Latrobe – the Mersey River

Memories of the Mersey

The beautiful Mersey River runs through my home town of Latrobe.  When I was young we would swim and try to learn the art of skimming stones along the surface of the river ‘up the Shale Road’.  The dirt road extended from Hamilton Street, where I lived, up past Perkins’ dairy farm, past Dye’s poultry farm and the A frame house, and past the turn-off to paddocks where we would go mushrooming in the early mornings around Easter time.  There were a number of swimming spots and best of all we could take the dog.  We often rode in the back of Dad’s ute, dog leaning into the wind, my sister and me turning our heads to avoid the spray of dust and dirt whenever we encountered a car coming in the opposite direction.

Sometimes we would float on lilos, making sure the gentle current didn’t take us too far from the safety of the rocky bank.  Some of the older kids, and better swimmers, would dive from an old concrete block into deeper water, while the older girls lay on the concrete soaking up the sun’s rays and probably rubbing in baby oil to develop a deeper tan in those days when we were oblivious to the dangers of skin cancer.

At other times we would walk along the banks of the Mersey at Bells Parade or run around the white painted gazebos and rotundas that have since disappeared.  We rarely swam there as the state of the river ‘down the Parade’ varied over time and was often shallow, dirty and reed-choked.  We would often hear how the damming of the Mersey had destroyed it for swimming and fishing and, most lamentably, destroyed the home of the wonderful whitebait that once were so plentiful they were caught by the 44 gallon drum full!    While their numbers were much reduced, whitebait was still available for a short season each year and I well remember Mum’s wonderful whitebait patties.  I ate as many as I could while my sister painfully cut the tiny heads off any that protruded from the batter.

The 26th of January is Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary, Australia Day and the holiday for Henley-on-the-Mersey.  Unfortunately there are no photos in my album of this event when we would dress in our best clothes, often something we had received for Christmas, for the town’s annual celebration.  Invariably we ended up sunburnt and probably whinged about the time spent watching the chopping when we really wanted to see the beer can derby and the judging for Miss Henley.  The diving from the high board on the other side of the river was also a highlight.

Walking Trudy at Bell's Parade, 1987

Walking Trudy at Bell’s Parade, 1987

During the school term Dad would sometimes pick up my sister and me at lunch time and treat us to pies and pasties from ‘the bottom bakery’ (next door to where Coventry’s pharmacy used to be) along with a lamington, rock cakes, or a jam and cream filed matchstick or cream horn. We would park down at the Parade to eat this welcome change from vegemite and cheese sandwiches!

The other childhood memory I have of the Mersey is seeing it in flood.  And, perhaps more particularly, envying those kids who were cut off by the flood waters and couldn’t attend school.

Pasture and flood plains on the Tarleton side of the Mersey

Pasture and flood plains on the Tarleton side of the Mersey

If you have stories or photos to share or are interested in knowing more about Latrobe you might be interested in the Facebook page my sister has set up: Latrobe