‘Toota’ one of Benalla’s most memorable characters

By Simon Ruppert

When the Great War broke out, Cyril Richard Eddy or "Toota" was a miner living in California Gully, Bendigo. He enlisted.

Toota’s patriotism was proud. He had the Australian coat of arms tattooed on his chest.

He was posted to 14th Battalion then forming in Broadmeadows. After training in Egypt, Toota landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

There he was diagnosed with typhoid. Toota was transferred to Fulham military hospital in Britain via Malta for treatment and recovery.

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His record shows he was punished regularly for unauthorised absences as were 10 per cent of all Great War Australian soldiers.

Like 11 per cent of Australian soldiers of the Great War, he was treated repeatedly for venereal disease.

By war’s end, Toota had been gassed severely twice and promoted to Lance Corporal.

Despite his lapses, Toota was a brave soldier. In July 1918, he was awarded the Military Medal at Le Hamel.

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His section carried barbed wire coils forward despite Toota being seriously wounded in the chest.

Toota still carried a coil himself. His section finished its task. Toota then collapsed from blood loss.

Toota did not return with other Anzacs in 1918. He was ill with scabies and then trench fever.

By May 1919, Toota was back in Australia. Toota undertook vocational training offered by the army. He learnt hairdressing.

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In 1916 Toota had married Daisy Early from Dorset. Daisy never came to Australia.

In 1928 Toota opened a hairdressing salon in Bridge Street. He lived behind the salon.

His spare time was split between bicycle racing and excursions on a large noisy Indian motorcycle.

In August 1938, Toota entered Benalla’s fundraising efforts with a flourish.

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A packed Shire Hall rocked with laughter when Toota and "Tuppy" Callow, another Benalla character, performed the Dance of the Fairies and then performed various dances with eight other cross-dressing "Stylish Steppers".

The Black Band Revue had a range of performances that night but Toota and Tuppy won the crowd.

They repeated their triumph in 1946 before five hundred in the Shire Hall. There a debutante ball was held.

Debutantes, the local member’s wife, the mayoress and ladies in waiting were all men extravagantly dressed as women.

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Tuppy and Toota were flower girls. They raised $140 for a football trip to Melbourne.

Toota founded Benalla Motorcycle Club in 1949 and Benalla Cycle Club. Road racing was the latter’s main interest.

Toota organised the races and contributed prizemoney. In addition, he always managed to secure donations for Benalla hospital.

At Christmas, he visited the hospital weighed down by gifts and cigarettes for all.

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He always contributed a packet of cigarettes for each player in a team that won the premiership. Toota ran fetes and acted as assistant coach for the All Blacks.

He delighted in entertaining children. Children loved Toota. His generosity made him an all-year Santa Claus. Everyone knew Toota.

Toota died at 61 on Boxing Day in 1953 in his living quarters behind his salon. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Benalla cemetery.