Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Bill Kierse
Interviewer: Tom Hadley
Interview Date: 1995
Tom Hello again and welcome to In My Day. My guest today is ah, Bill Kierse ah, from Wollongong. Ah, Bill was born in 1936 and, um, amongst other things in his life he was a, a boilermaker and, um, when he was around about 29, he, he joined the police force. So Bill’s been talking with me today about his early life in Western Australia in Kalgoorlie and, um, other parts of Australia and New Zealand when he was a boilermaker and about some of his experiences in the police force. So welcome Bill, and where do you think we should begin?
Bill At the beginning.
Tom Okay, so you were born in, um, Kalgoorlie and your father worked on the gold mines.
Tom And, ah, his parents worked on the gold mines before him, or-
Bill Father had been a farmer in Ballarat.
Tom So, um, er, back in those days there were things like the Coolgardie safe and things like that to keep your meat, er, cold?
Bill Yes, only primitive appliances.
Tom Yeah. So how did that work?
Bill Mostly a framework with a metal tank on top and canvas or hessian surrounding and little bits of cloth over the side and the water dripped down, and the breeze blowing through the water kept inside of it cool.
Tom So it was about the only way I guess, there was there no ice around in those days?
Bill I do remember the iceman being around, but ah, we didn’t have an ice chest. Ah, we relied on the, ah, Coolgardie safe.
Tom So, ah, when you were, ah, 9½ your, your dad died, um, from dust from the mines.
Tom And you moved to, to ah, a place called Boulder, is it?
Bill Boulder, yes.
Tom Tell me something about Boulder, I’ve never heard of Boulder before.
Bill Well Boulder is, ah, the twin city of Kalgoorlie. Very similar to, ah, what Wollongong and Fairy Meadow would be like, ah, side by side. And there used to be a lot of rivalry in the old days, about this, ah, much the same as it is, ah, between any two suburbs, different suburbs. But Boulder came about because it was much closer to the mines in the early days and it was easier for me to walk to work. And that’s how it actually came to be.
Tom And, um, I guess um, your mum didn’t want you to go into the mines. Is, is that right, or-
Bill Yes, she actively discouraged that, and ah, you couldn’t go until you were 18 anyway, because of the, the law of the land, but she had, ah, she didn’t want us to go the way my father went.
Tom No. So, so, so what did you do then, what did you decide to do?
Bill Just left school. I, I worked in a grocer shop for about 12 months and, um, then a, a glaziers, then I worked in a, a motor garage then, then I went down to Perth and become an apprentice boilermaker.
Tom Oh right, on, on the railways?
Bill On the railways, yes.
Tom Oh, okay. You told me that, ah, that you used to play around the railways, like I did when I was a child and, ah, there was ah, an incident where, where you used to push the turntable around. Would you like to tell me about that?
Bill Yes, this was in Coolgardie and, ah, just outside the station had this big device in, in a circular hole to turn the locomotives around. Put the locomotor on and push it around. Ah, our Sunday pastime we’d get on either side of it and push it around, get it spinning and jump on and ride it till it finished and start it up again. So one day there was no room for me, so I hopped on the inside of it, sort of [inaudible] resistance and, ah, well I never had an understanding of mechanics, I got on the outside or the extremity of it, but this is where it was travelling the fastest and I nearly got rolled over, so I had to work my way into the inside and sit down ‘til it stopped spinning.
Tom So it was going pretty fast by then? Yeah, we do these things when we’re younger I think, without any regard for our safety. And, ah, that was, er, before, er, the Second World War, and ah, there were two, two trains going up through Coolgardie.
Bill Yes, ah, a lot of troop trains passing from the east to the west and vice versa came through Coolgardie. And we used to go and meet them on a Sunday or Saturday. And some of the kids used to go and buy the pies for the soldiers down the street, that sort of thing.
Tom And they, they were so long sometimes they had difficulty getting up the hill.
Bill Getting up the, yes they had to, ah, head back up the incline and have another go at it sometimes.
Tom So they were running back a couple of miles and then start again.
Bill Start again, yes.
Tom And, um, then, so when you went to become an apprentice, you, ah, you moved down to Perth er, had you been to Perth before?
