The Memories of Jean Fox (Hattam) & Max Fox

This is the story of Jean and Max Fox and their life and times in Yallourn and Newborough. Their memories give some insight into the transformation that occurred in the town of Yallourn from the 1920’s until its death knell some sixty years later.
During their lives Jean and Max have witnessed many changes in and around the district and it is hoped that this article, for the Virtual Yallourn website, will underline the reasons why Yallourn was regarded, by so many people, as an exceptional community for young and old alike. In 1976 Urszula Horbacz wrote…
“…it is the people who make places and that the community of Yallourn, to which they belonged, has served them well. …”
The recollections of Jean and Max Fox reinforce Urszula’s words in the strongest possible ways.

Jean was the youngest daughter of Henry William (Bill) and Rachel (Rae) Hattam. Bill had arrived in Yallourn from Castlemaine in 1920….
“Bill Hattam started work as a fitter in 1921 and became work shop foreman eight years later…” ‘Yallourn Was’. Page 179.
Documentation and photographs from that period indicate that the area in Gippsland chosen, by the Victorian Government as the centre of such an ambitious power generation project, was a rugged and untamed wilderness; and it was a demanding task in establishing homes, services and amenities in the township of Yallourn…
“The settlement, except for the mine-side was completely surrounded by dense forest ….by early 1921 the swamps and scrub were fast disappearing and new buildings appeared in the cleared areas. Sir John Monash and his official party arrived to witness the turning of the first sod for the Power station…” ‘To Yallourn With Love.’ Page: 4.

Jean’s mother, Rachel Helen (McDonnell), arrived in Yallourn as Bill’s young bride in 1922….and so began the story of the ‘Hattams of Yallourn.’
Bill and Rachel had two daughters (Jean and Myrtle) and one son named Edward (aka Ted). Myrtle was born in 1923 and Jean was born at the Morwell Bush Nursing Hospital on the 27th May 1925.
Jean’s family took up residence in a new house in 11 Hillside and in later years shifted to a larger residence at 40 Latrobe Avenue.
In Prue McGoldrick’s history of Yallourn, Bill Hattam is listed as a sectional winner in the 1930 Yallourn Horticultural Society awards.
Max Fox was the only child of Charles Oliver and Hilda Doreen Fox. Max was born at Geelong in 1927. Charles and Hilda moved to Yallourn in 1939 and then shifted to Morwell in the early 1940’s.

Jean wasn’t quite five years of age when she commenced school at the Yallourn Higher Elementary School in 1930; and in that same year the students moved to the new Primary School 4085 ….
“…I attended the school until grade four; and then my fifth and sixth years were spent at the H.E.S followed by Form :1; where I spent the next five years of my schooling.”
Jean recalls that the highlights of those early days were the interschool sports, netball and the annual swimming carnival(s) in the ‘mud hole.’ Jean has never forgotten the end of year school socials which were held in the Yallourn Drill Hall….
“…they were happy occasions and everyone celebrated the passing of another school year.”

Max’s family left Melbourne and arrived in Yallourn in December 1939. What a welcome the Fox family received!
1939 was the summer of the ‘Black Friday’ bush fires. Throughout Victoria rampant bush fires decimated townships and devastated forests, farmlands, stock and wildlife. More than 70 Victorians died in the raging inferno that year. It was only a brave rear-guard action, by more than one thousand residents, that saved the township of Yallourn and the SEC works.
The fires must have been terrifying; and Max’s thoughts are supported by a report that was carried in the Morwell Advertiser in January that year…
“Menaced by the worst bush fire in the history of Yallourn, the townships of Haunted Hills, Yallourn, and Brown Coal Mine, and the State Electricity Commission's power station and briquette factory were saved from destruction on Sunday last only by the united efforts of nearly 1,000 fire fighters. Many of the volunteers were brought from outlying districts to cope with the desperate emergency. For more than a week a fire had been smouldering in the heavily timbered country to the west of Haunted Hills….The danger to Yallourn and the electricity works was immediately reduced, but at the expense of an additional threat to the residents at the Brown Coal Mine, about a mile and a half to the north. Leaping the Latrobe River, the flames roared up a gully toward that settlement. Such was the demand upon, the water supply in the lower lying areas that on the crest of the hill, where the settlement is situated, hardly any water was available.’ January 12th Page: 6.

