When I was five years old, I lived at 302 Dryburgh Street, North Melbourne, and on Saturday mornings my Grandfather, William (Bill) Coyle would look after me while my mother worked in the city. My grandfather was about 162cm (5’4”) tall, and about as wide. His grandfather, a lawyer, had migrated from Ireland to Australia in the 1800s. They were good Catholics; my grandfather had 14 children, of which my dear mother was one.

Well, to the story. The last thing my mother said to me as she went out the door at about 8am was: ‘Now Leo, don’t you play with that boy Bobby Stotten.’

Bobby Stotten was about twice my age, and if I remember correctly, he lived with his grandmother just around the corner. As far as tough kids go (if a person can be tough at age 8), Bobby was the terror of the neighbourhood.

Well, as bad luck would have it, just after mum left to catch the tram, Bobby came to the back gate: Our back gate was in a lane way. He stuck his face under the gate and called out ‘Leo!’ I was ready and waiting. Elegantly dressed in a pair of old green shorts and an athletic singlet; no underwear, no shoes, no socks, no money, and I might add… NO BRAINS.

Old grandad could not run very fast in those days (or probably any other days given his serious lack of an athletic build), so by the time he got to the corner, Bobby and I were halfway to ‘paradise’, or wherever Bobby had decided we should go, and on this particular Saturday in 1946, it was to the Melbourne Zoo.

We walked there. Not a long distance from where we lived; probably about 2 miles as the crow flies, and these two ‘crows’ were walking along the tram tracks.

How we got into the Zoo I will never know. Perhaps if Bobby is alive and reading this, he might tell me these 57 years later. My belief is that we must have tagged onto a family somehow and just walked through the gate.

All day without food can be a long time for a five-year-old, and by lunch time I was yearning for a few sandwiches with some of mum’s lovely dripping. This was my first brush with ‘fasting’, and I was not going to become an avid fan of the process.

Come closing time, in those days 6 o’clock, Bobby and I were still in the Zoo. We were way down the back near the bison enclosure, and it was getting dark. It was at this juncture in our day of adventure that Bobby showed his true colors. He looked at me and said , “Leo, at night they let the animals out!”

That did it for me! I screamed loud enough for the bloke at the front to find us and let us out the back gate.

So, Bobby and I commenced the trek home along the tram lines in the dark. This route took us through a place known in those days as Camp Hell (a story for another time), not a place where mothers wanted their five-year-old sons to be in broad daylight, let alone at night.

It was about ten o’clock when we turned right in Haines Street just at the bottom of Abbotsford Street. I could see four figures silhouetted by the dim street lights of 1940s, walking towards me and Bobby. I could tell that one of them was my mother, she was the one sobbing and saying, ‘Don’t hit him Perce (my father’s name was Percy); don’t hit him!’

Perce was a great dad. To this point in my ‘travelling’ life, he had never hit me; but all that was about to change. My father had been rejected from enlisting in the Second World War with his two brothers, on account of his being deaf in one ear. There will be no prizes for guessing into which ear my mother was making her impassioned plea.

As the four figures emerged out of the darkness into the dim light, within about ten yards from Bobby and me, I looked to my left in search of my travelling companion, whom I was hoping would take the blame for the day’s ‘zoological excursion’, but Bobby was nowhere to be found. If nothing else, Bobby proved that he could be elusive… I never saw him again in my life!

That Saturday ranks as one of the great days of adventure in my life. Bobby and I did it all on that day back in 1946. My backside was a little sore the next day. It would be another 10 years before my father would get upset with me again. My grandfather lost his job as babysitter, and best of all, my mother gave up her Saturday morning job.

Thanks Bobby!

[Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash]
Published On: April 5th, 20041 CommentTags: , , ,

About the Author: Leo Talbot

Leo Talbot has 4 daughters and 10 grandchildren and has been happily married for 40 years. He has a background in Strategic Sales and IT.

One Comment

  1. Rodney Frederick Talbot August 17, 2021 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    I will print this and show it to all my kids and grand children
    An important part of their family’s history
    I remember your Father, Mother Sister and you very well,
    Good people
    Rodney Talbot

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