Bill Towards the end of the war at the time my father died we’d been away on a holiday camp with the Country Women’s Association at Fremantle, and, ah, that’s the only time I’d been, been down the city.
Tom I mean where did you live when you went as an apprentice in Perth?
Bill I worked in the railways at Midland Junction, the workshop’s there, which just recently closed. I live in, ah, the Midland Coffee Palace, a non licensed hotel, boarding house.
Tom So that was from the Temperance Society days.
Bill Yes, I believe that, that’s what they went back to, yes.
Tom So it took, ah, what, five years to become, or was it, that the apprenticeship time or-
Bill Yes, the apprenticeship was five years in those days.
Tom And you ended up becoming a qualified boilermaker.
Bill Qualified boilermaker.
Tom You were indentured to the railways as a result of that, or?
Bill Yes. It was a, quite a formal process, to sign, sign contracts and, ah
Tom And how long would they, um, employ you for after you became, ah, qualified?
Bill Well depending on the, their need for labour, some trades they, they kept them on and some trades they automatically ah, let them go. The, ah, there wasn’t a great deal of work in Western Australia at that time, besides, ah, if you had a job, you held onto it.
Tom And, um, you, ah, you were a young man starting to earn a little bit of money, and ah, did you, how did you get about in those days?
Bill I ended up, ah, buying myself a motorcycle.
Tom Oh, so what, what sort of bike was that?
Bill That was an, an Ariel, a 500cc Ariel.
Tom So it was different, ah, in those days, driving around in the bush I suppose, on a bike. You didn’t have to have a helmet for a start, I suppose.
Bill No, that’s, that’s true, we didn’t have helmets, ah, helmets were police something of that sort, yeah.
Tom And, and, ah, would you have to carry extra fuel or could you get from A to B on the bike without worrying about petrol?
Bill No, we didn’t need to carry extra, extra petrol there, wherever I went there was always a, a petrol supply within range.
Tom So you were, um, so you finished your apprenticeship, ah, towards the end of the 1940s.
Bill No, 1958 because I started in ’52, so-
Tom Right, okay, yeah. And um, and you did some National Service, ah, for a short while in the early ’50s.
Bill Yes, ah, in 1956 or thereabouts for three months straight then two fortnightly camps the next two years, plus some weekend, ah, bivouacs.
Tom Right. Did you think you would end up in the police force back then, or, or did you have any ideas about that?
Bill Not at, not at that stage. I had, the thought had crossed my mind from time to time, but, ah, the other more plans to travel and so I put that on the back burner.
Tom All right, so where, where, where were you going to travel to?
Bill Intended to go around the world.
Tom Oh really? So, so, ah, did you, did you set off on that journey or, or what?
Bill Yes. About 12 months after I finished my apprenticeship, a lot of our chaps were leaving and going to New Zealand or South Australia, and uh, rumoured to be, ah, pots of money to be made in those places in the trades. So, I followed on and, ah, but I never struck the, struck the jackpot.
Tom Yeah. So how did you, ah, you, you travelled to which place in New Zealand?
Bill I went to Wellington first.
Tom Ah ha.
Bill On the old monolite, took about four days to get there. Very much so.
Tom Yeah, well I, I’ve never been on one of those sea voyages, but, ah, they tell me that, ah, the crossing is, ah, is pretty rough between Australia and New Zealand.
Bill Well I was put on, various experiences there. I, I was in a cabin with a, a seaman who was here on duty or some such, and he was travelling back to New Zealand, and I was bemoaning my fate, and I said, oh, it’s rough today and he sort of cast and eye up, and he said, bit of a swell.
Tom [laughs]. And I understand that you weren’t intending to go to Wellington in the first place anyway.
Bill No. I thought I was going to Auckland, but being such an inexperienced traveller, ah, ended up we just jumped on the ship and assumed that it was just going to, going to Auckland, but it alternated between Auckland and Wellington on different trips so that’s how we came to be in Wellington.
Tom So, as a boilermaker in Australia you would have worked on, on the steam engines because they were that, that’s what they used to use in those days, is that right?
Bill Yeah, that’s true.
Tom Mm. And, and then did you end up working on steam engines when you went to Wellington in New Zealand?
Bill No, I, um, no I worked on structural work, on building um, oil installations [inaudible].
Tom So this was quite an adventure for, for a young man. What were you 24, 25?
