Revisiting Beverley

The converted Road Board Office where Elaine Forrestal lived with her family as a child.

Some ideas just grow and grow on the spot, and others take you off to the most unexpected places.

My new interest in the life story of Charles Ulm and the other Australian pioneer aviators is taking me to Beverley. This small town, 143 kms from Perth on the edge of the wheat belt, is where I lived for four years during my childhood. In the family collection we have multiple photographs of me and my two brothers outside our house, which was originally the Road Board Office. The seat of local government had already been moved to larger, more modern premises and even the  name Road Board has now been replaced by Shire Council. But the actual building is made of sturdier stuff and has been converted to a rather unusual family dwelling. One that presented some significant challenges to my endlessly innovative and thrifty mother. The large and rather grand Board Room, which was more like a ball room in size, became our lounge room. The three front windows, which looked out onto the street, were fifteen feet high. My mother, a child of the depression, always used the same curtains in every house we moved to. Beverley was the fifth, but she never regarded any of them as permanent. ‘We will just have to make do,’ was her catch cry as she let down hems, added pelmets and solved whatever problems presented themselves in her own way.

To reach the Board Room from the street it was necessary to enter the building through a tiny square porch. This porch, which was smaller than most walk-in wardrobes, had three doors. It set the tone for the rest of the house which, as I recall, was full of doors. The kitchen was so long and narrow that it was almost possible for my father, who was over six feet tall, to stand in the middle and touch the walls on either side. The main bedroom was identical to this in size and shape. Neither of these rooms had windows, just a door at either end, although I seem to remember a small window, which was obviously a late addition to the main bedroom. It looked out onto the enclosed veranda, which wrapped its protective arms around the core of the house on three sides. This enclosed veranda contained the bathroom at one end, an open laundry (copper and troughs only) on the south east corner, and two bedrooms, on long and rectangular, the other short and square. Although the proportions of the house were bizarre, living in it did provide my mother with a degree of luxury she had not had since she married my father and left the city, where they both grew up. Always a keen gardener, my mother inherited the Road Board Rose Garden. This collection of magnificent rose bushes flourished in soil conveniently enriched by the Avon River, which regularly broke its banks and invaded our yard. And to Mum’s even greater delight the town of Beverley was supplied with permanent water from the Kalgoorlie pipeline. She no longer had to live in constant fear of our rainwater tanks running dry. Those years she spent in the drier, northern wheat belt towns did, however, develop in her a habit she could never quite shake off. The family returned to live in Perth, but for the rest of her long life she could not bring herself to waste a single drop of water.

When I go to Beverley next week to visit the Aeronautical Museum, I will be researching those magnificent men, our Aussie heroes who went where no man had ever gone before. But for me it will be a nostalgia trip as well.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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