The first homes in Yallourn were built in in Maiden Street in 1922 and slowly but steadily the town and amenities ‘took shape.’ Jean recalled….
“…there were about five shops in those early days…at first our groceries came from Purvis Stores; orders were taken and the following day deliveries were made to the front door of the home. The butcher’s horse and cart provided a reliable supply of fresh meat and milk was also delivered to the front door.”
Jean also referred to the home deliveries of basic foodstuffs in those days…
“…the butcher, grocer (Nick Carter from Purvis Stores Moe) and baker (Mr Claxton from Yallourn North Bakery with his slow old horse) called from back door to back door through your yards to take orders. Even the night man went from loo to loo. The milk was delivered from hand cans into your milk billy each day and one could buy three penny worth of cream right into your bowl. Milkmen were Davey of Morwell Bridge, Payne of Morwell and then came Best and Carter of Yarragon, who later sold out to Vorbach Brothers of Newborough.”

The Yallourn Brass Band played in the rotunda on Friday and Sunday nights and most of the residents of the town came out to listen and, according to Jean, the recitals never failed to create a marvellous spirit and festive air…
“On Sundays, the band played in the rotunda in the gardens and we kids used to dance and play in the lawns around to the music.”
The band rotunda was opened by the General Superintendent Mr Bridge on 11th February 1929 and, as mentioned by Jean, during the fine weather recitals in the gardens were highly anticipated and well attended events.

Public transport was non-existent in those early days and taxis had to be hired for trips to Morwell or to connect with a train to travel Gippsland railway main line. According to Prue McGoldrick, in the early 1920’s there were more than thirty taxi cabs operating between Morwell and Yallourn.
When the town bus service(s) (Maxfield’s and Hardakers) began operation in Yallourn life was a little easier for the residents; and many locals took the opportunity to travel to Traralgon or Morwell on shopping excursions.

From the earliest times, the need for a fire brigade was deemed essential for the works area and the town of Yallourn. A volunteer brigade came into being in 1923; and by the following year the town boasted a strong and effective volunteer brigade. The brigade made a big impression on Jean in those days…
“The Fire Brigade had practice days in Centreway. It was great to watch men running with the hoses up the ladders before water rushed from the hoses. In those days, there were competitions between towns with the fire brigades. Not the fire trucks of today.”

One of Jean’s earliest memories was the official opening of the Yallourn Hospital in January 1929. It was one of the most significant events in the life of the town and was an occasion of great celebration and jubilation. More than 2500 people attended the opening of the hospital that day. The 24 bed hospital had cost more than £32000 (pounds) and according to Sir John Monash..
“…was a gift to the people of Yallourn from the people of Victoria.” ‘Yallourn Was’ Page: 53.
Matron Allan was a driving force in ensuring the highest standards of health care for patients in the hospital. Jean believes that Matron Allan left an indelible mark on the town for her dedication and service to the patients in those early years of the Yallourn Hospital. Dr James Moore Andrew was the Senior Medical Officer of the SEC Medical and Hospital Fund Committee at that time.
The opening of the Yallourn Infant Welfare Centre in 1949 was another important community facility in the town’s history; and Jean noted the reassuring assistance and advice given to the mothers in caring for their newborn babies by Sister White and other trained nurses.

