Almanac Life: Betty Croker (nee Cashill )– Part 1: A Country Life


Betty at Apollo Bay (circa 1948)



Betty Cashill – Part 1: A Country Life


Our mother, Betty Croker, was born Elizabeth May Cashill on 29th April, 1923 in Koroit in western Victoria.  She was the sixth of seven children and third daughter born to Martin and Eva.  She joined Joyce, Pat, Les, Ronnie and Sheila who had arrived over the course of about seven years.  And around seven years on Cyril arrived belatedly to complete the mob.


The Cashills were Irish Catholic potato farmers who had arrived in the green triangle in the 1860s. Betty’s mum Eva was a Lawless.  They were railway people and Protestants.  Betty’s grandad Robert Lawless was the Station Master at Koroit from 1913.  The Lawless clan had arrived in Victoria via John who settled in the area between Ballarat and Geelong in the early 1840’s after 10 years in Tasmania.  John Lawless is the earliest arrival in Australia of our extended families.


One of Eva’s sisters, Fanny married one of Martin’s cousins Martin Carroll.  Hence Betty had plenty of cousins and second cousins in the smallish community.  Living just a few hundred metres from the rim of the Tower Hill Lake made for an expansive backyard playground for the kids.  At this time the lake held little water and it was easy enough to wander over to the extinct volcanoes which were heavily grazed by local farmers. ‘



Betty (Centre), Sheila (Left), Ronnie (Right) at Tower Hill Lake, circa 1928



Betty was only 6 years old when the Great Depression started. The economic fallout, on wages, jobs and the cost of living would last for the next 10 years. Times were quite straightened; her mother baked their own bread, there was a cow for milk, cream and butter as well as chickens and a veggie garden and lots of potatoes. It was handy that Martin Cashill’s brother-in-law, John Flahavin was the local butcher.



Betty (Centre), Les (Left), Cyril (Right) at home in Koroit, circa 1938



Betty attended the convent school in Koroit up to the equivalent of Year 8 at 14 years of age in 1937.  From her stories she was no great fan of the Nuns, as they were quite strict and at times brutal.  This did not sit well with Betty’s quiet and reserved nature. Year 8 was called Merit in those days and it was typical for all but the financially secure to leave school at that age, especially the girls. Usually the Merit exams were held in a common location with all students from the Koroit schools in the one room. However, this was a time of isolation due to a Polio epidemic, so her exams were held at the convent school and supervised by teachers from the public school.


Also typical of the time there were few jobs for girls. On leaving school she took on home duties.  As Joyce was the cook and Sheila the crafty one with clothes, Betty was assigned more general cleaning and work about the house and small farm as well as caring for her youngest brother.


Betty played basketball and said she was a good shooter. She was 170cm tall which was considered tallish for a girl at the time. Betty recalls that Les and Ronnie were keen cyclists and competed in local events.  She talked about how as a girl you could ride a boys’ bike by putting one leg under the bar and balancing on the peddles.


Betty retains a wad of little photos taken with a Box Brownie camera documenting many day trips in the region with the local youth groups.  She remembers most people in each photo.


On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and the exodus of fit and able bodied men joining the Forces, Betty joined the ranks of the employed at the Nestle milk factory at Dennington, just west of Warrnambool.  She joined her siblings Joyce and Ronnie there. Being the third brother in the family Ronnie had received an exemption from joining up and besides his poor eye sight would have ruled him out anyway.


Betty’s Mum was quite against the boys enlisting as she had lost her brother Bob in the First World War, falling in Northern France after having survived all of the Gallipoli campaign.  Eventually Mum’s older brothers Pat and Les would enlist, serving in Darwin and in Western Australia respectively.  And by this time Sheila was working as a nurse, initially at Port Fairy before moving about the State.


Betty would walk in to the Koroit township each morning to catch the bus into Dennington which picked up other workers along the way to Nestle.  Work involved canning and packaging milk and baby products.  Apparently the American Forces who were in Melbourne in the tens of thousands liked powdered condensed milk products. She would leave home before 7.00am and many times did not return until after 9.00pm.


With war time rationing it was an austere time. Though Betty’s mum was a dressmaker and along with produce from the small farm there was enough to go around.  Grandma Cashill would repurpose flour sacks into shirts and her brother, Cyril’s mailman uniforms into trousers for the boys. Electricity was not connected to the house until 1952, coincidently on the day that Betty was married.


Sometime in the late war period Betty went on a holiday for a few weeks to Sydney with some friends from Nestle.  She flew presumably in a light aircraft via Essendon Airport to Sydney. She says she used her holiday pay to afford it.


On the completion of the War and the return of servicemen, Betty returned to home duties.  By this time her oldest sister Joyce had married a sheep farmer from Bessiebelle, which is further west, and the first niece and nephew had arrived.  At times she was called upon to help out with the kids on the farm.


On St Patrick’s Day, 17th March 1947 it started raining in the district.  It rained for three days in the broader area and extensive floods resulted in several deaths. Joyce’s family had to be evacuated from the farm at Bessiebelle in the short term.  In the longer term the previously dry Tower Hill Lake was filled.  A decision was made to regulate the outlet and artificially keep the level up to create a permanent lake.



Betty (Right), Jack and Annie Cashill (Centre), unknown (Left) at Rosemount, Hepburn Springs circa 1946/47


Betty had the opportunity to work over several summers at a guesthouse called Rosemount in Hepburn Springs owned by her uncle Jack Cashill. However, there was little on offer in Koroit and in Betty’s own words … “nobody there she wanted to marry”.  In 1948 she moved to Ballarat to live with one of her Lawless aunties and work at Coles Department Store.  In those days Coles was a general store rather than a grocery.


At Coles she made several good friends and together they would go on outings and to dances in the area and occasionally in Melbourne.  Again there are many photos of outings in the region.  It was on a trip to Melbourne in 1952 that she met Bern Croker.  Her life as a country girl was soon to end.



More stories by Keiran Croker can be read Here.



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About Keiran Croker

Keiran is a lifelong Swans supporter, despite a brief dalliance with the Cats and Tigers in primary school years. Family connections to Port Melbourne and South Melbourne demanded loyalty to the Swans. The long wait for success was worth it.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Brilliant life Betty! You must be so proud of your mum Keiran, looking forward to reading Part 2.

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