My father told me this story forty years ago, when I was in my early teens.
My father was by trade a bricklayer and being self-employed he travelled around quite a bit.
We lived in Williamstown, one of the inner Western suburbs of Melbourne, in those days.Werribee is one of the outer Western suburbs and
a good three hours drive from where we lived.Or at least it took three hours for my father to drive there when he took the whole family down to
WerribeePark on hot summer days.
Williamstown is famous for having one of the best beaches around Melbourne.Nonetheless, instead of a ten-minute walk to “Willy” beach
in summer, my father would insist upon the three-hour drive on Sundays down to Werribee to picnic in the park surrounding the new baths.
However, being perpetually short of cash my father could rarely produce the money to enter the baths.So we would eat a picnic lunch amid the lofty elm and gum trees in the
park around the baths.Then we would set out for a lengthy after lunch walk through the park.Which usually (always if the kids had any say in the matter) would finish with
an exploration of the “ancient” stone ruins of the old bathing house immediately behind the new baths.
After this we’d cool off by going swimming in the river behind the old baths.
It was while swimming in the river behind the old ruins that my father first told my brother John and I the story of the Werribee Milkman.
The area we used to swim in was very very deep.According to local legend it was bottomless.John and I both scoffed at this.But John -- who was able
to swim and dive in those days, while the best I could do was float on my back -- claimed to have been unable to find the bottom after diving down as deep as he could once.
According to our father, one dark, foggy morning in the early 1900s, when automobiles were all but unknown in Australia, the Werribee milkman had driven off the edge into the river at that
spot, behind the old baths.Supposedly milk cart, horses, and milkman had all sunk like the proverbial rock to the bottom of the river, never to be seen again....
Except that according to many Werribee residents (so my father claimed), on certain foggy mornings, mysterious frantic neighing can be heard coming from the area near the old
baths.Supposedly on especially foggy mornings a glowing, spectral milk cart can be seen silently wheeling its way down along the side of the new baths, past the old ruins, until
mysteriously vanishing at the edge of the river.
As I said earlier, my father was a self-employed bricklayer.
One day he had set out, only a few hours after going to bed the night before, to a job in Werribee.He arrived at Werribee (so he said) around
8:30 by his watch, to find the streets mired in a thick fog, like an old fashioned English pea souper.
The streetlights were still on overhead, as though it were still night.And the streets were deserted, although it was a weekday, as though the populace had all slept in, or
(most likely) set out to work early because of the fog forcing them to drive along at a snail’s pace.
There had been fogs the last two or three mornings when he’d arrived at work, but only light mists, not like the thick fog that day.In the fog, and not overly familiar with
that part of Werribee, my father was soon lost.He drove round and round for what he said seemed like hours.Until finally he found himself in an area he was very familiar
with: outside the WerribeePark.
As he approached the main entrance of the park, he heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.Not unusual in Australian cities even in the 1990s, since the police ride horses in
areas where squad cars would be inconvenient but going on foot could prove too dangerous.However, instead of a mounted police officer, or even a casual rider who might have been using
the park, when the horses came into sight they were pulling an old-fashioned milk cart.
Fearful of a head-on collision, my father pulled over to the side of the road to allow the horse-and-cart to pass.At this stage he still did not suspect anything was
up.As recently as the early 1960s there had been horse-drawn milk deliveries in Williamstown, so he said, “I thought it was possible out more toward the country, Werribee might still
have them in the early 1970s.Although I had not notice them on other mornings in Werribee, and the cart did seem very ancient.”
Instead of continuing on toward him, however, the horse and cart turned left into the park.
Not really knowing why he did so, my father started his van and followed after them.The milk cart followed the winding road through the park up to the new baths, making my
father heave a sigh of relief, thinking it was going to stop there.However, the milk cart continued on toward the concrete ruins of the old baths.Again it looked for a
second as though the milk cart were going to stop there.But instead it continued on past the old baths too.
Until reaching the edge of the river, where, at least, my father thought it had to stop.
But no!The milk cart continued on straight off the edge into the river.Where it seemed to float for a second, then simply faded out of existence.As
my father explained it to me, “The cart didn’t sink to the bottom, otherwise I would have run to see if I could rescue the driver.It simply vanished like a puff of smoke!”
Well that’s the tale of the Werribee Milkman as my father used to tell it in the 1970s.After hearing that my brother John and I were never very keen to go swimming in the deep
water of the river.Although neither of us would ever admit to really believing that a milk cart complete with driver and horses lay at the bottom of the river, or that a spectral milk
cart could be seen in Werribee on foggy mornings.
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© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.