Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Dorothy Sefton
Interviewer: Jo Oliver
Interview date: 6/08//2018
Jo: The following interview was conducted with Doro- Dorothy Sefton as part of Wollongong City Council Libraries’ Illawarra Stories oral history project. And it took place at Dorothy’s house in Thirroul, on the 6th of August 2018. And the interviewer today is myself, Jo Oliver and we also have Judy Burke with us, a long term friend of Dorothy. Um, so I think we’re ready to start.
So, Dorothy, can you tell me about your life in the Illawarra and have you always lived here?
Dorothy: We came here to Thirroul in 1927 I was 4 years old. And started when the 1st infant school was built up here, so I was. Oh, that’s part of the photos, the 1st class in the school.
Jo: Oh good
Dorothy: Amongst the school photo, um yeah, so started at school at 5 years old. And then, um, we’ve been here for 90 odd years in Thirroul.
Jo: and where abouts did you come from?
Dorothy: We came from Auburn. Ah, my father and mother, migrated from England, and of course all of them new migrants, still go over that way for jobs and that was where the big engineering works and the industrial places, Clines engineering and Meters and all the big heavy industries were out there where all the migrants went at that stage.
Well he died early in the piece. I was only 3 when he died and my granny and mum’s sister and her husband and 2 children came out to join them. So that granny could help my mother raise the 2 children here. And so, we had to come down the coast.
He was glad to get away from England because it was the time when all those terrible strikes were on with the miners. And he was a mine deputy, so he had to come down here to try and find work in the mines down on the South Coast. And that’s how we come to be in Thirroul.
And, ah, and so then a young cousin was born when we were in, we were at the bottom of Kennedy’s Hill, there on the main road. And, ah, there were, when the new baby turned up, there were 9 of us in that semi-detached place. Then later, Granny and Mum hived, hived off and we went to separate, living separately and that. She, she was a dressmaker, and ah, that’s how she earned her living and, and, ah, that’s, that went on until, you know, many, many years.
Ah, but we had a wonderful time as kids. We were very close to the beach; our parents didn’t realise how dangerous it was to have young kids on their own on the beach. And thinking about some of the, the close shaves that the kids had, you know. Families let them out, they would be in charge of their older brothers or sisters and they’d, fortunately move around in packs. And actually, there was safety in numbers with the kids moving like that. But I can remember Granny used to get out on the veranda and she’d look across to the beach where we were supposed to be playing with our buckets and spades and building sandcastles. So, every now and again she’d be just looking over. But the fact that if we had gone in the water, goodness knows what would have happened when we were young.
But anyway, we learnt to swim and, and, ah, we loved the surf and that was where we mainly were, in the surf. Then of course there was the bush, and we used to climb up the mountains up to Sublime Point, all the school holidays, and we had a tremendous amount of freedom.
But everyone had to do their job before they could get out, and it was very strict that, and I think it was pretty universal that all the kids around here they had their job, but then they were on the loose once they got out.
The boys used to be always going up to the bush. They were horrible little creatures. They used to collect birds’ eggs and had shanghaies and… Not very nice, with the wildlife, unfortunately. But ah, it was, ah just, you know, just all open air and plenty of exercise.
And maybe that’s why we’re all getting so, they have grown so old, because quite a few of us are into our nineties around here. I think when we were all reared during the Depression, and I think with no trimmings and fancy things, people grew their own fresh vegetables, and I think that counts for quite a… the reason why so many older people have stayed healthy for so long. And so, it was a different, ah, menu that we had in those days.
Jo: A healthy lifestyle. And, um, what were some of the jobs the children had to do before they could play?
Dorothy: We used to have to rake up all the manure from the chook pens. That was one of them and put it in the garden. And, ah, chopping the kindling for the, the fires. Helping to clean out the old, the soot out of the old stoves, the old wood stoves. They were all, it was all wood burning in those days, and coal, of course. And, ah, helping to clean, clean and polish the floors on, once a week, every Saturday. And, ah, and then, um, we all had our turn at washing and wiping, after meals. They, they weren’t big heavy jobs, but we thought they were!
My brother was real good at getting out of them. I used to get caught. I’d cop his share of the, the chores at the time, and it’s not fair that he could get away with it. I had to stay and do as I was told. But still, as I say, we went with our friends, and we were on the go, you know, all the time.
Jo: And what were some of the things you got up to? You said, “If only the parents knew”.
Dorothy: Well, the danger we were in. It was, we used to drag the kids out ourselves later on when we were bigger and could, you know, and that was it. We’d been dragged out many times out of the water, because you know, fortunately there were lots of people around, as it was such a popular beach, and they did see problems all the time.
Although, um, there were drowning, and, ah, one of my friend’s older sister was drowned. There were two of them drowned, they were locals. At one stage… they were teenagers at that stage and that was a terrible, terrible tragedy–two young women at the same time. But then, that was a rip of course, that was what happened when we did have the odd drownings down there.
