Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Roma Bates
Interviewer: Sue Boaden
Interview Date: 10 July 2014
Sue So this is an interview with Roma Bates as part of the Austinmer Project. The interview took place at Roma and Jim’s home in Austinmer on Thursday the 10th of July 2014, and the interview was conducted by Sue Boaden. And Roma, I’m going to ask you to give me your full name.
Roma Roma Beatrice Catherine Bates, nee Humphris.
Sue Ok, so that gives us, that, before we jump to your mother’s full name, let’s get your date and place of birth.
Roma 19th of the 12th, 1936 Wodonga Victoria.
Sue And what was your mother’s full name?
Roma Phyllis Isabel Humphris.
Sue How do you spell Humphris?
Sue And what about your father’s full name?
Roma Walter John Humphris.
Sue Right. And so we’re focusing on Austinmer for this interview, and you’re following on from your husband Jim who’s um, who we’ve just talked to and so let’s um pick up on your courtship probably, you met Jim and then because his family lived here, you might want to tell a story.
Roma Well, we met in 1956, late ’56 and Jim brought me up here in ’57 to meet his parents. um and I just, then we were married in 1958. So I had been up here twice before I was married.
Sue And where was up here, where were you coming from?
Roma I was coming from Wodonga in Victoria.
Sue Oh right, so you still, you were born there?
Sue And you stayed there? Ok
Roma Yes, yes.
Sue So that’s a big adventure to come from Wodonga to little Austinmer. How did you do that?
Roma Uh well, Jim made arrangements, I didn’t even know where Austinmer was or what it was or anything and he made arrangements for me to come on the Greyhound bus, I think it was and uh he met me. He was in Duntroon at the time with his Army career and he met me at, supposed to meet me at Goulburn but he couldn’t wait, so came as far as Yass to meet me [laughs] and drove from Yass up to here, to meet his parents.
Sue So you came over the, from over the Highlands and down Bulli Pass or?
Roma Yes, yes we came down that way, yes, yeah.
Sue And so then what are your recollections of that first you know, view of the, this Austinmer and the Illawarra coast?
Roma Well I’d only ever seen the ocean once before at Portsea, when I was nine years old. And when we came down over that cliff, I nearly died, I couldn’t, I was so frightened of it because it was something I’d never been through before. But looking down over that was just amazing to me, I’ve never seen anything like it and still don’t. Every day you see something different.
Sue And so then you came to this, well it’s not this house, but this spot.
Sue In Boyce Avenue?
Sue And um, and met your new in-laws to be.
Sue So tell us about your perceptions of you know, the neighbourhood and the streets and arri-, can you remember?
Roma I do remember and, and it seemed quite quaint in a way to me and being on ah, where I lived it was quite flat, you know. We had a few hills outside the town, but this is all on hilly things and the houses were old fashioned and, and wonderful. I just loved it. There was, I can only remember one, two, about seven houses, I suppose that’s all I can remember there may have been more.
Sue In Boyce Avenue?
Roma In Boyce Avenue, yes. I remember the house next door it was black, or you know stained that really dark browny, black colour belonged to the Allen’s. I remember that house very much and I remember Cahill’s house across the road there, it was just so beautiful. Two storey looking out over the ocean. It was just to me beautiful, but really old fashioned.
Roma And an old house
Sue And timber.
Roma And timber, yes, they were all timber, the house on the corner there, I remember that was a very old place too,
Sue On the corner of Wigram Road?
Roma Yes and ah the trees, and you know, it was just beautiful. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
Sue So you continued to visit over the years, although you didn’t actually have your married life mainly here, you had it in, where were you?
Roma Well, when we were first married, we went to Duntroon and we were there for ‘til our third daughter was born, which was 1964. From ’58 to ’64, we actually started out in Queanbeyan living with a lady and then we got a house in Duntroon. And we lived there ah, I can’t even remember when we moved from there. It’s gone out of my head for a minute, I’ll remember, but we moved from there, to, up to Holsworthy area. Holsworthy and Ingleburn area we were for quite a few years, then we went from there to New Guinea for three years and then came, came back to can’t remember. And we came back and we lived in Leumeah in Campbelltown for quite a few years after Jim left the army. Then when his mum died, we rebuilt the house and came down here to live which is around 20 years ago.
Sue Mm, so in the 90’s.
