Interview transcript from Illawarra Stories Oral History Project – Ann James
Interviewer: Darian Zam
Interview Date: 5 May 2009
Darian Right this is Darian Zam. I’m at the House of Ann James at 30 Church Street. It is the 5th of May 2009 and I’m interviewing for the Town Hall project. I’m here with Ann and her grandfather was, um, the Mayor of Wollongong in ’30, ’34 – ’30. It was about 30, up to 1938, wasn’t it?
Ann Yeah, definitely. After that because…
Darian I think, I think the articles cover something like ’35
Ann ‘Cos they went overseas in ’39 and he was still Mayor then so I think it was into the early ’40s.
Ann when he got back.
Darian Yeah. And so you were born in..?
Ann In ’39.
Darian And you lived, um, Keiraville was it that you said.
Ann No, here, I was born next door.
Darian You were born next door?
Darian Yeah. And, um, of course by then you’d, you’d remember very little, if any.
Ann Not the early days of Grandp-, I certainly don’t remember any of Grandpa’s, ah, days in, in Council.
Ann But, um,
Darian But did, um, I guess he would have continued to have quite a lot of reverence and, .
Ann Oh, gosh yes.
Darian And be invited to lots of things, so you would have seen quite a few balls.
Darian and performances over the years at the Town Hall.
Ann Yes, I remember my Mum talking about all the, the balls and the, the carry-ons and the parties and the, the afternoon tea parties and things that Grandma did. Um, but that was all hearsay but of course it’s what I remember [laughs].
Darian So she continued to also be quite active and organised things after…
Ann Oh, totally, yes, very much.
Darian she had finished being the Mayoress.
Ann Yeah. Yep, yep.
Ann And then Dad was on Council as an Alderman so Mum was, you know, busy with afternoon teas, and of course those were the days when you had afternoon teas and parties and…
Darian Too much work now apparently.
Ann Caterers in to do it [laughs].
Darian I think that should bring it all back. I think they should bring compulsory debutante balls back and, you know.
Ann Oh, yes, well, I mean, it’s all…
Darian It’s got to the point where, you know, it’s gone from being too much work to kids don’t have enough to do.
Ann It’s very sterile now, I think. It’s not, it hasn’t got any, oh respect, not respect, but tradition. You know, you haven’t got that anymore.
Darian Yeah. And people don’t mix as much anymore, ‘cos that’s something that Wollongong’s really well known for.
Ann Very much so.
Darian Of course, especially the Town Hall was the hub of that.
Ann My word it was.
Ann Yep .
Darian Um, the community mixing with a special accent on multicultural kind of ethnic communities.
Darian um, mixing together with, you know, um, I think the, um, immigrants balls I think. I think…
Ann Yes. I can, they were sort of, well after Grandpa’s day, ‘cos there weren’t many in those days, but, um, it was definitely a multicultural society when the, the Steelworks employed all the Italians and Greeks and the men came out and left all their wives and families behind. After a couple of years they played, saved up enough money to bring them all out. That was really when it started.
Darian Mm. Yeah. So that’s your Grandfather there.
Darian W. A. Lang. And so your mother wouldn’t have been called the Mayoress of course.
Ann No, Mum wasn’t Mayoress, no, Grandma was.
Darian Sorry, your Grandma. Who was actually called, she was actually addressed as Mayoress.
Ann Oh yes, Lady Mayoress.
Darian Yeah, well it’s a bit different now, isn’t it? You actually have to be the Mayor, but be a female to be called the Mayoress.
Darian So, yeah.
Ann Yeah, gone are those days.
Ann Now she’s definitely Lady Mayoress, very fitting.
Darian Yeah. And does, does your Mum remember going to things? Does she…
Ann Oh! Well she involved, she was in her teens then and they used to cook for everything. I mean Mum was roped into cooking sponges and scones and things for afternoon tea parties and, um, anything that was on in the, ah, civic side of things, um, Mum was involved in.
Darian So she, um, they used to still, I guess, make everything themselves.
Ann Totally, never bought a thing.
Darian Yeah, because of course later on what we’ve heard from people we’ve interviewed is that, um, one of the big caterers in this weather, there were a couple but one that people really talk about is the lady named Vi Johnson. And apparently…
Ann Vi Johnson. She was Mum’s best friend.
Darian Oh, right.
Ann And she was from the Grand Hotel. She and her husband ran the Grand Hotel.
Darian Oh, right.
Ann Which is now where Clooney’s is it, the, the night club thing there. That used to be the Grand Hotel, and Vi did all the, um, catering for the Queen and, and any dignitaries that came to Wollongong. She, um, was invited and it was done spectacularly, beautifully. She did the flowers, she did the tables, she did, you know, everything like that.
Darian Right. And ice sculptures too apparently sometimes.
Ann I can’t remember those, but definitely…
Darian And apparently people used to go to the, if there was also a dignitary or whatever in town, the place that you would be taken to would be Vi Johnson’s cafe or restaurant.
Ann Well, no, the Grand Hotel, the dining room at the Grand Hotel.
Darian Oh, okay.
Ann Oh yes, the Epicurean Club used to have their first meetings there and their meetings once a month. And, ah…
Darian Right. And of course, she must be passed away by now.
Ann She only, only just a couple of years ago.
Darian What a shame. I haven’t been able to find anybody else that knew her.
Ann Oh, gosh, everyone knew her, but, um, as far as,so now I can’t give you, I can give you her daughter’s, but, ah, the daughter lived in Sydney, so she wasn’t totally involved in it down here.
Darian She might have kept some things though. Ah, she well may have. Um.
Ann I don’t know whether I’ve got the daughter’s address now.
Darian You don’t know what her name is? Not Johnson.
Ann No, she’s not Johnson, she’s married, oh, I’ll think about it.
Darian Yeah, ‘cos she might have kept some stuff.
Ann I’m sure she would have kept a lot of Vi’s stuff.
Darian And there might have been some banquet menus or some photos of
Ann Well, that’s true.
Darian of tables.