But when we were a little. Oh, there was one little boy, he had an epileptic fit. That was another thing, we used to go onto the old jetty and there were missing, ah, logs in the rails, on the old rails, and he had an epileptic fit, and tragically he went in and drowned that day. So, that was, you know, one of the things. No control, keeping an eye on the kids and what they were doing.
But that was the sort of danger as far as that was concerned. But as far as, um, stranger danger, not so much. We had the, the odd flasher or something around, but the kids, ah, they’d just throw rocks and…
But it, ah, it, I think the fact of moving in clusters like that, it was a lot safer, because you wouldn’t let the kids do that nowadays, to go out so freely. There’s so many… I suppose the fact that we’re so mobile and can move about. You never know who is in your area, whereas when we were more settled, you knew just about everyone that lived in the district.
Jo: And as you say, there was safety in numbers… kids going round together. And what do you remember about school? So, you went to Thirroul.
Dorothy: Yes, went to Thirroul, and the old public school and, ah, we had some good teachers, but we used to get the ruler and, or the stick if we just looked sideways, they were pretty tough some of them. Ah, but they were, they were really, they were local and nearly all the teachers I think when we went through the primary. And the headmaster of course, lived in the house next to the school, and he was on duty more or less, I suppose, all, all his life when he was, ah, headmaster.
They, they were, I can’t think. I hear a lot of complaints about the teaching, you know, these days. But somehow, we seemed to go smoothly along. They did have strict discipline, and you did sit up and listen.
In those days though, when we got into primary, the leaving age was 14. And a lot of the, the young people… In those days it was considered that the girls would get married, and their husbands would support them. So, they didn’t have to have a, a career, ah, quite a lot of girls. And they were left in 6th class until they turned 14 and then, whatever. So, they would end up doing some domestic work until they’d met up and married. And that was, you know, the general way. Some of us were able to get away, um, and get an education, of course. Ah, I went on to Wollongong High School, ah, from 6th class.
Ah, but, ah, as I say, the teachers up here I think, we, we, we did learn lots of things. And, and I feel sorry for some of these new migrant kids coming in. A lot of the, the things, the background, they have missed that, that we, the old Australian books, you know, ‘The Magic Pudding’, ‘Cuddlepot and Snugglepie’ – oh, it was ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ – ah, and all those sort of books. They were the sort of background, ah, literature that we used to get, and of course it was very, ah, gentile, the whole thing, but that, that was the sort of background education. And you had to behave yourself and they didn’t use bad words or if they did, they got a good caning from the, the male teachers were on hand to really give a good caning. But, ah, the female teachers, the Scotty ones, had rulers and they could give you the odd crack and make you jump.
Jo: Yeah, and to get into Wollongong High School, did you have to sit an exam for that?
Dorothy: Oh, it was selective, yes. There were about six of us in our group, 7 it was, that went down to Wollongong.
Jo: And how would you get down there? Train.
Dorothy: Train. Yes.
Jo: OK. Yeah, so. And what was that like, what do you remember about high school?
Dorothy: Oh, that was interesting. Because you met up with all these other kids, from all these other different backgrounds. And, ah, you had the different subjects and things, different teachers for different subjects. And you had that, ah, across the field, that you got all different subjects, new things. And some of them you found a bit difficult to absorb, with the languages, and the maths. And, and, but you know, we, we battled on.
But I myself left after the Intermediate, and got a scholarship to a Sydney business college, so I was able to get away. I didn’t want to go to a teacher’s college. And so, ah, then I went and travelled to Sydney then for a year until we graduated and then I worked in Sydney for a while and then came back down here.
Jo: Would you travel a lot, to business college from, on the train each day?
Dorothy: Each day, at half past six in the morning. And we would get into a double if we could, with a table, and we used to do our studying. Ah, we would do our homework on the way home at night. It was a two-hour trip. And, ah, and we would get up to Sydney at half past 8 in the morning. Then at night we would get the quarter past 5 train and be home at 7 o’clock. And so, we would, you know, you’d be studying in… in the morning and doing your homework at night, and so on.
Jo: And then when you worked up there, you would travel up a lot, as well?
Dorothy: Yes, travel. Ah, it, it was, ah… if, if you wanted a job, you had to travel, actually. Ah, the girls, a lot of them that travelled went to factories in Hurstville in, in southern Sydney there. We, the ones who were going to business college and working in the offices, we went on, of course, into the main City. Um…
Jo: And who did you work for in the City?
Dorothy: Well I was, I was, ah, I have encountered some unusual things in my life. Ah, ah, Ernie Thornton was the great arch communist. Ah, and, oh terrible, um, fuss, and, you know, about communism, and the strikes and, of course, all the… the right wing govenments… And they, the ironworkers federated, so they missed the State punishments, you know, they were trying to cut, ah, to break up the – they’re still going, trying to break up unions and things. And, ah, the ironworkers federated, and they had their headquarters in Sydney.
I was, ah, ah, I got a job with them as a junior when, in their first, when they were in Hunter Street up in Sydney. And, of course, Ernie Thornton was my boss. And, ah, with all the horrible things they said, he was quite a decent, good man with a family of two young boys and a very nice wife. And, ah, he was a very good employer.
