gun alley stories

55 John St Stories


While Bob and Dorothy Holt, were looking to establish a business and buy a home closer to schools for their children, they and their partners – the Twists and the Masseys – had enough of a vision to see past the unkept, overgrown, odd-shaped block of land right next to the Olinda Creek.

It wasn’t too long before the Shire of Lillydale and the Holts were negotiating over the land, as in Bob’s words, no-one knew who owned what. Eventually, a deal was struck with land added and subtracted to create the site Lilydale Brake Service has today.

While they may not have known it at the time, the Holts were the first to start the transformation of Gun Alley from a dead end street and unmade road with old homes to a service industry section of Lilydale on a busy sealed, through road.

The Holts were the first and others soon followed. Properties were bought, the homes bulldozed and factories and workshops erected.

Audio Introduction

Throughout the Gun Alley pages you will see references in old articles to £ (pounds). £1 = $2; 10/- (10 shillings) = $1; 5/- (5 shillings) = 50 cents. Please note: this does not reflect the value of the money but serves as an indication only.

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William Hutchinson & Louis Deschamp

Robert Black (24/11/1880 – 8/9/1890)

William Louis Scott (8/9/1890 – 4/6/1903)

Julia Briers (4/6/1903 – 30/11/1948)

Henry Wilfred Briers (as executor) (30/11/1948 – 7/11/1949 Contract of Sale transfer 7/2/1957)

Harold Bernard Briggs & Clara Lillian Briggs (7/2/1957 – 28/3/1957 contract of sale transfer 26/6/1959)

Francesco Silipaigni (26/6/1959 – 14/5/1962)

Edmund & Lucy Innberg (14/5/1962 – 7/5/1963)

Raymond Clifford Turnley (7/5/1963 – 26/6/1964)

Walter & Rita Olive Massey, June Althea Twisk and Dorothy Elizabeth & Robert Bertram Holt (26/6/1964 –


William Hutchinson & Louis Deschamp

On November 11, 1880 William Hutchinson & Louis Deschamp sold three lots of the Olinda Estate to Robert Black – namely 10, 11 and 12 block 1 plus Lot 3 block 1 which faced Main Street for £80.

Robert Black

Robert Black owned the property from November 24, 1880 until September 8, 1890 when he sold it to William Louis Scott.

William Louis Scott

William Louis Scott purchased the property from Robert Black for £40 on September 9, 1890 while one of his children Mary Beddoe purchased the adjoining lot also from Robert Black on September 6, 1890.

William Scott was a bootmaker and married to Mary Grey. He was an early resident of Lilydale and had established a shop with premises in Lilydale by 1872. Initially he rented the property from Henry Perrin and later from John Hutchinson.

After the subdivision of Olinda he purchased Lot 9 block 6 next to the creek in John Street he also took up Crown land on Main St by the creek and by 1880 had built a house to which he added a shop the next year. This property was on the south side of Main St immediately east of Olinda Creek.

When advertising his business he called his shop as being at Olinda Creek.

His wife Mary died in 1889 and was interred at the Lilydale Cemetery.

William continued to operate his bootmaking business until about 1895 when he moved to live in Oakleigh as he address for rate notices was c/- Mrs Wilkinson Portman St Oakleigh.

Julia Briers

Julia Briers acquired the vacant lot for £20 on June 4, 1903. This was half the price William Scott had paid back in the height of the land boom. The Shire of Lillydale Rate Books show the property in David Briers name.

Her future husband, wheelwright David Briers first purchased land in John St in September 1886.  Three generations of the family lived in Gun Alley until 1986 when Edie Briers sold her home at 58 John Street to the Whelan family.

In 1889 David Briers married Julianna (Julia) Susanna Duvoisin, the second daughter of David and Sussanah (Pouly) Duvoisin who was born at Yering in 1864. Her parents arrived in Victoria on the Cambodia in March 1859.

The family settled in Lilydale where he became renowned throughout the burgeoning colony as a Wheelwright & Coachbuilder. His coaches and buggies had highly sought-after scroll-work painted on them and this side of his work was subject of a feature display during the Lilydale Centenary Celebrations.