Both Jean and Max loved swimming and readers will be interested to know that the first Yallourn swimming pool was actually part of the Latrobe River…
“Swimming in the children’s area fenced off in the Latrobe River, then you could swim and pass your Learn to Swim Certificate, you could go over the fence and swim out to the pontoon in the middle of the river. The flood in 1934 ruined all that. To gain The Herald Certificate children had to swim (unaided) for 25 yards.
Then came the mud hole in Yallourn with the diving tower, later to be followed by the Olympic Pool.”
Max recalled….
“Yallourn was a boy’s paradise in those early days…sport was well catered for and the bush was a place for exciting adventures and fun. The swimming hole was a great place for the children of the town in the hot weather and, although the dirty brown coloured water was questionable, many happy hours were spent swimming, diving and playing at the Yallourn pool.

Jean and Max shared memorable times with a circle of friends and there was never a dull moment. Jean’s list of friends in the town included Norma McLarty (Singer), Mavis Webb (McAllister), Betty Spencer (Kite), Wilma Brown and Beryl Cameron. Jean and Beryl have been friends for some 86 years and their story of life in Gippsland makes fascinating reading. Their bonds of friendship have lasted longer than Yallourn itself and are as strong today as they were in those early years of the town.
Max was rarely idle and when he was not working he was involved in playing soccer for St Therese’s Church team and competitive cycle racing. Max has fond memories of his times with such local identities as John Morris, Bill Shankland, Bill Reid and Morris Cooper.

Jean recalled the fun of growing up in Yallourn and one her favourite activities was bush walking and adding to her nature collection; Jean remembers that she found some really beautiful orchids, wild flowers and maiden hair ferns in the nearby bush and scrublands.

The Churches of Yallourn were central to organized activities for the children of the town; and Jean not only attended Sunday School but enjoyed the concerts and fund raising activities organized by the Churches...

“The great fun when each church held their bazaars, the beautifully decorated stalls, the handmade articles, novelties, those yummy home-made toffees and sweets, cakes, jams and pickles, the interesting lucky dips and the spinning wheels.”

Like so many children of that era, Jean and Max appreciated the outdoors and enjoyed a range of sports and games…

“As children we enjoyed the ANA Sports days and it was certainly an exciting occasion on the sporting calendar of the township. There were a wide range of athletics including fun- events for the children such as the egg and spoon, three-legged and sack races.”

Looking back, Yallourn appeared to be a town where the adults fully appreciated the need to provide healthy exercise and activities for the youngsters of the town…
“There were the boxing clubs, some trained by Mr Fred Jackson from 1st Youth Club held in the RSL hall in Hillside. Mr Jackson also held gymnasium early in the morning and Dr & Mrs Andrew helped Mr Hattam run the dances with records played on an old gramophone.
Then came Mr Graham, Mr & Mrs Tibbles, Mr & Mrs Mason with the next Youth Club, with bike hikes, moonlight hikes, bus trips to snow and beach, the great Friday night dances in the RSL Hall and don’t forget the Youth Show. What a success! Also their basketball (netball) team premiers, the boys made the medals.”

Although Jean was an enthusiastic and active member of the brownies and guides, her greatest love, as a youngster, was dancing. Jean had a fine appreciation of music and dancing was a natural extension of this passion.
In 1990 Jean put pen to paper and wrote an interesting article about her memories of Highland dancing in Yallourn….

“The legend of Highland National Dancing and pipe band in and around Yallourn was created by Mrs Emmy Law. In 1935, Mrs Law arrived as a bride and commenced teaching Highland National Dancing, also the bag pipes followed by the pipe band. In 1991, 55 years on, Mrs Law was still teaching with as much success as always, with Alison Coupe holding Victorian Championship for Highland Dancing for the past 3 years.

Some of the first pupils are also members of YOGA, namely Barbara Easterbrook (Breen), Betty Whitaker (Smith), Fae Lawson (Horman), Judy and Margaret Andrew, Marj Colvin (Phillips), Verna Withers (Puckeridge) and Marion Coutts (Arnold).
One pupil with great success is the daughter of a High School girl, the late Isabel McCarthy (Haughton). Dianne had great success in competitions throughout Victoria holding many championships.
After World War II, Mrs Law also assisted with training of debutante girls coming from Yallourn High School. Congratulations Mrs Emmy Law on the success of your pupils at competitions throughout Victoria and holding championships in all age groups over so many years.”