And so then later, the business college rang me and asked me was I interested in a job in Thirroul. So then. I went to the opposite end… I went to the coal mine owner, in the office there. So, I was working up at Kirtons, the timber company that he owned privately, in addition to his mine, the Excelsior Colliery.
Jo: And what was your, what were your duties there?
Dorothy: Oh, just the general office, there was the accountant and myself, and we, we ran the whole show, so, but ah…
Jo: And would you, how would you get to work… would you walk?
Dorothy: I walked. Walked up there, yeah. We used to use the railway line as a short cut, and everyone walked up and down across the railway.
Jo: And what sort of things did you do for entertainment when you weren’t working?
Dorothy: Well I belonged to the Church, and they had a really busy, ah, social life. We, we went to our Sunday school and church on Sundays and we belonged to the youth group during the week. We used to have social evenings.
And, and, ah, it was, and also once a week to the pictures [laughs] picture show. When we were young, in our teens, my brother and I loved cowboy pictures, and of course, Friday night was cowboy picture night. So, my cousin, my brother and myself used to go on a Friday night to watch Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger and you know [laughs].
Jo: And would that be just locally at Thirroul that you?
Dorothy: At the old King’s Theatre, yes. The Anita’s Theatre it’s called now.
Jo: Oh, and what, ah, which Church was that, that you were part of?
Dorothy: It was the Methodist then, the Uniting of course.
Jo: And was that a way, that, um, that people met each other, boys and girls?
Dorothy: We had a, you know, we had a really good social life. And you’d see that too Judy, wouldn’t you? Yes, and amongst the Church groups. But there was that dichotomy, there were the Catholics and there was the public in the school.
Jo: Quite a, quite a sectarian difference, yes, yes.
Dorothy: Except that, you know, your were on one side or the other. But we, our neighbours were Catholics and, and so there was a post in between the two places. Whoever got on top of the post was. “Catholic, Catholic ringing the bell while the
Protestant’s run to hell!” Or, “Protestant, Protestant ringing the bell while the Catholics run to hell!” That was a great game that we all played up in the street. And I must say, thinking about, you know, having these obsessions about religion, how, how funny it was that they worked it that way.
But anyway, Miss Malloy, can you remember Miss Malloy?
Judy: Miss Malloy?
Dorothy: The lawyer. She might have been a bit old, too old for… She used to go up to the public school and give the, ah, Catholic kids their scripture on our scripture ni-, days, you know, so, ah, everyone was catered for. But I can, I’ve read different folk histories about the kids, you know, waiting for one mob to come past while they’d have a go at them.
We didn’t have that sort of thing, but there was always that, that we were, one went to the Catholic school. But they used to go down to the convent at Bulli in those early days because the school here wasn’t, ah, built and, ah…
Jo: So, it was quite a separation. You wouldn’t play with each other? Would you?
Dorothy: Oh, yes…
Jo: You would, you would…
Dorothy: we played together.
Jo: Oh, right.
Dorothy: Yeah, and everyone socialised together, but this is the stupid thing of it, you know, they’re Catholics, oh, but you wouldn’t marry a Catholic, not our lot. And they wouldn’t marry a Protestant unless they turned Catholic, yes.
Jo: So, did you know anybody that did marry across…?
Dorothy: Oh yes, they married across.
Jo: And what about you, you, did you marry?
Dorothy: Oh, well I met up with Alan with the, ah, through the Methodist, ah, yes, and we just, um, eventually got married when we were in our, I was 21.
Jo: And what did he do, he was working at that time?
Dorothy: He was an electrical apprentice at that, when… in his young days and he
was an electrician and then he went into the electrical engineer’s office.
Jo: And in your courtship, would you go out together, or?
Dorothy: Yes, oh, we’d go out a lot. Oh, we’d go, you know, that was… going to the pictures was one of the courtship rituals. All the courting couples then used to go up into the ‘Gods’ up the back, when, at that stage. When you were young, you went into ‘peanut alley’ down the bottom, in the lower one.
But, um, yes, we used to, ah, go for moonlight hikes with all the crowd, up the Bulli Pass. You know, you’d walk up and go to the Panorama, have supper up there and then hike back down.
And we used to play tennis. And they had a tennis court up at the school, in between the infants’ school and the, um, the senior school, yeah.
Jo: And so how long were you, were you engaged for very long?
Dorothy: Oh yes, 18 months. You had to wait till you were 21 before you were allowed, you gave your own consent.
Jo: Yeah. And then where did you, where, where was your wedding?
Dorothy: Down at the Methodist.
Jo: And where did you live after that? Here in Thirroul?
Dorothy: Oh yes, we went to Austinmer to a flat there for a little while and then we came back and we, we, ah bought this. It was… by that time, it was war time, and, ah, we bought the house here in Station Street. Hmm.
Jo: And that was already built, that house?
