Paynesville Memories

The Interviews

Gerard Callinan (Gippsland Oral History) is a well-known local ABC radio personality and a skilled oral historian with a friendly and charming manner, who gently encourages Paynesville Memories participants to share their stories and memories.

The interviewees were selected from a list of senior residents who have spent all or most of their lives in the Paynesville district. They include names from many of the pioneering families of the area.

Each participant does an initial ‘pre-interview’, where information is shared to help guide the questions for the follow-up interview, which is recorded.

The recorded interviews are then transcribed by volunteers to provide a written record.

An oral history is not meant to be a factual account of history. It is a collection of stories and memories, told from the participant’s point of view, and based on their recollection of events.

Interviewer Gerard Callinan

Interviewer Gerard Callinan

The Interviewees

Below is a list of the interviewees and their stories (and there are plenty more to be added here so please keep checking back!). Please have a read, a look at the photos and a listen to the audio (coming soon!) and let us know what you think on our Paynesville Memories Facebook page!

If you have any stories of your own that you would like us to add to this website, please visit our contact page and let us know about you!

Leigh Robinson (b. 1930)

Leigh Robinson was the inspiration for the Paynesville Memories project. A chance conversation with Leigh served as a reminder that photos, books and family histories might capture some of the past, but there is nothing like a good yarn to bring back memories. When people like Leigh are no longer with us, we need to be able to keep their stories alive.

Leigh is the son of Frances William (Sam) and Bessie Robinson. Sam was a fisherman and Bessie, at first a seamstress, worked as a waitress on the S.S. Omeo. Sam was born on Raymond Island in 1901, the grandson of one of the first selectors of land on the Island.

Leigh grew up at 18 Langford Parade and has a wealth of stories about his early days in Paynesville, the events and characters of the time. He is one of the few living locals who can describe life in Paynesville in the 1930s.

Leigh’s father died tragically in 1941 when a large tree fell down an embankment at North Arm, Lakes Entrance and landed on his boat.

Leigh went to Melbourne and became an apprentice shipwright, mixed with characters in the racing industry and learnt the ways of the city. He returned to Paynesville and made his name as a shipwright and national sailing champion, based at the Gippsland Lakes Yacht Club.

A short summary cannot do justice to the memories and stories that Leigh can share, nor encapsulate the breadth of his remarkable life. His ability to recall dates, names and stories is amazing. Although Leigh spent times away from Paynesville, he is a local legend and the source of much knowledge about the past.

Leigh Robinson

Quotation Marks...Bruce [Stanway] and I had a good idea one night, we thought we’d give the cows a bit of a break. So, we rounded ‘em all up, in the moonlight, and put ‘em all on the Raymond Island ferry...End Quotation Marks

Read more of Leigh Robinson's memory "The Travelling Cows" ⟩⟩

Mervyn Day (b. 1935) and Marion Day (Eaton) (b. 1941)

The Days are an important family in the history of Paynesville and East Gippsland.

Mervyn’s Great Grandfather, Joseph Day discovered gold in Omeo in the 1860s (Day Avenue is the main street of Omeo) and then became Bairnsdale Shire President in 1871. His great uncle, Louis, was the first publican at the Paynesville Hotel, in 1880. The family can trace its local history back to Raymond Island in about 1875.

Mervyn’s father, Clifford Hopetoun Day, was born on Raymond Island, the youngest of eight children, and moved to Main Road in the 1920s. Mervyn has lived on the same property since he was born in 1937.

(Mervyn’s older sister, Betty (Richardson) is the mother of the Paynesville Memories project manager!).

Mervyn became a plumber and installed a lot of septic tanks in Paynesville! He was an active member of the fire brigade and continued his community service on the Cemetery Trust and in many other ways until this very day.

Marion (Eaton) moved to Paynesville from Bairnsdale in 1947. The Eatons also made their mark on the town in many ways that we will describe in Paynesville Memories. Marion is an avid historian who has collected almost every newspaper article about the town since 1875 and also has her own story to tell.

Mervyn and Marion Day

Quotation Marks...I thought I was Christmas to have something no-one else had owned...End Quotation Marks

Listen to Marion's memory about her brand new coat on our Memories page ⟩⟩

Albert Ah Yee (b. 1927)

The Ah Yee family has one of the most remarkable stories in the history of the district.

