Ed Vormister – Interview Transcript (part 3 of 3)

Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Ed Vormister Part 3 of 3

Interviewer: Jo Oliver

Interview date: 11/03/2019

Ed:  Fairy Creek.

Jo:  Yeah.

Ed:  It was tidal in those days. Then in 1923 when we was here, an’ they use ta hire these boats out there.  Puckeys Estate as you see there.  He was a, ah a chemist and he had a sulky shed out there in the park.  And he use’ to hous’ his sulky in there and his horse had full control of the whole of Stewart Park, because it was completely fenced in those days.  An’ he use’ to row from his property, an’ you can see the stairs still there from the cafe.  Still see the stairs there, you wonder what the devil they were doing there.  But that’s where I used to row from, across and moor his boat on the other side.  Go an’ collect his horse an’ harness and take it up into Crown Street.  And I remember as a boy he had a chemist shop, it was about 4 doors down from Church Street on the Sydney side, northern side.  An’ he had a huge big flask in the window as a prop, it had some sort of green liquid in it.  And that’s how it all he-.  Beard was all down to his chest you know, big long beard, he used to scare the life out of us when he was there.  That’s- he run that for years an’ years an’ years.

They had a walkway as you entered the Park.  That, they had the gate there, for horse an’ carts an’ things used to go through.  But on the Eastern side was a, a walk they used to call it Lovers Walk.  Because the trees completely covered the park, an arch right through and it was absolutely lousy with ticks.  And anybody use to go through there use to cop it.  Use to always do.  Anyhow it got to the stage where people, so many people complained about it.  That the Council turned around and took all the trees out, and there was a terrible stew about taking all these trees out, instead of getting rid of the ticks they took the trees out [Laughs].

Built here in 1940 and then only 3 car- ah, houses in the street.  Arthur Young was halfway down the street he was the 1st one that took over.  When they bought this, this in 1912.  He built there in ah, in ah 1913 I think he told me.  He built there.  And apparently, he was a very keen tennis player.  And because this was all bush, all bush.  The only level part of the place was in the middle of Victory street, it was flat it was just dirt.  An’ anybody that used to drive horse and cart use to go around the tennis court, and that’s how it remained for many years.  Now Dick Young his son-.  Because they had the tennis courts.  He become a pretty good tennis player.  He got to the stage where he was in the A grades an’ then.

Well that was fenced an the weeds started to come through there.  An’ a fella named-.  The subdivision down there near the railway there just off-.  Gipp Street was just being developed, and all young people were buying into that property.  They get, got themselves together and thought jeez they’d like to play tennis.  So, they went up there to get on the court they found that the Young’s had it.  It was all locked up, so they want the key.

He said.  ‘Oh, no you’re not gettin’ on the, our court, no way.’

So he thought, well he wasn’t going to stop, but that it’s Council property so he’s gunna, he went down the Council down there an’ said listen there’s a tennis court- road there, an’ we want a game on it.’

An’ I don’t know who the engineer was at the time, engineer was at the time, He said. ‘You’re mad there’s no tennis court up there.’

He said.  ‘There is!’

They couldn’t believe it, so they went up there an’ had a look at it, an’ sure enough it’s there, that just, that court was there, when I was here.

An’ of course they said.  ‘Well that’s gotta go.’

But he wasn’t going to stop.  He said, ‘well we, we can, we want a court here.’

An’ the Council pegged out the land where the tennis court is now.  An’ I became interested in it, although I didn’t get, the start of it, but there was about 10 of them with a horse and scoop and everything.  An’ they dug all that out by hand and levelled it all off there.  An’ when I come in it, when they started to put the loam in it, when they dug it out.  But I got the loam from up Mount Keira, there an’ it was 12 of us went up there, an’ we had a, a truck up there to get us loam.  An’ we had the shovel the loam shovel it up the side of truck, by hand.  And we took down I think 10 loads that day, fro-.  We went up there at 7 o’clock to 7 o’clock we had 12 hours.  The next day I couldn’t close me hands I had no skin on either hand.  An’ there was 12 of us an’ out of that 12 there was a load short to do it.  An’ how 4 more of those blokes went up there the next day, and got that.  I don’t know how on Earth they did it, but they did it, they went up an’ got it.

