Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Walter Bailey Part 3
Interviewer: Glenn Mitchell
Interview date: Unknown
Glenn Um, I’ll start off, you were saying before about, um, living near the farmhouse and you’d walk from the farmhouse down to Tom Thumb lagoon. Would you like to tell us something about that?
Walter Yes, well, I’ve got good occasion to remember it all because in is something that we can never forget. I could never forget the conditions under which I used to go down there, those times, it was totally different to what it is now, of course. But this is before the advent of the steelworks and, ah, to walk down to the mouth of, the mouth of the Tom Thumb lagoon, it was a very pleasant and a very picturesque little place. The, ah, it was usually round about, in yards, probably 60-80 yards in width at the mouth and varied from 8 feet, 6 or 8 feet deep, tapering up to probably 5 or 6 feet deep, 200 or 300 yards up from the mouth. But one must remember and never forget how nice and clear the place always was, clearwater and the white sand, which was always so white then. And, ah, to go over there with the tide, particularly with the tide coming in and all this clearwater as we know it, and knew it then, ah, the white sand going right up, for at least half a mile from the mouth with a white sandy bottom. And teeming with fish as it used to be, because always out from about the break of the waves, was always groups of salmon. Great schools of salmon used to lay there as they found in, ah, a few years later on that large hauls of prawns would come there too. But, ah, the, ah, trawlers used to make it a regular practice to trawl it a lot there, and they got many, many tons of prawns there too. They had found there, they were there without us knowing that they were there. It was a great place for prawns, just out beyond the break, more along that, more outside of the northern wall as it was for lobsters starting from the mouth of the creek. All out along the northern wall lobster pots were placed, we could see by the floats every 50-60 yards apart, right around to the end and down the inside and many, many hundreds of dozens of lobsters were taken from there. I know because I knew men, the men that got to take them. I myself have had pots there. But to get back to the inlet again, to the Tom Thumb lagoon, it was a, a beautiful place, a lovely place to fish in too. And there were so many, such a variety of fish to be caught there. The salmon we talk about would probably be amongst the biggest of them, generally speaking, but big lumps of jewfish. We’ve caught big lumps of jewfish in there, big flathead up to 12 pounds. I caught a 12 pound flathead in there – excuse me – and, ah, blackfish. There was hundreds of blackfish always to be seen. Whiting could be caught all up either side of the Sandy Creek, right up to where the road bridge later on stood. And, ah, oh, flathead as I said, bream, whiting, garfish, leather jacket, jewfish. And as we move further up, teemed with mullet all the way, but as we went further up we found plenty of perch and they themselves used to I think become sort of acclimatised to the saltwater and push down. And I’ve heard Jack and Jim Kelly talk about the time when they got 10 boxes of perch just above the road bridge at one, just after one flood season. But, ah, I could go down there anytime, and I feel sure that anyone that knew anything about fishing would go there anytime to fish that place, to find that you had no trouble getting an abundance of fish.
Glenn Okay, we were just talking a moment ago about the, um, about Tom Thumb and you were saying that up towards the Swan Street side there was a lot of bird life and oyster life.
Walter Yes, well I can well remember it. But, ah, not only was there bird life evident there to everybody, but there was lots of oysters too, down on the lower portion of the lagoon where the water was a little deeper. It entailed getting a bit of mud on you to go out there to where they were, but when you got out there there was plenty of oysters. And, ah, they were always in really good condition I found.
Glenn And, um, the birds too?
Walter Yes, there was lots of bird life there too. There was nearly always groups of swans and flocks of ducks. There was lots of cranes used to inhabit the place. red ?? and water hen. But of course, we see nothing of them now [laughs]. Naturally, we see nothing of them now.
