Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Pamela Towers (Part 1 of 3)
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview Date: 15 April 2016
Jo Welcome to the Dapto Oral History project. Today we are talking to Pamela Towers nee Bain, of Wongawilli, born on March 4th, 1938 at Wollongong. Welcome Pam, and thank you for coming in today to talk to us.
Pamela That’s ok, happy to be here.
Jo Lovely. Firstly, can you give us your mother and father’s name please?
Pamela My mother was Mary Magdalene Gorman and my father was Andrew Robertson Bain.
Jo Right, and they’re from Wongawilli too aren’t they? They grew up in Wongawilli?
Pamela No, Dad grew up in Wongawilli. Mum grew up in Dapto, she was born in Bega.
Jo Ok, ok. But you were, you grew up in Wongawilli, didn’t you Pam?
Pamela I grew up in Wongawilli.
Jo Yeah, ok. Can you give us an idea of what it was like. Some of your first memories of Wongawilli, what would they be? What are the earliest ones you can remember?
Pamela Until I, when Mum and Dad were married they didn’t have any money, they went to live with my grandparents in a little 4 room cottage on Wongawilli, Number 20 Wongawilli Road. When I say 4 rooms, it was virtually I suppose 3 bedrooms by that time with a front room, kitchen and bathroom-cum-laundry. My first memories are of, ah, well one is, my grandfather kept bees. And I can remember, ah, I spent a lot of time with him down in the garage, where he would, with ah, a particular knife, it was a long, ah, bone handled, very old bone handled knife, and we would slice the excess wax off the outside of the frames before they went into the extractor, which he and Dad had made and used to turn it with a handle, um, to get the honey out. And Dad, Pop, used to sell the honey by – in tins which were very much like kerosene tins, to Fairley’s over here, who then decanted it into bottles for their customers.
Jo Ok. So Fairley’s, that was the shop in Dapto, wasn’t it?
Pamela Yes. I, my father – my grandfather had a temper, but it was short term. I can remember annoying him and, ah, I ran away, down around the corner. He chased me and I went over the bridge. He stopped the other side, called me back to see a rabbit, and his anger was gone. And I used to go into his and Granny’s bedroom of a morning, and he would bounce me up on his tummy, and supposedly giving me horse rides. So, yes, um, I spent the first 5 years there. Mum used to grow, I can remember she had gaillardias growing down in the backyard, and granny had the million geraniums along the side of the house. Mrs Noble lived next door. I used to go while she was gardening and she’d give me bits and pieces to bring home to Mum. She kept me supplied with tennis balls, and she gave me a necklace which I still have. It is broken, but I still have it. Her son, Kenny, was much older than me, but he used to make very big aeroplanes out of balsa wood. And he had them on the top of his wardrobe in the things. And all the boys in Wongawilli at that stage used to make canoes, often out of corrugated iron.
Pamela And they used them over on the dam, over the back of the railway line. I know that there’s at least one, ah, sunk there. There’s probably all of them sunk there. Um, so they, they were virtually the early days. When I was 5, Dad had purchased – do you want to know how he come to purchase the block of land?
Pamela Ok. In 1936, the, where my grandparents home was, was company land. They owned their houses, they didn’t own the land. When they went there they fenced in what they wanted. In 1936, the company, um, gazetted the estate, I suppose you’d say, down, down the edge of Wongawilli Road. When they did drew up the plan, they just made the blocks around the size blocks that other people had fenced in. My grandfather had only fenced in 45 feet, so that block of land’s only 45 feet, others are bigger. And by that time there was company houses there which were 65.
Jo Oh wow.
