There could be no Humans of Hampton without featuring “Mr Hampton”, Graeme Disney. Of course I couldn’t include everything, otherwise it’d have to be a two parter but I suspect Bayside is a much better place because of people like Graeme.
I’m 77 and I’ve lived in Hampton all my life. I was born in Brighton in Araluen, a little private hospital in New Street. It’s a private house now. So I lived for a week or so in the hospital in Brighton and apart from that I’ve lived the rest of my time in Hampton.
My parents lived in Alicia Street when I was born and when I was 4 years old we moved to the dwelling behind the newsagency in Hampton Street. That shop has now gone, it’s part of a development that has four shops with apartments above. We were dining at Il Forno the other night and Dorothy said “do you know you’re sitting in the stationery display shelves?” Ours was a big shop and very well established. My dad was there for 73 years, I was there for 50 and our middle son came into the business with us so it spanned three generations. We sold the business and then sold the property and it was all redeveloped.
The first school I went to was a little private school called Wallace, which was in a large Edwardian house in Hampton Street where Poci’s Restaurant is today. It was a preschool for boys and girls and a primary for girls. I have very fond memories of that school; I learnt some vital things there. I remember one day when I was four, the whole school was paraded in front of the front verandah. The principal, who was a very strict lady, gave us a very tough talk about bad language. She had passed by the boy’s toilets and she heard what she said was a filthy word. So she called this unfortunate kid out and said “filthy boys who use filthy words have filthy mouths and we have to clean them” and she got a bar of Life Buoy soap and she washed his mouth out with soap and water. It wasn’t me but it taught me not to swear – I never said ‘bum’ for years! Life Buoy was a red soap and it had a strong carbolic content and for all my young life whenever I smelt Life Buoy I thought of that lesson.
We grew up with war; planes went over all the time and we’d look at them and be quite disappointed if they had Australian roundels instead of the Japanese Red Spot because we’d hope that our fellows would shoot them down and we’d be able to watch.
I went from there to Hampton State (now known as Hampton Primary) and that was interesting because it was during the Second World War. I was born in 1938, I was christened on the day that Britain declared war on Germany and so I was very much a war time student and the grounds were dug up with trenches. They were quite deep trenches and were full of clay and initially they didn’t have any covering over them so when it rained it got very wet and gooey on the bottom and we were forbidden from playing near them, but of course boys being boys we’d all look in and someone would come past and say “what are you looking at?” and we’d say “you” and push him in. And then you’d have to go back to the teacher and explain why you had yellow clay all around your shoes. They were later roofed over by the teachers, the fathers and the 6th grade boys.
We had evacuation practice every Monday, complete with air-raid sirens. We’d heard that a Japanese plane had flown over Hampton and the footy oval at Sandy had a search light team. There was barbed wire through the tea trees on the foreshore. We grew up with war; planes went over all the time and we’d look at them and be quite disappointed if they had Australian roundels instead of the Japanese Red Spot because we’d hope that our fellows would shoot them down and we’d be able to watch. We had brown outs and my dad was an air raid warden so if a chink of light came out from under your curtain, he’d knock on your door and you’d have to close it over.
I can well remember one lady teacher when I was in, I think, the third grade and she was very quick with using the ruler and if we misbehaved girls were hit on the knuckles but boys were made to stand on the desk seat and she’d whack us on the soft bit behind our knee with a ruler and we got the message pretty quickly. In the fifth grade we had an ink monitor called Henry and he used to show off to the girls by drinking the ink and he’d have blue lips and a blue tongue and the boys called him the blue tongue lizard, but the girls would say “Oh Henry you’re so brave”. I often wondered what happened to him. I just wondered if he had something like an appendix out and the surgeons wondered why it was blue instead of pink.
I can remember going to First Hampton as a Cub and later as a Scout. When I was about eight we went on our first Cub Camp, which seemed a long way away. We caught the bus at Hampton Station to Highett Station and we caught the train and we got off the train and gathered up all our stuff and our packs and we walked alongside a high red brick fence. Then we walked and we walked and we went through the bush and we finally came to a spot where we lit a camp fire and cooked our lunch. It was many years later that I found it was actually just Cheltenham Cemetery and Cheltenham Park, but at the time I thought it was a huge adventure.
I didn’t have any siblings. My mother had some problems and there were attempts before and after me and it didn’t work out so I was the only one. Everyone would say “only child, you’re spoilt” and I used to get very indignant about that because growing up in the newsagency there were a lot of paper boys and they were almost like brothers to me, our place was always full of kids and my mum, as a country girl, adopted all these waifs and fed them with soup and hot drinks in winter.