Glenn Mm. And you were saying also about, um, when you were walking down from where you used to live near the farm there one day you went across the water and something…
Walter Yes I, ah, I well remember the occasion there because I was intent on going across to the western side of the creek from the eastern side and, ah, I approached the place where we usually went across and it appeared to me to be more shallow than usual and I was kind of pleased about it. But after stripping my boots and socks off and rolling my trousers up and walking out a few yards, I commenced to sink into what I suspected was a silty muddy substance and a bit different to what I’d been used to. But it wasn’t long before I woke up to the fact that the softness of the bottom was nothing only tar because I lifted my feet up and [laughs] I was simply covered in a coat of tar [laughs] up to my knees. And I wasn’t too pleased about it and I was glad to get back out of it and scrub it off as best I could and carry my boots out to get cleaned up. I never made another attempt to cross the place because I was, ah, assured that the bottom all the way across was nothing but a bed of tar and probably a lot deeper in towards the centre than what it was on the edges.
Glenn And where, where was the, ah, the tar coming from?
Walter Well, I spoke to other people about it and they said to me readily, “Oh, I feel sure that that, it would come from the, what used to be the pipe mill there.” That they needed so much tar there because all pipes manufactured there were coated with tar. We used to load them on the waterfront and sometimes they come down in a sticky condition on the ends and they used to stick all over our gloves and the like of that. But tar, tar was a, it was very ?? and I think it was pretty evident it was, it seemed to me that the tar that I speak of in the bottom of the creek would probably, in all probability have come from the from the place where they manufactured the pipe, the pipes.
Glenn And, um, if it’s not sort of stretching your memory too much, can you put a year on there, can you remember?
Walter I’m sorry I should be able to remember because lots of people worked in there that I knew they worked in the pipe mill; I think including my son-in-law, but…
Glenn Well were you working at the wharf at this time?
Walter Oh yes.
Glenn So it’s after 1926?
Walter Oh yes, much later than that, much later.
Glenn Is it, was it before the war?
Walter That I can’t be sure of. I’ve not got a good head for mem-, memory for any dates like that, that’s something that I’m pretty obscure on.
Glenn Well was the steelworks well underway then, or was it only just starting?
Walter Oh, I think it was pretty much underway and the pipe mill and, ah, I think the rail banks and things like that, they were in operation then and I think the steelworks must have been at a pretty well-advanced stage by … But I’m sorry I can’t supply you with the date of the particular incident, but, ah…
Glenn That’s okay. Now, now just to finish up for today, um, you wanted to correct something you said before about the dogs.
Walter Yes, I think I made a statement in, ah, whilst I talked about the wheat stubble over here on the southern side of the hill and on the western side of Coomaditchy Swamp that is now, and, ah, I talked about being in the wheat stubble there with a pair of dogs, which I described as, ah, pointers. And I must remember to correct that because they were not pointers, but they were in fact setters. I think they should be known to some of the, even to some of the inhabitants of Port Kembla or thereabouts, most possibly Berkeley, I think Fishtown, where some of the older members are, that both the dogs I think would be pretty well known to them because they were both blue ribbon dogs as I said and both females and ‘Comedy Lass’ and ‘Comedy Queen’ were the names of them. It’s just a slight correction I’d like to get straight.
Glenn Righteo. Um, now you were just telling me before about how you came to cut wood. Would you like to tell me about that?
Walter Yes, well, I found it necessary to cut wood for a living because there was little or no industry. I think we’ve covered that part before. And when I couldn’t get a job elsewhere I found it necessary to go around and, ah, try to find out whether or not I could get orders to enable me to cut a bit of wood for one or the other. And the ER&S was one place that I cut wood for and they required a lot of wood those times. They called it furnace wood. It was 5 feet long and I would get orders for anything to 20 to 25 cords at a time to be cut. Of course a cord it measures around about 5 feet square. And, ah, I found it interesting work as I used to like axe work because I’d had plenty of it when I was younger. And, ah, I was able to make a living of a sort by cutting wood. I never ever made much money at it naturally, but we found that it used to keep us in food, and pay a bit of rent for us, whatever the case might be, or both. And I cut in several areas, ah, the one that comes to my mind now, starting from Flinders Street in Port Kembla west and there was lots of standing timber