Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Sandy Brenchley
Interviewer: Darian Zam
Interview Date: 19 March 2009
Darian Okay, it’s our Open Day on the 19th of March 2009 and I’m here with, um, Sandy Brenchley. We’re at the, um, Corrimal Community Centre. We’re making a recording on her experiences with the Wollongong Town Hall. She’s brought in a couple of pieces of memorabilia. She’s been involved in quite a few things over the years. So what I have to do is just quickly run through and ask you those questions about your name. You don’t have to answer your date of birth.
Sandy Not a problem.
Darian Date of birth?
Sandy Date of birth, 12th of the 3rd, 1942.
Darian Okay and you were born in the local area?
Sandy In Parkes in New South Wales.
Darian In Parkes?
Sandy [My father was?] teaching out there.
Darian All right and so did you go to that school where your dad was teaching?
Sandy No, no, we came back to Sydney after that.
Sandy And I grew up on an orchard in Sydney, in the West Pennant Hills area. Went to Hornsby High.
Darian So you grew up, you were in Pennant, grew up in Pennant Hills essentially. So you weren’t, you didn’t have the unfortunate experience of having your mother as a teacher.
Sandy Oh, no. Did you?
Darian Like I did, yes.
Sandy Okay [laughter].
Darian On the odd day, sometimes it was good if you’re getting picked on, so… So your primary school in Pennant Hills.
Sandy Yes, school captain of Pennant Hills primary.
Darian About what years was that?
Sandy Ah, that was 1952. Yeah. And, um…
Darian So you went to from..
Sandy I went to Hornsby High then.
Darian And about what years was that?
Sandy ’53 to ’58. Trained as a teacher in Sydney Teachers’ College.
Darian Okay. That’s my next question is your career. Trained as a teacher at..?
Sandy Sydney Teachers’ College in the University.
Darian And then did you become a teacher after that?
Sandy Yes, my first appointment was Lake Illawarra South down here at,
Sandy near Windang.
Darian And what year was that that you started do you think?
Darian And did you remain a teacher for most of your career?
Sandy Yes I did.
Sandy In various fields.
Darian Have you retired now or not yet?
Sandy I have. Thank you for the compliment, yes, for, ah, seven years.
Darian Yeah, okay. You never know these days ‘cos people look so much younger. [Laughter]
Sandy These, but it’s at that first school that I was involved in the Eisteddfods, the children, primary Eisteddfods.
Darian Right, so tell me a little more about that. It was just coaching kids, or..?
Sandy I was a pianist of, um, not very brilliant calibre, but they were desperate, so I had to play for the Eisteddfod.
Sandy And I loved it. Fantastic. We, ah, we didn’t win any prizes, but it was a wonderful experience for the children.
Sandy And the Town Hall was such a beautiful venue to have it in. They were all so awestruck by this beautiful building, the little ones. Infants it was, I was on the infants Eisteddfod.
Darian Yeah. So piano playing, well they practiced and then I guess a dress rehearsal?
Sandy Oh yes.
Darian [laughter] And then you of course you attended the performances.
Darian So, and how many years do you think you did that for?
Darian Three years.
Sandy Then we over to Canada. We were teaching in Canada for a while, but, um, coming back to this area, we were allocated to the north then. My husband’s a teacher too. But we, you know, there were instances all through our teaching career where we would go to hear things in the Town Hall.
Sandy Um, we’re both strong Christians and they had lovely Christian, um, functions in the… Darian Right.
Sandy And um…
Darian That was the, oh, um, that was a particular organisation. Um, there was like a Christian League or something.
Sandy Yeah, yeah, yes. Um, [Will Harvest 2000?] happened in the Entertainment Centre by then, but before that when we had other Christian, ah, big gatherings where all the churches got together and that was in the Town Hall. The Town Hall was the venue of preference.
Darian So what kind of gatherings, where they sometimes fundraisers or fund-raising halls… or?
Sandy No, they were usually, um, evangelist type gatherings.
Darian Visiting evangelists?
Sandy Yeah, yeah.
Darian Right. Can you remember any famous ones that came down?
Billy Graham’s second visit was down here.
Darian Oh yeah, mmm.
