Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Barbara Jones
Interviewer: Lisa Beverstock
Interview date: 27/04/2019
Lisa: The following interview was conducted with Barbara Jones, as part of Wollongong City Council Libraries Illawarra Stories Oral History Project. It took place at Unanderra on the 27th of March 2019. The interviewer is Lisa Beverstock.
So, Barbara, you haven’t always lived in Australia, have you?
Barbara: No. I originally came from England, in 1951.
Lisa: And how did you get here?
Barbara: Oh, we arrived on the S.S. Somersetshire, which was an old troopship… No air conditioning a very basic ship, I think. But I can remember it quite well. I can remember being becalmed in the Red Sea, and having sheets out on the deck, dripping with water to keep everybody cool.
Lisa: So, it was hot on the ship?
Barbara: It was very hot! (laughs)
Lisa: That must have been a bit of a shock after England?
Barbara: It was a big shock after England, yes.
Lisa: So how old were you?
Barbara: I was actually four on the ship, but I had a wonderful time. I had such a lot of fun. My mother was very inventive, and we had dress up parties. I have photographs of me at age 4 as a handkerchief girl. We did the crossing of the equator, and my mother took photos of that. She was a very organized lady with her photographs. And everything was put into albums and dated, so that we know exactly when all these things occurred.
Lisa: Oh, wow.
Barbara: Yeah, and then when we arrived in Australia, we were sent down to Bonegilla Hostel, which is down near Albury. And we arrived in the middle of bushfires, heatwaves and everything else… But I was a bit unlucky, because I contracted measles on the ship, so I was taken off by ambulance. And taken to a hospital there, which I think was marginally better than Bonegilla Hostel (laughs)
Lisa: Before we keep going with that, can you tell me a little bit about your parents?
Barbara: My parents?
Barbara: My Dad was a carpenter. My mother was… Some kind of telephone engineer, and then she became a hairdresser. It was quite strange actually, because they lived in my grandparents’ house, who were often away and my Father was a carpenter building houses after the war, and they could not get a house. So, they decided to emigrate, to either Canada or Australia. And Australia was the one. (laughs)
Lisa: So, when you came to Australia, you were in a hostel… what happened when you came to the Illawarra?
Barbara: We travelled by train from Albury, my mother and I. I do remember little bits of that train trip. I remember arriving in Sydney, and my mother was devastated there was nobody to meet her in Sydney. We then got on a train to Wollongong, and she performed something terrible, because there was no taxi to meet her at Wollongong station. Eventually, somebody did collect us. We didn’t have to catch a bus to Unanderra Hostel (laughs). And I don’t know where my Dad was at that time, he may have been away working. So, we arrived at Unanderra Hostel, on Five Islands Road. Which is the original hostel that was built in the Illawarra.
Lisa: That was the first one?
Barbara: That was the first one. So, there was Unanderra Hostel and Karingal Hostel for men. And then later on, the back of Unanderra Hostel became an area for single men as well. It was quite a strange hostel, not as in the Nissen Huts, like most people are aware of. It was this long corridor, like long, um, rooms off verandas. And we had three rooms, my parents had a bedroom, there was a loungeroom, and I had my own bedroom. And I used to be locked in my bedroom every night, with a potty (laughs).
Lisa: So, was it just the three of you?
Barbara: Yes, just the three of us. And, unfortunately, the system, when you first arrived in Australia and came into a Hostel, you went into a ballot system for a house. The Department of, well, the Housing Commission in those days had ballots for houses, so you could get off a ship, be in a hostel for 6 weeks, and have a brand-new house. Or you could be like some unfortunate families, like us, and live in a hostel for four years before your house came up. But in the meantime, my mother had another baby. And my grandparents paid for us to go back to England, just my mother, my brother and I.
Lisa: For how long?
Barbara: We were there for about… maybe 12 months, I think? Because we were there for a Winter. And then… I don’t know if, well I do believe that my dad wrote and said that he had a house. But I don’t know if he actually did until we were on our way! (laughs)
Lisa: Um, so going back to the hostel, do you… do you remember if you had friends there? What sort of games you played?
Barbara: Lots of friends, I had a lot of friends in the hostel. And I’ve got really lovely memories of the hostel, because there was so many children to play with, all the time, you weren’t just by yourself. Mum was a bit of a um, snob, probably would be the right word, and she thought some of the Irish children were too rough to play with. But it didn’t worry me at all.
