Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
David John Ritter (Part 2 of 6)
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview Date: 8 April 2016
Jo Welcome to the Dapto Oral History project. Today we are talking to David John Ritter from Dapto. Born on the 5th of November, 1944 at Crows Nest, NSW. David, welcome and thank you for talking to us today.
David That’s all right.
Jo You have a particular story you wanted to tell us about, um, Dapto.
David Yes, I’ve got one about a family that came to Dapto, um, in 1839. The ship was called the Florist. It arrived here on the 26th of October 1839 in Port Phillip Bay. A young family by the name of James Emal and Rebecca Noakes with their son William Henry, who was only an infant, arrived here in Sydney and travelled directly down to Dapto and over the next six years, five girls were all born in Dapto. The girls were Julianna Noakes, died 1840. Emily Noakes born 1840. Then there was Sarah, Mary and Jane. Now we don’t know what happened, whether Julianna and Emily were twins or whether one was born early in the year and died when she was an infant, um, but we do know that there were four surviving girls born here in Dapto. They lived here in Dapto, well, James apparently was sent out here by the government. So, what, what he was doing we’re not quite sure, but the way he died might give us an indication. Apparently in 1847 he was down at Jamberoo cutting trees down, and apparently this particular day the tree fell on top of him and killed him. He was killed at Jamberoo 1847. In 1849 Rebecca remarries a man here in Dapto by the name of James Everson. Then they moved down to Nowra, and eventually they moved to a place called Good Dog Creek, which is now known as Cambewarra.
Jo Oh, okay.
David Now the reason I’m telling this story is because 100 years later their great-great-great-grandson bought a block of land here and settled here in Dapto.
Jo Okay, great-great-grandson?
David John Barker Smith, my stepfather.
Jo Ah, okay.
David And that’s, that is the connection between this particular family, even though they were only here for a small period time, 100 years later the family came back to Dapto.
Jo Okay, yeah. And is there still some family members here?
David Ah, yes, my brother Barry’s still here in Hamilton Street. Ah, and who else is here, oh yeah, Rodney, Rodney Smith lives around in Heininger Crescent [Street] I think. He’s, he’s descended from these two, this couple.
Jo Oh, okay, okay.
David And um, yes, it’s an interesting story. Ah, the other one, the other part of that is that Athol Mulley, the jockey, is also a descendant from that family.
Jo Oh really, okay.
David Yeah, he was a famous Australian jockey. Yeah, and he got the name of Athol Mulley, his grandfather was Ath- Joseph Ollie Mulley. And Joseph Ollie Mulley married Sarah Noakes.
Jo Oh, okay, there’s the connection
David That’s where the connection was.
Jo Yeah, okay.
David And, um, Mary, Mary Anne Noakes married Joseph’s brother, James.
David So, two sisters married two brothers.
Jo That happened quite a bit back in those days, didn’t it?
David Well, it did, even in my mother’s, my own family. Mum, married, ah, John Barker Smith and her sister, Midge, Muriel otherwise known as Midge, married George Smith, his brother.
Jo Okay, okay.
David So, you do get a lot. And it did because in country times, you know, those, there was a very small number, minimum number of families around basically eh, one started courting the other and then all of a sudden, oh, he yeah, she’s got a nice sister, or got a nice brother or something, and you get a connection that way.
Jo Sometimes, and that time, of, ah, also you didn’t go dating on your own, so you needed an older brother or sister to chaperone, didn’t you?
David You needed a chaperone. Oh, yes you had you had, back in, back in those days you had chaperones. It was a, I remember when we first started the CYO up here in Dapto, they had to have a chaperone for us teenagers.
Jo And what was the CYO?
David Catholic Youth Organisation.
Jo Okay, yeah.
David Denise Lawler can tell you a bit about, a bit about the Catholic Youth Org ..
Jo Yeah, Denise is going to be talking to us.
