Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
David John Ritter (Part 1 of 6)
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview date: 8 April 2016
Jo: OK, welcome to the Dapto Oral History Project, today we are talking to David John Ritter of Dapto born on the 5th of November 1944, at Crow’s Nest, New South Wales. Welcome David thank you for joining us today.
David: That’s alright.
Jo: Firstly, I’d like you tell us your mother and father’s name please.
David: My mother was Dorothy Edna Smith nee Layton and always known as Dell. Everybody in Dapto knew her as Dell. My father nobody knows my father, his name was Clarence Francis Joseph Andrew Ritter.
Jo: OK, good, and how old were you when you came to Dapto?
David: I was 4 years of age.
Jo: Oh, okay and do you remember much of that time?
David: Well, I know I left Sydney on the 2nd of March 1949, arriving here in Dapto at night. Waking up the following morning, and I think it was the Wednesday night too, Wednesday night, waking up the following morning in a little room at the back of Spicer’s boarding house, in Baan Baan, in Bong Bong Road. Now Spicer’s boarding house was the old hotel that was there.
Jo: What’s there now, do you know?
David: Carpark for the Leagues Club.
Jo: There you go.
David: Ah, my life, my life actually, the only recollections of my early life actually started then. Because I remember my mother used to walk up Station Street to, um Woodses, Woods Brothers butchery. She’d buy a piece of meat, then we’d go back and that afternoon, night-time she would get out four little methylated spirit burners, and she’d cook the whole meal on those four little burners. It was a single room, we slept there, we ate there. Um, there was no lights. She had to light a candle, ah, we were there for a few years.
Um, but the early part of Dapto I remember was basically Bong Bong Road, there’s a lot of stuff missing from Bong Bong Road that was there when I first came. Ah, the League Club’s taken up a fair portion because on that corner, on that, in that block on Station Street there was a paddock with a big wrought iron fence around it, and every Saturday afternoon you walk past there you could hear the, the radio going and you could hear the blokes swearing and going on – he was the SP Bookie. (laughter) Right, and if you came up behind the, um, Dapto Hotel where the car park is, behind Alexander’s coffee shop, well behind there used to be a big shed and Billy Shore was the other SP bookie, and he ran his SP bookie shop there.
David: So, they’re two things most people wouldn’t know about, right. Um, then next door to that was a um, Timbs’ barber shop. And next to that was a little shop, this is on the northern side. Then I think there was two, two houses and then the butcher shop on the corner of Osborne Street and Bong Bong Road. On the opposite, on the other corner where St Vincent De Paul is now, used to be the old Fire Station, right, which is now gone. I don’t know how long the RSL Club’s been there. Hall’s been there, but it’s been there a long time. But next to it, where the jewellery store is, used to be the Dapto library.
David: There was just a little room, which was the Dapto library. Next to that was Zanty’s cafe and the Zanty’s, ah, brothers had the taxi service and they lived across the road there where the Premium Tyre place is. There was about three houses along there. One was the Police Station, was a Police House, the next one was Zanty’s, and then there was [indistinct] bakery. Right – it’s all disappeared since then.
Jo: Sounds to me like you, um, as a child, you must have been around Dapto a lot to know all those different shops, remember all those different shops.
David: Well you see them all the time, because next, next to Zanty’s was the pub on the corner, which has been there for a fair while, everyone knows the pub. Then on the opposite side of the road on the corner of where the medical centre is, that used to be a spare paddock, next to Fairley’s, righto, now …
Jo: Did you used to play in there as a child?
David: …Yeah, we used to play because they used to throw their rub-, had, had bins out with rubbish in and we used to go in there of an afternoon, Saturday afternoon and rummage through and see what, see what could, you find that they threw out that was no good.
Now at the back of that there was a driveway that went in behind Fairley’s, off the highway, that was where the main bus route was, bus stop, if you wanted to go into Wollongong the bus stopped at, on that corner there. But there was an old building there which I didn’t know what it was for years and years, but apparently it used to be the old courthouse. Only a very small building, but it was the courthouse on the thing here.
Um, and then of course you had Fairley’s. Now Fairley’s you could buy just about anything, right, you go in one side you get groceries, on the other side you’d get hardware and paint, ah, I think, not quite sure down the bottom you got spor-, smallgoods. Then in the other side you had the menswear, the ladies wear and all the other things you need…
Jo: So, it was a real general store
David: …it was a general store.
Jo: Was there any other general stores in Dapto at that time?
Jo: That was the only one?
