It’s some time since my last “Take A Photo” post, so if you are joining me for the first time, the idea behind the theme is to take an out-of-copyright photo from the Western District and delve into the story behind it.
Summer is a perfect time to share one of my favourite Western District photos. It comes from the collection of Gabriel Knight held by the State Library of Victoria (SLV). Gabriel was the principal at the Cressy State School from 1909 to 1915. He arrived as the town was entering a period of growth, including the construction of a larger school. Gabriel’s lens captured the change.
The photo comes with the title, “Children playing in the local swimming hole, Cressy” (c1909-1915). The swimming hole looks like it could be a dam.
It is in fact, a section of the Woady Yallock River that meanders past Cressy.
I love viewing SLV photos because you can zoom in to see more. We can look closer at the boys on the bank. Notice the boy coming in from the water with a hat? To view the photo at the SLV, follow the link-Cressy Swimming Hole.
Zooming a little more, we can see the bikes, and one boy has spied the camera. There’s always one in a crowd. Of course, there is a dog. The best photos seem to always have a dog.
A pile of clothes, shoes, and hats lay dumped on the bank.
In the water is Gabriel Knight himself. Unless he used a timer and was a fast runner, it’s unlikely he took the photo himself.
We know what Gabriel looks like from a staff photo taken when the new Cressy State School opened.
Also evident in the photograph are four wires strung across the river.
They were for unconfident swimmers who could move along the wires between banks.
Sadly, the wires didn’t help 15-year-old William Leslie Hellier during the summer of 1913 at the Cressy swimming hole. He set off in the morning, telling his father he was going fishing with friends. It was a hot day, and with little shade along the river, the water was tempting. William, known as Leslie, was a non-swimmer, although he had told his father otherwise. He thought he’d be safe close to the wires. Holding on, he made it to the other side.
His mate, Douglas Thornton, last saw Leslie on the opposite bank. Time passed and suddenly Douglas wondered where Leslie was. He looked around and called out, “Les!”, alerting others who started a search. Joseph Parker ran to inform Constable Edgar Taylor, who raced to the swimming hole, stripped down, and joined the search in the water. A further five to ten minutes passed before Richard Middleton called out. He had found Leslie. About 45 minutes had elapsed since Douglas first noticed him missing.
Constable Taylor attempted resuscitation on the unshaded riverbank for around ten minutes, then loaded Leslie’s lifeless body into a gig. He drove to the police station where Gabriel Knight met him. Gabriel suggested first aid continue until the doctor arrived from Beeac. On arrival, Doctor Hicks pronounced Leslie deceased.
The witness statement provided by Weering onion grower, Joseph Parker, described the wires across the river, “I saw four wires stretched across the creek and they were fixed to posts on both sides of the river, the wires were about one to two feet above the water.” The inquest heard the river was ten feet at its deepest.
You can read the findings into Leslie’s death online at the Public Record Office of Victoria on the link-Inquest of William Leslie Hellier.
The next reference I found about the swimming hole was from March 1915. To coincide with the examination of the school’s swimming class, Gabrielle Knight organised a swimming demonstration at the “school swimming hole”. It was open to men and boys, with a special event for ladies. The competitions included a prize for the longest dive, but significant was a demonstration of “rescue and release” with one child completing a mock rescue of Gabrielle Knight.
It was not long after, in June 1915, that the people of Cressy farewelled Gabriel Knight and his family. Gabriel had received a transfer and his departure was a great loss to the town.
A final mention of the swimming hole comes from January 1918.
We know there were wires across the river in January 1913 when Leslie Hellier drowned and we know Gabriel Knight wasn’t in Cressy beyond mid-1915, so it leaves me with some questions. Did the swimming hole move after the death of Leslie or in 1918, were they simply replacing the original wires?
To end, I’ll leave you with another of Gabriel’s beautiful photos. This time, two local boys watering their horses at the Woady Yallock River.
You can read two previous “Take a Photo” posts on the link-Take A Photo.
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