See I’m a, I’m a life member of that.  I’m a life member of the Master Builders Bowlers.  I’m a life member of the Agricultural Society.

You know I should mentioned I got tied up in the Cancer Appeal.  Now the wife had cancer and she died.  Jenny Downfield who was the sister in charge of the cancer section, we become very, very friendly. Vivian Twyford the main woman to get the money they had two appeals, one appeal for linear accelerator, when they started they, put the building they was only going to put the linear accelerator in, Jenny Downfield said.  ‘That’s not good enough we want the whole building for the cancer.’ And oh she, that woman, she went to Sydney an’ saw the big brass and everything like that and they’d got the floor level, anyhow they heard her out.  And they agreed that she was right, but we need another I think it was another 8,000,000.  So, that’s when Jenny Downfield talked me into it.

I said.  ‘No, I don’t want to.’  I wouldn’t be in anything.  She sit me down here, and she hammered me about it again.  She took me up there at Christmas time, an’ tried to talk me into it.  An’ eventually I said. “Alright ok I- I’ll do that.”

So, they put me on the- straight on the committee.  Fisher Street an’ I sort of looked after it.  I Mowed the lawn there an’ serviced it while they were selling all these tickets.  An’ finally, they resed- raised enough. $26 000 000 they raised.  An’ of course after it was built an’ they got the linear accelerator.  They didn’t have the staff to do it.  An’ of course the committee that raised that money.  Went in an’ help about where we could, so they formed themselves a cancer appeal.  I stayed with them for 10 years and looked after, there plants up there an’ everything. I’ve been around a bit.

Jo:  You certainly have.


Ed:  Ah, well the greatest achievement I have was that gang back in the electricity department.  Now there’s two big transformers down there in Swans street that fed the whole of Wollongong.  Now we had meters down there, an’ things down there, measuring the load, that’s going out of that place all the time.  Now that fella, that I was telling you about that Norm Hart, he come from the electricity commission.  I came, I came to him- I kept at him. I read the meters down there every week.

An’ I said to him.  “Look Norm you’re gotta do something about that.  Those transformers are 30% over loaded, you’re going ta burn them out.

Sigh, “no won’t burn ’em out.”  He said, using his own words.  ‘Those transformers are built like battleships.  You can’t burn ’em out.’  He said.  ‘I’ve seen ’em out at the commission you could feel the heat coming off them, 6 feet away.’

I said.  ‘Yeah that might be so Norm, but they don’t building them like that anymore.’  I said.  ‘If they 5 MVA transformers that’s all you’re gunna get out of them.  You’re not going to get any more, that’s that.’

‘Ah, forget it.  I’ve seen ’em there, all of ’em out there you couldn’t put your hand on ’em.’

I said.  ‘Well you’re gunna burn ’em out Norm.’  I keep tellin’ him.

Now  if I told him once-.  And he use’ to says.  ‘You’re worryin’ unnecessarily.’

An’ I said.  ‘Look have you ever thought, if one of those transformers burned out.  What’s going to happen to Wollongong, your gunna shut it down.’


‘Have you thought about it.  You gotta think about it, if it does.  What’s gunna happen.’

An’ he.  ‘Ah, forget it.’

Now as I say that went on for nearly 12 months 10 months or more it went on.  An’ I didn’t think there’d be a day that I walk out of that office there.  An’ I’d tell him, I’d say.  “Things are not getting any better, they’re get worse.’

So, he’d say. ‘Alright, forget about it.’

Two o’clock one morning my phone rings, and a service employee had rung me to say. ‘Look there’s a transformer offline down here, only got one goin’.  He said.  ‘An’ I don’t like it.  There’s oil over the yard an’ I’m not game to put it in, I’d like you to come down an’ see what-’

So, I went down with a torch shine it up in this place.  I said. ‘Jeez it don’t look good to me Jack.  It looks like she’s gone.’  So, I went back, an’ this was 2 o’clock in the mornin’.  I went back and got all the gear from the shop an’ tested it out. An’ I said. ‘Well it’s burnt out.’

‘Well what are they going to do about Wollongong.’

‘They’re going to have to black out.’