Albert's grandparents, James and Alice, moved to Eagle Point from the gold diggings at Cassilis so their children could get a good education.

The Ah Yees have been on their Eagle Point farming property, 'Sunnyside', since 1903.

Albert's earliest memories tell the story of rural life in the 1930s; horse-drawn ploughs, loading firewood onto the steamers at the Eagle Point wharf on the Mitchell River, riding a pony to school with his brother. He has first-hand memories of the destructive 1939 bushfires.

Ah Yee family members were prominent in the community in the early 20th Century as teachers, dentists and herbalists.

Albert became a wool classer and travelled throughout Victoria and New South Wales, until returning to live on the family farm in 1951.

At the age of 90, Albert can still be seen tending to fences and mustering sheep on the property that has been farmed by his family for 114 years. A most remarkable man.

Albert Ah Yee and Vanessa and Janice
Bryan James (b. 1927) and Faye James (Robinson) (b. 1928)

Bryan James is the eldest son of Robert Stanley (Bob) and Elizabeth Maria (Bessie) James.

The family moved to Eagle Point in the early 1900s and took up substantial land holdings throughout the district. They spent some time living in the old school on the Mitchell River silt jetties, (Bryan’s bedroom was a modified Melbourne tramcar) before moving to Paynesville, where the family lived at Lynton on Newlands Drive, then built the house ‘Sunset’ overlooking Sunset Cove on 1952.

Bryan’s mother was the first woman to own and drive a car in the district (she was given a Fiat roadster for her birthday in 1920).

Bryan’s family ran the local store on the Esplanade, and the bus service to Bairnsdale.

Faye (Robinson) was raised in Langford Parade, the daughter of Fred (‘Guddie’) Robinson and Winifred Fleischer. Her family links to the earliest days of Paynesville are very strong. Faye became a sewing mistress at Paynesville State School during the 1940s.

Faye and Bryan spent their honeymoon at Lakes Entrance aboard the family boat, ‘Shamrock’.

Bryan and Faye moved to Bairnsdale in 1967, where they have lived ever since.

Bryan James and Faye James (Robinson)

Quotation Marks...I don't think they had any families and they wanted people to write to them...I knitted socks and little hats in the dark at night and Mum thought I was asleep...End Quotation Marks

Listen to Faye James' memory about writing WW2 letters on our Memories page ⟩⟩

Molly Fleischer (James) (b. 1927) and Marnie Milne (James) (b. 1943)

Molly and Marnie are the daughters of Bob and Bessie James and sisters of Bryan.

Molly grew up in Eagle Point, then boarded in Bairnsdale, where she worked in a bank, riding her bicycle home every weekend to be with her family. Molly married Alan Fleischer, son of storekeeper James Francis Fleischer. Molly, Alan and their family are very well known and well-liked in Paynesville and have particularly strong connections with the Paynesville Football Club over the past 75 years.

Marnie, Molly’s much younger sister lived at the back of the family store on the Esplanade and then in ‘Lynton’, ‘Sunset’, and finally in the house at 18 Main Road, before marrying and living in Newlands Drive. Marnie has recently returned home to Paynesville after many years in Melbourne.

Paynesville Memories has been lucky to interview three members of this remarkable local family (Molly, Marnie and elder brother, Bryan). Sadly for the whole town, their brother Ian James was killed in January 1951 in the Mount Lamington volcanic eruption in New Guinea. The Paynesville Football Club Best and Fairest trophy is a memorial to Ian James.

Molly Fleischer (James) and Marnie Milne (James)
Ross Gilsenan (b. 1933)

Ross Gilsenan’s family, upbringing and life’s work were centred around fishing and community life. The son of Don and Molly Gilsenan and grandson of A. J. Gilsenan, Ross grew up in Langford Parade and has an almost photographic memory of the town in the 1940s.

His father and grandfather were closely involved in the early days of fishing, working on the steamers delivering fish to Sale. Ross’s grandfather, A. J. Gilsenan was Shire President, a lay preacher, community leader and a key player in every aspect of life in Paynesville over many years, particularly the fishing industry. A. J. Gilsenan was also President of the Paynesville Football Club in their Premiership year in 1929. Ross’s father, Don, played in that historic team and Ross played in the teams in the 1950s.

The Gilsenan family is larger than life in Paynesville’s history. Ross tells stories of fishing, family life, chocolate and the history of the town that are quite remarkable.

