When Box Hill Was A Village
"GETTING EVEN WITH MR. JUSTICE McTAGGART"
When I was a boy growing up in Box Hill, my old home town in those days just after the close of World War II, we often found some counterfeit two shilling coins. Through the bakery and cake shop that was operated by my mother, there often came war time counterfeits passed over the counter.
People short of money sought to extend their supply by manufacturing fake two shilling pieces. Many others were made by soldiers during idle times. People seemed to get a great delight in being able to pass off a dud two shilling coin.
My mother became very adept at picking a fake two shilling coin. There were several ways in which they could be tested. They could be bitten and the dud two bob coin was always softer than the
real one. Or they could be dropped onto something hard and they would drop with a dull thud.
With surprise she would look up and say "That doesn't sound like a real two shillings. She would then say, "We have been instructed by the police to keep any of these and to report who it was that has passed them." That instantly brought a hurried shopper diving into a purse or a wallet to find another two shillings, only this time making sure it was a real one.
In a drawer of Grandpa's desk, a whole collection of fake coins. As kids we used to play with these pretending they were real money. One day she told me that she had once seen a coin on the footpath and when she bent down to pick it up, found she could not lift it which caused her to topple over. To her annoyance it had been nailed to the footpath. That gave me an idea. I had just been sacked from my first job. I had been a paper boy for Mr. McKelvie's Box Hill Newsagency. I used to collect a mound of newspapers from the newsagency and ride to the bottom of the down ramp from the Box Hill Railway Station.
I had trouble with a man who was one of the last to get off the train. He was a sour miserable looking man, tall and lean. He used to sit in the carriage next to the guard. He was a very prim and proper man with a black hat and a very thin black suit with thin black ties, and big, black polished boots. He was an Elder in the Presbyterian Church and gave out the hymn books. He lived with his sister and they both cared for each other. Mr. Justice McTaggart was well known and thoroughly respected in our community. It was just that he did not like boys and he did not like not receiving change.
He would inevitably give me a threepenny bit and wait and wait and wait while I searched for the change. I had a habit of keeping my coppers in my pants pocket and pretending I had no pennies for change. Most men told me to keep the change as a tip. It was all profit.
He was a miserable looking man and suspected any young boy aged eight who was commencing a career as an entrepreneur‑businessman. I made the mistake eventually of reaching into my pants pocket and taking out a penny. He looked at the suspicious bulge and marched off with a gleam in his eye.
That Saturday night when I went to Mr. McKelvie to pay in the money and to count up all of my tips Mr. McKelvie questioned me about the amount of tips I had received and eventually told me that Mr. Justice McTaggart had called in on him and had reported my systematic scheme of fleecing customers of their rightful change.
Mr. McKelvie paid me off. He gave me my week's salary and told me that he was dismissing me for dishonesty. It was now time to get my own back on Mr. Justice McTaggart.
When my mother told me of nailing the dud coin to the footpath an idea came to mind. Mr. Justice McTaggart always came home late after his Saturday morning work in town. There were not many people who got off his particular train and he was always the last. One Saturday, I stood at the corner of Main Street and looked at the few people walking down the railway ramp. I stood on the corner and my mate Ziggy stood outside our cake shop doors which were now closed. Ziggy stood there with his foot firmly planted in the centre of the footpath. Then down the ramp, last as usual, came Mr. Justice McTaggart, looking tall and lean and mean.
I whipped around the corner into Station Street and raced down to our cake shop. Ziggy left his spot on the footpath where his foot had been covering a shiny two shilling coin. The silver head of the nail which held it into the footpath was just as shiny as the rest of the coin and you could not tell that it had been nailed down. We went inside the shop's double doors and locked them and laid down on the floor to watch from the brass flap of the letter‑box which was in the bottom part of the front door. Within a minute Mr. Justice McTaggart came along.
He did not see the two shilling coin until he was right on top of it. He bent over in one long action and his lean arm reached down to pick up the coin. His fingers circled the coin but it did not lift. The momentum of his body kept going down Station Street. He stumbled forward and stopped and turned round.
There was no one else in that part of Station Street. He walked back two or three paces and tried to pick up the coin a second time but again with no success. He then tried to nudge it gently with his toe with no success. Then he stepped back a little and, swinging his foot, kicked it with his boot. The metal protector under the edge of his boot caught the edge of the dud two shilling piece and stopped. Mr. Justice McTaggart's body went into an awkward over‑balance. He turned round, shook his head, went back, tried to kick the coin a second time and then, muttering under his breath, continued to walk down the street leaving our two shillings nailed to the footpath.
Inside the shop Ziggy and I were lying at full length on the floor with the blinds down and the sign saying "Closed". We had watched everything through the brass flap and now, after stifling our laughter, rolled around the floor roaring our heads off. We had caught out Mr. Justice McTaggart.
So successful were we at catching out Mr. Justice McTaggart with our dud two shillings nailed to the footpath, that I immediately wanted to try the trick again, only better. Mr. Justice McTaggart was the target. One night, just after closing time when I was in the shop while Miss Perry, our forelady, and my mother were counting the day's takings, one of them put aside a 10 pound note. I loved to look at the 5 and 10 pound notes. They were such rarities and were so beautifully coloured and engraved with the head of King George on them. However, this 10 pound note was torn. It lay there in two pieces. I asked if it was any good and Miss Perry pointed out to me that so long as one piece had the two numbers it was legal tender with the bank.
