Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Mark Green
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview Date: 26 March 2017
Edie I am Edie Swift, today is the 26th of March and uh, 2017 and I’m interviewing Mark Green as shack owner in Bonnie Vale. We are interviewing at my home in Thirroul. We are interviewing for the Shacks in the Royal National Park Project. The interview will go into the Wollongong City Library, and ah, Local Studies Program and into the New South Wales State Library. So, um, if you would like to start Mark, can you tell me about your first going down to Bonnie Vale and then how did the shack come to be and tell me about changes, all along in the shack and in the community and things like that.
Mark I think I first started to go to Bonnie Vale when I was 5 which would be about 1958 and what happened my father was a member of the Lions Club in Beverly Hills and a lot of the members of the Lions Club were, had come back from World War 2 and they were skiers, water skiers and they established in Bonnie Vale, a boatshed called the Bonnie Vale Boat Club and there used to be a boat shed at the far eastern perimeter before you get to the first house in Bundeena and that boatshed was where they set up this club and we all used to go skiing. At the time a number of those people, people named Jilkes, Poulton, Webb all purchased shacks in Bonnie Vale. The Jilkes’ shack and the Web shack have since been pulled down, the Poulton shack is still there, that’s owned by Julie Poulton and that’s directly in front of ours, hers is number 6 and ours is number 12. At the time we purchased it, as far as I know, we were the last people to ever buy a shack in Bonnie Vale. The shacks were originally created as I understand, pub during the Depression and the guy who owned the land had a big area and he had a shop up on the top and he allowed people to essentially squat, I think.
Edie And what was his name?
Mark I think it was Simpson but I’m not sure, but ah, he died. Supposedly in his will, which to my understanding has never been found, he left the shack land to the shack owners at the time, but that’s just rumour, things I heard, but the will was never found. People tried to look for it at about the time we bought our shack because we were the last people to be able to buy a shack. After that under Premier Lewis, uh, they stopped people being able to sell their shacks which were licensed, essentially. People used to say they did that because Lewis’ brother was in the caravan beaches and he was granted a concession to put in a full caravan park in Bonnie Vale and there was conflict between the shack owners and the caravan.
Edie And what date did you build your shack?
Mark We rebuilt, we bought the shack and then we pulled it down and we rebuilt a new shack which is the one that’s there. The one that was there when we bought it, don’t know how, it would have been there a long time because it was uh, very rundown, the roof was of tarp. The only thing I really remember about it, was pink and blue which were awful colours at the time and when we moved in my dad really liked it because the people who sold it had left a sign on it saying, “home where we’re treated the best and grumble the most” [laughs].
Edie What year was that?
Mark It’s about 1961 I think, I could be wrong and that might be a little bit later. Ah, my father got approval to demolish the old shack and we rebuilt the shack that’s there now, and ah-
Edie What year was that?
Mark That would be about 1963 I think, and we continued the body of our boat club continued up there and we would all take our boats down and we would water ski on Port Hacking and surf and we’d basically spend most of our summers there really. It was particularly convenient for my father because he was in the function and restaurant business. It was interesting he chose to buy a shack there rather than a house in Palm Beach. Palm Beach house would have been a better investment but the shack was 40 minutes from work so he could work, go down, leave the family there, come back to work and so it became a big holiday place and uh, we rebuilt it. After, I think the time we rebuilt it was about the time that the uh, whether it’s the National Parks or Roads and Traffic Authority they actually put in a tar and sealed road. You used to drive through the National Park and then it was a dirt road from the turnoff to Bundeena and uh, which was one of the reasons my father was a bit reluctant to buy a shack even though all his friends did and we, he was a member of the Port Hacking, uh, Yacht Club and so we used to go over there, put our boat in at the yacht club and go by boat and stay in the, in the uh, Bonnie Vale Boat Club. for holidays and then progressively he just decided to buy the shack because all his friends were down there and uh. Do want to ask me some questions?
Edie What was your father’s name and your mum’s name?
