The Story of the Bunting

As part of the celebrations commemorating the centenary of the start of construction of the Great Ocean Road, the Lorne Historical Society has added more material to the permanent exhibition at the Lorne Visitor Information Centre, “The Story of the Road”.  ON of the items on display is the original bunting which decked the makeshift Arch at Eastern View erected by the Clarke family to celebrate the opening of the road to Lorne in 1922. This particular item has aroused much interest since going on display and people have enquired as to how the Society obtained it. Who better to tell the story that the donor himself, Lorne resident, John Agar. John writes…

The dictionary defines ‘bunting’ as:

“noun. a coarse, open fabric of worsted or cotton for flags, signals, etc. patriotic and festive decorations…”

As a small child, I ‘discovered’ a large, age-stiffened canvas bag under my grandmother’s house at 9 Deans Marsh Road, Lorne. Inside it – a treasure-trove of multi-coloured, triangular and oblong flags, each with a fixing rope, a loop at one end and a toggle at the other, allowing a chain of flags to be pieced together. It was a bag of ‘bunting’… and I used to play with the flags for hours, stringing different combinations and patterns. But… how did it end up ageing gracefully under a house at Lorne? Well, it is a convoluted story!

My grandmother, Ella Wells, had been born a Curnow – a Geelong family with strong nautical connections. Her Cornish grandfather, William, joined later by his son – my gran’s father, Will – had established the Geelong port ship chandlery ‘Curnow and Son’ that serviced the windjammers that carried Victoria’s wool and grain back to England.

Ella’s maternal aunt, Charlotte Louisa, had married a Geelong businessman – Howard Mitchelmore Hitchcock – the son of George Mitchelmore Hitchcock, the joint founder of the long-running Geelong department store, Bright and Hitchcock.

As Howard and Charlotte remained childless, Howard channelled his business interests into the department store, his civic duties into his role as Mayor of Geelong, and his entrepreneurial skills into what would become his lasting legacy – the development of the Great Ocean Road.

With Australia still ‘jittery’ after World War I, and as Uncle Howard – as our family knew him – feared that the great underbelly of the Victorian southern coast was a defensive risk, he proposed, planned, and financed the building of a defensible route around the southern coast. And, who better to build it than war-fit diggers, seeking work, on their return from the Great War.

Meanwhile, his childless affection centred on his niece, my grandmother. As her husband, Graeme Wells, had not returned to her after the Great War, Howard funded her to build a house … still our Deans Marsh Road home … in 1916. As a decade later, her sister, Lillian and her husband Horace Hammerton, bought the next-door block and built ‘Burngreave; her grandson Leigh is also Howard’s great nephew.

At the end of the Great War, Ella reclused herself and her only child – my then 4-year old mother – to live in her ‘haven’ for the remainder of her long life.  Together, they watched as work began on ‘Uncle Howard’s Road’ in 1919.

The first section was formally opened at Eastern View in 1922. Somewhere in a trunk of old photos lies a pack of sepia-coloured prints that show the Opening Ceremony at the Memorial Arch. The arch is decked with bunting donated to Howard for the occasion from the Royal Geelong Yacht Club by Will Curnow, my grandmother’s father, where Will was commodore.

Several of those sepia prints show a small girl, aged about ten, in the lead car and to Howard’s side at ‘the cutting of the ribbon’. This small girl was Howard’s favourite grand niece, my mother, who was as pleased as Punch to be allowed to sit up-front with Uncle Howard.

As for the bunting – I can only surmise that Howard must have asked my grandmother Ella to keep it safe for him at Lorne – where it then lay long-forgotten until a small boy found it again, by chance, among my grandmothers’ other ageing treasures … ‘under the house’.

John Agar

The Lorne Historical Society is grateful to John Agar and family for the donation of The Bunting to the Society’s collection