Pamela So all the blocks in Wongawilli are a different size. But anyway, Number 23 was vacant. And Mr Chandler, the next door neighbour, said to Dad, “Andy, why don’t you buy that block of land?” And Dad said, “Oh, I haven’t got the money to buy that block of land.” But he thought about it. So he went up to the office at the pit. Mr ?Ordrain?, he was a Frenchman, I knew him, um, was the company secretary, and Dad said, “How, how much is that block of land down the road?” and he said, “Oh,” he said, “How big is it?” and Dad said, “It says on the tape 50 feet.” It’s not, its 55. Um, and he said, “Well that’ll cost you £25. It’s a pound, pound a foot.” No that wouldn’t be right, 10 shillings a foot – no that wouldn’t be right, that doesn’t equate, but anyway it was £25. And ah he said, “Why are you going to buy it Andy?”, and Dad said, “Oh, look I haven’t got the money to buy that.” And he said, “Have you got 10 shillings?” Dad said “Yeah, I’ve got 10 shillings.” He said, “Well you go down to your place and get 10 shillings, bring it back to me and I’ll give you a receipt for 10 shillings, and I will take 10 shillings out of your salary each week until you’ve paid for it.” So that’s how we bought the block of land. And then when, when it was paid off, he, Mr Ordrain said to Dad, “Dad, what are you going to do about the, um, deeds?”
And Dad said, “Oh, well what do you mean?” And he said, “Well you can go and get them or the company can get them.” He said, “There is a fee.” He said, “If you go and get them you’ll have to pay for it. If the company gets them,” he said, “It might take 12 months but it won’t cost you anything.” And Dad said, “Well you can get them.” [laughter] So that’s how they got the block of land. Well then Dad, Dad didn’t believe in debt – he had no money. So, um, he and Mum went into the co-op in Wollongong that used to be where the cinemas are in Wollongong now. That was the co-op. And he opened an account there and he bought £25 pound worth of building materials, I think it was, yeah £25, wood, timber, that sort of thing. Brought it home, and he was only going to build 2 rooms, but in the end he built 4 with, and the bathroom and to built the frame up. It was during the War, materials were scarce, couldn’t get iron. So he went up to Grace Brothers in Sydney, and he went, said to the fellow – chap said, “Can you help me?” And Dad said, “Oh, I don’t know,” He said, “Look I want some corrugated iron for roofing iron.” And he said, um, “How much do you want?” And Dad said, “Oh, I only want enough to put on a small cottage.” He said, “Oh, we can to help you with that.” He said, “Do you want the galvanised, do you want something-or-other, the better one?” And Dad said, “No I can’t afford that, so galvanised.” “Ok that’s fine. Do you want downpipe?” “Yes.” “Do you need – are you going to screw it or, or nail it?” and Dad said “Screw it”, he said, “Screws – how many?” So they worked it out how many screws you put in a sheet of iron. And Julie that was what he was getting. So he said, “Well how are you gonna get this?” And Dad said, “Well look, can you put it on the train?” And he said, “Oh that’s not real good.” He said, “Where do you live?” And he said, “Dapto.” And he said, “Oh, we got a truck goes down there every week.” He said, “We can send it down. Where can we leave it because we cannot leave – the truck cannot leave the highway.” So down here on the highway was the garage, Poole’s garage. So Dad said, “Well can you leave it at Poole’s garage?” “Yes, that’ll be fine.” That was the arrangement. Anyway a couple of weeks later, a few weeks later, Dad was in conversation with another man, and he said, “Andy do you know anything about all that iron that’s lying behind Poole’s garage?” Dad nearly had a fit! He raced out to Dapto – because it was very scarce and everybody wanted it. And he raced out to Dapto, and he said, sure enough here it was, against the fence in Poole’s yard down there, was all his iron, every screw, everything was all lying there.
Jo Oh, wow.
Pamela So he borrowed a ute and took it home. And, um, he had nowhere to store it, so we had it sort of underneath the foundations, but there were no floorboards, but everybody going past could, could see it. And one fellow at the pit said to him, “Andy you got all that iron down there, do you want to sell it?” And Dad said, “No way, I don’t want to sell that. That’s to go on my roof of my house.” And, but he said. “Look it was visible and nobody ever thieved it”.
Jo Oh, isn’t that amazing?