Mark Noel Green and Mary Green, and uh, my mother she was originally, she was born in Broken Hill, originally from Forbes, ended up in Sydney as a schoolteacher and my father was um, grew up in Coogee and he set up a business called Barclay Lounge and then ?inaudible? Restaurant, started as a nightclub and uh, he had that in Bexley and the St George area was a growing area and that’s where all the people we knew uh, bought shacks and lived in, not lived in it, you weren’t allowed to live there although there were some pensioners you weren’t allowed to live there uh, you could use them as holiday lettings. They’re originally I think from my memory when we bought ours there were 300 shacks and when Lewis stopped uh, people being able to sell their licenses um, the shacks progressively were pulled down. At one stage the parks being the National Parks or whichever department were very aggressive in pulling the shacks down and very aggressive in enforcing the fact that uh, you couldn’t use them for long stays and you couldn’t do this and they introduced more rules. My father was the first person to introduce porta gas into the shacks until then everybody worked on kerosene um, and uh, he introduced just because of his background really. He’d been a tradesman and uh, then in the club business he knew they introduced porta gas as a system and porta gas lighting and everything until then everybody would use kerosene lighting, kerosene stove.
Edie So um did you see a change like when they started pulling down the shacks-
Edie …and when was that and why, why did they do that?
Mark Um, well there was a change it was a, at one stage you would say almost that at Christmas time the population in Bonnie Vale would be bigger than Bundeena in a way because the number of people who are in shacks. Bundeena’s grown a lot obviously and everybody knew each other and shacks there was sort of a community about it, part of that I think looking at my parents’ experience was to do with the fact that a lot of the uh, people who came to go there and use them uh, were post World War 2 people. They’d fought in the war and there was a new environment nearly all of them that I met and remember were self employed, they were builders and electricians and plumbers and uh, there was people named Webb, I think one of the Webb’s, I’ve seen her for a long time but Pam I’ve heard, they don’t own the shack anymore, but I think she uses a shack or has a shack at the far end towards where the caravan park is. Um, those sort of people, they’d go down there for holidays, take their kids and it was just a great place to go and it was close to Sydney uh, in terms of holidays I think people probably don’t appreciate it now but this group of people we used to go with we’d go to other places on holidays so it was three and a half hours to drive to the Central Coast to Gosford because of the old road and the traffic and getting from the south side of Sydney to up there so you’d go there to ski or you know, three days drive to get to the Gold Coast and uh, various things but so anything like the situation that was in Bonnie Vale at the time, Bundeena, where you get to within an hour and then be on the water and uh, that sort of thing was considered pretty uh, spectacular. Also at the time when I first remember being in, using the shacks uh, most of the homes you see in Cronulla at the end of Woolooware Road they didn’t exist, they weren’t there so you would be in the shacks and you’d look over and a lot of it was bushland.
Mark Interestingly enough I guess, I don’t make the, could be a false positive but a lot of the people who we knew who bought shacks ultimately ended up buying homes in Woolooware Road, they ended things in Woolooware Road and in Cronulla and then they use their shacks less. There were some people named Jilkes, uh they, my father was very good friends with them and uh, they bought in Woolooware Road developed there and they stopped using their shack and let someone, a retired couple live there permanently until they died then it was pulled down. But they just, they would still come to Bonnie Vale but they were on Woolooware Road and they had water access from their house and they would come across in their boat to Bonnie Vale.
Edie When did the water skiing stop?
Mark Uh, has it stopped? Do people don’t do it now, I-
Edie Well you don’t have that building anymore for the club-
Mark I don’t know well what
Edie for the water skiing.
Mark No, well what happened though, that just next to our shack uh, there was an ability to put boats in there for a while. You would come in and put them down through a sand ramp on there. Um, that’s pretty much gone now but that’s what we used to do, we used to put the boat in there and the other thing is that, uh, Bonnie Vale’s very protected from the weather uh, in the sense it sits in the southern end of the bay and then it’s got the hills behind it so if you get really massive wind storms and everything they go over the top. And so uh, and then with your prevailing summer nor’easter and everything well just, things just blew onto the beach so it was a very safe area for kids and uh, so people, we’d go down there and we’d just leave our boat in for the whole time we were there, we wouldn’t be putting it in and out. So when, as the boat club came, ceased to be used and was pulled down, putting your boat in on the beach was a regular thing but it wasn’t a problem you didn’t put in and out everyday, you just put it in and left it there, uh.
Mark So it’s a good point I hadn’t thought but you do see, still see people skiing in uh Burraneer Bay. We’d get, we’d get, we’d take off in Simpsons Bay there, outside the shacks and round to the ferry and then you’d go, cut back and go up Burraneer Bay and then down round to Southwest Arm and you could ski all the way up, it was fantastic. I don’t know that there are that many water skiers now down there, yeah, that’s what we used to do uh, until we all grew up and got jobs and started moving in different directions.