I’ll ring up Norm Hart at 6 o’clock in the morning.  I let him have a good night’s sleep.  So, I rang him up at 6 o’clock, an’ I said.  “Listen Norm you know those transformer down south Wollongong.’

‘Yes, yes.’

I said.  ‘One of them’s burnt out.’  An’ the phones dead.  ‘Did you hear what I said Norm.’

‘Yes, yes.’

I said.  ‘Well one of them’s burnt out, get yourself in here an’ let’s see what we’re going to do about it.’  But you would not believe that man never came in till 9 o’clock.

Now in all that time, that I was- from- Put a cup of tea on 4 o’clock.  I’m thinkin’ about what are we going to do, how are we gunna do this.  And I thought that we had a transformer exactly the same as the one burnt out at Bulli.  We’re I use to say.  ‘That was sittin’ there doin’ nothing it was all ready to go but it was a- had to get it out.

So, when he came in and I explained it all to him.  I said.  ‘What are you gunna do about it.’

Didn’t know.  The shop steward walked in we’re all on strike, the lot of us everyone’s out.

So, Norm Hart say. ‘Oh, Jees, there’s the answer, blame them they’ re on strike.’

I said.  ‘That don’t get you out of it Norm you gotta get power on, you get- it doesn’t matter how you gotta get power back on.’ So, I start- talked him down- for a half an hour I s’pose, an’ I said.  ‘Well look Norm the only way, I can see of doing it is bringing that transformer from Bulli.’

‘Oh,’ he said.  ‘That’s impossible.’

I said.  ‘What are you gunna do, just sit here an’ do nothing.’  I said.  ‘It’s better to do the- to have a go an’ fail, than sit here an’ do nothing.’

He said.  ‘But how, you couldn’t do it in that time.’

An’ I said.  ‘Well I’ve rang up Colemen who’s a- I told him the transformer is burnt out.  Now,’ I said, ‘I’m gunna try and get that one in from Bulli.’  An’ I said.  ‘Now, there’s only one thing I gotta ask you.  Can you put that new transformer in, on exactly the same spot as other come out?  Not within a inch or half inch or anything but bang on.  Because if you don’t get it on there the bus won’t fit.  That’s the answer can you do it.’

He said.  ‘Yes.  I think I came.’

I said, ‘well,’ I said.  ‘Well that’s what we’re gunna try an’ do.’  After I sort of convinced him, that.

‘Well.’  He said.  ‘I don’t like it; I don’t like it.’  He said.  ‘But I can’t see how.’

I said.  ‘I don’t like it either, but.’  I said.  ‘You gotta do something.’  So I said.  ‘There’s another thing Norm.’  I said.  ‘I’m on jury duty.’

‘You’re on what.’

I said.  ‘I’m on jury duty,’  I said,  ‘You’ll have to do it.’

‘I, I can’t do it. You’ll have to get off jury duty.’  I said.

‘You’ve got no chance of gett’n’ off jury duty, I’ve been there when people have gone in there, an’ asked to get off it.  An’ boy o’boy that judge give them a dress’n’ down. No way are you gett’n’ anything on me, I’m not to have’n that on no way.’

He said.  ‘I’ll write a letter.’

I said.  ‘You can do what you like but I’m not going to volunteer.’  So, he wrote the letter, when I go up to jury, we were all called in, we all sat up on the jury box.  The judge comes out, to have you stand, coppa things out.

‘Edward Vormister, come out here.’  I had to get up out of the jury box and stand in front of the jury box.  An’ I can still see that man to this day I could still see him, sitting in his chair.  ‘Why don’t you want to serve on the jury.’

And I said. ‘I’ll serve on the jury.’

‘You will?’  He said,  ‘Come forward, well  what’s this rubbish about.’  He said.

‘Oh.’  I said.  Well I had to go through all the details about it.  An’ I’ve told you what I- him what I told you.  If we don’t get that transformer in today, were going to have to black the whole town out an’ I don’t know for how long either.  I said.  ‘You know,’  I said  ‘We’re not talking about a toy you know; this transformer weighs 27 ton.’

He said.  ‘Really!’

An’ I said.  “Yes!  That’s what it is, one of those.’