They built a house at 49 John Street three blocks east of Lot 12. Here they raised 10 children:

David Briers, born 1890, married Ethel May Lysaght of Lilydale in 1916. David enlisted in the 38th Battalion Australian Infantry on October 2, 1916 and died in France November 24, 1918.

Henry Wilfred Briers, born 1891, remained a bachelor and lived in the family home until his death in 1978. He worked as a wheelwright with his father.

Albert Oscar Briers, born 1893, (butcher) enlisted in 4th Light Horse 2nd re-enforcement on October 24, 1916 returning from the war August 9, 1919. Following the war he met Edith Jane Gilson and they were married in 1928. They returned to live in Lilydale at 58 John Street sometime around 1934/35 settling near the family home. Albert died in 1952, Edith in 1992.

Cora Jane Briers, born 1894 and died aged 4 in 1898.

Vida Olive Briers, born 1896, married Albert (Vic) Rooks in 1924. Vida died in 1965.

Hilda Eva Briers, born 1898, married Valentine Walter Graham in 1922.

Matilda Florence Briers, born 1900, married Michael.

Clara Jane Briers, born 1901, married Arthur George Parlby in 1924. Clara died in 1969, Arthur in 1988.

Elsie May Briers, born 1906, married Michael Vincent Davis in 1938. Elsie died in 1980.

Maisie Kathleen Briers, born 1911, married Victor Vendy Hodges in 1936.

David Briers died on September 22, 1935 and Julia on September 1, 1948. As both died intestate, it was left to their son Henry to administer their estates.

Unlike most of the other lots in John Street, this was never built on. However, the land was not left idle as Poon Kee who had a shop in Main street from about 1909, had market gardens along the creek including this lot, as did several other Chinese residents.

(Briers family)

Unlike most of the other lots in John Street, this was never built on. However, the land was not left idle as Poon Kee who had a shop in Main street from about 1909, had market gardens along the creek including this lot, as did several other Chinese residents.

Poon Kee

Poon Kee was one of several Chinese who called Lilydale home. He told everyone he arrived at Lilydale in July 1909.

He set up a green grocer’s shop on the south side of Main Street next to the Olinda Creek and grew his vegetables behind his shop along John Street and also at other locations such as Gardiner and Anderson streets. Whenever the Olinda Creek flooded which was regularly before the late 1930s, his crops were wiped out.

According to his death certificate he was born in Canton, China the son of Hoong Poon. His mother was unknown. When he was 20 Kee married at Chung War and they had one child Ah Jun Poon who was deceased at the time of Kee’s death in 1943. The name of his wife was unknown.

Poon Kee was unwell on Saturday, May 2 and sadly was found dead in his shop by fellow shopkeeper Ern Oliver the following day. Dr Mahon recorded the cause of death as pneumonia which occurred on May 2, 1943. He was 68 years old. He was interred in the Chinese section of the Fawkner Cemetery on May 5.

He had been in Victoria since 1899 and in Lilydale since July 1909 when he rented the shop and premises from Robert Black.

In early years he would travel back home to China but he had lived and worked in his shop without a break for 23 years prior to his death.

After his death, his store’s produce and worldly goods were gathered up and taken to the Lilydale Police Station where they were auctioned off. The proceeds from the sale paid for his funeral and the remainder was sent to his family in China.

Henry Wilfred Briers

When his mother passed away on September 1, 1947, she died intestate so the children agreed that Henry, her eldest surviving son, would act as executor. In this capacity he was granted Probate. He purchased the property from his siblings for £475 on November 30 1948.

Harold Bernard Briggs & Clara Lillian Briggs

Henry Briers entered a Contact of Sale for the vacant block with Harold Bernard and Clara Lillian Briggs who lived in Main Street, Lilydale, on November 7, 1949 for a sale price of £880 but the conveyance was not completed until February 7, 1957. It appears the contract and conveyance had gone missing and had to be refiled.

Francesco Silipaigni

The Briggs sold the property to Francesco Silipaigni of Creek Rd, Lilydale for £375 via a contract of Sale on March 28, 1957. The sale was finalised on June 26, 1959.

Franceso Silipaigni later moved to Ringwood so probably abandoned plans to build on the site. This may have prompted his decision to sell the property.

