THE LOWER HAWKESBURY LONG AGO
ROY EDWARD EWER
Quite some time ago, I was sitting in a waiting room somewhere, and picked up an ancient copy of a women’s magazine and read an article referring to “ruins” where “hippies” and so-called “drop-outs” resided or camped on the Hawkesbury River, below the road to the now established look-out at West Head.
Such a road did not exist when I was a small boy, but I well remember the origin of these so-called “ruins” and the tenacity and sheer guts of the man that built them. I have since pondered on why this, and the efforts of many other early settlers of the lower Hawkesbury should go into oblivion without some record of their achievements
The Good Lord, that Great Architect of the Universe, gave me a brain for which I am grateful, and I now document my recollections to the best of my ability.
The legal fraternity always used to place at the bottom of their accounts to clients,” E & O E”, meaning “errors and omissions excepted”. I firmly believe, as I am now in my eighties, that I too, can use “E & OE “.
With the exclusion of the Pittwater District that was serviced by an unsealed road from Narrabeen, to maintain the Barrenjoey Lighthouse at the river’s entrance, the Hawkesbury District below Brooklyn was unsettled until the late eighteen hundreds. As far as I am aware, the first settlers were the Windybank family who established their home and business at Cottage Point, located near the mouths of Cowan Creek and Coal and Candle Creek.
The Windybanks had four sons and two daughters, Ned, Phil, Alan and Gordon. The girls names were Armor and Zara.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War two, Ned joined the army and went with the sixth division to the Middle East. He participated in the evacuation of Greece and Crete, but during one of these encounters, he was posted “missing believed killed” and eventually, “killed in action”. I remember Ned from my early childhood, and he was one of the best, and like his brothers, was skilled in all manners of boat handling.
Boating and ferries, together with house-boats were the Windybank’s business, and like so many other settlers at that time, hard work and a will to succeed was the only recipe for their eventual success.
All the supplies for the Windybank enterprises were brought by road from Turramurra to Bobbin Head, where they would freight everything they needed to Cottage Point by boat. They established several houseboats in coves along Cowan Creek and these were unlike any of the same name today. One could best describe them as an average two bedroom cottage, made of fibrolite and timber with a galvanized iron roof, water tank and large verandah affording extra accommodation, similar to many houses at that time. The only difference was that these houses were constructed on airtight tanks for buoyancy. The tanks were coated with a bitumen pitch-like substance to prevent rust and were moored by heavy ropes to large trees adjacent to the shore. A rowing boat was supplied for tenant’s use These houseboats were in use at least until the 1950’s.
More reference to the Windybanks later.
As a small boy on holidays at Patonga , I vividly remember Öld Bob” Robinson telling my parents, of the time when he was much younger, coming with his nets and boats to fish the beach and creek that was eventually to be called Patonga. He said that one day, he saw a man with a large ginger beard, looking at him from the scrub above the beach, and in a friendly gesture, gave him a supply of fresh fish. This gentleman was Mr. E. W. Williams, and one could debate forever, who was the first settler at Patonga, but it was certainly one of these two.
E.W (Ernie) Williams established a thriving business there and had two daughters and one son, Betty, Helen and Dick. More will be covered later.
Bob Robinson was not only a very successful fisherman, but nature’s gentleman in every word. As far as I can recall, he had three three sons and one daughter. Bob junior, Jack, Henry and all I ever knew the daughter as, was Tippy. The Robinsons founded a dynasty and their grandchildren reside there today, and hopefully, they always will.
In those days, fish were in abundance, schools of mullet, as well as flathead, whiting, flounder, jewfish, to name a few, and netting them was very hard work. The nets were extremely long, weighted with lead on the lower bottom rope and cork floats on the top. When it was decided to “shoot”, two end ropes would be held on the beach, then one party would row the boat in a large semi-circle enclosing the fish, and come ashore further along the beach when the net was expired in the water. The rower would then take the other two end ropes, and together both fishermen would wrap these ropes around their waists and walk up the beach and slowly drag the net ashore. The center of the net had a large bag in it called a “bunt”, and as the net came out of the water, the captured fish would recede to remain in water and eventually be caught in the “bunt” which would be hauled manually up on to the beach, untied and the fish selected into boxes.
Once loosely packed in the boxes, these fish were placed on to fishing craft, loaded to the gunwales, and up to four or five of these would be towed by launch (also loaded) to Brooklyn where there was located the only available ice works. The fish would be re-packed in ice, boxed again and nailed down and then carried manually to the Hawkesbury River Railway Station for eventual forwarding to the Sydney fish markets.
