Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Denis Brown
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview date: 3/06/2015
Edie Swift I am recording this morning with Denis Brown. It is June 3rd, 2015. We are recording at Thirroul at my home. Dennis is going to speak about his shack in Burning Palms. He has been at the Palms since he was a baby. His mum, Margaret Brown, also talked about their shack. I think that he, she talked between when she was there, the 1940s to maybe the 1990s.
The name of the project is Shack, The Shack Communities of the Royal National Park down through the generations. The recordings will go to the State Library of New South Wales and the Local Studies Library of the Wollongong Library. So, we could start with, um, if you wanted to just mention your mum’s name and, er, your grandparents’ names and, if you can.
Denis Brown My mother is Margaret Brown. My father is Keith Morgan Brown. My er, grandmother on the paternal side was May Brown. My grandfather was not alive when um, I was young. Um, and on, on the maternal side, was Charlie Steales was Mum’s dad.
Edie Swift If you wanted to go into just a special memory of when you were, let’s say 1 to 10 years old down in the Palms, that would be great.
Denis Brown Um, the main memories of that period of my life was um, just, er, every school holiday, every long weekend we would er, depart for the cabin, down the Palms and just er, revving around with ah, all of the kids in the community down there was a community of more than 40 cabins at that stage and everyone had young children and we all revved around together down there.
My dad taught me fishing, showed me how to fish and it became a um… a passion of my life. Um, and, ah… that was a period of freedom and exploring and er, getting around in the bush and living a very different lifestyle from what we did back at our home in Sydney which was more focused around school and um, very organised activities. Whereas in… in… in that age, The Palms we had a great deal of freedom in er, getting around. We had limits but, as to where we could go but er, we had a lot more freedom there than we did back in the streets that we lived in in Sydney.
Edie Swift So, between you were down there when you were a baby but um, and remembering that period until you were 10. Was… was it different than the way it is right now?
Denis Brown Oh, very, very much different. The nature of community has changed dramatically because life has changed dramatically- economically. And that has had a huge impact on um, the way the community functions and, and er, it’s largely to do with the costs of um, owning a home and er, changing dramatically from when I was…in, in, in… as a child in… and as a youth. Women didn’t have to work to… to have a family that maintained a, a house and, and, and a, a modest lifestyle. Um, which meant that for all of the people in the communities in, in, in the Palms and the era, the, the women were free to take the kids to the cabins in the community. Um, during the week, during school holidays.
And, and that’s not readily available today, because to, to own a home today to, to pay your rent today, um, you, you have a situation where both partners in, in, in the marriage, basically they’re obliged to work if you er, aim to er, own some property and, and make ends meet. And, and that’s meant that the, the children are not able to be down there for the entirety of, of school holidays. People are still coming to the communities in er, in their annual leave periods of the parents, but er, it’s very few of them that can spend um, the extended periods of time down there as children that, that, that we did. It’s a pity.
Edie Swift So 1, when you were 1 to 10 you would have been… that would have been in the 50’s because you were born in 1940…1947.
Denis Brown Yep That’s correct. Yeah. Through the 50’s and er, as I said, it was just a very different economic world and, and that’s had a huge impact on um, the way children are able to access the communities these days.
Edie Swift So when you were 10, do you remember er, where did you go fishing? Where was your best place down there?
Denis Brown My best place was er, when I was that age, I was allowed to um, fish the beach and the rocks at each end of the beach. That was my, my limit. (laughs) And, and, and my favourite place was er, was over on the, on the third beach, at the rocks, at the southern end of Palms Beach.
Edie Swift And what would you catch there?
Denis Brown Mainly Rock Black Fish. We called them ‘drummer’. And er, you know, one of my memories at that stage was er, was er, coming, coming back from a fishing trip to, to find myself with a very angry mother, um, because I was late getting back um, because we had, as I said, we had limits in terms of where we could go and what, and, and how long we could be there. We’d be there from sunup to sundown. Er, and fortunately for me, I had a really good catch of fish and er, it took the heat out of mum’s anger when she discovered that I had a marvelous bag of Rock Black Fish which were her favourite fish to eat. Um, so, luckily it got, got me off the hook, as it were.
Edie Swift And you had a um, the way of cooking them was… what, when you were 10?
