Ann Powter – Interview Transcript

Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Anne Powter

Interviewer: Jo David

Interview Date: 5 September 2016

Jo  Welcome to the Dapto Oral History Project. Today we’re speaking with Anne Powter nee Jepsen from Dapto. Anne was born in 1942 in Goulburn. Welcome Anne.

Anne  Thank you Jo

Jo  Thanks for coming in today. Now, um, tell us Anne when did you arrive in Dapto?

Anne  I arrived at the beginning of 1970 when there wasn’t very much to Dapto except the old part. I moved into a new housing development just near the swimming pool, and there was no Koonawarra, very little of Mount Brown, very little of Lakelands.

Jo  Oh wow. Was it much different from where you came from?

Anne  Oh yes, Goulburn. I’d come from Dubbo, and Dubbo was not as big as it is now of course, but it was a well-established city, and I’ve never lived any further than 2 blocks from the main street. So, Robert Street in Dapto was about right, because I was able to walk to the shops and to the library and to the church.

Jo  Alright and how about school? The children went to the local school, is that right?

Anne  The children went to Dapto Public School which was in Byamee Street at that time, and they were able to walk to school. And for kindergarten they had to be collected from school by a parent or a carer, not that the word ‘carer’ existed in those days, it could have been somebody’s friend. You didn’t need permission notes to collect somebody from school. We probably had an unofficial walking bus, because one parent might take a whole lot of children along the street and just drop kids off along the way. Most of the mothers did not work, and so children used to just come to their homes of an afternoon – they didn’t have to be looked after by somebody else. Sport didn’t start until they were about eight years old. So once the children were home, they stayed home. Unless maybe they did dancing, and there was a dancing school here – Priscilla Kurtz’s School of Dancing.

Jo  Where was that?

Anne  Ah, just along near about where Aldi is now and there was a picture theatre there as well. And she was Miss Kurtz, um, and her dance studio was upstairs. She herself came from Wilton, and she had very strict rules about things. Such as, you didn’t wear your dance costume, your dancing uniform, in the street. Particularly you did not wear your little slippers.

Jo  Really?

Anne  Really – yes. So things have changed.

Jo  Yes, they certainly have, yeah. I imagine things have changed, um, in the school too. Tell us what it was like? How was Dapto Public School structured in those days?

Anne  In those days there was a separate primary and infants department. Ah, there was a principal and a deputy principal in the primary section and then there was an Infants mistress who looked after kindergarten and years 1 and 2, and they really were kept quite separate from the primary, ah, primary section. Everybody in the school knew everybody. The kindergarten teachers, the Infants teachers seem to make a point of connecting the kindergarten children with their, their older siblings.

And I can remember when the primary school athletics carnival was on, just in the back paddock. It was a back playground; it was maintained as a playground. The Infants children used to be taken out and they would watch all of the events, and the teachers would point out to everybody so-and-so’s brother and so-and-so’s sister. So it was a really nice little community, mmm.

Jo  How many children in this…?

Anne  I don’t know, I don’t know. There were two kindergarten classes. Um the first…one of them was for the older children, I think that’s how it was done. Children weren’t interviewed, as they are now for their place in the school. Though you did have to fill in an enrolment form. Um…

Jo  Did they have uniforms in those days?

Anne  Oh yes they did, had, had a lovely little uniform that had to be home made, couldn’t buy them. And we had to match the checks and put a zipper in the back and do the collars. Boys were easy of course. And the uniforms and material were supplied by Dolans of Dapto. They were the two shops owned by the Dolan family, and they had all the materials for all of the dresses for the different schools in Dapto and they also had all of the, all of the shorts and shirts and socks for all the boys.

Jo  What if you didn’t sew?

Anne  Um, you generally found someone who could sew, yes, and we could. We, yeah, I used to agonise over matching the checks, um [laughs] and putting zippers in, because I wasn’t a very good sewer, but we managed to get it done. And then they had a very fancy sports uniform that had an inverted pleat in a different colour, I think, oh, and that was a nightmare to do as well [laughs]. But we did it, because we were at home, I think that’s what made it easy.

Jo  Yeah of course.