David: That was the only general store in Dapto. There were a lot of little, small corner shops but that was the big shop where everyone… Now we used to come, come down at lunch time from the school, ride our bikes down there and we’d, we’d walk into Fairley’s and get a halfpenny’s worth of broken biscuits, and you’d get a great big bag of broken biscuits like that, you know, ah, because apparently it was their philosophy – their philosophy was they would never sell a broken – a broken biscuit to you.
Jo: Oh, okay so…
David: Because they came in tins, they didn’t come in packs, they would not give you a broken biscuit. So, we kids, and there’s a lot of kids even older than me would remember going down to Fairley’s to get their broken biscuits.
Ah, so then you had Fairley’s, and then next door to Fairley’s, because next Fairley’s there was another car driveway went through, then you had, ah, the Crooks’s little shop. Now on one side, on the western side, you bought green grocery and much… grocery items and on the other side they sold little knickknacks, like little ornaments, and things like that. Ah, so that was Crooks’s shop. Then I think there was a paper shop there, but it wasn’t the two-storey building that’s there now. That came later. And of course, on the corner where the medical centre is on the corner of Baan Baan, ah, Bong Bong Road and Marshall Street was the old Post Office.
David: Right, now I’m not quite sure who the postman was when I first came here but I do know later on it was, Mr Whelan was the Postmaster in Dapto. And then of course on the other, on the other side of, ah, Marshall Street where the telephone exchange is now, it used to be a house where the telephone exchange was.
Jo: It was in a house?
David: It was in a house.
David: Right, and basically, um, it was operated 24 hours a day, by, some of the local girls. But after we left high school, ah, one of the boys I went to high school, actually did the night shift.
Jo: Oh, okay. Did many people have a phone in Dapto in those days?
David: Oh, no not really. It took a fair while before the phones came in, but, you know, most of the businesses had phones, you know. Um, and the other thing that was of interest was that the doctor’s surgery was in Baan Baan Street. Dr Chaffe was in Baan Baan Street.
Jo: Was he the only doctor in Dapto?
David: As far as I know he was. He was the only doctor because, Da-, Dapto was a very small place compared to what it is today.
Jo: Yeah, of course, yeah.
David: You know, when, when you look at it today and you see Dapto goes right out there to the mountain, it goes out to the lake, and it goes right down to Brownsville, it goes right up to Mount, ah Mount Brown. When we came here there was basically A – Werowi Street, Jeramatta Street, Baan Baan Street, Byamee Street.
Jo: And that was it?
David: Fowlers Road, Kanahooka Road. You had then Osborne Street, Station Street and then over the other side of the railway line, Hamilton Street and Barrenjuck [Burringbar] Street running up south from there, and then of course you just had Marshall Street.
Jo: And then farmland?
David: Farmland, farmland all out there, farmland all out there, farmland down all down there, farmland all up there.
Jo: Right. Dapto at that time was, served to the farming community.
David: It was a farming; it was a farming community. More so, and it wasn’t until the late, or just after we arrived here that the mining industry, because we had the three mines. We had Wongawilli, Huntley and Avondale.
Jo: So that would have grown the population quite a bit I suppose when those mines started up?
David: Well, basically the population exploded in 1952.
David: When the Commonwealth cottages were built on Pommie Hill. Right. And most people don’t know why it was ever called Pommie Hill, but it was quite simple. That development down there originally was Yalunga Road, and then, ah, I’m not quite sure what they called the street that runs parallel to Werowi Street, and on the back of that then was the hill was left. Now of an afternoon the boys would build their Billy carts up there. And you’d see them, they had their Billy cart track coming down the hill, so we met, we nicknamed it Pommie Hill. It never, it was never, you know, according to records it was never called Pommie Hill but we, the kids in Dapto called it…
Jo: Everyone knew it as Pommie Hill.
David: Pommie Hill, “Oh, look their up on Pommie Hill!” [laughter] So you learnt to learn that as you went along.
Jo: Were there lots of children in Dapto that you grew up with that you remember?
David: Not really. So, when we started in St John’s in 50, there’d be lucky if there was 12, 12 of us started.
David: In that year, right. Now I was talking to a man that I know that lived in Dapto, he, a lot older than of me and when he started about 1943, he said there was only two boys. And I think there was only about five or six boys when I started. So, you know, we didn’t, we didn’t have a big lot of people here in Dapto, ah, so basically everybody knew everybody.
David: And of course, when we arrived here, we felt like we were outsiders because we weren’t, we weren’t born here.
Jo: You weren’t born here, yes, of course, yeah, yeah.
David: But, ah, and there’s another couple of interesting things. The estate where my stepfather brought his block of land in Werowi Street, at the time he brought it was called Hollywood Estate.
Jo: Oh okay, and why is that, do you know?