Dorothy: Oh, that’s the old place, yes. Ah, it was two blocks and the old place was on it. And now, of course, they’ve re-done it… ah, they have, you know, renovated it, brought it back to nearly what it was in the, originally in the old days. But when we, we were in it, it was… it apparently had been built about 1890, but that timber that’s in the main section of that house is tougher than bricks, it really is… it’s really good solid timber, and it’s really solid now. They have brought back the old shades that used to be, over windows in those days. But that had a, a bullnose around it, all the way round it, when we first were in it, but it spread over the two blocks.
Jo: And is that, which number is that?
Dorothy: That’s number 13.
Jo: 13. Just next door to where you are now. And was that unusual for, for a young…?
Dorothy: No, no, 17, I, it goes the other way, 17.
Jo: Sorry, it’s that way. 17. Was that unusual for a young couple to be able to afford a house?
Dorothy: Well, Alan must have saved every penny that he ever earned. But the prices were pegged during the War, with the result there wasn’t the profiteering, see now when there’s, ah, you can make prof- money out of owning property the way they do it now. Ah, they couldn’t do that.
Jo: Right, the government limited…
Dorothy: Government limited it. And they would allow them to put a little bit on for extra expenses, but, people… And if you were a good saver or you had a, you know, a good steady job, ah, that’s when we all started getting our own homes… just at that time. And then of course, then they had the Housing Commission. That was, ah, one of the, ah, political initiatives just after the War with the new migrants coming in, and a lot of people then, that was when we became house owners, and all the residents were house owners. And of course, it’s been going along, and now of course it’s going back the other way, just as it used to… it was in the Depression in the ’30s, yeah.
Jo: And did you continue to work once you were married?
Dorothy: No, ah, I had a baby 10 months after I was married and I had my hands full trying to cope, and, and ah… But it wasn’t acceptable really then.
Dorothy: Ah, you, when you had your family, you stayed home and then looked after the family.
Jo: And was your mother involved in that, did she help you?
Dorothy: No, she was still working at, as a dressmaker herself, and so she was in her house still, but, ah…
Jo: And did you know other young couples with, with young children?
Dorothy: Oh yes, yes. Made friends with the girls in the hospital having their babies at the same time. We used to visit and have lunches together and, ah, and that, you know, that’s the way you, you… If you’re in a certain area, like country areas. I don’t know how in, when you go to these big hospitals in the, in the cities and things, you wouldn’t have that contact, not easy contact. Because we didn’t have cars then, so you walked everywhere.
Jo: And what about shopping and things and cooking would you, would you go and buy things locally?
Dorothy: [coughs] Oh, in those days they had the horse, it was all horse and cart of course. You had the, ah, the grocer came around and took the order once a week, and it was delivered on a Friday afternoon. The baker came ‘round with his horse and cart and fresh bread every day, and you got your bread, or he dropped it off if you had a regular order. The milko came twice a day, the early milking and the afternoon. We had dairies all round here in Thirroul.
There was the McCauley’s over on McCauley Hill, on the southern side. We had the Fullers who were just in the street after us where we were. And then there were also McCauley’s up the hill. And so, there were, I think there were others too. And, ah, you know, everything was delivered daily. The fisho came around on a Friday with his cart, and they had the greengrocers came with their cart about twice a week.
Jo: And what, what about meat, would that be with…?
Dorothy: The butcher came… they, they took the orders, too.
Dorothy: So, it’s a different… all those jobs have gone.
And the other one, I was thinking about, you know, all the differences, with our, um, Medicare thing. It used to be the Friendly Societies, that used to, ah, care for, you know, the sick people, and, ah, what we used to pay our doctor a shilling a week. There was a collector would come around to all the houses. You would pay a shilling a week and you got your medical attention free. It was the same as, as we have it now only in a different form.
Jo: Sort of a community insurance.
Dorothy: Yeah. And the other one was the Ambulance. You paid sixpence a week for the Ambulance, and that was another one.
Jo: If you needed it, it was paid for.
Dorothy: If you needed it, it was there.
Jo: Yeah, yeah.
Dorothy: So, this is, ah, it’s so, everything is so different and so complicated. It was so simple then, mm.
Jo: Yeah. And how many children did you have Dorothy?
Dorothy: I had 5 altogether. And were they boys or girls? Four boys and one girl, yeah, but ah…
Jo: Based over a period of time, what sort of?
Dorothy: I had 3 in the first 5 years, and then I had a break of 14 years and I had 2, 2 years apart.
Jo: And meanwhile Alan was?
Dorothy: He was down at the Steelworks, yes, and, ah working down there.
Jo: And I understand he had an interest in the natural world, as well.
Dorothy: Oh yes.
Jo: Can you tell me a bit about him?
Dorothy: Ah. [laughter] Well, he, he was interested in the, in the birds, in ornithology, you know. And he and his cousin, ah, used to get around together up the bush, over the mountains, along the beach and things. And when, oh, by the time when they old, the Holdens came, when we finally got a car in the, in the, ah, the late ’50s. And so, I would, ah, drive the car and we’d, and sometimes, oh, the kids went with him, when they… they liked it.