Denis Brown They were er, they were always just filleted and portioned and just rolled in, in,in um, in um, in flour and er, and then fried. Just shallow frying.
Edie Swift Did you have a stove down there?
Denis Brown Yeah, in those days we, we had um, kerosene pressure primuses. Primus and Coleman put out um, kerosene-fired pressure stoves and, and they were cooked in a frypan on those.
Edie Swift Do you remember some of your friends down there at that time?
Denis Brown I do… I do. The people in the cabin straight across from us were the… were the Banks family. Er… Judy and, and Allan. Um, their parents were um, their father was an extremely good fisherman. And er, I’ve kept vaguely in touch with Judy. Er, in fact, I saw her a couple of years ago. Um, up in Queensland. And er, I used to hang about a lot with the, the Dove boys… er, Alan and Robert and er, they were my primary fishing buddies in those days. When I get a bit older, I tended to fish by myself a lot more.
Edie Swift And do you remember the shack when you were younger?
Denis Brown Yes, yes, I can.
Edie Swift What was that like?
Denis Brown The, the shack hasn’t changed very much, from those times. The, the location of the door when I was younger was in the veranda at the front. Um, and I can remember, er, helping bring down the er, the kerosene fridge when that was the er,
first real refrigerating equipment we had down there… was an old kerosene fridge which is… had come from our home in Sydney, when electric fridges became more, more popular and more common and more affordable.
When, when, when er, we bought an electric fridge at home, the er, the kero fridge came down to the Palms and I can remember myself and my younger brother Dale carrying down the door to the fridge, because it’s a fair old hike of about 2 and a half kilometres and everything was stripped out of the fridge and, and the community clubs together and helps bring things like that down er, fridges and stoves and, and, and water tanks – things like that, they become a bit of a community event. Um, and er, I can remember carrying down the door myself and me younger brother and some other youngsters in the community carried down all the shelving out of it and the adults then carried down the remainder of the body of the fridge on a, on a like a makeshift stretcher type set-up.
Edie Swift So that time was um, just very special because you could get down there during your school holidays and, do you remember anything special of the weather during that time that was unusual?
Denis Brown Um, no, not, not particularly anything that sticks in my mind at that time. It certainly was a very special place and er, all the holidays and long weekends were much looked forward to. Er, and when we would escape down there as soon as school broke up and we wouldn’t come back until the day before school went back.
Edie Swift And did you learn how to surf? Did your mum teach you how to…
Denis Brown Yeah…
Edie Swift …go in the water and surf and all that ?
Denis Brown Yeah. Mum, mum was a good body surfer. Mum and Dad showed me how to… how to surf and er, I surfed a lot. When I wasn’t fishing, I was surfing and er, learnt to board ride er, on some of the surf club boards that were down there, the skis er, at that sort of age, I wasn’t doing a great deal of that up to the age of 10. It was mainly body surfing. When I was older, I er, I was doing more board riding.
Edie Swift Now as you get into your 10-to-20-year age group, can you remember er, what changed and what were the activities down there and were… was there a difference in the community then, ’cause you would have been… let’s see… that would have been the 50’s, wouldn’t it?
Denis Brown The late 50’s or the 60’s…
Edie Swift Yeah, yeah.
Denis Brown Um, yeah. The community was changing a little bit in those days. Um, there, there, there were less cabins there, because National Parks had started to um, remove cabins and stop people using them, them if they hadn’t been keeping up with their rent and some of the families had moved on, as… as families do. They had their situation changed workwise, et cetera. Er, and some of the communities stopped coming down there.
The Dove family was one that er, that stopped coming down. Um, they had, er, their life changed and er, that, that made a big difference for me, because they were my primary fishing buddies down there. So um, I had naturally moved towards fishing a bit more by myself. I think I was little bit more adventurous than some of the others. Um, and, er, with, with the Dove family not er, not coming down there, it just became a natural thing for me. I used to go fishing by myself, as many other people did, you know. The, the, the the fathers in the families etc. that were down there. Er, some fished together in small groups. A lot of others just fished in, independently.
Edie Swift And did you find that there was more um, activity between Era and Burning Palms? Did you spend more time over there? What did you do over there?
Denis Brown Er, I think we went over there when there were southerly winds blowing um, and you couldn’t… it was very awkward to fish in a southerly wind at the Palms because it faced directly south. Um, and… it… the surf was no good but when a southerly blew, the surf was always pretty good over at Era. So er, it was nothing to traipse to Era with your board tucked under your arm. And that became the major activity over there. Um, surprisingly we didn’t um, inter-relate with the Era community or the kids in the Era community a great deal. When we went over to Era, it was usually as a, a group of the Palms kids and we just went over there and did our own thing.
Edie Swift So was there activities between the 2 communities? There was some day, I think your mother talked about when they got together.
Denis Brown Era, Era is always had a… an annual cricket match. They have a football match over there, um, but it’s more something that was within their community. We would go over and, and watch those communities and there was er, in, in… getting into my late teens, there were activities at the surf club at the Palms where er, they would have local surf club events between the communities that were in the National Park. And some of those er, those events were er, not directly related to, to surf clubs.
But one of them was er, in the sand hills where there was massive lantana in the… in the gully. Um, they, they would wrap themselves up in old army greatcoats and, and simply launch themselves off the sand hill into the lantana. And it er, it was rather spectacular to see people doing it. A bit of ‘bark’ came off a few people from time to time when the greatcoat didn’t do its job, but er, it was a great lark!
Edie Swift So er, were, were there dances and everything with um, people playing the piano or…?
Denis Brown No, no… no, we didn’t, we didn’t have…we didn’t have instruments like a, like a piano or that in the community. It was a bit more um… a bit plainer. It wasn’t… it didn’t have that sort of er, equipment available.
Edie Swift Did you bring anything down during that time that was a major thing you had to bring down to the shack?
Denis Brown Um, no, the shack stayed pretty much the same in that period. We, we brought down a water tank, um, that came down in, in, in those years and again, that was pretty much a, a community effort. No tradesmen er, came down to do things for you. You learned to do things yourself. Um, and er, you know, the way in which things got done in the community, if you had to bring something down was er… you, you, there was almost a fixed fee within the community.
You’d let people know that you needed help with a… with a carry. Um, on a, on a long weekend or a weekend during the school holidays and people would come and give you a hand to, to cart it down. Usually things were put on a, on a, a pipe frame to carry them down, so, so 4 people could, could carry them down the track– carry the load. Er, and, and, and the fee was, was almost fixed if you did a job like that in er, in summertime. On completion of the job, you, you, you would supply 2 dozen bottles of beer for every one that helped and in the wintertime it was a big pot of soup and a dozen bottles of beer er, and that was the way things got done in back in, in the community and everybody pitched in that was there that would help.
Edie Swift And The surf club, at this point, was um, wasn’t that big, was it? I mean the accommodation wasn’t that extensive?
Denis Brown No, one of the cabins er, the Giles’ family had had stopped coming down and they’d made their cabin available to the, to the surf club and that became the clubhouse, come bunkhouse for, for want of a better description. Um, and er, it wasn’t big enough to, to hold any significant events or anything in it. It was primarily just a, an accommodation for people who um, were doing patrols in the surf club, um, but didn’t have a cabin down there.
Edie Swift So do you remember that time on… that you went out after someone to rescue them? Was this the time that you were in that age group?
Denis Brown Yeah, I was, I was around 14 or 15, I think, from memory. Um, I’ll certainly not forget it. It was a very er, frightful experience. Um, we had had quite big seas and the sea was getting bigger all the time and a whole group of us kids were just round, fooling around down on the beach. Um, and, and, and looking for things washed up on the, on the shoreline and er, one of the families, the Ashcroft family had had a visitor come down, a young fella come down with them and the two of them decided they’d go for a, for a swim. The, the visitor was quite a good swimmer and had um, some surf fins with him… some swim fins with him and er, they went out in the water and young Chris Ashcroft got himself into trouble in a rip fairly quickly um and started signalling he needed some help and the only thing that was down on the beach to give any help was myself and, and er, a group of kids down to about 5 and 6 years old.
Um, and, er, we raced around and er, I jumped in the surf belt and then, a quick bit of instruction on a bunch of kids as to how to let the rope out on the surf reel and er, jumped in after them and, and er, and swam out and we’d sent… we’d sent off one of the young kids to try ‘n’ round up some adults, because I knew the kids weren’t going to get me back to the (laughs) the beach, but er, went out and er, unfortunately the er, the kids had um, let out a bit too much of the, the rope on the surf reel and it got tangled up in the rocks and er, I had to jettison the belt and was able to attract the attention of er, the visitor that was er, down with the Ashcroft’s and he came over with his swim fins and he went out and grabbed hold of Chris and er, as a group, we er, went out in the rip and they er, they just stayed in the rip and were heading to the north and I er, did not want to go to the north because 2 people had drowned off the rocks in the early 50’s from, from the, the Rush family er, and, who were visitors to the area and I had very strong memories of the rip going way out to sea from there and I didn’t want to go there at all.
So, I stayed on the southern edge of the rip and got taken well out to sea off the Palms and then took quite a bit of effort to actually get back into the Palms because the sea was so big and, and I can remember there was a big gutter off the back of the beach. A great big sand bar and all the waves were dumping on the, the outside, the outer edge of the sand bar. I was out way past the headlands at the north and south of the beach, a long way off the beach and um, I er, I was very frightened of not being able to survive the, the dumping of the waves because they were extremely large, they were, they were over 20 feet and um, eventually er, I got picked up by a couple of really big waves in the set and just got tumbled in towards the beach. I got across the sand bar and I could see people trying to get to me, people trying to swim out um, with another surf belt, people trying to swim out, trying to paddle out with a surfboard with a, with a rope tied on to the back of it.
And er, they just kept getting swept away from the front of me, because the rip across the beach was just so strong and er, I managed to get into the beach and er, I couldn’t stand up. I was terribly cold. I had absolutely no energy left. Um, and then, after I’d managed to get warmed up, we went, no one had heard of what happened to the other two fellows and er, started walking around er, covered in a blanket around to Era to see if, to see if anybody had heard and then lo and behold, a fellow with a surfboard had seen them getting washed around and had er, grabbed his surfboard and paddled out from the beach and er, collected them up and took them back into Era and they survived! (laughs) So, we were all very, very lucky. That um, it’s certainly an incident in my life I’ll never forget. I got a commendation from the er, from the Royal Humane Society for, for the effort, as did the other people involved. But um, yeah, something certainly not to be forgotten. Quite frightening, actually.
Edie Swift And was it the visitor that went out?
Denis Brown Yes.
Edie Swift And they didn’t know very much.
Denis Brown Yeah, they didn’t know the local conditions and they should never have gone in the water in those conditions. The other young fella from the Ashcroft family should have known better than to go in.
Edie Swift Was there, was there, um, ever meetings between the people and Era so they talked about their situation? Or did they have meetings, at all, in Burning Palms so people would get together and talk about what they wanted in the community?
Denis Brown There, there was in… there was always a loose association amongst the er, communities, but in the 50’s–the early 50’s around about 1953, when the privately held land there was becoming um, available to er, to auction. The communities put together a protection league–a Cabbage Community Protection League. And er, there was a lot of very formal meetings which… you know, at my age, I wasn’t invited to attend.
But there was a lot of meetings between the communities and within the community trying to work out what what to do and putting together money for fighting funds to see if maybe they could even purchase the land that the cabins were on. So, there was a lot of meeting activity but, involving the adults, not involving us as kids at that stage, because, you know, 1953 and … about 6 or 7 years old.
Edie Swift And then Mr Grey, do you remember him coming?
Denis Brown I do down on his horse?
Edie Swift On his horse?
Denis Brown Yes, I can remember him coming down on the on the horse. I can remember the, the families after him… Ray Rose er, took on the property up at the top of Garrawarra and he was still running cattle down there and he would come down on his horse er, and, and, and try and round the cattle up, but they were pretty good at escaping into the scrub. Um, and he even started trying to develop a riding school up there and develop a business with people coming from Sydney down and riding horses down into the area of the Palms and Era, but, um, it, it never really took off for him. And eventually, when, er, when the land was er, was purchased by the state government, or resumed by the state government, um, you know, all those opportunities for that sort of business activities was stopped completely.
Edie Swift Was that 1967 when that happened?
Denis Brown Um, that, that was ’67 was er, more the stage where the, the trust was being a completely by um, Royal National Park and added to the… to the Royal. After 19-53 through to ’56–that period of time, um, the, the area of Era and the Palms was managed by the Garrawarra Park Trust, which was more managed as a state park and then er, in the middle 60’s, that was amalgamated into the Royal National Park and things started to become a lot tougher for the cabin owners, um, in that period of time, because the national parks people all saw privately owned cabins in the National Park as being incompatible with er, with er, their objectives as a National Park.
Edie Swift Wasn’t there a time when Mr Grey stopped coming down on his horse and, and things changed, because his, one of his relatives acquired his land?
Denis Brown Um, I, I can’t remember that, that, that period. I can remember Mr Grey. Um, because, you know, it was, I was very, very young um, during that time. But er, I can’t remember one of the relatives coming down. I can remember the property being, being leased out to, to the Maynards and then to the Roses, managing the farm at, at Garrawarra where the cars were left and running the, they had a little shop up there that they er, opened on weekends and er, sold soft drinks and things to, to walkers going through and, and during the major school holiday periods, if you needed um, food, they, they would do shopping trips for the, for the communities. You put your order in as to what you needed and, and they would, would go into Cronulla and er, or Sutherland and buy whatever was, was, was needed and then come back and distribute them amongst the cabin communities and usually, the kids would all go up and collect it all (laughs).
Edie Swift And what I’m trying to remember is when Mr Grey stopped coming and, and collecting the rent and then what happened after that?
Denis Brown No, I can’t, I can’t actually remember what happened at that period of time. I can remember the, the Maynard’s running the farm, but not the collection of rent and how it was being paid to er, to Garrawarra Park Trust.
Edie Swift And when er… where was the Maynard’s’ farm.
Denis Brown Up that top of the track, it was the end of the track where the cars could get to up on the escarpment–where the cars were all left in a car park there, too to then everybody walked down to Era and Burning Palms from there.
Edie Swift Do you recall um, getting off at Lilyvale Station, or were you too young to… to…
Denis Brown I was too, too, too young to remember that. I can’t remember that part of it. We bought when I was quite young. That was in about the 50’s, about ’52-53. I can’t remember coming down in that, that’s my earliest, clear recollection of coming down, when I was about 6 or 7.
Edie Swift Now as we move into when you were, let’s say, in your 30’s
and 40’s that… the date for that would have been, what, if you were born in’47.
Denis Brown Late 70’s through to, to, to the middle 80’s.
Edie Swift How did, um, things change and were you involved in the shack at that time?
Denis Brown Ah, for me, not a great deal of involvement at all. I, I had ah, when I was 19, got a job down in the steelworks in Wollongong as a metallurgist and ah, had been involved down there and continued to come to the… to the Palms periodically. My employment periods down there were quite diverse, in terms of working time. And er, I had other things in my life.
Er, I came up to the cabin quite regularly with my buddies that I fished with in that period of time er, but then, um, I, I went fishing commercially in, in1982. Er, and er, going to the Palms in good weather and um, working for yourself as a commercial fisherman were er, weather-wise were 2 com… completely incompatible activities, er, that when the weather was good, um, you were… you were out fishing and er, earning a living and, and then you had a lot of maintenance work to do on the fishing equipment. It’s not a… not a particularly easy life. Um, and er, so I didn’t have a great deal of er, involvement with the Palms er, for that period of my life, through till I was er, in my 50’s. Um, I went down there for occasional holidays. We went down there and did work on the cabin, when Mum was desperately needing er, some maintenance work done that she couldn’t do herself. Um, but because of the job that er, that I was involved in, em, earning a living, I didn’t er, get down to the Palms all that often.
Edie Swift And what er, changes did you see in the community, when you did go down then?
Denis Brown It was a lot there by that stage, em, by the time I was in my middle 30’s, the, the community had shrunk dramatically, from 44 cabins, we were down to about 30 at that stage. Um, the, the, the place was no longer alive with children. Um, my own children were ah, were very fortunate in um, spending their school… they were still able to go down in their school holidays, um, because they were able to go down there with grandma.
And, and they learnt a bunch a life skills er, in that community down there, to the extent that my eldest boy Glen, um, whenever his group of friends at home got into trouble and, and was having to interact with an adult, he, he, he got er, got pushed forward to er, to engage with the adult, because he, he er, he’d learnt to do that and had to do that when he was down the Palms, engaging with the rest of the community down there with his, with his grandma. So, he, he learnt some communication skills and, and not to be um, unduly frightened by dealing with older people—adults in, in, in his youth. It served him well, in his life.
Edie Swift So he had a special time… he. Glen and who else was down there?
Denis Brown Stephen, my, my youngest boy and er, some of the children from, from my brother’s family, um, went down there together and er, they went every time grandma went down the school holidays, she always had a bunch of grandkids (laughs) down there with her.
Edie Swift So that was a wonderful experience for them.
Denis Brown Oh absolutely, absolutely! By that stage it was quite unique to be able to um, access a cabin in the, in the National Park. And, er, they were very lucky kids. They’ve all, they’ve all maintained a er, a linkage with it. My brother less so. Um, he hasn’t had much to do with the Palms um, since his, his, since his erm late 20’s.
Edie Swift But you, but you, but he enjoyed it when he went.
Denis Brown Oh absolutely… absolutely!
Edie Swift Yeah. And, and his kids er, continue to, to come there, or most of them did. Um, and er, his youngest daughter still er, is, has an involvement. She’s, she’s kind of my brother’s side of the family’s representative er, on, on the license for the cabin.
Edie Swift And who is she?
Denis Brown That’s Megan.
Edie Swift Oh!
Denis Brown Megan er, has that but she’s had some, and she used to come down very regularly and the, her husband loves it down there. But as, as, as happens with any young marrieds, it fairly big deal to get down there with 1- and 2- and 3-year-old kids for a short period of time, so er, they haven’t been down a great deal. But er, I know that the… that, that Joel is looking forward to getting his kids down there and teaching them the fish and er, going through all the things that we did when we were younger.
Edie Swift Did, er now, do you go down now? Um and… You said when you turned 50, you had a little more time…
Denis Brown Yeah, the last decade or so, I’ve been er, quite heavily involved with the community down there. Um, I’ve been involved with the protection league in er, legal actions with National Parks. I get down there for the last decade I’ve probably been able to get down there more than, more than every second weekend um, during the year. Er, there’s bout 6 weeks of the year in the middle of winter when I don’t get down there too much as er, it’s a bit daunting and cold. (laughs) That’s about the only period of time when I’m away from it for um, any extended period. Um, I get, I get down there better than every 2nd weekend.
Edie Swift And how has it changed since you were down there a lot, in the past?
Denis Brown Well it, it, it had been… the cabinet itself had been getting run down, um, er, about 15 to 20 years ago because they’d been numerous rumblings from within National Parks that they were going to er, remove all the cabins and they were being very actively involved in removing cabins–the smallest infraction. And consequently, um, it was a bit of a drudge to maintain the cabin and er, spend money on it when there was er, every likelihood that er, it was simply going to be torn down. So, it was in a rundown state. It was still imminently habitable, um, but it, it was being patched up upon patches, upon patches. Um, and then er, about 8 years ago now, National Parks actually revoked all of the licenses for the, for the, for the cabins and claimed ownership of the cabins, merely on the view that private ownership of er, anything in the, in a National Park was incompatible with the objectives of the parks. Um, that matter went to court, went to the Land Environment Court and a quarter of a million dollars later in legal fees.
The state government had absolutely no evidence that they owned the structures and um, they withdrew from the court action and negotiated a, a settlement provided a, a 20… guaranteed 20-year license period for the cabins and um, in what is now another 12 or 13 years’ time, the Minister of the day has to work out what he’s going to do. Since then, part of the settlement was that um, National Parks would support er, heritage listing of the cabins and the communities and er, that, that in fact, took place just a couple of years ago.
Er, and, consequently as the communities themselves are now heritage listed as representatives of some of the last what was generally termed or loosely termed a self-governing community. Um, it, the, the cabin communities er, in the Park are some of the last communities of that type anywhere in Australia, which was why there was the incentive to, to heritage list them. So, so the structures are heritage listed within those communities, as well. Um, and, and that that’s going to make life er, fairly difficult for the government to substantial change the nature of those communities and, and remain consistent within the heritage legislation. So that side of it has changed dramatically. As soon as it looked like to me um, we were going to er, going to win the court case in the Environment Court before we physically won, my judgment of the evidence that had been collected was that we were going to win it.
