6. OLD FISHFACE'S BELL
When I was a boy growing up in those days at the close of World War II, I used to attend Box Hill State School, School No.2838 in Station Street, Box Hill. When I started to ride my little red Moyes Special bicycle to school with its 24 inch wheels and my name on the cross bar I frequently had some conflicts with the gardener in the Box Hill city gardens which lay directly on the shortest route from Station Street to the school yard.
The problem was, the Box Hill City Council had made the gardens as a place for passive recreation, for quietness in the heart of our busy little village. It had installed seats where people could sit and listen to the birds and get away from the tensions and worries of the war time years. From the entrance gates were paths that crossed the Box Hill park. Here were posted big signs which read:
Mr. A. Bruce Currie.
City of Box Hill
Now boys by nature like riding bicycles, chasing horses, making noise and playing with dogs. So those of us who were the more active boys in our town of Box Hill were on a direct collision course with the order given by Mr. A. Bruce Currie, the Town Clerk. We shouted out to each other in horse play, brought in our dogs and rode our bikes furiously round the paths, skidding them around the beautiful garden roundabouts at every intersection of the walking paths. The man who was charged with the task of upholding the City Council's direction was "Old Fishface” the gardener. His name was Mr. Fishwyck but of course we called him "Old Fishface". He used to spend his mornings working in the gardens, planting lots of annuals, particularly pansies, in neat borders around all of the gardens. The trouble with boys was that they threw balls, kicked footballs, chased each other, took short cuts by jumping over the gardens and rode their bikes. I am quite sure that on many occasions he was disappointed to see footprints running across his freshly dug earth with some of his pansies ground
under a school boy's shoe.
Consequently "Old Fishface” the gardener determined to cut out this assault on the authority of the City Council and these deliberate acts of vandalism.
Of a morning when we would ride our bikes into the Box Hill gardens, "Old Fishface" the gardener would be hiding behind a privet hedge and would jump out with a rake in one hand and a gardening fork in another to frighten us off or to shout orders which only made our legs peddle faster.
When we reached a safe place we would stop, get off and shout back at him "Fishface, Fishface, they used your brains for fish paste".
"Old Fishface" never liked this cheekiness and would often set off chasing us which was just the encouragement we needed to jump onto our bikes and to ride like mad in the opposite direction. He was remarkably agile for his years for "Old Fishface" was very old, very grumpy, and very determined to stamp out this wanton abuse of authority.
As the weeks went by this attack on his authority grew more blatant and he became more determined to catch the boys. He went up and spoke to our school headmaster who promptly called us out in an assembly by name ‑ because "Old Fishface" managed to recognise a number of us, including me because I was so well known in the shopping community.
We got into dreadful trouble from the headmaster, receiving six cuts on both hands. Something had to be done to get even with "Old Fishface".
His house was only about one block away from the Box Hill city gardens. He lived next door to the bowling club in Watt Street and alongside his house ran a lane. So it became a habit that on the way home from school we would ride up the lane beside his house, stop, and throw a handful of gravel on the tin roof. The gravel rained on the roof with alarming noise, then slid down the tin roof making more noise until it lodged in his guttering.
"Old Fishface" would come out yelling to the disappearing backs of the boys who pumped their bicycle pedals round faster than ever as we rode up Watt Street and round into the safety of Whitehorse Road.
Dick White, Ian de Lacy and I had lodged several handfuls of gravel onto his roof and each occasion he came out shouting that he would get even with us. One night we even tried something more daring. Inside his fence was a long line of tall cypress trees making a very fine windbreak. Stuffing our pockets with gravel we climbed up his own cypress trees and waited for a while, then threw the handfuls of gravel onto his tin roof. It made a dreadful sound. "Old Fishface" came roaring out of his front door and out to the front gate. However there were no boys to be seen on their pushbikes. Puzzled, he went back inside. Five minutes later we let go another salvo of gravel onto his roof. Again he came roaring out only to find the street empty except for some old lady bringing home her vegetables from the market. Up his own cypress trees we were stifling laughs as he walked within a few yards of us back inside his house.