Anne  And then, um, eventually shops took it on and we ended up with Crystal Bears, which did all of the uniforms, yeah. Um, the girls had a lovely blue and white check outfit and yellow socks. And the boys, the boys had, I think they had grey and grey. And then they went to yellow shirts and yellow socks. And the girls of course had box-pleated tunics in the winter as well, mmm. We didn’t have to make those, we could buy those. Yes, they were, yeah they were navy. Mm, yeah. But the children were all in uniform. Um, I think because clothing wasn’t as cheap as it is now, so you couldn’t go to Big W and, and places like that and just get really cheap clothing and have something new for every outfit, for every outing, and children probably went home and just put on the same play clothes every afternoon, yes. I remember one woman, um, one mum, she bought shorts and shirt for her little boy who was starting school; she bought five pairs of shorts and five shirts. And he never wore some of them because you really did get around to washing them. [Laughter] Because you’re at home, yeah. And it meant we could do lots of things with the school.

Jo  What sort of things did you do?

Anne  Well we had a Mother’s Club in the Infants Department and so on the first, on the first day of school at kindergarten when the child turned up, all Mrs Pinkerton the Infants Mistress had was a list of names and probably the date of birth. And you would be given a time to turn up at the school. And you would go into her office, or the child would go into her office, and the mum would wait outside and waiting for her, waiting also would be a member of the Mother’s Club. And when the child had completed the interview with Mrs Pinkerton, the Mother’s Club person, lady, would take the child across to the kindergarten rooms where they entertained them all day, or all morning, until everybody had turned up. And so the Mother’s Club was the face of the school, apart from the principal, ah the Infants Mistress. So straight away you, you felt comfortable, because you weren’t dealing with a teacher, you were dealing with other mums. And you might have known them from the, from just around that area, and ‘cos children didn’t travel all over the place to the school of their choice, they just went to the school that was nearby. And, yeah, so Mother’s Club, you were invited to join the Mother’s Club and come along to a meeting on the first Tuesday afternoon, I think it might have been, of the month.

Jo  And did most of the mothers belong to the Mother’s Club?

Anne  Not most but a lot, a lot of mothers belonged to it, yes. Far more than belonged to the P&C, which existed for primary school, because it used to meet at night and a lot of the families had shift workers. The steelworks was running three shifts at this stage, and so a lot, a lot of the mothers were, had to be home at night if their husbands, the dads, were on the night, either the afternoon shift or the night shift, yes. But Mother’s Club was good fun. I’ve still got friends from Mother’s Club, and from years after me there were Mother’s Club people who still meet, even now, nearly 30 years later. Yes, they became really good friends. We kept, after we finished, we kept up luncheons once a year for a while but then it sort of dwindled a bit, yes. People tended to stay in Dapto for a lot longer, especially in the area around the school, yes, they didn’t move out. And Horsley hadn’t, Horsley was still just West Dapto. But, um, so that was the Mother’s Club, and we used to send home a little note and a little envelope and parents were asked to send anything between 20 and 50 cents a month in, to contribute to Mother’s Club. And Mrs Pinkerton would come to the meeting and she would tell us how the children were performing, and it was always beautifully, and what she would like us to buy next for her school. And so we would hand over whatever money that we had. I was the treasurer for a while, so l used to count all the money. I found a terrific way to know all the parents and all the children, because I’d see names written down, and I’d know the children, yeah. And so we’d do fundraising. Yeah so that was good. And we had a Wattle Ball every year, we had a Wattle Ball.

Jo  Ok

Anne  On, I think it was the 1st of August, and we would get all dressed up. It was in the Dapto Community Hall – proper, a proper ballgown. We would get a band to come in. I’ve forgotten who the bands were, but I know at one stage, um, Gloria Gordon organised for a one-man-band to come [laughs] and entertain us. Ah, but we went to the Dapto Community Hall, it was bring your own supper and bring your own drinks. And we just had a social night, and it was great fun and we raised money for that, with that, to buy things for the school, yes. And what else did we…? Oh, and we also, we had, um, we used to have Tupperware – oh to – there was always a big prize at the Wattle Ball for a raffle, and to get a decent prize we used to have all these Tupperware parties [laughs]. We just used to take it in turns to have Tupperware parties, because if you got “x” number of bookings you would qualify for the prize and so you’d get a set of luggage, and of course…and we just made that the prize for these, for the raffle at the ball. And we were…and we had good fun, we raised lots of money and then we used to also contribute to the school fete. I’ve got a feeling it wasn’t called a fete, it might have been called a market day or something, and we used to, um, used to be able to send away to people and get sample bags, like show bags, and they used to send all these bags and we’d go…And we used to have to fill them with things. And so we just used to go to each other’s houses, you’d just take it in turns [laughs], you know, we just went to everybody’s house, it was it was very, very friendly.

Jo  It kept everybody very busy by the sounds of things.

