Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Helen Scaife
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview Date: 15 March 2014
Edie My name is Edie Swift and I’m here for the State Library of New South Wales, a project The Shacks Through the Generations, for the State Library of New South Wales and um today is March 15th, 2014 and I’m interviewing Helen Scaife and she’s going to talk about her shack and history of it and its in Bonnie Vale. And what number is it?
Helen It’s ah 1.
Edie Ok, so if you want to start you could tell me when you first went there as a child if you’d like and the wonderful memories of it.
Helen Well it was originally, my dad built it and we originally went around 1952 and then we spent all of our school holidays there. Um we grew up in Condell Park near Bankstown and my dad, when he originally built the shack he would drive to Cronulla and he and his friend would put all the bits and pieces on the top of the ferry and ferry them across. And back then the wharf was at Bonnie Vale so they’d take all the things they were going to build with and take it around and bit by bit they built the shack. And my mum, her name was Stella, my dad’s name was Frank but everyone called him Skeeter and then I had two older brothers, Frank and Noel and yeah we just spent all holidays there and um, I used to go with my dad to the, down to the hole, the big swimming hole and we’d sit on the rocks and eat oysters and dad used to take us all up the beach and we’d catch crabs in the night time and stick phosphorous on our jumpers in the winter and we’d all shine in the night [laughs]. Mum used to make us all lots of jaffles so that was a big highlight of being down there, she’d make on the little Primus stove so we didn’t have any gas or anything back then it was just a little pump up stove and the pump up lamps, the tilley lamps and kerosene fridge and yeah just lots of lots of fun, it was great. We all went there every school holidays. Um and then there was a time when my children were little, we actually lived there for a little while, my children and I, and they went to the local school up in Bundeena.
Edie And what was it like um when your parents were there, you, you, where did you get your food and didn’t you have a little lamp that you put on at night for lights and things like that?
Helen Yeah, the lights. It was a little kerosene light and mum would have to put the kerosene and then she’d light it and then pump it so we’d then and then the light would come on after she pumped up the lamp. And um, and yeah, we’d sit around the table and play cards and lots of games and sometimes a lot of our relatives ‘d come and stay over and yeah, the food I think well we’d bring most of it down. I can remember sometimes we’d catch the ferry; I can only remember back, the ferry wasn’t at Bonnie Vale it would go to Bundeena then, and there used to be a little bus that would meet you at the wharf and drive around to Bonnie Vale. Sometimes though we’d go by car and, yeah, the food, we’d take the food or sometimes buy things in Cronulla to take across. Um, but I remember the first years of going, there wasn’t even a road it was all just big boulders, big rocks and just sand and dirt and we had a really old car, um old Tin Lizzie, my dad used to call it and it actually had a handle on the front that if it stalled [laughs] he’d wind it up and sometimes I can remember coming across the weir at Audley and we’d go up, start to go up Artillery Hill and it’d stall so he’d have to run it out and wind it up and away we’d go but we’d get to the Bundeena turn off and it was just all dirt and big boulders and rocks and so my dad actually was one of the original people to help make that road so he and some other men, you know, just bit by bit um way, you know, for that road to happen. They were funny experiences, we used to take ages to get there because of the road and all the big rocks and, and my dad actually, um, he taught us all to swim there, so my dad used to be a lifesaver and so he was a pretty strong swimmer and a really good athlete and he, we all learnt to swim and.
Edie And so then, um, after that do you remember where, were there shops in Bundeena or what did it look like?
Helen There was a little shop in..
Edie in Bundeena
Helen in Bonnie Vale.
Edie Oh, aha, how would you get there, there was no bridge.
Helen I’m sorry, I’m getting really emotional.
Edie That’s alright don’t worry this is fine. I just love hearing about this history.
Helen Where the ranger has their place there was a shop there.
Edie Oh, hm.
Helen And they used to be another building behind the shop which was ah, the Simpson’s pub.
Edie Ah hm.
Helen Because Simpson was the man who owned all the land.
Edie I see.
Helen He had stone cottage at the top.
Edie Hu hm.
Helen The sandstone cottage which is still up the top there. Um, there was a dance hall. I don’t really remember that, but I know that my folks used to talk about there was a dance hall there and, but I do remember as a little kid they’d have movies in there sometimes, the really old fashion project.
Helen You know how they had those old [laughs]
Helen and you know every 10 -15 minutes it’d break down [laughs], so then they’d fix it, but yeah we had all that.
Edie So the shop was, um, in Bundeena, is that right?
Helen Oh there were some shops in Bundeena, but there was a shop in Bonnie Vale,
Helen Where the ranger is now.