Sue Late 90’s.
Roma Yes, yes.
Sue So, but in that time even though you might have been in New Guinea etcetera, you had four daughters.
Sue Five daughters, and this was visiting their grandparents?
Sue And so they’d be coming backwards and forwards, you were seeing changes in Austinmer, at that time?
Roma Oh yes, I remember, when I first came here, Jim took me down to Thirroul in 1957, ’58. Took me down to Thirroul and I saw my first television set in the window down at, I think it was Waters or-
Sue Oh yes, the hardware store.
Roma The hardware store in Thirroul. I can remember that, that was something and ah there were still some shops open in Moore Street when I first came here. I remember the butcher shop clearly, because I went there with his mum, and I can remember the paper shop on the main road.
Sue Which butcher shop? Do you remember the butcher shop, which is where the cafe is now or the butcher shop across the road and up the street a bit?
Roma No, the one where the cafe is now. I remember that one yes, and then I also remember that on the corner, but this might have been later years, on the corner in Austinmer, where the lights are now, there was a chemist there. No I can’t remember.
Sue Grew’s. Grews chemist.
Roma But that’s a few years later, isn’t it?
Sue Grew’s chemist.
Roma Yes, Grew’s, that’s right. Um, what else do I remember? And I do remember Jim was talking about the sand coming in underneath and being able to go in, it was still there when I first came here, but by the time we sort of came back from say New Guinea, it was all filled in like that.
Sue Mm, so the big drop from the footpath on the promenade?
Sue Down to the sand on the beach.
Roma Yes, would be higher than this table, yes, yes
Sue A big leap. Yes, that’s true. The beachscape has changed.
Roma Yes, that has.
Roma But the actual, the atmosphere hasn’t changed, no.
Sue Mm, what is that atmosphere?
Roma I don’t know. I don’t-.
Sue Can’t put your finger on it?
Roma No, don’t know what it is.
Sue Good because you’re lucky you came back to retire.
Roma I think it’s a feeling of ah peace, I think. It’s very peaceful, except when all the cars go past. But I mean it is you’ve got the mountains behind you, and the sea in front of you and you’re sort of living in this I don’t know, alcove, isn’t it? It’s really, it’s very unusual.
Sue Mm, it is. Um, so one of the things that Jim, I would ask Jim about particular events and he um recalled a murder.
Sue Which I wonder if you wanted to talk about that, ’cause that would be big event, I imagine. A tragedy.
Roma It was a tragedy. Um, our girls used to play with these children from, I think, three or four houses up. No, I can’t remember now, one, two, I think it’s either the fourth or fifth house down there, can’t remember. I don’t remember their names. But our girls used to play with these girls. There was two girls and a boy and a mum, and their father I believe was in jail, I, that’s just what I heard and the young lass was 15, our girls might have been a little bit younger than them, a couple of years. And ah, she went out somewhere with somebody in a car, I don’t know where it was and uh, she was found beside a waterway, it wasn’t here. It was somewhere this side of Wollongong, but she was found dead beside the waterways. She was only 15.
Sue What a tragedy.
Roma It was terrible for her mother and her siblings. It was just shocking
Sue It would terrible for any family, terrible for any town really, I mean because Austinmer really basically was pretty peaceful, although it has got a police station.
Roma Yes, it did have a- yes
Sue And still got one.
Roma Yeah, but you know that was there, and the, the RSL was a big thing when I first came here. That was quite, quite a big thing
Sue And was the RSL where it is now?
Roma The RSL is now the Anglican Church.
Sue Oh that’s right, that’s right, so the RSL was across the road from the shops.
Sue In Moore Street?
Sue And then when it stopped-
Sue You know, whatever, didn’t have enough oomph to keep going
Sue And then it became this Church of England.
Roma That’s right.
Roma And in the church, the one on the other side of the road-
Sue The original church?
Roma Which was the Methodist Church,
Sue Oh, the Methodist Church.
Roma Jim’s mum used to go to the Methodist Church. Elizabeth
Sue Betty Bates, oh ok. Um, and so have you joined associations and things since you came back? Is, are there other places where you get together, other than with your neighbours? There are associations in Austinmer, community groups?