Sandy Yes. But that was, that was, that was on, um, screen, it wasn’t a person.
Darian Oh right.
Sandy But people still flocked to see that.
Darian Was it pre-recorded or live?
Sandy Yes. No. ah, well, he wasn’t in Australia, so it had to have been pre-recorded.
Sandy Yeah. But that, those type of things where people come. And this Ray Thornley concert was, um, let me think, late ’70s, mid ’70s probably. I’m surprised the Town Hall doesn’t have a record book of all these archives.
Darian Well they actually do. They do, they have a, a bookings record…
Darian going back to like a long time.
Sandy Yes. When I booked for this Hall, I remember that they, you know, they used to… Darian Yeah, yeah. We’ve actually, yeah, we’ve interviewed the lady that was the bookings officer there for a long time, or two of them actually. And, um, the problem with it is, just in brief, is that the Council won’t let us look at it.
Sandy Aye yi, yi!
Sandy Where’s the logic in that?
Darian Um, it’s just privacy laws. They, we’re just not allowed to. They’re not allowed to disclose who booked the Hall and for what.
Sandy How odd.
Darian It is odd. But we’ve had the final word that there’s just no way we’re going to be able to look at it, so…
Sandy It’s all to do with litigation I suppose.
Darian Yeah, yeah.
Sandy People might get offended, or…
Darian Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on. I mean, I guess a lot of those people are not even alive anymore, let’s be honest, so it is strange and it makes things a bit difficult for us to kind of track people down. We have to go the long route around. But what can we do that’s just what we have to do, so?
Sandy Well, originally when Jewel rang, she rang, um, as my position in Rotary, ‘cos I’m in, a member of Bulli Rotary
Sandy And she was asking from the perspective of what Rotary could remember.
Well, the only thing, I’ve been in Rotary 13 or 14 years in Bulli and the only time I can remember Rotary being involved, and this is several times, is to collect our $100 donation for doing Clean Up Australia. Um, that was always on the stage in the Town Hall.
Darian Yeah, they had a lot of presentations there for various things over the years.
Sandy One of the other things, when I get to tell you about the – well which one of these would you like me to tell you about first?
Darian Well the…
Sandy This happened first.
Darian Okay, well, let’s start with that one.
Sandy But it was my Mum’s involvement in the Northern Illawarra Garden Club. I got my magnifying glass out and I can read that, Northern Illawarra Garden Club.
Sandy And, um, she was involved in, um, setting up their display. And she was a very artistic, very eccentric, loveable, frustrating person. She made the spider’s web for the flower Darian Oh, great.
Sandy And she helped to make that.
Sandy ‘Cos that was her…
Darian The giant birthday cake. And what was the spider’s web made out of?
Sandy Oh, string I guess.
Sandy But, you know, it was a garden and it was supposed to just be – I think it was Little Miss Muffet. She’s not in the picture, but I think that was part of it. But at first I wasn’t sure that they were in the same year.
Sandy But I think they are because when I look at the orange, um, curtains, they must’ve been in the same year. Anyway…
Darian It’s highly likely. They did, they did do a lot of, apparently they quite, they renovated quite often inside. They changed things a lot over the years.
Sandy I was disappointed when this, um, lovely floral festival finished. It doesn’t happen anymore. Wesley has a beautiful floral display, but it’s nothing like what this used to be. I guess it all takes time and effort and people haven’t got it anymore.
Darian I don’t know why that is. I think there’s a lot of reasons why things have changed, you know, um, over the years.
Sandy Mmm, well, the…
Darian People have got different interests for a start, and they don’t have they, they’re used to getting everything so quickly. It’s sort, um…
Sandy Yes. And there aren’t the gardens around that used to be around. You know, these were all people who belonged to the Garden Club. I’m not even sure if the Northern Illawarra Garden Club still goes.
Darian Um, there’s, there were a few different garden clubs. There was the Wollongong Garden Club. There’s the, the West Wollongong Garden Club. This one was the North Wollongong Garden Club. We’ve interviewed a lady from the Wollongong Garden Club who was a member for 50 years.
Darian I think, and I think I’m not sure if that’s still going. But she’s given us a lot of memorabilia,
Darian going back to the late ’40s.
