Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
David John Ritter (Part 4 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.
David: That’s all right.
Jo: Today you’re going to talk about the Boy Scouts at Dapto, is that right?
David: Yes, yes, I’m going to talk about the Dapto Boys Scouts. The first thing I’m going to say is there seems to be a lot of controversy about who started the scouting movement in the Illawarra.
David: If you go to Port Kembla Scout Shop, they will basically tell you that ‘Cheeky’ Jackson started the Boy Scout movement in the Illawarra around about 1927. He was an Eagle Scout.
David: An Eagle Scout was a scout the basically didn’t belong to a troop, he was just a single person. But I find that rather intriguing because I think you’ll find here in the library, and if you get down to Dapto railway station, there’s a photograph there of soldiers coming back from World War 1, and there appears to be a troop of Boy Scouts standing there welcoming them home.
David: So, it appears that Dapto might have been the first Scout troop in the Illawarra, but was disbanded because of the, the bad times that, that developed in the 1920’s, and with the big depression in 1929.
David: And apparently it didn’t start up again then until about 1934. Now I know that Tommy Oyston was the scoutmaster in 1934.
David: Ah, Ray Webb had something to do with the Cubs, he might have started the Cubs back in that period of time. I started Scouts, 1st Dapto Scouts, in 1956. The scout master at that time was Mick Nielson, he was either the manager or under manager of Huntley coal mine.
David: Ah, he had two of his own sons in the, in the troop when I started. Um, there are, I know the boy ?Lanisers? was there, the boy ?Decker? was there, ?Kikky? Hamilton was there. Some of the others I can’t remember. Um, and then basically we had the, a lot of the boys from Pommie Hill…
Jo: Ok, yeah.
David: …arrive. The likes of Jim and Joe English.
Jo: That would have filled it out a bit then?
David: Oh yes. We had Kevin Carter – these were all ‘£10 Poms’. David Bennett, David Carpenter, um, they were some of the boys that I can remember. And, ah, there was a strong association between Huntley mine and the 1st Dapto Boy Scouts.
David: And this would have been because of car-, Mr Nielson I would think. But, ah, I’ve been talking to Alan Steele who was in the Scouts a few years before me, and he told me that when they went on camping trips, they used to have to cater, virtually carry all their equipment with them, you know, they didn’t have any transport. But when we started, when I started in there, Alan Carter who used to drive the big, ah, van from Huntley, ah he would come and pick up the gear from the scout hall, load it all in, take it down to the camp site, unload it, then come back at the end of the weekend to pick up the gear and bring it back again. So, there was a strong…
Jo: You were spoilt! [laughter]
David: Oh, we were spoilt. And of course, when it came to our first aid badges and ambulance badges, ah, the First Aid, the First Aid officers from Huntley mine would come down and instruct us on how to do bandages and so forth, and all that type of thing, and then they would test us later on, so we could get our badges.
Now when I, we started, um, we had three basic campsites. The first one was Rocky Basin which is just out the back of Dapto here, and I believe if you go online, they actually show in the 1930’s there was actually a building out there.
David: It was supposed to be, be the main camp for the Illawarra, but for some strange reason it was moved to Mt Keira, Mt Keira…
Jo: Ah, okay.
David: …and that’s why the big boy scout camp is up here at Mt Keira.
David: Ah, and of course every, every Easter we’d all go up to Mt Keira for the H.R. Lee Bennett competition. Ah, the other place we used to go to was down to Foxground, there’s a camp there, there’s a camping site down at Foxground, ah, because in those days Dapto was part of Albion Park, Oak Flats, Shellharbour, Kiama, Gerringong, Jamberoo.
Jo: Okay so…
David: Whereas nowadays Dapto is part of Unanderra.
Jo: Yeah, okay yeah.
David: Right, so they’ve actually broken up the districts. So basically in, when the scouting movement first started off in, in the 1930’s, they used to hold their meetings in the rifle club hall, which was in Marshall Street. Now we believe that the building was where the entrance to the medical centre is today…
David: …is where the hall was. Now that hall was in use by the Girl Guides even after 1st Dapto moved to Barn-, Baan Baan Street. Then, back then the Girl Guides and Brownies were still using that hall where the boys and the scouts and cubs were using the one in Byamee Street – sorry Baan Baan Street.