Jean also alluded to the significant role of Miss Greer and Mrs Huddy in furthering dancing in the district in those years…
“The first dancing classes held in Yallourn were held in the home of Miss Greer on the corner of Hillside and Outlook Road. They taught National Dancing, Scottish and Irish Dancing in approx. 1929-1932.

Mrs Myee Huddy came about 1931, teaching Toe Tap, Ballet Dancing etc. The classes were held in the fire station hall (later Kernot Hall). During the many years ahead there were CWA eisteddfods every year – great excitement as adjudicators came from Melbourne. Later they became known as Yallourn & District Eisteddfods.
We also had dancing concerts at first held in St John’s, then the picture theatre. One year, great excitement – we went to Melbourne to an eisteddfod – don’t think we won any sections.
In 1939, a pupil of Myee Huddy’s class went to lessons in Melbourne and opened Miss Joy’s Dancing School, with more concerts in Yallourn picture theatre. Miss Joy’s School of Dancing went on for many years, at Morwell also.”

Incidentally Jean first met Max at ball room dancing; and as their friendship blossomed they also enjoyed dances, outings, walks and movies. Film nights were first held in the church halls…

“We had a choice of going to the pictures in St John’s, run by Mr Lou Parry and all the breakdowns, or St Therese’s run by Mr Phillips and the same breakdowns.”

Note: The Yallourn Picture Theatre was not opened until May 1939.

Jean started work in the pay section of the Main Office of the SEC and, as was often the custom in those days, she retired to take up ‘home duties’. Max completed a bricklaying apprenticeship and in 1944 commenced work at the Yallourn Power Station.
Max and Jean first met at the Youth Club dance at the Yallourn RSL Hall (see above) and their friendship quickly blossomed. Their first outing together was a motor cycle ride to Boolarra.
Max and Jean became engaged in February 1948 and on the 10th July that year they married at St John’s Church. Reverend Harvey Brown officiated at the service and the wedding party consisted of Ted Hattam (best man), Myrtle O’Neill was the bridesmaid and the flower girl was Meryle Baker. An unforgettable highlight of the wedding day was the beautiful singing of Mildred Crowe (Neil) during the wedding ceremony.
Max remembers how his knees knocked together all the way down the aisle on that happy day.
The wedding reception at the Yallourn R.S.L Hall was a joyous occasion as friends and family toasted the newly-weds and joined in the formalities of the evening.
That evening Jean and Max set off for their honeymoon to Mildura and then onto Hall’s Gap in the Grampians. Jean recalled …
“..there was no car for the honeymoon …just train …and we flew to Mildura.”

Jean and Max had two children (Gregory and Lynne). Gregory was born in 1949 and attended the Yallourn High School. Sadly, Gregory passed away at the age of twenty two years. At the time of his death he was married with a baby daughter.
Lynne Fox was born on the 24th March 1950. Lynne attended Newborough High School.
Jean and Max have five grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren and, there is little doubt, this story about the lives of Jean and Max all those years ago will have great meaning to the members of the family.

From the comments provided by Jean and Max for this story, Yallourn was a very special place that catered for the needs of the young people. It seems that all youngsters were warmly encouraged to become involved in the various clubs and organizations of the town.
Jean and Max have no doubt that their time in Yallourn was a great springboard in their lives and gave them a start that many other children throughout Australia may have envied…
“…we could never have lived in a better place….it was so friendly and as children we all attended similar venues and had a wonderful range of things to do. Many of the friendships we formed in those early times in Yallourn have lasted until this day.”
Jean wrote at length about what the town meant to her in those days…
“It was a sad day for me when we left Yallourn. The town is now gone and it is unfortunate that I cannot take my family to show them the houses in which I lived, the school where I was educated, the beautiful gardens and tree-lined streets.
We had a wonderful life in a remarkable town. It was my birth place and no-one was a stranger in Yallourn; it was so friendly and welcoming to all.
Although the town is gone the strong memories live on as I have been a member of the Yallourn Old Girl’s Association since the inaugural gathering. It is comforting to be able to meet our friends and companions on an annual basis.
Even as a child I knew that nothing about Yallourn was permanent and the town would one day be demolished; but it was still an unhappy moment in my life when all the discussions about its demise became a reality.”
Jean mentioned that she made a very special effort to ensure that some of the old red bricks of the Yallourn High School were salvaged from the demolition site, and incorporated into the building of the new Guide Hall at Newborough.