Ann I know when the Queen came to Wollongong in, was it ’54, um, Vi did the catering it was at the RSL club, the, um, it wasn’t at the Town Hall.
Ann And Vi had to, ah, ring up the ladies-in-waiting and so forth and find out what the Queen ate, what she couldn’t eat and, um, Chicken Mornay or something she had for, I could – isn’t that silly how you can think of things like that. [laughs] I can remember telling Mum she did a beautiful chicken in a white wine sauce or, you know, a mornay type of thing for the Queen’s lunch. Um, and Prince Philip, Grandpa must have been on the official table or something, but it was long after ’54.
Darian Yeah it was 1954.
Ann Yeah, that’s right. He must be involved because he can remember, I can remember him saying afterwards Philip, when they finished the meal, Philip said to someone, “How do we get outta here?” And they said, “Down the red carpet.” [laughs].
Darian Yeah, right yeah.
Ann … procedures for Philip…
Darian But yeah, so we’ve had quite a few people bring in snapshots that they took, so, which has been great. One guy who ran the immunisations program, um, for the Council. A lot of that happened at the Town Hall.
Darian over a few decades. He had a lot of snaps that he’d taken himself of them going past in the Rolls.
Ann Well J. J Kelly was Mayor of Wollongong when the Queen came. And better not put that on there, he smoked like a chimney.
Darian Oh, okay.
Ann [whispers] fingers…
Ann Everyone was saying… [whispers].
Ann The common comment that, ah, you think of these horrible brown hands [laughs].
Darian Yeah, well, I guess everybody smoked in those days.
Ann Well, absolutely.
Darian so it’s probably quite.
Ann Absolutely and he was a chain smoker I can remember that.
Ann But, ah…
Darian So, ah, during that period I know that I saw some articles that they in ’39 they went overseas on a kind of Grand Tour or something.
Ann Absolutely, yes.
Ann And then War was declared. I think it was, they were over there and..
Darian Where, they were in Europe?
Ann They were in England I think. And, um, Dad must have sent them a telegram or I don’t know what happened. Um, they got the, or Dad suggested that they get on the first ship home, ah, because he could hear the rumblings and they felt it over there too. So they, they came home I think would, just before War was declared or just about the same time.
Darian Wow, lucky escape.
Ann So they, they got home in, ah, safely, yeah. That was a really Grand Tour, they met goodness knows who.
Darian I’ve just had a flashback, did you say during our last interview that you were born on – no, that was somebody else. The day that War was declared?
Ann No. I was born in July ’39.
Darian Yeah. So it was somebody else came in, who was born on the 3rd September.
Ann Oh, really!
Darian What a bad omen! [laughter]. So, okay, there was a couple of, couple of articles in there about the, um, I recall a big party was thrown at the Town Hall for the, their leaving party.
Ann Yes, yes.
Darian So, um, that sounds like it was a pretty fancy do. So, my favourite one was the Centenary Ball. Did you get my email by the way about, with the…
Ann Yes. Yes thank you. Yes, yes it was very interesting. I was going through that yesterday afternoon.
Darian That Centenary is my favourite article in here was the one where it listed actually what everybody was wearing.
Ann What everyone wore, yes.
Darian I think it was this one, ‘The Centenary Ball: A Peep at the Old World’. And it lists what everyone was wearing.
Ann My grandfather dressed up as a – what was it? And I was trying to pick him in leggings and, and ah, plumed hat or something or whatever it was. [laughs] I was thinking I could not imagine my Grandfather who I only ever saw in a three piece suit with, you know, tails and goodness knows what.
Darian Was he very, so he was a very formal person.
Ann Oh, very, very formal person.
Darian Yeah. Were you frightened of him?
Ann No, no, not at all. No, he was as soft as butter.
Ann And Grandma was the one that scared the pants off me. [laughs].
Darian Oh, right.
Ann So she was the real matriarch of the family.
Darian Yeah, behind every good man…
Ann My word, my word. And what Grandma said we did, you know.
Darian No, my grandmother was a bit like that. She washed my mouth out with soap once.
Darian She said, “If you say that again I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.” And she did. Right come to the bathroom. I never did it again.
Ann Yeah, that’s for sure.
Darian So yeah, so okay. Do you have any other particular memories that were passed down of other, um, things that happened while your grandparents were in office?
Ann I guess. Um, I think I said it before, ah, Grandma was the first, well, um, as Lady Mayoress to turn the water on from, um, the dam, ah, the first water supply to Wollongong and she, she actually turned the tap for that. Um, I think she was still Lady Mayoress, and she was the first person to play the organ at the Presbyterian Church, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on the corner. And they’d shipped the pipe organ from England originally, but they couldn’t get it down Bulli Pass, so they shipped it down to Wollongong Harbour and Mr Harmon, who had the horse and sulky delivery contract thing, brought it up from the, the harbour and delivered it to the Church, and the chap came out from Sydney and put it all together. And Grandma was the first one to play [laughs] the pipe organ there.
Darian Was that the church with the organ that later on they had the Olive Brown Fund to raise money to…
Ann No, that was Wesley.
Ann Olive, the Browns were Wesley Church, the Methodists. This one, Presbyterian, was on the corner of Church, ah, Kembla and Burelli.
Darian I guess Olive Brown’s long gone.
Ann Yes she has.
Darian Did you ever know her sister or her…
Ann Oh, yes I knew her, yes.
Darian Has her sister passed away too?
Ann Ah, yes, I think they’ve all, all gone from that vintage.
Darian I’ve been chasing around this last box of photos that were from James Studio.
Ann Oh, you found something from James studio?
Darian Well, not really. It’s just sort of gone AWOL and nobody knows where it is. Um, I spent hours on the phone. I’ve even talked to the woman that wrote the book on it who lives in Robertson somewhere and she said, “Whatever’s in the book, just let me know, and you can use the photos or send them.” But, two or three people have said, so I can say it’s true, that everything when they closed in the early ’70s, went to the City dump. So, well, as they said, “Well, why would we keep them?” You know, nobody was interested back then.
Ann That’s right.
Darian And we weren’t in it.
Ann So many people have done this with families.