Another thing about the 1st Dapto Scouts is, we hear nowadays about a, looking after the disabled, well we had one, back in the 1950’s, we had a disabled boy in our troop. His name was Cedric Carter. Ah, poor old Cedric apparently was hit one day on the Princes Highway. Um, it was a long weekend, Sun-, ah, Monday afternoon of the long weekend, because in those days it was just the Princes Highway here, one lane heading south, one lane heading north and not double lanes like it is today, and the traffic used to be bumper to bumper, and I mean bumper to bumper. It used to take sometimes about 6 or 7 hours to get from Kiama to Wollongong.
Jo: Oh gee! [laughter] Oh, they’d be cranky about that, nowadays wouldn’t they?
David: You, you, you, could, you could get out and walk faster than what the cars moved in those days. Anyway, I know, I know for a fact that, that what happened to Cedric, because we were travelling back from north coming back on the Princes Highway, which is now Prince Edward Drive, we were coming down that hill and we could actually see, because in those days we were standing in the back of a Chevy ute.
Ah, when we travelled, we had a blanket over us and, you know, all rugged up. The only people that were inside had any protection were the two inside the cabin.
We were outside and we, I remember standing up and we could see these boys run across the road, and a couple made it, and all of a sudden Cedric came out, and the car hit him and he went up about 20 feet in the air, came down on the bonnet of the car.
But Cedric was very, very lucky in as much as some of the boys from up where he lived, specially Jimmy and Joe English, um, took him under their wing, and because when they joined the Scouts they brought Cedric with us. Now a lot of people may not remember Cedric, but if anyone remember, um, used to follow the Canaries, he was the Canaries Number 1 fan.
Jo: Oh, was he?
David: He was also the Illawarra Steelers Number 1 fan…
David: …before he died of cancer. Um, so the scouting movement, you know, um, they did some marvellous things in those days. Um, the scouting movement today is completely different to what it was then. We were taught all about survival and bush, and bush skills. Nowadays it’s more about politics and [laughter] which I don’t know why a Boy Scout wants to get involved in politics really.
Jo: Most of them wouldn’t I don’t think. [phone ringing] Excuse me, is that OK?
Jo: Okay, David, apparently, um, you were 1st Dapto’s first Queen Scout, is that correct?
David: That is correct. There were two King Scouts before me. Roy Langlands was one, and I can’t remember the name of the second man, but they both got theirs at the same time. Uh, I got mine just before I finished scouting, because I had a lot of problems, ah, I had trouble swimming. And because, to be able to get your first-class badge before you could get your Queen Scout badge, you had to be able to swim at least 50 metres. [laughs]
David: Ah, but eventually I got there, I did me 50 metres and got my, um, got awarded my Queen Scout. Actually, I thought I was going, not going to get it because on the last adventure I went on, we went down to Yalwal on the Shoalhaven, and, um, it absolutely poured. Now I’d been on many, many adventure over the years, um, but this was the worst one I was ever on.
David: You, it didn’t matter where you put your sleeping bag, your ground sheet and your sleeping bag and your tent, the water just seemed to roll straight over the top of you. Anyway, apparently our, the commissioner, um, Norm Cook, apparently, he had an accident, he broke a leg or something. But anyway, they needed some, some boys to take him out, get him back to medical help. So, I volunteered to go back, and I thought because I did that, it might have ruined my chances of becoming a Queen Scout. [laughter] But apparently it didn’t, and I was awarded my Queen Scout.
Ah, Tommy Oyston, I asked Tommy Oyston to, ah, present the badge to me, giving him the privilege, because he was the first scout master at Dapto, and we had a very good, a strong association with old Tommy Oyston. Many a time we would go out to Tommy Oyston’s farm and we’d camp out there. Um, It was a nice spot just out West Dapto, um, not hard to find, all you got to do is see where the Moss Vale railway line cuts through the mountain, and straight down, down, down below that is where Tommy Oyston had his farm.
Jo: Ok, yeah, yeah.
David: Because when we were up there we would normally a, we’d walk up the side of the mountain, get up onto the railway line, then follow the railway line till we come to the creek, and follow the creek back down to the farm.
