The Old Homestead

291 Millers Road, North Altona. Originally built by Charlie and Patricia Cauchi.

Week 13 of the #52ancestors challenge is "The Old Homestead." I contemplated talking about the history of Numbers 16 and 18 Glance Street in Newmarket which saw many Shorten's through their doors. 

I contemplated talking about the legacy of my late grandfather - our holiday house in the little hamlet of Loch Sport in Gippsland, Victoria.

The first thing I thought of however, was talking a bit about the first home Nan and Pop built together in the 1950s in North Altona in Melbourne - the same home that my parents, sister and I lived in for the first eight years of my life - and a bit about their job as caretakers and cleaners of the Altona North Technical School.

In the late 1950s Pat (Nanny) and Charlie (Poppy) lived on Millers Road, Altona North where they were building their house. The building of Altona North Technical School began in April of 1958. At the time:
 …there were only two houses in Millers Road, the second belonging to Charlie Cauchi, a Maltese Migrant, cleaner then, and later caretaker, of the school. Altona at that time has been described by the then shire engineer: “Heartbreak streets with mud tracks and open drains: narrow main roads with huge potholes; acres of thistles: a huge swamp; an undeveloped foreshore; ramshackle factories.”[i] 
 Charlie become a cleaner at the Tech School in 1959 and later become its caretaker up until the time of the schools closure on 31 December 1992 while his wife, Pat, was also a cleaner from 1972 to 1992.

The Young Cleaner, Charlie Cauchi
Source: K.F. Pearson, And ANTS It Was: A History of Altona North Technical School. 

The following is an extract from K.F. Pearson’s history of Altona North Technical School, And Ants It Was detailing a serious fire and Charlie Cauchi’s involvement:

 About a month before the 1984 review opened, on the night of July 11, the school caught fire. Charlie Cauchi had shifted from his house in Millers Road and had moved on the day President Kennedy was assassinated in 1966 [sic] to the caretaker’s house adjoining the school grounds; it was from there that he spotted the fire at about 11:30 that night. While his wife Pat telephoned for help he dashed across, in through the staff entrance, grabbed a fire extinguisher and started fighting the blaze. The light was gone so he toiled in the smokey dark. It was hopeless. The police arrived first and asked him to give it away for his own safety. The television news was to style him “Arson Hero”. His own view of his actions was more laconic as seen in his exchange with 3UZ interviewer Paul Makin. 
Charlie: “I grabbed the fire extinguisher. I opened the gates for the fire brigade. A policeman ordered me out. He said, ‘Better give it away, mate." 
Makin: “That’s a pretty game effort.” 
Charlie: “Well, I’m a part of the furniture here now. I grew up with this school and I’d like the school to be standing when I’m retired and I’m proud of the school. I tried and the fire is too far gone and that’s it.” 
 When the fire brigade did arrive it roared straight past. It firstly went to investigate another fire at Sims Supermarket down the road. Both fires were deliberately lit, the second at Sims apparently about twelve minutes after the school fire. It looked like a diversionary tactic. Had the second fire taken firmer hold it would have worked completely. 
It was a Sunday. The school was broken into through the louvre window of the staff male toilet. The fire was set in the administration office. It destroyed that room, the Principal’s room, part of the next room and smoke damaged adjoining classrooms. Damage was estimated at $80,000 to $120,000. Students were given the Monday off whilst staff re-organised and picked up the pieces. The Education Department provided a portable as temporary administration accommodation. 
Charlie hardly slept for three days. He was always on call, for the SEC, the gas company, the telephone company. When he saw the television news of the fire he broke down and cried. One day soon afterwards he was seen pale and slumped in a chair; he had been going home, a distance five hundred yards but had to rest because he couldn’t make it. For a while afterwards he became paranoid about security matters. He had saved his beloved school but it would close before his retirement anyway.[i]

Charlie Cauchi, Caretaker and cleaner of Altona North Technical School.

For some of you early rockers, the hall at Altona North Tech school became famous in the 1970s as it was host to a lunch-time gig played by an Australian band before they broke into the big time. The band - AC/DC.

The Altona North Tech School closed at the end of the school year in 1992 due to several factors including budget cuts for the Western Region and decline in student enrolment. Charlie and Pat Cauchi moved from Bunting Court to their old house on Millers Road where they lived until Poppy's death at the end of September 2008.

Part of the faculty and class from Altona North Technical School,
also the cover of K.F. Pearson, And ANTS It Was: A History of Altona North Technical School. 

As a side note, I'm afraid I haven't had the time to catch up with Amy's challenge as faithfully as I once was. I'm still dedicated to posting my families stories here however, they won't as frequently updated as they were previously.

Many thanks again for your wonderful feedback.

[i] K.F. Pearson, And ANTS It Was: A History of Altona North Technical School. Altona, Victoria: Keima Press. 1992. p. 2.

[ii] Ibid, p. 38

Please note: I am aware that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I am quoting directly from the book which incorrectly lists 1966 as the date.


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris
    Men like Charlie are the foundation of decency and caring...may there be many more of them.


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