‘How many other engineers are down there?’

An’ I said ‘4.’

‘Well why can’t they do it.’

‘I been a lotta to do this.’

But he said well look I don’t think I’ve got any other alternative but to release you, you must be a very, very important person.’

I said.  ‘I’m only just an employee that’s all.’  I said-  so back I went.  So, I rang Coleman up, then I said.  ‘It’s on.’

He organised all the heavy lifting.  An’ how on Earth I mean I mighta had, mighta been my idea.  But really speaking Coleman was the man that did the job. Now what I had, I had 4 apprentices, I had all the men were on strike, everyone was out. Now at home here, I had ice-cream, plastic ice-cream.  I picked 4 of them up an’ I wrote on them A, B, C now each one apprentice.

‘Now you’re A phase, you’re B, you’re C. Now when you take the, these nuts and bolts off, off this thing put them in there, don’t go looking for them, they’ve gotta be there, you’ve got 5 minutes to reconnect this, when it comes in.’

Coleman goes, come out down here, with a big crane in there, he lifted getting the other one out.  I had to take the 4 apprentices out there in a van.  I had to get ’em to disconnect the one that was already there.  And when Coleman saw it on there it was fully rigged fins and everything you want.  An’ Coleman said.  ‘Crikey gotta get a police escort.”

So, I ran out and ‘I want a police escort.’  I said so he come back and then, what, 3 blokes on motorbikes turned up.

And he said.  ‘What do you think you are doing?’  He said.  ‘You can’t do that on the road, it’ll take up the whole road’.

I said.  ‘Yeah, I know but that’s the only way we’ve got to get’n’ the damned thing.’

‘Oh, impossible.’

So, I tried to explain to him the seriousness of it all.

He said.  ‘Well, we’ll see what we can do with the traffic’.

So, there’s 3 coppers, I tell you, they used to go in to the , into, into and chase the traffic off the main road onto the side streets.  The float with the transformers on, in the middle of the road, cars was parked on the side.  How they missed them I don’t know, but it nearly took up, took them with it.  And that’s how they took it in from Bulli, right through Princes Highway, right down through Crown Street down to, down to Swan Street.

Now, Coleman who’s down there and he’d got the ah, 50 tonne crane down there, big, they lifted the gear off that one, to the other one.  And ah, we put the new one in place. 3 of the men needed time as engineers was out on Swan street.  Watching inside.  They wasn’t in there at all, wasn’t near the place.

An’ Coleman as I said to him exactly honest.  The old bugger you know, he had a piece of chalk and marked where the wheels were on this other one and he knew exactly that spot exactly on, because I said to him.  Not within an inch, not within a half an inch, its gotta-.’  And of course, when the transformer was, put in place the bus fitted exactly.  And I said to the kids.  ‘You got ah 5 minutes to connect it.’  And they did that in 5 minutes.  Had we had to go even another half an hour,  we’d had to start dropping load and by 6 o’clock we’d have to, drop the lot.

So, actually that would be my biggest achievement and when we went back next day, one of the engineers come to me and he said to me.  ‘How on earth did you do it? I can see- give you 6 reasons why it is impossible.’  He said.  ‘But somehow or ‘nother you got round them.  I don’t know how but somehow you did.’  He said.  ‘You should-, they should give you a medal.’  He said.  ‘You should be his ah, his mate for life’.

I told the ah-, ?Jack Bessle? who was with me when I told him it was burnt out. I told him the story; you know. I told him at least 6 months or more you are going to burn it out.’  And I said.  ‘And he wouldn’t take any notice of me’.  Now that fella in my opinion has told his mates, it’s filtered right around, what I’d told- He said to me, instead of congratulate’n’ me for what I done-.

‘Have you ever thought of gettin’ another job somewhere.’

An’ I said.  ‘Why, what’s wrong, what have I done.’  You know.

And he said.  ‘Ahh, you’re too good to be here, you shouldn’t be here, you’d get

a job anywhere, your ability.’

No, I said.  ‘I’m quite happy where I am.’  But from then on we were never good mates and I think that, that was the cause of it all.  It filtered back, that I told him that he was going to burn ‘em out, and he didn’t like it.