They used to do the trails along the beaches for the, if there was a storm, you’d have washed up birds. A lot of them had been, um, banded and marked in islands all over the world, and some of them ended up on our beaches. And the albatrosses, of course, they used to ah, band those and you’d find out where they’d been flying, thousands of miles all over the place.
But, you know, they were, um… we would go from point to point and if the kids got a bit tired and they didn’t want to go that part, he would go on, and we’d ah, we’d meet up all the time. And I used to take Mum just for the outing ‘cos she was on her own by then and, ah, you know, we sort of co-operated and…
Jo: And would he?
Dorothy: When they were doing the beaches along here, all the kids in the street used to go down there and help.
Jo: And would that, would he report that information?
Dorothy: Oh, that was all recorded, yes.
Jo: So, he would make his own records?
Dorothy: Oh yes.
Jo: And then he?
Dorothy: He was working independently.
Jo: Would he send that anywhere else, or he?
Jo: Would he send those records anywhere else?
Dorothy: Oh, well, he was associated with the Bird Observers…
Dorothy: …and the Ornithologists’ Union and all that, that was all went though. He did papers on the birds and things, but he never printed anything. I mean, it was printed, and it was put in different magazines or all the… But he was referred, he was a referral for the newspaper. The Mercury were always ringing him up… they used to call him ‘Mr Natural History’. And anything associated with, with the, the native fauna for anything, but he was the spokesman and public, ah, face for the Natural History Society, too and the Conserva-, he was in the Conservation Society too, so. And was he self-taught with all that, or…? Oh yes. Yeah.
Jo: So, he was just interested in…
Dorothy: Just the fact that he was the Publicity Officer sort of made him, I suppose, study a lot deeper, but he had, he, he did all his study.
Jo: And I understand there’s an Award at the University of Wollongong in his name?
Jo: How, how did that come about?
Dorothy: I don’t know exactly how they came about doing it, but, ah, in acknowledgement. Oh, he got, he got the, the British Empire medal; he got the Order of Australia medal; he, he got an honorary doctorate with the, the University. Ah, and when he died, I think the, the University, to broaden out their interests, their, ah, Earth Sciences, and, ah, the section, and Environmental studies, they were the ones that took on this prize, and it was donated and financed by a public appeal and, ah, Wollongong Council, BHP and the University were the ones that financed it.
Jo: So, he was, his expertise was acknowledged in the community.
Dorothy: Oh yes, yes.
Jo: And did that acknowledgement, did that give him pleasure, that he was acknowledged in that way?
Dorothy: He was dead then.
Jo: No, I… sorry, with the Award, but before this, but he had those other awards before.
Dorothy: Oh, with his, oh, you know, we went – oh, he got the, that was. I must not forget that one, because that was the one he really felt good about – he got the Australian Natural History medallion, and, ah, that was given by the Victorian, um, nature people, the, you know the – and, ah, it was only one award each year, and he felt that was, ah, you know, I mean the, ah, community things for, ah, services to the community, like the British Empire medal and the Order of Australia, they’re a different category to the actual medal for the actual nature work that you do. So, he, he was much, ah, he liked that better.
Jo: That was the highest one that he was most proud of.
Dorothy: And so, then they, ah, they started the Environmental, ah, section in Wollongong and then they made a presentation to the highest, um, honours student each year. So, they started about 4 or 5 years after he died, and so it’s been going 25, I think it might be 26, I think it was 25 last year or the year before, yeah, mm, and, ah, it’s been going a long time.
Jo: So, we’ve heard a little bit about Alan and the things that he did, but Dorothy, I’m sure you were very busy and involved as well. You obviously were looking after the children, but what, what other community groups or activities were, you involved in?
Dorothy: Well we joined the, um, the Mothers Club, of course, when they were little, and then went through to the primary and then through to the high school, and, um, then also the Cubs and the Scouts, ah, all the things that the kids were interested. And also, into their Sunday school activities, so, we involved them with all those.
Um, then I got back into work and, ah, um, eventually became the W.E.A’s Secretary, and I was the first full-time Secretary down at Wollongong. That’s 50 odd years ago.
And it was, when I was with the, um, W.E.A., ah, we used to put on the adult education class of course, and ah, I got interested in the gemmology and we started a class and it was so popular. Ah, the members wanted to continue and do more study with that. So, I, I got the Lapidary Club started, having the background of the support of the W.E.A. to, to help set it up.
We had our workrooms up at the Tech, they let us have a room for meeting each week and, ah, we just went on from there. So that, the Lapidary Club’s been going very successfully for 55 years, I think it is now. So, it’s really been a wonderful, um, opportunity. We did special classes in geology and gemmology, fossils and all sorts of things, ah, through the Adult Education.
