Mr. Taylor was – in my recollection – a tall, dark-haired, handsome man. I used to see him at my grandparents’ house because he was one of my grandfather’s Labor Party friends. He always seemed to be there with Mr. Fennessy. Lyn Owen Taylor, in actual fact, was the Mayor of Brunswick; and Leo Michael Fennessy was an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) in the Victorian State Parliament. He was also Secretary of the Brunswick East Branch of the Labor Party.
You see, my grandfather, after coming to Australia in 1950, threw himself into local, state, and federal politics, becoming an active trade unionist – he was a shop steward in the Bootmakers Union, and a staunch ALP member. He held various offices including Branch Secretary, Branch President, and member of the State and Federal Selection Committees, charged with preselecting candidates for elections.
And, given his gregarious nature, he of course always had the house full with unionists, ALP and Bund members, councillors and mayors, ALP officials, and Members of Parliament.
As a child I remember meeting Barry Jones (who later became Federal Minister for Education and then Federal president of the ALP) and Race Matthews (who later served in the Federal and State Governments and was Victorian Minister for Police). Whenever I was with my grandfather, I’d meet people like that. But Mr Taylor was the one I saw the most, as he was over there a lot.
It’s funny because I do remember my parents and my grandmother calling them Mr Taylor and Mr Fennessy, and certainly my sister and I addressed them and indeed spoke about them in that formal way. But my grandfather called them Taylor and Fennessy, and they addressed him simply as Abe.
Moving for a moment to the present day, the story takes a few twists and turns. I started writing this post about a year ago, but I got stuck. And what got me stuck was that there is absolutely no information about Lyn Taylor – certainly nothing on the Internet. I’ve found a few titbits about Leo Fennessy – a news item here or there and a Wikipedia entry, but nothing about Lyn Taylor. So I set out on a search which has taken me to a few interesting places.
The Obvious People
I have access to a few people who I thought might have known him. My first port of call was Race Matthews, who knew my grandfather from the Fabian Society. He remembered him fondly – both as a colleague and a friend, he recalled some of the “yarns” my grandfather had told him about the Bund, and he even was able to fill in some details I was missing about Mr. Fennessy. But unfortunately, he had no idea who Mr Taylor was.
I then asked Warren Maloney, a Facebook friend and an old colleague of my sister Freda’s. Warren had himself been a Mayor of Brunswick in the 1980s and Freda had been on a few committees (to do with urban housing and the such), which he had chaired. Again, no luck. Warren was quite happy to organise a walking tour of Carlton and Brunswick (which I will take him up on) and had read all of my previous articles about growing up in Carlton; however he knew of no Mr Taylor, at least not of the ex-Mayor-of-Brunswick variety.
But Warren gave me a great suggestion – the Brunswick Library – which could have the information I was seeking. First however, I stumbled upon another possible source……
Brunswick Historical Society
That source was the Brunswick Historical Society, which got me quite excited because they’ve published a booklet called “A Tribute to The Mayors of Brunswick”. “Aha”, I thought, “this is it”. Well I played telephone (and email) tag with the President of this group, Ms. Francesca Folk-Scolaro, who incidentally had written that booklet, and after a few months, we managed to reach each other. What followed was a fascinating conversation about Brunswick, the First World War, The Labor Party, and her booklet, which I had her send to me. Unfortunately, it was just a list of all the Mayors (from 1862 through 1994), and while it certainly had him listed, which at least confirmed for me that he had indeed been the Mayor, it had precious little else.
She did though give me a good lead. The Brunswick Library, now one campus of the Moreland City Library, has a Local History Room which is kept locked. If I went down there, I could probably get the key, and do some rummaging. It appeared that all roads were leading to that Library, so that’s where I went next.
The Brunswick Library
When I was about ten years old, my mother used to take me to the Brunswick Public Library, an old, small, dusty, and dank couple of rooms housed on the north-east corner of Dawson Street and Sydney Road, in the Mechanics Institute Building. I loved those trips so much and looked forward to them with great anticipation.
