In 1945, Margaret Carroll (nee Woodman) from Boundary Primary School, North Melbourne stayed at Cottage by the Sea with her younger sister Lillian.  In September 2019, she visited us again with her daughters Christine and Jenny.

Margaret remembers coming with her mum and her sister on the tram to Spencer Street station.  For her mum, a quiet woman who spent most of her time looking after a household of six children, the trip to Spencer Street was a significant event.

At Spencer Street (now Southern Cross), they met the ladies from Cottage by the Sea near the Travellers Aid.  The girls were given fresh fruit to eat while they waited for the train that would take them as far as Geelong.  From Geelong, the Cottage by the Sea bus would take Margaret and her sister on to Queenscliff for their two-week holiday by the sea.  This camp was all girls. When Margaret and her sister returned to Spencer Street, they would meet their brothers heading in the other direction for their two-week stay at Queenscliff.

Margaret distinctly remembers her six-year-old self and another girl trying to climb the eastern fence of the Cottage grounds.  She’s not sure why they were climbing over, but she was a bit of a tomboy.  Unsurprisingly, the girls were caught before they mounted the iron railing.  As punishment, the girls had to stand silently facing the wall in the activities room for two hours.

The staff were certainly stricter in the 1940s. The children made their own beds every morning with sheets and covers pulled smooth and neat.  Every few days the girls lined up to be fed a spoonful of Hypol, an emulsion of Cod Liver Oil taken to help relieve bronchial ailments.  It was disgusting, according to Margaret, who held her first spoonful in her mouth until she could spit it out.  She did swallow subsequent doses during her two-week stay, but has refused to have the stuff since!

Her overriding memory is of fun. The girls swam at the beach every day, played on the old tram and went for walks, through the dunes and into Queenscliff.  In 1945 Australia was at war; the gun emplacements along Port Phillip Bay were still armed.  The Cottage itself was its original white with red crosses adorning the walls and roof evoking its recent role as a military hospital.

On the last day of their stay, with their bags packed and ready to head back to Melbourne, one girl discovered her watch missing.  All the bags were searched.  Margaret remembers being pulled aside.  She knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, but she was scared.  However, she wasn’t in trouble, the matron had singled her out for having such a neatly packed bag.  Margaret was invited back upstairs to the spare clothes cupboard in the dormitory and given the opportunity to choose anything she liked to take home.  She chose a brown woollen skirt with braces.  To this day her sister Lillian cannot believe of all the clothes available she chose a brown skirt!

The brown skirt is long gone, so is the tram, the army guns and the red crosses on the Cottage but Margaret has her memories.  Now so do we all. We are so glad Margaret took the time to visit us and share her story.