Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Coralie Cunningham
Interviewer: Richard Raxworthy
Interview Date: 1 October 1998
Richard This is Mount Keira Mine Tramway Workers Project. Um, 7A is the number of the tape. The 1st of the 10th ’98 talking to Mrs Coralie Cunningham and I’ll ask you first, Mrs Cunningham, could you spell your full name including your maiden name.
Coralie C-o-r-a-l-i- e C-u-n-n-i-n-g-h-a-m. My single name was Ryan, R-y-a-n.
Richard And what year were you born?
Coralie Ah, 1935.
Richard And whereabouts were your parents living at that time?
Coralie In Murwillumbah.
Richard And did you grow up there?
Coralie No, I came back here when I was 5 months old and, ah, then lived at, ah, Coniston, Fairy Meadow, Mount Pleasant and grew up in, in Balgownie then.
Richard And your, your family, what did they do?
Coralie My father was a coal miner. Ah, was retrenched, ah, with the depression. That is why we moved to, ah, Murwillumbah and, ah, then work picked up down here a little when I was five months old, so that was why he came back. And, um, then the mine started, Keira starting, started taking men back on in, ah, late ’37 and my dad got put back on in ’38.
Richard Had he worked at Mount Keira before?
Coralie No, he worked at Mount Pleasant.
Richard And, um, sorry, he worked at Mount Pleasant as well, yes?
Richard What do you first remember about the tramway?
Coralie Ah, well, probably when I was, um, oh probably about 10 and my dad had bought a car then. And I can still remember the, the tracks or there being something in that that’s now a park there.
Richard So when you were 10, so that’s 1944. So the tracks had been pulled up at that time had they?
Coralie Yes. They would have been gone, but there was still evidence of it in the park there.
Richard And what about, um, down the, in between Smith Street, ah, was there, ah, was the right of way still there?
Coralie Well that I can’t remember.
Richard The park, what do you remember in Osborne, of Osborne Park when you were, ah, 10 in 1944?
Coralie Well, it was just an open space.
Richard Was there grass?
Coralie Yes, grass.
Richard And what about the, the port itself, um, were there railway lines at all anywhere?
Coralie Well, there was still a couple of railway lines, ah, near Belmore Basin itself, but, ah, not a lot that I remember but I can just vaguely recall that there were still some lines there.
Richard And was any, were there any trucks going along those lines, or was it cut off?
Coralie No, well see that I can’t remember. Being a child I suppose I didn’t take as much notice, but I just remembered things, little things like that.
Richard Do you remember the hotel down there?
Coralie No, no.
Richard Brighton Hotel.
Coralie Yes, no I don’t, I think that was gone by that stage that would have been gone.
Richard Do you remember the old bridge, Smith’s Creek bridge?
Coralie Um, no, the only bridge I remember is the one that came, ah, from the Mount Pleasant mine that they called Skeleton Bridge. And that brought the, the, um, trucks down from Mount Pleasant mine and along through the cutting at, um, at North Beach, they brought them along through there. But that’s the one I remember because sometimes we used to walk before my dad had a car and we walked across that old bridge and around to North Beach.
Richard And you used to go swimming there, did you?
Coralie Yes. And to Fairy Creek, which was the most popular place for young children then.
Richard Did you follow the, um, the right of way up on the other side past Fairy Creek at, ah, what is now Wiseman’s Park, where the bridge is, there was a Skeleton Bridge up there too.
Coralie Oh no, no. No, we mainly just kept down to that area there.
Richard And, ah, so you will get used to go swimming. Ah, did you go picnicking down there as well?
Coralie Yes, um, at Fairy Creek, yes, we went picnicking.
Richard But not anywhere near around the harbour?
Coralie No, we would have just, once my father had a car, we drove around there a few times quite a few times. But then as I, um, I grew up when I got to be 13 or 14 and with the, the young friends and we’d just walk along there a lot of times and up around the, um, the harbour area.
Richard Do you remember any fishing boats around there then?
Coralie Oh yes, there would have been just a few. Yes.
Richard Do you remember what they were, who they were, the fishermen?
Coralie Oh, no, no I don’t remember that.
Richard What sort of boats?
Coralie Um, well, trawlers. There was a couple of trawlers because once we had the car, my mother used to like to go and buy the fish there.
Richard Now, where did they sell the fish, did they have a fish market in those days?
Coralie No, no, they sold the fish from the, ah, from the boat and that was how. They had no fish market there at all then.
Richard And did they manage to sell the whole of it, or did some of it get sent away?
Coralie I think some of it was sent away as well as selling a lot, there’d be a lot of people there buying on a, often a Sunday afternoon, it was an afternoon out as well as, as buying.
Richard And what about, um, did the fishermen, do you remember fishermen selling in the town at all?
Coralie No, ah, but where I lived at Balgownie in those days they had a lot of people used to come around with a cart and they came around selling fish or different produce off the cart.
Richard What other produce did they sell, did the butcher come round?
