Fire & rain
by Bill McAuley-Hudson
7th February 2016
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!”