When I was young, once you got beyond the streets running off Sargood Street, getting up towards Bluff Road, that was mainly parsley patches, flower gardens, vegetable gardens and dairy paddocks. Once you crossed Bluff Road, you were really in the country, with larger market gardens. This area exploded in the late 1940s, early 1950s as the housing commission took over all the land and built houses for returned servicemen and their families.
I thought I’d try it for a short time and I did, I tried it for 50 years and then decided no it wasn’t really what I wanted to do!
I went from Hampton State in the 6th grade to Brighton Grammar. I was there for a couple of years but I really wanted to do something in art or design and arts weren’t highly rated as Brighton Grammar was very much an achievement school. I had a friend who went to the new school that opened in Sandringham called Sandringham Boys Technical School and I just fell in love with it, I thought that was terrific and I drove my parents mad to leave Brighton Grammar and go to Sandy, where I loved technical drawing and all those sort of things. I eventually went from there to what was then called Caulfield Technical College and did Mechanical Engineering. I left a year before finishing because dad said “the business is too big, I’m getting too old, if you ever want it, now’s the time, otherwise I’ll work to selling it” and I thought I’d try it for a short time and I did, I tried it for 50 years and then decided no it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I’m a slow learner!
A newsagency is long hours and hard work, but I loved the contact with the customers. Dorothy and I had so many friends and now that we’re retired people say “Do you miss work?” And we say “Not at all but we certainly miss the people” because there were so many that we saw every day who walked in and bought their paper. I took a funeral yesterday – I’m Chaplain of Sandy Yacht Club – of a fellow who’d been a member of Sandy Footy Club for 60 years and he’d been their Treasurer for 23 years and it turned out to be a chap who I saw every morning when he walked into the shop to get his Sun on the way to the footy club.
At this stage, we briefly introduce Graeme’s wife, Dorothy, who gives her version of how they met!
My mother and grandmother took me to school the first day and picked me up after school, but after school on the second day I got disoriented and somehow I went out the back door instead of out the front door where they were waiting down in the garden and I got out there and there was this absolute mess of kids and a playground I’d never seen because it was the big kids playground. This horrible boy came running down and said “get out of the way sheila”. He was probably in grade 4 then and after he left school I kept seeing him in Hampton Street and thinking “that’s that horrible boy that told me to ‘get out of the way sheila’”.
Back to Graeme.
I can only remember running and somebody sort of stepped in front of me. I have to admit that I did use the term sheila because that’s what all boys called the girls in those days.
We both went to Holy Trinity Church and I became a Sunday School teacher and I remember seeing her and thinking what an attractive young girl she was. Later on when I was a youth leader at church, she was secretary on the committee but she had a boyfriend and she seemed to be very well settled. Dorothy was about 17 and I was around 19 or 20. They split up and I was going with another girl but the situation changed very quickly and the rest is history I suppose. We were married in 1963 and we had three sons born in ’66, ’68 and ’70.
In our youthful ambition we thought it’d be great to have two boys and two girls. Then, when we had three boys, we thought we’d quit while we were ahead just in case it was four boys. I thought the poor girl, she’s living in the house with me, three boys, a male dog and a male cat. We had two goldfish and we always thought one of them might have been a girl, but we weren’t really sure.
When we married we house-sat a friend’s house in David Street for a year and that gave us a bit of a breather to buy our first house, a cal bung, in The Avenue. It was very hard for us to buy our first house. We bought it in 1964 and it was more than 5 thousand pounds. We couldn’t get bank finance because you couldn’t get a loan to buy a timber house. And so we ended up buying that house vendor financed and the interest rate was high. I think it was 5 or 6%, but later we were able to transfer to the bank on better interest but only because we changed to a brick house.
We felt a bit embarrassed that we were living in a 1920s cal bung. All our friends married and went out to all the new suburbs like Mount Waverley where they had flash new kitchens with acres of laminex. We had to stay in Hampton because, although my dad did the mornings, I was on call from 4.30am and I had to be able to get there quickly, if needed. But our friends would come and we’d think “oh this house is so old” and they’d say “oh it’s so nice to be back near the beach”. We did it up on a five year plan and we sold it and bought a brick one in Hastings Street. We had a very tall pine tree and the kids used climb up and watch the yacht races starting and I went up there one day and I came back down and I thought “we should build upstairs because we’d have a sea view”. However, we did that place up ready for sale and thought the ultimate would be to live on Beach Road. We had customers who had this house and they told us they were going to sell and about that time property was starting to move, it hadn’t moved much for years, and we thought the best thing to do was to buy this house. We have a wonderful view of the bay. I can watch Sandy Yacht Club’s start line and the number 3 buoy is out in front of our house and I can watch all my friends sail. We’ve been here 35 or 36 years now.