Darian And so she, she kept some things and wrote the book because she worked there. She started photographing doing functions at the time when she was 16 years old, can you believe it? She started work there at 15 and by 16 I think Les James was, had died and Neville James was sick. And so she picked up a camera and away she went.
Fascinating to talk to you, but you know. Finally I talked to one of the, the daughters and I was just about to hang up the phone and she said, “Oh, I remember there was one box left over.” You know, and I said, “Do you know what happened to it?” She said, “Oh, I gave it to Olive Brown’s sister ‘cos she was kind of interested in that sort of stuff back then.” And she said, “I believe that she either gave it to the Mercury or she gave it to the Illawarra Museum.” Well, the Illawarra Museum said no, we don’t have it. The Mercury don’t have anything, they don’t have, they didn’t keep anything until 1979. And the library don’t have it either, so I’ve run dry after hours of research and there’s yes. Who knows, they could have been thrown out, but they, they went somewhere, yeah. So I give up on that one. But yeah, it’s amazing how many people have just chucked stuff. All the big photography studios that were in which I now know who they all are.
Ann Yes. Well, James I can distinctly remember James. They did all the school photos and all these sorts of things.
Darian She was really interesting to talk to. She said they used to go in for the functions they’d set up a studio, so on site studio for formal shots and then, ah, and then they’d have like a black and white roving photographer to do the candid shots.
Ann Yes, yes.
Darian So, we’ve managed to, people have brought in here and there are quite a few things from parties and, you know, Twenty-Firsts and what have you over the years. But nobody has kept anything.
Ann But see that was the only, only photography, as I said in my day, a, a box brownie was the only thing we did – had. And, I mean, cameras weren’t around as much as, certainly nothing like today. But, um, but people just didn’t take photographs, as much. If you did, you went to the studio and had them done. You know all the debutante balls and all that sort of thing, all of the studios did that. No one took a camera to the ball and took photos, it was the, um, studio.
Darian It was quite big business.
Ann Oh, gosh yes, my word.
Darian Yeah. So okay, well let’s run through some other questions ‘cos I know you’re probably – I can’t, actually, I’ve done so many interviews I can’t really remember…
Ann You can’t remember what you’ve done [laughs].
Darian what we talked about last time. Um, so just going back to, I’ll just run through some things and see if you remember. Um, I remember we did talk about the Civic Theatre and if you could remember going to see any of the movies, pictures there
Ann Many, many.
Darian over the years.
Ann Yes, ah. Um, and that was when, the one thing I can remember with the Civic Theatre was the, I worked out it must’ve been the Federation Ball, and I can see a cut-out or a picture or something of Sir Henry Parkes on the stage and that’s what made me think, well it had to be the Federation in 1950 I guess that was. But the one thing, well the only thing I can remember of that concert – I don’t know if was a concert or a ball -was everyone sang “Land of Hope and Glory” and these four girls walked in in their most beautiful dresses, and I can still see those dresses to this day. One was ruby red, one sapphire blue, one was emerald green and one was gold. And they just walked down the aisle and everyone was singing “Land of Hope and Glory.”
Darian Mmm. And that was your first memory wasn’t it?
Ann That was about the only memory besides pictures and things.
Darian So you would have been about 11 years old.
Ann It would have been easily, yes, yeah.
Darian And what was the Federation Ball…
Ann Or concert or something.
Darian Yeah. Yeah, was there an orchestra?
Ann Most likely because we were all singing hell for leather, so I’d say there would have been an orchestra. Yeah. Yes, most likely there would’ve been.
Darian Do you remember it being decorated?
Ann Well, as I say, I can remember, the big cut-out or the big picture or something of Sir Henry Parkes on the stage, that’s what made me sort of think it had to be the, but it would have been decorated up to the eyeballs with flowers and bunting and flags and things because they went overboard. Any of those types of balls or, ah, things. It was the done thing.
Ann You just put up flags and..
Darian Real occasion.
Ann Mmm, definitely, yeah.
Darian Yeah, there weren’t that many distractions back then. People sat in their seats the whole time.
Ann Well there were no balloons in those days and it’s sort of [laughs] it was all bunting or ribbons and flowers.
Darian Well, it’s funny, but I at, at, um, ah, Ribbonwood Centre after you, a couple came in who used to run a balloon company that did all the functions.
Ann That was Fairley.
Darian The Fairley’s came in.
Ann Yeah, Mrs Fairley, yeah.
Darian They came in to do an interview after you so, or maybe it was at the same time they…
Ann No, I met her going out, yeah.
Darian Yeah, um, okay. So that was probably the earliest thing that you remember. Um, the Queen’s visit, do you remember the, um,
Ann ’54. Yes.
Darian going to see her?
Ann Oh gosh, yes. All the schools lined the streets and waved their little flags and so forth, you know. As I said, the RSL club there, we had the luncheon or whatever it was. Ah, but I don’t know whether there was a march or there was a parade or…I think that it sort of started at the Town Hall and then all the schools walked down to the old Showground.
Ann It could well have been, yes. I can’t remember, but that sounds quite logical because that’s what everyone used to do when there was a dignitary, um, go to the Showground and then drive around in their Jeep or whatever and then go to lunch.
Darian One lady said a special assembly was called the previous day to make sure all the girls had washed their hair.
Ann Oh yes, we had to have our socks up to special height and shoes cleaned and ribbons done at the hair. Oh yes, it was a big job. It was [laughs[ an important visit. I suppose the Queen probably didn’t even notice, she probably saw a blur of school uniforms as she went past.
Darian Yeah, it’s the thought that counts. Um, okay, so just getting back to the Civic Theatre, um, were there any particular movies you remember seeing, like any favourites that you had, like Tom Mix or, I don’t know, Joan Crawford or thinking in the ’40s, Cary Grant. Any of the serials, did they have serials?
Ann I probably saw them, but yeah, nothing is standing in my, my mind.
Darian Yeah, and, um, a story that a lot of people tell is the, um, that you used to go to the Civic Theatre and you used to…
Ann Roll the Jaffas down [laughs].