And then through all the ah, our own efforts and commun- communal get-togethers, we used to go on big trips around exploring and digging for rocks and, ah, looking out for, for all the different aspects of fossils or actually rocks. We went into, um, opals, um, ah, all the various mining dumps all over the countryside with all their wonderful little bits and pieces of, ah, specimens of rocks and, ah, minerals and things. And it was a very, very good – it still is, they’re still very active.
Jo: Yeah. And would you need a licence for, to fossick?
Jo: Would you need a licence to fossick for things?
Dorothy: Ah, we did, there were, you know, the fossicking licences of course. And different Acts came in with the mining. Ah, they, I think about the 1970’s they started with new mining rules and regulations.
Jo: Yeah. And just for the, for the record in case people don’t know who listen to this. W.E.A., is it Workers’ Educational Association?
Dorothy: Yes, it started in England, you know, it was a self- help and, ah, additional education for, for people. And they had classes, actually university subjects, but you didn’t have to sit for exams. So, if you wanted there was two aspects of it, there was the, ah, liberal arts section, um, and then there was the practical, the, the languages and, and different, ah, such as, you know, the um… They’ve gone into all things like cooking and, and, and, ah different craft things now. It’s a big, big organisation now in Wollongong.
Jo: Yeah, yeah. So, it was a way for working people to get education.
Dorothy: Yes, to get educated – they could be educated to the same standard as the university, if they were prepared to be interested in the classes.
Jo: And with the lapidary and the gem collecting, what would you do with the things that you found?
Dorothy: Oh, we just, we polished and cut them into, you know, jewel- gem- to suitable material for jewellery making. Then we learned how to do the silver jewellery and gold jewellery-making. And we had carvings and, ah, it was all other things, you, you went into metals, and, ah, did the copper, ah, work. And, ah, oh, all aspects of all work with rocks and gemstones, yes.
Jo: So, it was a combination of science and art really that you were doing?
Dorothy: Yes, and it was always as a learning place, you know – it was educational, and you could take it as far as you wanted. Ah, quite a lot of husband and wife teams went with it. It was great, because even though one partner wasn’t interested in the rock part, they’d be interested in the travel, or going camping. We went into every place in Australia, I think.
Jo: Right. And were you doing that while you had children still at home, or more after?
Dorothy: Oh, no, they were much bigger when we started travelling around and moving around. But the kids could come with us, too. So, it was one of those things, so, but…
Jo: And other things that you remember about the local community, um, you mentioned just before we started the actual interview, a lady who used to keep a notebook that sounded, that sounded quite fascinating. [laughter]
Dorothy: Yes, I, it’s – living in a small town, of course, and, ah, everyone being very close and knowing what the next neighbour, you just can’t do too much around places like this. Because also with the kids too, if, ah, they were doing something up the street that someone didn’t approve of, they’d go and tell the mother or father what the kids had been up to. So, you, you had eyes watching you all over the place.
I can remember, ah, one where she’s a lovely old lady, ah, sitting on the bus stop and talking to a friend, and a couple of the little kids came by, and the old lady said, “Oh, hasn’t she got lovely curly hair,” and they’re both looking at the little – and up comes the kid, sticks her tongue out, “Stare, stare like a bear!” [laughs.] But, ah, it was, ah, as I say, everyone was close like that.
But that, the one that I was telling you about, used to also keep an eye on the virtue of all the young females around the place. And there was one particular girl that used to keep a notebook on, ah, the date of the wedding and when the first baby was born to make sure that everything was in order.
Dorothy: That was one of the odd, odd things that happened, but, ah…
Jo: And if things weren’t quite in order, or were there any single… anything like that?
Dorothy: Oh, there were of course, but in those days families absorbed the family because, you know, you didn’t have that opportunity, unless they had them adopted, well, you know families come and rally around and look after their own. But there were those of course, always there has been that.
Jo: And were there any, were there other times when the community rallied, um, were there any bush fires that came down?
Dorothy: Oh, yeah, well, yeah, we did have the odd bush fire. But we have the wet sclerophyll woodlands up here, and so, the, they didn’t burn so much, ah, because we had that wet jungle, or it was heavy then. But now it’s thinned out too, but it would be more prone to burning these days than it was in the early days.
But there was the odd house fire, occasionally. And of course, we had the fire station down there, the old bell. We weren’t living too far away from that, and, ah, ah. I can remember a couple of times when the bell went off at night-time, and a couple of houses on fire, and everybody hopped out in their nighties and dressing gowns and whipped off up the hill to watch the fire. And even got a lift on the fire truck to go off up there to watch. [laughter.] But that was the sort of thing that happened.
Jo: Yeah, yeah. And what about, you’re close to the beach here, the, the lifesaving club…?
Dorothy: Oh yes, during the War we, we joined the lady lifesavers. We were part of
the thing, ah, ‘cos all the boys were tied up with the – because they had the long shifts in the work, at the Steelworks, ah, and then of course the others were away on service, so, we, the girls were part of the lifesaving group there, and, ah…
Jo: And did they have to perform many rescues that you remember?