Jo: Can’t get lost that way, can you?
David: No, but you, you learned some very interesting things when you were walking along these railway lines. Ah, we, I remember walking along the line, there was about 3 or 4 of us, and you’d see these big boulders, you know, about 20 or 30 feet down below you, and sitting on, on, laying on top of these boulders would be snakes, just, you know, sunbaking there. But as soon as we got anywhere near them, the first thing they do is they just got straight over the edge of the side, so…
Jo: Yeah, slide off.
David: …so obviously they, they were more frightened of us than what we were of them.
Jo: Yeah, were they very big?
David: Ah, yes, yes, they were quite large, I wouldn’t have liked to have, ah, stepped on one.
Jo: And what type of snake were they, you do know, where they brown snakes, black snakes?
David: Ah, I would think the majority would have been red belly blacks,
Jo: Okay, yeah.
David: because the red belly black is very predominant around this area. Um, you may get some type of diamond pythons, um, but most of the snakes I’ve seen around here are red belly blacks. If you go up the mountain a bit, you will get, ah, the death adder.
Jo: Ok, mm, yeah.
David: Now he’s the one you really don’t want to…
David: …Ah, because he just basically sits there in a curl and you don’t actually really, can’t really see him. In fact, I remember going on a, um, ah, a bit of a hike with the CYO, and I was just about to walk on one when Denise Lawler said, yeah, Denise Lawler said, “Watch it David!” And a death adder slid right, right under me foot. [laughter] Oh yes.
Jo: Oh, that was a tough one!
David: Oh, yeah, so you know. But, ah, you could, you could just about bet every time, ah, we went up to Mt Keira for the H. R. Lee competition, it poured rain.
David: It poured rain.
Jo: Yeah, yeah, so you got good at surviving in wet weather, did you?
David: Oh, yes, we got surviving very wet weather, I remember the 1st the 1st time I went camping, ah, because they give you a sheet of paper and you have to have a permission form that your mother’s got to sign, so you can actually go on there, and then they gave you a list of stuff you had take. And of course, I didn’t have a haversack in those days, so I just had an old sugar bag, and I filled up the sugar bag with all the stuff I had to take. Did that on the Friday night, woke up the Saturday morning and I was as sick as a dog.
Jo: Oh dear.
David: They got the doctor to me, and the doctor said I was suffering from, I had an asthma attack. Ah, I think the doctor got it wrong – it was an anxiety attack.
Jo: Oh really?
David: Yes, because I have, I have never suffered from asthma since, but I’ve had, I have had anxiety attacks.
Jo: Oh, okay.
David: On a few occasions.
Jo: It was about the trip was it, do you think?
David: It was about the trip, ah, the excitement about the trip. Anyway, the next time I was able to go, the first time we were up at Mt Keira, and on the first morning there was a hell of a commotion going on. We could hear these dogs yapping, so we gets up and we gets outside the tent and next minute there was about two or three wallabies come pounding, bounding across the camp, camp ground and about five minutes later there was a pack of dogs after them.
Jo: Whoa! [laughter]
David: Oh yeah.
Jo: That would have been quite a trip in those days wouldn’t it, to go from Dapto up to Mt Keira for a camp?
David: Oh yes of course it was a big thing to go from here down to Rocky Basin.
Jo: Yeah, yeah…
David: Um, even though it’s not very far away, but it was a big thing, and I can’t, you know, we were lucky, we had transport to take all our gear down there. I feel sorry for the ones before us who had to,
Jo: …had to hike it.
David: Had to carry all their gear, ah, because most of the gear was in a big chest, and in that chest was your tent, your fly, all your ropes, you know, um, your mallet, your steel pegs.
Jo: Mmm, oh yes.
David: Right, so they’re all in, in there, then you had all your cooking utensils, like pans, pots, washing up…
Jo: In those days there wasn’t all the lightweight materials there is nowadays.
David: Oh, no, well, when we, when we, no, well basically a, we never took anything like chairs or tables, because when, when you got up to the campsite it was your job certain boys would a, ah, lash a table together, lash stools together, ah, and that…
Jo: And that’s the sort of stuff you learnt.