Darian Yeah. Did you ever do that?
Ann Absolutely, absolutely! [laughs].
Darian Yeah. So what’s the point to, um, to…
Ann Well it was a wooden floor there was no carpets, it was a wooden floor and it was just on that gentle slope down to the, I presume the orchestra pit or the stage or whatever it was. And just everybody did it and I mean it was just a, totally accepted. I mean, you didn’t go to the pictures unless you rolled the, the Jaffas down the floor.
Darian Was it to trip people over when they stepped on them?
Ann No, No. It was just, just to, I don’t know whether it was to be naughty or just for the sheer sake of doing it, I don’t know. It was just the done thing [laughs].
Ann Well, we were never reprimanded.
Darian Well the other story that we got about the Civic Theatre was that out of the four or five theatres it was known as the sort of more declasse one, and I was trying to get to the bottom of that. Why it was considered to be…
Ann It was called the Flea House.
Darian The Flea House! [laughs].
Ann You always came home with a flea.
Ann And do not ask me why, whether they were in the floorboards, I just don’t know.
Darian Yeah. Who knows.
Ann But the Crown theatre and the Savoy theatre were very much up-market compared to the Civic.
Darian Well, apparently the tickets were cheaper, but also what emerged was that out of those theatres it was the only one where the manager didn’t used to walk around with a torch.
Darian If you get my drift!
Ann Yep, yep.
Darian So if you wanted to go and canoodle, you know, you could, yeah.
Ann Yes, I’m sure that’s why. And as I said, there were no carpets on the floor, it was just bare boards and it was, ah, it was used for a lot of concerts and things because it was right next to the Town Hall. Um, and there was a big, it was a big theatre, I can remember, you know, that, um, Regent size, Regent Theatre size, you know.
Darian Yeah. [sneeze] Well the walls were actually not completely knocked down, so I’ve seen the, um, [sneeze] the footage that was filmed.
Ann Oh, right.
Darian Of the, um, demolishing, supposed demolishing and reconstruction of the, ah, 1965 version and, um, they actually retained the walls of the – I got to speak to one of the architects. And they kept the walls because there, apparently it was a really solid structure and they were able to work with that. But I know there was a bit of controversy in Wollongong. Um, a couple of prior years to that being done and they had a name, they called it something’s Folly. I can’t quite remember – something’s Folly. The, not the Town Clerk, but the, the Mayor of the time, um, people were sort of in a debate about whether it needed to be done and should the money be spent ‘cos I guess it was a lot of money.
Ann A lot of money in those days.
Darian A couple of hundred thousand pounds I think.
Ann Yeah, which was a lot of money.
Darian It was, but they were very proud of it, you know.
Darian There’s going to be this kind of really state of the art and the library was going to be a state of the art thing.
Darian You know, it’s great that it’s actually still almost got very close to being gone. So, um, Civic Theatre. And then, um, do you remember going to any other concerts there like ABC, Wollongong Symphony Orchestra, ah, Choral Society, the Arcadians’ productions?
Ann You see it all blurs in, you know, I’ve been to many, many concerts there with all those people, but I can’t remember what years. But latterly in the, um, not in the Civic Theatre, in the Town Hall part, um, I couldn’t, wouldn’t count the concerts and being attached with the Eisteddfod, we used to have all the Eisteddfod, verse speaking and choirs.
Darian ‘Cos you’re on the committee aren’t you?
Darian Yeah. And how long have you been doing that for?
Ann I don’t know, about 20 years, more than that I suppose.
Darian Yeah, yeah. Are you a life member?
Ann No, no. Um, but you see, we had all our Eisteddfods there for just years and years and years ‘cos it was that, it, the done place. It was the only place we could fit in all the kids but then we outgrew that. We had to go down to the WEC because…
Darian Prior to 1965 was a lot of it in the Annexe, were the Eisteddfods mostly held in the Annexe?
Ann A lot of, yeah, the Annexe was used a lot. Um, yes, I suppose it would have been a lot. We used, we used Wesley and the Town Hall for the kids and things. When you get 2,500 kids in one day for verse speaking and, and things like that. We outgrew that and we had, of course, a couple of years it rained and we didn’t have any, we couldn’t put all the kids in the Town Hall.
Darian What happened?
Ann They were standing outside in the rain waiting to come, you know, on the footpath there as they were dropped off in buses. So we had to look for bigger and ah, things were moved to the, the WEC and of course then they closed them…
Darian I’ve got the Eisteddfod ladies coming next Tuesday, three or four of them.
Ann Oh, have you?
Darian I’m just doing a group interview.
Ann Oh, good.
Darian Yeah, finally it’s taken ages for us to get around to it.
Ann Oh, right.
Darian But we’re actually starting to wrap up now like we had to make decisions about what we’re doing and we’re going to show people, um, at the end of June, when we do the presentation. So, um, we’re just trying to get to the very last people and that’s like a big one, so…
Ann Good. Oh, you’ll have a…
Darian You knew that it was okay and they were quite happy to do it. So we’ve just sort of left it this long. But, um, yeah, that’s next Tuesday.
Ann Oh, that’ll have, oh Sheila, the old lady, the 90…
Darian Yes, I’ve met her.
Ann She’ll, um, she’ll have lots of tales.
Darian She’s great, yeah.
Ann Marvellous, absolutely marvellous.
Darian So were there any Eisteddfods in particular that stood out, like do you remember any kind of, you know, someone falling off the stage, or any…
Darian kind of dramatic thing happening? Or someone kind of getting stage fright or…
Ann Oh, that ,that was common.
Ann Yeah, little kids would run on and stand there for two seconds and then go BAA!! and run off! No, not really, not that I can sort of remember. I can remember I played in the Town Hall Annexe when I was little girl. Played the piano and…
Darian As part of the Eisteddfod?
Ann Oh yes, yes.
Ann And the piece of music was Fur Elise by Beethoven and I was number 94.
Darian See, you didn’t remember this last time.
Ann I didn’t either.
