Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
David John Ritter (Part 3 of 6)
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview date: 22 April 2016
Jo: 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 coming in today.
David: That’s all right.
Jo: Ok, David today we’re gunna talk about, um, Werowi Street, where you grew up and what it was like in those days.
Jo: Paint a picture for us.
David: Right, so it’s either late 1950 or early 1951. We’ve just moved in to a two-bedroom fibro house at 33 Werowi Street. In those days looking, starting at Moombara Street and heading east, on the southern side was Mrs Butcher’s house. John and Charmaine Marangoni were just building their house, which is now number 24. Next door to that was Mrs, Mr and Mrs Dare, they had a son called Lionel. Then from there on to the, where Mulda Street is today, it was just vacant land. Ah, the big block was basically the playground for St John’s. Righto, then on the northern side from where the laneway was, was Mr and Mrs Aspinall. Mrs Aspinall was a, um, Brownie mistress. Next door to them heading east was Bill McCormack and family.
Next door to that which was just 23-25 was one big block which had a very old house on it. And I can remember my mother telling me that old Mrs ?Forham? lived there with her children. I don’t know about Mr ?Forham?, but once a month she would get the kids up, give them breakfast and she’d march them into Wollongong and back.
Jo: Ok. And do we know why she did that?
David: No, I’ve got no idea why she did that, but apparently that was a ritual, every month she would walk the kids into Wollongong and back.
Jo: I wonder if they had family which they visited once a month maybe?
David: It’s hard to say, they kept very quiet, didn’t know they really were there. Ah, then next door that he, east was, Dennis and Betty Hewett. Dennis used to work up at the, um, Wongawilli coal mine as an electrician. They had no children, but they had this beautiful red setter, that was their pet, well their family. Next door to that was a vacant block owned by, ah, Terry Henry who took a few years before he actually built on the block. Ah, he had dug the foundations because we used to go in there every time after it rained and get tadpoles. [laughs] Then there was our place, 33, owned by John and Dell Smith. Next door to us was Clive and Joan Crooks. And next door to that was, ah, John and Norma nor, Norma ?Duvetyne? whose house was just being built. Then from there on there was nothing, it was all vacant land.
Now behind our place, back of our place there was a barbed wire fence which backed on to a farm, because many a morning we’d, we’d get up and there’d be cows with their heads over the fence eating grass on our side, our side of the fence. Ah, my stepfather used to go and set rabbit traps over in the bush.
Jo: Oh, OK.
David: Um, so that…?
Jo: Was that for your rabbit stew?
David: Yeah, for rabbit stew. Oh, we used to have curried rabbit, baked rabbit, stewed rabbit you know, we’d have rabbit, in fact rabbit was basically a pretty main staple diet in those days because, there were plenty of them. [Laughter] As long as you knew how to catch ’em, there was plenty of them.
Now, one of the things that I remember very, very vividly about 33 Werowi Street, it was not long after we moved into the house and one night, we had this terrible wind hit. Now, I thought the house was going to get blown to pieces, that’s how strong it was. Anyway, we, we got through the night okay, the house didn’t fall apart, but when we got up the next morning, we looked down to the bush behind us. Just about every tree in that bush had been flattened.
Jo: Oh, wow.
David: Every, one except 12 trees was flattened. And to make it even worse, over in the convent at the Catholic school, the Sisters of St. Joseph had three sheds. One was a chicken shed, one was a tool shed, and I don’t know what the third shed was, but anyway this particular night one of those sheds was picked up by the wind and they found it dumped in Mullet Creek.
Jo: Oh no.
David: Now, it had to of either travelled over the top of our place or over the top of Clive Crooks’ place. So that gives you an indication of what the wind was like that night.
Jo: Mm, that’s for sure. I’ll, I’ll never forget it, you know, because even, even the boards were moving up and down.
Jo: Oh, no wonder you thought the house was going to go.
David: Because, because, because the, you know there was a gap underneath our house, under the house, at one end on the western side is about five feet and then on the other side it might be about a foot. So, the wind just actually got under there and just scared the hell out of us.
Jo: Was there much other damage around Dapto from that night, do you know?
David: Only the trees as far as I know. I think there was a fair bit of tree damage done around Dapto, but that hill in particular was one that seemed to cop the most of it.
Jo: Yeah, okay.
