Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Norma Thompson
Interviewer: Jo Oliver
Interview date: 7 March 2022
Jo The following interview was conducted with Norma Thompson as a part of Wollongong City Council Libraries, Illawarra stories oral history project.
And it took place at Norma’s house in Berkeley on the 7th of March 2022, and my name is Jo Oliver.
Jo So first of all, ah, well we’ve got a few things to talk about, but first of all, we’re going to talk about the CWA locally.
Jo So, yeah tell us what you know about, about that.
Norma Well, CWA used to have a younger set in Wollongong. And they also had their CWA, and they had their rooms in between Globe Lane and Burelli St. And you probably remember the, in the park. Ah, the people in Wollongong decided that the younger set should transfer in- ah, into their group, because some of them were in their 40s that so they were no longer younger set. So, and of course elderly women want things done their way whereas the younger set, they had good ideas. You know when they were, both groups were very active, don’t get me wrong, ah, but most of them in the younger set actually come from Wo-, from Keiraville. So they decided that they’d set up a new branch because there were a lot of them. Ada will tell you how many cos she was in younger set. Um and anyway, so that’s what they did.
But they also used the rooms in the Rest Park in Burelli St and they used to go in there and they were a night meeting. Well as the women got older, you know well it wasn’t that. The Council decided that they wanted to demolish the park. And they gave them the band hall. They, you know, they said go down to the band hall. I’m jumping around a bit
Jo OK, so now when are we talking? What, what year, basically, what decade are we talking?
Norma Like when I got married, Mum was in her 40s when she joined Keiraville CWA.
Jo And what was her name?
Norma Charlotte. Well, they called her Lottie Grey or Lottie Ward actually, she was married by that time.
Norma And they used to play tennis at Gilmore Park a few of them. And it was the group, it was, um Jane Moore. She would be younger set and she taught the group to play tennis to, to, to join the ah, CWA Keiraville, which was actually in Wollongong where they met. What the CWA rooms in Wollongong, they were terrific.
Norma I mean I lived at Berkeley. I had two little boys and I used to catch the bus into Wollongong and Mum’d meet me, we’d take the kids down, CWA, they had a um child minding rooms at like they had the toilets where you could go, you paid I think it was a penny to use the toilet. But they, their rooms themselves they had um couple of women that looked after the kid- the play group and you could leave your kids there for a couple of hours. Well, I know people my age, they used to do it. I mean Doris my friend, she said oh I actually lived at Coniston and (laughs) to get a break I’d take em up to the CWA rooms for a couple of hours so we can get all the shopping done in no time and come home. Well see, I used to meet mum and we’d have a couple of hours where we could go around and shop. You had to pick the kids up by 12:00 o’clock.
Jo And that was voluntary, uh the, the women that were minding the shelter?
Norma Well, there were a lot of volunteers, but I said that to Ada and she said, actually, they did have one manager, but they had a partition in that room, like, we’d picked the kids up the boys up and I was, I had, actually I had my- when my daughter was born, we used to do the same thing, that the boys had started at school, but they had, you could go there and have it in their room. The women would make sandwiches and tea and coffee for lunch if yeah, you wanted it, you don’t have to have kids there and they had like partitions where you could feed your babies without you know because the the privacy and that time you didn’t go into a restaurant or anything. So yeah, but that’s what we used to do. Used to, neither, neither of us had cars, so catch the bus into town and have a couple of hours of shopping with mum and she’d come back to Keiraville and I’d go back to Berkeley.
Jo So that must have been wonderful for young mothers to have that.
Norma Well, as Doris, my friend said she said I used to do that, but she only lived at Bradsens Avenue (laughs). She said Oh, you could dump the kids off, I mean you paid for it.
Jo Yeah so-
Jo But it was not too expensive, it was?
Norma No, no it was reasonable for that.
Jo And what are we talking, about the 1950s or 60s now, when was-?
Norma Ah, I was married in 56.
Norma Ah, Jeff was born in 57 so he would and I had Neil too at that time. I think Neil was
um Neil would have been, they would have been about two and three I’d say when we used to leave them.