David: I have no idea, but I’ve seen the official documentation and it’s got on there, you know, for the sale of the land, “Hollywood Estate”. So, I’d say it could have something to do because it’s just after World War 2 and everybody was bowing down to the Yanks because the Yanks had saved the War, and as far as I’m concerned the Yanks started the, the War, you know. [laughter] Well they, they brought Japan into the war, you know.
Ah, but then you know you hear stories as we, as we grew up, we knew there was a few Army camps around here in Dapto, and I always thought there was one up the end where Mulder Street is in Dapto. But I just found out recently and he’s a man you might want to try to get hold of, Trevor Weston from West Dapto. Um, I was talking to Trevor, because Trevor came. Trevor’s a bit older than me and he came to Dapto a little bit earlier.
And I spoke to Trevor and I said, “There was some Army camps here in Dapto?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Was one up the back near Mulder Street?”
He said, “No, it was in Werowi Street.”
Jo: Oh, okay.
David: And apparently, um, yes apparently there wasn’t a real camp, apparently there, there were two search lights in there, but it was fenced off, and they had soldiers in there, but it was. And he said there was, and he said there was also, um, search lights in, in the Showground as well, right. So, they were there just for protection if anybody come.
Um, but you know, you go down the main street of Dapto now, and none of the houses that I knew are there anymore. Apart, apart from a couple on the eastern side, but all the ones on the western side, um, you may have seen photographs of what they call Rosie’s Cafe.
David: Well, Rosie’s Cafe didn’t start off as Rosie’s Cafe.
David: It started after the, what we call the Pommie influx in the 1950s, or the “£10 Poms” as they called them.
Jo: Yep, yep.
David: Ah, well that’s where the Pom come from, they called them the £10 poms, and they built, built, it was, it was 3 shops, a grocery shop, a butcher shop and a cake shop. I don’t, I can’t remember who owned the cake sh-, the grocery shop, but the butcher shop was Bob Dunn. And then you had the cake shop and it varied from either a cake shop to a fish and chip shop. It alternated every now and then, and then of course later on in life Rosie took over as a hamburger place and had the Chevy, I think it was a pink Chevy or something in there.
Jo: Yeah, I remember that.
David: Yeah, well she had that in there and then eventually the place burnt down, and she still hasn’t been paid the insurance on it.
Jo: Oh, really. [laughter]
David: Well, they’re blaming her for the fire. Whereas I (a) we know the particular one where the shop was, the barber shop was broken into and cigarettes were stolen, but it was an inside job. [laughter]
Jo: I’ve been told that the pub, there was a fire at the pub too. Do you remember that?
David: No, I don’t remember the pub fire, but I can tell you a story I have heard about the pub. And this is going right back, could be the early 1950s. Apparently, the policeman at the time was Sergeant McKinnon was the police constable or the police sergeant, and he rode a motorbike sidecar. And apparently this afternoon he was standing in the car park area of the Dapto pub, and this car flew through Dapto, and let’s face it, back in those days you, you might see one every 24 hours. [laughter] It’s not something you got to see all the time. And one of, one of the patrons said to ol’ Sergeant McKinnon;
He said, “Sarg,” he said, “You gunna chase after that bloke and book him?”
Sergeant McKinnon apparently turned around and said, “No”, he said, “If that bloke wants to kill himself, I’m not going to kill myself chasing him.” [laughter]
Jo: Very wise these country cops, aren’t they?
David: Oh, you know, and these are the stories you hear about what goes on here, you know, you hardly ever saw the policeman around here in those days.
Jo: No, that’s right. Those are some great stories, fantastic.
David: Oh, the other one, the other one we had was, when we were going to St. Johns. We used borrow a little 24 inch bike, the small bikes, some of the boys used to bring their bikes and we’d borrow them to come down to the cake shop here, because where the, um, pizza place was over there, there was another group of three shops. Right, on this end it was the, ah, baker, and the one in middle was a grocery store and greengrocer, and that was owned by Pearson’s. And then on the end there was another cake shop. So, we used to come down to the cake shop and we’d rode down this particular day at lunchtime and there was this well-dressed man, gentleman walking up the footpath and we just barrelled past him and he turned around and he said, “Boys”, he said, “You’re not supposed to be riding on the footpath.”
We looked up and said, “Who are you?”
And he says, “I’m Constable McKinnon, ah, I’m Const, I’m Constable Carter.”
Jo: Oh, that was the new…
David: He was the new policeman in town.
Jo: Was he? Oh, okay. He got right on to you boys, did he?
David: Ah, yes, yes. [laughter] And apparently, he went on to become a detective.
Jo: Oh, okay. Well, it sounds to me like you have some fantastic stories and we’re definitely going to get some more of those, David. Thank you very much for today.