This story has been brought to you by community contributor Niamh Hislop, Freelance Writer and Mount Eliza local.
A young and adventurous Jessie White and her husband moved to Mt Eliza in the mid- 1940s. At the time, Mt Eliza was a tiny, mostly rural community. There were only two stores. On one side of the Nepean Highway, in the area we now refer to as the village, was ‘the old store’ (more recently Vogue House, and now the home of ‘1001 Nights’ restaurant).
At the time, ‘the old store’ acted as a general store, post office and library. Next to it was an old tin shed with a manual petrol pump and on the opposite corner was Dunstan’s store, a smaller establishment with groceries and a small ‘tea-room’ that catered to the day-trippers from Melbourne. Everywhere else was untouched bushland. Jessie and her family lived in a little cottage behind where the BP service station is now and they owned a piece of land that ran down in a narrow triangle to the island now in the centre of the Nepean.
Boundary Road (now Canadian Bay Road) was a narrow, leafy tunnel, lined by glorious old trees with the branches almost touching overhead. Leaving the village and heading towards Mornington there were only one or two houses. The “old shop” at 187 Mt Eliza Way, which has just undergone renovation had a little house alongside and tucked away in the bush nearby was Mrs. Narik’s cottage which we now know and love as Lintons Café at Eden Gardens. This old cottage was first built as a farmhouse in 1871.
Back in the mid-1940s, there was mostly bush on the beach side of Mt. Eliza Way, although the J.H. Butler Reserve had been cleared to make way for a polo ground. The roads on Ranelagh were just tracks with a few houses on Wimbledon Avenue. There was the old hall, now disappeared, and next to it the little one-room state school which still stands at Mt Eliza Primary school today. The Peninsula School was a 9 hole golf course owned by Ranelagh Club and on it, opposite the state school, a dam, a source of great worry to the mums of the 25 State School pupils.
Many years later Jessie recounted the trials and tribulations of raising funds to build the pre-school facility. In those early days the area had only a small population of mostly young families, so fundraising was extremely difficult. With only a few volunteer mums up for the challenge, at times it seemed like a fruitless venture. And yet, their tenacity and hard work paid off. This band of enthusiastic young mums approached the Health Department for a grant and upon requesting land from the Mornington Council was given a block of land in Wimbledon Avenue by the Shire President, Sir. William Leggatt. In order to raise funds for the building costs, local families hosted coffee mornings and a gala fete with stalls, spinning jennies, hay rides and coconut shies. The pre-school was built by local builder Alan Reid and was opened in 1955 by Sir William Leggatt, after a total cost of $10,000.
Although today the name Jessie White is known only as a green dot on Google Maps, she must surely have hoped that the legacy of what she and that small group of people achieved would live on and thrive in our beautiful village. Thousands of children have benefited from the pre-school, which, after a few face-lifts here and there, is still going strong. It is wonderful to note that community service is still an established part of life here in Mt Eliza and long may our wonderful community continue to thrive.
Written by Niamh Hislop (mobile 0434 946 209)
Post-script: Niamh was on the Mount Eliza Pre-School Committee when she found the letter written by Jessie White that this article was based on. The letter was a hardcopy and wasn't dated. Sadly Jessie White passed away a few years ago.