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Dressmaker with an independent spirit moves into Rushall Park

June 19, 2019

Helen Mallett was an independent woman who left home as a teenager to stay with friends, quite unheard of in the 1870s. She earned her living as a dressmaker and owned her own shop in Gippsland before returning to Prahran and then into Rushall Park in 1932.

Helen was born in Prahran on 14 January 1863. Her father, Thomas Brimacombe Mallett travelled to Melbourne, Australia with his brother Frederick from England in 1853 on the ship the ‘Indian Queen’.  They were both carpenters. After a couple of years in the goldfields in Ballarat, Thomas settled in Prahran. Her mother Louisa Watkinson travelled to Melbourne, Australia with her family in 1855 on the ship ‘Ivanhoe’. Louisa and Thomas met in Prahran and were married at the All Saint’s church, South Yarra in 1859.

Thomas bought land in Charles Street, Prahran which extended through to High Street and built a two- room shack-style cottage. In 1867, a ‘better’ family home was built which is still there today. It was during this time that Thomas was elected a member of the Old Colonists’, under the presidency of Francis Henty.

Helen’s childhood was difficult. Her mother, Louisa, died in 1870 when Helen was seven years old. Helen helped care for her three young siblings and then, her two half-sisters.

Karen Maynard, Helen’s great great niece, has been researching Helen’s story says: “It appears that Helen, a woman with a mind of her own, left home to stay with friends for a while.”

“While we don’t know where she went or what she did for at least a decade, we catch up again with Helen in 1903 through electoral rolls,” Karen said.

“At the age of 40, she is living in the now deserted township of Outtrim in Gippsland where she earns her living as a dressmaker and has her own shop.”

According to newspapers of the day, we learn that her shop survived a fire and severe storm damage. Possibly exhausted by the experience, Helen moved back to Prahran in about 1914 where she continued working as a dressmaker.

In 1925, she moved to 8 Grosvenor Street in St Kilda from where she applied to enter the Rushall Park village. She moved into the Edwin James Cottage (pictured), designed by architect Joseph Crook, in Coppin Avenue in 1932 where she died twenty years late at the age of 89 years.

Karen Maynard muses that Helen would have enjoyed her time living in the pleasant surroundings of Rushall Park.

"There is nothing I would change that would make my life any better. I have two loving sons and family and I thank God every day that OCAV took me in when I had nothing," said Jill Dale, Braeside Park resident.

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