Eileen Francis passes away at 99

Above: Eileen Clarke, later Eileen Francis. Left: Eileen at 95 with the tray presented to Norm on completion of 50 years of service to the Hastings Football Club

Above: Eileen Clarke, later Eileen Francis.

EILEEN Elizabeth Clarke was born in Somerville on 5 January, 1916 at the private hospital run by Sister Hodgins. In 1940 she married a Hastings fisherman, Norman Herbert Francis, who died in 1999.Eileen lived in the house that she and Norm built in Tyabb in 1953 until she passed away on 19 April, 2015.

Holy Trinity Anglican church was filled on 27 April for Eileen’s funeral service which was conducted by Rev. Alex. Packett. The eulogy was given by Richard Francis who was supported by his daughters Libby Gaynor and Debbie Francis, and his granddaughters Courtney and Taylah Gaynor. From their comments it was evident that a close bond existed between Eileen and all the members of her family. Moreover, as one of Richard’s daughters pointed out, Eileen had been a resident of Tyabb for so long and was so well known that she was called “Granny” by most of the younger generation in the town, not just her own family.

Above: Eileen at 95 with the tray presented to Norm on completion of 50 years of service to the Hastings Football Club

Above: Eileen at 95 with the tray presented to Norm on completion of 50 years of service to the Hastings Football Club

Richard mentioned that although her health had not been good in recent months, a highlight of that time had been the announcement of the first ten members selected for the Hastings Football Club Hall of Fame; included in the ten were her late husband, Norm, and his father, Bert (“Pompey”).

Eileen Francis was part of two pioneering families of our district: the Clarkes and the Denhams. In early 2011 the Western Port News ran a three part series called “Eileen and Norm”. This obituary is largely an edited version of that story.


EILEEN’S parents were Leonard and Daisy Clarke who were orchardists in McKirdys Road. Their orchard had originally been part of the Thornell property which had been subdivided and given to family members. Some parts were subsequently sold off and Len Clarke bought one of those. It had about 25 acres of orchard and a further 10 acres of paddocks. The main orchard had apples and pears, but there was also a smaller orchard in one corner of the paddocks where Len grew plums and apricots. The paddocks were for the horse and cows and also included a large dam. As well as the “orchard” trees, Len always had extras-a fig tree, a cherry tree, and two mulberry trees-so that Daisy could make jams and pies with plenty of variety.

Daisy Clarke (nee Denham). Christmas 1907.

Daisy Clarke (nee Denham). Christmas 1907.

Eileen’s mother, Daisy, was a Denham. Her grandfather (Henry) came from England and was the first settler in Denham Road; in due course the Denhams were joined by the Youngs, who came from South Australia, and the Grants. Daisy’s father was George Denham, and one of her brothers (Harry) managed the Tyabb Cool Store. Harry was an excellent cricketer and was captain of the Tyabb team which won the premiership in 1938-39. Other members of that team were another uncle of Eileen’s (Ray Denham) and her brother (Wes Clarke).

On the Clarke side, Eileen’s grandfather (George) came to Somerville in the late 1880’s and the family lived in The Tower House on the main road. The tower, which was eight sided and of glass, was removed by a later owner when it deteriorated quite badly. According to Len, Eileen’s father, the children were locked up in the tower if they were naughty but he did not mind as he could see everything that was going on in the area from up there. George’s wife (Elizabeth) had nine children, and they were all born in the Tower House. This was before the hospital was built and midwives carried out the necessary duties.

Len and Daisy Clarke had five children: Wesley George, Eileen Elizabeth, Phyllis Allison, Maurice Leonard, and Madge Isobel. All of the family except Phyllis, who lived in Moorabbin, remained in the district: Wes bought the block next to the original farm before eventually retiring into Tyabb, Eileen lived in Tyabb all her life, Maurice stayed on the home farm until he too retired into Tyabb, and Madge lived in Somerville.

Tyabb Railway Station State School. Wes Clarke second from left, front row. Phyllis first on left, third row. Eileen, third from right, third row.

Tyabb Railway Station State School. Wes Clarke second from left, front row. Phyllis first on left, third row. Eileen, third from right, third row.

Eileen and her siblings all went to Tyabb Railway Station school although their mother had attended the other Tyabb primary school on the corner of Jones and Mornington-Tyabb Roads. It would have been a long walk from Denham Road but all the children in that area (the Denhams and the Thornells)went to that school as the Railway Station School had not been built.

After completing Grade 8 Eileen left school to help on the farm which was standard practice in those days. She helped her father on the orchard, picking and packing, as well as helping her mother with the housework and, when required, she worked at the Tyabb Packing Shed.

Eileen was not all that interested in sport but her father made sure that all members of the family could swim and built a jetty on the big dam. Picnics were often held at the end of Denham Road but if the tide was out it was too muddy for swimming.

In those days Tyabb was a very small town and everyone knew everyone else. There were the local dances on a Saturday night in the hall on the corner, and there were dances at Hastings, Somerville, Langwarrin, and Pearcedale. Balls were generally held in the Hastings hall and were big dress-up affairs. It was at one of the Tyabb dances that Eileen met Norm Francis. Norm’s family lived in Cemetery Road in Hastings where they had an orchard. Norm worked the orchard and went fishing. After he and Eileen married in 1940 he became a full-time professional fisherman. Norm had a boat and would go out on Monday and come home on Friday, sleeping on the boat. Eileen would cook a week’s supply of food on the Saturday and Sunday for him to take in his tucker box on the Monday morning. At the start of each winter Norm would bring the boat ashore, rub the barnacles off, and repaint it; this would give him a break of a couple of weeks.

After living initially in Thornells Lane, Eileen and Norm moved into their new house in Tyabb in 1953. A fresh fish shop was set up at the house and Eileen would spend the day filleting and selling fish while Norm was out fishing. At the weekend Norm would sit on the verandah mending his nets. Later he would walk down to the Denham Road beach carrying the nets on his shoulders.

After selling fish from the house for a number of years, Eileen and Norm opened a fish shop in Somerville. After three years the business was sold; Norm continued with his fishing and Eileen returned to her filleting. She had two regular outlets: the dining room at Lysaghts and the hospital in Hastings.

While Norm worked long hours as a fisherman he also managed to fit in a 52 year involvement with the Hastings Football Club: he played more than 300 games, held the position of President for 14 years in three spells, and, with Richard Everist and Ted Lillywhite, was the driving force which led to the creation of the Hastings Cricket and Football Social Club. Eileen also became involved in community matters and at times filled the role of President of both the Mothers Club and the Tyabb branch of the CWA.

Richard, an only child, was born in 1942 when Eileen and Norm were living in Thornells Lane. Although a carpenter by trade, Richard has at times become involved in other ventures: he assisted in the Somerville fish shop and, more recently, started a restaurant (The Pepper Tree) in Tyabb with one of his daughters. (Although well into her 90’s, Eileen would spend her weekends cooking passionfruit sponges for the three years that the family owned the restaurant.)

The house that Eileen and Norm built in 1953 was on a double block. Several years ago Richard built two townhouses on the spare block and now lives in one with his wife Maidie. As well as her son and daughter-in-law there are also three granddaughters -Libby (and Enzo), Debbie (and Darren), and Morice-as well as seven great grandchildren-Courtney, Taylah, Harrison, Kaitlin,Cassandra, Koby and Tyler-and two step grandchildren-Jess and Kristy-who are left to mourn the passing of Eileen.

First published in the Western Port News – 13 May 2015


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