April 7 - 13, 2013: Issue 105
The grandson of Pittwater’s Joseph Gregory Lipscombe, patriarch of a family of 13 children who resided at Careel Bay, and son of Cecil and Daphne Gilbert this gentle giant has seen many changes occur in Pittwater. When it comes to cars and tyres there’s few who are as sharp on each model and its year. The proprietor of Totally Tom’s, Avalon Bulldogs Club president 1977 – 1981 and childhood mate of Peter Verrills, Tom Gilbert, is what is great about Pittwater people and what is still prevalent in them and the area due to his salt of the earth nature and spending a lifetime in this beautiful place.
When were you born?
4th of February 1941.
What was Avalon like in 1941?
It wasn’t. It was just a couple of dirt roads and one bitumen road, a couple of shops in the main centre. It was a country village. I was born here and my mother was born here before me. Mum (Daphne Grace Lipscombe) was born at the bottom of Etival street, Careel Bay. Everyone was born at home, 13 of them. There were two Mayors in the family; they’d all dispersed by the time I was grown up; our family was the only part of the family that stayed in the area. I had a couple of uncles; two at Mona Vale and one at North Avalon that stayed until they died.
My dad met my mum at 'Wharfdale' which was next door to where the Melvey Victor Richardson place is. Wharfdale was owned by Frank Keighly, (a founder of Bradford Cotton Mills; they used to have a lot of the property there. Dad was a stonemason. He used to be allotted rights at Manly Wharf, he had a truck; the materials used to come across on the punt. They had the old hard tyre reos; they went to the opening of the Harbour Bridge on those; on Bottle’s Buses; Bertie; these were hard rubbered old Internationals; Federals; we used to have to get out and push them up at Bilgola Beach, that was the road then (now called the Serpentine), no Bilgola Bends. The road used to go along through where Avalon public school is up the hill and straight across; there was no Barrenjoey road yet. So it went straight across to the hill and down into Bilgola.
Bottle's Buses, 1920's, courtesy Mr Philip Lipscombe.
My old man always used to sing ‘Jealousy’. He loved a rum or two; then he’d sing 'Jealousy'; Cecil Bluey Gilbert. Mum used to find his rum bottle out in the store and she’d half fill it with water. Mum used to sing too; ‘Roll out the Barrel’ and ‘Palm Beach Boys are Happy.’
‘The Palm Beach boys are
The Palm Beach boys are free
They never tarry
For they’re all good company
Oh the Palm Beach Boys are happy
When they’re out upon a spree
But they all drop dead when Friendly says
Come and have a drink with me’
Palm Beach Boys Picture courtesy Peter Verrills
We lived on the corner of Currawong and Barrenjoey roads. Growing up on Pittwater in the ‘40’s was sensational, going prawning with Peter (Verrills), the old rubber surfer plane; we used to take those out every weekend and lie on top of them.
Tom (in middle) atop Carl Gow's/Gonsalves Boatshed, 1949. Annual fundraisers were held in the park near the ferry wharf to raise funds to support the Randwick Hospital with the Carl Gow/Gonsalves Boatshed put into use as the 'Beer House'. This became an annual event: HOSPITAL BENEFIT AT PALM BEACH. The Randwick Auxiliary Hospital will benefit from a deep sea fishing and sporting day at Palm Beach tomorrow. Professional fishermen operating from Palm Beach and private owners are providing the trawlers. HOSPITAL BENEFIT AT PALM BEACH. (1950, March 18). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27575067
Where did you go to school?
Newport Primary. Sensational school days. My teacher was Mrs Stevenson.
Above: Sixth Class at Newport, 1952: Back Row; (L to R): unknown, John Ashford, Peter Butler, Frank Le Clercq, Arthur Robinson, David Cause, unknown, unknown, Alan Emery, David Whistler, Bruce Ford, Leigh Haines. Third Row: Aubrey Golden, John Pennings, Tom Gilbert, Tony van Burger, David Parsonage, David Trotter, David Page, Bob Commeys, Bob Hessnick, Bruce Foreman, Rodney Mitchell. Second Row: Julie Pownceby, Rachel Lloyd, Susuan Rowe Janie Mercer, Renee ?, Sue-Ellen Terry, Jan Coleman (now Roberts) Jenny Pennings, Robyn Daly, Sue Owens. Front Row: Colleen Price, Mary Brammell, Barbara McClintock, Nan Campbell, Judy Jones, Heather Cleland, Heathear Smith, Shirley?. Courtesy Jan Roberts, from Remembering Avalon, Ruskin Rowe Press.
Where did you go to High School?
Balgowlah. That was the nearest.
What did you do when you left School?
Moped around for a couple of months then did an apprenticeship as an electrician at North Sydney. If you weren’t working in an apprenticeship by 15 you were nobody then. I went into being an electrician after that, only for a short period.
What did you do after that?
Totally Toms – Avalon tyre service. I started at the Avalon Tyre Service in 1961.
How did that all come about?
