Gilbert Street has been the heart of our village for 120 years and I cant help but wonder if our founding fathers ever thought the village would grow as it has, or that the centre of our town would come under such pressure. Some of our good people are fighting to stop a five-story height limit in Gilbert Street. The very thought of that would have people like Col Price, old Felix Rosser and James Follet turning in their graves.
Gilbert street was first laid out in the late 1800’s with the first lot of land being sold in 1894 The first map shows the town centre then called Township of Puebla, and Gilbert St with 20 allotments that ran from Pearl Street at the western end, opening to the sea in the east. Gilbert Street was set as being one chain wide. Mrs Miller was a very early buyer but little is known about her.
Gilbert Street is named for F E Gilbert who was an assistant surveyor and cartographer to Mr A J Skene in the Geelong District. This team surveyed more than 120,000 acres of land around Geelong their jobs included marking roads and lines for the electric telegraph, setting aside reserves and areas for public purposes, mineral surveys, they did municipal and engineering surveys as early as 1858. F E Gilbert’s name appears on most of the maps of the parishes around the district including the Bellarine peninsula. Gilbert did much of the surveying work in early Torquay and created the first maps of the area so it seems a pretty fair thing that the little main street is named after him. F E Gilbert was also an early purchaser of land in town and clearly had an eye for a good bargain as he is shown as owning the blocks on the esplanade from Anderson Street to about where Moby’s is today. And he had a block on the corner of Esplanade and Bell Street for good measure. I wonder how he would feel knowing the blocks would bring in a million dollars today.
Alfred Payne built a General store, one of the first buildings in Gilbert Street and in 1897 he was appointed Torquay’s first Postmaster and the mail service was transferred from the Palace hotel to his store. The Post Office moved again into Mr Drayton’s General store at the top end of the street and then in the 1950’s a new Post Office was built at the top of the street and Mrs McHenry was in charge. Keith Davidson who ran the ‘new’ post office for 30 years followed her as Postmaster. Keith lived on the corner of the Esplanade and Anderson street and, as, right up to the seventies, everyone in Gilbert street closed for lunch, Keith didn’t have far to walk home where his wife Connie had his hot lunch waiting.
The Infant Welfare centre was built at the top of Gilbert Street and was a wonderful meeting point for all the new mums. The nurse would visit on a Friday and prams would be lined up on the veranda while the mums and babies got to know each other waiting their turn inside. Sister Ruth Hilliard became a much-loved friend to many new mums in the 60’s and 70’s.
In the early 1900’s Mrs Henrietta Worland owned the beautiful house on the northern corner of Gilbert Street and The Esplanade (where Pond is now) It was called “Sea Breeze and was set in an acre of garden and was her holiday house. There were many sad faces when it was marked for demolition.
We have had some wonderful shopkeepers who have added to the fabric of Gilbert Street. Mrs Tumulty, followed by Sybil Stock ran the Drapery shop. Gwen and John Dukes had a busy greengrocer. Mr Ian Jeffery had a fruit shop where the health food shop now is. He grew almost all his fruit and veg’s on his farm at Bellbrae and had the best fresh eggs from his chooks. Dave Berryman was the butcher during the 50’s and he was followed by John Boocock. His shop smelled of sawdust and he would reach over the counter with a piece of strass for the kids.
Anderson House _ Now McCartney’s real estate Office
The Walkers and the McCartney’s had their spot at the bottom of the street. Col Troy took over the General store in 1948, which for a time doubled as a bank, bus depot and a news agency. His son, and future surfing champ, Peter would sell newspapers in the campground in summer and as a teenager was said to have done a paper round and had a surf, before heading into Geelong College to School.
Joe Walker ran the butcher shop and supermarket for over 45 years and even when he retired he was familiar sight in the street. He lived behind the shop and loved nothing more than a chat with the locals as he took his daily stroll. Joe always had his eye on any changes that were happening.
Our Current News agency has been run by the Coleman’s for 40 years what changes they have seen! Gail and Harvey Price had a department store over the road where believe it or not some 40 years ago you could get school schools, gum boots, ladies bathers and a full range of knitting wool, don’t think you can get any of these items in town today.
At Christmas time in the 60’s and 70’s Gilbert Street would come alive Decorations would go up. The Lions club would raffle a massive Christmas stocking, which would be on display for the kids to ogle over. On Christmas Eve Santa would arrive on the fire truck to visit all the shopkeepers, throw lollies to the kids and draw the raffle it was community spirit at its best.
Long live Gilbert Street, the heart of our community.