Such was the life of a fisherman then. Today, a similar netting procedure exists, but the nets and ropes are light nylon, the floats plastic and they are slowly hauled on to the beach by diesel tractors, with snap-freezing techniques available, then immediately placed in refrigerated road transport.
The Robinsons were not the only fishing family in those early years as they had friendly competition with the Witchard family. Frank “Pop” Witchard was more diverse. Not only was he a very successful fisherman, but he farmed all the oysters in Patonga Creek.
He, and his wonderful wife Jess reared five sons, Clarrie, Charles (Chica), Ken, Keith and Frank.
The Witchards home fronted the beach and their back yard fronted on to the road near where the war memorial now stands. Eventually, as Patonga settled with residents and holiday makers, they established a fresh fish and oyster shop. Between their home and the shop was located the “oyster room” where these succulent delicacies were bagged up for the Sydney markets as well as individual customers and also bottled for local sale. As a youngster, I used to help opening them and one day, I deeply penetrated the palm of my left had with an oyster opener. Mrs Witchard quickly took my hand, cleaned it out and drenched it with kerosene. The bleeding stopped, the pain receded and I still bear the scar to this day.
Like the Robinsons, hard work was the every day life of the Witchards. As I have already advised, the fishing nets were heavy and cumbersome. They were made of thin cord and without protection, rotted very quickly due to salt water. To avoid this, both families, at least twice a year, required these nets to be “stewed” in a solution of water and tanning bark, which was harvested from trees located in the Australian bush. The bark was supplied in large jute bags, and household water tanks were cut in halves, and mounted on a rough fire- place in front of the house on the front beach. As no water supply existed, the fresh water to accommodate these tanks was carried by hand from the house. The nets were placed in the tank with the required amount tanning bark, the water added and a large fire lit from timber stored after being washed up on the shoreline from previous storms, and the nets dyed by the stewing
process to ensure their longevity. Nylon nets today don’t need these treatments. This was just one of the many arduous tasks these hard working families did as part of their every day occupation.
“Pop” Witchard was one of the hardest working men I ever had the pleasure to know. He would take the natural oysters from the rocks and mangroves in Patonga Creek and row his loaded flat-bottom boats to the “fattening trays” located down from the entrance (known as the bar) where the natural mangroves commenced. The creek was shallow there and the trays were exposed briefly at low tide to aid oyster maturity. To meet the quantity of oysters required, “Pop” would select sufficient and row his punt to the nearest loading point to his business. The oysters would be bagged in three bushel jute bags, and he would carry these on his back for at least half a kilometer to the oyster room. It was not possible for him to use a wheel barrow as the unsealed roads (tracks) were too sandy and the barrow would just sink in and bog. “Pop” did this many times a day, and then joined his sons who would be netting fish on the front beach.
I guess it was inevitable that these two wonderful families would interrelate as they did when Clarrie Witchard married Tippy Robinson. They always were an integral part of the Patonga community, and I deeply regret as I compile these memoirs in 2006 that I was recently informed by my niece, Lyn Partridge of Clarrie’s demise. He would have been well into his nineties. He was one of the kindest and most respected persons one could ever have the pleasure to know.
As Patonga commenced to develop into a residential and holiday community, building materials were required. Such things as water tanks, fibro sheeting, timber and plumbing equipment, as well as basic furniture was needed. The up river town of Brooklyn also needed many items too cumbersome to be delivered by the railway. At that time, settlements on Brisbane Waters, such as Saratoga. Empire Bay, Kincumber and Wagstaff were also in need of the same goods, as roads from Gosford were non-existant. To meet these requirements, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company serviced these areas from Sydney with three coal-fired cargo boats, the “Erina”, the “Eringai”,and the “Gosford”. All these supplies were delivered to the public wharfs. From there the goods were man-handled to their destination.
In the mid-thirties, Williams received on one of these cargo boats an old (about 1926) Essex car, cut down with a tray on the back to convey all goods received to their store from the jetty. It was started by a crank handle. Dick Williams started the vehicle on the wharf, and once in gear, Betty Williams jumped on the back and said to me “come on and have a ride on the first car in Patonga” which I did, and it gave me great pleasure to participate.