Norma I mean, just at that age you couldn’t shop with with kids two and three.
Norma But they enjoyed.
Jo Oh they would.
Norma I don’t know, I think they might have given them- You did pay money, but I think they gave the kids a drink or something at at like a morning tea because you had to be in nine o’clock because it was so popular (laughs) They only had so many vacancies. So yes, so…
Jo Was there a Wollongong Branch of the CWA?
Norma Yeah. It was ru- oh yes yeah, Keiraville was a breakaway from Wollongong. But I’ll tell you most of the women were from Keiraville, and Ada said to me the other day she was from Wollongong and, uh Pat Franks, used to be on the Council. She was from Wollongong. Well, she was president, one stage at Keiraville when they first started. So but uh, Ada said to me, I don’t think there was anybody else from Wollongong. I think the rest of them are all from Keiraville.
So they used to go in, it was the night meeting. Well, they were transferred down to the band hall, which is where, opposite the car park, now in, in Keira St. It’s where the tyre place is. And, they were only there a short time and, because they moved the Wollongong branch, the whole CWA had to move down there, um they cut out, um childminding I think because they couldn’t do that, and the, the band hall um…
Jo So did they have exclusive use of the band hall?
Norma No, no, we shared it with the band hall.
Norma But they weren’t there that long when um with white ants, you’d walk on the floor and you could feel the, the white ants you know? And it was to be demolished, and they were going to allow- because don’t think the CWA owned the ground but they did own the actual building um, at Burelli St, Council said oh you can use a room in our new
Council building, but if I remember right was, I think it was the 7th floor or something, I think. Something like that, you know?
Jo So was that in the Town Hall at the time?
Norma No, it was in the new town- the new Council building.
Jo Oh the new Council building?
Norma Yeah yes, so-
Jo So that would have just been for meetings, they’re saying?
Norma Yeah, just for meetings.
Jo Couldn’t do other things..
Norma But they, um they found it was hard parking, you know? I know my father drove them in one day, and he, he used to be into um, he had canaries, he was in the bird club. And when he came to get his car, his car had been stolen, so he said, no way w-, you know, I’m driving you there again. But they ah, decided, ah that they’d go to Keiraville, this is. They’d go to a day meeting because they’re all getting older and it was risky being in Wollongong, in around Wollongong at night. Women on their own. So they moved to the bank- to the Guide Hall at Beaton Park, you know, and they were there for a lot of years.
Jo Wollongong Branch continued there?
Norma Yeah no, the Wollongong branch continued in Wollongong. I think they still used the Council chambers, but the Council, I’m not sure, but I know they were getting elderly and they weren’t as active, the Wollongong group well, Keiraville- Keiraville’s only a breakaway from Wollongong really and truly, you know, whatever Wollongong suggest, as they seem to do sort of thing. But they, Joan Moore, her daughter Pam, was well up in the Guides, she was one of the Guide leaders and that’s why they ended up, they were in the Guide Hall for a lot of years, you know?
Jo And has the Wollongong branch continued then or ..?
Norma No no…
Jo When was that discontinued?
Norma I couldn’t tell you. You could find out through the um Keiraville would have, Lynn Hayes might be able to tell you she’s got a lot of the records.
Jo So Keiraville became really the main branch in Wollongong after-
Norma Yeah yeah. Well they were very active I mean Keiraville branch used to do, oh geez, they were a, a get up and go group. They used to do all sorts of things. To start off with, they used to always run a concert in Denison St at the Mason’s Hall is it, in Denison St? And you looked forward to that concert, it was like, um, oh, they’d get up on the stage, Ada used to play the violin, she’d be, an in between thing, while they were changin’ their clothes and, oh they were really, they were right into acting and that, so…
Jo So the ladies themselves would put on the concert?
Norma Oh yes.
