Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Rex & Kathleen Swan
Interviewer: Jo David
Interview date: 17/06/2016
Jo: Welcome to the Dapto Oral History Project. Today we are talking with Rex and Kathleen Swan. Rex was born in South Hurstville on the 21st of March 1936. And you came to Dapto – what year Rex?
Rex: I would imagine it was about would have been… say 5 and 2, 7, 7, 36, 40, 1. 1941.
Jo: Tell us about your first few years,
Rex: I was diagnosed with Polio at the age of nineteen months, and they put me into a triple Children’s Hospital in Sydney where I spent about 5 years. I can remember, early memories of that place are Queen Mary all planted grey, taking troops away. And I think we may have been there, there when the submarines came in, because I can remember being under the building, with blue light globes, and after that they transferred us all to Molong to a hospital at Molong.
Jo: Oh ok… And you remember that?
Rex: I remember that.
Jo: Coming to Dapto, when your family brought you home?
Rex: No, I don’t remember just coming to Dapto, I don’t remember that. I can remember living in the house in Hamilton Street. My Dad bought a milk run here in 1938, and those were the days when there was no refrigerators so they milked the cows in the morning, and delivered the milk in the morning, and milk cows again and delivered again in the afternoon, because the milk wouldn’t keep.
Jo: Ok, no refrigerators.
Rex: Twice a day. 7 days a week.
Jo: So, your father was pretty busy?
Rex: Yes, he was a milk vendor here for forty odd years.
Jo: And did most of his milk come from the local dairy farms?
Rex: He started… no, they had a, their own farm. An uncle had a farm, and he was the brother of my dad, so he had the farm. It was up at the top of Dapto, near where The Little Shop, the first shop you come into from Kiama and Dapto there on the right coming to Dapto. He had a farm there. But later on, the dairy farmers said the milk had to be pasteurized. But so, then he had to get milk from the dairy farmers. And they would bring the milk out on a truck… about two o’clock in the morning. And leave ten-gallon cans at the back of our house. On a milk stand. And we had two horses, two carts, two stables…
Rex: Feed shed and a washer dairy. And Dad and my brother… had a horse and cart each and delivered the milk once a day.
Jo: Wow, that’s amazing… OK, Rex, did you have any siblings?
Rex: Yes, we had um… you mean family? My family? I had an older brother, and a younger sister. And older brother, Fred, and a younger sister, Colleen.
Jo: Ok, and you say you lived in Hamilton Street?
Rex: Our first house was Hamilton Street. My dad rented a house on the old Princes Highway here, which he eventually bought. And then he eventually bought the one next door. But it was sort of, there were four blocks that went right through. And I’ve lived in three of the four blocks. Actually, yeah three of the four blocks.
Jo: Over all those years, hey?
Rex: Over all those years, yes. We got married in 1958 and we lived in the garage behind Mum and Dad’s place, three and a half years while we saved money to buy a home.
Jo: So… how about near, during your childhood Rex, what did you do for enjoyment?
Rex: Enjoyment… we were all kids that played with sort of… guns! And we were all shooting at one another. You know, we had cricket in the backyard, and things like that but being a milk vendor… I couldn’t come home from school making a noise, because he would be in bed.
Jo: Oh okay.
Rex: So, I … you generally wandered off somewhere and ah [laughs] as long as I was home before a certain time, I wasn’t in trouble!
Jo: Where were some of the places you wondered off to, Rex?
Rex: Well I played with mates. You know, kids. There were kids everywhere in those days… and uh, I can remember playing in the yard where the TAFE is now. That was the original Dapto School was, in that place in that yard there. And um, I used to play with… oh, there was a couple of boys and a couple of girls there. And I used to play with one of the girls a bit [laughs] but all innocent! There was nothing…
Jo: Oh, I’m sure it was.
Rex: And besides those, there was another family which I spent a lot of time with, when I think about it. A lot of time, yeah… There were all paddocks, all paddocks opposite us. They were all paddocks Yes… 2000 homes in Dapto! When we came… 2000 people, rather.
Jo: You’ve seen a lot of changes over the years.
Rex: I’ve seen it all happen – the great urban sprawl, that’s what it’s called.
Jo: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so Kathleen you were born in Wollongong, weren’t you?
Jo: And where did you live as a child?
Kathleen: At Wongawilli. I had um, and older sister that was uh… and three brothers
Jo: Good sized family! And what did your parents do? What did your father do?
Kathleen: He worked at the mines as a hostler with horses.
Jo: Oh! And does a hostler, or what did a hostler do?
Kathleen: Oh, just cared for the horses and took them up the mine and brought them back again.
Jo: So, you grew up with horses?
Jo: Spent a lot of time on them? [Kathleen laughs]
Kathleen: Only our own horses, he wouldn’t let us ride the big horses from the mine! No, we just had our. Oh yes, yes, she was good… Jessie her name was!
Kathleen: We used to do all stupid things on her… As if we were in a circus! Riding backwards, standing… all those sorts of things.
Jo: And she let you?
Kathleen: Oh yes.