Bill About 20, about 23, yes.
Tom Right. Ah, going, going to this new country, did you think it was like Australia or, or were you surprised when you got there?
Bill Well, I was a bit, a bit disappointed. I’d been led to believe we were blood brothers, but, ah, I found out we weren’t always welcome with open arms.
Tom And, ah, they, they, they drink, or they drank a different sort of beer over there.
Bill Yes, very different. Very flat.
Tom You travelled with a, with a Pommie bloke, I think you said, did you?
Bill Yes. I met a, I met a chap on the boat who was, had some, spent a few years in New Zealand and was returning to England and got home sick for New Zealand when he got as far as Sydney, so.
Tom I see. And, er, well he had a bit of a liking for this flat beer that they drank in Wellington.
Bill Yes, he was partial to it, but ah, it took some getting used to.
Tom You told me that, er, you, you went into a pub early on and, er, and the barman, um, you weren’t satisfied with what the barman had, ah, placed there. Would you like to tell me that story?
Bill Yes, we, we called in and, um, ordered some beers, sort of finding our legs and before he’d turned around from giving us the change, the beer had gone flat. I complained about this, and he said, there’s nothing wrong with it. And my mate John said to drink it if there’s nothing wrong with it. And this he proceeded to do in two fell swoops.
Tom And yeah okay. So in those days, ah, when you went out on a Saturday night after you’d been, um, working all week, you tended to dress up, is that right, you put a collar and tie on?
Bill Yes, that was the ah, [inaudible] those days.
Tom Yeah, seems to have changed a little bit now, doesn’t it?
Bill Yes, it’s the other way, it’s the other extreme now. Ah, if you dress up, ah
Tom So you, you, so you set out to travel, ah, around the world and this was going to be your first leg where you made some money and…
Tom Did that happened or?
Bill No, definitely didn’t. There was more work than money. It wasn’t a great rate of pay and just sufficient to, ah, get from um, one end of the week to the next.
Tom And then you, so you, you decided to come back to Australia and, and look for work as a boilermaker in Australia?
Bill Yes, to um, get my bankroll.
Tom [laughs] Okay. And, and is that how you ended up in Wollongong?
Bill Yes, I, I came back to Sydney, the first time I flew wasn’t going to face the seasickness again, so I decided to, ah, fly. And I, I got on the plane at Auckland and, um, and there was a couple of very experienced fliers sitting ahead of me and complaining about the an-, the antiquity of the plane, which I thought was wonderful. Anyway, it started off and after all, he got up full revs and let go then obviously there was braking and the pilot said, sorry folks, there’s a malfunction.
Tom Oh no.
Bill We’ll have to return. And this they did. To hell with flying. So I rushed out the front of the airport, there wasn’t a taxi to be seen. The next flight would’ve been some hours away. I was forced to fly.
Bill So, so they fixed up the malfunction, or got another plane or something.
Tom Yeah, but you’re still here today, so, um…
Bill Yes, for the best, yeah.
Tom Oh was it? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, flying was a bit different in those days to what it is now.
Bill It was a super duper plane of the times in the, a Lockheed Electra and that’s, all goes, possibly gone by the board didn’t it?
Tom Yeah. So, you needed to find work and, um, what, you came to look for work in Wollongong at the steelworks?
Bill Yeah. Yeah, I came down to the steelworks. I couldn’t get a, couldn’t get fixed up in Sydney. I applied for several jobs in several areas but apparently they were doing a lot of advertising but not much hiring.
Bill And, ah, so I came to the steelworks and moved into Karingal Hostel.
Tom Yeah. So were there many other people, ah, in there, similar to you that, ah, who sort of come from other parts of Australia and the world?
Bill Yes, it was very cosmopolitan, the hostel. Say probably about 200 people, um, would have lived there at that stage.
Tom ’cause the steelworks was expanding back then I suppose, was it, or?
Bill Not, not as much as it has in more recent years, ah, I think the BOS was the, coming online about that time.
Tom Okay. So I, I, I guess for the most part there was a shortage of, um, of, ah, tradespeople and things, is that why they brought people from overseas do you think?
Bill Oh, I expect so, that was, ah, yeah, lots of, ah, people from England and, other places.