Edmund & Lucy Innberg

Edmund and Lucy innberg were the next owners. They paid Silipaigni £600 for the property on May 14, 1962 and became big winners as just on a year later they more than doubled their investment when they sold the property.

Raymond Clifford Turnley

Raymond Turnley paid the Innbergs £1450 for the property on May 7, 1963 and immediately borrowed £1000 with it as security. He was a manufacturer living in Chapman Rd, Silvan.

Walter & Rita Olive Massey, June Althea Twisk and Dorothy Elizabeth & Robert Bertram Holt

It was left to the Massey family to turn the vacant block at 55 John Strteet into a business. The six people purchased the property for £1600 on June 26, 1964. June Twisk and Dorothy Holt were the daughters of Walter and Rita Massey.

The Healesville based family were looking to move largely because of government regulation. The shire of Lillydale rate collector Horry Harrison suggested the family look at the John Street property for their new business and he put them in touch with the then owner Raymong Turnley of Silvan.

Not long after the purchase the Masseys died. Rita died on September 1, 1964 and Walter December 24, 1964.

The Twisks were more silent partners for the first few years. When Bob and Dorothy had accumulated enough money, they bought them out.

Building a business from the ground up was apt for the Holt family.

The family moved to Lilydale for their children’s education. Their sons wanted to go to a technical school, the closest of which to Healesville was Mooroolbark Technical School.

Bob grew up around making and repairing machinery.

He explains:

“I started off with the sawmilling business with my dad as a kid and it moved onto various things. I was always involved with motor cars and machinery. Dad was a blacksmith and built a number of sawmills around Healesville. He installed the racks, rollers and boilers and so forth and I was associated with those all the time. I was at his elbow annoying him from age 7.”

Bob was born in December 1929 and moved from Kew to Badger Creek where his grandparents had a property.

After leaving school bob worked at a couple of sawmills; at Holmes Radio. His new career was launched when he worked as a spare parts salesman for Bells Garage Services which became Southern Coach Lines. Bob was invited to stay and worked as a mechanic for five years.

He then moved to MacKenzies for another five years, did the motor mechanics course with the VACC and ended up with Lilydale Brake Service.

“I say a brake service because I found problems in the braking industry and found that I could fix them but the first bit of Lilydale Brake Service was not as much to do with brakes as tractors. The tractor people followed me down and I got a lot of work from that area.”

The family bought the John Street site following advice from the Lillydale Shire rate collector Horry Harrison. Commercial operations such as rural Tractors were already established in John Street west of Hutchinson Street.

The land which was covered with a lot of scrub, was purchased, cleared and work started on the building of the workshop.

The original shed came from Dandenong and cost £330 plus the cost of the framework.

 “I had trouble clearing the block so I bought Dad’s Fergie tractor down and cleared the block. Used a chainsaw cut down the fences etc and Dad and I set to laying out the building. We purchased the frame and erected the building.

“We had the electrician and plumber and the cement floor and we got help putting the roof on it but Dad and I built the rest of it.”

Lilydale Brake Service started work in July but didn’t open its doors to the public until Monday, October 23, 1964 just in time for the Lilydale Show the following weekend.

This was Bob’s first foray into his own business.

“I had to get lathes and machinery. I started with myself and Colin Dew. He had been a friend of mine since I was nine years old. He was six or seven years older than me. He went to the war but he was a very skilled person and we worked together.”

After 12 months, the home owned by Henry Briers next door became vacant so the family moved in while they were waiting to finalise the purchase of their present home in Nicholas Street. For Dorothy it was a miserable time, she had Heather, a two-week-old baby, and there were 15 frosts in a row. The home was old and lacked many conveniences.

The family were welcomed to John Street and made many friends there. People Bob had done work for followed him to Lilydale – famers, truckies and timber workers. Vehicles were repaired on site or at the workshop. There were three distinct sections in the business: the wholesale side where they sold to other businesses, retail and the workshop.

Bob and Dorothy formed a great family and business partnership. They were married at Healesville in June 1952 and have five children: Max, Neil, Lionel, Rosalie and Heather.

To keep up with changing technology, the workshop was upgraded in July 1989 and in true B Bob Holt style he built over and around the existing building while the business continued to operate. The reason was simple: the shire would not allow him to demolish and start again but he could extend.

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