David: And that’s, that’s the type of stuff we learnt. Um, cooking, we all learnt to cook, because every time we had the H. R. Lee, on one particular night the families were allowed to come and visit. And I remember one year, for some strange reason, reason, we decided, we were having stew and rice and, ah, some, someone said, “Oh, let’s put some colour in.” So, we had red rice with green rice. [laughter] You know, we had all these different coloured rices. [laughter] It’s amazing…
Jo: Why not.
David: It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of colouring, um, but yes.
Jo: What were your uniforms like David, where they much the same as they are today or did, they change?
David: No, no ours where khaki.
David: Right, nowadays they’ve gone back to blue. And I think when you look at the photograph back in, in 1917-1918 they were blue then, so it looks like they’ve gone back, they’ve changed. I think the khaki might have came out because of the Fir-, Second World War.
David: Right, I think they changed to…
Jo: Makes sense.
David: …to khaki then. Um, I presented my shirt to 1st Dapto Scouts. They said they were gunna frame it.
David: It’s got the Queen Scout badge on it and so forth. And, um, I remember going up there once before and asking them and they said, “Ah, give it to Dapto High School.”
Why should I give it to Dapto High School? It should be in the Scout Hall, you know, where, so, so the other…
Jo: Yeah, absolutely.
David: …boys coming up can see a, someone’s done this before and you can, you can do it yourself.
Jo: And what the uniforms were like and yeah, yeah, historical record.
David: Yes, completely different. And of course, the other thing is our scarves had changed.
David: Right. Um, the original Dapto scarf was a black scarf, a black scarf with a gold trim.
David: Ok, now the interesting thing about that was, up in the old Scout Hall, in, in Baan Baan Street there used to bea picture frame with the Dapto colours in it, and on the bottom it had “These were presented to the 1st Dapto Scout troop by William Beach”.
Jo: Oh really?
David: Because apparently the, the black and the gold were William Beach’s sail-, rowing colours, right. And it had there that a, he presented those colours to the 1st Dapto troop. I’ve been told that apparently that is also up at Dapto high school. What it’s doing up there I have no idea, but I’d like to see it go back to the Scout Hall where it belongs.
Jo: Yeah, yeah.
David: Um, these type of things.
Now one of the most interesting people I had in the Scout movement was, ah, Gordon Robson. Now Gordon Robson arrived here in the mid ’50s and he took over as Scout Master after Mr Neilson was transferred up to the Hunter. And Gordon would’ve been my inspiration, because he was a Queen Scout.
Jo: Okay, yeah.
David: He, he got his Queen Scout in England then he came to Dapto, ‘cos his mother was involved with the Guides and Brownies. Um, and he had an association, as I said, with the scouting movement back in England. So, he came down and, um, wanted to be Assistant Scout Master, but ended up being made Scout Master because Mick Neilson had to leave.
Jo: Okay, yeah, so that worked out well.
David: That worked out well. But anyway, not long after, ah, Gordon arrived here, he and, ah, Keithy Hamilton went on what they call the Snowy Mountain Adventure. It was a big venture where all the Boy Scouts used to, they did the trail across the Snowy when it was being, being built at that stage.
David: And one of the stories that came back from that was that they were walking along and they spotted this snake, and apparently the snake went into a hole, and the first thing, um, Keithy Hamilton did was put his hand into the hole [laughter], grabbed it, pulled it out and broke its back. [laughter] And we thought, “Gee you shouldn’t have done that! The snake could have got in there and turned around and be sitting there waiting to bite you, you know.
Jo: I don’t know whether that was brave or silly.
David: Well, you know, yeah, well I’d be more inclined to think it was more silly than…
And of course, one thing you’ve got to remember about the Boy Scouts back in those days, I don’t know if it’s still the same, when you went on adventure, you’d be walking over these hills and you’d say to the Scout Master or the leader, “How far to go?” And he would say, “Just over the next hill.” About 30 hills later, you’d say, “How far to go?” “Oh, just over the next hill.” And we used to stop and think. “Do these blokes really know where they’re going [laughter], or, you know, are they just guessing!
Jo: Yeah, how many hills before you figure out, they don’t really know where they are!
David: Oh yeah, Oh, they just seemed to be, they just seemed to be enormous the number of hills we used to cross. One good, one of the best adventures I did was up the, um, Jamison Valley at Katoomba.