Jean and Max had extreme difficulty in gaining a home in Yallourn when they were married, so they purchased a block of land in Rutland Street in Newborough. They are still living there as this story is being written. Max and Jean built their own home 66 years ago and it is still standing today and is in fine condition.
Although the shift took them from Yallourn they were ‘not far away’ and Jean still thinks of herself as a ‘Yallourn girl’ because of her childhood connections with her parents. (Bill and Rachel Hattam lived in their house in Latrobe Avenue until their retirement).
Max’s parents moved from Yallourn to Morwell in the 1940’s and consequently he made the transition to Newborough without “too much pain.”

In 1976, a Back-to-Yallourn reunion was organised to say farewell to the town*. A dinner originally planned for 6-8 classmates turned into 126 girls; and this set the scene for YOGA being formed and the introduction of their wonderful Annual Yallourn Reunions.
Jean Fox (Hattam) has been a member of YOGA since those very early days. She became President in 1994 for a period of 9 years, before stepping aside in 2003 filling the position of Vice President, until this current date.
Jean has always been an enthusiastic member of YOGA and has been a ‘backbone’ for the association. Jean wrote about the importance of YOGA in keeping in touch with her friends…
“Yallourn was such a large part of my life and I wished to keep the memories of those remarkable years alive and on-going …so I have been a member of the Yallourn Old Girls’ Association since the inaugural gathering...”
Some of the other names that Jean remembers from those formative years of YOGA include Tess Gray (Whitehouse), Gloria Stewart (Thorpe), Neta Billingsley (Spittal), Val Embry (Kerr), Nancy Barnett (Smith), Lucy Bathurst (Crowe), June Jardine (Blenkiron) and Sonja Bates (Ostlund).
From that first reunion some 39 years ago, at the Northern Reserve Hall in Morwell , YOGA has continued to play a vital part in ensuring that the town lives on in the hearts and minds of the former residents of Yallourn.
Note: *Two movies were taken after this reunion which can be viewed on Virtual Yallourn, top tab ‘Movies.’

Jean and Max are warmly thanked for putting their thoughts and feelings about the township on public record for future generations to read, consider and appreciate.
Sincere thanks to Max and Jean for providing historical details for writing this story for the Virtual Yallourn website; and special acknowledgement is given to their granddaughter Natalie Fox for her kind and willing assistance with the final draft of this article. Thank you Natalie for the time you gave helping Nan and Pa in preparing notes for this story.
Yallourn was a unique town and a place that cannot and should not be forgotten; and it is hoped that the above story may inspire others to record their memories for posting on this website. As J.K. Rowling once said…“There's always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”…hopefully back to Yallourn!

This story for the Virtual Yallourn website was collated, prepared and written by Julie George and Roger Spaull in May 2015.


Virtual Yallourn recently (June 2015 ) received the a letter from Jean in which she recalled..
"In the story about our family, I forgot to tell about the snow in Yallourn before I started school; and that the first caretaker of junior school was Mr Watson McDonell (my grandfather). When the technical school opened, he became caretaker there and taught the kids how to mould aluminium aeroplanes. At the last Yallourn Reunion, Graham Beanland (his dad was the first headmaster of Yallourn Tech) was talking about "Old Mac" as he was called."

Reference Photo: 

Jean Fox (Hattam) & Max Fox

Jean Hattam