” he says, “but interpreting someone else’s work is quite interesting. And then bringing your own ideas to it – so you don’t just reproduce what the last person did – I do enjoy finding ways of making that work.”

Alan also worked hard at serious song writing for a time but “never quite cracked” the music industry.

“I won a few awards and some of my songs were signed to a couple of record labels. Judith Durham was going to take one and record it as the title song on her new album; the seekers asked me to write a couple of songs for their comeback album,” he reveals.

“So, for a while there I was around the fringe. Unfortunately, it all just… fell over. Still, it was very enjoyable while it lasted.”

When he’s not doing “fun stuff” (or getting behind a microphone as an emcee) Alan works as a copywriter and creative director who has run small ad agencies.

And though he no longer lives locally, the Trotts author remains attached to the township he credits with unearthing his writer-self.

“I actually started out in economics but switched to advertising just before moving to Warrandyte,” he says.

“When my family and I arrived here some 30 years ago, everything gelled. You could say Warrandyte has been the inspiration for my creative side, because it gave me a sense of belonging I hadn’t experienced before.”

He talks of living in Balwyn before the shift.

“Not long after my wife Jan and I had our first child, we went to Edinburgh for a time. It was terrific; we felt a real sense of community. Then we came back to Balwyn, to a life of peering over 5-foot fences pretending you couldn’t see your neighbours, because that would be intrusive.”

He laughs: “We used to get mail from people in Scotland, but some of it accidentally ended up at the house opposite. Our neighbours kept posting the letters back to Edinburgh! And we thought – this is not a community.”

When they eventually bought Stonygrad, (a North Warrandyte stone pile, hand built by sculptor Danila Vassilieff) the Cornells found themselves part of a genuine circle.

“We met all these wonderful people through schools, groups, and the theatre company of course.”

He mentions the enjoyment of seeing his characters come to life each month through one of these “wonderful people”, Diary cartoonist and Living with the Trotts illustrator, Jock Macneish.

“Usually, you have an idea and when you pass it on you hope to see it made bigger. And that’s exactly what happened under Jock’s expert care”, says Alan.

trotts bookI wonder if the Trotts will ever return. (Imagine the travel stories… Gran bellowing on about the virtue of seeking adventure before dementia!)

“Probably not, but they could. I’m not purposefully driving them off a cliff or anything like that, so you never know,” he says.

Meanwhile, Trotts fans will be happy to know the little family is being immortalised in a book, to be launched locally next month (see ad for details).

Before talking future plans, I ask Alan what he has learned from the Trotts’ antics over the years.

“That we’re one big happy family here in Warrandyte. And that writing a column in the Diary is like riding a bicycle – you better be wearing a bike helmet because every now and then you’re going to crash,” he replies, true to his comic nature.

As to what’s next…

“Now that I have a bit more time, I might look at further directing. I’ll also keep doing a column for the Diary, something along the lines of ‘children’s stories written for adults’,” he says. “I think parents like to read something bright to their children but at the same time enjoy the language.”

Wilful and wickedly funny, the Trotts have left our building.

We leave you with an earlier memory of the Diary’s most loveable weekend warrior cocking up a camping trip in The Man from Yarra River.

Neville, Narelle, Cinnamon, Jasper and Gran, you will be very much missed.