By Casey Neill
Ray Woods notched up a century of life on Sunday 4 June.
He celebrated with his friends and family on the day, and his Parkglen neighbours marked the milestone with an afternoon tea on Wednesday 7 June.
That featured a special presentation from Carlton and United Breweries. Ray has always been a VB man.
Asked what the secret was to living to 100, he said his friendship with Bill Blackburn was “the best part of my life”.
“When I came down here I met a chap in Oakleigh that I knew for years before, he was a baker,” he said.
“He used to do a lot of shooting and he had beagle dogs.
“I said ’do you still go shooting?’. He said ’yeah’ and I said ‘I’d like to come with you one day’.
“I was shooting rabbits and foxes.
“We did that for some years.
“Best mate I ever had, he was.
“His daughter came up to me at the party on Sunday.”
Ray was born in Essendon.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a farmer,” he said.
“He lived at Mansfield. I lived with him until I was 6 and I had to go to school.”
Eventually, his grandfather sold out and bought a dairy farm at Drouin.
Ray and his family moved down there when he was 10 or 11, but milk prices were low so they moved to Clayton, where they could earn twice as much per gallon.
“I loved working on the farm, working with the animals,” he said.
“It was in the depression time, things were tough.
“I never had a job really.
“We never got wages, just pocket money.
“We enjoyed it. We got enough to go to dances.”
The family moved to 40 acres in Springvale, “behind the pub there”.
“We were milking cows,” he said.
“I finished up getting a job in the market gardens.
“I was never out of work but never got much money.
“The top wages in those days were about three quid a week.
“There was no dole in those days.
“If you were out of work, you were out of work.
“You had to get a job or something.”
When he “grew up” Ray went to work for Taylors, an 83 acre farm on Princes Highway in Springvale.
He married the boss’ daughter, who retired and handed over the business.
The financially strapped Ray took on the farm with help from Oakleigh man Ken Orr.
“He said, ’I’ll come to the clearing sale’. He said ’wear a waistcoat, anything you want, just put your hand in the pocket of the waistcoat’,” he said.
“I finished up with a big bill.
“He said ‘I’ll take two quid until it’s paid back and then we’ll talk’.
“When we’d paid that off, he came up one day and said ’can you milk a few more cows?’.
“I said ‘yeah, I’ll get machines’.
“I got machines and we milked a few more.
“We got up to about 60.”
Ray could see suburbia creeping in around him.
“We sold up our cows there. We went to Trentham,” he said.
“I like that area up there.
“They were growing spuds.
“We had one good year and we were getting big money for them.
“People were ringing up from Melbourne wanting spuds.
“I said, ’it’s got to be cash’.”
After that big year he sold up and moved back to the South East.
His wife Erica died when their son Lindsay was 15.
“I sold up everything. We lived back with mum,” he said.
Ray’s mate Jack would come out from Preston every Saturday night to go to local dances, and urged him to join him.
“I met this woman, asked her for a dance, and that was it,” he said.
“I took her home to meet Lindsay, they hit it off.”
Robina was from Dumbalk North, outside Leongatha.
“A week after I met her, she went home,” he said.
“She was keeping house for her father.
“She said ‘come down for Sunday lunch one day’.
“She cooked a beautiful lunch.
“I used to go down for weekends there.
“Her old man asked me to help with the harvest.
“When the harvest was finished he said ’you better stop leaving altogether’.
“So I stayed there and we got married.”
But Robina’s father collapsed and had a stroke while visiting his son in Queensland.
“She had to nurse him and it was getting too big,” Ray said.
They moved to Oakleigh and bought a house, and Ray drove a truck for PMG for 18 years.
He retired about age 60.
“OK, I think that’s enough,” he said, ending the interview.