David Michael Gillard

David Michael Gillard (my father, 23 May 1905 - 4 October 1982) was born in Perth, according to his birth certificate, tho I think his older brother might have been born on the goldfields, possibly at Yundamindera, around where his father William Edgar Gillard was working. WEG was a master plumber, Dad said in 1981, tho it says 'sheet metal worker' on Dad's death certificate. But there was a very large gap between their two deaths - almost the whole of my father's life, as his father died when he was thirteen months old, and he lived to 77. Dad's recollection in 1981 was prolly more reliable than the undertakers' informant in 1982 (my mother, I'm guessing) after he was gone.

Here is the family in 1905: Davie and his older brother Willie (William Robert Gillard) held by their mother, Ethel May Hill (1885-1919) and father.

William Edgar could have had no idea, when this photo was taken, that he would be dead less than a year later, aged only 33.

In this photo: Davie and Willie, already fatherless.

In his 1981 recording, Dad said:

When my father died my mother had to work of course and we were brought to Melbourne to live for quite some time.

So it's quite possible that this photo was taken in Melbourne. Here are my father's 1981 memories of that time of his life.

One of the first things I can remember: we were in Melbourne in the suburb of Prahran, my brother and I, and I was between three and four, somewhere about four years old, I suppose. When we were taken out anywhere, I was asked to sing. I can remember that quite clearly. And then, my father having died when I was an infant—I was thirteen months old, my brother was thirteen months older than me—and we were taken by Aunt Elsie, my mother's sister, to Melbourne, by ship, and we were living in Prahran with a family named Houlihan. There was Grandma Houlihan and various other members of the family who I can't think of now. But we were very much at home there, and of course as little children Grandma and everybody made a fuss of us.
Well then I can remember a grocer's shop in Prahran and there was about a 4" x 4" post up in the middle of the shop and up on there was a thing for Monkey brand soap and this thing used to turn around. And the other thing I remember was looking through the ... when it was raining in the backyard I could see the big drops coming down and then making pools in the yard. And we had a horse, a rocking-horse. It was only one seat, but it was supposed to be for both of us. I remember the head on my side fell off. Now that's all I can remember about Melbourne.

Ethel must have met Fletcher William Hogarth while she was on the goldfields. And tho she took her children to Melbourne after their father died, she somehow came back to WA to marry him. This photo may well show their wedding party: this might be the 1910 wedding photo of her second marriage - so that David would have been aged 7 at this moment. From the left: Ethel May Hill, Fletcher William Hogarth, Ethel's father William Samuel Hill, seated holding his two grandsons, David and Willie, then Ethel's brother, Leslie Lewis Hill who would have been about 22, and Ethel's sister, Beatrice Harriet Mary Hill.

David and William are wearing black armbands. Their mother, Ethel May, died around January 1919; so David was an orphan before he was 14 (in May of that year). This photo may have been taken shortly after that time. The other two children would be the twins Keith and Ethel, Ethel's children by Fletcher Hogarth.
I return to my Dad's 1981 account of events.

We got on the ship and we came back to Perth, and my mother—I don't know where, but she met up with Fletcher Hogarth, who was then to be my stepfather, and we went to Kalgoorlie, and there my mother married Fletcher Hogarth. I think actually she was looking for a home, trying to get a home for us. With two young children she had to work, of course, and things were tough. So we lived in Kalgoorlie with my stepfather, and then the twins were born: Ethel and Keith. Ethel was a big girl and Keith was a little boy. Then they fell out—or seemingly—I don't know very much about that part of it—the domestic affairs—but my mother decided to bring the four of us children to Perth and we lived up in Mount Hawthorn. I was sent to school at the convent.

After his mother died when he was 13, David pretty much had to look after himself, and certainly from the day he turned 14.

Then Fletcher Hogarth came down from Kalgoorlie for the funeral. My mother had tried to get us into Clontarf Orphanage but they came and saw her and said well they couldn't do that because we had a stepfather living who was a Protestant, and they, quite rightly, so I think, thought that he ought to have to look after us. Anyway he said 'Keith and Ethel are coming back to Kalgoorlie and', he said, 'you can come back to Kalgoorlie both of you or you can go up onto the farm to Aunt Elsie.' So he took Keith and Ethel to Kalgoorlie and we elected to go onto the farm [at Trayning].
Well at thirteen I had a bit of schooling left. I didn't go to school while I was in Perth but when the school opened—that would be February—I went to school—that was the beginning of fifth standard and in May, on my fourteenth birthday [on 23 May 1919], I left school, and then I was out getting a job. I got a job as a farmer's boy at ten bob a week and keep. Well I moved around in various farming places carting water and getting wood and doing various jobs—cooking at one place.