Edie Oh, I see.
Helen That was a shop there, um that, I don’t know whether that was there in the real early days but as a kid I remember that shop being there, ‘cause I’d always have my birthday there in January, in the school holidays, and I’d always get all my cards, birthday cards [laughs] sent there so I remember that little shop. Um and, you know ice blocks and all that sort of stuff but I remember, um, there were lots and lots of shacks, there were so many shacks there, and I made lots of friends there. Um, the people next door they had a piano and my dad used to play the piano and the squeeze box, you know the piano accordion, and he could, he was, and he could also play the mouth organ so he’d, and sometimes we’d all go in there and the man next door, he’d, he’d play the piano, dad ‘d have his squeezebox, the piano accordion and his mouth organ, all going, all at once, and they’d have, we’d have really big gatherings and lots of fun and.
Edie Do you remember some of the neighbours, their names?
Helen Yeah I do. Um, the people in the house next door with the music were, their name was Shoots. Um, yeah their, and but they’re not there now, their shacks aren’t there.
Edie Anybody else that you remember when you were a child?
Helen Yeah, Atkinsons, theirs is still there. Um had a friend, her name was Sandra Harding, they were there, Carol Needs, there were people yeah um, Fousan, Selby, Poulton, that theirs is still there, um can’t think.
Edie So did they have meat in the store too, so you could buy vegetables and meat and things like that?
Helen I, yeah, there were stores, there was a store, there was a big general store in Bundeena which had been there for a long time. So yeah, that, people you know, you could buy things there and I remember there was a butcher shop in Bundeena, cos I remember my mom would quite often go up there on the Saturday and pick up some supplies, yeah.
Edie So um, do you remember any storms or anything that were really bad when you were there?
Helen Oh yeah, yeah, really bad some of those big thunderstorms and sometimes the water would come up so high that you couldn’t even get out the front door of the shack, it was just like a big swimming pool [laughs] at the front, it was so wet and over the years it just washed away all the beach. And it was probably back in the 70’s and they came and put big rocks all along the beach just to help stop all the corrosion of the, of the banks. And then over the years that all got covered back with sand but then a few years ago we had a big storm and it’s, they’re all, all exposed again now, all the rocks are there.
Edie And when your parents um, after they passed on, did they, did they have to give a, ah, money to rent, to the National Parks.
Edie Is that what happened?
Helen Yeah, yeah the rent they paid the rent. Um it was quite funny really back then, I can remember there were two rangers that lived local in Bonnie Vale and um Bill and Fred [laughs] their names were and they, I think back then it was a dollar for the rent and there were 200 odd shacks and they’d start up the top, they’d go every Sunday, they’d go to collect all the rent [laughs] and I think everyone would offer them a beer, um, so by the time they’d gone around and collected all the rent it was hilarious watching these two rangers walking back up to their, where they lived, cos they’d yeah, that was just party time [laughs].
Edie Do you remember their last names?
Helen Fred Young and Bill Small.
Edie And then when your parents moved, when they passed on did you, um, you had it with your children, did you?
Helen Yeah, and then we had to come back down here and um just my children and I and we lived in the shack for a little while.
Edie What year was that?
Helen Oh, about,’80, ’81, I think.
Edie And when your parents were there what were those years, what were the years?
Helen Well, they were from ‘52. And my dad, my dad passed away in ‘73. And mum, she passed away in 2007. Say, so we had it for, it’s been there for quite a while.
Edie What did you do with your children, when they came and what years was that?
Helen Well, we came in, ‘80, yeah about ’81, I think, and we, so back then, in the, in the early 80’s it was, even back then we, the kids and I, we could even go down on to the beach and have a little fire and we used to take, um, bread and make toast with put a stick through the bread and sit and make toast on the beach so, that, you were allowed to do those things back then so yeah quite often the kids and I would do that. And they, they just did lots of swimming and um sometimes their friends from school would come down and, and stay sometimes and they would even say they wish they could live there, [laughs] they loved it, they loved the little shack, their friends. Um, and yeah and then, so they would spend a lot of time on the beach, swimming and, and we’d go, yeah, my mum then, she lived at Greenacre, so we’d go often and go visit her and sometimes we’d all go back down, mum would come over and-
Edie So how was it different than when your parents were there, when you were there with your children?
