Children learn by example, it is no different today than through the generations. My brother Terry, sister Susan and I were fortunate to have in our parents role models that shaped our lives. Growing up with modest means in country Victoria on a Housing Commission estate was character building. We had a happy life and for that I remain enormously grateful. Wodonga was good to the Stone family and we reciprocated in spades. I am very proud of my parents achievements in local Government and thank the Wodonga City Council for their acknowledgement through the Pam Stone and Les Stone parks.
Wodonga in North East Victoria is the home-town - Bendigo my city of birth. My earliest hazy recollections that pre-date Wodonga are of living at Cornishtown1 where dad was the Head Master of the one teacher school. A misnomer as the headmaster was the only teacher.
Cornishtown is situated between Chiltern and Rutherglen. The school served the local farming community and was a feature of rural Victoria in an era long gone. The school and teacher’s house were co-located and, as a result, I started going to school at a very early age. My mother kept poor health in the early years so I spent a lot of time in the school house with dad. When I was born in 1950, my father was Headmaster of another of these one teacher schools at Derby near Bendigo.2 The family left that same year for Cornishtown.3 By all accounts mum and dad settled into their new community and were embraced by the locals; they found the north-east of Victoria very different from the Western District where landowners were at pains to describe their occupation as ‘graziers’ rather than farmers. Funny that as the family research on the maternal side unknown to my mother back then reveals she was well connected to many of the ‘grazier’ squattocracy that looked down their nose at the local school teacher and his new bride. It must have been a bit of shock for many of those families when they discovered they were descendants of convicts.
In Cornishtown I was ‘adopted’ by locals Julie and Bill Curtain who regularly took me to their nearby farm ‘Home Bush’. Bill gave me a pet lamb called ‘lambie pie’ who I duly played with, bottle fed and watched grow and to my horror that’s where he ended up - in a pie. I helped Julie feed the chooks and bring in the eggs. I became a little brother to their two boys Kevin and Mick. When Kimie and I wandered off across the paddocks and into Chiltern Forest full of dis-used mine shafts it was Bill Curtain who found me as search parties scoured the countryside.
Bill and Julie were very much like surrogate grandparents. They became God parents to my brother Terry and Bill was a pall bearer at my father’s funeral. When dad left Cornishtown, Julie replaced him as the last teacher before the Government closed the school and handed it over to the local young farmers organisation. Our relationship would endure until their respective deaths. They were among the most wonderful people I ever knew. My early childhood was spent in Cornishtown and, thereafter, mostly Wodonga aside from the three years I spent in south Gippsland from 1963 to 1966 when my father was posted to Pakenham Consolidated School.
We lived on the Victorian Housing Commission estate at 225 Lawrence Street Wodonga. Growing up in the Stone household was to serve a long political apprenticeship. Pam and Les Stone were ‘battlers’ living in rented accommodation. The Victorian Government was our landlord.
Over time, the family unit was comprised of a younger brother Terry and my sister Susan. My parents kept an ‘open house’ where neighbours came and went; the doors were never locked. Our old fourth hand car had the keys in the ignition; no one stole cars back then. Most people had a bike navigating the unsealed dirt roads that were the norm in Wodonga except for High Street. My dad Les Stone, the local teacher, stood out; a beacon of hope for the less fortunate and struggling families in the neighbourhood. Migrants from far-away places transitioned through the Bonegilla migrant camp to become ‘new Australians’. They populated the dusty sprawling estate of small freshly painted weatherboard homes where the ‘dunny’ was down the back and torn up newspaper doubled as toilet paper. Some would wander further afield to Wangaratta, Myrtleford, Wagga and Melbourne. My future in-laws, the Novak family, settled in Wagga. Many tenants would in time buy their homes. The Liberal Bolte Government offered finance so Victorians might realise the long cherished Australian dream of home-ownership.
