oh brother

Oh! Brother! Against all Odds! is a work of historical fiction based on developed storylines.

It follows the life and journey of the author’s great-grandparents, John and Mary Williams, from Birmingham, England in 1858. Crossing the vast seas in an American-built wooden clipper ship – The Red Jacket – the free settlers make it safely to Port Phillip, Australia with their two young sons.

They experience the goldfields near Ballarat, endure great  hardships, death and destruction, lies, cheating and unacceptable behaviour by some members, as well as love and laughter in an ever-changing world.

 The author recalls his adolescent years growing up in Victoria, watching the mechanical contraptions overtake the horse and cart.  The Queen Victoria market was the umbilical attachment that was the central nerve centre of the family’s market gardening business.  

Cover: Clipper Ship 'Red Jacket' 1853 (cropped) courtesy National Library of Australia, Canberra. E.M Humphery Collection. Call number MS5252.

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ISBN:   978-1-921574-70-2
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 248
Genre: Fiction



Author: Fred Williams
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English

Important Note from the desk of the author

It is soul-destroying news to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Life or death decisions emerge; my soulmate and best friends rushed to support and provide emotional and spiritual help through those confusing, darkest hours but somehow I found more was needed.

Enter the Cancer Council’s unique telephone support service. The nurse counsellors, who are part of this service, are qualified prostate nurse specialists who provide support, guidance, written material, CDs of relaxation music, and full explanations even connecting with other volunteer survivors to share their individual experiences. Sylvia, the nurse I spoke with, scuttled the rumours and sorted the wheat from the chaff. Always pleasant and professional – no subject off limits! 


“Fred, like so many Australian men, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Naturally, this is often a very difficult time for men and their families. However, throughout his journey, Fred found the support of the Queensland Cancer Council invaluable. As such, he has put pen to paper to assist the Cancer Council raise much-needed funds. Sales of this book will help in this endeavour and as such I wholeheartedly endorse this project.”


Fred Williams has mainly lived in Emu Park and the Maryborough, Hervey Bay and Somerset Region of Queensland, Australia. He is the author of two non-fiction history books: Written in Sand – a history of Fraser Island and Princess K’gari’s Fraser Island – Fraser Island’s definitive history as well as an historic novel Wangoolba Prince Amongst Dingoes – a magical dreaming story that highlights the plight of Australia’s purest bred native dog set on Fraser Island (a World Heritage Area and National Park) in the backdrop of (K’gari) and nearby Big Woody Island. The story rests like a bridge across two cultures – Aboriginal and European – and sadly exposes the chronic, misguided European management (especially since 1999) of our precious native resources.

Fred was born at Mentone, educated at Mentone Grammar and was domiciled in Victoria for 27 years. I am so grateful for the educational opportunity I enjoyed at Mentone Grammar where masters like L.A. and L.B. Large and Principal Mr Thorald encouraged my development. Their words of patience and wisdom still ring in my ears and I hold them fondly in my memory. ‘Against all Odds’ they managed to educate me a little. 


This historic novel, inspired by a broad range of family events, was attempted ‘against all odds’ to honour the memory of our intrepid, extraordinary, great pioneering colonial great-grandparents, John and Mary, and all our extended family that followed. It holds some valuable lessons for all families.

This novel is set around the Australian Grand Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne around which our young, impressionable lives were so touched, influenced, entwined and so engaged.

A major portion of this exposure took place at Shed ‘A’ in a stand right near the crossroads; a focal bearing pressure point in our historic connection with this market later changing hands to another generation from our great-grandfather John to his son Charles Williams (our grandfather) to our father Arthur Emery Williams, then to our eldest brother Nicholas (Nic) Williams in 1952. Our heritage records reveal that our great-grandfather also known as (Gentleman John) first attended the markets pushing a humble wheelbarrow, then later graduated to a horse and lorry; and new members followed like our father, who in his lifetime graduated from a horse and lorry to driving an early 1927 mechanical contraption, then his son eventually continued in his footsteps in post-war contraptions.

Our last family member to attend was our eldest brother, who continued attending the wholesale section of the Queen Victoria Market up until the last conducted one held in 1969.

Our market stand of family succession is still there today but in the hands of a new operator – the Williams family’s tradition of market gardening has been lost; desecrated and moved into history.

When next you visit Melbourne and wish to connect with that part of our family, it’s still possible. Take a look at that historic Shed ‘A’ in the Grand Old Queen Victoria Market.

Nowadays, the wholesale market has moved on to West Footscray in outer Melbourne where growers’ agents have slowly consumed much of the life-blood role that traditionally was so revered and vitally necessary as interacting reins/steering wheel driving, such a rich, diverse multicultural educational marketing system – through direct on-site valuable feedback via buyers’ comments that in the past became the highway/cauldron of life and times for so many growers-market gardeners just like the Williams family.

Dr Troy Gianduzzo, Urologist

Wesley Hospital, Brisbane



Long before the evolution of the pop music culture or its signature 45 rpm vinyl records, blue jeans, Coke and fast food outlets, society’s means of community information was newspapers and radio as well as live theatre. The evolution of the 747 jet aircraft had not yet landed. Television broadcasts in black and white were still up in the air. The information technology highway was not planned or built. There were towers in Birmingham called ‘Follies’ dotting the skyline but not mobile phone towers. Many of us today could not imagine living in a world without the worldwide web (www), email, texting, social media sites like Facebook or Twitter etc. In these early times society knew nothing of these things – bankcards, passwords, internet banking, and telephone pins were not yet created.

