Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Pamela Towers (Part 3 of 3)
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview Date: 15 April 2016
Jo Welcome to the Dapto Oral History Project, today we are talking to Pamela Towers (nee Bain) of Wongawilli, born on March 4th, 1938 at Wollongong. Welcome Pam and thank you for coming today to talk to us again. Ok Pam, apparently you’ve got a story about, um, house parties you used to have when you were a teenager?
Pamela Well, um, as young teenagers, boys and girls, we used to have house parties probably once a month or every so often and go to different homes. This particular one was held at the residence of the Dapto Primary School.
Jo Oh, ok
Pamela The teacher [coughs]
Jo Is that the one in uh…
Pamela Byamee Street?
Jo Byamee Street
Pamela The teacher was, ah, Mr Payne, and his daughter Glenda was our friend. So anyway the party had been arranged, but when it – on the day it had been raining for days and days and days, and really heavy. Anyway Dad said I couldn’t go – we had to catch the 6 o’clock bus out, but Dad said, no I couldn’t go. I was really upset. The school… the Wongawilli school, ah, master lived 3 or 4 doors up, and his son, Dick, was our, one of our group. He came to the front door, um, we weren’t boy and girlfriend or anything. But he came to the front door and said, ‘cos we were going to catch the bus, and Dad wouldn’t let me go. And he pleaded with Dad to let me go. So in the end – I was crying – so in the end Dad said, “Ok then off you go.” So I went. Um, Dick had my stockings in his – as I said we always dressed up – he had my stockings in his pocket and I had my shoes, and we were – I was bare feet – and we caught the bus to Dapto and he…
Jo Was that because of the rain, ‘cos everything was so wet?
Pamela For the rain. Yeah. To, um, Glenda’s. And at these parties we played games like spin the bottle and all that sort of thing, you know, these teenage, young teenage, they don’t even play today, it’s completely different. Um, anyway, ah, when it came time to go home, we came down to catch the bus, creeks were all up, the water was right up and over the railway line [coughs]. Up over the bridge and over the railway line. The bus came from Wollongong, it couldn’t get through. So Alison and I trudged up to Baan Baan Street – her grandmother lived in Baan Baan Street – and we slept in one of those little single beds. The boys went down to the police station down in Osborne Street and slept in the cells.
Jo Ohhh [laughter] So how did you let your family know that this was happening?
Pamela Alison, um, her grandmother had a telephone. Alison, the only telephone in Wongawilli was at her parent’s home at the manager’s – see she lived in the manager’s cottage, and that was the only phone. So she rang her Dad and Tommy Payton had to walk all the way down in this pouring rain to Mum and Dad and let Mum and Dad know where I was.
Jo Do you think this is why your father didn’t want you to go, because he knew that there could be travel problems?
Pamela Oh, probably, probably. But anyway…
Jo Oh wow. Do you remember very many times when the rain, the amount of rain in Dapto, ah, disturbed things, like…?
Pamela Not in Wongawilli.
Jo Not in Wongawilli?
Pamela You know, Council’s trying to tell us at the moment that we have this massive, that we’re flood-prone, which is absolutely pathetic. Um, it’s not so, it’s definitely not so. Um, I know I’m getting on my, my, um, hobby horse, but my family’s been there since 1927 and it’s never flooded in since 1927. That’s not too far off 1 in 100. But anyway, in Dapto yes. Reed Park Bridge always went over, and I can remember my Mum telling me about all of Reed Park. Those houses on the other side of, of Reed Park, um, they on – the ones immediately on the southern side, when they started to build them, Mum’s saying, “Oh, you know they’re going to get flooded, they’re going to get flooded!” Um, because the water regularly used to come up over the Railway Line. Burringbar Street down there was just flooded all the time. Um, um, friends and relations lived down there, and, ah, they couldn’t get in and out. You had to have a boat to get across, to, to, come from the end of… They had two houses at the end of Bong Bong Street, and they had to come out onto the, um, to Bong Bong Road, you know, it’s the only way you could get across was if you had a boat or something.
Jo So were you ever trapped in Wongawilli? Say it wasn’t flood itself but the surrounding area was flooded, so you couldn’t…
Pamela Oh, yes, yeah, but not Wonga. When we were at high school, ah, if it was raining – here we go again – we had to ride our bikes from Wongawilli to Dapto to catch the train, as my father had done before. We left our bikes at the gatehouse for the railway, gatehouse at the gates, and we caught the bus. And always again, you had your shoes and socks in your bag, and put shoes and socks on. You’d walk from Wollongong Station up to the, to the school in, um, where the primary school is in Wollongong now, which was the old Home Science school for me, the high school was further up. Um and you put your shoes and socks on at school. But when in flood times, and when the creeks looked like flooding, like the bridges and, it wasn’t only us, it was people in Unanderra and everywhere – ah, someone would ring the school. It would go round, a note would be sent around the school, and we’d all be sent home.
Jo Ok, before it got really bad, yeah.
Pamela Yeah, yeah, so that we could get home.
Jo Oh, ok. What about, can you recall any other extreme weather stories from growing up? What about fires?
Pamela Oh yes, fires. Well the fires, [coughs] I was brought up on the story of when I was 9 months old, my grandparents every Saturday used to go into Wollongong shopping with the car. Then they would go to ah, the Crown Theatre to the movies. Pop was a great fan of Wallace Beery. Um, and the fires got really bad. They were really right along and I can remember apparently they had to come home. I don’t know how they got word about it, I really don’t know, but anyway they had to come home. The fires came over – that’s when the Noonan house was burnt – and the fires came over the escarpment and went right down through West Dapto, right down through the other side of Wongawilli and down through there. I don’t remember it, I was too young.
Jo No, no
Pamela But in the early fifties, again around 50-51-52, the whole of the escarpment went right along, and where you can see the tops of the trees now, it was just like black sticks
Jo Oh really?
Pamela Sticking up in the air all the way along. Us, as a mixed group again, hiked over to Bong Bong Road, and we walked all the way up to Bong Bong, the top of Bong Bong, and the outcrop, where the rocks are on the outcrop, top of Bong Bong. We covered ourselves in charcoal, and we danced at corroboree.
Jo [laughter] Oh, that’s fantastic, I love it.
Pamela But you know in, in later years my sons did all these things as well. There were other fires, like, later on. The big ones that went down and they did come over a little bit and they went and burnt, um, that was when my youngest son was probably about 15 or so I think, 70s, 80s. Anyway, um, ‘cos he was in the fire brigade at that stage, and there were lots and lots of volunteers out to, ah, ‘cos it went through – it burnt part of, um, Farmborough Heights, and whatever.
Jo Yep. Ok. Yeah, yeah. The escarpment survived really well though, hasn’t it? It’s beautiful today.
Pamela Yeah, it’s lovely.
Jo Oh that’s fantastic. Thank you very much for that.
Pamela That’s Ok.
Jo That’s a fantastic story. Beautiful.