THE South Gippsland Group of Melbourne Legacy held their 63rd Annual Changeover and Luncheon at the Leongatha RSL on Sunday.
The group welcomed guest speaker Bert Dennis who has close ties with Legacy, after the organisation provided vital support and assistance to his widowed mother during his impoverished childhood.
The hope to increase the awareness of the support that Legacy provides families and Bert’s story is one that epitomises the difference the help of Legacy has made to some people’s lives.
Bert’s remarkable life story began in Gippsland with his birth in Sale on April 12, 1935 and on both sides of his family his roots are strongly entrenched in the region.
Bert’s mother Coy was born in 1907 and by the time she was about nine her family was living north of Maffra in Valencia Creek. They later moved to Myrtlebank, near Sale.
In September 1926 Coy married returned serviceman Stan Peters.
Stan had lived and worked in the Gippsland area since he was a teenager.
Stan had joined the AIF, survived the war and returned to Gippsland in 1918.
He took up land at Myrtlebank under the government’s Soldier Settlement Scheme.
Upon their marriage, Coy and Stan grew maize on the 48 acre property at first, before later concentrating on dairy.
Between April 1927 and October 1932, Coy and Stan celebrated the birth of three children – Evelyn Ivy Peters, Allan Stanley Peters and Irene Lorraine (Rene) Peters, before tragedy intervened soon after.
In January 1933, Stan was amongst a group of men who went fishing at Letts Beach. He became unwell on the trip, collapsed and died of heart failure.
Following the tragedy, Coy continued to manage the farm with the help of friends. One of Stan’s mates – George Walker Dennis – came to the property to lend a hand.
Like Stan had done, George had also fought in Europe in the First World War.
Coy and George married in Sale in February, 1934 and Bert was their first child.
Born in Sale on April 12, 1935, he was named Albert George Dennis and known within his family as ‘Alby’.
By this time, Coy and George had sold the dairy farm and after renting a small 10 acre farm they made a new home for their family at 46 McArthur Street in Sale.
Unfortunately, the war had deeply scarred George and his psychological problems became increasingly evident, as did his alcohol dependence.
George would come and go, often leaving Coy in desperate financial straits.
Further complicating the situation, Coy and George had another child – Elaine Dawn Dennis – to be known as Dawn – born on February 23, 1937.
In 1938, Coy brought Ivy, Dawn and Bert to Melbourne to live with her mother and father in Richmond. Coy’s two remaining children – Allan and Rene – stayed temporarily with different relatives in Gippsland before later reuniting with her and their siblings in Melbourne.
Realising she could no longer rely on George for support, Coy took on several jobs to make ends meet.
Tragedy again struck on December 16, 1938 when the deeply troubled George Dennis committed suicide in a room at the Junction Hotel in Collingwood.
Bert was just three at the time of his father’s death.
Coy harboured fears that the government’s Children’s Welfare Department might intervene and take her children away from her.
By the time Bert was 13, he had lived in 15 different houses and by the time he finished schooling at 21, he had attended 19 different schools.
He did not obtain his first pair of underpants until the age of 13.
At about this time, the outlook for Bert’s family began to brighten when they were awarded a commission house in West Ivanhoe and Coy was recognised as a War Widow and started to receive a pension.
As a result, Legacy came into their lives and provided considerable support to Coy and the children.
Much to his credit, Bert has come through his disadvantaged childhood to make an outstanding success of his life, both personally and in business.
Amongst numerous honours, Bert was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in January 2005 for his service to the land and housing industries, to the community through contributing to debate on urban planning and for his support of charitable organisations.
Legacy is dedicated to the caring of families of deceased veterans and today their services assist over 100,000 widows and 1900 children and dependents with a disability.
Legacy is a voluntary organisation supported by veterans, serviceman and women, and volunteers drawn from all walks of life.