David Well she knows a bit about the Catholic Youth Organisation, because I think she was secretary for a while and her husband, John, was president for a few years, a few occasions [laughs]. Ah, but you know you get stories like that, um, the other story I would like to talk about early Dapto history was Avondale School.
Jo Oh, yes, yes.
David Right, now the story about Avondale school was, there are at least three different schools been on that site. The first one appears to have, have appeared there around about the late 1840s or early 1850s, where the story goes that the people of, ah, of Avondale didn’t have a school for their children. Ah, we don’t know whether it had something to do, because the Catholic school had started in 1833 at West Dapto. Um, but in those days all schools were government funded, right, and apparently you had to organise a teacher.
David So apparently what happens is the people out at Avondale sent to New York and invited this Martin Steinbeck to come out. Now I always thought this to be a rather funny situation, because I felt sorry for the kids at Avondale, back in those days because here you got, an American of German descent, [laughter] trying to teach English [laughter] to the Australians! So you can see it rather – you know.
Jo That is quite a situation.
David It is, you know. Ah, now Martin came out here somewhere round about the 1850s. Exactly when I, we can’t find the shipping records because he’s most likely paid his own passage out here, but we do know that there was a daughter born in, in Dapto, ah, here, registered in Dapto in 1853 and another son registered in about 1855, which at that time he then left the Illa-, left Avondale and moved up to the Hunter and started his own private hos-, private school up in, up in the Hunter. And, as I say, the only reason I know about this is because my brother-in-law is a direct descendant of Martin Steinbeck.
Jo Oh ok [laughs]
David Yeah. But the sec-, after he left apparently in 1862, that’s when they formed the Education Department and the Education Department then built the second school.
David Right, and then that was later replaced by the one that’s there at the present time.
Jo Which is Dapto Public?
David Avondale private – Avondale Public School.
Jo Avondale Public School, ok.
David It’s, it’s apparently it ceased operation in 1971
Jo Okay, okay.
David Right. But the old schoolhouse is still there because it’s got a national tr-, National Trust [laughs].
Jo Oh ok, so there’s nothing in it at the moment?
David No, no, it’s just, just basically the shell. Um, it’s basically a two-storey building and the classroom was downstairs and the teachers lived up-, and the family lived upstairs.
Jo And the family lived upstairs, ok.
David Yeah, they wouldn’t have had much room living up there, they were only very, a very small place. Um, so, yeah, you know. But these are things that people know about Avondale and that it was a school there, but they don’t know that a – and I believe that the last school teacher that taught there lives in Mulda Street, Dapto.
Jo Ok, still today?
David I don’t know if he’s still alive today, but he, he, once he retired he did build a brick home in, in Mulda Street, which one it was Mum never knew, never knew what it, which one it was, but, um, yeah.
Jo Have you got any particular memories about, um, school in Dapto in your childhood?
David Oh, yes [laughs].
Jo Tell us just one [laughs].
David Well, yes, I’ve got one that nobody could ever forget. I started at St John’s in 1950, and of course we had a bit of complications when I started school because I didn’t have a birth certificate.
Jo Oh dear.
David Because, as I said before, I arrived here on the 2nd of March 1940. 1949. When I left Sydney, my name was David John Leighton. The next morning when I woke up in Dapto my name was David John Smith.
David It was never legally changed till I was 13, right. Ah, the reason for that is, I was born out of wedlock, my mother married John Barton Smith on the 15th of January 1949 and of course when they moved into Spicer’s boarding house, um, they didn’t want to feel embarrassed about saying, “This is….” [laughter]
Jo Yes, yes, especially in those days it wasn’t uh …
David So anyway I started up at St John’s and I remember with, ah, the old school is no longer there, where the li-, the new library has been built. It was an L-shaped building, where the L part faced out towards the Cath-, the old Catholic Church, and we started in the room on the eastern, or the north eastern side of the building. And I do recall there that basically, um, in the afternoons – because we didn’t have kindergarten, it was first class – in the afternoon you always had to have a sleep. But that wasn’t a thing that I remember the most. I remember the most was playtime – lunchtime. Because every lunch time one of the boys in school used to give me a, um, punch on the nose and make me nosebleed – every day I went to school [laughter].
