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About Maurice O'Keefe

Maurice O’Keefe grew up in Preston, Melbourne and being one of seven children.

It was his mother who found him his apprenticeship at George Rath’s in North Melbourne. He describes George Rath’s, as “a top place with fourty staff and about three or four apprentices.” At Rath’s he packed cakes and dipped lamingtons but he remembers watching the cake decorating and in particular the cake that Rath’s made each year to celebrate the Queenie, the elephant at the Melbourne Zoo’s birthday cake. Maurice rode his push bike to and from work – from Preston to North Melbourne. He credits his good health today on this exercise when he was young and eating cake when he got to work.

William Angliss Food Trade School opened up not long after he started at Raths and he went there ½ a day a week. He says he didn’t have to work hard there – just put in an appearance. He does remember that Jock Martin was the pastry cook teacher and that he was brought out from Scotland.

Maurice was 16 when WWII broke out and he joined up as soon as he turned 18 joining the Airforce. Maurice was 16 when WW11 broke out. As soon as he turned 18, he joined the air force. He eventually became a radio operator on Lancasters with the 460 Squadron. The transmitter and receiver are under the starboard right wing, and it is on display in the aircraft in the war memorial in Canberra. After the war he went back to Rath’s to finish his apprenticeship but found it difficult as he had changed due to his war service as a Lancaster Bomber, and the people at Rath’s treated him as if nothing had changed. At William Angliss a Swiss teacher Mr Seedemon challenged him about ruining German cities.

Maurice finished another 2 years as an apprentice moving to a small bakery in Preston Frank Berry.  This suited him and he learned a great deal – making sponge drops and other products. Everything was made by hand. When Frank sold the business he decided he didn’t want to work making cakes any longer. He took time out to work as a manual labourer – free of all responsibility. At the same time as gaining his apprenticeship he had been ‘swatting morse code and studying to get radio ticket.’

He took off to Tasmania to ride bike and ended up at the Bronte Park Hydro Electricity site and worked there from the start to the finish as a sweets cook. Earning enough money to buy his own home and to set himself up in business.

Thinking a small country bakery would be the best option he went to Warracknabeal to learn bread baking skills but realised that he was too late to make the bakery business work. There had been a great deal of change in the small bakery business and it was not a good time for small operators. Instead he bought a newsagency in Bendigo and worked at that business for seventeen and a half years.

His advice to apprentices: “there are opportunities out there. You just have to work hard at finding them and then work hard at them.”

Summary of the Intervew

 

Interviewer: Jill Adams
Interviewee: Maurice O’Keefe
Date: 19 August 2010
Recording Format: MP3

Time Content Key Words
0.33   Background

  • Received Merit when he was 12 years and 4 months which was too young to go to work
  • He went to Abbotsford Tech for a year then went to work at Preston Post Office (for 1 ½ years)
  • Attended night school at Postal Institute, but decided not to get a permanent job
Merit; St Joseph’s Technical College; Abbotsford; Preston Post Office; Postal Institute; exam
2.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.15
 
  
 
  
 
  
11.10

 
Apprenticeship

  • His mother found him an apprenticeship with Pastry-cook George Rath
  • Top place in Melbourne had 40 staff, 3 or 4 apprentices who would pack cakes and dip lamingtons; memory of watching them make wedding cakes and every year a special birthday cake for Queenie the Elephant at Melbourne Zoo
  • Talks about health as a child of 7, struggling to eat well; would eat cakes from shop
  • War broke out in 1940; in 1942- joined the RAAF
  • William Angliss Institute opened just after he joined up (1941); taught by Jock Martin who was the pastry cook instructor
  • George Rath didn’t want him to join up but he joined up as soon as he turned 18; went into the Air force
  • Didn’t want to go back to making cakes after the war
  • Went back to Rath’s after the war as he needed to work, decided to complete his apprenticeship but didn’t enjoy Rath’s as they treated him as though nothing had happened when in reality his life had been changed by the war and his experiences so he quit after a short time
  • Continued with a pastry cook in Preston – Frank Berry showed him how to do everything done by hand
George Rath; Capitol Theatre; North Melbourne Town Hall; cakes; Port Monsdale; air force; Lamingtons; Wedding Cakes; Queenie the Elephant; Melbourne Zoo; Dick Leter; Birthday Cake; Air force; RAAF; Preston; Jock Martin; Scotland; pastry cook instructor; gluten; flour; pastry; sponge; Jack Sharp; Mr West; scientist; Fergusons; William Angliss Institute (WAI); Empire Training Scheme; Frank Berry; sponge; Epworth; Cream Puffs; cake decoration; McGrath’s; pastry cook;
14.58

 
Training at WAI

  • Went to WAI one afternoon a week for 2 years to complete his apprenticeship
  • Staff had changed, teacher was Mr Seedemon (from Switzerland)
Apprenticeship; Mr Seedenmon;
15.37

 

 

 

 
19.05
Working as a pastry apprentice

  • happy with Frank Berry; really learned the trade because he was in a small place
  • No strain at WAI you just had to put in an appearance but you learned more in the trade
  • Frank Berry sold the business 2 years later and he stayed on for 3 months then was sacked and moved to Jack Sharp’s
  • It was the best thing he ever did – learned to make sponge; was a big place with 5 on staff; finished there as foreman (too much responsibility)
Frank Berry; Rath’s; pie dough; sponge; food trade school; Parliament House; Swiss House; Mr Seedenmon; 1947; Jack Sharp; pastry cook; bakers; Northcote; scotch oven; Fergusons;
20.30

 

 

 

 

 

 
Career Highlights

  • Worked as builder’s labourer for a month to escape, and rode his bike around Tasmania
  • Got to Bronte Park Hydro-Electric Park and worked there as pastry cook 7 days a week
  • Worked there for 3 years – start to finish of the dam- and made enough money to buy his own home then didn’t work for 3 months but then went to work on the radio (3DB) as a  transmitter
  • Then went to work in country baker in Warracknabeal for 2 years making bread and learned about yeast and bread and about making dough for the bakers
  • His first child born and was expecting second child when his wife went back to England for 6 months
  • Contacted Master Pastry Cooks Association and they advised him not to buy a shop because the business was changing and he would not make money out of it
  • So he decided to give the trade away
Tasmania; Bronte Park Hydro-Electric Park; dam; Preston; radio; 3DG; pastry; recipes; Warragul; Zachau; Warracknabeal; yeast; bread; dough; 150 C; 70-80 C; temperature; England; Master Pastry Cooks Association; homemade cake shops; meat pie; wages; George Rath; trade; thruppence;
30.05 Interview Ends  

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