Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Barbara Street
Interviewer: Clare Gerson
Interview Date: 12 March 2021
The following interview was conducted with Barbara Street as part of Wollongong City Council Libraries’ Illawarra Stories Oral History Project. It took place at Barbara’s home in Albion Park on the 12th of March 2021. The interviewer is Clare Gerson.
Clare Good morning, or in fact, yes, it is still morning.
Clare Good morning, Barbara. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Where should we start? I notice that you’re unusual in that you’re not, you were not only bred in Wollongong, but born in Wollongong.
Barbara Yes, I was born in, um, Strathmore Private Hospital. That was a, a nursing hospital where most of the people my age group were born. My husband was born there. And, ah, it was in Gladstone Avenue, within walking distance of the, ah, railway station. And, um, so it had a very, ah, the building, had a very chequered history after it closed as a hospital, and I don’t exactly know when it closed, um, as a birthing hospital, private hospital. It became a boarding house for quite a few years, then at one stage it was the, um, ‘Greasy Fork’ restaurant. Then, um, homeless men. And it had quite a few different changes, and of course the building no longer stands there today. Um, it has been demolished for apartments and, um. And of course, close by that, ah, hospital was Dairy Farmers used to be on the corner too. They were on the corner of, um…I was born and raised …
Clare The main depot?
Barbara Yes, yes, the milk trucks used to come in and out. So, when I, ah, Mum, obviously took me home, we only lived a short distance away. [Background aeroplane noise] We’ve got planes flying over here. Um, yes, so, ah, I, we lived in Denison Street, 16 Denison Street, which would have only been a kilometre from the hospital. And was a typical, ah, home of the period, a weatherboard home with a veranda at the front and, um, the hall going right down the middle of the house with rooms off on either side. And like all, um, houses in those days, you had a very big backyard, and my father was an avid, um, gardener, so we had a beaut veggie garden and a huge Mulberry tree and fowls and, um, yeah, so, ah, we lived in Denison Street.
Clare And did, um, all the flowers and the Mulberry tree bring lots of birds and animals into your garden, whether it was the same amount of wildlife?
Barbara They probably did. We always seemed to have lots of birds, ah, there, but, um, I can remember, ah, it was a, a big, um, tree and actually, um, Warren Saunders, he’s a solicitor in Wollongong, and his two maiden aunts’ backyard joined part of our backyard. They actually lived in Robinson Street, ah, which, um, is the next, I suppose, east west cross street. And, um, he can remember going to his maiden aunts, ah, and playing in their backyard, and the big Mulberry tree even extending into their yard, so it was a big Mulberry tree.
Clare And you used to feast on it no doubt?
Barbara Yes, yes, lots of jams and, ah, and pies and all that sort of thing, yes.
Clare And what about your neighbours? Did you have much contact with your neighbours and the, their families with children around you?
Barbara Ah, well, you knew all the neighbours. Um, on the northern side of us there were the Spinks family and their, um, three children were really teenagers. And there was Tom, Bill and, um, Frances. And I can’t remember which one, I think it might have been Tom, he was into cycling, and in MacCabe Park at that time there was a big velodrome and they used to have, um, cycle clubs used to meet there, I think it was usually a Friday night, for their competitions and sometimes we would walk down and watch him ride. And then on the other side of the, um, our house was, um, Matron Simpson and, um, her daughter, Nerida, she was, um, an adult. She would always speak, but you would never go into her, um, house. And then further down there were the Chaffee’s and they, um, were a large family and so I used to play with their daughter, Margaret. And, ah, you only played in people’s yards, you never really went into the houses, or you played outside on the footpath.
Clare Did you ever get together at Christmas or over the Christmas break or anything like that and eat together, that sort of thing?
Barbara No, that didn’t seem to happen, um, and probably because, um, my grandparents lived in Sydney, in Condell Park, which is really West Bankstown and, um, as a family, we used to, um, Mum and Dad, and I had an elder brother and then eventually a younger brother, and we would go there for a two weeks’ holiday. So, we were very seldom at home for Christmas, ah, so I can’t remember. But people didn’t decorate their homes outside like they do now. And as far as inside, I can remember, we used to cut with crepe paper and make chains and, ah, put them, string them across the ceiling, but, um, that’s sort of, um,
all I can really remember about, ah, decorations in the house and gatherings and…
Clare Did you have a Christmas tree?
Barbara Yes, we did, yes. Dad used to, ah, somehow always manage to acquire one from the, the bush. You never really bought them, you just, um, you know, probably thinking about it, it was probably just a branch lopped off at tree and, um, decorated. And, um, and of course you didn’t get the presents that you do today. You’d get one main item and a book or a ball and that would be it, yeah. So, the kids today are certainly lavished with the gifts. But we treasured our, um, our Christmas, our gifts and toys. They were, you know, when you sort of outgrew them, they were passed on to some other child and, um, yeah so, totally different today.
Clare And what about schooling? Where did you – did you go to school nearby? Were you able to walk to school?