This was a time in the 19th century when human heads were being lopped off in the Tower of London and their bones picked clean by ravens. Big Ben was about to gong for the first time. London at that time had a terrible sewerage stench.

The core theme of this historic novel is sketched around our great-grandparents – John and Mary Williams – who lived during these torrid times, finally deciding in 1858 to emigrate from Birmingham, UK.

England had a track record of harsh, tough times in penal servitude – men brutalised by the lash, flogged to within a cat’s whisker of the end of their life, and other dreadful punishments in the early part of the 1800s. If you were caught stealing a loaf of bread, the court’s sentence was most likely to be Transportation to Australia on a convict ship – a chained journey that could take six to nine months or much more wallowing in unbelievable filth, vomit, urine and excrement.

In the middle of the 19th century they sailed 33,000 kilometres across to the other side of the world into Port Phillip, Melbourne, Australia as ‘free settlers’ aboard one of the seven fastest tall ships ever built – the American-built wooden extreme clipper ship Red Jacket. For John and Mary the planned journey was to be the greatest gamble in our family’s history, setting out in search of a better life. To do so, they had to agree to sacrifice it all, place everything on the line including their lives and the lives of their two young children.

Your safe arrival in those times was far from a certainty and all our great-grandparents really had in the world was their paid passage, youth, a dream, complete faith in each other, their two very young sons, a few pennies to jingle in their purse and 10 gold sovereigns sewed into Mary’s undergarments. They were totally alone, without any family support base whatsoever. This is an historic novel of great hope set across a background chasm of massive changing world technology and political change. It is mapped around this family’s incredible struggle to adapt to and cope with change, exacerbated by some extraordinary feral family problems that led to the exclusion of a precious son for his unacceptable sexual behaviour, persistence, death, devotion, love, tears and laughter sadly touched by bouts of contradiction, controversy and gross disappointment brought about by a contentiously written, five-page Last Will and Testament.

Our historic novel journey opens with a snapshot from 1941 and moves to the author’s adolescent years at Coorabbin in Victoria where we were lovingly nurtured by our parents on a rented 10-acre market garden.

Meanwhile, at the very tip of Australia in the Northern Territory, Darwin and many surrounding outer islands were under heavy weapon fire by crack Japanese troops during WWII. All the air defences that Australia could initially muster to defend our country was a handful of hopelessly inadequate training Wirraway aircraft until Great Britain came to our aid and sent some fighter planes, Mark 7 Spitfires, to bolster our defences, taking up the fight to the Japanese Zeros.

Thankfully, America also joined in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre with all their might, strength and determination. Their forces based in Darwin had aircraft like the mighty P 40 that greatly assisted to underpin and strengthen our defences.

Locally, at home in Coorabbin, typhoid fever attacked the broader regional populous, including striking the author down.

The memorabilia, romance and struggle of our family’s heritage attendance at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne as market gardeners retrace an outline of life as it was in 1858 and earlier times behind our great-grandparents’ existence in Birmingham, UK. We discover and relate some interesting philosophy about Chief Red Jacket whose respected name was given to their tall ship and then our story moves on to the building and the eventual fate of that great wooden vessel.

We learn of the pitiful, heart-wrenching, emotional sacrifice of saying goodbye to our English family connection as they stood facing each other, heartbroken, trying hard with all their might to face up to the reality of never seeing each other again on that wharf in Liverpool, UK. Dreams during these times often came at a high human relationship cost.

The story continues with their eventual, much-anticipated arrival in Port Phillip, Melbourne, the unexpected forming of a life-changing partnership with ship-board friends, William and Esther Hilton, the decision to sell all their furniture as the last of their savings slowly disappeared from their grip on the purse, and their preparations to travel to the diggings (goldfields) of Happy Valley near Ballarat, Victoria to try their luck.

Their timely arrival came in the wake of the Eureka Stockade incident; they encountered a New World, a new political order inspired by gold – gold that if found our great-grandparents planned would give them (and us) a whole new start in life. They were lucky and as a first priority they repaid Mary’s parents loan. The early seeds were planted by example to the family of how to honour and keep promises. It set a foundation precedence a keystone few members could achieve.

Returning to Port Phillip, Melbourne in 1861, Mary, pregnant at the time, gave birth to their first son in Australia, John (junior). The family eventually grew in size to an even dozen children. As property ownership laws were changed, they took advantage and arranged to buy some land in Bayside, Victoria and John with their hard-earned gold money proudly built Mary a modernised new brick home with lots of space and all the latest conveniences. Later in 1868, an additional 37.5-acre property was added to his portfolio in Coorabbin East.

Like a spider spinning a cast iron-like gossamer web, the 20th century arrived and their trusted son Alberto convinced them to leave their modern ‘dream home’ and relocate to Lawksburn closer to his place of employment in Melbourne. Exactly how this move may have hastened her death is unclear but soon after, in 1901, Mary died and John found that his world was extremely lonely without her constantly by his side. By 1908, he lay down his Last Will and Testament.

Curiously, they never ever returned to their land or dream home!