there then. It was mainly white Stringybark and I found it good, easy going and I was able to make pretty fair money whilst on that particular place. And, ah, then when I finished cutting up the orders or completing the orders for short furnace wood, they approached me about cutting poles, what they called furnace poles at that time. And they had not to exceed 2 foot 6 in diameter at the butt end and were not to be more than 20 feet long. However, I marched through the timber there and there was plenty to choose from and I had a great time felling these trees and lopping them off. I knew that it had to be cleared eventually there. And anyway wet weather overtook us and after cutting there for, oh, I’ll say a month or so, I got so far ahead of the carters that I had to be knocked off because I found that I could knock them over and lop them off just below the head. And if you’re any kind of an axe man at all, of course it’s a pretty smart process. It doesn’t take long to fell a nice straight grained tree and lop the head off it. And I had logs all over the paddock there that is gone and if I got too far ahead and I was paid 2/6d a pole and I found that I could knock over, oh, anything up to 10 to 15 easily in a short time and it was pretty good money that particular part of it. And then from out of the blue I got another extension of order for the surf-, for the furnace wood, they needed more, so I had then to go around and cut all the heads up. Well, it cut both ways for me because already the tree was felled and all I needed to do then was to knock the limbs up into 5 foot lengths. And of course Stringybark being pretty crooked stuff, it measures well, doesn’t pack. Ah, that was on the western side of Flinders Street and it’s extended right back to where the coke works, coke ovens are now today. And then I, when they cut out, I got orders for baker’s wood, to supply Rees the baker at Port Kembla for one. And, ah, that took me down further west, down to the, what used to be the bank of Allens Creek. And they needed all oak, so since there was a good patch of forest oak there I had to get into that and I found it pretty hard going too. 18 shillings a cord I got for that, somewhere around about 2 1/2 tons I think, and I got 18 shillings for it. It had to be cut into 2 foot 6 lengths. As those times there was no such thing as, ah, chainsaws or anything like that. I found plenty of hard work there and even though I was broken in I got plenty of blistered hands too. But we had to do it and I found it necessary to work such long hours almost from daylight till dark. And so as to enable me to do it a bit easier, the wife and I pitched a tent down there and we lived in a tent, in amongst the timber to get away from the travelling and travelling time. Anyway, after some months there I got further orders then. One was to clear the timber from the Koorangulla area starting from the, oh, the westernmost part of the hill, down towards what is the new road now, down towards the beach. It was all timbered with Bloodwood, Bloodwood trees and, ah, I had an order for pipe wood, furnace wood there, but it had to be taken in a face. But I found it the best paying place that I’d worked in because of the nature of the timber. A lot of it was white ant eaten and it was very easy cutting even when it was crooked it measured up pretty well too. I got, ah, I was able to get as much as 3 cords in some days. I think my best day was 3 cord. It was, ah, hard to get people to believe you those times, but I was in the peak of condition and I used to think well I knew when the axe stopped, the money stopped and I used to hoe into it ’cause I was in good trim. But, ah, then I went from there, or I think the next locality was at the beachcomber area. It had to be cleared too in a face along the shore of the lake starting from the junction of the roads, the old Primbee Road to the new road and going south for about, oh, a quarter of a mile or a little more. And I had to take that oak in place too as the bakers needed that for 2 feet 6 lengths. Then I went, I think the last timber cutting job I had was near the King Street, Wattle Street section and going north from there. Ah, I found that pretty hard too. There was lots of big Blue gum there. It also had to be taken over face.
Glenn Who was that for, who were you working for now?
Walter I’m still working now for the ER&S or again working for the ER&S because they needed 5 foot furnace wood again. And I wasn’t the only one. I found myself working with a group of axe men there trying to eke out some kind of a living, but it was very tough going. As I said there was mainly big Blue gum and so tight and twisted were they that we found it necessary after cutting them off into 5 foot lengths we had to blast a lot of them with gunpowder but they wouldn’t take a wedge at all as we’d been used to splitting with wedge and hammer. And, ah, I worked there for some months in there and I think that was the last job I had timber cutting.
Glenn Apart from that job you had where there were a lot of axe men working with you, were there are a lot of other axe men working, um..?
