Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Pamela Towers (Part 2 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 in again
Pamela It’s okay, happy to be to be here again.
Jo Ok, um, today we want to talk about your school days at Wongawilli Public School started at the age of 5. Can you tell us what your memories are of that, those days?
Pamela I remember my first day, um, at school, there was, there were twins from up on the hill who turned up that day, Kathleen and Kevin Clark. They absolutely cried and cried and cried, so in the end they were walked home. I had to sit with a boy called, um, Makin, Graham Makin which I absolutely hated I didn’t want to sit with a boy. Anyway, we moved on, the school, um, was a one teacher school at sometimes, eventually you know maybe 36 pupils up to 36 pupils and it was 1 to 6 class in a one room school. It was, there was a fireplace at the front with a blackboard on either side, a cupboard for books, and of course double desks with inkwells in them.
Jo Was the fireplace used during winter?
Pamela Oh yes, oh yes, the grate out of the fireplace is at my place.
Jo Oh really?
Pamela I nabbed that when the school closed down. Where you went, it was a long corridor, right down one side was a long trough, uh, with taps all along it where we could wash your hands and et cetera and the ink wells were filled there. On the other wall there was a bench all the way up for you to sit and hooks to hold your bags and your, and your jackets or whatever you had. There was a weather shed out the back, a big weather shed out the back that was used, um, for games when it was raining. Sometimes lessons were held there, or sewing was taught there. My first teacher was Mr Howard, Harold – Harold Howard.
Jo Was he a local or did he come from somewhere else?
Pamela Harold Howard was married to, um, Doris – Dorothy, Dorothy, Dorothy Harris and she was reared at Stream Hill. Do you know where Stream Hill is? Well Stream Hill is over in West Dapto actually, over from Wongawilli. It is now, it is heritage listed and it’s now I think in Council’s, supposed to be Council care. Now you’re not going to like this, it’s supposed to be in Council care, uh, they put a fence around it and they are just letting it, like and I know it wasn’t in good repair, but they’re just letting it get to the state where they can bulldoze it.
Jo Oh, what a shame.
Pamela Which is really upsetting because that was one of the original land grants – Captain Harris – her descendant, uh, was in the um… I don’t know whether it was the Rum Corp or one of those, in Sydney in the early, early military in the colony, and she was descended from there. So, her and, she married Harold Howard and I lived over there. Um, the, Harold was a great gardener, he loved roses, gardening, um, and what we learnt at school was gardening and the 3 R’s.
Jo Oh really? [laughter]
Pamela The 3 Rs, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic. You may have noticed I haven’t put the extra words in the front, that gives you the 3 Rs. Um, yes, so and he had a, a cane, the cane was made of, he didn’t use it very much, but the cane was made, he used to go out and strip a branch off the peach tree and take the bark off it and that was the cane.
Jo That was the cane? How were the children behaviours?
Pamela Oh yeah they were pretty good. Yeah, yeah, they were pretty good. Every year there was a school picnic, at the end of the year, um, and um, you know, the parents would supply the, the good eaties, the goods, and the horrible raspberry cordial. And we had competitions, you know, egg and spoon race, sack races, all those sorts of things. There was a prize giving, and at the end of the day those leaving school to go to high school got a small monetary presentation which was presumed to help with textbooks, et cetera.
Jo Ok. So this was at the end of the school year?
Pamela They used to have like school concerts and things like that, you know. When my children were growing up with successive teachers, um, you know, there were other subjects introduced like social studies and all those sorts of things, you know, but – oh we had to learn, oh with our writing we were always encouraged to and we had to enter our writing in the Dapto Show every year.
Jo Oh, ok. Good
Pamela Yeah, um, so…
Jo So did you notice, how about the attendance the school? Um, nowadays kids come and go from schools. Once children started school at Wongawilli did they tend to go all the way through? Was there much movement?
Pamela No, the only, only movement that I can remember, as if, um maybe one of the farmers had a share-farmer or someone like that. You know what I mean? I can remember one person like that. In the ‘40s, now this is going to go into another subject sort of, in the ‘40s there were a group of families came to Wongawilli, um, to work and to live and, um, their children, their children came. Um, they were fantastic, and as teens – today I say to people, we owe them a lot.
Pamela Um, it’s a different subject, we’ll do it on another…
Jo That’s ok. No, no, no
Pamela Are you sure?
Jo Yeah, go on.
Pamela Um, their names were, the Coles and the Jarrett’s- oh, Mr and Mrs ?Blinkinsolt? he was a cartoonist and pretty good at drawing; worked at the pit, but pretty clever at what he did. Tess was a wonderful lady, she was full of life, she loved to dance and all sorts of things. And then the Coles and the Jarrett’s arrived. And of course, Helen and Bruce Jarrett, are the fathers, uh, parents of John Jarrett from TV
Pamela And his two brothers, and Helen’s two brothers came, the Coles. They all loved to dance, they all loved to sing, they all played instruments so they formed a Youth Club for us at Wongawilli, in these days we young teens… and they taught us to dance, of course the hall at Wongawilli was built in 1952 and about that time they taught us to dance, they took us away on camps, um, yeah, and it was just, and we had socials we as young girls, we used to go… again I’m going on another subject. We formed hockey club at Wongawilli and we won the competition, B grade competition twice, so we had hockey dances at Wongawilli and these people helped us.