In 1922, our great-grandfather John died, and a new battle awoke from its ugly cocoon – his complex five-page will. This document saw daylight for the first time which John had hoped, under his solicitor’s advice, would crystallise all his last wishes for the family. Instead it bumped into a disloyal, greedy, trusted son’s mind, trained in the ways of the executive/corporation, and his crusade for the pathological pursuit of power and wealth at the family’s expense along with his supporting brother.

The two brother executors acted like conjoined twins and independently and legally fine tooth- combed and scrutinised the will’s details. You could say this was not illegal but suffice to say that in the process they eventually came up with a plan and opportunistically took advantage of his siblings. Where great-grandfather had ‘provided’ they ‘divided’.

The author’s parents were just one of the executors’ administrative targets. As time slipped down, the hour-glass tragedy appeared from the left field for the family, as Hannah, the wife of our great-grandparents’ second son Joseph, was tragically killed one dark, wintry night in a bone-chilling goring by her hand-raised pet bull at Lampton, Victoria and soon afterwards our Uncle Joseph also passed into eternity.

From the 1920s, world times were rapidly changing; technology was on the march as never before, the horse was finally overtaken, retired without any superannuation by mechanical horsepower automobiles, trucks and tractors. Manure and flies – the chief commodity of the horse community – were exchanged for exhaust fumes, taxes and pollution of another kind – greenhouse gases. Taxes on fossil fuels began to feed a new government thirst; the opportunity arose for governments (Federal and State) to apply new taxes, which were framed into law and collected (and still are today). You could say that the pace of life found an attractive, speedy set of chrome wheels (a skateboard).This was to be the price of progress.

Thirty years later in 1954 family history repeated itself. Our eldest had a set of those progress skateboard wheels of his own and began skating his own despicable, greedy agenda upon the family. When he joined our father and his brother as an employee in Coorabbin, he firstly, even though he was not a partner (and never was a partner), it seems right from the word ‘Go’, demanded far too much voice. To achieve this ‘voice’ he manipulated and won our mother’s influencing support upon our father, which was instrumental in blocking and preventing another dear uncle, Johnny Olby, from joining and expanding the most successful partnership in our family’s entire history.

Secondly, he also managed in just a couple of short years of employment to drive a big wedge into the heart of this most successful partnership that culminated in its bitter destruction between our father (Arthur) and his brother (Uncle) Larrie. So bitter was that bun fight that it took almost two years to resolve in the solicitor’s office and came with a whopping bill.

We victim siblings, who loved our dear Uncle Larrie, were greatly affected. We never saw him again. It happened at a time when we children needed our dear uncle’s moral and physical leadership.

Also on our eldest’s watch he married Jezebel (an ancient Biblical name where the original Jezebel oversaw a turbulent period of divided kingdoms, conflicts and religious quarrels). It seems this Biblical Jezebel had much in common with our family’s modern-day Jezebel and the duo proved by their track record to be quite a controversial, brutal, greedy and sadistic pair.

Together they displayed a particular type of personality profile, possibly better known as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They had an aspect in common whereby they needed an accomplice to achieve their grand destruction plans and to receive gratification from their extraordinary cheating fantasies. This duo made it all possible by marriage/partnership. Perhaps until the day he died, what our eldest didn’t realise was that his partner was a sociopath and to make it worse he failed completely to understand how sociopaths operated (see profile online To exacerbate the whole unfortunate situation it seems our eldest was a psychopath and it is perhaps unwritten in history as to what happens when a sociopath and a psychopath act as one. It seems a leading expert in psychopathic studies, Robert Hare states: ‘…social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plough their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets… selfishly taking what they want and doing as they please without the slightest sense of guilt or regret…’

Let their deeds become the risk assessment. The pen they say is mightier than the sword. Just prior to his marriage, our trusted eldest, without any consultation with us siblings, placed himself and his wife (to be) by secretly installing themselves on our family farm’s title documents as holding the majority of the shares (66 2/3 %) and our hardworking parents became the powerless minority holders in our family Laxta property by the stroke of a mighty cunning pen – no responsibility was shown towards us vulnerable underage siblings. It was an eminent sign of things to come!

At this point, our eldest and his wife (to be) opted to overturn and override all those hallelujah promises and substituted a new plan of their own making that totally excluded us siblings (knowing full well the promises made to us. It occurred without any consultation to us underage siblings.)

On reflection, it seems we siblings had no rights, no claim whatsoever. Nor were we entitled to any say in the matter. Either their voices were stronger than our parents’ promises in their eyes. It seems this duo believed they were owed something special and had ‘the power of one minus four’. What exacerbated the whole thing was our mother’s weakness. Legal advice to protect us four siblings was not taken and we were not told about this major turnaround – so the perpetrators took advantage, making 100% sure she gave into all their demands and that she fully agreed to all their claims, unreasonable or otherwise. Perhaps the price was a few syrup-sweet Melting Moments and countless high teas blended with an unknown future window ‘restore point’.

Family feuds are common in the community, both high profile and smaller, insignificant ones, more like ours. Most have greed as the common foundation plank of disputation. In our case it wasn’t just about our parents’ property. It had several disjointed, quirky elements, like the distasteful way our beloved parents were treated/cheated and in particular the way our mentally incapable father was unjustly taken advantage of. Also the pattern of despicable psychological warfare element, dysfunctional decisions and 24/7 bullying in the home as well as the workplace, the cruel, unjust way us siblings were secretly targeted and cheated as children. And the way our lives were unacceptably manipulated as innocent children by the trusted perpetrators. It was totally out of control.

