Granny Mac & the McAllisters

We would often walk up the hill to Number 14 where the McAllisters lived and visit Granny. She was a lovely warm person. Not very tall but ‘ample’ in proportions. I remember her nearly always dressed in black, maybe because her husband died about the time I was born and, in that era, that was the thing to do. I think of Granny Mac whenever I see a photograph of Queen Victoria after her husband died. The house at Number 14 was large with some six rooms at ground level, about the same upstairs and about four down in the basement, which served as a series of workshops for the boys (Uncles Bob, Dave and Don) for their trades of woodwork and plumbing and, I assume, Grandad when he was alive, who was also a tin / coppersmith. Auntie Molly, the youngest in the family lived there as well.

The main living area was of course the kitchen, heated with a large wood stove where Granny cooked and heated her irons. She would regularly cook a large cast iron boiler of soup and I remember calling in on the way home from school to watch her skimming fat from the top of the soup. The kitchen had a large plain wooden table, which was scrubbed regularly to keep it snowy white, and a series of kitchen chairs. We would all sit in the kitchen and talk when we visited at night and I must have been quite young, but can remember going to sleep on two kitchen chairs and being carried home later that night.

The rest of Granny’s house was immaculate, but never used. She had a formal dining room next to the kitchen with a very large dark wood dining table and chairs, sideboards and dried flowers, which were a bit creepy to me. I would sneak a look in there occasionally but the next room was my real favourite because there she had her Pianola and often after school when I called in, she would play not only her favourites but best of all, the Teddy Bear’s Picnic which I have only recently introduced to the Hobart Ukulele Group. The best part of the house for me as I got older were the downstairs workshops. A scary area when I was younger but I was very comfortable down there in the semi-dark when I reached my teens.

None of the boys went into the services during the war because their trade skills were far too important to lose, but Bob was sent to Queensland in the early 1940s and died there soon after. Although I was only about 10, I still recall the sadness it brought to the whole family.

I saw quite a bit of Uncle Dave who worked at Purdon and Featherstone’s at that time and always got on well with him. Uncle Donald was a bit more difficult to get close to and although we could talk, it was never at the same level as with Dave. We seemed to spend a lot of time with the McAllisters. Mum was close to her family, specifically her mother and sisters, but I also recall both uncle Bob and Uncle Dave calling in to our place after work on their way home. Uncle Bob would always have a stale sandwich left in his lunchbox for me when he called in and I loved to eat it. He probably went without at lunchtime just so I could have one.

Auntie Betty lived around the corner from Granny Mac at Number 47 Colville Street with Uncle Ted and son Teddy, who was just five years older than me. Mum was the middle of three daughters and Auntie Mollie the youngest. She married Jock Muir and lived in Sydney during the war years while he was boatbuilding for the services.

The eldest son, William, was killed during the First World War in France. Donald might have been the next son, followed by Dave and then Bob. The whole family were highly skilled tradespeople, from the father as a tinsmith, Don as a plumber, Dave multi-skilled at woodworking, metalwork or engineering and Bob as a woodworker. In the early stages of the war, Don designed and built a Colin Archer style cruising yacht in the yard at Number 14 St. Georges Terrace. I would call in on the way home from school and watch the progress. I couldn’t remember the name for planks and one day when he was working on them and I called them ‘palings’. He couldn’t see the funny side of that.

A classic indication of multiskilling was the day I watched Don hot dip galvanising the mast and deck fittings in a long metal trough filled with molten zinc. He obviously ‘borrowed’ the zinc from somewhere, gave it back when he was finished and, in the interim, had perfectly galvanised fittings for the yacht. The yacht was beautifully built, very much under canvassed and so was quite sluggish under way. He eventually sold it and it went to, and I believe is still in, Hawaii. I had a lovely sail with him and several of his friends one weekend when we went down the Channel, around South Bruny Island and up the outside to home. I still have several old photos I took with my little plastic camera.

Another son, Richard, lived across the road from us in Colville Street for a short while and relied on Mum quite a bit. I think he broke up with his wife at about that time and he died not long after that.

When we visited the McAllisters of an evening, I remember being carried home by Dad and going into our house. When the light went on at Number 7, the floor was covered with cockroaches and they scuttled straight across the room back under the stove where they apparently lived. The two conjoined houses (Numbers 5 and 7) were almost a century old at that time and, with the wooden flooring laid very close to the damp ground and little under floor ventilation, became a haven for creepy crawlies.

It must have taken a lot of firewood to keep the houses warm during the winter, particularly the older homes, but all neighbours had the same problems – lack of room, small backyards and the only heating from a wood fired stove.