Walter No, only in the one area. That would be between the Wattle Street intersection and, ah, Spoonerville. If you remember Spoonerville it was in that area and that was the last job that I had. We went right through that and had to take it in the face. If we could have gone through and what we call pick the eyes out of it, you know, and get the easy straight timber and all that and leave the big old hard ones it wouldn’t need, it would not have been nearly so bad a job, but as it had to be taken, we had to take the big old rough ?? with the good ones. It was a very slow job and I found myself working all day some days, because I’d get nothing actually in wages, because the felling of a tree and they sawing of it up before it was split and then to be stacked, I found that one day meant nothing. I’d get no wages at all for that particular day. The felling of a tree and the cutting of it up was a lost day and then the next day we’d have to split it into cuts small enough for men to handle and cut the heads up and we’d probably get about, oh, a cord, which paid us about 12 bob for the two days work [laughs].
Walter A bob as we called it those days, of course now it’s, ah, it’s a bit different we’d probably be getting $1.20 now. It’s not very much for two days hard work and it was hard work too.
Glenn Did ER&S have other axe men working for them as well?
Walter These people would all be employed by the ER&S, yes. There was not a great lot of men I suppose there’d be, ah, oh, round about half a dozen I think all together, five or six men beside myself. But it sure set us up physically for other jobs to come later on. You had to be pretty tough to, ah, you know ,to even survive those sort of jobs because, ah, they were so poor paid that you had to work even if you felt that you wanted to stop, you still had to go. And we hadn’t told – remember it was summertime too and it was very hot – feel sorry for some of the older members working there who used to be so distressed-looking in the heat with the work.
Glenn Okay. Okay, you just told me something about the advantages of prickly tea-tree now, just you, you tell me that.
Walter Yes, well prickly tea-tree as I knew it was one of the best hardwoods that we’ve got in this country. I would say that, because having worked amongst hardwood, I got to know the value and the difference between good timber and timber that wasn’t so good. And I found that prickly tea-tree as we know it, I don’t really know it by any other name but prickly tea-tree. It is a paperbark tea-tree, but, ah, unlike the black tea-tree that grows around the swamp, which seems to be more or less useless timber. This stuff is much the opposite it has straight grain, it’s a nice attractive looking tree, with white paper bark and not unusual to find them two feet in diameter, but usually around, I would say more like 18 inches in diameter on average. And we found them very, very valuable in the construction of boats, because I know that nearly all the professional fishermen of my acquaintance always sought them and used them as often as possible, you know, for knees and stem posts and because of their value and their shape mainly. Because, ah, the limbs grow more or less horizontally from the tree, but by giving it a little care and a bit of, ah, searching around, somehow, we always seemed to find an angle that was absolutely right for what we wanted. It was easy timber to work, being so close grained and kind of cheesy in construction and the easier to rabbit and to shape up if necessary. When, ah, I would also like to mention that, while we’re still on the tea-tree, that the limbs growing horizontally like that and being exactly the right shape, they were also had a peculiar characteristic that they seem to form a kind of gusset on the inside of the bend. A kind of reinforcement, a natural reinforcement that I feel sure that can be substantiated by anyone that had any dealings with them at all, that they were admirable for that particular type of thing. And whilst I was destroying them, along with others in this area I spoke up a while ago, amongst the Blue gums down on the flats there was lots of nice tea-tree. To me they really meant something, but apparently to the ER&S and the people who employed us they didn’t mean so much. And we were obliged to take all timber in the face. Consequently, this tea-tree that I speak of, which was in abundance along the flat there, was completely annihilated. It was cut out.
Glenn And could you just describe, um, the flat area that you’re talking about, what, what’s there now and where is it?
Walter Yes, well, it was very much different then to what it is now. And I find myself at a bit of a loss to try to describe even the location of it. But, ah, we’ll say from I think most people would know now where the stockpile, brick, the steelworks and, ah, the dolomite was stockpiled on the northern side of the road and coming back west towards the University, no, the…
Glenn Training centre.