Coralie Ah, the, local butcher, Mr Gipper and, ah, there’d be a fruit man, ice cream. I remember that one well [laughs].
Richard Did any of them sell tomatoes and onions and things like that?
Coralie Yes, the fruit man would have sold, mm, all of that. But of course also a lot of people then grew their own. So my parents really didn’t buy very much of that because my father had a very large garden, so, ah, he didn’t, they didn’t buy very much.
Richard And what about the tramway itself, did you follow, ever follow that down?
Coralie No I didn’t, no.
Richard So you didn’t know what it was like. Well would you, what about the top part that was still going when you remember, do you remember that?
Coralie No, um, I can, I can still, I don’t remember the top part going, but I, I can remember it going across Flinders Street which is, you know, all of that are there. Well it went across Flinders Street and that, those rails weren’t pulled up until I was in my teens across there. And, and of course that, a lot of the other parts had been.
Richard Do you know where the coke ovens were?
Richard You never see the, the, er, trucks coming down to there.
Coralie Ah, well, no, I didn’t, we didn’t, um, I didn’t have much to do. If we came into Wollongong it was, ah, from Balgownie then up Flinders Street in the main highway so we didn’t get to see very much of that. But I heard a lot of from my father of course, from the Keira incline and, ah, the, the coal that used to come down from there.
Richard What did he tell you about that?
Coralie Oh, well, that’s hard to put into words really, because when you, you’re growing up you hear lots of stories and, ah, and things but, um, that was just their way of life as well. He didn’t work on any of that ‘cos he worked in the mine, um, but also the one at, ah, North Wollongong as well. We used to watch the trucks coming down there because that came, ah, from the mine as well. And of course that originally came from Pleasant that one, the coke works there as well.
Richard Did your father ever mention how many trucks were, were ah, were attached in one position on the, on the cable?
Coralie Oh, no, I can’t remember that. But I know that they, there would have been quite a few at one time being brought down.
Richard Did he ever talk of a winding engine?
Coralie No, I don’t recall that he ever talked of a winding engine.
Richard Or brake failure, brakes?
Coralie Oh, he possibly did, but see I can’t remember those, those things.
Richard I’m gonna leave that end and see if I can mine more of your memory of the, of the park itself down, ah, down by the, the port. When you first remember, there was a few lines there still and, um, do you remember Skeleton Bridge further down, but can you remember nothing of the, ah, of the other little bridge, ah, which had been previously for the Mount Keira mine?
Coralie No, I don’t remember that one.
Richard And what about at, round the other side where the coal stakes had been were they still there, where the loading facilities to..?
Coralie They, I don’t remember them being there, no.
Richard And where were the, um, you know where the fish markets are now, was that where the, ah, the fishermen used to, used to tie up their boats and sell fish?
Coralie Yes, but mainly around the other side. The market’s on this side now and that was around ??
Richard And, ah, the old crane was still there?
Coralie No, not that I remember.
Richard ‘Cos there’s only a post left on the end. Yeah, it’s just a post the crane was on, the crane’s not there.
Coralie No, I don’t remember the crane being there. It could have been, but I don’t remember.
Richard Do you remember any, any ships coming in, boats coming in there to load up or unload anything?
Coralie Oh, no, not, no, in my memory there was only the fishing, only the fishing boats. No, anything really coming in that I remember had long finished with, ah, bringing things in.
Richard When you went to the beach further along where did you get your hot water for making tea or anything like that?
Coralie Well, there was always a kiosk so it would have been from the kiosk.
Richard Is that Fairy Creek?
Coralie Yes, Fairy Creek. There was a, they had quite a large kiosk there actually.
Richard Yeah. Was there a kiosk at all at the harbour?
Coralie No, no, there was nothing like that.
Richard Where is, where is Fairy Creek on this? No, it’s not on, oh, yes it is, it’s around here, isn’t it? Yeah. And the coke works was across the other side there, the Figtree Coke Works. If you look up here, you see that creek goes further up here and there was a, a bridge the abutments of which are still there on Fairy Creek up here at the Wiseman’s Park.
Coralie Oh, yeah.
Richard But you never saw that?
Coralie No, no, no I didn’t, no. I have a couple of photos there of ah, like the old photos, but you’ve probably got all those sort of things as well.
Richard I’d like to have a look just to see that we have. I just, not immediately. However, I think I’ve run out of puff as far as-
Coralie Sorry I didn’t have more to tell you. I thought about it afterwards, but of course I rang as well because of my father and grandfather working in the mine and-
Richard But you have helped a bit because um we have, some of the lot of the other people, for instance, the last gentleman that I, that I’ve just been interviewing, he um, he only knew the mine you see and some of them only know this bit and you only know the bottom bit.
Coralie The bottom bit.
Richard Which is after it was pulled up, so there is a bit of information there.
Coralie So the little bits together with each
Richard That’s right, yes. Well, thank you very much Mrs. Coralie Cunningham.
Coralie Thank you.