Ann And by the way, if I hear the first two notes of Fur Elise now I go beserk! [laughter] But all I can say is, can you imagine what the adjudicator was going through after 94 people, kids playing Fur Elise. Oh, God!
Darian I forget who it was, but one of the guys who actually, the guy who was actually the composer of the song they used in particular, came down as an adjudicator one year and he remembers sitting through the same song over and over and over.
Ann That’s why we used to break it up into sections now.
Darian So, um, yeah. So, James Powell probably would have been one of your mates in the Eisteddfods.
Darian He won a couple of years didn’t he?
Ann He wouldn’t have been an adjudicator in my day, but he certainly is still involved, he’s one of our patrons.
Darian Oh, no he used to be in them.
Ann Oh yes, he was in them, yes, but he still has, as a patron, he’s still involved in it.
Darian Oh yeah, I spoke to him this morning actually.
Ann Yeah, yeah. He’s a nice bloke.
Darian I think he’s going to come in on Monday. He’s got a whole photo album of stuff.
Ann Oh, great.
Darian So, um, still trickling in.
Ann Yes, yeah.
Darian Quite, when I said trickle, it’s more like a river!
Ann River now [laughter].
Darian Um, okay, so Eisteddfods, all right. Ah, what about, do you remember when the, ah, the organ first was played or anything like that, or the Steinway. And Ethel Hayton perhaps you knew?
Ann Knew Ethel very well.
Ann Um, the organ I can remember. I think I went to the first concert.
Ann And who played, um..?
Darian Robert Ampt?
Ann Yes, yes.
Ann Yes, he was, ah, the first one. Um, that was brilliant because I adore pipe organs, so, ah, I was very interested in that, it’s a beautiful organ.
Darian Yeah, and of course Ethel paid for a lot of the Steinway piano, but I mean we were led to believe she paid for the whole thing, but apparently that’s not quite true, that was somebody else.
Ann Probably not ‘cos she was only a pensioner.
Darian Yeah, she paid, it’s amazing what she did behind the scenes and no one ever knew what Ethel did. She was a great lady actually. Well, I know she had her three awards or fellowships, at least, that she funded. And, um, she was a very civic minded person.
Darian And I’ve actually been quite obsessed with finding out about her. She’s been like my side project and hope, what we’re actually going to do. Um, we decided this morning, I came up with the idea of we were going to do a series of posters, but now we’ve decided that we’re actually going to post cards and we’re going to use people’s images and on the back will kind of be their story, it will be like a mock postcard saying, “The ball last night was fantastic and I think I’ve met the one!” You know.
Ann All right!
Darian So we’re going to do something quite fun with it to tell people’s stories and, um, we might do an Ethel Hayton one, so I’ve been quite…
Ann I think she deserves it. She, she did a heck of a lot for Wollongong.
Darian I’ve been quite obsessed with finding out about her, ‘cos she’s a bit of a mystery character at the beginning.
Ann She was actually. She was a spinster and she, as I said, she never put herself forward to say that, “I will give so and so”, you know, so much money or something, but she’d do it and then it would sort of just go in the books and no one would know. But that was Ethel. She just, but she would go to every function, she’d go to everything, anything that was on. And she, she was a big woman and she had fairly bulging eyes – I think she probably had thyroid trouble. But she had glasses on and she’d sit there and she’d flutter the eyelids.
Ann She was known, to be talking to you and she’d get right up close to you and flutter the eyelids [laughs]
Darian Yeah. Do you think she just had really bad eyesight?
Ann I think so. I think it was just well, to do with eyesight. Nothing to do with, you know, “come hither” because she was certainly not that, she was, as I said a spinster. Um…
Darian But, apparently, she was engaged at one point and her fiancé got killed during the Second World War.
Ann Ah, well that’s something I never knew.
Darian Well we had a lady come in, her name is Margaret Goodman, and her mother was best friends with Ethel or something and she actually, well, she must have been actually, because she even had these things of Ethel’s father that, from the haberdashery they had in England.
Ann Oh, gosh.
Darian She brought in a whole box of these sample cards of beads and said, “You can have them, my kids won’t want them, and I’d rather that they were archived.
Darian You know. So, we got Ethel’s father’s haberdashery stuff, um, and all this incredible, like she brought in the best photos we’ve got so far.
Darian The most exquisite hand tinted photos from the Civic Theatre
Ann Oh, wonderful.
Darian That her mother was in this production, the frilly, they were all in, I mean it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful series of photos.
Ann That’s fantastic.
Darian So she knew a lot about Ethel and so she was able to correct quite a few things that were wrong that other people had told us about Ethel and, um, so far, so I’ve managed to collect quite a lot of stuff slowly about what kind of person she was. She was just a portly, you know, she’s kind of dressed a lot in black, but she was a bit kind of quirky and eccentric.
Ann Yes, a bit eccentric. We went down there one night for dinner and she and my husband got on very well. [laughs] And he, we, went and she invited us down and she lived, the walkway down. It was the whole flat was about as big as this room, you couldn’t move, and it was floor to ceiling bookshelves. She used to buy the most beautiful those, great big, um, books on art and music and things, she had hundreds. I don’t know where they all went. Um, and records! She must have had the best collection of records in Wollongong. And this was just floor to ceiling books and you, we sat at a table about this, but a card table size and had our dinner and we were sort of like this. [laughs] We couldn’t move! But it was the most interesting. I presume some of the books would have gone to the University.
Darian Who knows? I haven’t actually heard about that.
Ann No, um, she had the most fabulous collection. So, then they were not books that you’d throw out, you know they were the great big, um, She was a friend of the University and, um, she did a lot. She, ah, she had a, a lectern named after her over at the university, the Ethel Hayton lectern.
Darian Yeah, there was some, some, there was some university papers or something I found a reference to that she wrote that she presented at the university.
Ann Yes, yes.
Darian Um, what happened to… I will ask Margaret Goodman because clearly…
Ann Yes. They were the most fabulous books and records.
Darian Because if she had the beads, then she would know what happened to most of those…
Ann Well she cleared out Ethel’s place after Ethel died.