As local children we went on great expeditions to farms that bordered the small town, rolled melons down Watson’s Hill, chased the sheep and played in House Creek and never a thought given to anyone being at risk. In those days you learned to be self-reliant, inventive and resourceful. Wodonga was hot as hell in summer and freezing in winter. The Bogan High Plains (the ‘high country’) and picturesque settlements like Bright were down the road. For the more affluent the snow fields of Falls Creek and Mt Buffalo beckoned. This was the 1950’s post WWII and the ‘baby bloomers’ were starting to populate the country. It was a different world where community mattered, everyone was having a go. TV hadn’t arrived and news was carried in print media and on radio. The Saturday afternoon matinee with a bag of lollies, the annual rural show and the periodic Ashton’s Circus all added to the excitement of growing up in Wodonga.
I learned to fish in the Wodonga Creek and Murray River; built rafts using discarded tyre tubes and camped on the banks of the Hume Weir and Kiewa River. Our world changed when Wodonga got a Drive in Theatre. As a family, we looked forward to Friday night; fish and chips and the drive in theatre with the big screen. An annual trip to Melbourne was a major expedition. It took over a day to travel the 300 odd miles. The family car was in such bad shape my father had to back it up over some of the more challenging hills leading into and out of the city along the old Hume Highway.
Wodonga people cared about each other; had a ‘veggie patch’, compost heap, ‘chooks’ and looked out for their neighbours. Dogs and cats everywhere were an extension of the families. Despite the ‘dunny’ down the backyard, the fear of red back spiders and the night soil man dropping the can on the way out there was this overwhelming sense of optimism that the world had become a better place and opportunity abounded. You didn’t need a permit to build a garden shed, set up a chook ‘run’ or a licence to own a dog. Free of ‘red tape’, government regulation and intrusion in one’s daily life it was a special period to grow up in. Against that background a sense of community was handed down by my parents to their children; they set a compelling example.
In time both parents became civic leaders in their own right. My dad Les Stone, the teacher and school principal was the last Shire President of Wodonga and became the first Mayor of the Rural City of Wodonga on 13 March 1973. My mum Pam Stone4 was the first Lady Mayoress of Wodonga as the wife of the Mayor. Following dad’s death, she became the first woman elected to the Wodonga City Council and then the first woman Deputy Mayor and Mayor elected August 1985 (Profiles are on the website in the Stone Family section).
Both mum and dad have major parkland named after them in Wodonga. It was the ‘political’ interaction my parents generated that gave me the insight into public life. My father was at the forefront of the Whitlam Government’s plans for decentralisation headed up by Tom Uren. Albury Wodonga had been selected as one of the designated growth areas. That story is set out in the Archives section of the Family website where my father’s contribution through local government and as a member of the Albury Wodonga Development Corporation is detailed. It was common for me to come home to our humble housing commission abode and find Ministers and leading political figures deep in conversation with my father around the kitchen table.
The opportunity to rub shoulders with such people was a welcome experience. Speaking with Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment in the Abbott Government, recently I reminisced how our families have intersected over the generations. His late father Alan Hunt was Minister for Local Government in the Hamer Government and was a regular visitor to our home; likewise Lindsay Thompson the Education Minister (later Premier) and his son Murray who went to teachers college with me. Then there was the big man Gough. Years later when I hosted Gough Whitlam in Darwin we reflected over those times and the success of Albury Wodonga despite the naysayers. My side have consistently disparaged Labor’s decentralisation strategies - at least they had one. As with the Queensland Nicklin and Joh Bjelke Petersen Governments few have ever stepped up to the mark to seriously commit to decentralisation. In more recent times the Barnett Coalition Government in WA and Newman LNP Government in Queensland have embraced support for the regions - Newman aggressively so.
The Country Party were often around home – Ivan Swinburne, Keith Bradbury and Stuart MacDonald. For a young aspiring political ‘wannabe’ such contact was at times awe inspiring and instructive. This cavalcade of different political affiliation at my father’s kitchen table taught me early on that you can talk and deal with the other side. No political party has a mortgage on good ideas and political affiliation doesn’t always equal friendship; it is possible to have mates across the political aisle (just learn to forgive their political allegiance).
My schooling was a mix of Catholic parish and State Schools. I attended Ariel Street State Primary School Wodonga (1956-57), St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers College Albury (1958-62), St. Johns de la Salle College Dandenong (1963-65)5 and Wodonga State High School (1966-68).