David: Um, and then, ah, of course Werowi Street itself was a dirt road, no, no tar. None of these nice fancy kerb and guttering, because when it rained we used to go out there in the gutter and we’d get leaves and twigs and we’d put them in the water and watch them run, run … run down the road. Um, and then ‘cos during the week we’d have a visit by Mr Spindler, he was the greengrocer. He would travel up in his horse and cart. And it was very interesting watching Mr Spindler, because when he brought his fruit up, the fruit were in boxes and every piece of fruit was individually wrapped in paper.
Jo: Oh, okay, mm.
David: Right, so when you arrived there and you asked for four apples or six apples, he would pull, pull an apple out, take the paper off to make sure it was okay before he’d sell it to you. And if it was bad, he would put it aside and take it back.
Now he lived at the bottom of, um, Werowi Street, second from Werowi Street heading south. The house is still there today. Ah, the other thing we used to have, we used to have the baker, he also came up in a horse and cart, and you would not believe the smell of that bread.
Jo: Oh, I bet it was nice.
David: Hot bread. I remember many occasion I’d come home from school and Mum would have a fresh loaf of bread there, and I’d eat it, the whole loaf, before tea and then Mum would say, “You must have hollow legs David!” because I’d then sit down and have tea. Um, then of course we had the, um, ice man.
David: There was no refrigerators in those days. If you were lucky enough to have an ice chest, you, the ice man would come along and you’d get a block of ice and put in the ice chest and that’d keep you going for so many days, then he’d come back. And of course, in those days we didn’t have septic system, we didn’t have sewerage or septic tank. We had Mr A. E. Baker would come along. Not only would he come along…
Jo: Thank goodness for him [laughter]
David: Not, not only would he come along and pick up the, um, garbage once a week, but he’d also come and pick up the full pans, because, ah, one of my stepfather’s brother, brothers, his younger brother, used to work for A.E. Baker. And he used to take our pan away on a very, a fair few occasions.
Dapto, just in that area alone, now you go there and of course you still got, well the house owned by Mrs Butcher is now owned by the Catholic Church. The house owned by um? Um, Charmaine and John, is owned by the Catholic Church. Dare’s house is owned by the Catholic Church. The next house, which used to be the banker’s house, is now owned by the Catholic Church. Then the school area taken up, school, the only one they didn’t get was, ah, Arthur Webster’s, um, Snowy Redpath’s, the Deckers, that was the Deckers, no ?Lanises?, ah, ?Lanises?, and then the next house was Rexy Gallagher.
Now Rexy Gallagher was a policeman, ah, who served here in Dapto, ah, we know, I know, knew Rexy quite well because he boarded at our place.
Jo: Oh OK.
David: Yes, now Rex, Rex apparently was involved in a, a, um, a scuba diving accident in Sydney Harbour. Apparently, a grey nurse shark came up and took, bit his mask off, and he had the scars on his face where the, the, the teeth, the teeth went into, into his head, into his face. So, I know that for a fact because he, he lived with us.
Um, what else can we tell you about that –
Jo: Well you were talk, talking a fair bit about, um, horses and carts coming with the deliveries, so was there much traffic on your street in those days?
David: [Laughter] Two trucks! One in the morning when he went, two in the morning when they went to work and two in the afternoon when they came back.
Um, Jeramatta Street was just as, the same, because in Jeramatta Sreet during, um, you could go across to Jeramatta Street, especially down the western end. And there’d always be a cricket match going on in Jeramatta Street.
Jo: Oh, OK.
David: Ah, and the main people playing cricket in the middle of Jeramatta Street were the Westons, Jimmy Blessington, Bob Steele and anyone else they could ring in. [Laughter] But there’d always be a foot-, a cricket match going on there, and I’d say once a month you might have to get off, off the road for a car to go past. [Laughter]
Jo: Once a month. [Laughter]
David: Once a month.
Jo: Yeah, that’s a pretty good cricket game. [Laughter]
David: Well that gives you an indication of what, you know, there were virtually no cars in those days. Um, eventually…
Jo: How did you did get around David, did you mostly get around by bike or foot?
David: Ah, until I was about 11, it was on foot, and about 11 I got a push bike. Ah, and of course once I got a push bike my, one of my jobs every day was to pedal from Werowi Street, down, um, up Marshall Street, down Avondale Road, um, to one of the farms, I think it was one of Mr Keys’, one of the Keys’ farms which is where Hunter, Huntley Road meets Avondale Road, and I’d get a billy of milk, ah, pay the man for the billy of milk and then I’d have to bring the billy of milk back while riding my push bike…
Jo: Very carefully.