Lisa: Did you have a best friend?
Barbara: Not that I remember. Well, not really. I probably did, but I can’t really remember. Yeah.
Lisa: So, what sort of thing would you do day to day on the hostel, with the other kids?
Barbara: Just run wild (laughs). Like, one time I remember I-, my mother always had me dressed very nicely, and I decided I would wear this lovely necklace that my grandmother bought me, but I lost when I was playing chasings in the long grass and I never found it again.
Lisa: Gosh. So, what about… how old were you when you, when you left the hostel?
Barbara: I must have been about… seven, I think?
Lisa: Okay, so was there any schooling in the hostel?
Barbara: Yes, initially I started school at Unanderra Primary School, at Unanderra of course, and the Hostel children used to get shuffled around a bit… they decided there was too many extra children at Unanderra. So, then we got transferred to Port Kembla Primary School, where the teachers were not very understanding of Hostel children. They expected you to have the correct uniforms, and the right things for sewing, and this, that and the other. Um, and then when we finally got into our house, I went to Berkeley Primary School.
Lisa: Okay, so you went to Berkeley Primary School, so the house that you eventually ended up in, where was that?
Barbara: That was in Norfolk Street, Berkeley. It was one of the very first houses that were built over the hill. There was originally three streets in Berkeley- Massey Street, Barnes Street and Dennis Street. And then they built Gallop Street, but there were no houses on Gallop Street… And our house in Norfolk Street, for some reason, was one of the first ones built. So, I had a wonderful childhood, exploring through other people’s half-built houses (laughs). No safety fences, so (laughs).
Lisa: You grew up in Berkeley, so it must look very different now to what it did then?
Barbara: It looks extremely different. I have a lot of old photographs showing paddocks around us. I can remember my Dad had to work away in Moss Vale, which is not very far now. But he used to get in the truck on a Monday morning, and come home on a Friday night. And we used to have cows underneath our house, rubbing their backs, and my mother was petrified of cows (laughs). So, we had no fences.
Lisa: Would he have to come home and move the cows?
Barbara: Oh, they would move off eventually (laughs) it was just a funny thing I just remembered, was the cows.
Lisa: What was the house like in Berkeley? Was it a fancy house, or was it…?
Barbara: A very basic 3-bedroom house. Fibro. With a tiled roof, she was a bit happy about having a tiled roof, didn’t have a metal roof (laughs). And they had a very comfortable. Very basic, because they didn’t have a lot of money, but I don’t remember going without very much.
I do remember complaining bitterly about my mother’s cooking, when we first moved to the house, because I was so used to just being able to go to the canteen at the hostels, and have what I liked. And I wasn’t very impressed with my mother’s cooking, because she couldn’t make fish and chips like the hostel did, and she didn’t always have fresh bread for sandwiches, like the hostel did, for my lunches. Look, we were very well looked after in the hostel. I should imagine you probably had to pay quite a bit of money to live there… but you were very well catered for. I know, every day for school I had a brown paper bag with two sandwiches and a piece of fruit. You just got your drink at school, your milk in the morning or water or whatever. And the sandwiches were always nice, and the bread was always fresh. (laughs) You know, because they were making such a lot of sandwiches.
What else? Oh, Mum, I do remember in the hostel, mum had a little primer stove, because she didn’t like the eggs the way they were cooked. You weren’t supposed to cook in your rooms, but we had a primer stove, and she could make a cup of tea, and boiled eggs. That was what we used to eat for tea sometimes.
I loved Berkeley Primary School. I loved it. Because then, I was mixing with hostel kids from a different hostel – they were from Berkeley Hostel! Because Unanderra hostel closed or well, became a single man’s hostel, not long after we moved out. And everybody got moved to, or families got moved to Berkeley Hostel, and so I was still in an atmosphere with hostel kids, like other English children. And other nationalities as well. But mainly English, that was just the same as what I’d been used to.
Lisa: Was there much division between the Australian kids and the Hostel kids?
Barbara: Between the old Australian kids, yes, like the children that were born and brought up in Australia. They sort of looked down their noses at the hostel kids, and there used to be a lot of squabbles with the boys, but other than that, no I had lots of friends that were on the hostel.
Lisa: Are there any memories of school that you have in particular?
Barbara: Heaps, and heaps. I made lots of lasting friends there, that I still catch up with every few months, thanks to good old Facebook. So, to be friendly with someone in primary school, and then to catch up with them in your seventies is quite an amazing thing, I think technology is wonderful.