Circumstances of how our trusted eldest and his wife piously sidestepped without any accountability their total responsibilities/stewardship were incomprehensible. Possibly unlike some other ‘high-profile’ family disputations, ours never found a developed solution or went to court or had any independent, impartial mediation applied. It still remains an open, festering sore over 50 years on! It seems that all the events have been successfully swept under the carpet... so any similarity to the original scenarios is now purely supposition and coincidental.

During their personal anarchy upon the family, along with its asset-grabbing, and to cover up their unacceptable dirty tactics trail, they jointly promoted a litany of secrets, lies, deceit and contrivance, introducing a mishmash of these all new strange complexities into the bosom of our loving, healthy environment by delivering a daily pre-calculated dose right into the pulsing nerve centre of the heart and home of our family. For some of us siblings trust began to clothe itself with a garb of mistrust.

Family breakfast was a black affair! Possibly best described like this analogy, it spread across the meal table – just like spreading Vegemite on toast (Vegemite on one website is described as (foul death paste) ‘most foul concoction ever packaged and sold as food online

Ironically, it had a sequel and it also proved to be the foulest concoction if you like – ever packaged upon our family. As you read on you will meet these extraordinary, unforgettable characters.

One of the meanings of the words ‘blood-money’ according to the online Free Dictionary is ‘Money gained at the cost of another’s life or livelihood’. Moving on, it seems eventually our trusted eldest Nic and his wife Jezebel convinced our mother and this time took every advantage of our very ill, mentally incapable father to railroad them out of the last 1x5 acres of their 3x5 acres holding. The purchase price paid was appallingly low but the price to pay in terms of human exploitation was exceptionally high, as the scale of justice will reveal.

As a direct result, this action forced our beloved parents’ removal and the consequential fallout or flow-on effect sadly followed. The reality was we siblings had already been compromised and now it was our beloved parents turn to face up to the decisions (mother) had made and depart the farm. They quickly discovered they had next to nothing. The loss of our parents’ livelihood hastened our father’s death.

Recriminations were many. There were exceptional, curious, unanswered elements, one of which springs to mind. If there was nothing to hide in this lop-sided property deal, then a curious mind would ask why an independent real estate valuer wasn’t called to put a fair market value on our parents’ asset. One other thing remains mysteriously unanswered. Why was it conducted in secret – (without any consultation with us four siblings)? They knew through repetitive reminders that we had all been promised the farm was for all of us.

Perhaps our eldest Nic and his wife Jezebel deliberately took this secret backdoor approach as they did not wish for anyone else to discover their unacceptable greedy agenda. Possibly they feared that others might scrutinise their unacceptable offer and advise our parents against it or increase the bargain basement entry price. Whichever way you look at it, it failed to meet our family’s minimal Christian ethics. Nic and Jezebel’s actions were the very opposite of what they charaded and outwardly confessed to be!

 Analysing the family wreckage all these years later, a moral question raises its head –how was our father’s signature obtained? Morally was an independent legal representative appointed for him? Legally were all his rights fully met? More importantly was it lawfully witnessed in front of a Justice of the Peace?

In exchange for our parents signing over their home and livelihood they were to receive ‘a home’. Their assets included our family home set on five acres, a large shed with a broad range of working poultry equipment, day-old chicken raising, growing sheds/cages for laying hens including electric lights etc complete with all equipment, and an operating farm-gate business.

 By the time us siblings got to hear about all the ‘horse trading’ events of what had happened, the unacceptable deal had been done and dusted. As a consequence our mother reported that she was under a great mental strain and was prescribed a huge amount of medication by our doctor, which was breaking her down mentally. Our father was also deteriorating rapidly as he no longer had his farming world to live in – his livelihood and his vital interest in life had gone. He eventually slipped deeper and deeper into his childhood. Their lives were a shameful disastrous wreck!

 In 1968, less than four years later, our father passed away. Not long after that mother began a dive into the depths of regret and despair so much so that she was on the verge of being secretly placed into an institution by our eldest and his syrup-sweet wife until family and friends intervened and arranged for her to go to an uncle on her side of the family for prescribed drug withdrawal, protection, rest and rehabilitation.

At the centrepiece was this despicable deal that was negotiated secretly with our parents. It was laced with a range of elements, some of which were fabrication, narcissism, not based on achievements. It smacked of glibness/superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulation and cunningness. Perhaps worst of all, this family duo were unable to feel remorse or guilt for their selfish,  greedy, lop-sided actions. It was obnoxious, un-Christian and callous. It demonstrated total lack of regard and empathy for our beloved parents (to say nothing of what their greedy actions inflicted long-term upon us siblings). Falling or becoming a victim can be exceptionally damaging to some folks, many suffer long-term damage. To cope with all these ghastly events in our family most of my siblings tried to wipe it out of their minds with a code of silence. Possibly keeping quiet stemmed more from a fear of not being believed.

Lifting the lid on some of these sad events as youngsters raised on our family farm gave the opportunity for Oh! Brother! to shine the spotlight on the moral and unethical cheating of your parents/parents-in-law and underage siblings. It would have to go down on our family record as the worst and lowest act in our family’s entire history. The story of Cain and Abel in the Holy Bible springs to mind; it deals with man’s inherent nature to do bad things like lying, cheating, stealing, and envy over his brother.