I was driving a truck for a guy and he used to get his tyre work done at Avalon tyres, they had only just started, and they offered me a job and I took that up and I worked with them until 1979/80. Then I moved across the road to the Service Station and took over there and took their business with me. We had a bit of a falling out you might say. It was Melbourne Cup day 1979; one of the partners went to the RSL like they did every year and left me with the other partner who was a bit of a character. A lady came into the backyard for tyres and I said ‘would you mind, we’re just going to watch the Cup; I had the two guys who worked for me organised, we had a little t.v. there, and we were going to watch the Cup race first. She said ‘sensational, I’ll just read a book.’
I went back inside and this bloke Cliff said to me ‘I want you to go out and serve that lady.’ I said ‘you go out and serve her, I just spoke to her and she’s happy to wait until after the race.’
He said “I want you to go out and serve her.” I said ‘Ok,; bang; that was it.’ I walked out the front door with a bit of blood on my fist due to punching the door frame on the way out.
How long did Totally Toms go for?
Could you share with us a few fond memories from those times?
Yes; employing Friendly. (laughs).
That was amusing?
He was always amusing; it was always amusing when he came to work. He didn’t know whether he was coming or not. He was working in the Police Force and tried to do a few extra hours when he could. Yes, very flexible! (laughs). He made his own hours up.
How were his mechanical skills?
Sensational. He could blacken tyres and silver-frost wheels. (laughing). Friendly is a Mechanic by trade.
Who else did you have working there?
My two sons. One of them did an apprenticeship through the business. He walked away from his trade though…same as his father. He changed direction. We had Teddy Armason working there…we had five mechanics, there were 15 of us working there at one stage.
So you were looking after most of the vehicles around Avalon, Palm Beach…Newport?
Pretty much had it by the short and curlies …yeah. I’ve always loved cars and the tyres, probably because I was good at it I suppose.
Tom’s wife Dawn provides a keen insight on this; He always knew everyone by their number plates or by the car they owned; they were ‘NKY143’ or Datsun ’76 not Mr such and such or Mrs …
Friendly, (Brian Friend) explians; what you’ve got to realise too is Tom’s after hours service. People would ring him at home; the husbands and wives; the wives, their husband would be away and the wife would ring up and say ‘my batteries flat’ at eleven o’clock at night and he’d get out of bed and go and fix it.
Tom: so it was a 24/7 business. It was just the way I did it…just me. I had all the URM garbage trucks too, we looked after them.
What was the most memorable thing you recall from then?
There were lots of film stars, and television people out here, Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, John Laws, Susan Peacock. We looked after a lot of those people.
The Browns still have a place out here.
Yeah…sensational people, lovely people. They had no airs and graces…just down to earth, lovely people.
Why did you close up?
Over the course of time we started out with Total and they were eventually forced out and Ampol took over the place. Ampol bought out Total and then they were out of the country (that was when the French were dropping bombs) and then Ampol were eventually taken over by Caltex and we, over the period of time of re-leasing, had an agreement to buy the place which went upside down but eventually the Real Estate got worth too much money and I couldn’t afford to buy it so they closed it up and sold it out to the developers, and 1997 saw the end of the service station.
What was your first car?
A Ford Prefect, a 1948 model.
What is your all time favourite car?
It would definitely have to be a Holden and probably the Holden Statesman Caprice. I’ve always been a Holden man.
Is the Statesman the Australian male’s Chanel handbag?
No (laughs); they were beautiful; had leather upholstery, they were top of the range.
Tom sponsored his then apprentice Joel Weedon in the Variety Club Australia Bash of 1989 from Bourke to Burnie. Here the car is at Palm Beach Golf Club, where Tom was a member, a Holden Special!
You were involved in a few local clubs as well…the footy, the surf club at Avalon…
Only as a sponsor; my nephew was very involved with them. I played for Newport Rugby League in the early days. This was 1953, 54, 55. That was sensational as a young bloke. My father, him and his mates started the club down at the pub (Newport); it used to run out of the Arms. They were red and green (uniforms) and eventually, when the place folded, they passed the colours onto Avalon.
Left Pic: Tom is at Bottom Row far left (1955). Right Pic: Cecil Gilbert (Tom's Father) is coach (1954). Photos courtesy of Brian Friend.
What’s you most memorable year in the football?
We won a couple of championships. We used to play against some local clubs; there were clubs at Collaroy, Narrabeen and Brookvale, they had a team. Mona Vale had a team; it just depended on the different age groups; it was a Manly-Warringah thing.
How did you meet your wife Dawn?
When I came off my bike; she caught me lying down; she was a nurse at Manly Hospital.
How old were you then Tom?
19. I spent five and a half months in hospital.
How did this happen Tom?
I was travelling a bit quick down to Eric Green corner and going quicker then I should have been overtaking a car. I realised I wasn’t going to make the corner so I headed for the hills and as I headed for the hills a car came over the hill, old Mrs Williams, in her Zephyr zodiac and she headed for the hills too instead of going on her way and she took me into the rock, threw me up into the bushes, and I thought ‘Sh*t, that was a bit unfortunate.’ Stood up, fell over and looked down at me leg and thought ‘Sh*t, why did I fall over again?’ and saw I’d torn up all my left leg, made a mess of it.