They were usually preceded by a trip to the Brunswick Baths, about 100 metres west on Dawson Street. I can barely remember anything about the Baths except that right after a swim, I would get a Four ‘n’ Twenty meat pie drenched in sauce (ketchup), and eat it hot while I was still wet. If I close my eyes and think back I can get a whiff of that wonderful mixture of meat, rich sweet tomato sauce, and chlorine – a wonderful cocktail!
After gulping that down and getting dressed, we’d walk the hundred metres to the Library, and there speak to the Librarian who was a darling elderly lady whose name I don’t recall but whom I can still picture – slim, greyish hair tied back in a bun, a long skirt, and a colourful cardigan done up all the way to her chin. The cardigans were either forest green, plum, lilac, or teal, and seemed to match the colours of the hard covers of the books I’d take out.
And did I take out books! For some reason – perhaps I had an honest face – she’d let me borrow as many as 15 books at a time, and allow me to keep them for …….. as long as I liked! So, I’d keep them for six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks, and when I’d bring them back, there were no questions asked, no stamps stamped, no cards put in, taken out, written upon, or anything. Just “run along and pick some more books”. I imagine, that as an “old-school” librarian, she was just thrilled that she could encourage a young boy to read voraciously.
So, when I travelled out to Brunswick recently, parked across the road from the Baths, and started walking down Dawson Street, all of these memories came flooding back. I haven’t eaten a meat pie in years, but I did start craving one. And the chlorine seemed to waft over the road. And as if by divine intervention, it started to rain, and my wet hair completed the picture.
The new Brunswick Library, now on the south-east corner, with its entrance on Dawson Street, is a far cry from the old one. It’s a modern, open, bright, spacious building with a big foyer, and many Librarians. It could not be more different.
I walked in and just spent a few minutes taking in the experience, checking out the modern art on the walls, the newish kind of aromas, and all the computers – it seemed like every person using the library has a laptop as well as at least one more electronic device (if not two) with them. I then walked up to one of the young librarians and asked if I could use the Local History Room. She gave me the key and off I went.
Well, that room had a veritable cornucopia of books, journals, monographs, newspapers, and microfiche. “Ah, now this is it”, I thought. “I’m finally about to find Mr. Taylor”. Alas, after spending around two hours there and finding many interesting items, I was no closer to my holy grail. Not one mention! None of the books had anything to do with local politics of the 1950s and 1960s, at least not in Brunswick.
The local newspaper editions were bound in beautiful large red leather covers, but they ranged from the beginning of The Brunswick Sentinel (around 1936) through to the late 1950s, and then skipped a couple of decades to end with the last few years of The Moreland Sentinel.
There were monographs written by Members of Parliament about Transport in Brunswick, Parks in Brunswick, Education in Brunswick, Pollution in Brunswick….. but nothing about the Labor Party in Brunswick and certainly nothing about Mr. Taylor. I took a few photographs (to remind myself that I had been there) and exited the room a little deflated. I left a message for the Local History Librarian who wasn’t there that day, and made my way back to my car.
Old Mayors never die, they just retire to Daylesford
At this point, I’d almost given up. But Helene and I were going away for a few days to Daylesford, a lovely little old Victorian country town a couple of hours’ drive from Melbourne. Remembering that Warren Maloney lived there, I got in touch to see if he wanted to get together on one of our days away, really just to have a cup of tea and a bit of a chat. He invited us to his house for some “wine and cheese”, and it turned out he lived about 2 minutes’ drive from where we were staying.
Warren and his gorgeous wife Karen were most hospitable, and we spent about two and a half hours talking about pretty much everything – football (especially Carlton, but as he said, his was a “mixed marriage” because Karen is a Collingwood supporter), cricket, the Australian Labor Party, Brunswick politics, all politics, my grandfather, Warren’s family, Karen’s family, and Helene’s family. He told us stories about his time as Mayor of Brunswick and also as Mayor of Hepburn Shire. It was fascinating.