David: Right, you go across down, up the ridge, then down into the valley, and of course we started on the Friday and the Friday night or Saturday or whatever night what it was, but we spent our first morning down in the Jamison Valley itself, and about 6 o’clock, and we thought it was rather funny, strange because every morning when we went on adventure, at 6 o’clock, Norm Jack, ah, Norm Cook would get up and go for a dip. First thing he’d do as soon as he got out of bed, he’d go for a swim. This particular morning Norm didn’t get up, he didn’t go in the water. So, our silly Scout Master, Bruce Garrard, said. “Oh,” he said “I’ll go in, I’ll show Norm off!” Well he hit that water and I tell you what, he jumped about 20 feet in the air [laughter].
Jo: There was a reason why he wasn’t in that water!
David: There was a reason, there was a reason why Norm didn’t go in, because he knew how cold it was. Anyway, the second day we had to actually climb up Mount Solitary. And it was a climb, you know, um, very, very steep, very close to about 80, 80 degrees straight up, you know, no, no incline. And I remember basically there was a boy, one or two boys in front of me, and, ah, someone dislodged a boulder, yeah, a small boulder, and of course it came down and hit one of the boys on the head. Ah, so we had to carry him out as well and try to get up this great big mountain.
Jo: Oh gosh, yeah.
David: Anyway, on the third day we, we, um, we had a bit of relief bec-, because we came up on the scenic railway.
Jo: Oh, got a bit of transport, eh?
David: Yeah, so we got a bit of transport up, up the scenic railway.
Um, but the other thing that we found very interesting, we used to love going to Rocky Basin, the one just out here at Dapto. Now the Basin, I’ve seen a photograph taken in, again back in about the 1930’s, and the water in the Basin was nearly right across, and I would say you, you’re talking about 30-40-50 feet and that’s full of water. When we were there, there was only basically a strip, maybe 15 feet wide.
Jo: Oh really?
David: But it was very deep at that point because the boys used to get up on top of the cliff, and they used to jump in, you know, and they wouldn’t hit the bottom. But the other interesting part about that is that, at that point the creek actually, the level of the creek dropped about 20 feet, and it came down over shale, ‘cos that’s where we, we used to go and get our water, drinking water from there as it was running out of the shale, because it’s cleaner, clean, cleaner water running over rocks. Anyway, every now and then we’d take a hammer over there and chip the um, the, the shale. And we were surprised, we got fossils of leaves.
David: We got fossils of Balmain Bugs.
Jo: That’s interesting isn’t it?
David: Right, now that, that raised the question, what’s a Balmain, a fossil of Balmain Bug doing in land! [laughter] Um, but the stories I was told early in, in Dapto’s history, that the mountain range we see behind us there was actually the shore of the Pacific Ocean.
Jo: Oh, wow. [laughter]
David: So, you see how far the water’s dropped over a long period of time.
Jo: Yes, yes.
David: That’s why that, those cliffs are all sandstone.
Jo: Oh, okay.
David: And every now and then you’ll see some of those cliffs break away from the sandstone, and that’s why it’s sandstone because it was the sh-…
Jo: It would’ve looked a lot different around here then wouldn’t it?
David: Yeah, well, I remember a few years ago they um, had an exhibition here on early Dapto, and they had a painting that must have been done when Dapto was very, very early, you know, early in the 1830’s.
Jo: Oh, wow.
David: And you would not recognise Mullet Creek.
Jo: Really? A lot bigger?
David: No – have you ever been down to Minnamurra Falls?
David: Well you know what the rainforest is like, you know how…
David: …that’s what Mullet Creek was like.
David: Mullet Creek was absolutely dense with foliage, whereas now you’d be lucky to find a tree on it, on the edge of it. Um, it, it’s absolutely incredible how, how the area’s changed…
Jo: Changed yeah.
David: …and again, that gets down to people basically clearing the land for farming.
David: Building houses and so forth. Ah, nowadays we’ve got that much housing on there you don’t worry about the erosion because they’ve got stormwater to take it…
Jo: Yeah, that’s right
David: …to take all the stuff away.
Jo: Thank you so much, that’s fantastic, thank you very much, those are great memories, recording them for us David.
David: That’s all right.