Altona’s John Dawson is known for hosting community discussions about The Beatles, but he’s also a big fan of his seaside suburb, as he tells Goya Dmytryshchak.
What’s your connection with Hobsons Bay?
I have a strong connection having lived all of my 63 years in Altona. My mother was born in the 1920s in a single-fronted weatherboard house in Queen Street, which was pulled down when the library was built in the ’60s. My dad visited Altona as a teenage lad, as they did back then, looking for a bit of fun by the seaside. Met mum, fell in love, were married and six children later the rest is history. All six of their children have lived in Altona or Hobsons Bay all their lives, too.
When my wife and I married in 1974, there was no question we would live in Altona, and we have done ever since. I’ve always been connected to our community through kinders, school councils, the hockey club and through my involvement with the Community Banks in the area.
What are you passionate about and why?
I am very proud and passionate about my family, especially my siblings and my own children, Daniel and Katie. I believe in our community and I encourage everyone to help out where they can and also seek help if they need it, whatever their needs. That’s what a good community does and we certainly live in a good community. Oh! And, as your picture will show, I’m passionate about The Beatles. To me, they represent great music and a great story, and they remain an influence some 50 years after they broke up.
What do you love about Altona?
The beach. The people. The facilities. It’s a little slice of heaven hidden away in the western suburbs. I remember back in the ’60s, there was a picture of then-premier Henry Bolte swimming at our beach, with a fairly negative article about Altona. Smelly beach, refineries and chemical plants putting out pollution. I asked Dad: “Why do people bag Altona?” He said: “Don’t know, son, but let ’em, maybe they’ll stay away.” From memory, that was the feeling back then. The train only travelled to Altona and you only came here to get to Altona – there wasn’t anywhere to travel through to.
What would you change?
I’d have “The Park” (Logan Reserve) heritage-listed!
What’s your favourite cafe and/or eatery, and why?
We are spoilt for choice these days right across Hobsons Bay. I’d say every budget and taste is provided for, from fine dining through to cafes and bistros. I must say, though, that my favourite place to dine, and my wife and I are always thrilled when we get the invite, is my son’s place in Williamstown. My daughter-in-law is a keen cook and you’re never disappointed, even when she tests the tastebuds.
What’s your fondest or funniest memory growing up in Altona?
Probably my oldest memory is going to the Saturday afternoon matinees at the Altona picture theatre. I remember the steps – quite a climb for a little bloke. It would most likely be a cowboy movie – the ones where the good guys wore white hats and the baddies, black. We’re talking late ’50s … it would be mum and dad and the family, with me on dad’s shoulders there and back. We walked from our house in Mount Street. Gee, I felt special up there on dad’s shoulders.
A funny one also from that period would be my dad chasing a bat around the clothesline with a tennis racquet or checking to see why a penny banger under a clay plant pot hadn’t gone off. Or opening the night man’s little door at the back of our outside dunny and giving an unsuspecting aunty a fright with the garden hose. Maybe we had the first bidet in Altona.
One of my fondest memories is summer in Altona … on hot evenings, we would meet down the beach, no phone calls, no preparation, just meet and spend the evening; Dad drinking out of 750-millilitre bottles of VB or Abbotsford Lager. The chip shop that only opened in summer – and those chips were the best. Or the carnival that set up in the park or the double-header ice-cream cones from the milkbar, chocolate and strawberry. Like I said – Altona, a little slice of heaven.