David: …without, without spilling the milk! Later on, eventually Mr Spindler bought a truck, replaced his thing. Oh, the one I didn’t remember is the milkman. I can’t remember – he’d most likely came in a horse and cart too. I don’t remember the milkman because he most likely came that early in the morning and we didn’t see him.
Jo: Ok, well you were off to get the milk, anyway weren’t you?
David: Well, when I was, later, later on, later on when I did that.
Um, but yeah, you know, so but basically, ah, and on the side, on the bottom end of Da-, ah Werowi Street, you had, on the southern side, you had Mrs ?Fackender?, Arthur Gallagher, then I think there was a spare block, then Arthur Parkinson who died not long ago. Now he knew a lot of history about Dapto, Arthur. Then there was a couple of houses along that I can’t remember their names, and I know the one on the corner where the, the lane way goes through was Roy ?Langroys?, because Roy Langroys was one of the first King Scouts in Dapto and we used to go to him to get our, um, cycling badges and messenger badges.
Jo: Oh, ok, yeah, yeah.
David: So, he was our, he was our testing officer or examiner for our, to get out badges. And on the other side of the road there was basically, um, a fair few spare paddocks. I think the ?Scoopons? were there or they came just after. Then, um, Mr Ackhurst had a spare paddock where he had his truck, then he had his brick house next door to that.
Then next door to that were the Thompsons. Now, the Thompson’s eldest boy, John, went blind while he was, while he was only a teenager. And John, ah when he left school, got a job as a, well he was given a job at Tallawarra power station as the telephonist.
Jo: Oh, okay.
David: Right, so he got the job of telephonist at Tallawarra power station, then later on he was trans- up, transferred up to Muswellbrook.
Jo: Oh, OK, yeah. So, oh, that’s wonderful that he got work isn’t it?
David: Oh yeah, and it’s interesting to see that they did that way back in those days, you know.
Jo: Yeah, absolutely disability was no problem.
David: None of the other, none of the other boys had any problems, except John just went blind.
Jo: So how close were all the families in Werowi Street, did you all, um, socialise, or…?
David: Um, groups did, um, when we moved in, ah, Mum and Mrs Dare, and then later on Mrs Webster, who came a couple of years later. They built, ah, on the top end of the school playground. The came from Goulburn, ah, and they used to basically, um, have morning tea every, every day, and they would rotate, right. One day they’d go to Mrs Dare, Connie Dare’s place, and they’d have morning tea, the next time they’d go up to, ah, Jean Webster’s and have morning tea, and then the next day they’d go to Mum’s and then it would go around the cycle again. And that went on for years till, I don’t know what happened to Mrs Dare, um, but I know Mum and Jean continued on for many, many years till, till such time as Jean got so sick that she was confined to bed.
Jo: Oh, okay.
David: She couldn’t get out of bed for years and years.
Jo: So, they were quite close knit, then weren’t they?
David: Oh, they were very close knit, um, and in actual fact, ‘cos when I came back from Sydney, when I was sick, um, I went over and got on to Dr Cheryl over here my illness. And after I’d seen Dr Cheryl, I said to Arthur Webster one day, I said, “You should go and get Dr Cheryl to look at Jean.” Because she wasn’t improving, she was just, you know, actually bedridden. So, he did, and of course they went down there and, ah, it wasn’t very long after [indistinct], and Dr Cheryl had, ah, Jean up, up and out of bed.
Jo: Oh wow.
David: He changed her medication and so forth and, but she, ah, she was able to stay out of bed for a few more years before she finally succumbed to the, ah, weight problems she had and then she passed away.
Um, but one of the other interesting houses in, um, Werowi Street was the ?Lanises?
Jo: OK, how come they were so interesting?
David: Now, the ?Lanises?, when the ?Lanises? arrived, they arrived like, like when the £10 poms arrived in the, in the early ’50s. They were Dutch, and when they moved into Werowi Street the first thing they built was a garage. And they lived in the garage while they built, way built the house in front. And there was four of them – [laughter] Mum, Dad, a son and a daughter, all living in that garage, ah, for a couple of years.
Jo: Oh, really.