Jo So there was bullying even back then.
David Oh yes, there was bullying way back then, and it didn’t stop till, um, the £10 Poms arrived at Pommie Hill.
David ‘Cos then he decided he’d catch the, the boys, the children coming home from the public school down the lane way and he’d bash them up instead.
Jo So he had another a target [laughter]
David Yeah [laughs]. So basically, in a way, in a way, you know, ah, I’m glad they came because I stopped, I stopped getting the bleeding noses and, um, but they did [laughter]. That’s right, but one of the things I do remember, I can’t remember which one of the Sisters it was, whether it was Sister Bernard, Bernard Joseph or Sister Benedict, but at 10 o’clock every morning she would come through from the classroom where she taught the 3rd and 4th class, and there was a doorway between the two classrooms, and she walk in and she’d start rattling off numbers. She’d either want multiplications, add-ups, or subtractions or division, and by the time she’d finished she expected an answer.
Jo Really? Yeah, wow.
David And I basically always gave the answers [laughter]
Jo You were particularly good with your studies weren’t you?
David Not so much, I was very good at mathematics, or arithmetic. In fact one of the, one of the best things I had was, ah, when I finished at, ah, finished up at St John’s, ‘cos it’ll 60 years this year that I’ve left St John’s – end of this year it’ll be 60 years since I left. And ‘cos the following year, ah, we were starting at Christian Brothers college in Wollongong, not Edmund Rice but Christian Brothers college up in Crown Lane. And my mother took me into, into Crown Street and in those days you drove up and down Crown Street, and there was a little shop, um, down on the next section from where Myer, ah, is it Myers?
Jo Myers, yeah.
David Yeah well the next, next block down, there used to be a little shop there that sold school uniforms.
David So Mum took me in there to get me school uniform to go to Christian Brothers. And, ah, of course the young bloke that served us used to go to St John’s when I first started, I recognised him. Anyway so Mum got all these items and then he’s writing down on his, on the receipt book, he’s writing down the items, the amount of money, and when he wrote the last item down, put the last price down, I told him the total. And he turned around to Mum and he said, “Is this kid joking!” And Mum said, “No, you wait.” [laughter] Five minutes later after he added it up he said to Mum, “How much did he say?” And Mum said, told him. He said “He’s exact to the ?” [laughter].
Jo There you go.
David So it’s basically a, you get that situation where a, they teach, teach you to use your brain and to use it rather quickly.
Jo Mm, mm
David Um, the other thing I remember, many years later I went to the Steelworks and did my apprenticeship as a fitter and turner. And, ah, in my third year I was there I got sacked. And, ah, I was lucky enough to get another re-, another placement out at Unan-, out at Port Kembla. And, ah, I used to be in the A class, and came the final year of a fitting and machining course, they brought up the Dux of the class, of the B class and put him in the A class. And, ah, he’d never been beaten. He got top marks every year, and he stuck, they stuck this bloke in the class, and I said, “Gaw, I’m gunna show this bloke!” ‘Cos I never used to study.
Jo No? [laughter]
David When you’ve got a photographic memory you don’t need to study. So this year I decided I’d study. Well when the results came back for the first term, I beat him. And the second term results came back we, we tied and when the final results came back, we tied. And, um, I only wish I could tell him now, it took another German to beat him, because he was German! [laughter]
Jo There you go [laughter]
David ‘Cos I didn’t know I was German until I was 40.
Jo Ok, yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
David I didn’t know I was German till I was 40. So, yeah, it was rather interesting to get a situation like that now.
Jo Yeah, that’s fantastic, well those are fantastic memories. Thank you so much for that David, and thank you for coming in. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of your stories.
David Oh, yes we’ve got St John’s and we’ve got the Boy Scouts to talk about yet.
Jo We sure do.