Pamela He was always amazed that nobody took it…
Pamela Took it when it was lying down there…
Jo Even though it was that scarce, and probably quite expensive.
Pamela Yeah, and then he tells the story about putting that iron onto the roof, in a howling westerly wind, in the dark. With a lead and a small light which he plugged into the electricity at the place next door, which was um, a company home which my uncle lived in, his sister lived in. And he was up on that roof putting big sheets of iron, screwing it all down, on his own.
Jo So did he build the house on his own, did he?
Pamela Oh yes.
Jo How long did it take him, do you know?
Pamela All his life.
Jo He never stopped.
Pamela Well Dad didn’t believe in debt. So you didn’t borrow unless you absolutely had to, you didn’t borrow money.
Jo And he just added as he could, did he?
Pamela As he got money and each of my sisters we can relate things in the house to when we got married because every time one of us got married there was a mad rush of trying to do something in the house. And my sister today she is still quite annoyed, ah, and talks about it, how she – my sister was a nurse, and she was the first nurse and started the Blue Nursing service out at Port Kembla, out of Port Kembla. So, in a way she was a little bit high profile, if you know what I mean, not real big, but a little bit. So on her wedding day, The Mercury came out to take photos. And here’s Fran – we had no front step! I suppose the, the house was about that far off the ground and there was no front step. But the piers were poking out, and here’s Fran in her wedding dress trying to get down that step with one foot on the pier to get on the ground, The Mercury taking photos – oh! [laughter] That’s what she always says, “Can you believe Dad never put any steps!”
Jo So you just stepped up from the ground?
Pamela Well you stepped onto the pier, the edge, the pier was about that much. You stepped onto the pier and then you stepped into the house.
Jo Wouldn’t have worried you kids at all, while you were young I’m sure [laughter].
Pamela Yeah, so…
Jo Ah, that’s fantastic.
Pamela They’re just a, a couple of little stories about the house. But, um, over…
Jo So is the house still there?
Pamela Oh yes, yes. Yes. Mum died in 2005, we sold in 2006, and it has recently been sold again. And I’m quite pleased about it, because the new people seem to be, the people we sold to destroyed Mum’s garden which was really good and had lots and lots of things in it and, um, they erected bits and pieces that were all shoddy, nothing was done properly. But the new people are – have moved in they’re a young family and he’s doing a lot of work down there. The house is fibro and fibro lined, so the last people they did clad the outside, which is fine. Fibro’s OK as long as you don’t disturb it. And they cladded the outside but it was still lined with fibro inside, and therefore the fibro ceilings used to get mould and that was about condensation from the metal roof coming down onto the fibro. And Mum and Dad always kept that pristine, but when it went up for sale again, ah my sister and I went down, we nearly had a fit. I don’t know how other people bought it, because you walked in and the mould on the ceilings was absolutely dreadful. The whole house was dreadful. We wished we hadn’t gone. But the new people, I had a very short conversation with him recently which was interrupted unfortunately, and he had someone come in and professionally take out a lot of that fibro. And he’s taking down walls and changing it and, so I’m really pleased that someone’s in there and they’re going to make a really nice home out of it.
Jo Absolutely. So what did your father do for occupation?
Pamela Dad was a carpenter joiner at the pit.
Jo Oh, ok. So he knew what he was doing.
Pamela And an outside foreman. He served his apprenticeship up there. He used to ride – when they came to Wongawilli in 1927, he was at high school, so he used to ride his bike into Wollongong High School, and then when he became an apprentice, after he finished work at the pit, he used to ride his bike into the Tech at West Wollongong and then ride home again. He had an old carbide lamp on his pushbike to see, coming home. During – when they had strikes at the pit – um, in those days if you were an apprentice, they still had to keep you employed, so he would have to go out to Port Kembla and work for the duration of the strike. And when the strike was over he would come back to Wongawilli.
Jo How would he get out there?
Jo Pushbike again. Wow.
Pamela So yeah, I can remember when I was young, Pop had an old 35 Hillman car, but I can remember the sulky still being in the shed.