Tom So were, were, were there many, um, Aussies like you with, ah, trade qualifications or were most of them from overseas?
Bill Oh, I’d say about half and half, ah, English speaking or Australian born.
Tom So, it was around about that time you came to work in Wollongong and you were going to make your bankroll. Is that right?
Tom Then, um, then something happened that made it a bit more comfortable for you there, I think, ah, around about what 1966, when you, you met your wife?
Bill Oh no, I, I met her early in the piece, about, about 1961.
Tom Oh, okay.
Bill At the, at the YHA.
Tom They used to have a name for the, was that the Youth Hostels Association was it, or was it called something else back then?
Bill Well, the Youth Hostels was the official title, but it was known to all and sundry as the Young Husbands Association.
Tom Oh really [laughs]. So what, is that where the, the young women went to look for a, a husband? Or was it where the young men went to look for a, a wife?
Bill I think it was, ah, a bit of both actually. But, ah, a passing interest in camping and weekends in the countryside.
Tom So where was that in Wollongong?
Bill That was in Market Street.
Bill Just next, next to Kembla Street, ah, I can’t think of the name of it, it was a church hall or a, some sort of, um, a hall there that we used to go to every Tuesday night and have dances or film nights or talks by somebody or other.
Tom And I think you told me that you’d had some dancing lessons when you were younger, so you were probably quite a good dancer, were you by then?
Bill Well, I would never have passed master at it, but I, I had improved.
Tom Uh-huh, which year did you get married er, Bill?
Tom Right. And did you have a honeymoon or a, wedding?
Bill Yes, ah, we had a wedding and the reception was in the YWCA in Thomas Street and, ah, it was a fair to midland crowd. Went out through Broken Hill down to Adelaide.
Tom Oh, yes.
Bill On our honeymoon, ’cause I had some relatives at Broken Hill that I hadn’t met and I thought it’d be off the beaten track, which it was. I met my relatives and, ah, we went on down through Adelaide and Mount Gambier and back through Victoria and back to Wollongong.
Tom So how did you travel on that? Was that a train, or did you have a car?
Bill No, I had a Holden by that time on patriotic duty.
Tom Even though you’d originally come to Wollongong to, um, to get a bankroll to go on further, you, um, you then got married and found that it was nice and comfortable and you wanted to stay?
Bill Yes, that’s about it.
Tom So, ah, at what time did you join the, you decided to join the police around about that time was it or-?
Bill Yes, after I got married I thought it would be more permanent, ah, the security, and I joined in 1966.
Tom So the, um, were you allowed to stay in Wollongong after you trained then or did they send you somewhere else?
Bill No, I, I moved to, ah, moved to Sydney when I joined and, ah, was stationed in Balmain and Five Dock. Then I went out to country.
Tom So what, what was it, what was life like being a policeman in Balmain and Five Dock, ah, in those days?
Bill Very, very interesting, ah, except the biggest part of the work was ah, going to motor vehicle accidents and things of that nature.
Tom So, ah, you moved out to Grenfell in the, in the Midwest?
Tom That was a bit of a different way of life out there, after living in the city?
Bill Yeah, it was quite different, small town and, um, everybody was very friendly, got along well with everyone and ah, it was a whole new ball game as far as the policing was concerned.
Tom But there was a, a major incident there, I think you said, where a, a commuter plane had, had crashed nearby?
Bill Yes, that happened and um, I ended up getting a helicopter from Canberra and come and lift the people out and bring them into the hospital.
Tom So was it easy to communicate in those days? Did they have radios or, or, or telephone or what?
Bill At that, that stage, that particular incident ah, police radio hadn’t, ah, hadn’t arrived in, ah, Grenfell or wasn’t in our cars at that stage, so we had to communicate with that site via West Wyalong and the ambulance radioed back to Grenfell, and they, we got the information for them by telephone.
Tom And there was a chain of command that you had to go through before you could call in the helicopter?
Bill Yes, that was ah, another side to it. We had to, um, go through the ambulance. They went through their radio to Wyalong, who were behind the mountain, and they got to the mountain, and they sent their requests. They came through to us and we relayed it to the Inspector at Forbes, who went to the Superintendent at Parkes, who then relayed it to Sydney, and, ah, back and forth for a while before the authority was given for the helicopter to come.