Dorothy: Not many, we did more, just exercises and learnt how to do it rather than to have to go and get anyone, but, ah, but, you know, we all…
Oh, and we had our N.E.S. services, you know, we used to meet there, and how to identify flames and first aid and home nursing and all those sort of the things, we, we did that.
Jo: So, what did that stand for, N.E.S.? What, what does that stand for N.E.S.?
Dorothy: Oh, National Emergency Services, yeah.
Dorothy: That was a, but we had one gas mask and there was a whole group so, you know, if you got a gas attack, it’d be the first one who got the gas mask’d be saved in that. But that, that was rather fun. I mean some of the odd things that happened and everyone wanting to do the right thing, you know, you all rallied. Ah, and, ah, they, um, they tol- showed you how to use it, but no-one was allowed to put it on because you’re going to breathe your nasty germs into that one and everyone else was going to have the same thing. And so, you had, well you knew what it looked like, but whether you were ever able to use it was just quite a query. But, ah, fortunately of course, we didn’t have to think about that down here.
The other thing was when, ah, they were doing comforts for the troops, and all the pay’s at B.H.P., their spare parts were made, put in pennies. So, all those pennies. All the girls used – from the office – used to have to go on pay day with a bucket at the gate, and the pennies were thrown into the bucket. So, they collected quite a lot of money with, you know, all, hundreds of people that were working down there, and they just put their spare pennies into the… But every pay docket was made up with the pennies.
Jo: And where would those pennies, what would they be used for?
Dorothy: Well, I think they went to the Red Cross, for the services, for the “Comforts for the Troops” it was called.
Jo: And how did the Wars affect the community?
Dorothy: Well there was the people who went away, but it was mainly the people who shouldn’t have gone. The most unsuitable were all recruited for the armies and things. Ah, schoolteachers were called in and clerks and things like that, the Pastor. The hard workers and the miners and the steelworkers, they were held because they were part of the War effort.
And that was one of the things too, that when um, we were engaged in that, you were not allowed to leave it, you had to stay. You could change jobs within the War effort, ah, but you couldn’t get outside it at all. Unless like getting married, of course, you, you got away then. But you couldn’t work outside of that. I mean you were qualified, you know, working with the, working with the mines and things, ah, timber for the mines, that was part of the same thing as the BHP.
Jo: Yeah, so, they were all essential services.
Jo: Yeah, yeah.
Dorothy: And, ah…
Jo: And were you married during the war years? When, what, when were you married?
Dorothy: About 43, yes, before it finished.
Jo: And did that affect, um, the celebrations?
Dorothy: Oh, you couldn’t travel interstate then, you were restricted, petrol rationing and all that. There was, you know, you didn’t, couldn’t get very far with, ah, for, for your own public use, like for entertainment use, there would be a very, very small amount of, ah, petrol.
Jo: So, were you able to go away on a honeymoon anywhere?
Dorothy: By train. Yes, so, everyone went to Katoomba.
Jo: Katoomba. And what about your dress, were you able to get fabric for your dress?
Dorothy: Well I don’t… there were the, we had clothing coupons, of course. Ah, we managed. Yes. But we were limited, and of course you were limited to the amounts of, or the numbers of coupons that you could have, too. And what about food for the, um, the wedding breakfast?
Dorothy: Oh, we did our own.
Jo: And that had to be based on coupons, you had to save?
Dorothy: Ah, well if you, if you came, you know, for instance, my, my own, it was a small wedding, but, ah, poor old chooks got their heads chopped off and cooked for the, for the feast. And you made your own salads, you know, you had your home-grown vegetables and things. But, but, you know, there was food, there was plenty of food around. We used to hand our coupons into the butcher and, ah, he would, you know, make sure, you know, you got the rations. Ah, but, ah, that was the way.
And also, if you weren’t the type that needed the rations for clothing, you sold your rations, your car-, your, ah, page of, of coupons, ah, to somebody, ‘cos they’d pay a pound or something, and so that they could buy clothing and things or fancy things that they liked.
Jo: So, there was a bit of bartering going on.
Dorothy: Oh yes, yes.
Jo: So, they might get, give you some food ones, so that they got a clothing one. Right, right.
And what about other celebrations in the community, was there, did you have bonfire nights and?
Dorothy: Oh, yes. Where we were down at the other end of Thirroul, there was a, a, a man who worked in the mine. And of course, they had the explosive sheds out, they were like little brick hou-, like little brick dunnies, they had the explosives out in the paddocks up near the mine.
And somehow or other his son acquired bits and pieces of the explosives during the year, and on New Year’s Eve he’d let the thing go at 12 midnight. Oh, boom! She’d go! And everyone knew that it was the New Year. [laughs.] But ah, he used to save it. I don’t know how he got away with that, you know, because it’s very obvious that someone’s blowing something up. Every year he did it and everyone waited for New Year’s Eve.
Jo: Maybe they turned a blind eye to that.
Dorothy: Obviously. Yeah. But, ah, you know, those explosives should have been in the shed.
Jo: Mmm, mmm. Oh well, we’ve covered quite a lot of things. Was there anything else that you, um, wanted to add?