Sandy As of displays in the, in the Town Hall.
Darian Displays. She had newspaper cuttings
Sandy Oh, wow!
Darian of trees being – tree ceremonies. What would you call it? Tree plant-, they called them tree plantings didn’t they?
Sandy Not in the Town Hall though.
Darian Um, one outside,
Sandy Oh, okay.
Darian in the Civic Plaza in the early ’50s. Um, yeah, she’s a lovely lady and she’s, she’s got a lot of stuff. Yeah, so but I, I don’t…
Sandy Do you remember her name?
Darian Her name was Neryl Melvin. And her daughter is Margaret Bowman.
Darian Yeah. So…
Sandy You’ve got a good memory.
Darian I have to have a good memory [laughs].
Darian Um, let me see, I’m just making sure this is all right. And then if you wouldn’t mind,
Sandy No, that’s…
Darian I’ll try scanning all these things.
Sandy…not a problem. [pause]. You get a bit of a shock when you sit down and work out the dates and you realise, ah! it’s nearly 40 years ago. Yeah, well over 30.
Darian So far, the earliest things we’ve been given go back to the early ’30s.
Darian Someone brought in some stuff from, um,
Sandy Isn’t that great!
Darian It is. We’re hoping for some older stuff. We’ve had, yeah, we’ve had, Ball programs from the, um, yeah, early ’30s.
Sandy The good old days when there were Balls in there, mmm.
Darian There were a lot.
Darian The reason why that was is that they had, because of the floor, it was unique.
Sandy Uh huh.
Darian The dancing floor and the acoustics is very popular for dancing. This is Sandy, Kirsten.
Sandy Hello Kirsten. Yes, yes we are recording, but that’s all right. It’s a lot easier, isn’t it to record than to try and make notes.
Darian So that was your mother who was involved in the Garden Club and you never were? Sandy I wasn’t a member, but I was there doing the, you know, helping, um, I’m lending things that she would like to
Darian Do you make into her creations?
Sandy Yes. And ???? to that story was she borrowed our beautiful, um,??? coffee pot. And it was a chilly ??night now. If ?? you know chilly. And it was a gift that, from our wedding.
And I said, you know, “Oh yes, Mum, that would be beautiful. You borrow that and no worries.” And I never saw it again. Somebody stole it. That’s the mystery for us.
Darian We’re going to find that Jelly?? coffee pot for you.
Sandy It’s going back 30 something years.
Darian This is going to develop into the selection of things that went missing from the Town Hall because the, one of the famous stories is, um, the One O’clock Gun is something that we’re missing that we’ve discovered along the way. There was a gun outside the Town Hall that went back to the Crimean War, and it was in, on that headland at the end of the beach where the lighthouse is and they moved it to outside the Town Hall. And I think in 1949 they decided that it was in the way or something. Or, they might have moved it for the Queen’s visit along with one of the other memorials. And nobody really knew what to do with this huge thing. So, it just sort of got shuttled around. The Illawarra Museum didn’t want it and, um, it ended up in storage to the gun collector. He lent it to the Port Kembla Rotary Association I think for a Servicemen’s dinner or something. And, um, yeah, someone stole it so.
Sandy As you would…[laughter] I mean it was valuable.
Darian And, um, the police report reckoned it would have taken six people to, to lift it.
Sandy To move it.
Darian So that’s the mystery, like why would somebody want it in the first place? And secondly, you know, it would have taken quite a few people to take off with it.
Sandy Good gracious.
Darian And so the police were asked to…
Sandy And they were the days when people were basically honest.
Sandy You know, today it wouldn’t last two, two minutes, would it? And, um, yes, the police were asked to look out for scrap metal yards where someone would have sold it ‘cos they estimated the worth at £170 at the time. [laughs] And yeah, and nobody’s seen it since. That was the, um, Mission Australia Home tutor service.
Darian So, you were part of that as well?
Sandy I was the Coordinator there, yes. ??Not even being??
Darian I see
Sandy and that was my job, um, training volunteers to teach English in the homes of migrants who had small children or were sick and couldn’t get to class. And I had a wonderful team of about 50.
