Merv Allen Remembers (Part 1)

Growing up in Henley South

My name is Merv Allen.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to live on the Esplanade at Henley South all of my life. I was born in 1939 and my father and my mother purchased a house at 131 Esplanade in 1942 for £1,250 pounds ($2,500). The house was very similar to most of the houses on the seafront, they were all bungalows and no enclosed verandahs. Over the years since the war, many of the verandahs have been enclosed and some of the older lovely houses have been bulldozed to make way for the modern days of development.

Going back to when I can recall things clearly, in 1945, after the Second World War there was barbed wire fences all the way along here. In front of the barbed wire fences there were infrequent trenches. I can remember looking out of the bedroom window one day and seeing soldier’s heads  sticking out of the trenches. I suppose that was a military exercise probably late in 1945 just before the end of the second world war.

Front yards of the houses extended out, probably about 15 metres beyond the boundary and the local people kept their roadways, the so-called roadway, which was lawn and that they made it themselves and watered it themselves. These lawns then extended into the sand dunes and the sand dunes had shacks dotted infrequently along here. But between Henley Beach Rd and the Torrens Outlet there were probably 15 or 20 shacks. Down at West Beach there were a continuous row of shacks.

(Video recorded on April 24, 2023)

Note: The transcript above was created using AssemblyAI to convert the video into text then manually corrected. 

The Esplanade

Now, in about 1947, the Esplanade roadway was created.

The vision of the South Australian government was to have a coastal pathway from Marino Rocks all the way through to Outer Harbour, but that was pushed aside by other thoughts about which is the best way to develop the Esplanade. 

Once the roadway was built, the next problem was created. Big storms and so to protect the roadway they had to build a sea wall and the sea wall was built in about 1948 and it hadn’t been up very long and it was smashed by one of the big storms. In 1947 1948 the Barcoo was washed up down at Glenelg, which was a Navy frigate. The sea wall was effective, but it had to have reinforcements beyond on the land side and they built a metal slope, which is still in existence and can still be seen there all the way along from Henley Beach Rd down to the Torrens Outlet.  In some of those storms, the waves were so great that the houses used to vibrate with the thump of the wave hitting the wall and the spray from the off the sea wall was so great it actually filled two tanks at my parents’ house with salt water overnight just with buckets and buckets of sea water coming over the house. It was impossible, virtually impossible, to drive along the sea front through these great sheets of spray.

After that in 1957 they put great big boulders rocks based on the seaside of the sea wall and that led to the turnaround of sand reaccumulating on the beaches. For having those beautiful sand dunes before the roadway was built, they all got washed away with storms and the sea walls so that the sea wall created the problem of rapid movement of sand in high water storms.

After that, and over the years they developed Coast Park and the Esplanade has changed quite dramatically to the locals and from having a fairly poor roadway we’ve now got a beautiful roadway, nice pathway for bikes and pedestrians on the seaside and a few areas where residents can and visitors can sit down and enjoy the views.

(Video recorded on Monday April 24, 2023)

Note: The transcript above was created using AssemblyAI to convert the video into text then manually corrected. 

East of the Esplanade

Leaving the Esplanade, I will now track back to going eastwards back as far as the houses extended.

The houses stopped at Hazel Terrace. There were no houses between Hazel Terrace and Tapley’s Hill Rd, except for few market gardens around the eastern boundary of the city. Henley High School was not in existence and this area was frequently flooded. There was a man-made creek which extended from around Fulham all the way down to a dairy which extended which existed alongside the Henley Primary School.

The Henley Primary School’s history is quite interesting. The Henley Primary School was built in Henley South, but no one lived in Henley South other than 2, 3 rows of houses on the Esplanade, Military Road and East Terrace and Hazel Terrace, but there were very few people living there. Henley Primary School was built there because it was the only available dry land above flood marks, so the area used to flood, and Henley High School used to flood, and was built on reclaimed land.

In about 1957, the Housing Trust decided that the brought the dairy out. The dairy is quite interesting because it had a historical landmark there, so called Jerusalem after Captain White, who developed the Jerusalem area and by excavation by horse and cart and buggies they created man-made swamps which was a wildlife sanctuary for many native birds.  