Barbara Yes, everyone walked to school. There were no school, um, buses that I’m aware of until I was in high school. We used to walk, um, under the viaduct, the railway viaduct, up Victoria Street, turn left into Keira Street and at Dion’s little, small, ah, grocery shop, which was on the corner of Keira and Smith Street, you’d then turn right and walk down to Wollongong Infants and Primary school. And that whole school block was my entire school life. Infants in the middle, Primary, um, to the right and then high school down in the, um, lower buildings.
Clare So it accommodated the entire school life.
Barbara Entire school, yes. The, um, in Infants it was, ah, co-ed, but once you got to primary, it was a two-storey building and boys were on the bottom and girls were on the top floor, and even the playgrounds were segregated. You didn’t play or have any contact with the boys. I think they even, and I could be wrong here, I think they even had their own gate for going into the school grounds. You didn’t have any real contact with the boys at all. And of course, when it got to 6th class the boys went to Wollongong Tech, which at that stage was also in Gladstone Avenue, ah, before they moved to North Wollongong and the girls just went down to home science, as I say, which was in the one block.
Clare So was that because the, um, population of Wollongong was so much smaller that you could accommodate all the children with it, like that?
Barbara It probably was, yes. They were just gradually starting to have little, um, suburbs for schooling, ah, but up until then, um, everyone seemed to, you know, come into Wollongong. I know, I know there was a West Wollongong school. Um, I think Fairy Meadow didn’t start until later. I know East Corrimal, certainly didn’t start until at least later. But, yeah, that’s sort of um… Which was why, um, especially at high school, you really had no contact after school with people that you’re at school with.
Clare Why ’cause they came from such a large catchment?
Barbara Yes, yes, yeah. Um, I mean I can remember, and I’m talking about the home science, that some girls came from out from Thirroul way, used to catch the train in. So, it drew from a big area and I think they used to come up from Kiama. Um, but I’m not certain about the infants and primary that, but certainly the high school did, yes.
While you might not have known them after, to play with after school because they lived, they might have lived much further away, a good train ride away in the case of Thirroul, did it mean that when you went, after you left school and got a job, the chances were you would be working with people you’d been at school with? You saw them occasionally. Ah, but basically, no. Um, and of course at my period of school, there were no school photos taken when you were in high school. So, you look at your infants’ photos and they’re, they’re nice to have and you pick up the odd face that you know. But if you’d have had them taken in high school, you probably would have remembered them more than infants’ photos. And, and of course they weren’t the um, activities after school like there are now. Ah, you came home from school and maybe rode your pushbike or went to see the girl a couple of doors up or, you know, ah, did your homework, and um…
Clare What about sports?
Barbara I certainly didn’t belong to any after school sport activities. They could have been there, but, um, um, I didn’t belong to them. And even at school, the sport was very, very limited. It was sum- swimming in summer. Oh, and you had, I think the first couple of years at high school you had to do swimming. Um, and I think there was something called Rounders. And then, ah, gradually in winter we were allowed to play tennis. But it was, the sport was very, very limited.
Clare So you say the school was called Home Science, ah, which implies a focus on life in the home. What other subjects…
Barbara Very, a very limited curriculum.
Clare … were part of your curriculum?
Barbara Um, the first year you were there, you did things like your maths and english, history, geography. Everyone had to do typing and everyone had to do sewing and cooking. Then when you went into 2nd year you had to make the choice whether you did bookkeeping and – shorthand and bookkeeping – or you kept on, ah, the cooking and sewing. And so that was – Oh, and you did also have the choice of whether you took history or geography, ah, but that was sort of about it.
Clare So, so you’re what 13 and you have to decide whether you’re going to work in an office or not work in an office?
Barbara Yes, yes basically, yeah, so, um, that was it. I mean it was, I mean, looking back… Clare That’s a hard choice to make at that age.
Barbara Yes, yes, it was. I, I must admit I took the sewing and cooking, um, ‘cos Mum used to sew and, um, I, I did like sewing. And I love history, um, and they, the schooling, um, that you got within those few subjects was very well, um, grounded and the, ah, well, in my case, ah, general knowledge. Like I have some friends and they say, oh, they never learnt about Australian history, it was all, um, British history. Well, I don’t have that in my memory. We learnt about America, we learnt about the Roman Empire. We learnt about the British history, but we certainly learnt a lot about Australian history. Ah, we learned about the American Indians, South America, and so my knowledge of history, and I can only speak for myself and the teachers that I had, um, were very, you know, it was a very diverse, um, you know, whereas some people, different schools that wasn’t the case for them.
Clare Do you know, have you any idea what the boys’ curriculum was like at the Technical school?
Clare I’m just wondering how it contrasted with the girls.
Barbara Well, I don’t really know. My brother, um, hated school. My older brother hated school, so you never really got anything out of him about school. He sort of, um, couldn’t wait to finish school. My younger brother was a different, a different story. But he went to a different, he went to Coniston School. Because when I was about 11, we moved from Denison Street to Mount Saint Thomas which was a new area that was open. And of course
WIN TV is there now, but it used to be Fort Drummond Army Camp and, ah, so that was, ah the property later on became WIN TV actually.
