Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Neville Little
Interviewer: Edie Swift
Interview Date: 28 March 2019
Edie My name is Edie Swift and we’re in Otford. I’m interviewing Neville Little. And it’s March 28th, 2019 and he’s going to tell me about his life in Otford when he came here.
Neville Yeah, thanks, um, Edie. Um, I don’t know where to start but I came here in 1969. We purchased this property here in Otford and, ah, [coughs] it, ah, it’s eight one acre blocks that previously belonged to Tom Williams. And, ah, prior to him it was, it belonged to Dr Huggan and he, he was the doctor who worked on the railway tunnel. He bought the property in 1916. And, ah, he had two spinster sisters this is Doctor Huggan, and, ah, yes he told us a story about these two sisters. They, they didn’t sort of, ah, they didn’t get on very well. So, um, to, and I imagine they were very isolated up here at the time. The road hadn’t been put through. It came through in 1938 and I think it was put through by the military, you know, just before the war. But one day, ah, the story that Tom told me was, they looked across to the house which was there on the lookout and there was a party there, sitting there having a picnic on their veranda. So they went across and it was the Vice-Regal party come out to name Lady Wakehurst Drive. Ah, apparently these spinster sisters became friendly with them and, ah, used to visit them when they went back to England. So, yes, that must have been around about 1938 I think, round about that time, because, ah, the road only went through then, yes. Ah, so, yes, Rit and I came down here, young married couple, ah, in 1969. And then between 1970 and 1980 we had four children and one of them’s passed away [coughs]. Ah, yes, so it was quite a bit of a, a culture shock for both of us I suppose. We were, I was brought up in, at Hurstville. I was born in Hurstville. My father was an engineer, my brother did architecture, it was a mechanical family. And, ah, to get out here in, it was quite different, quite different. My schooling was done in, ah, in Hurstville and Paddington. [coughs] And, ah, in the early days we had a great time. There were, every weekend we had dozens of people here helping renovate the house, ah, get rid of lantana. Ah, I had axe handles broken every weekend just about, but, ah, it was, we had a lot of fun and we really had a, an enjoyable life. I’m just trying to think of interesting things that might have happened.
Edie Can you give your address, ah, you’re in Otford near?
Neville Was it, we, we, we’re here.
Neville When we arrived it was the end of a 7 year drought, Tom Williams told us that. Everything was dry, very, very brownish looking, ah, compared with what it is today, it’s, it’s a really beautiful, and, ah, the lantana’s gone. [Edie chuckles] It’s sort of a magical mystery. I don’t know how it went but it was a combination of the deer, ah, the um, plague proportions of the deer and I think dry weather that’s done it. But there isn’t any lantana here anymore. And it was, it, it covered the property when we came here. There was a, our nearest neighbour was about two or three bends into the Park, and uh she had a, she was a potter, and ah, she owned some land there and she put a tram, a tram on it, an old tram, and she had a big potter’s wheel there. Her name was Mrs de Lambert if I remember rightly, and her husband was a doctor, Macquarie Street doctor and they owned the land all the way down to, to Werrong, and, ah, they had plans to turn it into a, um, a nudist colony or a health farm or something like that. And, ah, they put up signs there to say it was private property and go no further. There was a court case. The local member, ah, Rex Jackson, sort of starred in it, and, ah, [dog barks] they took, they, they resumed the land off them and, ah, that’s how Hell Hole was, ah, made part of that National Park. But this, Mrs de Lambert, she’s remained there. When I, she was, she was still there when I was, came here in 1969. [dog barks] [coughs] She used to make these beautiful big pots. And, ah, yeah, we, um, a friend of mine and myself we used to go there just, just to see these beautiful pots. Yes and she was, she was, like, she was the only neighbour that we had on this road here. The others were people in Otford itself. Um, down the hill was a geologist lived there. And, ah, they, they lived in actual Paddington and this was their weekender. And, ah, his name was Shields. And, ah, yes, so over the years, I’m thinking, all our children went to the school in Otford, the primary school in Otford. And, ah, later on when they got to high school, they went in different directions. One went to Wollongong, one went to Heath-, two went to Heathcote and one to Bulli.