The next morning at school assembly we were called out again by name. The headmaster promptly asked if we had been throwing the gravel and upon admissions of guilt gave us six of the best on each hand once more.
Something had to be done to stop "Old Fishface" the gardener from reporting us. We formed ourselves into the "Fishface Club". As usual I was elected president, Dick was secretary and Ian was treasurer. There were no other members. We pledged ourselves to running the gauntlet by riding our bikes through the Box Hill park on every occasion but especially when "Old Fishface" was there, and of throwing gravel onto the roof of his house. We pricked our thumbs with pins until we got some drops of blood, mingled the blood together and swore to death that we would die rather than give up on getting even with "Old Fishface" the gardener.
Some newer, smarter strategy had to be discovered. It was about this time that there was introduced clear sticky tape, called "Sellotape" or "Durex". It was wide and clear and so much more handy than the old brown paper sticky tape. Even pages of torn books had to be stuck with brown paper tape or else we would have to go down to the Post Office and ask for the white edging from around the stamps in order to stick pages together or seal large envelopes.
Now we had handy little dispensers of clear sticky tape. However in those early days whenever you stuck it on the page of the book, it would eventually dry out and peel off leaving a dirty yellow mark behind. But it was an improvement.
In our cake shop at 591 Station Street we had a roll of this new sticky tape. Quickly rescuing it one day after school, I got on my bike and rode down to Dick's place and we both went round to get Ian. We had another idea of catching "Old Fishface" the gardener.
We very quietly left our bikes hidden up a back lane and crept up to the side fence of his house. For a long time we quietly sat beneath the cypress trees of his sideway. When we were sure we would not be seen, we crept on all fours under his front window and round to his front door. He had an electric bell which worked off a battery and on the front door a round button which would be pushed by visitors. The last few occasions we had thrown gravel on his roof, "Old Fishface" had jumped out instantly with his stick which he kept near the front door ready to catch us, but because he had recently reported us to the headmaster we guessed he might have been a little lax not expecting another attack. We quietly crept across the wooden front verandah and up to his door. Dick pushed the button right in and I stuck a piece of clear sellotape over the button and then we high‑tailed it out, ducking under his front window and climbed up into the cypress hedge. A few seconds later, with the bell constantly ringing, "Old Fishface" raced out the door: "Gotcha", he said. Then he stopped because no one was there.
He ran round to the side of the house, to the front of the house, up to the front gate, looked up the street, came back again, went inside the door, came outside again and could not work out how the bell could be ringing when no one was pushing it. He did not see the clear tape.
He went in and out a few more times looking around his property. Then he closely examined the bell.
I can remember to this day the look on his face as he peeled off the piece of sticky tape and the bell stopped ringing. He then ran to the front gate and looked in all directions. If he had only looked up in his thick cypress trees the culprits were there not three yards from him.
He never reported it. Consequently we had got away with this final attack. I guess that must have satisfied something because never again did I make any attack on "Old Fishface" the gardener and eventually the "Fishface Club" just faded out of existence.
However, there is in Sydney to this day a well respected businessman and in Melbourne a highly successful lawyer who were banded together as blood brothers to a certain church leader until death do part them in order to get even with "Old Fishface" the gardener.
The tables were turned on me, however, Forty years later I was invited back to Box Hill as one of the districts more notable sons and was the invited guest at an important function attended by the Mayor, the Councillors, and all the dignitaries of the city. At the civic welcome I was presented with an inscribed history of the city, the Council Seal and all the other usual paraphernalia that goes with such an occasion. I was taken by the Mayor to meet some of the community dignitaries. As I went round greeting people I suddenly came to a man whose face was vaguely familiar. The Mayor said, "I believe you know Mr. Fishwyck who was head of our Parks and Gardens Department". I looked at him and sure enough it was "Old Fishface".
He looked at me and smiled and simply said, "Oh yes, I know Dr. Moyes. I remember him quite well when he was very young.".
The thing that staggered me was that old grumpy "Fishface" was only about 70 years of age which meant that at the time when we thought he was incredibly old and grumpy he was probably only thirtyfive!
But in those days he was a mortal enemy to at least three of us at Box Hill State School. I often used to think of "Old Fishface" the gardener as 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.