The day that I got married, um, which was 29th of September 1962 was the day they took the guns out of Fort Drummond [laughter].’Cos John, my husband and the groomsmen were there to watch them starting to dismantle the guns, and one of the men said, “Oh, this is more exciting than going to your wedding.” [Laughter] So, we often laugh about that. So, ah, yes, it’s funny, the silly little things you remember. Yes, and when you were saying I’m backtracking a bit, which is probably not too good for the story…
Clare No that’s fine, go ahead.
Barbara We were talking about school, ah, you used to walk to school, rain, hail, or shine, and I used to have a blue, um, rubberised cape and it had a hood on it and slits for your, for your pockets. So, I used to have a little leather back satchel and it used, I used to put that on and then that the rain, if it was raining, the rain cape would fit over that and you’d walk to school. And I can never remember any mothers waiting outside the gates for their children. You would walk to school that first day, maybe the second day, and then after that you’re on your own. That was even as a, not quite a 5-year-old. Um, but then things were different. There was, um, everyone virtually knew all the kids in the area. Ah, there were no, ah, cars like today. Many families didn’t have a car, our family certainly didn’t. And so, um, people used to watch for the children and, um, you didn’t have to worry about cars ‘cos there were really no cars, yeah.
Clare Yeah, and did you walk as a sort of gaggle of kids?
Barbara Yes, we did. Yes, yes.
Clare So you weren’t on your own?
Barbara No, no. You’d sort of all roughly leave about the same time, and so you know if anything up to, thinking about it, probably a dozen of you, and as you got to someone’s house that had a child, they’d join the group and, um, off you’d go, so, ah, yeah. And our school didn’t have a tuck shop, but the, um, there was a two-story building that faced St Michaels, it’s quite a nice-looking large terrace house and part of that the people opened just one room up as a, where they sold sandwiches.
Clare So they had a captive market.
Barbara Yes, yes. And, um, Sepple’s pies, um, I can remember they used to turn up with their little pie cart.
Clare And you’d all smell it.
Barbara And you’d smell it and they’d have little chips of wood and they’d open it and have like a little fire little oven, and they’d open the, um, little oven door and put these little chips of wood in it to keep your pies warm. And the boys, um, used to sing out sometimes,”Sepples pies, full of flies and maggots in the middle,” is probably a bit off putting. And I think a pie cost about threepence or fourpence. Um, and sausage rolls were a penny. But we never run. Very seldom did we buy lunch. Mum always packed it for us. And I can remember, ah, probably not so much in Infants, but when I went to Primary, um, I used to have to retrain my mother, as I put it, that girl’s sandwiches were always in triangles not logs like the boys, and so you had to be a little bit daintier with your sandwiches. [laughter] Silly things you remember.
Clare Where there – we’re talking about the 50s, so late 40s, early 50s, um, had the, ah, migrants become, begun to come to Wollongong?
Barbara They started to come in the ’50s, um, that…
Clare I’m just thinking about your description of lunch and how there’s always, you know, the migrant horror story of being a child in Australia was opening up your lunch box and having all Australian children look at your lunch with horror.
Barbara No see I finished school in 1956 and, um, they were probably there, but not at my level of education, and so, um, that didn’t, um, sort of – I know, my husband, ah, often talks about it, ah, but it wasn’t something that I was aware of, and, um, as a young adult you were starting to see, you know, potato salad, salami! You know, and some of these um, ah, different things that you’d never heard of. Because, like all Australians, it was, at that time, and probably the same as the British people, meat and three veg. Although I think we had more than three veg, but, um…
Clare You probably had more meat too.
Barbara Yes, yes. Oh, we had meat every night and, um… But it’s, it’s funny, um, when you talk about Christmas or birthdays, that was the time you had the chicken. Ah, I don’t know why because we had chickens ourselves, but, um, that was sort of a big thing at Christmas, your roast chicken, and vegetables, and, um…
Clare So chicken was still a special…
Barbara Yes, yes special food. And like as far as soft drinks, they were, ah, not an everyday thing, they were a birthday, Christmas thing. Which is probably why today I don’t drink soft drinks, um…
Clare I was going to ask you about ice cream. Did you have a taste for ice cream?
Barbara Yes, yes. Well, what I can remember, ah, Sunday lunch used to be a big roast, um, leg of lamb and that and we used to go down to the little corner shop and buy what they called a brick of ice cream. And it was wrapped in cardboard, and it was. probably not as big as a house brick, but it was that shape. And, ah, we’d have lunch and then either my brother or I would go down to the corner shop and get the brick of ice cream and, ah, have it with homemade fruit salad, or with peaches. And so that was every Sunday lunch, um, that you had that. Because, um, for a long-time people just had ice chests, um, and so the ice man used to come. He’d have his hessian bag on his shoulder and your block of ice sitting on your, on his shoulder and the big hook. And they actually used to put it in your ice chest and go into the house and put it in the ice chest for the housewife.