Lisa: Definitely, it has its place.
Barbara: It has its place. And I had best friends at school. My best friend in primary school was a girl called Lorraine Ryan, and her father was a fisherman, one of the local Berkeley fishermen, and we used to swap lunches all the time, because she used to invariably have prawns, or some kind of seafood, which I absolutely adored. And I had horribly boring things, like tomato… or lettuce from my father’s garden. Um… yeah, not exciting like prawns (laughs).
Lisa: But obviously she thought it was pretty exciting?
Barbara: She thought was pretty good, because the father didn’t have a veggie garden (laughs). And my dad had a very beautiful veggie garden. We ate from the garden, virtually…
Lisa: What sort of things would he grow?
Barbara: Uhh… tomatoes, cucumbers, broad beans, beans, peas… never corn. They never liked corn; they couldn’t understand why Australian’s liked corn. We had peach trees, we had nectarine trees, we had orange trees and we had a very clay garden. And we didn’t have a car in those days, and my father used to go down to the lake and get a sack full of lake sand, and ride back up the hill with his pushbike, to put in his garden to improve the soil. He worked very hard to have that beautiful garden, and we just ate from that garden. My mum bottled things… we lived pretty frugally. We didn’t have a lot of money, but… there was always plenty to eat.
Lisa: Yeah, so you were talking about some of the kids at school, so there was Lorraine Ryan?
Barbara: Yep, she was one of my, she was my best friend. Other girls that I was friendly with, were a girl called Jan Clark. And with Jan, when we were older, I actually went to a Girl Guide camp with her, and we went with, I think at that time, the Girl Guide movement was trying to improve relations between the more expensive areas and the less affluent areas. And we went on a camp with kids from Gleniffer Brae Private School. We had a midnight feast this one night, and they had chicken. For a midnight feast… and I only ever had chicken at Christmas time (laughs)
Lisa: Was it like a baked chicken?
Barbara: Yes, somebody had brought a cooked chicken, to have for a midnight feast, and I could not believe that you could have a chicken for a midnight feast.
Lisa: That’s like something straight out of Mallory Towers.
Barbara: Isn’t it? It is, it is. It was really, that’s something that has always stuck in my mind about that particular girl guide camp. Yeah look, I had a great life. I can’t complain about my life one little bit at all. I went on to Berkeley High School, did okay at Berkeley High School… well, did reasonably at Berkeley High School I suppose. I repeated the first year at Berkeley High School, because my grandparents came out from England, and I didn’t want to go to school while they were out doing exciting things, so I think I missed a lot of school in first form, but I repeated and just went on. It was fine.
Lisa: So, when you were living in Berkeley, when you were a child, we sort of talked about how different it was. Was there anything particularly exciting or special that you used to do?
Barbara: No. I was a member of the local church. Everything was church orientated in those days. Um, I would never have gone anywhere that wasn’t a church group, because my parents would not have approved. Not when I was younger. I did eventually used to go to the Gala movies, the Gala in Warrawong, and I think it used cost me one and six, the bus trip in, and go to the movies, and sixpence to spend. And I can’t remember how old I was then, but I can remember going there and Port Kembla beach was my favourite place.
Lisa: Who did you used to go to the movies with?
Barbara: Oh, you know just a group of friends, I can’t really remember exactly who I went with. But I know we all used to catch the bus together, so I probably just met up with friends from primary school it would have been on the bus. High school I probably had a different group of friends… I can’t remember… funny that.
Lisa: That’s alright, so what was the Gala like? Obviously, it’s still around.
Barbara: Oh, the Gala was magnificent! It was huge! It was like… it’s still got the stairs and that, but it was three times as big as what it is now. It was just such a special movie theatre. Later on, I went to one of the very early showings, first showings I think, at the Regent movie theatre in Wollongong. As I was older, I used to be allowed to go into Wollongong, to the Civic and to the Savoy, they were two old theatres in town. But… I wasn’t allowed to go at night very often, because invariably, coming home on the bus at night, the boys would muck up and the bus would end up at the police station. And my parents would not be amused. (laughs)
Lisa: No, fair enough!
Barbara: Well, Berkeley was known as a bit of a rough place in those days, but I was not aware of it.
Lisa: Well, you wouldn’t be, growing up there.