Roma Well, we’re not really into things like that. Although we, we were part of the Bowling Club down here in Austinmer, for quite a long time and Jim’s involved with the RSL. I’m not really involved in Austinmer exactly, no, but I am involved with the Older Women’s Network which is sort of all over the place, but we, it’s at Corrimal where we are.
Sue Right, yeah, so you’re just part of the Illawarra-
Roma I am.
Sue Associations, yeah.
Roma Yes. No, not into anything specific here, no, no.
Sue Well, they’re, I think they’re there if you want to, but you don’t have, you know
Roma Yeah, yeah, well my interests are taken up in things outside Austinmer which I, I want to be in, so that’s the way it is, yes.
Sue When I was growing up the library was a book mobile, but there’s not a library in Austinmer.
Sue It’s in Thirroul.
Roma That’s right.
Sue So there’s lots of, you’re surrounded by services and not necessarily ones that are in Austinmer itself. So let’s go, so at the moment when you’re doing your, you know the daily routines, you’d go shopping in Thirroul or-
Sue ‘Cause you can’t shop in Austinmer really.
Roma No you can’t. It is mainly in Thirroul, yes, mainly in Thirroul.
Sue And do you have this perception, that you probably heard Jim and me talking about, the differences between the villages? They all seem to have a different feel.
Roma Oh yes
Sue In particular Thirroul and Coledale, just because they’re the ones on either side.
Sue Can you put your finger on what’s different? Is it the people, is it the businesses, is it, has it always been like that?
Roma I find um, now, Thirroul is a bit yuppie.
Sue People used to say that Austinmer was yuppie.
Roma Yeah, no, I don’t, I don’t think that. Austinmer has movement of a lot of people moving daily, but there basic. The basic movement is not there but, but the daily stuff is.
Sue Mm, so it’s fairly stable, relatively stable.
Roma I think its stable with a lot of movement. Yes, yeah, that’s what, that’s how I feel about it. Coledale, Coledale’s pretty much the same, I think. I think the, when the mining, uh, those mining houses and so on when they, when they started to build them and make them into more modern it certainly changed that atmosphere. That was an entirely different atmosphere then, yeah. But I don’t even though Austinmer has had rebuilding and things like that, it still hasn’t changed it much, we don’t have, we don’t have a lot of flats and stuff like that, but we may have shortly. I think there’s two big blocks that have been cleared down here and I think they, they will be flats I think.
Sue In North Austinmer or Austinmer?
Roma Just in-
Sue In Boyce Avenue. Oh, urban density has arrived.
Roma Think so.
Sue Oh, are you zoned urban density here on your corner?
Roma I really don’t know
Sue Oh interesting.
Roma I really don’t know. But I’m hoping that, I’m hoping that it won’t be, but there are, you know there’s those rumours that, they’re going to build three or four blo-, uh, what do they call the housing?
Sue Town houses.
Roma Town houses, there’s room there for them. What about, we’ll move on to urban development, what about the physical development? Jim talked about the, well I used to call it the swamp, but he called it a lagoon, he’s very, much more romantic. Gladstonbury Park, you remember that all being changed that-
Sue as a mother and children playing out in the open air?
Sue That would, is that changed the way your girls had holidays here etcetera?
Roma Yes, because they weren’t allowed to go down there to that creek unless there was adults with them, it was too dangerous and all there was between this property and the creek was a wire fence, like chicken wire fence. That’s all there was down the back. And I remember it used to scare me a bit and you could see these big eels in there. Oh, it’s awful [laughs]. Oh yeah, they were enormous
Sue Oh. Sudden storms and really rushing creeks.
Sue Because of the escarpment, I suppose.
Roma Yeah, I don’t remember the creek in full bore because you know, we weren’t here all the time. And anyway, if it was, the children wouldn’t have been allowed to go down there anyway, so that’s probably why. But then they put those big pipes in and started to make the park, a lovely park.
Sue Mm, it’s lovely.
Roma And Jim’s father and mother had a lot to do with helping to fix that park. Roxy, did the park. They called him Roxy, our kids loved him.
Sue Was he a gardener?
Roma He was a gard-, he was a landscape gardener, I think.
Roma Yes, and he um, those walls that he built there and things, well Jim’s father helped him with all that, ’cause he was retired then, you know.
Sue Yes. So talking about the unsafe creek, what about the beach as a mum with, with kids going down to the beach, did you think Austinmer Beach was a safe beach?