Anne  We were, yes. It was good. Melbourne Cup Day, we used to have Melbourne Cup things, yes. And, um, I remember Pam Fairley. The Fairley’s were a very big business in Dapto, they’re a very old Dapto family, and Pam Fairley brought along something like 3 dozen um, crème brûlées for the Melbourne Cup luncheon, yes. I told her I was going to tell you that [laughter] she said, “Why, oh why”. She’s a hairdresser here in Dapto now, at the moment.

Jo  Oh ok

Anne  She’s down in Dapto Hair and Nail, or whatever it is. Yeah. Yes and she had girls at the school. Mmm, yeah.

Jo  So like you say, there’s still some families are here.

Anne  Yes, oh they’ve moved now and of course, Fairley’s is now the big medical centre.

Jo  Yeah, yeah. Of course. What else has changed at the school? How about – tell us about the school bell.

Anne  Well, the children, the year 5 and 6 children used to have responsibility for the bell. And I suppose they just had to ring it whenever it was lunchtime or recess.

Jo  And what was it? Was it an actual bell?

Anne  It was a proper big bell on a big stand and they used to ring a, just move it on a rope, I guess, and it just used to ring, yes. I think children back then weren’t as communicative as they are now, and perhaps there wasn’t the need to be. Um, I don’t think we were as closely involved with everything that was going on in their lives as I see parents are now. Um, I think they went to school and they brought home some work they’d done, and that was all very good and that was an end of it [laughter]

Jo  Stop there!

Anne  But we, we were very welcome at the school, you could always go. Yeah. But we didn’t go inside, we always waited at the gate when they were in kindergarten and they would be marched out to us. We…we had no occasion to go into the school unless it were for the sports carnival or something like that, yes. So that was the school bell. And, um, my son is worried about where the school bell might be. He started there in 1973, and he just doesn’t know where it is, and he would love to know where it is and he asks people.

Jo  Okay, and he hasn’t, nobody’s been able to tell him yet?

Anne  Yes and nobody seems to know where it is.

Jo  That’s interesting isn’t it.

Anne  No, I mean he probably hasn’t asked the right people. Yeah, and

Jo  I’m sure somebody’s …

Anne  Someone would know, someone would know, yes it’s just a matter of finding them, because Dapto children have sort of ended up all over the world. Mmm.

 Jo  Yeah. And that school’s actually gone now isn’t it?

Anne  Yes, the building’s gone, yes that took a long time for them…it was closed for a long time and they built the new one at West Dapto, and then eventually they pulled it down, yes. And I have a brick from it. I asked the workmen if I, I told them that I, ‘cos I walked past it a lot, but I asked the workmen if I might come in and have a brick as a souvenir. And they must have thought I was batty asking for a brick! They said, “Yeah help yourself love!” [laughter] So I did. So I’ve got a brick, yes.

Jo  [laughter] That’s fantastic. I love that story!

Anne  Um, the children of course had pen and paper and it was when, I guess, it was when computers were first being used, and there were enormous reams of paper that used to be put through the computers and that’s what the schools had, and so the children would bring home these big A3 size pieces of paper and they always had a cross in the top left-hand corner and we all – and the name, of course, printed beautifully by the infants teachers. Um, and we always wondered why they always had a cross in this top left-hand corner. And then we found out of course well that’s so they know where to start. And that is in fact a pre-reading exercise to get your eye to that corner to start before you do any work, you’ve got to put your pencil at that corner. Um… And so we always had a lot of examples of their work and it was all paper. I don’t know if anybody kept any of it in their family, I certainly didn’t – you just got so much of it, yes. And because we went to meetings, these Mother’s Club meetings, and heard what they were doing we, we were pretty happy with everything. I think we trusted the teachers a lot more.

Jo  Well you’re actually a teacher yourself, aren’t you Anne?

Anne  Yes. I was a high school teacher. So it was interesting to see what, how the children started learning before they had ever got to me, yeah, yeah.

Jo  What were some of the, um, what were some of the new ways they started teaching in the 70s?

Anne  Reading was different. They had a system called Breakthrough Reading, and it involved the children picking words out of a selection of tiles and putting them onto a board to make a sentence. I don’t know how that worked at all. No idea.

Jo  It may not have [laughter]

Anne  And I, I don’t know how successful it was, because I was lucky enough for my children could read quite quickly. Um yes…so that was different. Um, learning seemed to disappear, and by primary school it had just about… By the time my oldest ones got to primary school it was just gone and it became, ah, a bit more important to entertain children. And I can remember the deputy principal telling me about, when I asked him about, um, some Australian geography in year 5 or year 6, whichever class my, my son or daughter was in, “Why don’t they learn the rivers down the coast of New South Wales?” And he said, “Cos it’s boring”. And I thought, “Oh, but I love knowing the rivers as I drive up and down the coast. I like to know the names of the rivers before I before I get there”. But it was boring and I thought…

Jo  Schoolwork wasn’t allowed to be boring.