Ross Gilsenan
Ruth Wilson (Gilsenan) and Ross Wilson (b. 1940)

Ruth Wilson (Gilsenan), the sister of Ross and daughter of Don and Molly, is a Paynesville legend. In times of trouble, or in times of joy, Ruth was always there. The "queen" of hospitality and community support, many people’s lives have been touched by Ruth Wilson.

Ruth’s life is too full for this project to capture. Enough to say that she was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal for her services to the Paynesville community in 2007.

Ross grew up on Raymond Island – his father died when he was only one year old – and he and his brothers, Ian, Lindsay and Geoff, were raised by their mother, Gwen, and lived a simple life: bird-egging, chasing possums, catching flounder along the foreshore. In those days, there was no electricity, no town water, no luxuries.

He spent his childhood crabbing for a couple of pound a week, riding motorbikes, lighting fires – if there was mischief to be found, it’s a fair bet that Ross would be amongst it. A life of fishing followed and there are very few people who would know the Gippsland Lakes like Ross Wilson.

These people are the best!

Ruth Wilson (Gilsenan) and Ross Wilson
Ted Wilson (b. 1938)

Ted spent his early years on Raymond Island, with his brother Dennis and the Wilson cousins enjoying the freedom and fun of Island life. Ted’s father Adam and his uncle Bob married sisters Una and Gwen, so it was quite a close-knit family!

The original Wilson house still stands on Western Boulevard, next door to 'Em's Cottage' (Emily and Harry Smith).

Adam (At) Wilson, was a wharf carpenter with the Public Works Department at the Government Slipyard, then Officer in Charge from 1955-1972. The family moved to the Slipyard to live in 1955. Ted recalls his father taking the Slipyard vessel 'Queen' to recover the wreckage of crashed RAAF planes, getting call outs at night to rescue stranded vessels. He described the role of Slipyard manager as "a service to the public".

Ted's earliest memories include traveling across to school in the boat, rowed by Budgie Williams, winding the punt to and from Paynesville, and the polio epidemic of the 1940s. He recalls visiting the original Fleischer’s Store and Paddy Robinson’s butcher shop on the Esplanade.

Ted did his building apprenticeship at Dahlsens, then ran successful joinery, hardware and boat maintenance businesses until the 1980s.

Ted Wilson
Dennis Wilson (b. 1942) and Sandra Simpson (b. 1943)

Dennis Wilson was born at Sister Bull's in Bairnsdale and spent his childhood on Raymond Island, with his brother, Ted and his Wilson cousins Ian, Ross, Geoff and Lindsay.

Dennis's adventures with Ted include shooting parrots with a "shanghai", cooking them in the log cabin in the back yard and eating them. Opinions vary as to whether they tasted any good! The family had a milking cow and Dennis's jobs included churning the butter.

Sandra's mother was Bessie Agnes Smith and her grandmother was Florence Agnes Robinson (nee Bolleman). The family has a long and strong connection with Paynesville and its pioneering families.

Sandra grew up in a house on the corner of Langford Parade, with her mother and grandmother, her parents moved to Melbourne for some years and returned with a little brother for Sandra.

As a child, she recalls card games in the family home with Jean Berthe, the Fleischers and others.

In her teenage years, Sandra helped out at the Sunday School and then became involved in the Cubs (as 'Akela') in the early 1960s. Dennis was involved in the CFA and became a builder, going into business with his brother Ted.

Sandra and Dennis moved to Melbourne for 28 years, but are now proud to call Paynesville home again.

Dennis and Sandra Wilson

Quotation Marks...Her father came down one night and starts poking me in the chest in front of everybody! If you want to take my daughter out, you come and pick her up!...End Quotation Marks

Read more about Dennis and Sandra's memories on our Memories page ⟩⟩

Lorraine Eaton (Harris) (b. 1933)

After growing up in Upper Beaconsfield, Lorraine came to Paynesville in 1952 as a young assistant teacher to Ted Smalley at Paynesville State School.

Lorraine (Miss Harris) taught 48 kids in a combined Prep, Year 1 & 2 class until she married Eric Eaton in 1956. The children worked with a slate and chalk until they graduated to pencils in Grade 3, then pen and ink wells in Grade 6.

Lorraine and Eric spent some time living on Rotamah Island with their young family in the early 60s, while Eric worked for Fenton and Wells.