David: So, yeah, you know, interesting that, and then later on Snowy Redpath had a, um, shop down on the Princes Highway, um, roughly where Werowi, where Jeramatta Street hits the highway, virtually right across the road from there. And of course, they had the shop down there, and they built the nice big house in Werowi Street. I think it’s owned by the Walkers now; I couldn’t be sure that, but I think it was the Walkers owned that. So, you know Werowi Street was – to the north there was, to the west – east sorry, there was nothing just pa-, paddocks which I think belonged to Mr Harvey.
Ah, you went down to the bottom where Mulda Street is now, um, and the back of the Showground was what we used to call the tea tree bush.
David: It was basically nearly all tea trees in that, that bush. I remember a man used to always have his beehives on the corner because there was no extension of Byamee Street in those days. Um, Fowlers Road was dirt, and there were few houses along Fowlers Road once you got past the end of the Showground, ah, they were mainly, mainly farms.
Ah, there were very few houses on the Kanahooka Road except for farms, especially on, most of the farms were on the northern side and on the east-, southern side they were mainly just farms with cattle running on them.
Jo: OK, yeah.
David: Because I used to, we used to go walking across there before school to collect mushrooms.
Jo: Oh, oK.
David: Collect mushrooms for breakfast. [Laughter] Nothing like, nothing like a nice mushroom!
Jo: Oh, no.
David: But, Wero-, as I say, we have seen the changes in Werowi Street, I think, I would think now there’d be twice as many houses in Werowi Street now as what when we originally moved in there.
Jo: I’m sure there is, there must be, yeah.
David: Because our house is what 65 years old.
Jo: Wow. [Laughter] That’s a long time in one street.
David: Oh, and the other thing that’s rather interesting about that, when they developed that after World War II, they actually called it Hollywood Estate.
David: Now why they called it Hollywood Estate I have no idea, but on the piece of, on the documentation I’ve seen in regard to the house, it’s got there “Hollywood Estate”.
Jo: That’s interesting isn’t it?
David: Well it might have something to do with the fact that the Yanks came into the War and we started learning about Hollywood and so forth, so, ah, you know.
Jo: Yes, make it really attractive.
David: Yeah, yeah, you know, to be able to sell the blocks, and of course the blocks they were selling up there were quite massive, you know. Ah, you take, you go around Dapto now and buy a house in Dapto, you got a very small block. Ah, the block of land that we’re on has a – and I’m going back to the old English thing – 60 foot frontage, 170 feet deep…
Jo: Okay. It’s a big block isn’t it.
David: …now that, that’s a big block. Basically, you can buil- you could put three, three townhouses on it.
Jo: Yes. [laughter]
David: But the only reason you can’t put townhouses on this, this particular block is because the land slopes the wrong way.
David: The land doesn’t slope towards the gutter, the kerb out the front. The gutter, the road is actually about two feet higher…
Jo: Higher. OK.
David: …than what the land is, so basically there is a problem there, which we had from the time we moved in, because every time it rained, um, being on the side of a hill, um, the water would come down from the top of the hill, then it would go in through Trevethan’s yard, then it would go into Crooks’ yard, then it would go into our yard, then it would go through Henry’s spare block. Then it would hit poor old Hewitt’s block then it would go through the other spare block, through McCormack’s, through Aspinalls, down the road, and eventually when you got down to the house near the lane way at the bottom of Werowi Street there was usually about a foot of water…
Jo: Oh dear.
David: …in their backyard. Um, not long after we moved in they plant-, everybody just, everybody planted trees in their backyards to help soak up the water.
Jo: Soak up the water, ok.
David: Um, so, yeah, then of course when they built that at the back of Werowi Street, there should have been a laneway. Right. Now if you look at, go to Byamee Street, between Byamee Street and Baan Baan Street, there’s a laneway at the back of the houses common to both sides. If you go between Baan Baan Street and Jeramatta Street, you’ve got the same, and here between Jeramatta Street and Werowi Street you’ve got the same, but when you get to Werowi Street it’s not there, because when the Commonwealth cottages were built [coughs], they didn’t realise that there was supposed to have been a laneway there. So, they built right up to the fence, and basically ah, everybody in Werowi Street on the, on the northern side got an extra ten feet of land. [Laughter]. We don’t, we don’t know what the government’s going to do if they ever find out that they, or the Council would do if they find out.
Jo: It’s been like that for a long time. They’re not changing it.
David: Well it’s been, been like that for sixty odd years, so you know. And, ah, and besides I think the law says possession’s nine tenths of the law.
Jo: Yeah, I think it does.
Jo: That’s wonderful, thank you very much for those memories, David, they’re wonderful.