Edie How did you get involved with the town as your children grew up? What do you remember that it looked like?
Neville Ah, it was a, a beautiful school. Ah, everybody knew everybody else. And the children, being in a small school, the children sort of, ah, spent time in each other’s houses and visited overnight, that sort of thing and, ah, helped with the, helped in the classroom too [coughs]. So we very, we were very pleased with the small, the small school. Ah, yes so, um, see, how long have we been here? We came in 1969. We spent, we’ve been here quite a while. I, I’ve now become an old, ah, identity or something up here, the old coot up on the hill. Ah, yes, so-
Edie How did you, um, get involved with, um, Tom Williams, was it?
Neville Tom, yes, our neighbour, a dear old fellow, and his wife Stella. They were like sort of second parents to our children. They all, um, spent a lot of time up there. And, ah, Brian, ah, the son up there, he taught, ah, Sarah how to photograph at a very, very young age. And she, I can remember her going to kindergarten with a camera, with a box Brownie box camera. Ah, yes, so, um, and Tom was very pleased, I think, that we didn’t want to change the place much, just to clear the lantana out and enjoy the forest. It’s a beautiful block of land forest down the bottom there, ah, rainforest down the bottom, yeah. And, ah, over the last few-
Edie He had a shack down in Werrong, is that right? Tom Will-
Neville Tom had a shack, yeah, [Mm] Tom had a shack in Werrong, and, ah, he and he um, he brought the family up down there and he tells me stories of um, ah, he used to carry them up when they were really young he used to have to carry them up the track. They went to school from down there and it was quite an elaborate um, shack, from what I understand. It had a refrigerator in it, a kerosene refrigerator, Silent Night, I think it was. And, ah, then when Dr Huggett decided to sell the property he sold it to the UPA, the United Protestant Association, down in, down in Stanwell Park. Tom was quite shocked when he heard that because he’d always wanted to, ah, have the property and grow flowers and sell them up on the road. So he, he pointed this out to Dr Huggett and Dr Huggett, ah, very obligingly asked the UPA to sell the, um, the property to Tom which that’s how he came by it. That was in 1960, Tom bought the property and sold it to me in 1969. So he had it for 9 years. But prior to that he used to work for Dr Huggett, ah, on a casual basis just maintaining the place, um.
Edie Did you ever go down to any of the other shack communities from here?
Neville To any of the shacks
Neville By the time we got here the shacks were all destroyed down in Hell Hole then, down in Werrong.
Neville The story goes that there was, was one man down there. He, he had a shack and, ah, the, ah, I think it was the Potters, the Potters people pushed his shack over and burned it, and, ah, he committed suicide or something.
Neville That’s the story, I, I don’t know the names, but ah, his son used to visit here, for, well, I’d say for, for a couple of years after that and ah, he used to go down there and just visit the site.
Neville Where his father had the shack, um.
Edie So you didn’t go down to Era or some of the other places around here, the other shacks?
Neville No, only occasionally.
Neville I might have, ah. There was a shack at Burning Palms, that uh, I visited once, that, um, that somebody owned. Ah, no, I, I didn’t, ah, I didn’t go down the shacks. And down at Bulgo there was only about a handful of people that lived there permanently, no more than three or four. And there was a, a, when my children were going to the local primary school there was a girl attending the primary school that came up every day from, from, ah, Bulgo.
Edie Do you know her name?
Neville No, I couldn’t, I can’t remember her name, I probably never knew the people.
Edie Where was the school then? Is it in the same place now, the same spot?
Neville It’s in the same place, yes it has been, ah, extended and there may be, ah, yes, ah. But it was a one teacher school then. I think there’s two teachers now, yeah. Um, so, still thinking, thinking [laughs].
Edie How has Otford changed with the.
Neville Beg pardon?
Edie Do they still have the – has Otford changed in all those years?
Neville Yes it has changed. When I came here in 1969 Tom took me down to the fire brigade, it was just a tin shed and there was three or four, pretty, pretty elderly gentlemen there and, ah, I was handed a backpack which is a water container which you slap on your back, strap on your back and ah, they had one ah, Jeep type, ah, vehicle. And, ah, everyone else had one of these backpacks which they kept under their house. And that was how, ah, the fire brigade operated in those days. But now of course it’s, ah, it’s quite a, quite expanded and, ah, and it’s the centre of social activity for men mainly. But yes they have barbecues and it’s, it’s become, ah, sort of the social centre apart from the school which is also, if you’ve got children, the school is also a social centre, um.
