One of our Probus trips in 2018 was to the Immigration Museum located in the original Customs House. The Old Customs House building is one of Melbourne’s most important 19th century public buildings and was established following the plans drawn up by Robert Hoddle in 1837. The activities of the people who worked there is the history of Victoria’s trade, immigration, social attitudes and government. In the early days, customs officers recorded all goods entering or leaving Victoria; the customs duties they collected formed the backbone of government revenue.
Why is this of interest? Mainly because John Green was a customs officer there in the mid -20th century.
John went from school into Customs in 1952, retiring in 1989.
He says that new entrants started in the Registry Section making a précis of correspondence received. In January of 1955 he was transferred to the Excise Branch which covered the collection of duty on certain locally manufactured goods e.g. beer, wine, spirits, tobacco, cigarettes and petrol. After that he was transferred to the Victoria Dock where each station was staffed by 2 officers to arrange for the release of imported goods from Customs control.
At the same time migrant vessels were coming to Melbourne in large numbers and it was necessary to supplement the small permanent staff at Port Melbourne.
His task was to interview people – usually young, largely southern European with no English at all and very poor, many never having seen such luxuries as a washing machine. It was a very busy time when a ship was in dock; otherwise they had time to kick the footy in the wharf sheds, he says.
When he retired, he went back to work part-time to write and compile the history of Customs in Victoria.
John describes himself as “a mug punter and has been a member of the VRC for 34 years and the MRC for 30 years and has a very small interest (‘an eyelash’, he says) in a horse in a syndicate with many others. “but we don’t make any money,” he adds.
Since 2008, John has been, and still is a Volunteer Guide at the MCG’s National Sports Museum.
John has lived in the same house in Parkdale for 61 years and was kept busy much of that time raising six children.
He has been a member of Woodlands Golf Club since 2001.
He was introduced to Beaumaris Probus via fellow member, Tony Bowles and has been a key member of our Functions team for approximately five years. He has worked with (and outlasted) Geoff Bransbury, Menno van Ruyven, Ken Beadle, John Beaty and now works with Andy Coogan.
Well done and thank you John.