I wasn’t much good at school but the brothers taught me public speaking, debating and a sense of pride in what it was to be an Australian. Schooled in the verses of ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Henry Lawson, the foundations were laid for an ongoing interest in Australian history that later extended to my British antecedents. History is not ‘bunk’ as some have claimed - before you look forward you should have a look over your shoulder. At my best I could recite ‘The Man from Iron Bark’ standing on my head. I won many a prize for my recitals; they were the only prizes as I was an appalling student when it came to academic school performance. We also learned about the Commonwealth and the British way of things, largely in a positive context. Remarkable when I think back on it given the brothers came from ‘the Irish’. Thinking back, it all makes sense in preparing young Catholics to take their place in Australian society. It is no accident that so many Catholics ended up in the law and in politics. In the Bicentenary Year I enthusiastically embraced the revelation that I was a direct descendant of a 1788 First Fleet convict - ‘first fleeter’ - sent to New South Wales.6 I was thrilled when told by my mother and haven’t stopped talking about it since. My English friends find it an odd preoccupation.
I was consistently a poor student throughout my schooling culminating in a compensatory Matriculation pass in 1968, much to my disappointment and that of my parents. The only bright spot had been in 1965 when I won a Royal Military College Duntroon Scholarship in Form 3 to help pay for my ongoing secondary education. On the weekend selection course I had excelled in practical tasks. All that idle time down the Wodonga Creek hadn’t gone to waste. Rejected for higher education because of my poor matriculation result the Army was still keen to have me (no doubt they had the infantry in mind). I briefly attended the Royal Military College Duntroon in 1969. That turned out to be a complete misstep for me and one I have regretted to this day. Regret in that I accepted the offer of admission for the wrong reasons and second when there I should have stayed the distance and graduated; not because I wanted to be a professional soldier but rather because it remained unfinished business and I was better than that.7 It turned out to be a valuable lesson - if you start something ensure you finish it. I applied for an honourable discharge that same year to pursue an alternative career.8 On discharge I joined the Citizen Military Forces9 and have served over forty years as a Reservist changing from the Royal Australian Army to the Royal Australian Navy in 1983.10
Bendigo always claimed me as one of their own. When elected Chief Minister I was accorded a Civic Reception to mark my birth in the City. Later as Federal President I was regularly invited to Civic events. See Website I have never been invited to any similar activities in Wodonga. However, both parents have been generously acknowledged by the City; See Website ↩
The website Stone Family in Australia has extensive archival material on Cornishtown (see Archives Images and Documents) ↩
Sixth Assembly First Session 03/01/1994 Parliamentary Record No: 25 Adjournment Debate On my mother being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia p.11599 ↩
Les Stone was transferred to Pakenham Consolidated School for 3 years before returning to Wodonga on promotion. I traveled the 34 miles round trip to Dandenong daily to attend St. John’s ↩
Ellen Wainwright alias Esther Eccles transported aboard the Prince of Wales, a valued and prized heritage for many Australians. The Stone family lineal heritage derives from Plymouth (Holbeton, Mothecombe and South Pool) Devonshire arriving Moreton Bay from Plymouth in 1865 ↩
My father tried to talk me off the train to Duntroon in Albury as we passed through from Melbourne to Canberra ↩
On discharge I joined the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) and have since served over 40 years in the Reserve ↩
I joined the 8/13 Rifles of the Royal Australian Armoured Corp; my Squadron had a training depot at Albury NSW. I undertook my training on Ferret Scout Cars, Studebaker Trucks and Centurion tanks at Puckapunyal. I topped my gunnery course at Puckapunyal and was promoted Lance Corporal ↩
The Army never came to terms with why I left RMC and immediately signed up as a reservist. I recall an RMC staff officer was sent to Puckapunyal to pull me off a gunnery course to seek an explanation and offer a transfer to Portsea if I didn’t want to return to RMC. I wanted neither. 44 years on and my old class mates maintain a class list and organise the occasional reunion; the ranks are starting to thin but it is very much to their collective credit that they care. The list comprises those who started rather than graduated. Most have gone onto other careers and have done well Duntroon Website ↩