All three boys went to Hampton Primary and then went in various directions. One went to Sandy Tech, one went to St Leonard’s, one went to Brighton Grammar. We now have seven grandchildren, who keep us very busy.
I left the Mechanical Engineering course with one year to go and I thought I might finish it at night school, but I was a lay reader at Holy Trinity and became interested in and pretty involved with Theology. One thing led to another and I studied Theology at night at the Australian College of Theology and I graduated with second honours and I never did get round to going back to engineering.
I started off serving at the altar and I became a Lay Reader which required a licence from the archbishop. Lay readers can take some parts of church services and once I did my ThA I then became what’s called an Honorary Licensed Lay Minister. I can conduct church services, including funerals. I’m chaplain of Sandy Yacht Club, where I do the Blessing of the Fleet, and Hampton RSL, where I help conduct the Dawn Service on Anzac Day.
We’ve got a gaff-rigged couta boat named ‘Florence’ that’s 82 years old. We’ve owned her for over 40 years and and our kids have all grown up on her. They’re all sailors but when Chris was in the juniors, I joined the junior committee and I eventually became what they call an off-the-beach captain which is in charge of the cadets and I did that for 7 years. Later I was asked to go onto the General Committee, so I became Rear Commodore, then Vice Commodore. You do two years as Rear, two years as Vice and two years as Commodore but at the end of my two years as Vice, I had to withdraw. Council amalgamation came about and Sandringham was combined with Brighton and parts of Moorabbin and Mordialloc, to become Bayside. I’d been involved with Sandringham Council a lot, I’d chaired some committees, although I’d never been a councillor, and I got on very well with both councillors and council staff. I was President of Hampton Chamber of Commerce and also worked with council in that role.
I’d hoped I’d be elected and achieved that without preferences, but what I didn’t expect was to be elected Mayor the first day.
To go right back to the start, there was a stage in the 1970’s when at the bottom part of Linacre Road, opposite where Linacre Hospital now stands, there was a big stand of mahogany gums and the council engineer decided to pull them out, widen the road and put in a concrete gutter. The neighbours were incensed; one thing led to another and it ended up with blockades and people up trees, defying the wood-cutters. I joined the group and we later formed the Hampton Conservation and Planning Group and we got into beach cleaning, foreshore planting, street planting, all sorts of things from that. We decided, as conservationists, that we had to change the whole culture of Sandringham Council. I worked on election committees and people like Paul Gundry-White, Lesley Falloon and Graeme Evans were elected as councillors. When amalgamation came I was really concerned that Hampton and Sandringham would lose their ‘village’ feel and that the new municipality was too big. I was disappointed with the calibre of some of the people interested in standing, it was the first time that councillors were going to be paid, and I felt some people were thinking of financial reward more than commitment, so I stood for election myself. I’d hoped I’d be elected and achieved that without preferences, but what I didn’t expect was to be elected Mayor the first day. So I had to go cap in hand to the Yacht Club committee and say “guys I can’t be Mayor and Commodore”. It’s a clash of interests but apart from that I’d be dead trying to do the two jobs. My first time as Mayor was 1997/98 and then again in 2000/2001.
My involvement with committees started off like most people did, when my kids went to kinder I went on the kinder committee and then I became chairman. Because I had three kids and they were two years apart I was chairman for 4 years. When they went to Hampton Primary I was asked to go on the school council to represent Sandringham City Council and eventually became chairman. When Chris went to Brighton Grammar I joined the parents’ committee. And that’s sort of how my involvement with committees developed. Because of the shop I got involved with the Chamber of Commerce and then involved with Sandringham Council when they wanted to do a traffic and redevelopment plan for Hampton Street and one thing led to another.
I love the people of this area, especially Hampton. This is a precious place, it’s a village really. We’ve had a high proportion of writers, poets, artists, sculptors, teachers, those sort of people living in this area. When I was young it was very much a blue collar area although the beach side of Hampton Street perhaps had lots of professional people, but going inland there were lots of blue collar people, the sort who went and worked at the one place all their working lives and got to the top. Hampton is a great place to live. I’ve always viewed the whole place as precious with its wonderful built and natural environment, especially the foreshore.
But really I just love being involved with people and I don’t know how I got to be chairman of so many things; I guess it’s the unwilling appointed by the unfit to do the unnecessary!
Graeme has an OAM for services to local government, local history, the church and yachting and he says that these, along with family, are the five aspects of his life.
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[…] year old Ella (granddaughter of Graeme Disney) was just 10 when her family set off for a sailing trip around the world in their 45 foot yacht. […]