Darian Okay, let me guess is Ann Devenish in here somewhere, or is she, that’s another organisation that…
Sandy Is that Ann Devenish?
Sandy ???It was Ann but I don’t think it’s??? surname was Devenish.
Darian Somebody else.
Sandy Oh, she might have been in, um, Each One Teach One was…
Darian There’s another one that, that, that tutors migrants in English in Wollongong somewhere.
Sandy Could be, um, Smith Family have it now.
Sandy Like you said, the Mission Australia ???? when I was doing it, but they lost the contract and Smith Family took it over.
Darian So how many years were you a member of the Mission Australia Home Tutor Service?
Sandy Ah, after Adult Migrant English Service moved to Sydney, that was ’98, I applied for the Coordinator of the Home Tutor Service. I had been doing the Home Tutor Service through Adult Migrant English Service, but Mission Australia won the contract for that down here, and having had the experience, I didn’t have much competition in fact to get that job. And the salary dropped by half because it wasn’t a teacher’s salary, whereas in AME, yes, it had been. So, that was ’98 till 2002 I retired, yeah.
Darian And was that a one-off Christmas party at the, the Town Hall?
Sandy In the Town Hall it was. We had, um, room in our own Mission Australia where I used to use at the time, but this was the year 2000 and we were celebrating the Olympics and oh, it was just a lovely ???to unlock the Coordinator in Sydney??? came down, that was Ann, and, ah people, it nearly killed me because I did the whole thing on my own in the Town Hall, carried all the food in and, ah, Organising. But anyway, I enjoyed it.
Darian And let’s call the other ones Birthday Cake.
Sandy Yes. Floral birthday cake or Birthday Cake. Floral Festival or something, that makes you realise you can’t eat it.
Darian And so how many years do you think that your mother was a member of that organisation?
Sandy At least ????
Sandy Yeah, she was in, she was very involved in that.
Darian So every year they would have that at the Town Hall. Do you remember what time of the year it was?
Sandy Spring – September.
Darian Mmm. Did she ever win any prizes?
Sandy Well, she was part of the club, so I guess the club did. Yes, I’m sure they did, but I don’t know anything more than that, what the prizes were or… All the garden clubs were so alive and well in those days. Now they don’t have the opportunity anymore now much to display. I noticed in Wesley they have, um, some of the garden clubs will do a vase, you know, a beautiful arrangement.
Sandy But that’s it. There’s none of this fill the Hall, fill the whole Town Hall with flowers was just awesome.
Darian Well, people have raved about in interviews and said it was the most amazing – visually it was the most incredible thing. Um, so do you remember going to any other events at the Town Hall over that, in between those two things? Like any debutante balls or coming out or, um, fundraisers?
Sandy I married a man who doesn’t like to dance.
Darian Oh, no!
Sandy So I didn’t get to any balls even though I used to love to dance.
Darian What about any voting? Any of the elections?
Sandy ???And we will??? Not that I can be aware of. We, um, have, have worked on the elections for years, but not in there.
Darian So by the time, well perhaps by the time you were back down here…
Sandy We were in Austinmer-Thirroul.
Darian So that’s, you, I guess you had your own theatres there, so you never would have come to the Wollongong Town Hall when it was the Civic Theatre.
Sandy No, unfortunately.
Darian Any movies? No?
Sandy No, unfortunately.
Darian There were quite a few to choose from. There was four or five at the same time over the years.
Sandy Oh, okay.
Darian Um, yeah, good. What else happened there, um… Any concerts that you can remember besides with the, um, there were a lot of, um, choirs that put on things there. Sandy The, the Arcadians and those performances, um, seemingly
always had their own little venues. They had one at Coniston I think and now they’ve got this lovely one at Corrimal. I don’t recall ever going there for the Arcadians, do you?
Darian Yeah. Um.
Sandy I’ll tell you who, what we do see there though, the Lamplighters. Have you ever seen the Lamplighters ???have put Constance on the day???
Darian The Lamplighters?
Sandy They’re, um, a group of act-,actors, oh, singers associated with the Acadians’ acting. They are the singers of the Acadians, so they do concerts on their own, and they’ve done concerts in there. So has the one brass band, sure.