Darian Okay, she would know. Yes, I just, you know, I don’t need them for anything, but it’s just interesting to find out.
Darian Um, yeah. And apparently, she had this little dog that she carried a lot of places and, um, you know she did sort of, you know, all her things and…
Ann She was fabulous – a very good cook. Um, basic, you know, nothing fancy or anything. And, but I don’t know whether it was every night or every second night, anyway she used to take the meals down to the priests at the Cathedral.
Ann And that was never known very much. She just walked down with a basket with a stew and a um, bread and butter custard or something, every night or every second night. And, um, and she wasn’t a Catholic, she was an Anglican, but, ah, she’s just thought that was what she should have done.
Darian Well, I haven’t heard that one.
Ann Well, no, that’s, that’s gospel I know that from…
Darian Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. She was really busy doing…
Ann She never, ever sat still, ever sat still.
Darian Yeah. So, when, when you went to her apartment for dinner was her mother still alive at that stage or had she passed away?
Ann I don’t think so, not at that stage, no.
Darian So this would have been perhaps in the ’70s sometime?
Ann ’70s or ’80s, yes, yes.
Darian Because she passed away in ’88.
Ann Yes, well I don’t know. Well, she certainly wasn’t living there with Ethel, whether she was in a home or anything, I don’t know. But, um, I can’t remember when Ethel died myself.
Ann It was ’88 was it, oh, okay.
Darian According to my notes.
Ann Yeah. Oh, well, ah…
Darian She wrote that book ‘cos she wrote, it came out “150 years of Wollongong”. It came out in ’84 and then she died in 1988.
Ann ’88, right, yeah.
Darian Yeah, but, um, yeah, quite an interesting character.
Ann Oh, ab-, totally.
Darian Did you go to the, the function that, um, the Arcadians threw for her when they decided to start giving their annual award? And the first one, I think it was ’78 or ’79 they gave the, they, when they decided to give the award the first one they gave to Ethel. And they did South Pacific in her honour and there was like a gala
kind of supper, champagne and chicken supper.
Ann Oh, right, yeah. No, I didn’t go to that.
Darian for the night. Yeah.
Ann I might have been overseas or something.
Darian Yeah. That was like 1978, so, you know, to honour the great lady.
Ann Yes, yeah. Oh, she was, she was. And she was a character into the bargain, she really was.
Darian Did she have a sense of humour or what was she sort of like as a, you know, character-wise. I’ve heard she was quite shy.
Ann She was very shy actually. And as I said she’d never push herself forward at a function or something, um…
Darian Modest. She was modest, but yet she wrote for The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph I think, article each week. Um, so she was a, a typical, you know, she’d walk around with a notebook and she’d sort of be, you know, the glasses would be half way down her nose and she’d be scribbling little notes “And what you think of this?” and her eyes would flutter [laughs]. But that was Ethel. Um, she didn’t miss out on a lot.
Darian Yeah. But she had, do you think she had quite a bit of social clout?
Ann Oh yes, oh yes, yeah.
Darian She could make you or break you?
Ann My word, yes. Yeah. Not nastily, not, not, you know with a nasty streak or anything. But she’d, you’d certainly get the message.
Darian Not like Hedda Hopper.
Ann No. [laughs] No, definitely not. No, she was a character, well and truly.
Darian Yeah, yeah. Um, okay, that’s Ethel, Now do you remember being immunised at the Town Hall?
Ann Yes. I remember giving blood at the Town Hall.
Ann Well, the Annexe, Yes, yeah, would been the Annexe I suppose, yeah.
Darian Yeah, yeah. What were you immunised for, can you remember? Was it TB?
Ann The usual things.
Ann Yeah, all that and whooping cough. And, yes, no, I can remember lining up there.
Darian Were you frightened?
Ann Not that I remember.
Darian Not, not really. And did you give blood every year or just a couple of times.
Ann I think I only gave it once, because I, I lay on the bed and about 2 hours later the bloody stuff kept on clotting and they couldn’t get it to run [laughs]
Ann So they said, “Don’t, you know, come back unless we call you.” [laughs] “You take too long!” [laughs] So I only gave it once.
Darian Yeah, somebody came in and was talking about the Blood Bank yesterday, but they had it set up actually coincidentally yesterday around the corner.
Ann Oh right.
Darian And I didn’t see anybody there the couple of times I walked past.
Ann Oh right.
Darian A bit on the ground. So we’ve talked about Eisteddfods and concerts. Remember going to any other balls or dinners, like later on, not during like, sort of like more when you are an adult?
Ann Hospital balls, Wollongong Hospital ball, always had it at, ah, the Town Hall.
Darian Yes, the Auxiliary hospital board. What was her name, her daughter came in. Um, her daughter came in.
Ann Jan Johnson?
Darian July Holt was the daughter and her mother was the Chairman and she died really suddenly.
Ann Jan Johnson?
Darian Probably. She died really suddenly in like ’69 of a massive stroke and she was not that old.
Ann Well she was about the only female on the Board at that stage. And she was the President for quite some time, so I’m sure it would have been Jan Johnson.
Darian Yeah. And she kept, she kept everything in the scrapbook so we got like a lot of stuff on the hospital balls. What were they like?
Darian Mmm, yeah.
Ann You danced, well you danced till 12 -1 o’clock when you got shot out of the Town Hall. Then you’d end up going to someone’s home and, ah, carrying on and then 5 am we’d all crawl back to the Nurses home and with our shoes in our hands and…
Darian Like the 12 Dancing Princesses.
Ann to get up and go to work at 6 o’clock.
Ann And by the time you got back your feet would be blistered because you’d worn these damn shoes. Oh, God, we had, oh, they were great years, they were really great.
Darian Yeah. So, when they had a ball the Town Hall would probably shut at 12 or 1?
Ann I think. I can remember going out and going to someone’s home for coffee and tea and more drinks and whatever.
Darian Did they used to really decorate, and the band..?
Ann Oh yes, the bands, they used to get a lot of bands down from Sydney. Um, I can’t think of one of them. They were fabulous, real jazz type bands, you know, sort of – not rock and roll, that wasn’t in [laughs]. But more jazz and, and, um, foxtrots and waltzes and…
Darian More kind of big band sounds like Glenn Miller-ish.