Anne  Mmm. Yes. And I think that that was when we started to entertain children and their interests and their desires, sort of, became a bit more important than they had been. It was also about then that they got rid of at Dapto Public School, they got rid of the Dux of the school.

Jo  Really? Ok. That’s interesting.

Anne  Um, yes. Why did you need to have a Dux of the school and, ah, and I thought, “Well probably the same reason as you need the swimming champion and the running champion.” You need, you, you know, you acknowledge the child who is the best at something. And often the Dux of the school is not any good at sport.

Jo  No, ok.

Anne  Yeah, yes. And there were some famous children went through Dapto Public School.

Jo  Do you know some of them?

Anne  Well, a young man, an older man now, Bruce McWilliam, who is a – um, he’s in Kerry Stokes’s Channel 7 empire. Um, there was a fam – am I allowed to mention names? Yeah, there was a family named Evans, who lived along Prince Edward Drive. There was a son and then there were… five, or six daughters, one of whom was the first engineer, engineering graduate from Wollongong University – female. Um, the son rose to be Deputy Head of New South Wales Transport. Um, one of them is still running her own radio program on ABC on 702. Ah, another one is, I’ll give her the title of the sheriff of the nuclear world, because she’s in charge of security of, um, nuclear weapons for the United Nations and is based in Vienna.

Jo  Wow. All from Dapto?

Anne  All from Dapto, yes. Um, and of course, you know, I mean they’re stand-outs, those sort of people, but they’re from Dapto. And, and, people don’t think Dapto’s got much going for it [laughs].

Jo  Oh well, certainly so interesting the kids have come out of Dapto, Dapto Public that’s for sure.

 Anne  Um, we used to have a fete every year where people contributed what they could. We had these sample bags and we put things in them. Often we’d get them, there was a party plan, and we used to have a lady come and talk to us and hand out samples of things. She would just visit once a year an’ we’d have a raffle and we’d raise a bit more money. But she’d hand out samples of things and we’d put these into sample bags the children would buy. And there used, there was a place where we could get bits and pieces for sample bags – just little toy things – very cheaply, and we used to get those and put them in. And any of the parents who had a green finger would donate plants, and we’d sell them at the market day. Um, and I can’t remember what else there used to be… Cakes and things like that, I suppose. Craft there would be, yes.

Jo  Now you say that, um, nobody knows where the school bell is. Something else is missing from Dapto Public School, Anne. Tell us about that.

Anne  Yes, well it’s a time capsule. I don’t know that it’s missing, it’s just that nobody seems to know where it is. Um, and somebody who now lives in, um, in Vienna, ah, came all the way from Vienna to watch the stack being blown up, or blown down, a couple of years ago, and he went searching for this time capsule, ‘cos he’d been at Dapto Public School, but he couldn’t find anybody who knew where it might be. And I think it went down for the centenary of ah, Dapto Public School, which would have been about 1976. The… and I don’t know where the stone is either… But I used to see that…

Jo  So that was all done at the old site in Byamee Street?

Anne  All at the old site. Yes, yes

Jo  So it must be hidden in …

Anne  It must be somewhere. Because the school had two or three sites. It was at West Dapto, and there was a West Dapto School, which has had 100 years as well.  And then it was sited where the Dapto TAFE is, and then to Byamee Street. Yeah, yeah. Um, and I didn’t grow up in Dapto, so I don’t know about its early history. One thing I did want to mention though, with the infant’s children, part of their uniform, at the time, was things for their feet called “Jaycees” [laughs].

Jo  Okay, explain those to us.

Anne  And they were sandals, brown leather sandals. And I think they were called “Jaycees” because they were the same sort of sandals as Jesus Christ wore! And they were called “Jaycees”. And they were made, I think they were made at Greenacres.

Jo  Okay. Wow

Anne  And that was, that was the uniform. Well they wouldn’t be able to wear those now. And on really, really hot days, the children would take off their “Jaycees”, and they’d be taken outside, and the teacher would just run the hose over their feet to cool them down a little bit. [Laughter] And I can’t see that happening now either.

Jo  No, but I think that’s a wonderful memory

Anne  That’s a good story, yeah, yes.

Jo  Thank you so much for that Anne. I really enjoyed those stories today.

Anne  Thank you Jo.