Clare Can you remember when you got a fridge? Something that we all take for granted and can’t imagine not having.
Barbara I can’t actually remember. I know when we moved to Mt Saint Thomas, we had one, ah, but in my mind, er, I can’t say when we actually had one. I can remember my aunt had a round one, it was, and, um, when we used to go and visit her in Sydney, we were always intrigued with hers ‘cos we used to spin the shelves round so she had a round one. It was a deep cream colour and I think our, our fridge was a deep cream colour too. But when we actually got it I don’t, I don’t actually, um, can’t give you a date with it. But I know when we lived in Denison Street, I can remember the baker used to come on the horse and cart. And the milkman, um, you used to have your enamel jugs or billy cans and he used to pour it straight into, um, your billy can or your jug. And then we became very modern and, um, got glass bottles with either – I think they started off with cardboard tops and then they went to foil tops.
Um, and I can remember the, um, getting back to school again too, we had little bottles of milk. And every child, um, got a bottle of milk and I actually loved it! We were so lucky at our school. I, I hear some horror stories of milk sitting in the sun and curdling, but there was a man lived in Church Street opposite the school and probably retired man and he used to come over every day and there was like a big washroom and he used to fill the big tubs with, um, ice. And as soon as the, ah, milk was delivered, he’d pack it into the ice and he just had the knack in the summertime, it was beautiful. And the wintertime, it was just lightly chilled, you know. Um, and so you know, we never had curdled milk, um, because ours was um, always undercover. And if someone didn’t want to, their little bottle of milk, well I used to get theirs, you know, so…
Clare That’s a very kind thing to do. He must’ve had the horror, awful milk and decided no chance.
Barbara Yes, yes, that’s right, yes, so, ah…
Clare They won’t have to suffer that. ‘Cos it’s interesting how many people I’ve talked to bring that up.
Barbara Yes, yes. Well, you know, you say some people were out in the, the hot country and they were just left on school verandas. But no, we, I was very thankful about that. It was beautiful, the milk and I’ve got very fond memories of the chilled milk. So, whoever you were, you’re probably long gone, but thank you very much [laughter].
Clare And after you finished school, what, where did you go then? Did you get, get a job immediately?
Barbara Yeah, well I had to wait until I was 15. So, um…so you left school in the November or early December and I couldn’t get a job until I turned 15, which was not until the February. And of course, a lot of the jobs, were ah, sort of gone. And, um, it’s funny looking back – I don’t know what it was called, it certainly wasn’t Centrelink, Social Securities, or something like that it was called – and, ah, you just went with your birth certificate. And they didn’t really ask you what you wanted to do. It was just, “Oh, there’s a job here.”
Clare Was that the old CES, the Commonwealth Employment Service?
Barbara Yes, it could have been. Yeah, something like that, yes. And, um, so I actually got a job at, um, Amco Clothing Company. There was a lot of factories in Wollongong at that time and they were in Keira Street, not too far from Burelli Street. And, um, so, um, I think there’s a project something or other building there now. But anyway, um…
Clare Oh, the art gallery?
Barbara Yes, yeah. But it was just down from that. It was just in a house and they, ah, built extensions on the back. And they made, um, Amco jeans and also work overalls, um, and bib and brace overalls. So, I went, um, to work there and I was, ah, they were, they were, it was only a small company and, and they workers were very nice, but I probably wasn’t what I wanted to be. Um, my girlfriend she was working in the office at Knock & Kirby’s, but I soon realised that I was getting better money than her and I didn’t really have to, um, I mean you went to work looking neat and tidy, but you didn’t, um, dress as if you were in an office, so therefore I didn’t, um, have to spend money on clothing. And I was a, a quite an avid saver and so within a short time I’d bought a Vespa motor scooter. So that made my travelling to and from work and weekends ah, cheap, ‘cos I can remember petrol was only 2/6 a gallon and that would last me quite a while. Well, I probably put 10 shillings in, um, and that would last me for quite a few weeks. Ah, but, um, and then I used to just dress up at the weekends when we went to the movies of that.
But, ah, yeah, so, so in one way that job did me a favour because, um, I was getting a, a good wage and I saved and when I was 17, I bought a block of land in Oak Flats. So, ah, my girlfriends used to, ah, probably spend a lot on stockings and stockings weren’t cheap in those days and, um, makeup and, um, so yeah. And, and the last probably year that I was at Amco before they closed, I was doing office work and then when they closed, I went to work for Illawarra Tutoring company, ah, which no longer exists. They were in, um, the AMP building which I don’t think is the AMP building now, but it’s on the corner of Keira and Market Street on the western corner opposite the Illawarra Hotel. So, I did office work there and, um, but like a lot of small companies, when you were getting married, or when you got married, your job finished when you got married.
Clare So that was the same as with the public service?
Clare That you couldn’t work once you were a married woman.
Barbara Yes, yes.