Helene mentioned that her grandmother used to come to the Daylesford area for vacation and stayed in a guest house in Hepburn Springs. Well, that took us meandering down a new path, because friends of his currently run a little guest house in Hepburn Springs, and he wondered if it was the same one that Helene used to come to with her grandmother. He insisted that we should go there and visit it the next day on our way home to Melbourne, to see if it was the same guest house that Helene remembered from her childhood, so he called and told them that we were coming. “Incidentally”, he said, “Jenny and Eddie may know of your Mr Taylor too – they were involved in the ALP in Brunswick and Carlton too”.
The next morning after breakfast, we headed off to our first stop on the way home – Mooltan Guest House. It is a beautiful little old Victorian colonial-style house that’s been converted into a guest house. It actually wasn’t the place that Helene had stayed with her grandmother, but it did yield some interesting information.
It turned out that Jenny and Eddie were actually Jennifer Beacham, former Victorian State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, and Edwin John Beacham, former Lord Mayor of Melbourne. This lovely couple regaled us with stories for the next two hours. Stories about the aforementioned Warren Maloney who had been Mayor of Brunswick at the same time as Eddie had been Lord Mayor of Melbourne; stories about their time as students at the University of Melbourne in the late 1950s; stories about the Labor Party; stories about the election campaign of Bob Hawke who went on to become Australia’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister; and stories about Joan Kirner who became the first woman to serve as Victorian Premier.
We discovered that we had a number of friends in common, some of whom were quite surprising. We also discovered that Jenny had actually lived right across the road from my grandparents’ house on Brunswick Road – yes, the very same house mentioned here in a previous post.
But still, with all of these wonderful tales of coincidence, friends in common, shared geographical histories, and the like……. they knew nothing about Mr. Taylor. They hadn’t even heard of him.
How Quickly We Forget…
On our two-hour drive back to Melbourne, we had an interesting discussion. What kind of person becomes a Mayor of a city – whether it be a giant metropolis such as New York City or a small country town or an inner suburb of a medium-sized city like Melbourne? No-one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves out of the blue “Hmm, I think I might mosey on down to the Town Hall today and just be the mayor”. No, these people are nearly always very driven men and women who have given a lifetime of service. Sure, some of them have massive egos and some of them may even occasionally skirt around the edges of the law. But they are all committed to helping others and to making a positive contribution to their community.
Mr. Taylor was certainly no different; most likely a passionate man who spoke loudly and fought vigorously for the underdog – my grandfather would not have been his friend otherwise. He was probably a man of principle, and I’d bet that he fell on his sword for a cause more than once. He definitely would have had a lot of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and Party comrades – you don’t become a Mayor in a Labor-dominated inner suburb of Melbourne without being able to garner that kind of political and personal support.
And yet, here we are, fifty years later, and no-one remembers him, no-one has heard of him, he doesn’t show up on the Internet, there are no entries in books, journals, or newspapers. Nothing! Nothing! It was a sobering thought and left us in quite a sombre mood.
I may continue the search at some point. Since writing this, I have been given some other good leads which I may follow up one day. But for now, I have suspended the search for Mr. Taylor.
One day, around 1962 or 1963, a few years after we’d moved out of my grandparents’ house, I was walking along Lygon Street with my mother. As we got to Barkly Street, I just started crossing the road. My mother quickly grabbed me and pulled me back. Just in time, it seemed, as a blue Holden station wagon came hurtling around the corner, missing me by inches. My mother told me off, harshly. “What are you doing? You have to look!! You could’ve been killed!!! You have to be more careful!!!!” Don’t worry”, I told her, realising that she hadn’t recognised the driver, “that was Mr. Taylor. He knows us and he wouldn’t have run me over!”
That story is now folklore in our family. And whenever I see a crazy driver and I worry that he or she might cause a problem on the road, I think of that moment and say quietly to myself “Don’t worry, Moshe. That’s Mr. Taylor. He knows us and he won’t run me over!”