Edie Are you still water skiing?
Mark No, I’ve got three daughters and their uh, we went to Canada for a holiday and they were amazed that I could ski. I made them go out and have water skiing but they’ve never been, despite my orientation to the surf and the water skiing and everything they’ve never been big, uh, on that. Might be their Canadian mother, they like to ski.
Edie But you do go down to the shack frequently?
Mark Yeah, yep
Edie And what number is it again?
Edie Oh ha hm.
Mark And the other thing is, in terms of maintenance I have two things I used to do there was a guy who uh, rents canoes, and so for maintenance and security, there’s more problems with security down there now and so I used to let him used it as a place where he could uh, have his uh, canoes and things that people could hire and then he’d watch it for me. And with maintenance I have a friend who’s a carpenter and he’ll stay there from time to time and do the maintenance on it.
Edie So the changes now today are, not as many cabins and-
Mark I think there’s only about 12 or 13 left up there.
Edie And what are you, you’re pay rent, is that what you do?
Mark Yep, I pay, there’s a quarterly fee, I think it is and I pay it. And uh, the cycle seems to be my kids are now interested in using it again because uh, like we did for our parents when we got to about 17 or 18, the last place we wanted to go to was with our parents. Then when we got to 23 or 24 we wanted to go to Bonnie Vale as long as our parents didn’t come [laughs]
Mark So we, you’re in that gap when your kids don’t want to use it much, but mine are just starting to want to use it now, as long as-
Edie What’s the future of that Bonnie Vale do you think?
Mark Not much unless they allow, uh, us to transfer the leases, well the license, they converted them from a permanent license uh, to a revocable license, the Parks to stop us, I mean, we, everybody I know are firmly of the view that the uh, National Parks and State Government at the time which is a long time ago, uh, set out to destroy the community.
And they set out to do it rather softly in the sense that they took away their right to sell them, they took away their right to do substantial repair, replacement to them and uh, they took away their right to uh have any other use of them other than uh, sort of essentially you could use it, self use it and in doing that they then promoted, through as I understand it, I’ve never corroborated this I know all the people used to, they hated Premier Lewis because he did it and they were certain he did it to help his family who were in caravan parks, and they say even though I can’t verify this, that it was that family that got the connection to set up the caravan parks in Bonnie Vale, um, the attitude changed once Lewis was gone. Some time later I remember having a meeting with Laurie Brereton’s wife, whose name escapes me at the moment but she was a Minister in the Labor Government, she was very nice woman and her idea at one stage was to try an’ resurrect the use of Bonnie Vale and she wanted to do things about trying to protect the shacks and all that sort of thing. I think she battled through the parliamentary processes. Uh, the only thing that happened is that the Parks and this in some time ago became far less aggressive about wanting to dismantle the shacks, shacks and then there was a proposal to uh, try and preserve them as sort of National Trust, I think. Um, but that’s very difficult if you can’t maintain and use them. There was a suggestion one time, as I understand it, this is hearsay really because I never got a direct approach from the government, I had a phone call about it, about the idea of restoring licenses for 5 years with, on the basis that people would then maintain. But part of the condition was that if it was to happen, they wanted you to make the shacks available for public letting. And uh, I said I could, I’d never agree to that and the reason was not because I’m against letting it. It’s just that there are no services, admittedly you’ve got gas now as a thing but, uh, for my money uh, you really haven’t got a clue how to deal with kerosene or how to deal with uh, porta gas in those circumstances and all that sort of thing, and I just said, you know, you’re inviting someone to kill themselves and I would never agree to it. I never heard anymore about that. I know that at one stage there was talk of some arrangement between the National Parks and Sutherland Council which has control of Bundeena to try and do something in terms of looking after it. But I never got any correspondence from anybody, either the council or the parks, saying what would happen or that would go to. My general view is that uh, essentially they just talking to the National Parks but that’s just how I feel and that’s, that is what’s happening because we were the last traded shack as far as I know, and I’m 64 and be the youngest person that still has an interest in the shacks, so could be surprised. But uh, you know, life is not infinite and so [laughs] I guess when my ??unless something changes I just think they’ll all just go away.
Edie And you can’t put it uh, like your daughters can’t inherit it right now.
Edie I see, mm yeah.