Barbara: I was not aware of it. There was families, there was a lot of very big families, but they were mainly Australian families, not English families, and that, because I’m a big families, they were probably a bit more rough and tumble, and we weren’t used to them. But it was just sort of growing up?
Lisa: It’s what you were used to.
Barbara: It’s what I was used to.
Lisa: Okay, so once you finished school, you said you did okay at school, what did you do afterwards?
Barbara: I became a telephonist at the PMG telephone exchange oh, prior to that, I used to work at Coles in the Christmas holidays and school holidays. Never had any desire to have a career at Coles, at all. And I worked at the little snack bar part that used to be up the back of Coles, I used to have to be sent downstairs to bring up ham and cream, and for years I could not look at ham and cream, because I must have eaten an awful lot of it, walking up and down those stairs! (laughs) But I loved working at the telephone exchange, I think it suited me really well. And then I got married!
Lisa: What kind of calls did you used to take at the telephone exchange?
Barbara: At the telephone exchange when I working there, we did everything. We, there was no, there was still, still a little exchange at Kiama and Helensburgh, so we put local calls through to Kiama and Helensburgh.
We did international calls. We had, there was no STD or anything like that, so you had to go through various exchanges to connect. So, say you wanted to ring Orange, you probably had to go through two exchanges before you got to Orange. When people worked out in central Australia they used to have to connect to the radio telephones, so that was always fun.
We had to do our own pricing. We had switchboards that were flat-boards, and we were expected to have like multiple dockets to be connecting through for the steelworks and for all of the big businesses. And then price our own calls at the end of it, and then it went to pricing to be checked.
I did work for a time as night shift, but I wasn’t allowed to do that when I was young, I had to, I had to be married to be allowed to work on night shift.
And the other funny thing that used to happen was. We had a telephone box at the back of the exchange. And all the sailors and the people from, who wanted to ring overseas had to come and pay us through a hatch at the door. So, we could connect them to the telephone box that was at the back of the exchange in Rawson Street. (laughs) And that was always a fun thing, because they never had the right money, and we had to be scrabbling around for change (laughs). That was fun. That was fun. Look I, working at the telephone exchange I made lots of lovely friends, and people I still know from there… It was just a great thing, I really enjoyed it.
Lisa: Was it the old plug-in system?
Barbara: No, we had flat-boards, we were more modern. They had moved from Wollongong Post Office, which had the plug and cords, and they’d come up to the manual exchange in Rawson Street where they were flat-boards, but you were still expected to work very hard. There was none of this mucking around, you had to dress as though you were going to an office, even though nobody ever saw you, except the bosses. The bosses were always female, because you only got on in the public service if you were unmarried. You could not have promotions if you were married, once I married, I became a casual. And I was a casual for seventeen years I believe, and always getting called back to do extra work. It was just as though I was working full time, but I didn’t have the advantages of people who were unmarried. No super. But, that’s just how it was in those days. That was just public service, if you got married, you didn’t move on. And all of our supervisors were Miss this and Miss that. We had one funny old lady called Misty Jersey, I remember her very well.
Lisa: At this point, what sort of age are you when you leave the telephone exchange?
Barbara: Ooh, I left the telephone exchange in 1983 to move up to the Hunter Valley, and at that time it became computerized, so I was quite happy to have left by then. And they also moved premises. Everything had been changed, and I didn’t ever work in a telephone exchange again after that, because there was nowhere to work. Everything became automatic, and I just didn’t work in a telephone exchange again.
The other thing is, when I was growing up and I was so involved in the church. When I was very young because my parents didn’t have a car, we used to get picked up by this wonderful man called Vic Thomas in his fabulous big black Packard car. And taken to Sunday school over near my school at Berkeley. And the tiny little hall over there. They actually owned a farm called Sunray Farm, which was down Hooka Creek Road. And dad did a lot of carpentry work down there for him, and I can remember spending a lot of time at Thomas’s farm. They had garden parties for the church. My grandparents visited them, and they got on very well. Yeah, I think I had a pretty cool life.
Lisa: Okay, well was there anything else you want to add before we finished up?
Barbara: No, I think I’ve covered just about all my life.
Lisa: That’s alright, well do you consent to donate this recording to the Wollongong City Libraries?
Barbara: Of course I do, yes.
Lisa: Well Barbara, thank you very much it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Barbara: Thank you, Lisa, I’ve really enjoyed talking. I hope I haven’t talked too much.
Lisa: No, not at all.