Clare I thought that was only the public service.
Barbara No, a lot of companies were like…
Clare I didn’t realise it extended to the private sector.
Barbara Yes, yes. And so, this is why a lot of girls, um, ah, when they got engaged, they didn’t tell where they worked that they’re engaged because most people were only engaged say 18 months and they got married. So, they knew that they’d either be demoted or, um, you know, their, their job was on the downhill slide.
Clare Did you question why this was? How you, one day you were fit to be employed and the next day you weren’t.
Barbara It was just, it was just accepted.
Clare That’s just how it was.
Barbara Just how it was, yeah. So, um, because it just, it really sort of happened to, really everyone. Um, and then gradually attitudes changed and, ah, that, but, um, yeah, so…
Clare Do you think it was also to keep, to a certain extent, to keep wages lower for women, because it would, then you would get married at a certain age, which would mean…?
Barbara It could have been. I, I really don’t know the concept behind it. But, um, ah, so we got married and then, um, actually I was then lucky enough to get another job after we were married. Um, for Reginald Warlow. He was a, quite a well-known photographer in Wollongong – actually Anthony Warlow’s father. And, um, he had a photography studio in Crown Street. And, um, I worked for, I, I knew it was only a fill-in, but it was for three months and, um, so that, that was good. And then after that I worked for, um, ah, Bearing Service which is in Swan Street and I worked with them for a couple of years. And with Bearing Service, the manager’s wife was working there and there was another married lady there. And so, um, I was lucky enough to work there for a few years.
Clare Right, so it wasn’t an iron rule?
Clare Like it was in the public service?
Barbara No. You’re, just some companies did, but I would say probably 80% of private businesses once you got married, your job finished. But you, you there were some that ah, you did, um, were able to work at and you just sort of had to be lucky enough and to find who they were and…
Clare And did that apply to jobs like, ah, working in a shop and waitressing and bar maid and such like?
Barbara I’ve got a feeling David Jones, once you got married, you were out the door there. Um, but they did take widows, um, so that could have been to help them, you know, so yes. And then of course you hear the, the fight with the Steelworks, um, you know, the married women wanting jobs there. And that eventually lots of doors changed and opened and, um, to accommodate for married women and it’s just accepted now, whether you’re married doesn’t come into it.
Clare I was going to ask you about the Steelworks. Did, um, most of the boys you knew when they finished school, did they go and work in the Steelworks? Did many people you knew work there?
Barbara Ah, yeah, well, my father worked at, um, CRM.
Clare What’s CRM?
Barbara Ah, Commonwealth Rolling Mills. Ah, and then they became amalgamated by, with Lysaghts. And Commonwealth Rolling Mills um, were, um, not actually attached to Lysaghts, they were more over near the big oil depots, um, and the, um, I suppose you’d say near the, um, the wharves. And it was actually on the old, ‘cos there used to have the bridge going over Tom Thumb’s Lagoon into Port Kembla, um, and it was after you crossed Tom Thumb’s Lagoon bridge and you’re heading towards Port Kembla, CRM was there. Um, I’m just trying to think of the name of the road. Um, but then of course, you know, later the road was diverted to become Springhill Road like it is today. But yeah, and my elder brother he, um, he was a milkman for a couple of years, ah, working for the Mayne family and they had, they had a big farm. Actually, one of their farms, um, as you go out of, um, Figtree, and go up Cobblers Hill into Unanderra, that little dip, ah, their farm was, um, to the east of that. I think the actual expressway cuts through what would have been their property now. But anyway, my brother worked for them for a few years. Ah, then he worked for the Railways and then he went to the Steelworks until he, um, finished there.
Clare So you mentioned the farm where, that was connected to his dairy, was the, the whole town a lot more rural, did it feel a lot more rural?
Barbara Mount St Thomas certainly was because the expressway wasn’t there. Um, Westfield Shopping Centre wasn’t there and that was all farm, farmland. Near the, um, Hellenic club, I think it is, um, at Figtree there, there was, um, a farmhouse there. I think it might have been the Rumble family. Um, and so in those areas it was, it was nothing to see cows round. But then that too gradually changed as things became more settled and more houses and then Figtree, um, shopping centre sprouted up and um, a lot more houses followed suit.
Clare Were you aware of how the, the town was changing and growing larger or did it, was it just happening so slowly that you didn’t notice that?
Barbara You were aware of it, I mean, um, like your shops in Wollongong and then gradually Warrawong grew, because Warrawong was nothing, there was nothing there.
Clare Yeah, I’ve seen photos of it, and there was nothing there.
Barbara No. And I mean it, Port Kembla was a thriving shopping centre, ‘cos that’s where the buses used to go through. Beautiful dress shops and jewellers, you name it, every – banks. And then they opened the shopping centre at Warrawong, and of course it killed Port Kembla. And yes, so you could see it happening. And then, ah, like even at, um, Figtree, there were only just a couple of little corner shops there and then when they opened Figtree Shopping Centre, even though it was a lot smaller in those days than it is today. You could see the drift of people not going into Wollongong because if you’ve seen the photos of Crown Street, Wollongong on a Saturday morning it was really, you know, three and four dreep- deep, even.
