Kyabram Free Press
Willie Gee — market gardener
William (Willie) Gee was a well-known identity in Kyabram for over 50 years and was fondly remembered by many people in the district. Willie had a market garden in North Boundary Rd (now Graham Rd) and sold fresh fruit and vegetables around town. Many happy tales have been related of Willie Gee and his green 1927 Chevrolet van — mostly about the noise it made.
Willie Gee was born in Sunwai, China (circa 1881), and left with some friends to come to Australia in 1900. He left China because he had four brothers at home and thought it was up to one of them to leave and make his way somewhere else.
He disembarked in Sydney and worked in various towns and cities before moving to Melbourne, where he had cousins. He worked there as a cabinet maker for a number of years.
Willie then moved north, where he worked for six years in Echuca growing tomatoes. He and three friends left Echuca for Kyabram sometime after 1918 to establish a market garden.
Willie met his wife, Alice, in Melbourne where they were married in 1918. There were seven children in the family.
Willie Gee and his van were a popular sight as he delivered his fresh fruit and vegetables from his market garden around the town.
I have heard a number of stories about the noise and smoke that came from his vehicle as he eased it from a “perspiring stop to a reluctant go”.
Gus Underwood says, having been a paper boy in the 1950s, he still has memories of Willie starting up his van across from the old paper shop, which was a sight to behold. The old green van
would shake and rattle and belch white smoke (which billowed from an old exhaust system) before take-off. The van was heard and seen by many, not only in the immediate “launching area” but from many parts of town.
“MR GEE NATURALISED” was featured on the front page of the Free Press dated May 30, 1963.
It was a proud moment for Willie and his family when he became an Australian citizen at the Kyabram Borough Council Chambers in 1963 at the age of 83 years. Cr Tom Atkins was mayor at that time.
His interests were sleeping, eating and pottering around the market garden. He had not heard from his brothers and sisters for many years, as they were behind the ‘Bamboo Curtain’ in China.
Willie died in 1969 aged 88 years. He and his wife, Alice, are buried in the Kyabram Cemetery.
— Compiled by Eileen Sullivan from past articles in the Free Press.