Patonga had no road access, and the only communication was the ferry service started by the Windybank family, running to and from Brooklyn, meeting the morning north-bound train, and the south-bound in the afternoon. They ran three ferries, the “Cowan” “Gloria “and “Swanhilda “The “Gloria “ was the flagship, larger that the others, with two decks and used in busy periods
such as Christmas and school holidays. She was taken over by the Navy in world war two and sent to New Guinea where she was used as an evacuation vessel for wounded troops and was eventually sunk by the Japanese. Not only passengers, but meat from the Brooklyn butcher, mail and other freight from the railway was carried seven days a week. Windybanks also provided a shopping service for a modest charge for items unavailable from Williams store. Williams also obtained the post office agency as well as that of the Commonwealth Bank. As buildings were erected, some were little more than “holiday shacks”, and when not required by the owners, they were placed in Williams hands for letting purposes, so this store also encompassed an estate agency.
It would have been about 1934 that E.W. (Ernie) Williams passed away. I vaguely remember him, but have a greater recollection of the Williams family later on when Dick Williams returned to assist. After a period after his father’s death, he returned to his Sydney employment with a fledgling airline called Qantas, where he was in a junior management position. It was at this stage that he went and studied a book keeping system at the same time as my sister Joyce, and though they had known one another most of their lives, this kindled the friendship that ultimately brought about their marriage. Dick eventually had to resign his Sydney position and assume control of the family business. This would have been about 1938, and my sister used to visit on weekends.
Two other grocery stores were eventually opened opposite the now war memorial, one earlier by Syd Deacon and the other later by Bill Hamilton.
Patonga was not just being settled by pensioners, and holiday shacks, but substantial homes were erected by others , wanting to retire or holiday to a beautiful quiet retreat. Most building allotments facing the front beach were unoccupied. Apart from Witchards home, there was Stan Horsley and his wife Grace with daughters Patricia and Nell. Further along was Wellands and Benekes then Clarrie and Tip Witchard, then the first two story home in Patonga belonging to the Rollason family. They owned a successful business in Sydney, importing precious metals and gem stones for the jewelry manufacturing trade. Quite a few vacant blocks further along the beach was the residence of Bill Gunnee. He was a retired fire brigade chief and had two sons and a daughter, Sam, Don and Billie. The last house, nearest the bar, was a retreat for Sydney medico, Dr. Blumer.
Another family to settle in the thirties was the Smedley’s. The two daughters, Marie and Alice married Alan Windybank and Henry ( Ned ) Robinson respectively. Ned and Alice remained there but regrettably, Alan Windybank passed away shortly after the war.
Down Wharf Road. was Stan Hepple and his good wife, Dot. They had two sons, Brian and Stan junior. Stan was the proprietor of the Stanley Spring Company, located in Sydney and he used to commute over the road to Peates Ferry to his place of business, and return week-ends. When he disposed of his company, he established a very successful hardware store in Umina after the war. Unfortunately, Brian passed away quite young. Stan junior lives near me now in Queensland and I hope to catch up with him and give him a copy of these memoirs.
No doubt the most affluent residence of all was that of the Wilkes family. It was established overlooking Patonga Creek and covered over one acre.” Teddy” Wilkes was the founder of E.F. Wilkes & Company which had a large showroom in Castlereagh Street Sydney, and dealt in the radio business. Radios were as scarce as hens’ teeth in that era, as very few people could afford them. They were a large part of household furniture and grew in popularity as did television in the 1960’s.
Wilkes marketed the very best and most expensive in the “Gulbransen” brand. The family used to drive by car from Sydney to Brooklyn where they had their own launch moored. They then entered Patonga Creek and tied up at their jetty in front of their residence. “Teddy” Wilkes also had a hobby in breeding exotic gold fish.
Unlike today, when goldfish are produced in massive glass tanks, large concrete ponds were built on the ground and these were the basis for Wilke’s fish breeding programme. The manager, who also had a residence on the property was Mr. Bill Sampson. As production increased, he packed orders and these were sent by ferry to Hawkesbury River railway to their destinations.
These fish tanks would get exceedingly hot in summer and the fish would stress, and some would die. To prevent this, Wilkes planted avenues of macadamia nut trees for filtered shade. As the nuts matured, these too were harvested and sent by ferry/rail to selected customers. As children, we would pick the nuts hanging outside the fences and crack them with stones.
The macadamia industry took off in Australia in the eighties, extending from the north coast of N.S.W. to Queensland. It was however, a major industry in Hawaii and California years before and is getting larger every year. Despite all this, and having seen these farms overseas, I believe I can safely claim that the very first commercial macadamia farm ever to exist was planted overlooking Patonga creek
At that time of the early and mid 1930”s, in the middle of the great depression, Patonga was under the control of the Woy Woy Shire Council. However, as no road existed, building regulations also did not exist and many homes were built ad-hoc to suit whatever the owner needed. There was no electricity and a roaring trade in kerosene for lighting was a priority prerequisite. This fuel was sold in sealed 4 gallon (18+ litres) oblong tin cans and were difficult to dispose of. One retired couple, Bill Dyson and his wife erected part of their home using these cans. Every dwelling used hurricane lamps outside, and kerosene chimney ones inside. Because they were heavy, wood-burning fuel stoves were a rarity and most food was cooked by kerosene stoves.