Mark Well unless something changed that I don’t know about and certainly the government hasn’t informed me of anything. Uh, what Lewis did was essentially fixed the right to the family that had it then. So I’ve got a brother and sister who both’d be bit younger than me, but essentially and that’s the same with uh Julie Poulton’s shack, she’s got a brother, Greg. And uh, Julie uses it, Julie’s one of the biggest users, I think, named Helen still uses it.
Edie Scaife, ha hm
Mark She still uses that one. And uh, I’m not, I don’t know, I don’t know if Pam Webb, and she’d have a married name so I don’t know what it is but Pam I was told by uh, the Poulton’s, was using a shack at the far end but that’s not their family’s shack. Their family’s shack’s gone, their parents are dead, um. And uh, that’s about it really.
Edie Has the community come together at all?
Mark Ah, not really the community sort of died out um, the only way it came together is that uh, a few years ago there were some guys who vandalized a number of shacks, were caught and uh, as part of their education or so to speak, and as part of the process of uh, proposed rehabilitation as opposed to uh, punishment, they had to have a meeting with us and the police and at that meeting there were about six shack holders turned up and uh, we were the children basically and so we knew of each other’s parents but we didn’t know each other particularly. Greg didn’t go, Greg Poulton, who I know well and still see. Uh and uh, the idea of the community was there, and the common view expressed to the culprits who’d vandalized the houses was what was a communal view, but essentially it was external to people who’d interfered with what for all of us uh were strong longstanding and happy memories relating to what they’d done as kids and how they’d grown up and their relationship with their parents and the area and what it had been like and what had been involved which graffiti thing, broke windows and did various things.
Edie What year was that?
Mark Oo, ah, I’d be guessing uh, based on certain things happening in my life at the time I’d say it might be as much as 8 years ago.
Edie Mm hm
Mark And that would be the last time um, could be a little bit, certainly more than 5 years ago because it happened when I-
Edie Well if you’d like to say anything else and if not I think we’ve covered it beautifully and we could conclude.
Mark Yep, I think it’s a great pity that the shack community was demolished. Uh, I think it was a great pity that there aren’t the preservation of the, all the shacks that were there and they were allowed to trade partly because I think the simplicity of those holidays was fantastic and also it was very communally orientated because you shared bathrooms and showers where the facilities were. People had tank water but if you ran out you had to get other people’s tank water, and then gas and people were always and it was, it was very good. I recently had a holiday with my kids um when I say recently, about 5 years and we went to island off Queensland with about six families and all the kids in the six families were 15 and under and they would’ve been about twenty kids and on this island there was no running water, there was no electricity, no mobile phone reception and we were there for about ten days. It started off with the kids sort of having withdrawal symptoms from their electronic devices and finished with the kids not wanting to leave ’cause they loved it so much and really what they did, it reminded me of Bonnie Vale. They sat round the fire and sang songs and they played games and they talked to each other and they weren’t on electronic devices and pinned to these things and I thought that was a really great thing for them and they all still talk about the holiday. And I think when we were at Bonnie Vale, that happened every night of the week you spent there, the people in the various shacks would get together and play cards ’cause there was no television uh, and also lighting wasn’t great because it was kerosene lights or gas lights, so cards was pretty good because it was a bit harder to read and so people would interact ah then people would, well you know, people would go to bed early, they’d walk along the beach, get up early and you ran a sort of lifestyle that was a bit orientated to the cycle of the day as opposed to other things. And I think that’s essentially lost to modern communities and I’m not sure that that’s a good thing but uh, you can’t stop progress but I just think the social intercourse that was there is gone and I think it could have been preserved better by government bodies that thought more of about what they were destroying when they did what they did. And I think they, I think the modern government thinks and this is speculation, I think uh, there’s a sort of acknowledged regret that perhaps in the past they did the wrong thing on some of these things uh, I don’t know. But uh, I think they can, the fact that they want to get National Trust involved uh, in looking at some of these shacks and the fact that they stopped the program of dismemberment uh, funded and that sort of thing is a recognition that perhaps they uh, took the place in a direction that wasn’t the best direction to take it. But uh, it’s speculation isn’t it.
Edie Well I thank you very much you’ve done a wonderful job and I thought it was a good idea to have the history recorded there in Bonnie Vale and um, would you donate this to the Wollongong City Library uh, and the uh, pro.., the shack um project-
Edie as well and also to the State Library of New South Wales.
Edie And also that would be the project there, is there as well
Edie and would you have, say, it would be ok if it was transcribed?
Edie Okay, thank you.