(Video recorded on April 24, 2023)

Note: The transcript above was created using AssemblyAI to convert the video into text then manually corrected. 

Open Spaces and Liquorice Roots

I’ll just go back and talk a little bit more about the open spaces where the dairy used to be. There were around 250 milking cows in the dairy, but beyond existing Burnley Street, that was about the eastern boundary of the dairy but the open space used to extend further back.

And I can remember quite a few other lads would go up there to what we call the ‘licky root farm‘. The licky root farm was liquorice root.

Now, liquorice root that we love is in liquorice all sorts. Liquorice was a plant that probably grew about 18 inches that’s say 20-30 cm. But below that, below the ground, the liquorice root would go down and either run out horizontally or go vertically and we used to try and find what were the horizontal ones, running roots, we’d call those ‘runners’, and the vertical ones would call those ‘walkers’. The kids would love to find a ‘runner ‘rather than the ‘walker’, because if you find a ‘walker’ to get much liquorice root, you’d be digging down 3 feet (nearly a metre) the hole rather than just skimming across the surface of the land to get the ‘walkers’ out.

What did we do with the liquorice root?  

Well, I can remember Mr Morrow (unsure of name – editor), who was headmaster of Henley Primary School, he used to sell liquorice root. He’d come up with a sugar bag full of liquorice root and sell say, lengths of about six inches. That’s 15cm long and be about as thick as your little finger.

And you would wash it and then  just chew it, like just chew liquorice root and they gave this beautiful liquorice flavour.

(Video recorded on April 24, 2023)

Note: The transcript above was created using AssemblyAI to convert the video into text then manually corrected. 

Ray Burton - Milkman and Entrepreneur

I’ll get away from the liquorice root farm now.

One of the tradesmen of the day was a fellow by the name of Ray Burton.

Ray Burton must be one of the first motorised milkies. And my younger brother and I, both my brothers actually, we each worked with Ray Burton, delivering milk at different stages. But not only was Ray Burton a milkie, he was a real entrepreneur. His father bought him a block of land down at West Beach, and I remember digging the sand out to put his foundations in his house, which is at the corner of Stanhope Street and Military Road. That house still exists, so I helped put those foundations in.

But on the eastern side of Military Road, Ray Burton had land and he had a big freezer, and they used to store the milk in there. The milk from the South Australian Farmers Union was delivered by big lorries at 4 O’Clock in the morning, to Ray Burton’s depot, West Beach. Not only did he store milk there, but he then set up an ice round. But he was better than that, as the market gardeners, mainly Bulgarians, had no other service delivered, so he became the bread delivery, the paper round, the milk round, and the ice round. And so we delivered all these things through those back blocks of West Beach on dirt tracks.

Well, I guess around 1960, (I’m not quite sure what year the drive-in opened), but the West Beach drive-in opened up at the corner of Military Road and West Beach Road on the northeastern corner. Well, Ray Burton being an entrepreneur, thought he should deliver the Sunday Mail and Sunday Advertiser on the Saturday night. I can remember selling the Sunday Mail and the Sunday Advertiser on a Saturday night. And the cars would be queued up there, 200 or 300 cars queuing up to get into the drive-in, and so we used to walk up and down the parked cars, saying “got your mail, got your news, get your mail, get you…….”  and they would say, “got any females?” All those things.

Other things Ray Burton did at Christmas time, he delivered poultry as he had a yard there. He must have had 400 – 500 chickens. He said to my brother, who was still delivering, look young Dougie, you can stay home and pluck fowls.

Doug plucked fowls till he smelled like a fowl. It was worst job he could ever imagine. Plucking fowls!

(Video recorded on April 24, 2023)

Note: The transcript above was created using AssemblyAI to convert the video into text then manually corrected. 


  1. Sasha

    We are ɑ gaggle of volunteerѕ and starting a new scheme in our
    ϲommunity. Your website օffeгed us with helpful information to worҝ on. You’ve performed a formidable process and our whole
    neighborhood will be thankful to you.

    my site … eminent

  2. Chris Kendall

    A fantastic look back. My grandfather and grandmother built their house on Burford Road, across from Yeomans Gate at Henley Primary in 1955, so would have been one of the first settlers in the area. An area I love to this day.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *