Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Dorothy Rook
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview Date: 15 March 2019
Edie It’s the, ah, I think it’s the 15th today of March and I’m talking to Dorothy Rook in Otford and she’s gonna, I’m Edie Swift. We’re recording for the Local Studies Library in Wollongong. And she’s gonna tell me all about her early life, just a little tiny bit and then we’re gonna go on to what happened in Otford.
Dorothy Well, let’s start a little bit earlier than that, Edie, because my great-great grandfather arrived in Australia with his family in 1850 and they settled initially at Spring Hill in Wollongong and then moved to Foxground or Gerringong-
Edie Look towards the mic, okay.
Dorothy where they lived for some years. The name of the place where they lived was Curry’s Mountain because his name was John Curry. The next person of interest, we actually, my father moved to, ah, the Illawarra in 1958 after the opening of the Leura Baptist Church which was on the 9th of December 1958, that’s one year after the big fire that went through Leura in 1957 burning lots and lots of houses. So dad moved to Warilla where he was the Baptist minister and, ah, at that time initially, some people don’t know it, but we formed the Girls’ Brigade in Warilla and I was the first captain of that brigade. Subsequently we moved to Dapto where once again, I was the captain of the Girls’ Brigade at 1st Dapto. Then, well, dad moved to Bega which is a bit far to travel each week whilst I worked in St Marys. So, um, we didn’t open a Girls’ Brigade in, in Bega which is quite a shame. But we were instrumental in opening the one at Bowral, sorry at Goulburn. Ah, so, and they’re actually having a great time down there at the moment, so it’s, ah, just history repeating itself. Ah, I lived most of my life up until I was 30 in Penrith and, ah, I was the captain of the Girls’ Brigade there as well. So I’ve really got quite a history with Girls’ Brigade. Ah, actually, I’ll tell you, my daughter is currently a Commissioner for Girls’ Brigade in New South Wales and there are only three of those. We’ve kept up the tradition. Um, after we got married we were moved to Melbourne where we lived for 5 years 7 weeks and 5 days. As you can hear I was not very impressed. Um, but during that time we often came up to the Illawarra and whenever we did we always visited the Jamberoo Presbyterian Church where my father was a lay preacher and he was also a Minister at the Albion Park Presbyterian Church. And afterwards, the last one that we belonged to was the, um, Burrawang Presbyterian Church because my great-grandfather had actually been the treasurer of the Church there when it was built. So, as you can see, we’ve got quite a history with churches and Girls’ Brigade in the Illawarra. After we moved back from Melbourne for health reasons because the children, ah, the two of eldest children were very averse to the Melbourne weather, as was my husband. So we told my father that we wanted a house that was within two miles of the coast, ah, within 20 miles of a university and a few other things. And Dad found this house where we currently live on the side of a mountain, um, at Otford. So that’s, um, potted history, ah, that covers about 40 years. [laughter] Um, we moved to Otford on the 20th of May 1978, so we’ve been here for 41, almost 41 years now. And, ah, in that time we’ve been members of the Fire Brigade, the, um, P & C. I was the Treasurer and subsequently the President of the local P & C at Otford school. We looked after the, I was the President of the committee that did, worked for the, um, centenary of the school where we met your mate, um, the Little’s because Judith and Jennifer were both in the same class. So, ah, they were both in 6th class in 1985 and, ah, we had quite a, a gathering for the school, ah, Centenary. I actually have a-
Edie Can you talk toward the mic.
Dorothy I have a video.
Edie Okay. Good. Yah.
Dorothy of the, ah, whole proceedings of the school’s Centenary. Um, other than that, ah, people I’ve met, well oh, ah, Ellen Hamilton was the person who lived in Ot-, well who farmed the um, what’s now the Mission or was, oh that’s a mess. Um, in 1938 the Methodist Young People’s Group formed a, a group to find a holiday home for the Methodists in the Sydney area and they came to Otford and bought a, the property which had belonged to the Hamilton’s who actually arrived here in, I believe, in 1872. Which it’s a bit confusing because the James’s say they arrived first and the Hamilton’s say they arrived first. I’m not prepared to go into that. But the, um, Methodist Young People’s Camp was always known as the Mission up until the time it was purchased by the, ah, a group of Indian, um, meditators I think you’d have to call them, who now run the Mission. Ah, so Alan had lived here for some years. He came down for the Centenary of the school as did all of the family of the James family. That was Bill from North Queensland and his brother came up from Central, oh, well, Albion Park actually. So we had quite a few of the old folk came to the Centenary and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Edie Who built the house here?
Dorothy Oh, who built the house here?
Dorothy You want to start before that because the original house on this property was the actual, um, 12-13 acres were cut off from the James family, ah, 200 acres because they put the railway line through in about 1916. Ah, that, the original house then was built by the Jenkins family and it was a slab hut. We’ve still got the slabs in the yard, ah, that were used in the house and subsequent to the slab hut being lived in, they poured a concrete barrier around the outside of it and then put various pieces of construction on, around the rest of it and then past the logs from the log hut out through the windows and then put the windows in. So, that’s quite a, a long story for a little hut. We moved into it in, as I said, 1978 and subsequently we, my husband, drew the plans and built the house in which we have lived for, since 1982, approximately. But he did that all by himself, he’s a very clever boy.
Edie And what did he do for a living?
Dorothy Ah, he’s a chemical, a chemist, an industrial chemist, actually. Unfortunately, he did a stupid thing. He thought that America would allow us to have, ah, atomic energy here in Australia and so he did Nucleon Radiation at university. And, ah, in 1969, was it 1970, the Americans said no Australia could not have any means of producing, ah, weapon grade atomic energy which, I mean everybody else has got it, so it’s a bit of a mystery why Australia couldn’t have it. But we’re not good enough and the North Koreans are.
Edie Now did your husband work around here then?
Dorothy In Sydney.
Edie What did he do?
Dorothy Worked for Shell Chemicals.
Edie Oh. And were you working at the time or do, any time?
Dorothy Um, I, initially we met initially at, ah, the munitions filling factory at St Marys and I worked there for quite a few years. Then I got a, a transfer to the explosives factory at Maribyrnong whilst we were living in Melbourne. Came back here and along with my father, my uncle, my sister and myself we all worked for Austcare when it was first formed. Um, Dad actually was at one time the representative for most of New South Wales. He went from Broken Hill to the coast and from the Victorian border almost to Queensland, with the exception of Canberra which his brother did and, ah, the Sydney area which my sister and I did. So we were fairly involved once again with Austcare.
Edie And then-
Dorothy Which incidentally was something that was formed by the, um, a number of Baptist ministers in Sydney area when, you know, they saw a need for, ah, care for refugees.
Edie So after you worked there did you work any, anywhere else?
Dorothy No, no. Not until we started a, a, our own, um, family business and, ah, presented exhibition homes from the fence to the roof. Anything that was in the exhibition homes that had to be fixed, we did it for a number of companies including such little ones as Beechwood and Masterton and Gentry homes and a few others.
Edie Did you work any in any job after that one?
Edie That was it.
Edie I see.
Dorothy I fell through the verandah.
Dorothy 9th of December 2009. I went for a walk along the verandah and this particular board had not been nailed down, so I fell through the hole, hurt my leg, and, ah, that was the beginning of my decline, shall we say.
Edie So, um, would you like to say anything else about your time in Otford. This has been wonderful.
Dorothy You’re kidding. Ah, no, not really. I have, um, some records that I know some people would love to have, like the, ah, which members of the community went to school at what time and how long they stayed there for. Ah, for example, ah, when the um, this is all out of context and out of sequence which annoys me. Um, a school was actually opened here in 1895 and the first day of school it was the Bulgo Public School and about a week later it was changed to Otford in honour of the owner of um, a block of land in the area, ah, Lawrence Hargrave. Yes, it was Lawrence Hargrave, sorry. Lawrence Hargrave had lived in Otford in Kent and his children had been born there and Southend down to um, all of Stanwell Park. Ah, interestingly the, ah, lad who owned the property there, Lawrence’s other brother, he had a, a, he felled timber and carted it. And he had oxen that, or bullocks, that actually pulled the tra-, the dray. And, ah, he called them Jesus and Christ because Mrs Gardner who owned a property on Gardner’s Creek which is north of, ah, Otford ah, objected to him swearing. So he would say, but I’m not swearing, I’m calling the bullocks home. Yes, well, anyhow they called the property, the township, Otford. As I said the school opened on Thursday and there were no pupils arrived for the opening of the school. They did not turn up until, ah, Monday morning because they refused to pay threepence a week to educate their children for only two days, they paid for the, ah, education of their children subsequently at threepence a week, but initially two days was too expensive.
Edie Well, now I think we’ll conclude. You’ve done a wonderful job. I just love to hear everything about you and what you did. And, ah, so if you, if you don’t want to add anything else we’ll conclude.
Dorothy Fine by me.
Edie Thank you so much. Would you donate this to the Local Studies Library in Wollongong?
Dorothy If they want it.
Edie Thank you.