Jo Oh, really?
Pamela Um, and, um, as I say in this, that, um, everyone had to be self-sufficient. You didn’t really have the means to, to get out. By that time we had a car, but before that, um… when I was young, before… Yeah really, we had gardens. Pop had a garden and Dad started a garden – the vegetables. Dad had walnut trees, almond trees, every citrus was available. We had pears, we had red, yellow, green plums. We had white Shanghai peaches and Alberta yellow, Alberta peaches. He – we had black and white grapes. Um, he grew peanuts which were roasted in the fuel stove.
All those things. We had chooks of course, ah, which were eggs on the Sunday roast, and I can remember even Mum chopped their heads off. Um and then of course they went into a bucket of hot water to loosen the feathers, and I can remember plucking the chooks, but I couldn’t come cleaning. Mum did, but I couldn’t. Um, so yeah, and when it was only my sister and I, Dad on a Sunday would put the mattock over one shoulder and the gun over the other shoulder and we’d walk all the way up the Ambulance track to the pit and across to – up to? Streedy’s? Garden, what was known as Streedy’s Garden. And Dad would dig out rabbits and shoot the rabbits, and of course rabbit was an alternative to chicken for roast dinner.
Jo Oh, ok. What about produce that your, your father grew. Did you sell, did he sell that, or was that just for yourselves, and family?
Pamela No, just family. Just for ourselves, yes.
Jo Ah, ok… healthy eating.
Pamela Yes, it really was, you know. Oh and the milk, we got the milk down at the farm, and um my sister and I had pushbikes. The pushbikes weren’t new. But Dad being who he was, Dad could do anything, and the pushbikes were pre-loved. They were painted, pulled down, renovated, painted even to the, to the lining, the squiggle lining on them, and the transfers and with, with different brands on them. Each of us had a different brand bike, and we got those for Christmas. But we had to have a billy of water and ride round and round the yard to make sure we couldn’t, we didn’t spill the billy of water and then we were allowed, and we had to go every day to pick the milk up down at the…
Jo So you had to practice first before you were allowed to go and get the milk?
Pamela Yes – down at the farm.
Jo That’s great.
Pamela So, and Mum used – had – it always had thick cream on it. She would scrape most of the cream off and that’s what we had with our, our sweets. Um…
Jo So what was the name of that dairy farm, do you remember?
Pamela Oh, gosh I do know.
Jo Yeah. Because there were some local dairy farms.
Pamela When we were there Whites had the farm. But when Dad and Mum went to -when Dad went to Wongawilli, when the family went to Wongawilli, Duncan’s were on the farm. And you may have heard about old little Mrs Duncan from Dapto, and very involved in the Red Cross – marvellous lady. Well that was where they lived. I can find – I can find out the name of the farm, I just can’t think. It had several owners in the meantime – oh no, the Whites, and then it had 2 or 3 – several after it. I used to go – they had 3, the White’s had 3 daughters – jeez I’m rambling now. Um, they had 3 daughters, um, Lurleen was the youngest, a little bit older than me. But my next – the girl next door and I, we used to go down there. And she had on the end of the old farmhouse which is still there – there was a long room which was the cubby house. We used to play there. Ah, and in the feed sheds and all that sort of thing we used to mix up bran and pollen and try and feed it to our dolls. And Lurleen had a, a, um, [tapping noise]. I’m thinking miniature, but it’s not miniature – horse.
Jo Oh yes, a Shetland pony.
Pamela Shetland pony.
Pamela And, ah, we used to load the slide – you know what a slide is? Well a slide is a, is a wooden platform that has metal pieces go under it, just like a ski underneath it. And farmers used to, um, put feed and that on them and then it would be dragged by a tractor, or horse in those days, around the paddocks. Well we would put our dolls and prams and everything on the slide, and we would hook Jimmy Governor up to the slide and then the poor animal had to drag us all around the paddocks.
Jo So Jimmy Governor was the horse?
Pamela The horse.