Clare And bustling.
Barbara Yes, your bustling. But then too, ah, the shops closed at 5 or half past 5 and they closed at 12 o’clock on a Saturday. So, there was no Thursday night shopping and certainly no shopping on a Sunday. So, you knew that if you had to do shopping, you had to do it then. So, ah…
Clare The photos still give an impression of a place that was far more alive and busy.
Barbara Yes, well, I think it was a social thing, too. People are going to, um, Crown Street and they’d, they’d see people and they’d stop and talk. I can’t remember when ah, we were in Wollongong we used to go there, but what I can’t remember, ah, people going to, um, coffee shops.
Clare I was going to ask were there cafes or anything?
Barbara Yeah. I mean there were cafes there. There was a Spotlight cafe and people might have gone in for a milkshake, but not like it is today, “Let’s do coffee.” That wasn’t the case in my recollections. And, um, although I do remember, um, John and I when we were courting, I suppose, we used to go to the movies on a Saturday night and then there was a coffee shop just up Church Street called the Carousel and we used to go there for a cup of coffee. But like as far as my parents shopping on a Saturday morning and when I was with them, we certainly didn’t stop for tea or coffee.
Clare And how did you meet John?
Barbara Ah, well, my girlfriend Anne, the one that I said worked in the office, she worked in the office at Knock & Kirby’s and that’s where John worked. And they used to have a tennis group that played, can’t remember whether it was Saturday afternoon or a Sunday, probably a Saturday afternoon and she got me to, ah, join her. And, ah, I was a hopeless tennis player, more giggle that hit! Yeah, she had a, a boyfriend that worked at Knock & Kirby’s at the time and we sort of made a foursome. But, um, it was only that, you know, through the connection of them both working at Knock & Kirby’s. So, um, yeah, that was how we met. Not on Tinder or like [laughter]. Oh, dear, so…
Clare One thing we haven’t mentioned, just to backtrack to your school days for one moment, although it might, it, did it come at the end of your school days, was the Queen’s visit to Wollongong?
Barbara The Queen came in 19 -, um, I think it was 19 -, I don’t know. I’ve forgotten now, was it ’52 or ’54? I think I was in, um…
Clare Well she got coronated in ’53, yeah. So, it must have been ’54.
Barbara I was in high school I know that and, um, I think I was in, um, it must have been 2nd year high school, ’54, ’55. No, it would have been 1st year high school I was there. And, um, yes, she, I know, um, Miss Farmer was the, um, headmistress at the time and I can remember her standing up at assembly and she was saying, “The Queen’s coming.” You know, “I want you all to come to school tomorrow with clean shoes, wash your hair.” And the strangest thing was, I thought at the time, was we all had to wear clean petticoats. [Laughter]
Clare What, in case you had to curtsy and a little flash of petticoat…
Barbara So, so there we are we, we turn up to school with shiny shoes and, um, clean hair and, um. Anyway, um, we walked down to the showground, which was where, um, we were all the schools were assembling. And it’s not the main showground today, it was a, a bit further south and it was dirt and, oh, our shoes were all so dusty. [laughter]
Clare After you carefully polishing them!
Barbara And she just drove round and the little wave of the hand, and, um, so um…
Clare Did you get a glimpse?
Barbara Oh, yes, I, I got some good glimpses of her, but, um, yes, it’s, um, certainly wasn’t worth the, ah, wear the clean petticoat. And I, actually, thinking about the petticoat, Mum allowed me to wear my best petticoat. Now what you had to wear your best petticoat for? But it had lace on it, a bit of lace and ribbons threaded through it and, um, yes, so, um, yes I do the remember the Queen.
Clare So it would have got you a morning off school?
Barbara Yes, yes. Well a few hours off anyway, when we all trudged down. And, um, yeah, so that must have been ’54 that she came. And, ah, the girl from Wollongong High School she presented her with a bo- bouquet or something and the wind blew her hat off. Ah, but yes, that was sort of, um, interesting. So, ah, yeah, [right cheering] and excitement. And, but I imagine some kids probably never even saw her, they were you know, jostling with hundreds of school kids trying to see her, so, yeah, fond memories.
Clare Right. Sitting here now in 2021 and looking back then, what, what do you think are the main things that have changed about Wollongong for better or for worse?
Barbara Gosh. Well, people don’t know each other now, but that’s not only Wollongong, it’s everywhere. And a lot of the suburb names have disappeared. You used to have Rosemont, well that’s no longer a suburb.
Clare Where was that?
Barbara Rosemont Street, West Wollongong. It was a suburb there, ah, and it might have only been a cluster of 8 streets or something like that and, ah, Robinson Street, Greenacres Road and that particular circle that was known as Garden Hill. Ah, well that’s just Wollongong now. And Woodlawn, which was a part of really Mangerton, is now Mangerton. So, some of the changes on the, um, names have changed, and they’ve just come under the conglomerate of Wollongong. Yes, there’ve been lots of changes. Um, the old Gasworks down the bottom of Smith Street are long gone.