 Notwithstanding, these acts stood alone as the blackest hour ever drawn on members of our family. It was not just one solitary act but a series of repetitive, deliberate, premeditated acts released on us four innocent, underage brothers (we were all under the age of 18, one under 10). Even worse, it was also carried out on our beloved parents, exacerbated by being orchestrated and conducted by a much-loved, trusted son and his syrup-sweet wife, who pre-possessed an attitude of ‘something special’. Just because Nic went to the Queen Victoria Market as a fully paid employee, he gained this hero status at 18 years of age, wearing his first set of long pants. Under such questionable circumstances, you would have to wonder why this gave him the right to jump life’s inheritance queue, double or quadruple dip, and take full advantage of his parents and all his siblings. Whether Nic and Jezebel are sociopaths or psychopaths is the readers call. As you explore this novel you’ll also find their road map to conclude some of those answers.

Perhaps in his defence (like Abel) he may claim ‘Am I my four brothers’ keeper?’

From this low point, clouded by those dim, dark days, it seems that sometimes extraordinary journeys reach a high point – a bright ray of shining light. The fulfilment of our great-grandparents’  dream destiny was stirring and preparing to reincarnate. Apparently it was so strong in some family members’ veins, particularly the author’s, that it had a determination to succeed – a driving force and inertia or life pulse of its own.

The life clocks have stopped for two of my siblings but for those of us who have survived these past times of victimisation and deprivation, it is possible for us to utilise our gifts/talents in a  good way. In the author’s case it is clearly evident in these writings, thanks in no small part to his former school masters who were ‘Legends in Education’ at Mentone Grammar (see Foreword).

 Surprisingly the author’s education was ironically funded by a small inheritance left to our  parents (where our mother moved to invest it in education). So whatever you may think, perhaps after all our mother wisely protected us in this most extraordinary, unusual and unique way.

When the final whistle blew, it seems that there were only ever to be two adult passengers on the ‘Williams Gravy Train’ (meaning income obtained with minimum effort). Our beloved parents and us four siblings were already compromised and now excluded from this manifesto. We were not offered any opportunity at reconciliation or a share in the gravy. When our trusted eldest and his wife sold up our former family farm in 1974, enjoying a huge capital-appreciation profit (60% of which  should have morally and ethically gone to our parents), all past promises to share some of the property with us siblings along with any undertakings/commitments were conveniently forgotten.

Shortly after, their great escape was planned – a one-way gravy train left the family station with its ill-gotten booty carefully stowed on board and its secrets carefully swept under the carpet, out of view, in first class.

With all the signals now pulled, the green appeared and a few decades of controversial fuel was ready to go up in smoke. Dirty laundry and other paperwork was loaded and ready for stoking into the engine’s boiler to build up steam. The zigzag route had many sets of points, bridge trestles and one more final river to cross as the track twisted and turned. Under instructions, the driver kept his hand firmly on the throttle, running express and reaching maximum allowable speeds from Laxta to Hellsgate.

By gauging the length of this journey, it seemed the plan would not immediately derail here. For all the family it appeared as if they had triumphed over truth and all of our family morals as well as Christian ethics – indeed it was a notorious, sad, slippery slope. Some figured they were never to get home Scott-free. Our mother made one last effort before she died in 2009 to put things right. She asked the author to pledge a promise. To find out what this promise was all about – that will be revealed in the last chapter.

 On that day of hasty retreat, the spectacular wildly swirling smoke puffing from the chimney into the surrounding air danced like devils on horseback. The screeching was deafening as well as the colourful sparks from the spin of the iron wheels. The real inertia and forward motion dynamics of it all was running on a special energy-charged accountability track and all the details have been carefully noted.

If there is such a thing as Christian ethics, what is the fair and reasonable price you then ask?

If you wish to search for an answer then read on; it just may lie here in the pages of this historic novel.

Meanwhile, the huge pendulum of Father Time swings back and forth ‘tick tock’, ‘tick tock’, waiting for that elected hour. The wheels continue to turn ‘clickity-clack’, ‘clickity-clack’ as nature’s scales of justice weigh it all up, as we wait watching while the balance hand indicator-pointer decides the final judgment and ‘restore point’. It began with our great-grandparents John and Mary living in back-to-backs at humble Icknield Square and ends up squarely in our special provided place in this new Australian life.

Realising that families are funny things, some curious members may ask what is nature’s yardstick used in measuring injustice? Perhaps these answers can also be found in the developed pages of this novel.

Welcome aboard this family’s incredible journey of discovery. Meet these complex humans and be amazed by their unconcerned agendas and expertise of these colourful, home-grown characters. Relax now and gaze out your exclusive, mirror-reflection, historic window seat as we attempt to scribe an outline of these fascinating folks working around the cabbage patch, plying their feral and voracious grubby trade of extraordinary gluttony and deception upon our family.

It is spiced by amusing, practical pranks that kept us from insanity, countless journeys to the Queen Victoria Market, visits to our uncle and auntie’s property in Lippsland where our uncle secretly milked his mare for visitors to enjoy milk in their tea. Rona, Dad’s draft horse, was the last horse to ever touch our lives. Terry the ‘Magnificent Mutt’ came to us via Dad’s overcoat pocket. Our mongrel tabby cat named ‘Poppa Puss’ (the doggie jockey) never missed a morning or afternoon tea in his life. ‘Big Red’ was a beautiful bantam rooster who came into our lives via the author’s determination to capture him. Grandma and Pop Dee were such wonderful generous folks. Our father demonstrated love and caring for his animals. At mushroom time who could forget those horrendous dancing queues that later formed at our ‘outhouse thunderbox’ ? Also the great drives and all those picnics we enjoyed in Dad’s pride and joy –a 1929-model Tourer automobile – as little kids?