Old Charlie Williams turned up, he takes about a half hour to get there, by this time someone had come out to Palm Beach and got my mum and Brian Hillier, he used to work at the Holden dealership down the road, he’s arrived too, and a few others…turning it into a social gathering, they all got there before the ambulance, decided I was a bit wounded.
Charlie, he had this old Austin Princess as an ambulance then, which they brought out for the Queen, and the bloody thing used to feel every bump on the road. She was a long hard trip from Newport to Manly I’ll tell you. He saw what my leg was like and strapped this board to the bottom of my foot and left about this much under the heel and every bump he hit my leg would go in the air and come back down on the plank…
You were in Manly for five and a half months?
Yeah. I’d ripped all my foot as well because I didn’t have any shoes on, and the peg, where you put your foot on the bike, had gone straight through from the bottom up. Anyway, they plastered me up and whatever and then the doctor went to Hawaii for holidays. About 10 days later I’m saying “this is not getting any better….something feels funny.” And gooey and smelly; and anyway, I got gangrene and they said “Well, we’ve got to chop his leg off.”
My old man said “No, no, you’re not doing that.” And he got specialists in and they saved my legs through skin grafts and what have you. …and here I am.
What sort of bike was it?
Tom in the garden at the first home he and Dawn owned in Albert Road, Avalon. This formed part of the Dairy and was originally one of the workers houses. This photo is from Feburary 1966.
The Queen came out to lunch here at Palm Beach; do you remember that?
Yes, straight up here to Northview.
Do you remember standing on the side of the road waving to her?
Yes. That’s what they bought that ambulance for; especially for the Queen. This was her 1954 trip out here. There was a huge gathering on the corner Miller street and Falcon street.
Did you think she’s fantastic?
Yeah. Fantastic. Huge for the area. We all gathered on the corner of Miller and Falcon streets there at North Sydney, that park.
You’ve seen a lot of changes since 1941. What are some of the good and bad of these?
Too many people; you’ve got to have people to run a business but.. I just think it was such an angel of a place; it was a beautiful area to live. What I hated was when they built Roseville bridge and they brought all the fill and all the crap in it and dumped it at Bilgola Bends which spoilt that whole area. You used to be able to drive around Bilgola Bends and look out over the lovely scenery and they dumped that there at the south end of it, they were going to widen Bilgola bends, and nothing ever happened. And now we’ve got all that crap that’s there; it’s environmentally just bad I reckon.
Another would be when they built the road from the Shell service station across to the fire station; that was a huge change for Avalon because you used to have to come down and go through the shops but not after that.
I loved getting my milk from Les Bladdon; he’d deliver the milk and come round in his little green truck and I’d follow him around on my pushbike just talking away and the fruit and veggie man who used to come around, the bloke in the old green shed … I miss all that friendly neighbourhood service… the quality…
I’ll never forget when we got the phone on. That was a big thing for us. I was working. It’d be late ‘50’s. You used to have to go through the exchange; Shirley Milton was on the exchange; Shirley and Dot. The other event that was huge was the closing of both Avalon and Palm Beach Camping areas.
Tom (to interviewer): when you were talking about Midget Farelly (and wanting to speak to M.F. about Carl Gow - for Boatsheds pages Spring 2013) Midget Farelly and Bernard Farrelly; he married Betty Carter whose father lived in the camping area at Avalon and worked in the butcher shop at Avalon. Then he became the manager of the Avalon RSL when that started up.
How many children do you have?
I’ve got three kids. I’ve got a daughter in Warwick/Warrick, QLD., a son in Wagga Wagga and a son at Narraweena. I’ve got 14 grandkids. We’re good breeders.
What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?
Right here; the Boat Shed Station Beach. It’s just a sensational spot and nice people and the coffee is good. (Tom is at Barrenjoey Boating Services on the north side of the Boat House building, run by Adam Hillier).
What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?
Just do the right thing and help people. Play hard and have fun.
The Gilbert Family in fron yard of their home at Currawong Avenue, Careel Bay on day Tom's sister Edna was married. Tom is in the middle at the back. Mother and father Daphne and Cecil 'Bluey' Gilbert directly in front and to his left.
Tom receiving the Pop Hall Trophy for Contribution to the Junior League from Roy Bull on behalf of Avalon Bulldogs JRFL Club. Roy Bull (1929–2004) was an Australian rugby league footballer of the 1940s and 50s who spent his whole career - as player, coach & administrator - with the Manly-Warringah club in Sydney. In addition to playing in three New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership grand finals, he was a representative for the New South Wales rugby league team and the Australian national side. Roy Bull. (2013, February 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Roy_Bull&oldid=537962371
Copyright Tom Gilbert, 2013. All Rights Reserved.