I knew we were finally there..


I’m a Melbourne lass. Born and lived here my entire life. All fifty-nine years. My parents created a safe, comfortable and familiar world for my brother and me surrounded by loving and warm family and friends. Same house for 23 years. Same school for 12 years. Many of my current friends are still from those times.  A stark, comforting contrast to the fractured lives my parents and their friends had left behind in the war-torn Europe of 1946, after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust. Families murdered and decimated, starvation, fear, hatred, loss of home and of all that was familiar. Both miraculously survived, and found each other. No English. No money. No education. Literally the other side of the world. Melbourne, Australia.  Their home, my home and now my children’s home.

One moment - freeze this frame. The picture is incomplete. There was another layer to our family’s life.  A world called Warrnambool. A place where my heart partially lived for the first 22 years of my life, and the thought of which still bathes me with the warmest and fondest of memories, of some of the happiest of family times. My memories are vivid, detailed with minutiae, as clear as if they had just happened. It is the place where to this day I associate with my Dad and can see him so clearly. The place where I feel closest to him. Where I can walk and picture his routine. I can see him - the salesman who never missed an opportunity to make a sale, colour-blind, but determined to convince a customer that the cardigan he was showing her was the brown she wanted, not the green it actually was, chatting unselfconsciously, with his heavily-accented English, with people he got to know over decades. You see, my Dad, Mervyn Blum, died suddenly in 1978 with barely a warning.  In Melbourne. Only 58 years old.

For 35 years, he would travel each week to Warrnambool.  To make a living.  For his family. To give us what he had missed out on. Before this he’d started as a hawker, peddling his wares from his panel van to isolated farming families. Then it was a stall at the Warrnambool market for years, a shop in Koroit Street as business improved, and then finally he had his dream – a shop in Liebig Street. BPF[1] Stores. Thirty-five years driving back and forth, initially from Tuesdays to Fridays, then Wednesdays to Saturdays, and in latter years from Thursdays to Saturdays. Come 6.02pm precisely, every evening that he was away from home and in Warrnambool (because that is when the operator-led call became cheaper), he would call home to speak with us all- to hear our news.  Without fail.  To the minute.  And we would all impatiently await his call. His day was only over after that call was made, when he’d lock up the shop and leave. Another day.

At 4.10pm on a Saturday, the honking of his car in our driveway heralded his safe return home. It is only in recent years that I have realised how anxious we must have been all those years each time he left on that long, solitary journey in a car packed to the roof with shirts, knitwear, dresses, socks, anything a drapery store might sell.  As he would leave our home, my Mum would beseechingly call out for him to drive carefully and he would reply with joviality – “I always drive careful”. Silently, every week, I would recite a mantra to myself – ten times “drive carefully”. Ten times in English.  And I’d throw in another ten in Hebrew for extra luck, just to be sure. Maybe this would keep him safe and bring him back to us.  The fear that lingered, which couldn’t be articulated, was that whilst he was away alone, something terrible might happen to him – week in, week out, leaving and returning. Maybe an excessive fear. But not so when you grow up in a home where the spectre of the recent past hovered and where for my parents only a handful of years earlier, families had left often without a goodbye….. and never returned.

If Australia must have seemed like the end of the earth to my parents, how much more so Warrnambool?  My Dad had come from a small village in Poland of 4,000 people, where everyone knew one another, and business was done with neighbours and friends, on a handshake.  Maybe in its own way, this was part of Warrnambool’s appeal to him – a small community, people you got to know well, multiple generations, friendly, down to earth country folk. Safe for this foreign, heavily accented Polish Jew.  A world away from danger and pain.

And for us, his children, Warrnambool represented another dimension to our lives. This was where our Dad spent half his week. No one I knew had a father who was away each week, which in itself was an embarrassment to me.  But it also meant getting to spend holidays during the year in Warrnambool, and getting to spend time in Dad’s world. Seeing him at work, always excited at the pleasure of making a sale, jokingly bantering with his young sales assistants by asking them on a weekly basis how their love affairs were going. They would laugh – I’m not sure whether at his foreign ways, or perhaps with him. Walking up Liebig Street at the end of each day with his leather satchel holding the day’s takings, to deposit them at the CBC, then a stroll to The Vic, in Summer a refreshing shandy at the pub, then dinner, some telly, a book and sleep. Warrnambool meant the local fish and chip shop, Younger’s freshly made sandwiches, Friday night milk shakes and raisin toast at The Savoy café after 9pm closing.  Adventures with our Mum to Tower Hill, the Hopkins Falls, the summer carnival at the beach, bowling, the movies, late night adventures and lolly ‘picnics’ with the Bernasconi girls in the empty rooms of The Victoria Hotel where dad stayed, year after year.  Supper with the Romes in a house like none other I had seen, eating Miss Rome’s sponge cake filled with cream and strawberries.  People who spoke without accents.  Delightful salesgirls who left school at 14 and began work at BPF – until babies came along. The stark, wild beauty of the back beach, which has left me with a lifelong love of the open sea. And working in the shop as soon as school was out, in the weeks before Christmas.  Another world.  Friendly.  Different.  Familiar.

When we accompanied him on our holidays - and as soon as we commenced what felt like an endless three and a half hour journey - I was exposed to new and different sights and experiences and a world so different to my life at home. Passing the stench of the abattoirs in Footscray, the smell of the Werribee sewerage treatment plant in summer, immense trucks loaded up with cattle or pigs headed on their last journey (is it a wonder I am vegetarian!), the haunting and mysterious Stony Rises built by convicts, windmills, sheep, cattle, the lush countryside of the western district. Morning tea of rock cakes in Colac, a stop in Camperdown to drop off some stock there, and then onto Warrnambool.

I knew we were finally there when we rounded the bend on the highway and the Fletcher Jones giant Silver Ball loomed in front of us and the manicured gardens beckoned with their colourful flowers.

 The butterflies would rise in my belly. It was always at that point that I knew. We had finally arrived.

Julia Blum



[1] BPF was Blum (my dad) who ran the Warrnambool shop, Pakin (in Camperdown) and Frydenberg (in Colac)

The immaculately manicured gardens and Silver Ball of the FJ Factory as they looked when visited by Julia Blum and her family.  Photo: Jones Family Collection

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