It also raises the interesting debate over self-replicating seeds versus hybrid seeds and the practice of applying chemical fertilizers over the old practice of manures for increasing humus in soils. Our hydrology practices and the most concerning the use of pesticides – some of which are highly dangerous and toxic to human life. Then we pose the question about ‘who is the watchdog’ over our seeds and food growing practices? It also touches on storage of our fresh vegetables, our health, their nutrition and trace element content. How many cabbages grown under the new methods would you have to eat to equal the same nutrition as cabbages grown under the old methods? It’s all in the scope and accomplished work of this novel.

Oh! Brother! Against all Odds makes a memorable, intriguing, fascinating and unusual historical novel. Despite it all, our family has endured but with some very nasty, life-lasting, disfiguring battle scars.

If it weren’t so serious perhaps it would be a laughable circus and time to send in the clowns as generation after generation – decade after decade – year after year – day after day- and minute after minute – members of a laconic, misfit family sat like square pegs in round holes, while some dishonoured last will and testament wishes.

Oh! Brother even has a cruel stepmother, just like in Cinderella, who beat-up on the growing  Williams’ boys’ for her own selfish ends. The magic wand and dust soon dissipated when some members opted to callously abandon promises, failed to consign leases or honour loving maternal/paternal visions for the privileged children.

Possibly, the miracle was how so many of them escaped being treated and institutionalised for their extreme irrational behaviours. Many of them never lived to enjoy their ill-gotten spoils. Others are plagued by fear, obsessed with covering up the past.

Along with mighty, wooden extreme clipper ships and daring, cigar-munching tall ship sailing commanders, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents’ accumulated triumphs are now gone. Perhaps our family will be unlikely to allow any future duplication simply because these circumstances that exposed these extraordinary unforgettable characters no longer exist. The family is now back to square one after over a tumultuous century and a half of existence in Australia, hopefully in the future we will see no cultivated clones or replacements.

For Louie, the author, Cliff and Saul their shares in the end were sadly exchanged for the sweet bitterness and agonising alternative of sanctimonious deceit, greed and desecration. What a massive life-changing experience it proved to be.

Rightly or wrongfully, our individual incredible journeys cannot be retaken, undone or changed now – they typified our young vulnerable lives.


It is evident from reading this book that the author has been on a journey of incredible discovery. This journey was inspired by some of his most passionate teachers, who encouraged young Fred to develop a greater sense of self and to investigate historical facts. Some teachers supervise classes, others inspire true learning. The inspiration of C.C. Thorold, L.B. Large and L.A. Large – teachers of the author and legends of our school – is evident in this book which details not only the journey of a family from one country to another but looks at the complexities that typify family life.

Our school’s history is entitled ‘Against All Odds’ and it is obvious reading this book that the determination to succeed, regardless of circumstances, was not only the plight of Mentone Grammar but also the Williams family. From meagre beginnings, our school has moved forward to be at the forefront of Australian education. The Williams family has shared a similar journey. Our school motto of Labore et Honore, by work and with honour, is evident in the author’s endeavours. The values of the school are evident in his writings. ‘From little things, big things grow.’

 Mal Cater


Chapter One –

A promise against all odds


In September 1941 in the very early hours of one chilly spring morning, the key was placed in the ignition and turned on, the foot starter of the old 1929 Chevrolet Tourer was pressed and the hand choke pulled out. The foot-operated starter motor wound the cold engine slowly over ‘Rrrr Rrrr Rrrr’. Suddenly, the six-cylinder engine roared into life and was reversed out of the garage with a sense of urgency.

A heavily pregnant 26-year-old female appeared from the mottled moonlit shadows of our huge peppercorn tree, waddling, holding her bulging tummy. She was very uncomfortable and having regular contractions. The driver stopped and hurried around to assist her into the vehicle. The air was crisp and very cold at first but the long-stroke six-cylinder engine soon began to throw off its welcome warmth as they moved along. Around 30 minutes later, they were at the admittance area of the nearby Mentine Hospital. A few hours later, there was a miracle cry – the sound of new life echoing around the delivery room.

About 30 minutes after the birth, a baby boy with lots of thick, black hair tied back with a ribbon was presented to his mother. He lay in her folded arms and gazed upward upon his mother and the mysterious blurry world about him. For the very first time his mother smiled at him as she gently tousled his thick mop of black hair. It was a whole new spring day on 20th September 1941. On this keystone day, a new life had begun in this arm of the ‘House of Williams’.

A few weeks later, mother and son went home from hospital to the safety of their cherished family home. World War II was being fought, but its Australian implications all seemed so far away from the family home and market garden at Apple Road, Coorabbin. At that time, up to three out of every five males were providing war service and many paid the ultimate price for our hard-won efforts at freedom. Just over two months later, on 7th December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and the Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

Security took on a whole new shape and position of alert. Around three months later, in March of 1942, some of our distant neighbours in Lesterville and Lock Road, Coorabbin – the McKittricks, Briggs and Sullivans – had their market gardens requisitioned ‘without notice’ by the Australian Government on behalf of the Director of Naval Works. The tall radio aerials gave testimony to the obvious fact that it was involved as a wireless receiving station apparently concerned with some of the war’s most sensitive radio/wireless secrets like cracking the secret Japanese submarine codes. Towards the close of 1944, those requisitioned properties were returned to their owners (Cribbin, 1995). Mrs McKittrick, a relation, claimed that their home was never quite the same after its stint of service in the Navy.

