Celebrating the women who helped to shape a city’s society.

Our mother is one of those ordinary women who helped to shape the society of Ballarat

Alice Barrett arrived in Ballarat in 1947 with her husband, Cliff, and toddler son, Neil. Having begun their young family life and worked hard on their market garden in Keilor immediately after WW2, they moved to a new business in Ballarat – the Golden Pura Dairy at 903 Lydiard Street, Ballarat North.

Between 1948 and 1951, Alice gave birth to two girls (Lorraine and then Jenny) while at the same time working in and managing the business. The family lived in the small house attached to the shop and the milk loading ramp as well as the stables and infrastructure. She was an outgoing, energetic, hard-working and fun-loving person, well suited to the front line of a local business.

Alice worked in the milk bar section of the business, selling not only milk and cream, but also lollies, Peter’s ice-cream and milk shakes. Her personality was well suited to this role: she was interested in people, asking questions and getting to know them and loving a chat; she warmed to young people in particular, sympathizing with the challenges they faced and sharing news of the opportunities coming their way; she was as naturally quick with mental arithmetic as she was to get the customer what they wanted.

The other parts of the business were the milk-delivery, horse maintenance, book-keeping and staff management. Cliff worked in and managed the horses, the carts and the delivery of milk and cream to Ballarat north homes and businesses. Milk was brought fresh each day by local farmers to the dairy and was then distributed to homes. At any one time, there would be 5 milkmen delivering by horse and cart to different sections of the neighbourhood. With the help of a book-keeper, Alice managed the milkmen’s employment and payment.

It was a very hands-on 6-day a week business, and employees and customers were often around the house, making little respite for the family. Sunday’s though were in those times a day of rest. Alice was an excellent cook for the family and she had been part of her own family’s professional cake shop in Melbourne during WW2. In the neighbourhood whe was quite famous for her cream sponges, trifles, Scottish shortbread and Christmas cake. She would effortlessly whip up a sponge for a community or family occasion, and she loved being able to contribute that way.

Alice had a natural musical ability that she brought to family and community occasions. At a party she could entertain on the piano, the electric steel guitar, the ukulele, the piano accordion and even Cliff’s violin. Making music was a given in the household and Alice was the leader.

As a member of the Ballarat north community, Alice always worked in the Mothers’ Club of the local Knox Presbyterian church as well as the local Ballarat North Primary School and later, Ballarat East High School. She did vast amounts of baking, serving on fete stalls and serving lunches in the school canteen as long as the three children attended these schools.

After retiring from the business in the early 1960s, Alice did not do paid work –but she was never idle. She took up golf and later bowls, and participated in various exercise ventures that came her way. She also bought a ‘season’s ticket’ to South Street Competitions and relished the music of the school children, the soloists, the orchestras and particularly the Sun Aria competition. She would head off in the afternoons and occasionally the evenings, with her woolen knee rug and a thermos and biscuit to enjoy hours of this entertainment each year. At the end of the Sun Aria Competition, she would sit up in bed listening to the finalists on the radio, scoring them on each of their pieces and estimating the winners . ‘South Street’ was an important point in the annual calendar.

It was not common for women to drive in those days (none of my girlfriends’ mothers drove), so Alice was able to help out as a community volunteer: she regularly drove disabled children and their parents to Melbourne for treatment, she did years of service to Meals on Wheels and did hours of under-the-radar care and support for people in need, the lonely and the neglected. For her own family, she taught each of us to drive and drove frequently to Melbourne to see her own mother and sisters. Others marveled at her fearless attitude to driving to and n Melbourne – she was not daunted by it and often picked up a youngster hitch-hiking, always sympathetic to their need as well as just enjoying new company.

We think that women like Alice made the fabric of life in Ballarat and other towns and cities. They are not necessarily the celebrities but they worked hard for family and community as well as in their own jobs and businesses in ways that built our society.