Ann Yes, yes that sort of thing but, ah, I don’t think we’ve, I can’t remember any of the local bands but I can remember the Sydney bands coming down there. Yeah it was, it was a big ball, it was a huge ball, they used to really go out on a limb. We go ahead. Singers and bands. And, yeah, dancing all night. Sit down.
Darian Any other balls or anything besides the Hospital ball that you can remember?
Ann Um, [pause]. No, Mum and Dad talked about the Apex balls and those sorts and they were always in the Town Hall.
Darian Oh, I don’t know what those, those were.
Ann Ah… Darian What was Apex?
Ann You know what Rotary is, well Apex is very similar
Darian Yeah, right.
Ann to it, and most of the, if you, if you were in one of those you had friends for life. You just sort of all went, Apex went to Wagga to meet the Wagga Wagga Apex and go all around on these weekends away and so forth and have a ton of fun. Yeah and probably, um, when I think back of it, what they used to do, ah, the adults, they were supposed to be adults, and they’d get away with murder and some of the older, my father’s age, would dress up in a pink Tutu and do the ballet. And one, and I can remember one very tall gentleman who was a dentist in Wollongong and he dressed up as Big Bird.
Darian Yeah, right.
Ann And ‘cos he used to have fancy dress balls and things in those days. And, um, it was the most un ?? fun, I think, that Reg was the pink fairy. He had a pink Tutu on and he was as wide as he was tall, you see, and he looked, you know [laughs] So they were funny days because I was enough, I was old enough to see everyone get into the cars and go down to the you know, off to the ball. It was like Cinderella watching [laughs].
Darian Yeah, yeah.
Ann But, um…
Darian No one’s come forward about Apex.
Ann Oh, haven’t they. They were very popular in those…
Darian And I’ve got one invitation from a Rotary ball, but no recollections of the Apex will know they all had them. Now in the town Hall, yeah? Anne. What about, do you remember going to any 21sts?
Ann No. I went to a wedding, ah, Indian wedding in the Town Hall. Um, one of the Indian doctors, his daughter was getting married and he wanted a traditionally Hindu Indian wedding and it was fabulous, it was, ah, ‘cos I’d been to a couple of Hindu weddings in India and I knew what the scale of things were, I mean, God, huge and that was. A different one’s.
Darian Yeah, about, about what era was that? Like what decade?
Ann Oh, 1980’s I guess.
Darian That’s quite early.
Darian ‘Cos that was kind of before it was kind of trendy, really. It’s more trendy now to do. Ann Yeah, yep.
Darian I mean, I’ve been to a, um, Hari Krishna wedding at Vaucluse House [laughs]. Talk about mixing it up!
Ann Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Darian So that’s where they wanted to have it. So, it was really interesting. The bride, the bride has to. The groom has to feed the bride a banana, that’s part of the ritual.
Ann Oh really, oh gosh.
Darian Quite hysterical. Yeah. Um, now, what about, I haven’t found anybody who ever went to any of the Rotary Club antique shows. Actually, they used to apparently hold them annually in the Town Hall. You have, Oh yeah. Was that in the ’70s or..?
Ann Oh, no, it would have been later, it would’ve been the ’80s already.
Ann But they were very popular. They used to go for about three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And, ah, stalls absolutely jammed in. And the Flower Show was always at the Wollongong Town Hall.
Darian Spring Flower Festival?
Darian Yeah. I spoke to Neryl Melvin, she gave us quite a bit of stuff.
Ann Absolutely, she’s, she’s the flower girl.
Darian I was ready to have an interview with Lena Malouf and, ah, in, ah, Bellevue Hill. I went up to Sydney to do a few people and on the morning of her interview she lost a crown and was waiting to go in for emergency.
Ann Oh God.
Darian Yeah. So we had to cancel that and I’ll get around to doing that this month. But yeah, so we had a bit of stuff on the Spring Floral Festival.
Ann Neryl would have that right at her fingertips.
Darian Mmm. Ah, but other functions, gosh. It was just accepted that you went to the Town Hall whenever there’s something on. Well, in between that and the the RSL, or was at the ANZAC? Oh, what was the other venue? The RSL Hall?
Ann Well, the RSL Hall was the most popular, um, I don’t know whether it was because of the way it was set up and the Town Hall wasn’t, um…
Darian It was less formal.
Ann It was less formal. But the, ah, the main hall at the RSL was, the ball part, and on either side there was Annexes where the supper tables and tables were, so whether they’d got everything off the dance floor, because the Town Hall it was all sort of mixed up. The tables were around the edge of the, the, ah, main part of the floor, so whether it didn’t appeal I don’t know. But yeah, I went to a lot of balls, church balls and all those sort of things at the RSL.
Darian I think the Town Hall is a bit difficult in the way that it was set up because, um…
Ann It might have been cheaper too the RSL, I don’t know.
Darian Yeah it was just that, I don’t know, I think people found it a little. I mean, obviously it wasn’t really set up properly for theatre productions.
Ann No, no. Obviously all the stages, certainly not.
Darian Yeah. So people would quite often use the bathrooms or whatever, or the even the kitchen. We’ve got photos of people getting ready for production.
Ann Yes, yes, oh in the kitchen? Oh, Lord, yes. It was the only place to, to change.
Ann Yeah, so, ah… But we’ve done a lot of concerts, I’m in the Wollongong Welsh Choir and we’ve done a lot of concerts in the, um, Wollongong Town Hall. Ah, beautiful acoustics. The Town Hall and Wesley Church in Wollongong are the best venues for acoustics. Love singing there, absolutely. We’ve had, ah, choirs out from, um, Wales that have come to the Town Hall, we’ve done concerts together. And they always say what beautiful acoustics and things. So we were very proud of, of, you know, Wollongong.