Walter Training centre. Well, it was all a green grassy slope down there with a little watercourse running through the centre of it and usually being a bit on the damp side for some yards around the little watercourse, I think it might have encouraged and nourished the, the growth of the prickly tea-tree that I speak of. But there was a vast lot of it. It was, I would say that there was a good proportion of it on that flat. It was a very, very nice and to me a very picturesque little spot at that time. But of course like everything else it was, ah, it was destroyed when the timber was taken from it, and it seemed to lose its natural beauty. For a long time, will you describe to me some of the changes that have taken place in the harbour. Well, there’s been a lot of changes. I remember before the steelworks that the harbour was a clean place. The best way to describe it, it was a clean place. It was quite possible to see the bottom in 30 feet or more of water, 30 or 40 feet of water. See objects on the bottom quite clearly because the water was always so clear. And, ah, fish of all descriptions. We found there was, it teemed with fish. It wasn’t unusual to see large schools of big Jewfish up to 50-60 pounds underneath the piles of the jetty, could be seen by anyone, in large numbers. And, ah, we found that in our smokos, refuse from garbage cans or anything like that, a handful thrown over the side, mashed potatoes or any kind of scraps, edible scraps, would immediately become clouded with not small fish, but with big fish. We used to find Kingfish of all sizes rushing into the, into the food that was thrown over. Trevally, it used abound with Trevally and Bream in galore, there was miles of it and it applied at all jetties. The beaches, there was beach then most of the way you go back a good many years before the steelworks, as I say, up till the time of the steelworks there was beaches from No. 4 jetty to No. 3 jetty was one. From No. 3 jetty around a No. 2 jetty and at one time a little beach then around near the Public Works powerhouse. But it meant that there was a great percentage of it with a beach foreshore, clean beaches with clean sand and really good fishing still. Many very nice Flathead were taken from there, Whiting and we’ve seen – and Tailor – and we’ve seen fishermen, professional fishermen go round there and fill the nets up. I’ve seen nets strung from end to end with fish as they pulled them into the boat. Between No. 3 and No. 4 jetties was a favourite spot for Garfish and we’ve seen professionals there haul in Garfish in abundance and with them large school prawns. and King prawns. But it all changed when the steelworks got underway because of the dirty water that come down. It seemed to me as though it sort of changed overnight the belt jetty as we knew it – I’m talking from a fisherman point of view maybe a bit too much – but it was part of my life then. And, ah, it was the one hobby that I used to look forward to and all my spare time was put into fishing or prawning, shooting or something like that. But it was most evident I think at the belt jetty No. 1 coal loaded because the piles under the jetty were plastered with living cunje, living oysters and swarmed with red crabs. That’s God’s truth, I’m telling you. It was possible to take a sugar bag down to the water’s edge at low tide and a third of a sugar bag, quarter of a sugar bag or a third of a sugar bag could be obtained by discovering one or two of the bays between the piles and fenders of red crabs. But if a fishing ?? fishing and the like and the Groper were in abundance all along that southern wall, the big southern wall. It was not possible to go out there at any time, especially with the tide commencing to rise without seeing big Blues. Not one, but a lot of big Blues. They come in there under you and, ah, anyone would know that lived here at the time, that they were always in evidence because you could always see them of an afternoon particularly if the tide was on the rise, because I think of the clear water that prevailed. And, ah, well we go back to the belt jetty, it all seemed to change overnight to me as when Armco started off CRM and the pollution come out from there, seemed to be the, the first, the commencement of it. And it wasn’t long before we found all the cunje dead, all the oysters dead, no sign of any crabs, as I think it might be today. I’ve not been down there recently, but I know for many, many years afterwards we deplored that there was nothing alive, everything was killed.
Glenn What, what sort of pollution was it?
Walter Well, we were told it was sulphuric acid or pickling. I don’t know whether it was, I’m not a professional in, in that type, but we only know what I was told. But it had a reddish look in the water if that’s any help. But, ah, it looked like a reddish substance of some kind in the water. It also annihilated everything that was in the little creek that run in from near the belt jetty on the eastern side to go underneath the railway line and under the road it went away up in, into the flats, the grassy flats some quarter of a mile further up west. But this place teemed with fish, big Mullet. I myself have caught one there and had it weighed at 7 pound and we caught many nice golden Bream there, fish up to about 2 pounds in weight. But within a few days after the commencement of the ah, of the working of Armco, we found the banks lined with these fish of all descriptions, all along the grassy banks. They were all dead, never to be seen anymore. I’ve not seen a fish in there since actually.