Jo Yeah. And who would, would just the, the CWA people come, or-
Norma anyone that wanted to. I mean I wasn’t in CWA at that time, but I al- Mum was a great one, say they were making lamingtons which was a fundraiser. But in those days, you’d buy the sponge, but the lamingtons were made from scratch. Oh boy we used to, they used to make a mess (ha). You’d buy the sponge, I think it was better made, they’d buy the sponges, they’re great slabs of sponge and they’d take them mainly it- they’d do up someone’s garage, everything would be covered with plastic and what, what, it was very hygienic, I’ll tell you that. But it was, um- there’d be somebody cutting the sizes of the lamingtons and then somebody else would be, um, quite a few of us actually would be dipping them in the icing sugar and then somebody else would be dipping them in the coconut and then they’d be put on trays to to dry and then somebody would be packing them. So I mean like I said, they had a lot of women doing it and mum, didn’t matter what was going on, mum’d say Norma will be in it. Norma will be in it. She’ll come and pick us up and take us. I don’t know.
Jo And what would they, where would they sell the lamingtons?
Norma Just amongst their friends, their relatives. I mean I know, um, after it you’d, mum’d say righto, you’ve gotta deliver these and, nothing for me to have to deliver 20 dozen lamingtons to separate houses, you know.
Jo What were the funds raised for? What, what were they using…
Norma Well, what- like now CWA raise money for all sorts of things. Now they’ve got a disaster fund at head office at the moment. And as soon as these floods happened in well, I I know of up on the Tweed, the CWA have got branches up there that, um they opened up their, their- well, I don’t know whether it was their room, or- Jenny said it was Tweed Centre and they were helping the women, well, like I said a friend, um, she had to get out of her house in a hurry. She heard the the foundation start giving way and she grabbed a 8 month old little baby and rushed out without anything. She never even had a food, or clothing or anything. While our CWA rooms in Tweed they’ve made sure she’s got clothing and feed and actually, that’s where my daughter met her up there. She said ah, I forget what her name was, I can’t remember, but she said, oh she, she said these women have been wonderful, but she said I thought I was safe. I was up high and didn’t know the foundations were going to go with the river and she said it was 2:00 o’clock in the morning Sunday morning. And the Tweed come down in a rush and ah, she said, all I could think of was getting out. She said I grabbed the baby and went to you never even thought of picking anything up, only getting out and she said oh these women have been terrific, you know?
Jo Wonderful. And so mostly when funds were raised locally would they go into head office or would they also be spent locally?
Norma Well, they do, do um spend locally. I- You would be better to get the actual list from the President Secretary that they’ve just done last month.
Norma You know, because at the moment their, one of their main raises is Bunnings sausage sizzle. And the men have decided that women can’t cook sausages, (laughs) So we’re not fighting them. So.
Jo And you mentioned there was quite a few different events, so there was the concerts, there was lamington drives..
Norma Ah, bus trips, ah, barbecues, like we used to go up to um Mount Ousely, you know there’s a park up there. There was always something on. Actually, one of our members, Kath Downing, her husband, Jeff was a bus driver. And he’d drive the bus for free. They’d have to pay for the bus, so that meant there was more funds went, you know? So ah, yeah, they did handicrafts. They had, ah stalls. I know they used to have, um they’d go to the markets with a car boot sale, and get rid of, you know, stuff there. But I mean, they were all good cooks, and, we’d have handicraft. I know that before I was in it. I’d um, I went to a lot of their handicraft classes.
Jo So someone would teach a handicraft or would people bring what they were working on?
Norma Well, in some cases they would. But a lot of the time – there’s very few CW women, CWA women that can’t knit. My mother used to say to me you’ve gotta learn. I mean they used to do fancy work. They had competitions. And they’ve – you’ve probably heard their convers- well,
Jo So tell us about those, so competitions for handiwork.
Norma Ah yeah, they had um, the branch has, like last month they had their cake competition, and the winner of the branch, they’ve got to make another one, and there’s a competition for the group. Because Wollongong ah, is actually part of Illa- Illawarra group,
probably we’ve got it written down somewhere.
Norma – Ah, the amount of- It goes into Camden and-
Norma -all that. See I mean when they had the bushfires, um, Camden contacted Wollongong and said, we need help. And they went up there with all sorts of things and, you know, Nowra said just recently, like we make, um knee rugs.
