Olive Gray

Olive Gray in 1930

Olive May Gray was born was born on 3 May 1910 at home in the coal mining village of Chevington Drift, in Northumberland, England. She was the daughter of George Thomas Gray (1878-1954) and Isabel Luke (180-1964). The family lived at 31 Simonside Terrace.

She was one of five children born to the couple – with siblings Henry ‘Harry’ (1905-1992), Lillian (1907-1972), Olive (1910-1993), John (1913-2011) and George Edwin ‘Ed’ (1916-2006).

The village of Chevington Drift and Methodist chapel


Olive was baptised at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in the parish of Chevington, Amble Circuit, on 3rd May 1910.

Preaching services commenced in Chevington in 1905, and society was formed and in 1906 a small chapel was built which became an important centre of the village.

Olive’s father George’s occupation was listed as a miner. George worked in the East Chevington Drift Coal Mine that operated in the area from 1882 – 1962. The main pit was sunk in 1849 and closed in 1961.

The site of Chevington Drift in 1994 – now open fields with a coal dredger in the distance.

In 1994 my husband and I drove around for ages looking for the township of Chevington Drift to no avail.

When we finally stopped a local to ask directions we were told in a broad Northumberland accent that it had been  completely demolished and the whole township of people moved elsewhere by the National Coal Board in the 1970s to make way for opencast mining.

Inhabitants of these villages were moved to Amble and Hadston.

In 1910, the year of Olive’s birth, George made the momentous decision to leave England, and start a new life in a country far away – Australia. He was promised a good mining engineering job in the Wonthaggi Coal mines. So he left his wife and baby daughter behind and immigrated to Australia to begin a new life in Wonthaggi.

Broomhill Colliery housing

Meanwhile in England, Olive, her sister Lilian aged 3,  and her mother Isabel aged 30 are living with the Fletcher family in a tiny two roomed miners cottage at 2 Middle Row, Broomhill.

The Fletchers were already a family of six, so it must have been a terrible squash, in terrible conditions.

James Fletcher was a surface miner, and thirteen year old son already a pony driver in the coal mine. The pit ponies lived below ground, and rarely saw daylight.

Isabel and her children boarded the passenger ship “Gothic” in London bound for Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 3 December 1911.

Aboard were Mrs I Gray aged 30, Master H (Harry) aged 6, Miss L (Lilian) aged 3, Miss Olive aged 1, Miss M L Gray (Mildred Luke) aged 15.

Mildred Luke 1896-1978

Isabel’s sister, Mildred Luke also came on the voyage to help her sister look after the three young children.

Family story has it that Mildred didn’t want to come out to Australia as she had left a lad behind, whom she wanted to marry. Mildred returned to England soon after, and married her lad – George Liddle in 1920 in Broomhill, Northumberland.

In 1926 the family that included her husband George, a miner, and young children George and John immigrated to Melbourne, Australia aboard the “Hobsons Bay” in March 1926 from London.

Lil, Harry, Olive, George, Isabel, John and Ed Gray

Isabel and her family made their way down to Wonthaggi, to find that George’s promised job did not materialise and George was forced to work down the coal mines that he had come to Australia to escape.

Two more children were born, brothers of Olive – John and George.

Olive attend school in Wonthaggi and became headmistress of her house at Wonthaggi High School at the age of 15 in 1925.



Weekly Times 20 February 1926

She was involved in a bad bus accident which was reported in the newspapers.

She suffered a bad back injury and crushed hand, that affected her all her life.

In April 1927 Olive left school and had started working at the Shire Office in Wonthaggi for 9 years as the assistant to the Shire Secretary and Treasurer for the Shire of Bass.

She was a regular attender at the Wonthaggi Methodist Church, and was a Sunday School Teacher and choir member there from the age of 17.


Olive and her father George Gray on her wedding day

On 8 April 1939, the Rev Howard Kettle married 24year old William Gordon Mills to 28 year old Olive May Gray at the Methodist church in High Street, Northcote.   Gordon’s brother Harry and Olive’s sister Lilian were the marriage witnesses.

She was often at the Wonthaggi National Bank doing the banking as part of her job at the Shire Offices. They both attended the Wonthaggi Methodist Guild and church and had quite a few friends in common.

The couple honeymooned in Lorne and Apollo Bay and then lived with Gordon’s parents in Wonthaggi for a year at 5 Cameron Street from 6th May 1939.

Then, with rumours of war on the horizon they moved in with Olive’s parents at 117 St George’s Road, Northcote in 1940, where Olive remained for the duration of the war. Olive lived with her parents, brothers and sisters, and her daughter Val was born just before her husband enlisted in the RAAF as a radar operator in September 1942.

After serving in Darwin for almost 2 years, and New Guinea for most of 1945, her husband Gordon was finally discharged from the RAAF on 27 September 1945. After obtaining his discharge papers from the MCG he returned home to pick up the threads of civilian life again.

As Gordon was a National Bank employee, in those days he was transferred all over Victoria without any say. In 1945 the couple were sent to Bridgewater, 1947 Yallourn,  1952 Benalla, 1957 Apsley, 1959 Violet Town, 1960 Seymour, 1961 Learmonth, 1965 Natiumuk, 1968 Port Fairy, 1970 Winchelsea before they finally retired to Mornington in 1976.

A son Darryl was born to the couple in 1946. The small family must have felt like they had hardly unpacked in one home, before they were moved again.

Olive Mills with Jodi the dog at Frankston

In 1958 Olive was diagnosed with breast cancer which spread into her lymph glands. She had a partial mastectomy and skin graft from her leg.

The primitive radiation treatment she received left her with terrible burns and lifelong pain. She also suffered from angina, glaucoma, and nerve deafness. Her deafness was to be one of the hardest things she had to live with.

Olive enjoyed her life in Mornington and was very involved in the Mornington Uniting Church. Her husband Gordon passed away on 29 March 1991 (Easter Good Friday) from colon cancer in the Mornington Hospital, aged 76 years.

As she couldn’t live at home on her own, being almost completely deaf and unable to use the telephone, she moved into Mornington House Aged Care Facility in Benton’s Road for about a year before a place became available at the Violet Town Nursing Home where her daughter lived.

Gordon and Olive Mills at Violet Town 1983

I still remember the day we moved her from Mornington to Violet Town, stopping at my home in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges on the way for the night.

Olive enjoyed her time living in Violet Town in her independent room, and was pleased to be able to walk around to her daughter’s house and visit with family more often.

She attended both my sisters and my own wedding in 1992 in Violet Town and enjoyed both days tremendously.

Olive died on 21 August 1993, aged 82 at the Violet Town Nursing Home hospital, the cause of death given as heart failure.

She is buried in the Violet Town Cemetery.

Headstone, Violet Town Cemetery