Bob Walsh from Heidelberg

In 1949 my parents travelled six weeks by ship, with us four kids, to arrive at Port Melbourne pier. My father was Irish and my mother was British, and dad was disowned by the Catholic church for marrying a  Protestant. Even on the trip over, the priest on the ship didn’t want anything to do with my father.


My name is Bob Walsh, and I was born in 1946 in Kent, England. After living through the war my family moved to Australia, eventually settling in West Heidelberg when I was six years old. I have no recollection of England as a child, and I’ve never wanted to go back.


Mum’s sister already lived in Australia and sponsored us, so we arrived to live with her at the Belgrave Heights Auto Camp; there was no power or sewerage there, and we lived in a mud hut with a curtain dividing the room into two spaces. With chooks and snakes coming into our home, Belgrave Heights was wild country, but for us kids, it was an adventure.


Dad never spoke about his years in the war, but mum would sometimes tell us how horrible it was. There was a time when the government tried to take my siblings away and relocate them, but mum refused to let it happen. Many children relocated never returned to their families, and sometimes were sent overseas and adopted. There was also a night when mum was getting my siblings into the bomb shelter behind our house and a bomb dropped nearby, blowing her into the shelter. She was hit with shrapnel, and it was still inside her when she died in 1986. Life in Belgrave was quite tough, but no one was dropping bombs on us.


My family moved to West Heidelberg to live in public housing. There were many young families there and lots of kids to play with. I recall we’d go down to the Darebin Creek across from the migrant camp on the opposite side; we’d throw rocks at the kids there, and they would throw rocks at us, calling us Pommy Bastards or Aussie Bastards. It was just kids’ stuff, and later some of us would cross the creek and we’d all play together. I’ve always considered myself Australian but I know that, except for Aborigines, everyone here has come from somewhere else.

I have two sisters and one brother, and I am the baby of the family. We didn’t have a primary school in West Heidelberg until the Olympic Village was built in 1956. At the age of ten, I was one of the first students of the new primary school. It was exciting for us, especially because the army would patrol the village and we’d sit by the fence watching the soldiers. Back then, there was little public transport and money was always tight, so we didn’t see any of the Olympics, but we didn’t mind.


Once the Olympics were over, there were suddenly 800 more public houses to occupy, and most of the people that moved in came from very rough areas. There was a lot of violence, and West Heidelberg got a bad reputation that persists until today. I have good memories of growing up there though and have stayed in the area most of my life.


I left high school after only two years because I wanted to work. I had always preferred to do things with my hands, and I got a job right away at a service station with just 14 years of age. I started serving petrol but soon was working in the workshop, and then I was offered a job at a large Dunlop station in the city. That was the start of my working life.


Back in 2003 I had health issues and couldn’t work much, but wanting to do something I joined Banyule Volunteers and started volunteering at Scots Uniting Church in Heidelberg. I started with one day a week and today work here from Monday to Friday. I’ve been going up and down Burgundy Street most of my life, and I would say not much has changed in Heidelberg, except for some units going up here and there.


Cancer has hit our family hard, and only my brother and I remain. He has survived three different cancers so far, and I was diagnosed a year ago. That has changed my view on life, and today I value each day a lot more. Sometimes we focus so much on little things, complaining about the car registration going up, our TV not being large enough, or having to wait for a doctor’s appointment, but I try to remember that there are some countries where I couldn’t even see a doctor. Sometimes we start taking things for granted, and we forget that we live in the lucky country