Jo Where do they go?
Norma To all the homes that need ’em.
Jo Nursing homes?
Norma I know when mum was in a nursing home, she was in Marco Polo, I used to take- well the whole club did a package for over there. And ah, I think they wanted um, bed socks at one stage and we made a lot. And it’s surprising, I actually said to somebody at Oak Flats that they needed bed socks at Marco Polo, and a woman out there made 15 pairs. So it sort of gets around, you know what I mean?
Jo And the different branches work together on-
Jo ..some projects?
Norma Well, not only that. Now Guyra, I think it was Guyra, in the drought, one of the mem-, one of our members, her brother was up there, and she said, oh we’ve gotta do something to help them, she said. The kids are coming in off the farm to school, and the kids at school, the town kids, oh here comes the stinky kids.
Norma So, ah they got together and they put a shower in the school. Ah, Rotary stepped in and helped with the money. And, you know, it costs $1400 for a tanker of water, just to take. And then they, ah the women were, they were happy. And of course kids’d come to school and have a shower and and that. Ah the men were coming in off the farms, you know, and not even washing their hands because they were so short of water. And, um then they put a washing machine in the school so the farm people could come and use the washing machine, so you know, so little things like that.
Jo Well little things that are big things to people, yeah.
Norma Well we got it, like we’ve got our head office and it, and when the drought was bad, all the branches got notification that they need the, the money now, so don’t send it to head office. Contact head office and we’ll give you the name of the branch to send the money direct. Well I know we ran a, a stall at Dapto Show, our CWA had had a stall too, as well as Keiraville, and ah I mean, we really, ah pushed for it, and Sunday morning there was a cheque sent to Guyra straightaway. So you know, they don’t muck around. And also, well, I’ll tell you what happened to me.
They, they have a head office in Sydney. And Mum got up – it was between Christmas and New Year, and she, um was blind, you know, drastic sort of thing. And we got the message from her next-door neighbour, your mother can’t see. So we got her into the optometrist in Wollongong, and, and he said, well, she’s got degeneration and she’s got to have treatment within 24 hours or she’s going to be blind. And he got me an appointment in Macquarie Street in Sydney. But it was between Christmas and New Year. We had to be up there at half past seven in the morning for the appointment.
And my husband said, like Mum wasn’t young by any means, and he said it’d be better if we could get over night and go now. Anyway, we rang head office and their rooms were all booked out. I explained to the um secretary what the- up there, what had gone on. And anyway, Bill got on the computer, we were desperate trying to get something. At 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, they rang from head office. We’ve got you an apartment in Potts Point, it’s only an overnight n- um, stay. So we got dressed and went straight up, you know?
Jo Yeah, wonderful.
Norma So that was through CWA. And also, like, you’ve heard me talk of my granddaughters. Well one of them, she was training to be a physiotherapist, and she was – like they were doing their um, job experience. And she was at Casino and she only had one
more hospital to go to, and they contacted her and said – she was at Casino on the fri- on the Friday, and she had to be in Brisbane, right in the middle of Brisbane, Monday morning. And Jen had been – well, it was when Covid was on, and the actual rooms were all, all the motels, the backpackers, all them were closed. So Jen was, my daughter was a bit worried, or very worried, because she was gonna pull out. She, ah, they didn’t know how she was going to do it.
So I got on to the CWA, and they gave me a phone number of the Secretary at Brisbane. That girl got me a-an apartment 10 minutes from the hospital, for Denise right in the middle of – I mean, yeah, I had to pay for it, but it was, we were desperate, you know. So New South Wales even works in with other States. And not only that, they’ve got a
WW – er, overseas, they work in with the Islanders as well. Actually, even England. They’ve got a different name, but all these groups work in together, like an international group. So you don’t just work for CWA. And I mean, now Keiraville, with this- they’ve got a big
branch. There’s, well there were 35 people at the meeting, last meeting. So they’ve got a- and that’s not counting the ones that weren’t able to get there, sort of thing. And, ah-
Jo And are there, are younger women joining?