So, er, my expectation, having dealt with government people through the fishing industry was er, was that um, they would get quite tough about activities in there and costs would be substantially increased, because that’s the reaction of government every time they lose a court case. It doesn’t matter what area the actions take place, that tends to be the, the reaction of the bureaucrats, so I got stuck into bringing the cabin up to as good a standard as it could be, the roofing was replaced; the, the, he timber inside that had been… termite-infested, was all removed and repaired. The, the actual walls had started to separate from the concrete slab and they’d been bulging out which… so a major job was undertaken to tie the wall frames back into the concrete slab and straighten everything up. Er, and as things became unable to be repaired, the, the cooking equipment changed. Mum had had, had had several evolutions of big stoves and, and er, it got to the point where we acquired a 2nd-hand LPG oven and grill and stove top and, and installed that in the old fireplace and I put, er, a solar system on the cabin, as most of the cabins were, at that stage, involving solar power systems, rather than relying on pressure kerosene lamps and things like that, which did have a tendency to miss fire in lighting them, occasionally–a bit of a frightening experience with the the flames gou-… gouging out everywhere… gashing out everywhere. So, it was safer and convenient to change to er, solar power systems and er, I put a know a little 4-volt er, fridge freezer in, that er, powered from the solar system.
We still have the um, the original 1923 version, Hallstrom Silent Knight kero fridge. That, that’s been adapted to operate off um, LPG, as well. Um, it still, still functions, just. Um, and whenever we have larger groups down at the Palms, that gets called into service. Most weekends er, I normally only use the um, the little um, Waeco chest freezer, the chest fridge freezer that I have down there. Um, and I turn it on about October, full-time and it runs 24/7 and it’s got cold beer there when I get down the hill, when, when, when I come down. Um, until about April um, and there’s not enough, not enough sunlight that’s effective um, between April and about October so I, I, I turn it off when I leave and I only turn it on when I, when I go back down, but I miss that cold beer when I get down the bottom of the hill. (laughter).
Edie Swift So, did a lot of your relatives help you bring all that stuff down?
Denis Brown Most of it I did by myself. Um, my, my, my two sons helped me with the, the, the larger items. When I, when I brought down the stove, I had it suspended between 2 aluminium poles and, and er, Glenn came down and helped me and er, my granddaughter, Ava was about (pause) 9, 9 years old, I suppose and, and er, we were doing it in the winter time um, round about this time of year, right now, actually. It was a bit cool to be carrying big jobs like that in and the whales had started er, travelling up the coast and as, as we came out on the top of the, the saddle, um, Glen and I had figured that we would, in, in a number of steps and breaks, have a rest carrying a load.
We’d, we’d decided we would push on down to the, to where the hillside opened out on er, on the saddle above the Palms, on the hillside and we’d have a rest there. Um, our best-laid plans came to grief. We, we, we got there and as we came out of the trees onto the saddle, Ava spied a couple of whales right on the edge of the, the, the sea there and took off like a scalded cat down the rest of the track, so that left er, … we weren’t sure where she was going to stop, so that left Glen and myself running along the top of the ridge with this ah, stove between us. We were already fairly tired at that stage. By the time we caught up to Ava at the end of the saddle, um, we were completely buggered. That was a great day. Ava still remembers that. She saw these whales er, up quite close and then um, we, we, when we got down to the cabin, she’d seen deer from a distance, but there was one was feeding right next to the cabin down there, so she, she remembers that, that whole episode extremely well.
Edie Swift Does anybody get down with the children during school holidays?
Denis Brown They, they, they do. In, in small amounts. Again, because the only time they can get down there is when the parents have got annual leave, er, so they’re not down there for those extended periods like we were in, in, in our childhood. Um, but yes, they do, they do come down and um, Dad had converted a, a canvas er, lounge type sun, sunchair into a um, a crib, er, for me. And I was er, I was in that and Dale was in it, my brother, and um, when, um my kids were born, they used it. Er, and, and I refurbished it a couple of years ago and it’s been, now been used by a couple of other families in the, in the community that er. We’ve got a, got one of the original cots from my, my childhood, a collapsible cot and a, and a crib and er, that, that gets er, moved around the Palms community as the, the young marrieds have kids down there, because there’s no point in dragging another one down there. We’ve got one. So er, it’s well used!
