News

Lifelong Mooroopna resident reflects on settlement life

By John Lewis

Stan Watt is a lifelong Mooroopna resident whose family name is now preserved in local history and geography as Watt Rd.  At 92 years old, Stan is still an active Rotarian, Freemason and Justice Of The Peace. Here, he talks to John Lewis about his early life on the Kialla Village Settlement along the Goulburn River between Shepparton and Mooroopna.

Stan Watt has done a lot of jobs to earn a quid, but his first was a boatman.

"We used to get flooded three or four times a year — and we couldn't get to school. We missed a fair bit of school, " he said.

Stan made up for missing school by earning money ferrying workers across the Kialla Settlement to Mooroopna.

"My brother and I rowed the blokes to Mooroopna where they picked up their bikes to get to work. We charged thruppence or sixpence — sometimes a shilling. We were made — and mother was really pleased. We were always short of money," he said.

"On the way back, we'd hop into the orchards and help ourselves to some fruit, and take it home to mum. Sometimes we got yelled at, but it was always good fun."

Stan was born on December 29, 1927 at a tiny birthing hospital opposite the Mooroopna War Memorial — one of five boys and two girls.

His father, Albert Earnest Watt, was the son of Scotsman Robert Watt, who arrived in Australia on the passenger ship The Lightning in the latter half of the 19th century.

Robert's was one of several families to be given land under the Victorian Government's new Village Settlement Scheme during the economic depression of the 1890s.

Families were given a few acres and expected to run a farm to sustain themselves.

Stan reckons his grandfather was given 14 acres in the centre of the settlement and kept draught horses and ran poddy calves.

He said his grandfather was also hit by floods.

His father, Albert, grew up there and later built a house on a separate 13-acre block and raised his own family.

Stan said he remembers people living with constant flooding.

"As soon as the river rose, people would take their vehicles to the top end of Wyndham St — where the drive-in cinema used to be — and park them there," he said.

"When they built Eildon Weir we didn't get the floods so much," he said.

Stan left school at 14 to work at the Ardmona cannery as a stoneboy.

He went on to pick peas, fruit and tomatoes, deliver groceries at Fairleys, and work at the McLennan Flour Mill and at the ‘‘guts’’ factory in Shepparton making sausage casings.

"It was my job to sort through the guts from the abattoir and find the end, and then wash it all out with the hose,’’ said.

Stan left the settlement when he was 20 to live in a rented bungalow in Alexander St and put his name down for a commission house.

On April 5, 1947 he wed the love of his life — "a pretty nurse called Lorraine" — and raised a family of four. They remained happily married for 70 years until Lorraine died 18 months ago.

In 1954 Stan went to work as a collecting agent for Colonial and Mutual insurance company, where he stayed for the next 40 years.

He remembers his days on the settlement fondly.

"We had a great life — we knew all the kids. We used to walk from our sandhill to the primary school over the bridge. I did miss a lot of school, but we were earning money rowing the boat."