Norma They are now, but not like um, I- a lot of them that are joining at the moment are just retired. Like, with Covid they’ve lost their jobs and that, but CWA don’t just raise money. They study a country. Each year it’s a different country. This year it’s Malaya and the things that you’re finding out about Malaya, you just wouldn’t believe. No, we have, um different positions. They have somebody in charge of land, which is cooking, and they run cooking competitions. And you, you cook with group the winners from that- cook with branch,
and the winners from that go into the group competition, and the winners from the group go into the New South Wales competition, which is at Conference. So, got a photo of Mum. She won, she won the the pumpkin cake.
Jo Yes yes.
Norma So, and that was at State. She had to make 3 pumpkin cakes. And in the, in the cooking, they have cakes, scones, biscuits, jams. That’s all in the land cookery. Ah, the Land paper sponsors that. They have a handicraft officer, and they do the same. Like, ah the last meeting they had, ah competition for the handicraft, the ones that win it go to group, and then they have competitions at group. Ah, they bring in outside judges. To be a judge, they train their judges, but their- say Keiraville, they had a judge – I think I might have the wrong thing, I think they came from Bowral, but it’s from that group. Ah, from that club they, they get outside judges, ah and they also train their own judges for the New South Wales. You’ve gotta do a course to be actually a judge in anything. They study- and when you do- their study Malaya, like we’re fol- following Malaya, this is the what the sheet of paper, the readout we got from Malaya from this week. And she’s like, ah get the names wrong… International Officer.
Norma And she studies that, and then she’ll have a talk on that.
Jo At the meeting. So and then, how often are the meetings?
Norma Once, once a month. Ah, Keiraville meet the third Tuesday in the month.
Jo You’re a busy lot.
Norma They are a bit. You s- you study fauna and flora. And, ah we have an officer for that. They study a bird. At the moment it’s a Bittern B-I-T-T-E-R-N bird. Have you ever heard of it? Well, we have an officer that checks all that. She has a talk on that. Ah, and the fauna that we’re studying this year- so each year it’s a different thing. It’s um, Banksia. So we’ve got some, an officer for, ah that. And the pr- the primary product that we’re studying is coffee this year, being built – being grown in Australia. Oh, and some of our money goes towards a journal. Yeah, you receive that with your membership. Oh it’s not every month, but they’re, I mean, one of the things they make for the country-
Norma -for the competition, they have to dress a doll. So, ah, yeah, it gets very involved.
Jo Yeah. And do they ever, do you ever have people um, from those countries come to speak?
Norma Oh yes, yes, ah, doing Italy, we, um we had, um well, we actually had our dinner at the Fraternity Club and somebody there, and somebody came, they even had the dress- a dress on and showed us like a, what they wear, ah, oh it was interesting. The elderly women, when they’re working on the fields in Italy, their dresses are long, but they’ve got a way of folding them up so they look like, ah pants. You know. It’s quite interesting when you get into it. But this year it’s Malaya. Ah, w- we did, we did Guinea last year. And we got a, a chap from the army that come. He was very good. And also, ah think they were missionaries. They had a video of Malaya and, so.
Jo And do you find with the membership, you say young people are joining, what about people from different cultures? I think traditionally the CWA’s been quite, um, you know, white Anglo-Saxon.
Norma Well, to start off with, ah the girl that’s doing the internat- the country, like, ah did that one, um on Malaya, she did a lot of backpacking. So I don’t think she was born in Australia. There’s 35 members, I’m sure they’re not all Australian. They’re descendants.
Norma You know.
Jo But from different cultures, yeah. And I I understand the CWA has been over the years quite involved in, er sort of, issues I suppose, political-
Norma Oh yes. Ah-
Jo So what are some of the issues that-
Norma -you, you- for our conference, they make- some of our- they sort of get up and
actually, they make such a fuss, that the MPs listen to us. They’ve been, what they’ve been involved in lots of issues really. They also give out, um scholarships. Keiraville gives, ah money to the primary school at Keiraville. This year they gave it to one of the other schools as well because of our membership, wel- big membership. They are working, you know, you have, you have your membership and they pick out delegates to go to group, and group, they have like a conference like you would at at Sydney that- All these things that I’m showing you, Cultural, Hospital, Land Cookery, Agricultural, Environment, Handicraft, Show Committee, Social. That’s, um that’s all different officers that we’ve got. International ones. The, the deer, we’ve been putting in a big protest about the deer.