Darian Mmm, yeah. No, I mean…
Ann But no, no dressing rooms out the back and nowhere to stand when you got about a hundred boys from Wales and, and little Wollongong Welsh choir, about 40 of us, jammed into the little side [laughs]. It, ah, it wasn’t ever thought out…
Ann …properly for stage productions or live concerts or anything like that. Um, but still lovely to sing in.
Darian Just jumping back to your Grandfather, I don’t know if you’ll remember anything, but do you remember any kind of upsets, like any kind of um, kind of, um, kind of political battles, or, you know, kind of rivalries or kind of like big dramas going on as far as decisions that have to be…
Ann Too young to sort of, ah, to be aware of those. I’m sure there were many.
Darian Well the only thing that I can think of was just before you were born, so it was the pig iron thing in 1938. The protest that was at the Town Hall, so I’ve got a bit of a gap.
Ann He was a very good, ah, people’s person Grandpa, and he could lay oil on the water very easily just by his talking. He was renowned for that. And, ah, there was one when he was Mayor, it’s got nothing to do with the Town Hall. Um, the workers used to go to Sydney and there was never enough trains to bring them home, and he rang up the Sydney train people and said, “Why don’t you put an extra carriage on, you know, for the workers Wollongong.” “No, no no, it’s not used enough.” And Grandpa said, “Well if I can prove that it’s, you know, used, will you do it?” Anyway, he nagged and nagged and nagged for quite a few years I think, and eventually they put on the worker’s train. And, ah, so he was, he was like a dog with a bone, with a bone if he got something in his head he’d really go for and if he thought he believed in a thing, so he, ah, made, made himself, not a nuisance, but he would just very politely keep nagging.
Darian Yeah. So, when, when your Grandma, when your Grandmother was Mayoress, did she have a special area in the Town Hall that was kind of her place to have receptions?
Ann Not that I’m aware of, but I guess that, no, I can’t remember.
Darian ‘Cos back then it was sort of very much more of a division between the sexes when it came to entertaining and things.
Ann Oh gosh yes, yes, yeah. See all the wives of the dignitaries would go to the Lady Mayoress’s room, so I guess, or maybe it was there, I don’t know. But I can remember taking the car down, unloading boxes of cakes and cups and saucers and teapots and all these sorts of things. I can remember sort of being dragged into doing that for some receptions or whatever it was. Um, so I guess there probably would have been a Lady Mayoresses room.
Darian Was she involved in Country Women’s Association.
Ann Yes, yeah, she was ??? a what I thought after soon. As you mentioned dragging down, yeah. [laughs] oh, dear.
Darian Yeah, I mean they, they had some things there over the years.
Ann Oh yes.
Darian A lot of those ladies are quite elderly if they’re still around now.
Ann Yep, yeah.
Darian You know, there’s not a lot of them left.
Ann Getting back to, I was just thinking too the Wesley, um, with, you were thinking about, um, Olive Brown and so forth, ah, June Matthews from Wesley Church she, the oh, I don’t know what she is, but she runs the church beside, she’s under Gordon Bradbery. [laughs] She knows everything. Um, she might be one because she would be very knowledgeable. What’s in the archives here? Um, he’s been at Wesley for a long time.
Darian Oh, right.
Ann So she might know, there might be a box of photos in someone’s cupboard down there.
Darian I’ll find out
Ann Just say, you know, you’re after Olive Brown’s box of photos and things and she might you never know, yeah. Yeah. But I can’t think of any other Browns relatives. It would be sort of. I mean, if somebody has something else or somebody that they’ve kept made. I mean, it’s highly unlikely these kids are gonna keep it. So just go. What’s this got to do with us? Spring Flower festival elections? Debates and conferences? Did you ever vote in an election there? How good is he? Can you remember any particular ones ’cause we haven’t got anybody who can remember.
Ann They used to set it up just boxes around the side and cardboard boxes, you used to walk into it. Now I remember handing out how to vote tickets. Not any particular year.
Darian What about, did you ever attend the naturalization ceremonies? ’cause they were quite big quite big affairs. There was a program and it wasn’t just getting handed a pot plant and saying the oath. They had Choral Society and the mascot here, you know like all sorts of different performers and made a really big deal out of it with the proper invitation everywhere we go to police services.
Ann There were police services.
Ann No, not the ball. Citations, giving medals and things. The choir sang it, a number of those.
Darian Did they do that annually?
Ann The citations and things? Yes, yes, it was an annual thing.
Darian Police citations who would have that stuff?
Ann I don’t know. They probably wouldn’t kept that stuff, so who knows, maybe they haven’t even got a box under someone’s desk. I might give them a call because they might have an archivist, I mean…
Ann Well they probably will have an archivist somewhere.
Darian Yeah, people surprisingly do. It’s usually someone elected who’s just sort of interested…
Ann That’s right, yeah.
Darian …in historical stuff like, you know, St Marys have got one who comes in three days a week.
Darian To take care of all their stuff. So, um, Let me see now. Do you know anything about the ghost story about the body under the town Hall? No, OK, ’cause there’s still the bones of one of the people that was from the burial ground that was there in the 1820s. Really. It’s not under the where you’re standing on the corner looking at the Art Gallery at so just on the left hand side under the Art Gallery was where the burial ground was and then if there was only two bodies before, I think the Governor of Sydney came down and said, well, you can’t have a burial ground in the middle of the City, you’ll have to move it. So they moved it down to where Pioneer Park is, where there’s one. And then they just never bothered to disinter the other one and built over the top. So he was, forget his name off the top of my head, but he is who the Ghost Creek Bridge is named after.
Ann At Fairy Meadow?
Darian Yeah. Yeah, something funny happened with alcohol and I don’t know there was some kind of scandal.
Ann Right, yeah.
Darian We can use our imagination as to what that could be. And there’s a rumour that they were never able to substantiate that he shot himself, committed suicide.
Ann If my mother was here, she’d be able to tell you that.
Darian Yeah. And there’s a bit of a story that there’s a ghost that kind of roams the Town Hall property. One at, particularly one of the toilet stalls in the women’s toilets.
Darian So yeah. Well, that’s about it I think. That’s good.
Darian So, yeah. I think that will do, so I’ll just switch off.