Helen Well when I was there with my children it was um, well there were still a lot of shacks left and there were even people that lived there, there was some elderly people that actually lived there full time and um, and yeah a lot, lot more people would be able to come because there was, there were more shacks and then um, some had been pulled down, the National Parks started to pull them down in the late 70’s, but I can remember when we were living there you know, sometimes you’d just hear these bulldozers and they’d be, and you’d witness them just bulldozing a shack down and um, and you had, there was just nothing you could do about it. So it was really sad to watch the whole place just being um bulldozed down but yeah, so, I guess, um, I’ve really tried to keep it going, to keep the memory of it there and over the years we’ve done little bits and pieces to it and
Edie Huh, huh, what.
Helen and the families kicked in and we’ve you know, made it, kept it nice you know, looked after it but it’s still pretty original inside, and yeah.
Edie So when you lived there with your children where did they go to school, where did you get your food and things?
Helen Um, the children went up to the local school in Bundeena and I’d get either in the village, uh, or if I was out I’d pick up food from the other side.
Edie So the road had improved a lot [laughs].
Helen Oh yeah, yeah sure.
Helen We had a road a good road then. Yep, so um yep it was fine to drive in and out of the road, to, to go pick up supplies and yeah.
Edie And today what is it like today, do so you still pay rent once a month, and what do you do today to enjoy it?
Helen Every few months the rent, we pay the rent, of course it’s a lot more than a dollar now [laughs] but um, yeah, yeah, I still pay the rent every few months and um, and I go down there as often as I can and ‘cause for a while there, um, people were able to come in and they were vandalizing, if people weren’t staying there, they’d break windows and quite often I’d go down and someone had broken in and I went there one time and the whole inside of it had just been trashed and all the, every drawer and every cupboard and everything was just all over the place so, um, I realized that the only way to save it and to keep it, was to be there as often as I could be. So any opportunity I would go there, um, but then with some help from my family we got it back together again and um, and so I go there as often as I can so that it’s always looked, looked after and hopefully they’ll all stay there now. There’s only about eight, nine, I think, mm not many left so but it, and it’s still lovely to be there but it’s, it’s kind of I feel like it’s lost it’s soul. It’s, it’s, even though it’s a beautiful place and I couldn’t, I can’t imagine anywhere, I’ve travelled a little bit but to me it’s just beautiful, the night the best place. My oldest brother who passed away in 2000, he spent many years living overseas and any opportunity he had he would come and he’d always want to stay at the shack, and he’d say, “I’ve travelled the world and I’ve never found a place as beautiful as Bonnie Vale,” and he used to call it Happy Valley and he was a creative writer and he used to do a lot of his writing from down at the shack. Um and, and actually he’s, we scattered his ashes, that’s where he wanted to be scattered out the front so that’s where our brother is.
Edie And which brother was that?
Helen That was my eldest brother, Frank.
Edie Frank, hu hm.
Helen Yeah and um.
Edie And does your other brother come there too?
Helen Yeah, yeah, he, he hasn’t been for a while but he did used to come down and sometimes we have family gatherings and then every, all the family will come over for a day and spend a bit of time there and get together and um, yeah, but it’s just now, trying to hang on to it so that, it is there for future and I’ve got three grandchildren, they live in Cairns and they’ve been down a few times, and they were just here at Christmas and spent a month down here and the year before they were here as well, so it’s just really lovely to be able to have the kids, you know, have that same memory of as what their grandfather, well their great grandfather isn’t it, he built, built the shack. So, and their great grandmother, you know, she put so much without mum and dad it wouldn’t have been possible cos they really, you know, we didn’t have much, we, we grew up with just the basics and [laughs] and when my dad was offered the plot of land, he, a friend of his in Bundeena, Scotty Miller, he used to live there, he told my dad that they, there were blocks if you wanted to build on them and so he went and applied and you know, he, it was just a little rough shack, in fact, even before my mom died, she said, “your father would never have expected this shack to still be here,” you know, he was building it and he used to say to people, I’m building this for my kids so they can have a holiday and I’m gonna to teach ’em to swim and so that’s what, and that’s what it was all about
Edie That’s 1952, hm.
Helen And so you know, and that was like gold for us, you know we lived, we just had a normal little upbringing and not, not a lot of money or you know, so it was great and most people that were down there were the same they were all just your average workers, and you know, just a little place to come and bring your kids and have a bit of fun.
Edie Well thank you very much, Helen, would you like to add anything else or I think you’ve done a great job.
Helen [laughs] I think I’ve, I think that’s it.
Helen I don’t know if I missed anything.
Edie I don’t think so.
Helen Yeah, do you think that’s.
Edie I think it’s great. Do you want, would you donate this to the State Library of New South Wales?
Helen Yes, sure.
Edie And also the um, the Local Studies Library of the Wollongong Library, City Library. Helen Yeah, sure, yeah
Edie Well thank very much.
Helen You’re welcome.