Norma You wouldn’t believe, introduced species, ah rabbits and- different years. They, um start studying how we can get rid of them and, and helping the farm. But like I said, any really disaster, goes straight through to where the branch sends a message to head office, we need help now. Instead of going through a middleman they contact see, like- ah Nowra,
they wanted some um, trauma teddies. So there’s a whole pile of trauma teddies gone to Nowra from Wollongong.
Jo And they go to children in hospital, is that-
Norma Well actually we’ve got a message from Westmead, they want, um blankets for newborns. Lyn, to give you a- we’ve got a koala bear. They’re putting, they’re making a sample bag up for Wollongong- for Sydney show. So that, ah- and they’ve made koala bears and just got a- see I’m, I’m no good at (laughs). Oh well, I suppose I can fancy work, but I couldn’t put the face on the koala bear. So I kept making them, and I know Lyn’s been putting their faces on. Doris Forner put that face on for me.
Jo So you all work together, yeah.
Norma Because every year, whatever we’re studying in the way of a feral, there’s somebody that, an officer that checks up on feral, ah, and weeds. And you get it from the country, any weed that’s causing strife and they say, well, actually it’s the city people that are buying these things, and, oh, we don’t want them anymore, putting them in the bush.
Norma So I mean one part was on carp, the the fish. I remember doing that at one stage.
We sort of work in with the country. When I’ve got a book I hand it in at the meeting, and I’ve got a, a really good recipe book going around at the moment. One side’s recipes and the other side is people that are in drought and they’ve done the recipes. And all the money from that book goes to the drought-affected people.
Jo Well, maybe we can finish the section talking about the conference. Do you- have you been going to the conferences?
Norma I’ve never been to the conference, but Mum went to the conference. This year it’s going to be at Randwick Racecourse. Um. Each, um branch sends two delegates to the conference, and they vote suggested to the, the government, and at Randwick this year, because it’s such a- going to be a big place, anyone can go and have a look at the handicrafts, they can sit in and listen to the, what’s said. They can’t vote, only the delegates can vote, ah but, they are expecting a lot of people just to go for a sticky beak, you know. But it’s going to be an open conference this year for anyone.
Jo You remember your mother going in to conference?
Norma Oh yes. Oh yes, Mum was a big member of it, yeah.
Jo Yes, yes.
Norma Actually, you know what Keiraville has just, ah put up? Some chap has offered to teach our members IT. The majority of our members at the moment, I’d say, would be late 60s to 70 year of age.
Norma I mean we have got, well, like Ada’s 90. But I mean she’s like me, she sits back and lets others do the work (laughs).
Norma And Susanna would be the youngest, she’s – I’d say she’s in her 40s, I might be wrong. But she’s our handicraft officer and she’s a real get up and go. You know. We’ve got a lot of members that are get up and go. They- there’s always something they’re going to suggest or- at the moment Keiraville is very active. But I, I wouldn’t try to- to tell you what what the money’s gonna do (laughs). I know they sent $1000 to head office disaster in our last meeting. And then this week our president has put it on the computer, do you think we could send another 500? But so many members, she’s gotta get OK from so many members, she can’t do it on her own.
Norma And if um, so many members put it straight on the computer, e-mail straight through. And she got it within a day.
Norma And she, she said it’s gone, the money’s – A treasurer and a secretary that are very active. Actually, we’ve got a, a treasurer at the moment, she used to work for Commonwealth Bank before she retired. Most of them are people that have just retired, or..
Jo Have a bit more time.
Norma Well they got time on their hands. And I think it’s with Covid. There’s so many clubs closed down, and there’s so many people that say I’m not going back to work, I’m turned 60, I’m-
Norma So, yeah.
Jo Well, that’s all very interesting.