One of the early families who ventured into business in Mallacoota, were Alex and Bella Smith and their children, Grace, Eric and Dave. Alex worked at Hoskin’s Mill at the Wallagaraughwhilst the family lived at Jimmy’s Point, which was in the Top Lake, as you go through the Narrows. It was more often called Jimmy’s Shot in those days, as it was the term used by professional fishermen when they anchored their boats there, indicating that they would be shooting their nets on that spot.
The Smith family home was a bark hut, three slabs of bark with a tine roof. The tent in which they slept was prone to leaking. It was a harsh existence, common in those late 1920 years. I remember Dave telling me, the last time he visited Mallacoota, that they obtained their drinking water from a nearby natural pond and how it had to be strained before use as it was full of tadpoles!
On cold winter mornings, it was covered in ice. The ‘oven’ was made from ant-bed in which Bella, using yeast for the rising ingredient, made the most wonderful bread. Honey was an essential food and was purchased in kerosene tins for seven shillings and sixpence (65c). They were the days when a galvanized bucket (about the size of today’s plastic ones) of lamb’s fry cost 1/-(10c). A whole sheep could be purchased for seven shillings (70c).
Food was basic. Luxury items were many decades away. The Wallagaraugh River Mill supplied sleepers for the Welsh pool Wharf. They were brought down the lakes, through the Entrance in the flat-bottomed scow, ‘Elgin,’ and across to Gabo. The “Elgin” would be unloaded, with the use of derricks, on to the ships anchored in the harbour. Dave also told me how he always managed to get sea sick from the fumes of the scow’s two kero Gardner engines. Sadly, the Mill’s last load for Welsh pool was condemned when the 12 foot x 6 inch planks ordered for the wharf’s decking were cut 1/2 inch too wide! This spelt the end of the little mill, and being the Depression years, the owner just did not have any surplus money to pay the wages. So they were paid in timber.
Alex decided to purchase land in the township and use his amount of timber to build a house. It was in the early 1930s when he bought his timber down by boat and unloaded it into the water at Coulls’ Inlet so it wouldn’t dry out. Later, he, Bella and the children carried it plank by plank up the hill to the building site.
When the house was constructed, Bella decided to commence a general store in the front room and they installed a Shell bowser. I remember those bowsers were so high! Not like today’s petrol pumps. The bowser was manual and the fuel hand pumped, filled from 44 galIon drums.
Dave recalled how he was first of the family to leave Mallacoota. He travelled to Melbourne with H.J. Robertson who owned a home on the property, which is now the Medical Centre. Dave said that despite the car being an ‘up market’ Wolsley, they did not reach Melbourne until well after dark.
Later, Smith’s store was rented as a residence. The next owner would have been Mrs Cramp Snr, who turned it into tea rooms. I remember it for the red and white checked table cloths. My sister Mione says she will never forget the delicious sponge cakes filled with an equally delicious lemon filling.
Our Aunt Sadie and her husband then purchased it for 250 pounds ($500) and it became a spaghetti bar. Hugh and Beatrice Wallace were the next owners and it returned to being a general store again. Hardware was included when Vic and Betty Cockburn owned it. Noel and Margaret McKinnon were the next owners, then Kevin and Cheryl Chase. That block of land certainly has seen changes over the years, so it is sad to see it revert back to vacant land.
The ‘Elgin’, which I mentioned earlier, was . one on the trading boats which played a vital part in our early history. Apparently, after laying idle in the lake here for about a year, before being taken to Marlo, it was left to rot near the river mouth. It would have to have been a miracle that 15 years later, Jim Luckins, who owned the Orbost-Mallacoota transport, retrieved the larger engine, did some badly needed maintenance, and it was as good as ever!
The Smith family have long gone but will be remembered for being one of the earliest residents to commence a commercial enterprise in Mallacoota.