Sue Is that one of the pleasures of this, of Austinmer that-?
Roma I think it’s a family beach and it always has been a family beach. If the children didn’t like the rush of the water they could go into the little puddles and so on. Our children used to roam over those rocks and into the little puddles and they learned to swim in, in the little small areas, it was good and if you wanted to really swim, you could swim in the big pool, if you wanted to play around you swam in the next one. Our girls sort of grew from the puddles up to the-
Sue The rock pool and then the real pools.
Roma Yep, yep, they did.
Sue Yes, it does seem to-
Roma And Little Beach down here.
Sue Yes, did you use that?
Roma We used to use that all the time when the kids were little? Yes, yeah, and that’s I wouldn’t say that was a safe beach, safe as Austinmer beach, but it was a really good beach for the kids to learn about what was in the ocean and all that sort of thing, and, and people used to take their dogs down there and all that sort of stuff, still do.
Sue And then there’s a beach um that they’ve kind of, it’s not a beach, well, it’s a picnic area near Headlands, on the northern end.
Sue Which was a bit of a shack, shacks were along there-
Sue fishermen’s shacks, that looks as if that’s become quite a nice place-
Sue to be now too, do you go there?
Roma Well, we used to with the children,
Roma oh we would, we did with the grandchildren too, but I mean they’re beyond that now,
Sue Yes, that’s right.
Roma They go on their own now.
Sue But you had three choices, you know, you had a great choice
Roma Yes, yeah. And, and it was all family orientated, in my opinion. The only thing was, you know the toileting was a bit hard and then they put an old toilet up there and then they renewed the toilet now.
Sue Oh, ok.
Roma And yes, yes, it’s quite good.
Sue It does, does seem that Austinmer is a family place for the holidays, family holidays, guest houses and boarding houses
Roma And honeymooners.
Sue Yes and hotel with honeymooners and, and then people would come with their families and live here.
Roma That’s right.
Sue Yes and that’s really what you’ve done and over generations really.
Roma And I, I think that Austinmer is starting to have younger people in it now. There’s a lot of young families around Austinmer, now. Yeah.
Sue Well, it’s got a good school.
Roma Oh, wonderful school, absolutely. Yeah.
Sue And so that’s an attractive option, isn’t it? It’s interesting though, it’s only got, it hasn’t got a Catholic school, so that’s unusual ’cause the others – there’s one at Thirroul. But it has always had a good public system.
Sue Ok, what else do we need to talk about? What haven’t I asked you about that you wanted to say?
Roma Oh, I don’t, I don’t really know [laughs].
Sue I’m really interested in, the then, your ideas and memories of what it used to be like and what it’s like now. Really what you’re saying is that it hasn’t changed very much
Sue In, in the big things.
Roma In the overall things.
Sue But the spirit of the community and the spirit of the place has really been relatively untouched.
Roma Yes, and as Jim said that Grove, when I first came to the Grove, he walked me around that Grove, I was just absolutely astounded at the houses and the driveways in and all the beautiful trees and the bridge across the creek to drive your car across, all that to me was fantastic. Well, it’s sort of just taken for granted now and a lot of those homes now you can see them more, whereas before it was you know you had to look through the bushes. Sue A bit of a mystery.
Roma Mystery, yes.
Sue Bit of a mystery what happened there
Roma And there’s no mystery in that area now.
Roma Not the mystery that used to be there, yes.
Sue ‘Cause I think that might be one of the things that has changed and the lushness of the of the coastal land over 50 years or so has been reduced. It’s probably with development. Roma Yes.
Sue But it’s also that the waterways have changed coming over the escarpment
Roma That’s right.
Sue with the highway and the development just underneath.
Roma That’s right.
Sue So that lushness of palms and, and rainforests has reduced a bit.
Roma It has reduced a bit, the more you come up this way it seems to be ok, but going further towards Wollongong, yes. And it is development, I mean, they want to develop more and I’m thinking no, no, no, no, no, no. They shouldn’t be developing anymore up there, it’s too dangerous. Yeah, very dangerous up there.
Sue Ok, well Roma, I think we might have got to the end of our interview and I think I’ll um, I’ll listen to it and if we need to come back and talk a bit more, I’ll let you know.
Sue Thank you.
Roma Very good.
Sue Thank you very much.
Roma Thanks, Sue.