Edie Do you remember the centenary, the big centenary at the school, at Otford school?
Neville Ah, yes, I don’t remember it, I wasn’t here probably then.
Edie Oh, I see.
Neville When was it?
Edie Oh, well I, it was 50 years that the school was there and, ah, Dorothy Rook had talked about that.
Neville Oh, right, yeah. I probably wasn’t here at that time, yeah, mm, yeah.
Edie So how would your kids get to school then?
Neville How did they get to school?
Edie Mm, mm.
Neville They all walked from here, yeah, it was great you know, um.
Edie Was there a railroad station when you came here?
Neville Beg your pardon.
Edie In 1969 was there a railroad station at Otford?
Neville Station, I, I used to go to work all those years from 1969 by train. I worked in Sydney and ah, I used to go down Otford station then. It had, had won prizes. It was a beautifully decorated, it had, um, these, ah, what do you call them? Ferns on the, along the platform. Apparently they got prizes for the best, ah, ah, platform on the coast and, ah, we used to get down there and he’d have the fire going in the wintertime. We’d stand round, round the, round the pot belly stove. And I remember once I came, I was a bit late, I missed the train. So, ah, not to worry, he stopped the next train and, ah, I got a ride in the engine which was quite exciting for me
Neville standing behind the driver. Yes.
Edie So what did you do in Sydney?
Neville Sydney I worked for the public service. Yeah, a public servant all those years. And prior to that I was a, I was a, a draftsman, an engineering draftsman, at Babcock and Wilcox out at Regents Park, yes.
Edie So did more people move in as, as the time went by, did you have more neighbours?
Neville Oh we’re pretty isolated up here [coughs]. As you can see, um, we had Margy, ah, a doctor next door, Carmen, Margaret Carmen. And, ah, I think they moved there because she married, ah, Peter Allberg who, ah, used to love it round here. He used to come at the weekends and down Stanwell Park and ended up buying the place next door and then, um, Margaret and him brought up a couple of children down there. Ah, yes, and now it’s still occupied, it’s been sold just recently. Ah.
Edie Did you have much to do with the cake, the apple pie shop?
Neville Yeah well our kids used to work in the apple pie shop at times, you know, yeah, when it was owned by Pauline
Edie How about the ah, how about the ah, the area there, the horse farm. Was that there when you moved here?
Neville Over the other side of the-
Edie Mm, mm.
Neville Yes, yes, it was there, the horse farm. Ah, we didn’t have to, we didn’t have much to do with that, ah, I wasn’t in the fire brigade, I didn’t join the fire brigade. We were very, we seemed to be very busy up here and on the weekend’s we had, ah, you know, up to, lots of people used to come down from Sydney city, people from Balmain. It was in the so-called hippie era. Ah, and in fact at that time it was quite, ah, popular to leave the city and get a few acres and sort of live a more rural sort of life. And I guess we’re –
Edie Where you did you used to shop in the old days?
Neville There was a little shop in Otford. And, ah, we, it was a post office and, ah, we used
to do, we used to shop there. And, ah, my wife had a hairdressing salon in, um, in, in Engadine and, ah, most of the major shopping would be done in Engadine probably. And there was no supermarket in Helensburgh but there was a general store there. Some shopping was done up there. So, um, yeah.
Edie And Bald Hill, did you ever go there?
Neville Bald Hill?
Neville Yes, well, it was for hang gliding really in those days ah, when we moved here. Bald Hill, no we had friends down in Stanwell Park. My wife had a, her mother and father lived in, in Engadine and they were very involved in the bringing up of the children. And, ah, of course the hairdressing salon was in, in Engadine and, ah, the whole, it was very, enabled her to run the salon. The fact that she had a mother not far away who could look after the children and bring them up for morning tea and that sort of thing. Ah, yes, trying to think of some other things that happened.
Edie Did you put any additions on here, or change the property?