Tom But ah, I, think they saved everybody, is that right, or?
Bill Yes, there was, there was some injuries from that, nobody died as a result of it.
Tom Um and, um, you moved from Grenfell down to, um, a small place at, uh, Captains Flat. Why, why did you move there?
Bill Well, um, to broaden my experience and, um, be my own man. ‘Cause it was a one man operation down there and ah, that was largely the purpose of it.
Tom And your children were, were still quite young then. What, er, Timothy about 5½.
Bill He was about 5½, yes, and Simon about four, four and, ah, four years. They attended the local, or Timothy attended the local school, and we took Simon into town occasionally into the preschool. We had to do all our shopping in Queanbeyan or Canberra.
Tom Yeah, yeah. I don’t think Captains Flat would have changed very much since then, do you think? Have you been back there?
Bill No, I haven’t been back but I don’t believe it, it certainly hasn’t improved, it’s just got less and less, ah-
Tom Less houses.
Bill Then they were a lot of the houses were used by people who commuted into Canberra.
Bill They got jobs in Canberra when the mine closed, ah, which was before I went there.
Tom So the town is a, is, is quiet in the day when people are all working in Canberra.
Bill Yes, yes.
Tom And ah, you then decided to what, come back to Wollongong in the, the early ’70s.
Tom So how was it like, er, coming back to Wollongong after you’d been away, what, for about 10 years or something?
Bill Well it was a, a, it was like being back in Sydney work-wise with a big team of people to work with, and, ah, better family wise.
Tom Yeah. And ah-
Bill Doctors and things like that.
Tom But you’d previously worked in Wollongong in the steelworks.
Tom And now you were back as a policeman.
Bill Yes, that’s right, yeah, yeah.
Tom So I guess you saw a different side of Wollongong, yeah as a-
Bill Yes I did. Yes, it was a diff-, different ah experience.
Tom Was there something that, ah, can you remember that you’d want to tell me on tape that was, ah, that you remember from back then that was interesting?
Bill I’d say ah, recall a particular incident, no ah, I did um, after I, shortly after I came back, I, I moved onto breathalyser work.
Tom Oh yeah.
Bill And I did that, did that for number of, ah, number of years. That was solely testing people who had the misfortune to come under notice.
Tom Do you think that made a difference, ah, when the breathalyser came in, to drink driving?
Bill I certainly did, ah, it made the police, police work much easier. ‘Cause before that it was ah, a very difficult job to ah, obtain a conviction. But this was more a scientific approach, and, um, a person went to a certain level, it was assumed that they were at fault, so that made it easy police wise and, ah, a lot less accidents and did have a big impact at the time.
Tom So, um, how would you check if somebody was, ah, drink driving before the breathalyser came in?
Bill Rely on, main-, mainly on observations or as the result of an accident or someone had come to grief and ah, come under notice that way.
Tom Was there some sort of test they had to go through, or?
Bill We just relied on, um, personal observation mainly, um, see if they, if they could walk a, a reasonably straight line or their eyes weren’t bloodshot or their breath, or their speech wasn’t slurred, and things like that nature yes, ah. Then later on random breath testing and, such things like that refinement, but-
Tom So you, um, you eventually ended in Sutherland for a while, and you got a promotion as a Sergeant.
Bill Yes I, when I became a Sergeant, I was transferred away from the breathalyser back to general duties and, ah, about 18 months after that I was moved up to, ah, Sutherland and I, I ranged that area for the rest of my service.
Tom So you need a lot more, you got more skills in supervision and dealing with people.
Bill Yes, that’s right, ah, heavy, heavy emphasis on supervision and management skills now, and ah, not only have to do your own work, you’ve got to be responsible for all those under your control and make sure that they’re performing.
Tom In your life you’ve seen quite a lot, you’ve been born in Kalgoorlie and then been an apprentice as a -, on the railways and then going to New Zealand, and then being a policeman in the, in the country and um, so have you enjoyed that?
Tom So um, I could, I could talk, ah, for, for a long time about, ah, some of the things that you’ve seen as a policeman I think, but I’ve only got about half an hour to do this program so um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna close now and say thank you Bill for, for spending the time to speak with me this morning. And I, I look forward to seeing you at Toastmasters perhaps one day.
Bill Yes, look forward to having you.