Lorraine returned to the State School permanently from 1968 until her retirement in 1992. She has a lot of memories about the Paynesville kids, but is very discreet about naming names!

Lorraine and Eric were huge contributors to the Paynesville CFA and she has been awarded with Life Membership of the Paynesville Brigade and CFA Victoria.

Lorraine has a great collection of memories, newspaper clippings and old school books to share and, like all good teachers, always checks her references for factual detail!

Lorraine Eaton (Harris)
Trevor Robinson (b. 1944) and Gwen Robinson (Freeman) (b. 1946)

Trevor Robinson is the oldest son of A.H. (Paddy) and Dulcie Robinson (nee Stanway). He grew up with his "best friend" (his father Paddy), helping to run the piggery and butcher shop, shooting, fishing and playing football.

At one stage the Robinsons farmed 3000 pigs and used waste chocolate from the MacRoberstons chocolate factory as feed – it also made them popular with the local children!

Trevor is a local football legend, playing over 300 games for Paynesville and over 100 games for Bairnsdale. He was captain-coach of the undefeated 1972 Premiership team, winning the Gulls' first flag in 43 years.

Gwen Robinson was born in Benambra, then after a short time farming at Glenaladale, her family moved to Newlands Arm in 1949. Gwen attended Eagle Point Primary School and would walk the 5 mile trip home every day.

The family moved to Paynesville in 1955 and Gwen's father, A.J. (Dick) Freeman served many years on Bairnsdale Shire Council and was Shire President. The A. J. Freeman Reserve is named in his honour.

Gwen's mother, Anne, taught for many years at Paynesville Primary School and Gwen herself went on to become a school teacher.

Their stories weave together the farming, school, business, and social life of the town in the 50s and 60s from the perspective of highly respected and much-loved local families.

Their memories will be a delight to record for posterity.

Trevor Robinson and Gwen Robinson (Freeman)
Beryl Newell (Southon) (b. 1941)

Beryl's father Clarence William (Joe) Southon features in many memories of Paynesville in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. He was a farmer, fisherman, shearer, volunteer, and outstanding community leader.

Her mother, Bertha Kyle (from Goon Nure) married Walter Turner, who died in his 30s in 1933. Bertha then married Joe, who used to ride is bicycle to shearing jobs, as well as being a fisherman on the lakes.

Beryl (actually Enid, or "Toots" to her family and friends) grew up on Joe's farm, right in the middle of Paynesville, with mother Bertha and her siblings - Dawn, Heather and Henry (Bill) (Turner), Aileen, David (Snowy) and Raymond (Bluey) (Southon). They ran the farm which is now everything between Langford Parade and McMillan Strait - they are born and bred Paynesville!

The original family home was in Slip Road, opposite the slipyard, but was moved by bullocks to the Southon farm. Beryl's earliest memories are of living in the farm house in Main Road with a big orchard. She walked to school through "the culvert" (near the RSL), over a barbed wire fence, then through the bush to the State School.

Beryl fondly remembers farm life in Paynesville, following Joe behind the horse and plough (where the canals are now), summer holidays on "the farm" (which was the entire back lake between Ocean Grange and Loch Sport owned by Fenton and Wells), winning Miss Regatta and Belle of the Ball at the Mechanics Hall and many more wonderful stories of Paynesville gone by.

Beryl Newell (Southon)
Irene Bould (Haylock) (b. 1930)

Irene Bould (Haylock), born in 1930 to Frederick and Annie Haylock, is from one of the original Raymond Island families.

Irene grew up in the family home at Gravelly Point on Raymond Island with her brother Dan and sister Dot. The family had milking cows and a market garden, including passionfruit and almonds and would barter with the local grocer, baker and fishermen for the family's provisions.

The family made 2 or 3 trips to Bairnsdale every year in a horse and cart and had lunch at Kyle's café. She vividly remembers the floods of 1935 when all the boats had to be moved. She also recalls knitting jumpers and hot water bottle covers for servicemen during World War 2.

She rode her bike to the punt to go to Paynesville State School from 1936, then caught the bus to Bairnsdale to high school. Irene left in 1948 to become a teacher and returned in 1964 with her husband George and young children.

Many locals remember Irene as a disciplined, but caring teacher at Paynesville State School from 1966-1990.

Irene is a lovely, warm, intelligent lady with a vivid memory of Island life and a great sense of humour.

Irene Bould (Haylock)