Glenn And what of the physical changes of the harbour, the harbour’s become a lot bigger. They’ve re…
Walter It’s come a lot bigger. The beaches have been, well, they’ve been covered with rocks to form walls, retaining walls, whatever they call them I think around too. And I think maybe they were brought to stop the sand movement or something like that. Breakwaters have gone out a lot further of course to what they were those times. When I first remember it the breakwater on the southern breakwater, eastern breakwater or whatever you might call it, as I remember it, it only went to about the first reef. We go back to about 1910 I think and that would only be oh, not more than 200 or 300 yards from the shore. That was the end of it. It often had the end washed off it in big seas and I think they found progress to be pretty hard with it then. It’s been told to me that it’s because of the rocky nature of the bottom on the reef, the stones would roll away, the underneath stones, and cause it to collapse and all that. And I think that’s been substantiated by the fact that even now in big seas its one of the first places to go from the rocky bottom the big stones can’t settle ?? carried away from underneath there. But it was, of course being, eastern breakwater being so short at the time big seas were allowed to come in here and it had a great effect, a bad effect, on the shipping too. They very often had to put to sea because of the big groundswell that used to come through there.
Glenn It extended up into the ?inaudible?.
Walter It’s been ex-, I beg your pardon. That’s right, that’s right. Yes, well, I think the, ah, the object of it was eventually that the eastern wall would run out beyond the alignment of the northern wall so that, to overlap.
Walter And of course you see the run wide to eliminate a lot of the surge there. And it’s only when there’s very big seas I think that the harbour is adversely affected. But at that time the light speak about any big southerly sea, which is pretty common and is still pretty common. But come in and have a very bad effect on the on the shipping in the port. Lots of breakage of lines and having to put to sea. And consequently we used to lose lots of time over it too, they’d lay off and, ah, under me when I haven’t work wireline.
Glenn And, and what other natural life? Like we’ve spoken of fish life, what of the bird life. Remember anything of that?
Walter No, well I’ve not, I can’t say that I’ve seen a great deal of change in the bird life. We go back far enough and we find it where the public works Powerhouse stands today, been there lots of years, it was the only thing there really for years and years. And on the north western end there was a large green flat of some acres there of swampy material and it was inhabited by lots and lots of Cranes, Red Bills and Coot bird life. There was lots there and including round the edges in the dryer parts, there was an abundance of rabbits who lived in the stones around there too. But that’s all gone and forgotten since the oil tanks are there now of course in that very position at the end of No. 3 jetty.
Glenn And what of the area, what of the the other environment of Port Kembla, like the trees and the foliage and all that. What can you remember of that?
Walter I’ve got good memories of it because when I go back to remembering what it was like all around Wattle Street at Port Kembla, the Wattle Street King Street area was all standing scrub on the hills as we come up towards the Warrawong post office. It was standing forest – shouldn’t say scrub – it was forest of large Gums, Stringybark Ironbark trees. And in the seasons they, when they bloom, thousands of parrots, lots of parrots, Blue Mountain parrots particularly. The lorikeet as we know him used to swarm in there then and it extended from, oh, round about where Brambles is situated now right through to, ah, oh, to either side the post office at Warrawong, it was all standing forest. And I also remember that down on the southern side from this particular area that I talk of was all sown with wheat on the side of the hill. As we come up from Coomaditchy towards Port Kembla up that hill was all sown with wheat at one time, and when the wheat had been taken and the stubble remained, I’ve shot along in there, quail shooting with pointer dogs, we often went along there. My uncle’s two pointer dogs. Incidentally, they were two show dogs too, ‘Comedy Queen’ and ‘Comedy Lass’. They should be well known to some of the older people here as they are to me, because they were blue ribbon dogs. But it’s quite different to what it is now when we talk about it being sown with wheat it bears out what I’ve already told you, I think, or I told other people that, ah, whilst living at Kemblawarra, even as recent as 30, ’30s and ’40s, 1930-1940, I was able to walk in a straight line from where I lived. Near Park this is Billy hackers appears lived there and we were able to walk in a straight line to the hotel at Port Kembla to the pick up place at the post office. There was no houses, there was no Warrawong. There was nothing only a rural setting here. A couple of farm houses. It doesn’t matter about who they were, but there was only about two houses I think between here and Port Kembla, farm houses.