Here's another, briefer, account of his mother's death and what happened next, from a letter to Jeffrey J. Gillard of which I'm so glad he kept a photocopy.

On my mother's death her sister took me to their farm and my last school was a one room affair all grades from infants to fifth standard.

I'm not sure if 'fifth standard' meant at that time (1919) what it meant when I was in it (1954) when I was 10. If so, I've only just now (2013) taken in that my Dad never completed primary school!

Dave spent much of his young life in the wheatbelt, in places like Trayning and Bencubbin: here he is at the bottom left of the team photo, in 1926, the year Dave turned 21.

Dave went on to a great many different occupations. The letter continues:

I was a farmers boy at 14yrs 10 bob a week and keep. I had to have music ... & bought a violin outfit [he means he bought it by mail order: fiddle, bow, case, and instructions!] In my late teens I played for Saturday night bush dances. It couldn't have been very good because I was mostly self taught. Later on I played Viola in Perth and eventually got into the A.B.C. augmented Symphony Orchestra. An accident to my left hand put paid to that so I switched to Double Bass for dances balls, weddings & such for about 30 yrs. Music was about 50% of my take home pay the rest being piano tuning, reconditioning, buying & selling. I like to think that my name will stay in Melbourne because I am a life member of the Australian Musicians Union.

There is another large file of photographs of Dave nearby, and you can see him engaged in many of his various occupations, together with the photos you see above. In another file, I've put some scans of documentary evidence of Dave's employment.

Apart from farming, his first, and certainly his last occupation, was as a musician. While on the farm, he sent away for a violin from a mail order store. Fortunately, it came with instructions! and soon Dave was playing for dances and even for the cinema. (In the days of silent movies - before about 1930 - projection was as often as possible accompanied by whatever kind of live music was available.) Dad's joke (a dadjoke) about this job was that he only knew a few tunes, and once, when a wedding was shown on the screen, he played the nearest thing that he knew that was vaguely appropriate: a cradle song. Like many dadjokes, this one is so lame it has to be interpreted. I think the point was that there was a possible implication that the blushing bride was pregnant. Ha ha.

When Dave was in Perth a bit later in life, he had a few lessons from a professional violinist, whose name I can almost remember - I think it was Hungarian. The height of his career as a serious string player was playing at the last desk of the violas during the (Second World) War in the WASO: the WA Symphony Orchestra. Also during the War, he conducted some sort of scratch orchestra at a fund-raising performance. As proof: I still have most of the orchestral parts for Ketelby's In a Persian Market. He made - out of a piece of cane and a cork - a conductor's baton for me. And he showed me how to conduct the various time signatures. Of course I treasure the baton.

He told a story about playing in the WASO which is a bit of a dadjoke too. At one rehearsal, the conductor stopped the orchestra and shouted at the young violist to ask why the hell he had stopped playing! Dave said he was sorry, but the music all around was so wonderful that he was simply listening to it.

Dave also worked in various dangerous jobs, and lost the top of the middle finger of his left hand doing one of them. (I don't remember ever being told how the accident happened.) As he could no longer play violin (or viola) he instead took up the instrument with the odd name of double bass. He played in various dance and jazz and swing bands for decades. Along the way he had also taught himself to play the piano - I don't think he ever had any lessons on keyboard. And his professional engagements in the last ten years or so of his life were playing organ at things like weddings. By 'organ' I mean one of those little electronic keyboards characterised by continuous vibrato. I didn't like his playing, but he gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

He also worked as a taxi-driver, a photographer, a night-watchman, a munitions worker - as a fitter and turner, which he continued after the War was over - and then a piano-tuner and repairer. For this last job, he had a sort of informal apprenticeship with (I'm pretty sure) a craftsman called Clarrie Haines, who worked, or had worked, for Snadens - a piano business which still exists in Nedlands. But again he was partly self-taught. He built a workshop at 98 Eighth Avenue Maylands, where we lived in his mother-in-law's house, and repaired pianos there. But while doing all those daytime jobs, he worked continuously as a musician.


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