Dorothy: I thought of one of the, the odd things that, um, that might have been missed a bit, with, with some of the, the local history. The fact that we had the nursing homes here. Ah, we had, ah, Nurse Maybe, had a place in, in – there was Nurse Maybe, down here in Harbord Street.
And there was Nurse Taylor up on Bulli hill.
And there was another nursing home, I forget her name, right where, ah, Jackson’s hardware in that, that area there. And the old co-operative stores used to be in that area too, and they had the horse paddocks over there.
But the, the other, um, there used to be a nursing home opposite the pub on the corner of Phillip Street. And that used to be a, a right angle there, now they’ve, you know, curved it and cut it out, and there’s that little triangle there. But, the um, she used to be Nurse Metcalfe and she had a nursing home.
And then of course there was further on, there was one in, in its Hill Street, it’s up Hillcrest Avenue way in Woonona.
And then, and then there was Nurse Cram later on, down at, ah, Bellambi, between Woonona and Bellambi on the, the road there, where the, um, Coal Board is there, that used to be another of the nursing.
So, they had like the little private hospitals. We, we had our tonsils out at, ah, Nurse Maybe and Nurse Taylor’s place up on the Hill at Bulli.
Jo: So, there were a variety of things, ‘cos when we say nursing home now, we think of elderly people, but…
Jo: So, babies would be born there?
Dorothy: They were actually nurses who, who had their own home and they delivered the babies.
Jo: The babies, so that was the main, was that the main thing?
Dorothy: Mainly they went to deliver the babies at home, because I can remember when we first – the first year we were down here, the nurse coming or we weren’t sure which was the nurse or the doctor, had the baby in their little Gladstone bag when they came to deliver my cousin. And Granny, and Mum, took us out the back to kee- and Granny who was a midwife in England, she was helping with the delivery of the baby in the front room. And we were allowed to come in and have a look, and see that was, what was in that little bag.
Jo: You thought it came in the bag.
Jo: Right. [laughter.] And where were your babies delivered Dorothy? Were they, did you have your babies in…?
Dorothy: Co-, first 3 at Coledale hospital, and other 2 up at Bulli, yes.
Jo: So, by then there was, they were delivered in the bigger hospitals, were they?
Dorothy: Yes, because you know, the, the old miners’, ah, groups they started the hospitals because, you know, there were accidents and so they started from the public, and then, of course they were taken over by the government. Of course, once governments, it gets stuffed up with all the rules and regulations.
Jo: Well, it sounds like it was a, a wonderful community to be in.
Dorothy: It was.
Jo: And you’re still here. What do you think, um, do you have any reflections about changes? You’ve mentioned a couple of things as we’ve gone on about education, but in general, changes to the community?
Dorothy: Oh well, it’s different now, you know. Even now though, you can look around and you don’t talk too much about people because they’re all related to somebody else. There’s still that element here, but there’s less of it than there used to be.
We have the people, the sea-change people, who’ve come in now. And, ah, and then of course because of the desirability of a wonderful place, Thirroul and it’s raised the cost of housing – it’s ridiculous. So, our children actually can’t afford to have a house like we had, mmm.
Jo: That’s interesting, whereas for your generation people could afford to live where they grew up.
Dorothy: Yeah, yes, well, you know, you’d be, you’d have your cousins and across the street, half a dozen of them all around in the same area. And, ah, but, see you’re more mobile now – different types of ah, of ah, industries and things.
Jo: And you started off in the house next door, so how did you end up in this house?
Dorothy: Oh well, we intended, you know, to get, it was an old house then at that stage. And we did intend, we were paying of course double rates for the two blocks, and ah, then when they doubled up the rates, that was four blocks you know. So, we tried to have it subdivided and, ah, we couldn’t, it had to be the 50ft frontage. So, we then said for permission to build and then move after, so and the Council did that for us.
Jo: So, you built this house?
Dorothy: So, we built the house.
Jo: What, when would that have been, what year was that?
Dorothy: It’s 60 years ago now, and it’ll be 60 years, ’59 we went into it, we came in. My, Alan’s friend was a builder and, ah, and so, of course he was the one in charge of building the place. And, ah, then later on, a few years, when, you know, you save up bit by bit, by bit, and get everything. But when we first started you couldn’t borrow money from the banks during the War time. And when we did this one, there was a credit squeeze on, and so you only could borrow a very limited amount, so you had to have, ah, the money, most of your money there if you….
Jo: Save up.
Jo: Yeah. Well it’s been, um, it’s been a really interesting conversation. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Dorothy: Oh look, there’s so many things that you’d be here for a week. [laughter.] But, no, that’ll do.
Jo: Ok, well thank you very much. It’s ah, it’s been fascinating, and I’m sure other people will love to listen to it.
Dorothy: I don’t know, what do you do with it?
Jo: Well, we’ll put it in the library collection and also put it online for people to listen to if you’re, if you’re willing to do that. So, um, yeah, thank you so much Dorothy, it’s been, been great.