Jo: She must have been a special horse. That’s lovely. So, you went to school
Kathleen: Oh yes. Yes, I went to school…
Jo: Was it a nice little school?
Kathleen: Oh yes, yes. We had lots of fun, really… It was… pretty quiet.
Jo: So, when did you… when and how did you two meet?
Kathleen: Um, when I started working at the paper shop. I guess?
Jo: And when did you start working at the paper shop, Kathleen?
Kathleen: When I was 16. Down in Bong Bong Road, just um, up from the old post office.
Jo: And you used to go in there, did you Rex?
Kathleen: Yes! [laughs]
Rex: We had a… that was a very big store, and I think half the people in Dapto worked there over the years. But uh… When it came to morning teatime, I used to a take a big billy can down, and Kath’s boss, who was also a Swan, they would boil the jug and fill up our billy can with hot water for tea. So, I spied this beauty there and it was love at first sight as far as I was concerned. It was that quick! [Rex laughs]
Jo: How long did it take for Kathleen to get on board with this?
Rex: Oh well, we courted we courted from 16… we courted from 16… we courted for about, we were engaged two years? We courted when she was 16, and we got married and um… she turned 21 two weeks after we got back from our honeymoon.
Jo: Ah okay. And when you say you courted… what did that include in Dapto, back in those days?
Rex: Uh, we had permanent bookings at the Regal picture theatre. We went Wednesday and Saturday night. That was the highlight of the week.
Jo: The week, yeah.
Rex: Oh, and we used to go for drives. Didn’t we?
Kathleen: Yeah… bus trips with the hockey.
Rex: I didn’t have a car, my dad let me drive his car. I was very lucky there! Didn’t have to buy a car.
Kathleen: Yeah, used to get to the pictures on my bike.
Rex: Yes! Kath’s, because… those were the days when the picture theatre started in Dapto and Wollongong at the same time and lot of people went to the picture theatres in Wollongong. So, a bus came in from Wongawilli, Kath was on that, and she would get off at our home up on the highway here. And then the bus would go on into Wollongong for the pictures there, but it would be too early for the Dapto pictures, because it’s got to take the people in there. So, I would double her on the bar of the pushbike down the highway here and leave the bike behind Fairley’s shop here.
Jo: While you were at the pictures?
Rex: While we were at the pictures, yeah. And when I came when the pictures were over, we would walk up, and Kath would catch the bus from the front of Fairley’s out to Wongawilli. And we could cuddle on the front doorstep of Fairley’s shop! [laughs]
Jo: I can just imagine you, um with her on the handlebars.
Rex: Yes! Well it was a nice, long, straight run down there. No hills, I couldn’t have pushed the bike… I only pushed with one foot; you see. There were rows of two in the theatre and we just had two seats.
Jo: Oh okay, yeah very nice.
Kathleen: It was very nice, nobody else there.
Rex: Run of twos down to the aisle, then two across the middle. And then… eight I think on the other side it was just that little row of twos.
Jo: Okay, now I want to talk about your jobs for a little bit, and what it was like working at Fairley’s and at the Newsagents back then. So, how did they deliver, Kathleen? Did they have a car or…?
Kathleen: They did Dad used to start at three in the morning and roll the papers, and things like that I never got involved in that. I started at eight o’clock, I think. Yes, they had a car and… Peter used to deliver them.
Jo: Okay, and was it busy?
Rex: It was very busy!
Kathleen: We had a lot of farmers that used to come in.
Jo: Oh okay, yeah. Because you were next to the post office, weren’t you?
Jo: So, a lot of people probably would have popped in?
Rex: All the farmers came into the milk factory twice a day. Then that come up to town… Often had to go to the post office for something, and the paper shop for something… And into Fairley’s. Those were the days when everybody bought their groceries at Fairley’s. It was the only grocery shop, virtually, in the town. Hardware, groceries… drapery…
Kathleen: Sewing. [laughs]
Rex: Menswear, everything.
Jo: So, what were you there?
Rex: I worked in the menswear.
Jo: Worked in menswear, okay. How long did you work there?
Rex: Ten years. I did go to another menswear shop in Dapto on the highway for… two years. And then I went into more or less Lambert Motors then for 16 years.
Jo: In at Wollongong?
Rex: Selling new Volkswagens, ramblers, rovers, you know Fiats…
Jo: And, so, how did you get into work at Wollongong? Did you drive? Or did you get bus? Or train?
Rex: I went in, in the bus for a little while, and then they gave me a car, and I had a car, for ever, for 16 years I had my own demonstrators all the time.
Jo: Yep, yep, so you were a commuter?
Rex: Yes, their car, you took it away on holidays, everything was lovely. You might have three or four new ones a year, and just keep selling your demo and getting another one.
Jo: Okay, I do want to ask whether either of you went to the Marshall Mount dances?
Kathleen: I didn’t, no.
Rex: I couldn’t dance. I went to the dances all the time in the agricultural hall that was here.
Jo: Oh okay.
Rex: And I loved the dances. I didn’t dance, but I loved to go and hear the music, and see everybody having fun. It was beaut.
Jo: Oh okay, okay, and how often did they hold these dances?
Rex: I can’t remember, I really can’t.
