By Narelle Coulter
Visitors to Valley Village Mews often look quizzically at manager Cynthia Mack and ask her about the two loose pale bricks in the foyer of the Dandenong retirement village.
“People say ‘why do you have those bricks here?’ I say because they’re special,” Cynthia said.
The bricks are a link the village’s past, which was constructed on the site of the old Ordish Firebrick Company.
William Percival Ordish was one of Dandenong’s pioneering business identities.
When he died in 1930, a newspaper obituary paid tribute,
“Mr Ordish, who lived at Dandenong, set out one day with a barrow and a shovel to prospect for clay.
“In what was then a large open paddock on Stud Road, he found that for which he sought, and the digging of that first barrow load of clay laid the foundation stone of what was destined to become a flourishing business.
“From humble beginnings in the early 1890s, the business flourished when Mr Ordish secured a contract to supply bricks to the Victorian Railways. It eventually became the best known fire-brick manufacturer in Victoria.
“No traveller along Stud Road has passed without being impressed by the great line of kilns which have grown upon that spot where a young man delved for his first barrow load of clay.”
The Ordish Fire Brick Company became a family business, with William’s son Rowland and then grandson Joseph also among the Ordishes to work there.
Rowland had two sons Thomas and Joseph. Tragically, their mother died when the boys were very young and the siblings were separated.
Joe attended Dandenong Primary School. He worked in the family business before volunteering for World War I serving on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
William Ordish sold his business in 1922 but the works continued production until 1975.
The brick chimney was demolished in May 1984.
The large tract of land was purchased by the developers of Valley Village Mews. The first residents moved into their new homes in December 1986.
Today the village comprises 148 units and the former quarry is now a caravan park, tennis courts, bocce court and vegetable garden.
Village resident Dorothy Moysey’s first husband, George McKinnon, worked at the brickworks.
George, who had grown up on a property on Frankston Road, was a farmer before joining the Ordish workforce.
“He used to come home pretty dirty,” remembered Dorothy, who has lived in Dandenong for her entire 90 years.
“He would ride his bike to work from Heatherton Road.”
Dorothy remembers George enjoyed his job operating machinery at Ordish and was sad to leave. He later became a gardener at the crematorium.
Fellow resident Robert Kett and his wife Gwynne put together a short history of the Ordish Firebrick Company, which hangs framed in a room off the reception foyer.
“It’s great for residents to know the history of the place and what was here before our lovely retirement village,” Cynthia said.