Um, actually, I drove past there the other day going down to the blood bank and, um, I don’t know what they’re building now, but it’s under like a big plastic dome. But when I was a kid that was the gas works. And Belmore Basin’s basically stayed the same, although they want to keep trying to revamp it. But that, that always holds fond memories of, um, me because, um, as a kid we used to walk down there every weekend and play and paddle there and on to Fairy Creek.
Clare Did you ever buy fish from the fishermen there?
Barbara No, because, um, – oh well, yes, um….
Clare Or your parents buy fish?
Barbara Yeah, because there was quite a big fishing fleet in those days. The Brighton Restaurant and all that sort of thing of course weren’t there. It was just a small shed, a fisherman’s shed. But there were a, quite a few, um, in the fishing fleet and they seemed to be either Maltese or Italians. They we’re always laughing and singing as they, um, pulled their nets in. And sometimes, ah, you know, Mum and Dad’d stop and if they had surplus, you know, it, they’d buy fish, didn’t concern me, I don’t like fish so, um, I never ate fish. But yes, there, there was quite a really big fishing fleet. And then we used to, ah, walk down through the, um, rail cutting to, um…
Clare Which is now the Blue Mile.
Barbara The Blue Mile? Yes, yeah. ‘Cos there used to be a little railway line that ran from Mt Keira down to Belmore Basin.
Clare That was part of the mine wasn’t it?
Barbara . Yeah, part of the mine – used to bring the mine, the coal down from the mine to the ships at Belmore Basin. I mean, I can’t remember the little trains running, but I know the tracks were certainly there when I was a kid. So as kids we often used to walk down the, the tracks ‘cos you knew really there was no little trains coming. And then, um, at Fairy Creek or, um, North Wollongong, Stuart Park, that’s right – I was searching for the word. When I was a child, I, there was like a children’s zoo there. Um, and there were kangaroos and peacocks and, um, well, I used to call it children’s zoo, probably it was just a few cages of different animals. And, um, they used to also hire canoes out at Fairy Creek for people to paddle. Ah, that might have just been a summer thing, but I can certainly remember bright canoes in Fairy Creek. Um, so, Stuart Park and all that area hold fond memories for me. And, um, yeah…
Clare So did you swim?
Barbara Oh yes, yes.
Clare Right. ‘Cos you haven’t mentioned the beach, that’s why I wondered.
Barbara Oh, yes, yes, oh, we used to swim. Mum and Dad used to swim. And yes, and, um, looking back as a child some of the swimsuits, oh my gosh, you know, granny [motive obvious?]. Lucky I never had a hand knitted swimsuit, but many poor kids did. And, um, of course when they got wet, they stretched and the crutch finished up, round their knees.
Um, I do have, I do have a photo of me in a knitted swimsuit, but it was a commercially knitted one, so it was certainly like, nothing like the home knitted ones.
Clare Right, you were spared that indignity.
Barbara Yes yes. And the, um, when I was older too, the surf carnivals, they were huge. Thousands used to turn up to watch the surf carnivals, especially if they were, um, at North Beach. They’d be all up on the walkways, um, and on, um, what’s parkland now, where the cannons are, and they’d be looking down at the, um, the carnival because, you know, you couldn’t, get on the sand, there were so many people They were big. So, um, yes, but we used to swim and surf and that sort of thing.
Clare And presumably they happened during the Christmas holidays?
Barbara Ah, yeah, the surf carnivals seemed to be in the January, February thing. But, um, yeah, we used to, um, you know, go to the beach every weekend, seemed to be summer or winter. Maybe in the winter we didn’t actually swim, but, ah, my parents certainly swam and um, yeah. So that’s why I say Belmore Basin and Continental baths and, um, Stuart Park were really another form of our backyard. So, and as when we were living in Denison Street as I mentioned, we didn’t have a car. Well, we, we didn’t have a car, even at Mount St Thomas. But I remember that Chaffee’s, when they first got a car, and, oh, it was great excitement. I can’t remember what sort of car it was, but they were big cars in those days. And, um, Margaret’s father, George, he was, um, a butler at the Gentlemen’s Club in Smith Street.
Clare Didn’t know such a thing existed.
Barbara Oh yes, yes, the Gentlemen’s Club. And you had to be a businessman or a solicitor or a doctor or something at that point of time to be eligible to join the Gentlemen’s Club. So, when her father was on duty, sometimes if we were walking back from swimming, um, we’d call into the kitchen door and the, the cook’d give us a glass of, um, lemon juice and, um, and she’d see her father for a few minutes, and he’d be all all dressed up in his black tie and what not. Yes, and then we’d walk home. But anyway, when they, they bought a car and, um, on one of their outings, I was invited to join them. And we seemed to be driving forever, but in actual fact it was just to Kiama, ah, but it seemed to be a long time. And looking back there were probably 15 people in that car. [laughter] And the um, there were people sitting on the back seat, there were people standing and children standing in front of the people that were sitting on the back seat. Then there were people nursing small children on the back seat and the same in the front. So, in the back seat there could have been like three sitting, three standing, two being nursed. And you know a couple like that in the front, so they really packed them in. And of course, there were no seatbelts. [laughter] Sort of, you just, you know, whenever you could squeeze into a car you
Clare You went for it.