Edie Swift And you’re still fishing down there?
Denis Brown Yeah, absolutely! That’s the major focus of going to the Palms.
Edie Swift But is it as good fishing as it used to be?
Denis Brown No, it’s not quite as good. I don’t think that’s, that’s er, that’s a pretty true statement of anywhere in Australia, I think, compared to what fishing was like er, when we were younger. Um, every- everything has changed quite a bit, but the fishing is still good in the area down there. And there’s a lot more itinerant er, fishermen coming in, out of the Sydney suburbs who are checking for a day.
The figure 8 headland became popular with the Korean community back about um, 8 or 10 years ago. Um, and it’s still popular with them. Er, and, and they come in groups of up to 20 people, coming in for the day, so exposing the fish resources to er, additional numbers of people like that can, can only reduce the, the local fish population. You can’t expect it to be as good as it was when we were kids and there was only a dozen or so people fishing in the area.
Edie Swift So do you have a lot of visitors in there at the Palms?
Denis Brown Yes, um, this year, this summer in particular, the figure 8 pools became the darling of social media. Um, and somebody had done a trip er, down there and posted up on Facebook or Instagram or whatever it was on and put some footage on, on You Tube and it became the darling of social media.
Everybody that, that was into bushwalking and a lot of people who weren’t even into bushwalking um, started coming down to the Palms and, and er, going round to the figure 8 pools. Um, where it, it peaked at 300 people on a weekend going, just walking in. People with no idea of what was involved, completely inappropriate footwear. Um, no understanding of the tides or the seas er, er, that they needed to er, to access the site, under. And we, we’ve had 4 evacuations of people who were quite seriously injured, that needed to be evacuated by helicopter, from groups that were going around to the pools, to see the pools and even in winter. I, I was last down there a fortnight ago and we were turning people back um, because the seas were way too large to safely go round there.
And, and er, you know, all summer long whenever there was a, a big sea on, that, that became (laughs) an onerous job, to try and stop these people from killin’ themselves, trying to get round there. ‘Cause having walked in 2 and a half kilometres, they, they were going to try for the next half a kilometre, come what may, most of them. But um, yes it’s been, it’s been exceptionally popular this, this summer.
Edie Swift So you um, still enjoy going down and it sounds like er, the community is still, although maybe not as many people, you still enjoy the community down there, the shack owners?
Denis Brown Absolutely love it, absolutely love it! Um, I go down there and er, there’s a few of us er, have become more active in the land care group down there, outside of our own community. Um, we started getting embarrassed by some of the people in other communities coming down and coming to the Palms area on land care days, so we thought that we needed to er, up our efforts to do some work in their community, as well as our own so um, we’d go down and do land-care work, er, as well as just going down there and having having fun for ourselves.
Edie Swift Do, would you like to say anything more, as we conclude the interview?
Denis Brown Yep. I, I, the way our family has, has operated within the cabin, there has been one owner of the structure. It’s not owned by National Park or anybody else. It’s always been owned by someone in the family. We have one owner of the structure and there are a number of licensees spread between the family. The license essentially gives you the right to, to use it. It doesn’t deal with ownership at all. Um, I’m the current owner. Um, I’m the custodian for the next generation. That’s what I see as my job. Um, all I am is the custodian for the next generation. When my time is over, there will be someone out of the families who hopefully, will love the place as much as mum has and what I have er, and will take it over.
Edie Swift Well, thank you very much Denis. This was wonderful and I thought it was important to continue talking about what happened, because I think your mum didn’t go down as much so I wanted to find out what was the, the rest of the story.
Denis Brown Mum hasn’t been down much in the last 5 years. Um, er, she’s 96 now. She was still going down at 91 and er, she’s reached a stage where it was becoming physically too hard for her. Um, and and that, sadly was the end of her period at the Palms.
She’ll start another period of permanent residence when she passes. And she, she’ll
join her husband up on top of the hill. Er, as, as l will join them. And my family will, will join us.
Edie Swift Would you donate this to the State Library of New South Wales and the local studies library of the Wollongong Library?
Denis Brown Absolutely!
Edie Swift Thanks that the more that I understand about those communities the better.