Jo All in the same hall?
Pamela All in the same hall, at that stage they used to be on the odd week to Marshall Mount
Jo Yep, ok
Pamela And um, never ran for a really long time but, um, yeah, so we had a lot of fun, and we owed those families a lot.
Jo Yep, because of the activities that they provided for the young people.
Pamela Yes, and one of those gentlemen, George Cole, died on, in January and I went to the internment of his ashes down at Lakeside, yeah Lakeside last Saturday.
Jo Oh really? Ok.
Pamela So, yeah
Jo That’s nice isn’t it? That somebody, yeah, looked out for the young people like that. What do you think it would have been like without that sort of thing? What would people have done?
Pamela I don’t know, I don’t know. Um, now we’re getting away from school, you’re going into entertainment.
Jo Yeah, well that’s ok [laughter]
Pamela Uhhhh. Well we…
Jo Yeah what did you do? Um, if something like that wasn’t on and the weather was nice?
Pamela Well, we’re young teens by this time. We were young teens by this time, there was the picture theatre, there was the picture theatre down here on the Regal on the highway and there were picture theatres in Wollongong.
Jo Ok, so would you get from Wongawilli to there?
Pamela Well the bus, the bus on a Saturday, the bus used to come at, um, 9 o’clock, 1 o’clock and 6 o’clock. So if you went out shopping on Saturday morning, you could come back at 1 o’clock and catch the bus from Wollongong and get what we called the 1 o’clock bus at Wongawilli. And and of course it only went up to the pit and turned around and went back out again. So if you wanted to go out at 1 o’clock, you caught it going back, it was the reverse wherever. Um [coughs], when we were playing hockey, sometimes we could get the bus out to play hockey, other times Dad, oh that’s another subject.
Pamela Um, but anyway… I’ve lost my train of thought now… about the bus.
Jo [laughter] There’s so many different ways you could go
Pamela Yeah well we would be going to the pictures, we’d go to hockey, we’d have our hair in curlers, rollers, turban around our hair and we had to, the only way we could get home then, we could have been playing at Unanderra, Wollongong, wherever, we’d get to Dapto, how do we get home, we had to catch the 6 o’clock bus back out to go to the movies, a dance or something. So sometimes five of us would get in a taxi and go home because we had very little time to have a bath, wash, comb out our hair and have something to eat and get back to go to a dance. We, that, we did that, uh the picture bus left at the back of the Crown Theatre in Wollongong, straight after the movies, you couldn’t hang around, and came back through to Dapto and patrons who had been to the movies in Dapto when it finished, at what 11 o’clock or something, they had to walk around in front of Fairley’s and wait on the bus coming from Wollongong to go home.
Jo Oh ok. That was quite a manoeuvre wasn’t it?
Pamela Yeah, so we went to dances everywhere. The old Bernardino which was down in the Southern Cross Hall next door to, um, where the Illawarra Leagues Club is today, and the building’s still there. That was a very popular dance.
Jo Okay. So all the Wongawilli kids would go into Wollongong and…
Pamela Well those that wanted to go there and you had the Savoy and the Civic and the Crown in Wollongong a movie theatre and the one here. Um, we used to, there was an upstairs in the theatre in Dapto we often used to get up there and throw jaffas down on the patrons down the bottom you know.
Pamela Mr Stan Damon was the usher, and I can remember him putting my now brother-in-law out one night, um there.
Jo How much did it cost you to go to the movies in those days?
Pamela Oh gosh I can’t remember.
Jo Do you remember?
Pamela At interval we’d come to the shop next door to get – no and that’s another thing, during the War you couldn’t buy Violet Crumble bars.
Pamela And I can remember at that shop when Violet Crumble bars came back in and we come out of the movies and that’s what we went for, was the Violet Crumble bars
Jo Ah, they were back.
Pamela They were back. When we went, I can remember going to the Civic in Wollongong, ‘cos you got all dressed up you know… It’s not like today, you were dressed to the nines to the best of your ability. And we’d go to the Civic and then we’d walk down Crown Street to Dales’ shop which was on the northern side, lower Crown Street, and we’d order a um, I supposed today you’d call it something like a smoothie, but it was in the middle…
Jo Oh yeah.
Pamela You know, the middle, middle, milkshake cans. It was full of milk and fruit.
Pamela And then we’d have a race to see who could drink it the quickest.
Pamela So by the time you got back to the movies you felt so ill.
Pamela So ill, yeah.
Jo How many, um, people that you went to school with and experienced these things do you still know Pam? Many?
Pamela Well the group the girls, that, that, my age, that I hung around with, um, there’s only one that’s passed on.
Jo Where do they live, Dapto?
Pamela Three of them do here in Dapto.