Jo: Yeah. But a lot of people would go to them, would they? Were they well attended?
Rex: Oh, they were well attended! Oh goodness yes! They were popular.
Jo: It was obviously one of the big attractions, one of the big entertainments.
Rex: Mmm. But the Marshall Mount Merrymakers, who I knew most of… the band, ah. I can only remember going out there once, and it’s too vague to remember. [laughs]
Jo: Okay, fair enough.
Kathleen: It was pretty popular.
Rex: Oh goodness yes! Everybody learned to dance out there, I think.
Jo: I think it’s still going.
Rex: Oh, it’s still going on?
Jo: Amazing, isn’t it?
Kathleen: Isn’t it, yes gosh.
Jo: So, Kathleen, how about you? Other than the horse riding, what else did you get up to as a child for entertainment, around Wongawilli? Take some treks, didn’t you? Where did you used to go?
Kathleen: Mmm, we just um, used to just all meet and play around the [laughs] the hill.
Jo: Yeah, yeah, you use to…
Jo: Go off into the hills an’ yeah, yeah?
Kathleen: Yes just, yes… just, just normal playing every day.
Jo: Yeah, yeah, just enjoying the, the um freedom.
Kathleen: Yes, well we weren’t worried about like they are today. We just, went everywhere and anywhere.
Jo: Had it all to yourself, yeah. Do either of you remember any, um, extreme weather, um, times in Dapto? While you were growing up? Whether it be, ah, bush fires, or floods or?
Kathleen: There was one bush fire I remember up the mountain, burned my uncle’s home out.
Kathleen: Hmm, He was on the side of the mountain.
Jo: Do you remember what year that was?
Kathleen: But um, all they got out of it was a sewing machine which they gave to my mother.
Jo: Oh, really?
Rex: The house was burned down.
Kathleen: Yes, the house was burned down.
Jo: You don’t remember what year that was?
Kathleen: No… I mean, I was very young. But I can’t remember.
Rex: Heavy rains came in late… I can remember a neighbour of ours going up and down Burringbar Street in his speedboat getting people out of their homes in Burringbar Street.
Rex: The water would come up to the railway gates, the gates aren’t there now, but the railway, up to the railway station. And that was all area was flooded there. Mullet Creek was sort of came up to the railway gates. But uh… no, we’ve seen very bad, heavy rains, but that’s about as bad as it got.
Jo: Yeah, yeah.
Kathleen: And Kembla Grange, it used to get flooded.
Rex: Kembla Grange, yes, it got flooded.
Kathleen: It still gets flooded [laughs]
Jo: Yeah, yeah, and that can, that can, actually isolate Dapto if that happens too, can’t it? Like it’s a bit hard.
Jo: Get through.
Kathleen: Yes. So, remember when my sister got married, we had to drive through Kembla Grange and the water came through the car,
Kathleen: as we were going into town to the wedding.
Jo: Oh, that’s a bit scary!
Kathleen: [Laughter] Yes! All the bottom of our wedding outfits got wet! [laughs]
Jo: Oh dear! Where did you two get married?
Rex: Well, apparently, somebody told me, that the little church beside the big church is the original church. And the first baby baptised in that church was a Swan.
Jo: Oh really!
Rex: One of our fore barriers. Yeah.
Jo: So, your Swan, your family has been in this area for quite a few years?
Rex: Yes, they came out of good convict stock! [laughs]
Jo: Oh… okay.
Rex: And after, after the original one, James I think, did his time, he was granted land up the end of Bong… well, one book says near in, where the area of the Dapto Railway station was, it wouldn’t have been there then original, the town of Dapto was mainly at Brownsville.
Jo: Okay yeah of course.
Rex: But, uh he was granted land there, either there, or out at the end of Bong Bong Road I always thought it was, but the book says Brownsville, Dapto railway station area. And he brought his family out from England then, he had a wife and a couple of kids. And then they, they multiplied and went on from there.
Jo: So, is this why your family ended up coming down from Sydney? Because there was family here? You know.
Rex: Yes, we had family here. Um, we had relatives here.
Jo: That’s why they settled in Dapto; do you think? Or yeah.
Rex: Yes, yes. Well, yes, Mum my father’s mother and that, ah, she had family here too.
Jo: So, how about your family Kathleen? Have they lived in Wongawilli for a long time?
Kathleen: Yes, my dad lived in Brownsville for years. He had another wife that died when she was very young… she died of cancer, and then he married mum. In 1927 or something like that? Mmm and then they just lived at Wongawilli.
Jo: Wongawilli yeah, okay, so they they’ve been around. Your family has been here quite a while too then, yeah in the early days?
Kathleen: Yes, my Dad, well he worked on farms and things around here, I don’t think he ever went to school. He couldn’t read or write.
Jo: Really? Wow.
Kathleen: No, so he just worked since he was a kid, I think.
Jo: Yeah, yeah, yeah and managed, managed for the whole family back in them. That’s amazing isn’t it yeah? [Chuckles] Ah very good. Okay well, I want to thank you both for coming in and sharing those memories with us, they’re just wonderful. Thank you very much.