Brotherhood Books in Kensington up and running after being devastated by floods

Brendan Rees

Brotherhood Books, a Kensington-based social enterprise, which sells second-hand books online to raise money for community projects, is back in operation after being ruined by flood waters last October.

The flooding, which occurred when the Maribyrnong River burst its banks, caused extensive damage to the warehouse on Hobsons Rd, and destroyed more than 20,000 books or a third of its stock.

Brotherhood Books manager Greg Simpson said it was a “pretty epic clean-up job”, with crews spending about four months refurbishing the office and clearing the mud-soaked floors in the warehouse, which had been 60cm deep in flood waters.

“There’s nothing anyone could’ve done about it. You can’t control it. It was pretty powerful stuff and they had to get out of here basically while the cars could basically be driven – it was that intense,” Mr Simpson said.

He said they were unable to have volunteers in the warehouse for two months, while the clean-up was carried out by professionals.

Mr Simpson said some members occupied an upstairs space and did the “best we could to get by” while the downstairs office had carpet, plastering and power boards replaced.

But in late February, the team was able to resume their normal operations, with about 100 volunteers back in full swing; moving trolleys and sorting books in the warehouse.

While the floods had been devastating, Mr Simpson conceded it “could have been a lot worse, we weren’t put out of business”.


There are people a lot worse off than us so it reminds you to be grateful for what you do have.


Brotherhood Books, which is part of charity Brotherhood of St Laurence, is one year into its five-year lease at its Hobsons Rd location.

All profits from book sales go towards numerous Brotherhood programs, including refugee support to the HIPPY Australia program, a free, home-based parenting and early childhood learning program and a breakfast club, which allows children to enjoy a nourishing meal every weekday before school, and take part in fun, learning activities.

Mr Simpson said while they were slowly rebuilding their database, there was one particular item – a World War One diary – found by a volunteer, that left him speechless.

“We didn’t believe for a second that anyone would give that away deliberately,” he said.

The diary was written by James Leslie Robinson, known as Les, a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver, who was just 19 when he enlisted for service in 1915.

After putting a callout to Robinson’s family through an article published in The Age, Mr Simpson was astonished when he received a call from Robinson’s niece Jenny Robinson, 80, within 24 hours.

Jenny travelled from Apollo Bay, in Victoria’s southwest, to collect the diary from Mr Simpson at the warehouse on March 7.

Speaking to North West City News just days after having the diary returned to her family, Jenny said was thrilled and couldn’t thank Brotherhood Books enough.

“What is in my mind, is very much is how great the people are at Brotherhood Books. Within all of their books, they found it; and they took the time, through the media, to get the message out that they were looking for the family, so I think all credit to them,” she said.

Jenny said she believed the diary had mistakenly been placed in a box of donations after her family home in Glen Iris – where her parents had a significant collection of books – was sold about three years ago.

“Other things got dispersed to family members, so I kept thinking, ‘oh, maybe somebody’s got it’, so it was all a bit of a mystery,” she said.

“My family has always loved history; we’re family of teachers and we taught history. I’ve got nieces and nephews who are really interested in family history, so the diary is a huge stimulus for them and their family heritage.”

Jenny said Mr Simpson’s mother Rosemary kindly transcribed the diary, which, on reflection was a “reminder of how horrific wars are”.

“Uncle Les was a very beautiful uncle. The amazing thing in reading through his diary is despite the work he did as a stretcher bearer, what he saw, what he experienced, there’s no emotion, there’s no kind of explanation of his reaction to anything, no matter how terrible.”

“To me it’s even more of a miracle that Uncle Les kept one and he wrote in it, just so regularly and that it actually survived with him ‘til the end of the war, despite all the mud and, and all the rain and all the conditions, so to me that’s really amazing that the diary got through the war.” •

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