Glenn And what of the area where, um, the steelworks is now what was there?
Walter Well, we knew it pretty well because it was owned by a man named Duncan, owned a lot of properties and I think he would have owned all, owned or leased all the property on which the steelworks stands now, steelworks, coke works. But it was all, ah, all part of his farm at that time. And we lived somewhere pretty close to where this recent fire which caused so much damage, somewhere around about there we lived. And we’ve still got a picture of it in our mind of course, of just the farm house on the hill, a few out houses and look down south, nothing until the railway line and then crops and weed, corn, sorghum all over, round about where the blast furnaces are now. And a little further west, some half mile further west, another standing forest which we used to call for want of a better name, the Factory Bush. I don’t know why it was called the Factory Bush, I never ever knew, but it was a forest of hardwood trees.
Glenn Wildlife in there too?
Walter Wildlife in there too, yes. Oh, there was foxes and rabbit mainly I think. But, ah, it used to be one favourite spot. We leave the green corn and the sorghum on the flats and walk up on to surrounding hills to find them, well, groups of mushrooms, as far as you could see used to be there somehow as soon as the season was right, the mushrooms used to appear, to appear year after year. And I recall my wife and I have gone over there and because we’d only taken a kerosene tin, we couldn’t, we couldn’t gather, we soon gathered a kerosene tin full to find there was lots and lots we could have got, but no way of carrying them. So we’ve gone back at a later date with a washing tub and a kerosene tin and we’ve walked along with the washing tub between us, and, ah, we’ve filled them up level to the top and even then there would be more. As you would stand on one ridge and look across to the other, had the appearance of being strewn with white feathers till you got over there and they’d all be mushrooms, that’s for sure.
Glenn And you’ve seen, you’ve seen the whole area change.
Walter Indeed. Change for the worse. I might be out of line, perhaps, but, ah, progress somehow has not done much for me. It might have made my job a little bit better or something that’s as far as the industrial progress is concerned, the industrial part of the town. But, ah, I seem to be deplored the loss of all the things that have come with the steelworks. I mean can you, it meant a lot, it means more now that I’ve got older I think that I miss it more than ever. You actually remember the, um, the times when they moved the bulldozers in for the to the works. Could you, could remember seeing the landscape slowly go?
Glenn Piece by piece.
Walter I’ve always thought the bulldozer has been my worst enemy [laughs] and maybe it’s a bit narrow minded and sometimes we wonder, we must stop to think that how much hard, laborious work has been, you know, done away with as a result of the bulldozer. But somehow on the other hand, we see the destruction caused by it. It’s been to me, it’s been the most deplorable thing that a bulldozer can so quickly alter a landscape or destroy what is natural. To me it is a shocking state of affairs and, ah, something that of course I don’t think enough is being done even yet in terms to halt the destruction.
Glenn Did many of you and your friends go, ah, walking through this area searching for wildlife and natural foods and things like that, like you wouldn’t have been the only one, surely?
Walter No, of course I was not the only one, like there would be lots of people. But somehow of course we must try to remember Port Kembla as not being swarming with people at that time either, see there was a very limited population here, of a set population. It doesn’t detract from what I said about the working force that was present at all times, the unemployed and all that sort of thing, but a lot of them were floaters, drifters kind of thing. But the, ah, the people who were permanently living here, there was not a lot. And we haven’t got to go back such a long, long time since the main street of Port Kembla it housed a quite a few of the residents of Port Kembla on either side and their little We will replace it. They lived in mainly, but commencing down at the bottom where the two hotels are at Port Kembla and Allen Street up on the right hand side going east there was lots of little places there coming down and same on the other side where there was boarding house or whatever might be a few little shops there and the whole lot seemed to centre just around the main street. There was nothing much when you left the street and of course we only had one hotel there for lots of years, the Steelworks Hotel. The other two were comparatively new, well, ah, particularly, what is known as Smiths, now the Middle Hotel. But, ah, the other one a little longer. But, ah, one hotel was all we had, and the picture theatre stood back from the main street for some chain or so from the main street. It was a ramshackle place, Port Kembla, at the time I talk about with no houses at all. And to answer your question, I think that it wouldn’t have been so many people perhaps you might think that would be interested then in the environment or their natural setting, but I think that I had a bit of a streak that way and I used to just enjoy it. Now, as the town grew, um, well to start with you must have shopped somewhere. Yes.