Pamela Three girls here in Dapto. Yeah, but there were boys and girls around about the same age. Apart from those things we wandered that mountain all the time mostly weekends. Uh, to the left, no, to the right of the pick, pit what we call a hill. Commonly called in the very old days Bankbook Hill, a chap called Andy used to pull logs, if you were stuck in the Bush, he used to pull logs out of the bush so we called it Andy’s track. So we’d pack our gear, you know, whatever we wanted and we’d go up, we’d cover our legs with Sunlight soap because the Sunlight soap would stop the leeches.
Pamela Um [coughs], and we would go up Andy’s track then right up through the bush over the cross country railway line, down on to the, to the creeks of the Cordeaux, and, where the H tree was, You may have heard of the ‘H’ tree. The ‘H’ tree was two trees that had branches come out like that, and joined, that was the ‘H’ tree. If you go into the, um, Facebook and, um…
Jo Dapto History?
Pamela Dapto History on photos, there’s one of my photos there of the ‘H’ tree, 3 Wongawilli girls standing on the ‘H’ tree. [Coughs] Um, we would explore, of course, we would, um, catch yabbies and cook yabbies. Often went to get Waratahs and Christmas Bells. Um, sometimes we wouldn’t come home. Sometimes it was girls on their own, other times the boys were with us. Um, the – sometimes we wouldn’t come home the same way, we’d come back up to the railway line and we’d walk follow the railway line all the way round to Dumbarton railway or station almost and then walked back down through the paddocks to Wongawilli. If we had Waratahs, we had to go to the family that lived in the company house were Patents, Tommy Patent, and he was the under manager at the mine and his daughter was Alison. Allison is one of our friends who’s not with us anymore. Maggie was great fun. Um, and if we had Waratahs I would go up to Maggie’s and leave mine, to the Patents, and leave my flowers there, and go back after dark to get them, because my uncle who lived next door to us was the honorary Ranger, so I didn’t walk down the street with armfuls of Waratahs in my arms. And the other thing was when jeans became popular, my Dad wouldn’t let me have jeans. Jeans weren’t for girls. We didn’t always wear jeans you know, often we had shorts. But if, it was cooler and wanted jeans, I would go up to Patents and Maggie would let me borrow a pair of her daughter Jean’s jeans and I would wear them over the mountain and we’d have good fun, when I came back I would change into my clothes and come home and poor Maggie had to wash the jeans.
Jo [laughter] Dad was never the wiser?
Pamela Oh eventually he was. So we used to swim over the back of the dam, uh village, there’s the dam, and that was really a reservoir, ah, of water – waste water from the pit, bathroom water, all sorts of things. But everybody swam there, and, um, I can remember [coughs] everyone learnt to swim there. How no-one drowned, I’ll never know, because there was never a parent there, there was never any, any supervision. We all learnt to swim there. But again, Dad wouldn’t let me go there, he considered it too dirty. And I can remember standing on my grandparent’s back gate crying my eyes out, because I could hear the kids laughing and yelling and having fun over there and I wasn’t allowed to go. Until one day he relented and let me go, and I learnt to swim.
Jo And you learnt to swim.
Pamela Also in that dam, one Christmas I got or received a lovely white Cole of California swimsuit which I’d been wanting. It had big yellow sunflowers on it. And I wore it over there and I dived off the dam, off the wall and went down – dived too deep – went down on the wall like that. I must have hit an old sunken canoe or something and it ripped the, right up the front. Ah, I wasn’t very popular at home, but it could have ripped me open.
Jo Yes, wow.
Pamela And of course the white swimsuit didn’t stay white very long either.
Jo [laughter] Not in there it wouldn’t.
Pamela But no, we had lots of fun, there were lots and lots of things that we could do.
Jo Oh, it sounds like it – it’s just wonderful.
Pamela Dad had an old, um, before that, going back years before, Dad used to – Dad had an old, um – what he called it, a Model T Ford, and he [coughs] cut part of the top off it and made it a tray body. So we all used to pile on the back of this old Model T Ford and he’d drive us up the ambulance track and across through Streety’s Garden to the old Noonan property. And where Wongawilli mine is, it would be probably directly south and roughly where the first coal was pulled out of, not too far from where the first coal was pulled out of the mountain. But the old Noonan property is, um, you probably know Wendy Noonan, do you or you have heard of Wendy Noonan?
Pamela In the historic world, that’s where the family came from. And in my day, ah, there were walls, um, the fireplaces. I’ve got a photo actually and remnants of the cedar wood in the windows [coughs], because a fire went through in 1939 and burnt it down. I was only nine months old. And we used to go there to get Aurelian lilies and to pick blackberries.
Jo Oh ok.
Pamela Because everyone picked blackberries.
Jo Did your mum? [inaudible]
Pamela Um, and, oh, well I talked to you about the garden before. Um, Mum, and then myself for years and years and years we always had a house full, cupboards full of bottled peaches and plums and blackberries and all those sorts of things, ah, tomatoes, um, always.
Jo Yes. All this food in the pantry.
Pamela So you always you always had apple pies and, ah, blackberry pies and things right out of season.
Jo Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you so much.