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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
William 'Billy' Morris

Born: 1860; Died: 1941; Married: Louisa [Gozzard]

William Morris was the son of Henry Morris and Hannah (nee Cook), and one of eleven children. He was born in Camden and moved with his family to Ginninderra where they constructed a tanning pit and conducted a bootmaking business. Henry taught all his family the trade and continued his business in Ginninderra until his death.

William married Louisa Gozzard in 1886 and had the family home, 'Dellwood', built (by George Harcourt) a short distance north of the village. Louisa was one of two children born to Henry Gozzard (senior) and his wife Margaret [nee Cameron]. They had eight children: Clarice, Eileen, Henry (Harry), Zillah, Rose, Carl, Kathleen and Oliver John. Despite the demands of work and a large family he was involved enough in community affairs that he was present and took an active part in the inaugural meeting of the Hall Progress Association at the Cricketer's Arms, 12 October 1906. It is also recorded in Yemen’s Directory of the Landholders of NSW (1900) that he was growing oats at Dellwood. He participated in pigeon, hare and wallaby shoots, but seemingly not with the passion that many of his contemporaries showed.

William (Billy) commenced his bootmaking business from his home and later built the Bootmaker’s Shop in Victoria Street, Hall in 1907. His surgical boots were made to individual customer measurements and were of the highest quality, and he was recognised throughout the district. According to Leon Smith, 'as for material, make and fit, the Morris boots were practically unequalled, both for wear and water resistance'. [Smith, Memories of Hall]. Billy worked in his business until a few months before his death in 1941.

<b<The Big Boot</b>

Billy tanned his own leather at Dellwood and hand made boots for the district. He treated his bootmaking as an art, working long hours to make boots and shoes of the highest quality. He made shoes for the Crace and Campbell families. Son Harry would sell eggs and poultry on a Saturday and return with boots for repair.

After the client’s feet were measured and the patterns drawn up, the boots were cut on a wooden last. The most famous job was the 'Big Boot' made for Mr Harvey from Tinderry near Michelago, who ordered the largest pair of boots Billy ever made. The boot was so large Billy thought it worth recording the length by marking the distance with two half-pennies attached to the counter. “The counter with the two half-pennies” was well known in the district.

On the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary the Queanbeyan Age reported : Mr Morris had conducted a bootmaking business at Hall for over 40 years. He is one of the few surviving tradesmen who can treat a skin or hide from the animal to the finished boot. He is well known in the district for the high standard of his work. He carried on his trade until a few months ago when he suffered a somewhat serious illness. He maintains he has made the largest pair of boots in the state – number sixteens. He specialized in riding boots and cripples’ footwear for many years. [Queanbeyan Age 12.6.1936]

Bootmaker was his primary qualification, but William had other services to offer as well. In the back section of the shop, from 1912, he was agent for the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia for many years. He was also a barber – operating the only barber locally. He was no expert in the art of cutting hair, but it was a convenience. The barber’s chair sat in the front right hand corner of the shop.
Finally he was a bicycle repairer - the first in the district, as acknowledged in 'Cycling Canberra' [B. Malpass]. Under a counter was a store of bicycle parts. There was great pride in owning a bicycle and many early photographs feature them.

Music

Billy loved to play the fiddle and provided the music for dances in the district for many years. He would ride his bicycle to Queanbeyan, play until late, then peddled home to Hall. Neighbours regularly got together for events like 21st birthday parties, anniversaries and weddings, where Billy provided the music. Once Billy sat up for three nights waiting for the supply wagon from Sydney, to collect new violin strings, as he was afraid the driver would not leave them if he was not there himself.

Amongst the reports of his music-making we learn that the played at the Bachelors Ball at 'Bolton's Inn, One Tree Hill', at Gunganleen homestead for the Crace's annual ball ('as upon former occasions our local Paganini Mr W Morris provided the requisite accompaniment'), at the the Ginninderra Cricket Club Ball held in Mr EK Crace’s woolshed, and with messrs Flower, Winter, and Rochford at 'a ball and supper held in Mr James McCarthy’s woolshed at Glenwood in aid of the RC Church funds'.

When his teenage daughter, Kathleen, caught polio, he had her taught the piano as exercise for her damaged hand. Kath became a brilliant pianist and respected violin and piano teacher all her life. Billy wrote the 'Canberra Waltz' and Kathy adapted it for piano about 1927. Recently it was 'rediscovered' by the Monaro Folk Music Society and was adopted as their theme music.

The Morris Women

Billy’s mother, Hannah, was extremely skilled in making leather products and passed her knowledge to the family. Possum and fox furs were sewn into bed rugs by the Morris daughters. They also hand stitched fur stoles and all family members were participants in the business. At the age of twelve Kathleen won a prize for the fine even stitching of a petticoat at the 1912 Ginninderra Farmers’ Union Show.

Daughter Eileen conducted her dressmaking business in the southern end of the shop from 1908, when she was 19, until she married in 1910. Customers brought their own fabrics and Eileen made up garments to their designs. She made pillowslips etc, especially when warming up her machine. She also had a sweet counter opposite the bootmakers’ counter. Steadman’s sweets of all kinds were stored in glass jars with stoppers.

All her life Zillah seemed responsible for the orchard, vegetable garden, meals and running the house. Each day she peddled her bicycle from home to the shop to deliver her father a hot meal, wrapped in a tea towel, at mid-day.

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References

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