Glenn And, and when, when the town grew, where did you, where did you do your shopping? Did you start doing your shopping in Port Kembla and keep doing it there or did you go up, up to other to other places?
Walter No, I can say that we, we shopped in Port Kembla and we still shop in Port Kembla.
Glenn And where did you..?
Walter We can’t shop at the same shop now because the same shop is not there as a grocer’s shop. But we do still shop at Port Kembla. We shop little elsewhere, maybe a little visit to Warrawong or something, but it entails a good deal of walking. The wife does most of the shopping and she’s unable to walk, but we find that Port Kembla is the most convenient place for us. Consequently, we’ve had our pension cheques transferred to Port Kembla Post Office address to be picked up and do our shopping on pension day. And we find that it is worthy of note, but the area is more suited to us because we find the grocer’s shop, the butcher’s shop, the greengrocer’s shop all within an area of a couple of hundred yards. Consequently, we can get our shopping done without any walking.
Glenn When you were working, um, did most of your workmates and that follow the same shopping patterns? Did most of them shop in Port Kembla as well?
Walter They all did. Of course we must remember too that, ah, there was nowhere else to shop for many, many years. There was only Port Kembla, there was nothing of Warrawong whatever.
Glenn No, I was thinking you could have perhaps jumped a bus or car to Wollongong.
Walter And gone to Wollongong.
Walter I wouldn’t say that we have never done it ourselves, we’ve not bought in Wollongong, because we have. But as a regular practice, we shopped in Port Kembla.
Glenn And, and you workmates too.
Walter And my workmates that is for sure because there was little or no transport. Of course for years there was no transport. We go back then to the years when there was no buses, there was no train out here either of course there was no railway line. I well remember when there was no line, but the little old gravel track that we had between Port Kembla and Wollongong and, ah, there was no bus, no bus of any description. There was a coach driven by a man who later lost his arm. He would be well known in the Port here. Norman Lindsay with a hook on his arm as a result of an accident at the MM, but he drove the coaches for many years, the passenger coach, from the railway at Wollongong to Port Kembla. There was no other means of transport, and, ah, the little while we lived in Wollongong and I worked at the powerhouse at Port Kembla, I was obliged, not only myself but with others, to walk out from where we lived near the golf links at Port-, at Wollongong and I walked out to work ?? to the powerhouse at Port Kembla, and walked home of an afternoon because there was no transport. I was glad of the job and did it cheerfully myself. Of course, but there were others too that had to do it the same as I had because there was no transport, no buses.
Glenn When was, when was, ah, Port Kembla as we know it is changing and I think it’s slowly dying.
Walter So do I.
Glenn When was the really boom period of Port Kembla?
Walter Oh, I think that just prior to Warrawong I think, before the shopping areas of Warrawong become established, properly established, I think Port Kembla was at its best. But I think that, ah, also that when the main road came through the, ah, King Street route, I think, is sort of was a kind of death knell to Port Kembla shopping I think that it was bypassed. It’s a town that’s been bypassed and I agree that it’s ah, it is a town that is dying. I think that is very evident if one walks down the street and sees the number of shops used to be occupied are no longer occupied. While they still hang on, possibly because, ah, sentimental reasons might take people like ourselves to shop there and people living around in the locality of Port Kembla. The eastern part of it we’ll say, we know quite a lot of old people over there and not so old, but I think that because their mothers and fathers shopped in Port, they still shop in Port. We have, I have in mind one particular of grocers that’s been there for many, many years operating. And, ah, I think that they do a pretty good trade because of some out of sentimentality I think that brings them back. I know we see them ourselves going there, sons and daughters of people that we knew so well so long ago still shopping at this shop, this grocer’s shop. And I think that’s one of the reasons that they hang on because of support they get from people who for sentimental reasons as much as anything else, not through prices or anything like that, but from sentimental reasons, they don’t change, they continue to go back to the shop.
Glenn Okay. [blank]