As the crow flies, our home in Apple Road, Coorabbin seemed far removed from any war front. Possibly, the war and Japan were getting much closer than many cared to believe. Our market garden was in the rich, sandy loam belt of Melbourne. Here, Baby joined his two elder brothers and they all gazed upon each other in wonderment for the first time.

At 12 months of age, this active baby had long developed to the walking stage and nothing could keep him in his cot. According to his mother, he would use anything in the cot to stand on top of and flop onto the floor, sometimes catching his singlet on the corner post of the cot and ripping it in half as he fell to the floor. Then he would pitter-patter into his parents’ room and go ‘Ugh!’ ‘Ugh!’ It seemed he was full of life and even climbed onto the kitchen table if he could get out of his high chair. At mealtimes, he would sometimes flick food off his spoon, often at his father, and giggle when the contents landed on target, like a little mischief-maker. One time Baby even bopped his daddy hard on the head with the spoon.

For breakfast his father used to enjoy porridge and being an old farm boy type at heart, he liked the milk unadulterated straight from the cow or in this case from our billycan. Our local dairy was based at the time in Cheltenham and milk was delivered daily in bulk to a billycan on our front verandah.

Apparently, being a touch mischievous and possibly emulating Goldilocks, Baby was most attracted to Poppa bear’s porridge and preferred to eat his father’s rather than his own breakfast. Thus, in this innocent way, the baby consumed milk that was not boiled (pasteurised).

At 18 months of age, troubles were fast approaching on two fronts. Meanwhile, the Japanese were advancing towards Australian shores, charging forward with their crack land troops and advance superior air raids as they wanted to establish a strategic base here. Australians were making the ultimate supreme sacrifice and were greatly outnumbered by the enemies’ well-trained advance troops. Along one front was the offensive ground combat struggle that took place along the infamous Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea.

Japan executed surprise air attacks upon the land mass of Australia, bombing Broome inland to Katherine, Darwin and surrounds with multiple bombing raids.

At Coorabbin, few may remember now but another enemy far more localised was attacking: an epidemic on the health front. By 17th March 1943, The Argus newspaper headlined the news:


Spitfires down 14 Darwin raiders. Japanese shipping heading for Dobo, in the Aru Islands. The ferocious attacks followed a Japanese raid on Darwin, when Spitfires took a heavy toll on enemy planes. British and Australian Spitfires fought their first large-scale air battles against the Japanese.


On page three in the same newspaper:


Outbreak of Typhoid at Cheltenham. Nearly 40 Cases. Dr F V Scholes, Superintendent, Infectious Diseases Hospital, Fairfield, stated the hospital had been advised of the outbreak yesterday morning.


Enter this new foreign enemy – a typhoid fever epidemic – also known as enteric fever, bilious fever or Yellow Jack that spread throughout the Coorabbin area. According to the National Library for Health:


Typhoid fever, also known as enteric fever, is a serious infection that is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. The disease is transmitted from human to human and is spread by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with typhoid bacteria. Worldwide, there are 13 to 17 million cases with an estimated 600,000 deaths.



Our next-door neighbours came down with it, and people who resided down our road contracted it. It was a massive epidemic in our area. A letter by a concerned citizen, A.L. Kenny, published in the Argus on 24th March 1943 claimed:


Professor Pettenkoffer of Munich, agitated for the sewering of Munich to prevent typhoid fever [and] the disappearance of typhoid after the sewerage system was completed. It prevented access of flies to the dejecta. [He asks on this basis] Why have we now 152 cases at Cheltenham?


The numbers grew dramatically. The Argus reported 362 cases on 5th April 1943. The death toll began to rise even further and three days later, the same newspaper reported the 10th death and 16 additional cases in the Cheltenham area. Coorabbin Council was gravely concerned and ordered the schools to be closed for a month. The call was made for all pasteurisation of milk and sewering of districts such as Cheltenham to be made compulsory.

One telltale sign (in the first stage) for babies having contracted the disease was pea-soup nappies. To this mother’s absolute horror, this very active child was struck down and soon became dreadfully ill and began fighting for his life. Once again, the old 1929 Chevrolet was started with a hurried ‘Rrrr Rrrr Rrrr’ and backed out of the garage with urgency and this time a very concerned and distraught Mother with a really sick babe in arms got in. It sped off urgently to the doctor’s surgery in Cheltenham. At the surgery, the worst news was diagnosed – typhoid fever. The doctor allowed Mother to take Baby back home and ordered an ambulance to call.