The torn piece, because it did not have the serial number on it was worthless. I asked if I could have it. There was no reason why not and for a day or two I carried round with me an envelope with the end of the torn 10 pound note sticking out the top of the envelope where I had glued it to and show it to kids at school saying "I've got 10 pounds". They, of course, would not believe me, so I would take out the envelope and show them just the edge of the torn piece of the 10 pound note sticking out the top. Sure enough, it was recognisable as a 10 pound note with the beautifully engraved pound sign followed by the number 10 after it. All of the kids immediately would want to see it. I would put it back in my pocket and say "It is not everybody that has 10 pounds in his pocket. You cannot just go round showing it to people. You might wear it out or some robber might hold you up and steal it from you." The kids were greatly impressed.
It was Ziggy that had the idea that we try something with the 10 pound note in the envelope on Mr. Justice McTaggart. So one Saturday afternoon after the shop had shut we the envelope, left it open with just the edge of the 10 note showing. It looked to the world that here was a 10 pound note inside. We tied a piece of lack cotton on the underside of the envelope. After the shop was closed, my parents were down the bakehouse cleaning up. Ziggy and I were allowed to go in and out of the front door of the shop. The blinds had been pulled down on the door and the sign saying "Closed" faced the public. Ziggy stood near the front doors of the shop while I stood at the corner of Station Street and Main Street looking at the people coming down from the Saturday afternoon train station.
As the line of people gradually passed us, sure enough, last of all, came the long, macabre spectre of Mr. Justice McTaggart. I ran back to Ziggy and together we placed the envelope with the 10 pound note sticking out of it, in the centre of the footpath. The black cotton, invisible against the black asphalt, ran out towards the road, around the bottom of a Box Hill City Council rubbish bin stand and then back across the footpath where it went under the front doors of the cake shop. We shut the doors of the cake shop and locked them, made sure the blinds were down and then lay down on the floor to watch what would happen through the brass mail slot.
Around the corner and down the street came Mr. Justice McTaggart. As he reached the envelope he suddenly stopped, placed a big polished boot on it and looked around. The only people in Station Street were down near Whitehorse Road walking towards their homes. No one else seemed to be present. Slowly Mr. Justice McTaggart turned round. There was no one behind him or near him and there was no one on the other side of Station Street. There was no one observing him at all. He lifted his boot, stepped back and bent over to pick up the envelope with the 10 pound when, zip! the envelope slid across the footpath towards the rubbish bin. Mr. McTaggart stood up, his eyes staring in disbelief. He stepped over towards the rubbish bin but faster than the eye could see the cotton had pulled the envelope around the rubbish bin, back behind him and across the footpath and under the door into the shop. Mr. Justice McTaggart looked in the gutter, looked in the rubbish bin, looked across the road, looked all around the footpath. There was not a sign of the envelope. He lifted his boot and looked underneath it, then back at the rubbish tin. He walked around the bin. He lifted up the bin and looked underneath it. He poked inside the bin but there was not a trace of the envelope with its 10 pound note in it.
Ziggy and I were stretched out watching through the mail slot, the envelope on the floor between us. Suddenly Mr. McTaggart looked at the door of the cake shop and he walked over straight toward us.
In one movement Ziggy and I rolled one to each side of the door and lay along the bottom of the counter beneath the shop front windows. Mr. Justice McTaggart stood outside the door, peering through the crack between the edge of the door frame and the blinds. He could see right round the cake shop. It was absolutely empty, The lights were switched off, not a person in sight. Ziggy and I dared not breathe as we lay hidden along the side of the shop front window. Then the brass handle of the door started to move downwards. I had a sudden dreadful fear that we had not locked the door when we came in. But the lock catch was flicked down. Mr. Justice McTaggart waggled the handle as he looked down on the floor through the crack between the blind and the edge of the door, he could see the envelope with the 10 note sticking out. He looked at it from several angles, then bent down and lifted the flap off the mail box and looked it. Everything was absolutely clear. Mr. Justice McTaggart stood up suddenly aware that people might be in the street wondering why he was looking through the mail flap and lifting up the rubbish bin. But there was nobody in sight. He brushed the knees of his trousers, looked at the rubbish bin again, looked back at the shop door, and shaking his head in disbelief, started walking down Station Street.
We waited a moment to see that he had gone. Then burst out laughing. Suddenly Ziggy had an idea. "Let's go out the back lane and race him to Whitehorse Road and meet him as he comes down the street and see what he thinks." It sounded like a good idea so we raced through the shop, out through the back door of the bake house, down the back lane which opened onto Whitehorse Road. It was a short cut to the plantation in the centre and to a seat just near the W.C.T.U. drinking fountain that commemorated the pioneer work of the great Christian Temperance Crusader Councillor Illingworth.
We had hardly got onto the seat when round the corner of Whitehorse Road strode Mr. Justice McTaggart. He looked both ways, then carefully crossed the road. Suddenly sitting there with all innocence were two boys. As he walked past he looked at us very suspiciously, recognising that I came from the cake shop beneath whose doors the 10 pound had mysteriously flown. "Hullo, Mr. McTaggart. It's a nice day isn't it." I said to him. Mr. McTaggart looked at us, mumbled something and went on crossing the road.
Later we shouted, ran across the road and climbed up the war memorial where the big white soldier stood with his head bowed over his upturned rifle. We had got Mr. McTaggart twice and got away with it. That was a great day. It was worthwhile losing the job as a paper boy just to get even with Mr. Justice McTaggart. I walked home along Bank Street beside the railway line to the top of the hill and to No.5 Miller Street, Box Hill, a great city which was only a village, where the adults were kind and the children grew up responsibly.