Earnest Renault did not have the best start in life. He was born illegitimate in 1917.  His mother Violet successfully  sued his father, Raymond (later named as Ronald) Holmes, for maintenance. Oddly enough Violet married a William Holmes in 1919, when Ernest was two years old. I wonder whether Raymond and William were related?

However, neither man appeared to be present in Ernest’s life and he retained the surname Renault. After Violet died (date unknown) the boy went to live with his maternal grandparents, Frederick and Elizabeth Renault.  The couple lived in a modest home at 3 Collins Street in  South Launceston.


Where Ernest Renault grew up.

The home still stands.

Unfortunately, as an  adolescent Ernest did not get along with his grandfather.  The following document is from the Children of the State Department, in 1932. Frederick had sought to have his grandson sent to a children’s home. Note that Frederick blames his wife Elizabeth, for spoiling Ernest.


Elizabeth Renault took a very different view of who was causing  the problems and clearly loved her grandson.  Note the middle paragraph in the next document. I have typed it out below as it’s a bit hard to read.

The grandmother came to see us about a fortnight ago and told us that it was not the boy’s fault, said her husband was very hard on the boy, swore at him, when he was home he was told to get out, and when he was away from home he was told that he was not to go away, the grandmother appears to be very fond of the boy and told me she did not want to part with the boy.


It was a disastrous situation.  Within a couple of weeks, as the Department had  warned, Ernest was sent to the  now notorious Ashley Boy’s Home at Deloraine.

Ashley Boys Home, where Ernest was sent in 1932.


The correctional institution was used as a threat by parents  of both and girls for  decades. My sister and I used to stay with our Aunt in Deloraine in the 1950s and when Ashley’s siren sounded to announce an escape we were  equally horrified and fascinated.

To his credit Ernest behaved very well. His grandmother wrote to ask about him at Christmas the same year  and was told there was no need for him to return after the holidays. I can’t help wondering how his grandfather reacted, and whether things improved at home.

Clearly Ernest was a bit ‘lost’ and needed something to focus his mind. I’m not sure whether he found a job at this point, but he certainly stumbled upon something he was good at.  It came about due to a discussion in a local shop.

A mainland newspaper had run a story about a Melbourne man who set a world  record by consuming 43 bananas  in one sitting.  Amid  talk about the record, someone offered a wager if anyone present could better that  record. And yes, Ernest took up the challenge.

Ernest tried to set a banana eating record.


Accordingly, punctually at 4.50pm, Ernest Renault of 3 Collins St., South Launceston, began his attempt on the record. At 5.10 pm  the attempt had failed, for with 35 to his credit, Renault found that the thought of another banana was anathema.  ‘The bananas made me feel hungry, but I was too full to eat any more ,’ Renault said when speaking of his record breaking attempt at a later hour. ‘I had a large tea when I got home at 6.00pm, but since then I have spent 1s. 6d. (one shilling six pence) on medicine, because I felt so ill’.  (Mercury, July 22 1937)

Did Ernest give up? Not on your life. He just needed a bit of practice.


Ernest Renault became the 1930s equivalent of an Instagram star. His challenges with other banana eating  champions were widely reported over the next few months.  The only problem was that his loving grandmother was very against these contests.  Perhaps she recognized something a little dangerous in her charge’s character, that he was impulsive, headstrong and naive.

The greatest rival to the Tasmanian champ was Mervin Walmsley, who had the advantage of working on a banana plantation in Tweed Heads. Mervin demolished 56 bananas in an hour. However, Ernest’s half hour record still stood. Off he went to Hobart with the aim of making a newsreel about his world record. He dreamed of making his living from banana eating.

Ernest Renault

Ernest Renault

Honestly, how did those young men manage to eat so many bananas? I watched a recent Youtube video of three men wolfing them  down  in a contest when I was researching this article.  The winner managed only 19.

The rest of Ernest’s colourful life is told in this SECOND EPISODE.








  1. Another fascinating story! Looking forward to Part 2!

    • Pauline

      Let’s just say that he was quite a character!

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.