Later that day the bells of the ambulance loudly rang out its fearful, chilling emergency. It sent shivers of fear through Mother as it swung into our driveway. Our father was too petrified to watch and just leaned on his hoe in the nearby paddock, weeping unnecessarily, blaming himself for having fed Baby the unboiled milk. A distant neighbour, believed to be Mr Sturgess, who was also on the way to be admitted for typhoid, promised our hesitant, reluctant and terrified mother that he would assist and keep an eye on her baby and help take good care of him for her. Officers removed all his clothes, placed Baby in some outsized pyjamas, and wound him up like a cotton reel in a large sheet. By now, mother and son were both distraught, crying and very upset. The ambulance doors closed with a thud and it muffled Baby’s cries. Through the dark glass she could faintly see that her baby was totally bewildered, crying, frightened and all alone with strangers, separated from his helpless and distressed mother. Oh, my goodness! What a dilemma. So to the sounds of emergency bells Baby was rushed along with other patients straight to Fairfield Hospital. Mother just stood there, stunned, gazing into the emptiness with the hurt deep inside – helpless to do anything except cry and pray for her baby’s welfare and recovery!

About 45 minutes later, Baby was admitted to the Emergency section of the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital across the other side of Melbourne. His mother was prevented from any visitation or any personal contact whatsoever. She could telephone and she did often (using our neighbour’s telephone), but the answer was always the same: ‘he had a comfortable night, etc, etc.’ So she had no choice but to rely on the good nature and promise of our distant neighbour to write letters to inform Mother about Baby’s real wellbeing. Much to her relief, our distant neighbour Mr Sturgess, who demonstrated he was not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, kept true to his promise and penned a letter to Mother regularly. After two weeks, Baby had moved through the most dangerous stage of the disease, particularly the critical time when you can get ulceration of the small bowel, which usually kills. Luckily, Baby began responding to treatment and slowly recovered. In one letter, Mr Sturgess described how Baby refused to use the potty. Instead, he preferred to jump up and down to make it move along like a pretend horse. According to our kindly neighbour’s letters, as Baby slowly recovered he took over a new role of entertaining the patients and amused them all in his ward. At night-time, he just refused to go to bed. So the nurses hit on the idea to take Baby to the nurses’ quarters. He would follow them all about the place, playing and eventually becoming exhausted, then finally fall asleep. After this, the nurses would take Baby back to bed in the ward. The nurses fed him a lot of pumpkin and had some battles to make Baby eat it. The importance of Mr Sturgess fulfilling a humble promise by writing with news brought much relief to Mother’s very worried state of mind.

Meanwhile, back at the market garden, typhoid fever was a notifiable disease under the Local Government Health Act. A female inspector came to the family home and gave instructions to Mother on what to do in the wake of a typhoid case. All Baby’s toys were burnt. Everything was sterilised. As Baby was still in nappies, it didn’t apply to us, but some of our neighbours were ordered to remove the toilet pan and boil the contents for an hour on a fire. It was an Aussie barbecue no one wished to attend. Our mother, in outright fear and hoping to avoid the disease, placed a few drops of phenyl in a glass of water and drank it. The Levingson family who lived next door to us milked a dairy cow and avoided the outbreak. However, they were absolutely devastated and shocked when their youngest son Jimmy contracted the disease. Apparently, he had enjoyed a milkshake at the local shop and in this way innocently became a victim, as the milk was not pasteurised.

In 1943, it was fearful times indeed as newspaper headlines recounted the tragic deaths. Another neighbour was in a Melbourne hospital for over nine weeks. Other neighbours down the road like dear Mrs Ulrick and her teenage daughter Lorna tragically never made it back home again. It was very sad for this family and so tragic to lose two members. The Health Department officials worked like bloodhounds, eventually tracking the source of infection down to unhygienic practices on one farm, and a worker on the same farm that had contracted the disease. This outbreak was a precursor to compulsory pasteurisation of milk in our area and eventually sewerage.

On 25th March 1943, The Argus claimed the diagnosis of the disease was ‘Caused By Milk.’

In the past typhoid fever has wreaked havoc on many individuals. According to one online account, Athens fell because a plague swept the empire’ ( In 1897, Almroth Edward Wright developed an effective vaccine for which he was knighted in 1906. Some of the more famous people in history who became victims of typhoid included Abigail Adams, wife of former United States President John Adams; Martha Bulloch, mother of Theodore Roosevelt; William Wallace Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln; Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, British Prince Consort, Queen Victoria’s husband; Franz Schubert, composer; Joseph Smith Jnr, first Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (survived); Wilbur Wright, brother of Orville Wright; and many others (see online Wikipedia).

About six to eight weeks after being admitted to hospital, Mrs Block, a kindly lady who was well acquainted with our family, assisted Mother. Her husband owned the nearby garage (built on land formerly owned by our great-grandfather John and a life lease given to his son Thomas). The baby’s father and his brother earlier worked this land for growing vegetables. The Blocks built a garage business and they sold ‘Plume fuel’ not far from the corner of Wicks Road and Point Nepean Road, Coorabbin East (later, in 1948, this became the Nepean Highway).

When the hour of need arose they kindly drove the Mother to Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital to collect her little baby boy. On arrival at the hospital, Mother first had to have all her clothes sterilised/fumigated along with the clothes she had brought to dress baby in. This was done before being allowed to collect Baby.

On a promise from a distant neighbour and the medical profession Baby ‘Against all odds’ survived. Considering all those who died, it could be said that Baby (the author and descendant) was possibly one of the very lucky ones in Apple Road, Coorabbin to return home – hopefully cured and now set to play/learn with his chalk and slate. He was to later record those memories and recalls watching the grubs gorge themselves in and around our proverbial cabbage patches. It seems it is true after all that ‘From little things, big things grow.’


 Authorities were pleased that the death rate was very low, not rising above 6% compared to other areas in the world.

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