Elsie (May) Storr was born in Reservoir in 1938. She has always lived in this area and attended West Preston Primary and Preston Girls Schools. She left school at fourteen to take up an apprenticeship as a tailor in Queens Street Melbourne.
Elsie was employed at Mont Park Tailor Shop, as a Tailor, for two years from 1976 to 1977. Then the State Government opened a new manufacturing centre and store, which was called Branch Central Clothing Store. Elsie went there as a tailoress, and was Supervisor of Clothing and Materials for the next eighteen years. She took an early retirement, when the section was closed down in 1994.
Elsie’s recollections take us back to an era when the public service encompassed ancillary and support services and businesses in addition to its core business. Elsie’s story about clothing of residents at Victoria’s mental health institutions emphasizes just how many people lived for long periods of their lives in these facilities. This was a time before cheap clothing imports from Asia. People needed to be housed, fed and clothed, as well as treated and cared for. Elsie’s work and the work of the small number of staff of Branch Central Clothing, paints a vivid picture and broadens our knowledge of what mental health care was like prior to the 1990’s.
Our thanks to Elsie for sharing her memories and photos of this period and for agreeing to release her interview through the project’s management team and excerpts on our website.
Excerpts from Elsie’s interview
First memories of Mont Park Being in this area for 57 years it (Mont Park) was like a short cut from Reservoir to Watsonia, and I really cannot tell you the tracks we took, because I think they are mostly built on now
What was the name of this section, or the business you worked in? It was Branch Central Clothing Manufacturing Centre, and it was funded by the State Government, but Mont Park paid us our wages, and we were under the umbrella of Mont Park.
How would you describe the business, or the working environment you worked in? Very good because being a new workroom or factory, we had up to date machinery, and we were away from the hospital, a little bit, so we looked out on to the bushlands, and it was a quiet area.
So Branch Central Clothing made what? Branch Central Clothing was in two parts under the one building. The manufacturing part, made anything that was different, plus we made hundreds of pyjama pants, because in those days there was no manufacturing centre that would sell pyjama pants, you had to buy the tops…Then we made the dresses for the older folk, that had the crossover and split up the back. And anything any of the patients wanted to be made, if they wanted a special dress or something.We … didn’t sew anything for the staff. The store part, which was with us also, they did the suits for the male nurses,… they’d be measured in the sewing rooms, and come over and get them from the store. And the store was with us also, and we made for all the psychiatric hospitals in Victoria. So our clothing, like the pyjamas, the dresses, or what have you, and the men’s suits would be packed into big wicker baskets, and padlocked on each end, to take them to the station, and .. to the psychiatric hospitals around Victoria.
So that’s a lot of clothing. Yes, that was a lot of clothing. So how many people worked with you? There was three of us. I asked the government for an extra worker, but they wouldn’t give it to me. But they said I could buy a new machine.