Neville I built that, ah, I built, ah, a three-bedroom house next door attached to the place where, the old house, that was for my mother-in-law and father-in-law. Eventually passed away both of them and so it’s rented out now.
Edie And in the back you did some things back there, in the back yard.
Neville The what?
Edie You had things in the back yard that you did with the shrubbery and everything.
Neville Oh yeah, that’s right. I built a big shed down the yard there. Ah, and, ah, I had a good garden but recently I, I built a um, a track down the into the rain forest that’s on the
bottom of the block. It’s 8, one acre blocks and, ah, right down the bottom in a fold in the hill there’s a, there’s a beautiful undisturbed rainforest except the deer get in there for a bit of a meal. But, ah, we have, between the neighbour and me, we have sort of fenced off enough that the deer have decided that they’ll take another route and it’s pretty deer free at the moment. But I put a track down all the way down to the rainforest, across the rainforest and back up by a circu- circuitous route. And, ah, I made it so that my 92 year old sister could negotiate it which she did. I’m very pleased that she was able to do that and she loved it.
Edie Did you ever have any bad storms here?
Neville Mm, no not really. We haven’t had any bad storms. We’ve, we had a, in the early days we had a, the place was covered in hail, I remember that. But um, no, ah, we are lucky the siting of the house, the house used to be over on the lookout, ah, and, ah, the roof used to get blown off occasionally. So when we, actually the house, they didn’t really replace the iron on the roof, it was all twisted and rusty when we came here. But they towed the house, Tom Williams had the house towed here to the present site by some engineer from up at Helensburgh, towed it across the paddock and, ah, to where it is now and, ah, I’ve added the three-bedroom house on to it. But, yes, that was the only thing. It’s protected now by, from the southerlies, which is where the bad storms come from, by a hill so we really don’t, we don’t have any problem with the weather, storms etc. The only thing we have trees hanging over the roof and we to have them sliced off every now and again and trimmed.
Edie And what type of animals do you see?
Neville Animals, well the birdlife here is really great because, ah, we don’t have any neighbours, we’re right on the National Park and there would be at least 20 varieties of birds here, we’re often finding new, seeing new varieties. I have been feeding the parrots so we have lots of king parrots, cockatoos, rosellas, lorikeets, brown pigeons, the native pigeons, ah, the beautiful, ah, catbirds from down in the, down in the forest, wonga pigeons walk around the place everyday. Ah lyrebirds and one I just discovered just recently by sitting down was a scaly thrush and, ah, they’re very hard to, they’re a very shy bird and they’re the same colour as the rainforest floor, so I was very excited to see two or three of those. Ah, animals, we do now have, we do now have a few wallabies. They have come since the, I think we’ve noticed they’re more now since the deer have, have changed their routes. And, ah, and yes it’s nice to see up to two and three together you see occasionally. Um goannas, great big ones, yes, a few of those around, and ah, beautiful things. Ah, what sort of other animals, mm? There are lizards, blue-tongues and things, echidnas, ah, yes and of course the deer, at last we seem to have ah, a break from the deer.
Edie That’s good. Now do you want to say anything more? I think you’ve covered quite a bit. Um, did you want to add something more?
Neville Not really that I can think of. I’m sort of trying [laughs] to think of something that might be interesting.
Neville But yes, ah, about Otford, well, it’s, it’s a rather beautiful unique place because it’s been bypassed. Ah, I think there’s not too many people know it’s here but the fact that the main highway goes down and right up through Helensburgh, and then you’ve got the railway line and the river, which are sort of barriers so that we don’t get any through traffic except through the Park.
Neville Locals don’t come up here much unless, you know, they’ve got a reason for it. You get bushwalkers but they’re good, they’re sort of no problem. Um yep, so it is a great place to live and I’m very happy to have brought a family up here and, ah, I can’t think of a better place.
Neville To spend the rest of my life.
Edie Yeah. Shall we conclude then, would you like to add anything else?
Neville No I don’t think I’ve got anything else to add, except to say I’m quite happy to stay here.
Edie Mm, okay, well thank you Neville. And would you donate this to the Local Studies Library in the Wollongong Library?
Neville Yes if they’d like it.