Barbara for raised in, so that was quite funny.
Clare But you must have been really fit though, walking everywhere. ‘Cos you say Stuart Park was your backyard, but it’s a fair trek from Denison Street and certainly from Mount St Thomas to Stuart Park and…
Barbara Well, yes, from Mount St Thomas we did actually catch the bus in, but when I was playing tennis and we lived at Mount St Thomas I used to walk to Coniston and up Heaslip Street hill, so that was, um, a bit of a hike. I don’t know what mileage it’d be now, you know, because you, you’d walk. Yes, you’d get to, um, Coniston from Mount St Thomas and then you’d have to walk up Heaslip Street and there was a farmhouse there that had tennis courts and, um, so they used to give tennis lessons. And so then, when you were finished, you then had to walk home. And then, um, as a teenager I went to St Marks West Wollongong only because my girlfriend was there. I mean, I was a Protestant, but we were a non-practising family. Actually Presbyterians. But, um, you know, Mum and Dad weren’t really practising. And, um, so, um, we would walk to West Wollongong from Mount St Thomas. So, you’d go down St Johns Avenue, up Mangerton Street into Crown Street to the church.
Clare You like the hills, don’t you?
Barbara Yeah, yes, there was all hills yes so, but while you were talking, and you know and walking. And then sometimes after church someone would say, Oh, well, look I, you know, “I live part of the way,” and, um, so you’d get a lift home. But everyone really did walk or you had a push bike and you, you rode. So that was just the way of life. And I mean even where we live now, I’ll still walk down to the bread shop. Um, whereas I know my neighbours hop in the car and drive down, so I think, Oh, yeah.
Clare This just occurred to me. You mentioned when you were at Amco they were making jeans. Did you ever wear jeans, or did they make women’s jeans then?
Barbara Ah, well, they made men’s jeans, but, um, Harold, our, who was the owner boss, he looked into making ladies jeans and there was, um, myself and another, I can’t remember the other lady’s name, and so they took our measurements too and made jeans for us. Um, they made two pair for each of us, so a lighter colour and a darker colour. I remember the, the, um, darker colour had red stitching on the pockets and that and down the sides ‘cos they were like a navy colour. But, um, they decided it wasn’t going to be profitable for them making ladies jeans. So, we kept the two pair that we had and so I was wearing jeans really, um, in the late ’50s. And, um, and then probably the early ’60s they started to come onto the market. I know my, ah, girlfriend’s mother, ah, she was a bit shocked, you know, wearing jeans. But I love my jeans, I still wear them today and, ah, not that same pair of course. But jeans, I still have quite a few pair of jeans that I wear today and, ah, it’s very, very seldom you see me in a dress. I only own one dress and that’s I bought it for a special function and I’ve only worn it twice since, even though I paid an obscene amount of money for it. I, I love jeans and pants, so thanks to Amco.
Clare And, um, any of your girlfriends say, “Oh, I really like those. I’d like a pair. Where could I get a pair of them?” or anything like that?
Barbara Yes, well, when they, they did start to become, um, popular, the girls started wearing them. Um, but, um, I know there was one friend, and she was very slim, and her twin brother was slim, and she used to nick his jeans sometimes to wear them. But yeah, it’s sort of hard looking back, but they weren’t really as acceptable as they are now. And, um, and I can remember one story, um, the RSL club in, um, Wollongong, it’s now called the City Diggers or the Diggers, and they had a strict code of a Saturday night dress. And miniskirts were out at the time and we were there with a friend this night and she had a beautiful slacks suit on.
Clare What year’s this?
Barbara That would have been the early ’60s, ’62, ’63. And she had a beautiful slack suit on, and, um, the doorman said, “Madam, you are not allowed to come into the club wearing slacks.” And, “It’s not appropriate dress.” So, she just stepped to one side and she took the slacks off. twirled them in the air, draped them over her arm and walked in wearing the coat, which was the length of a mini dress, and it was quite acceptable. But I wouldn’t have liked to have seen her bend over! [Laughter] That’s how funny some of the things were, but even then, wearing slacks, and she, it was a beautiful outfit, but, um, the club just deemed it not suitable. So, ah, the wearing of slacks for women certainly has a chequered history. [Laughter]
Clare Especially at Wollongong Diggers by the sound of things.
Barbara Yes, yes, oh dear.
Clare Well thank you very much, Barbara for your time and your stories. I really enjoyed listening to them and I’m sure Wollongong Oral History project thanks you too.
Barbara Thank you. I hope it jogs a few people’s memories.