Eventually, a telephone service was provided and Williams installed the switch-board in their post office section of their store. Thus basic needs were met for Patonga to exist and grow. However, there were other necessities in the form of fresh vegetables. Many full-time residents grew their own, but itinerants were in need, and to meet their requirements, the Dillon family filled this void.
There were many Dillon’s in the district. Some resided at Patonga, others at Woy Woy and others had a mixed farm on the plateau above Little Patonga Creek. The farm had access to Woy Woy by a family made road, but the only means to Patonga was down the creek. Norman and Harold Dillon, sons of the farmer, not only worked the farm, but cut a track down the mountain to the creek, and five days a week, they would carry fresh beans, peas, tomatoes, silver beet, potatoes and other seasonal vegetables down to a large canoe which they would row down to the settlement and walk every street selling their wares. They would then row back home again, harvest what was required for the following day’s trade, then help with the afternoon farm chores. Eventually, they purchased an outboard motor for their canoe to make life a little easier. It was the first one I ever saw. At that time, the only recipe for existence, let alone success was hard work, and the Dillon’s most certainly did meet these requirements.
Opposite Patonga, on the other side of Brisk Bay, another man was fulfilling a dream. I only knew him as “Mack” MacGraw. I don’t know how he got there, as there was never a sign of any boat, but he settled below West Head at what is known as Flint and Steel. Mack, with sheer guts and determination, cut sandstone rock and local timber and together with the aid of material delivered by the cargo boats, established a guest house, mainly for fishermen and their wives, as there was nothing else to do. This is the gentleman I referred to in the forward of these memoirs.
The building had a massive stone fireplace and all necessities together with passengers and stores were delivered by Windybanks ferries when the need required to a jetty, which” Mack “built with his bare hands.
My own experience of all this came from the fact that I just loved boats. My family would visit Patonga and my elder brother, Laurie and Father would fish all day, every day. Myself, I used to travel every day on the ferries as an unpaid junior deck-hand, steering and assisting in the mooring at the jetties, delivering the mail bags to and from the railway at Brooklyn, collecting shopping parcels and numerous other duties, just to travel on the ferries.
Patonga had most needs of the residents with one exception, and that was liquor. It was well known there were a couple of “sly grog “ establishments, and although everyone knew who they were, they were never officially identified. However, it did not take a rocket scientist to calculate such operators had to be private boat owners to convey their stocks from the hotel at Brooklyn, as there were no deliveries by ferry.
One shortage was entertainment, and residents had to make their own. There were no street lights as the electricity was yet to come. The most common portable lighting was a “hurricane lamp “. People would walk the streets after dark, conversing with ones they knew, or complete strangers. There were no houses locked, crime was unheard of, and only very occasionally, would a policeman “show the flag “ by boat from Brooklyn. Everyone respected one another with a totally friendly attitude.
In those times, if you walked down Wharf road, turned left at the end, one came to a sandy beach on Patonga creek. At the western end of this beach was Ned Hines boatshed. Ned built it in two stories, the lower accommodating his boats for hire, and the top was a bare room, consisting of a timber floor, the walls only reached half way up and the rest was open, to the roof. Around this room were timber bench seats fixed to the wall, and that was all.
The boatshed was the venue for everyone interested to congregate for a sing-song and dance. Music was supplied by (Captain) Billy Freemantle with his concertina. For dancing, we children were given the chore of scraping candles with knives so the grease would make the floor sufficiently slippery for adults to dance. These events were extremely popular with both residents and visitors, and as friendly and trustworthy as everyone was, such events made them more so.
Always with an eye to business, Windybanks ferries used to arrive at Patonga about 10am weekdays and depart at 4pm, that same afternoon. As every second Thursday was “pension day” when residents would congregate at Williams’ store to collect their mail and pension checks, which they cashed at the bank section, Alan Windybank did a run to Newport, departing at 10.30am. The Newport Hotel was half way up the hill from the public jetty and a full load of passengers would disembark and imbibe to their hearts content ( or until their wallets expired ). As the ferry had to meet a deadline time to connect with the afternoon train service at Brooklyn, it was essential the revelers at the hotel return on board promptly. This was difficult to achieve and many a time I was sent to roust them out of the pub. Having done this, the publican always gave me a large glass of lemonade for my efforts.
Obviously the return trip to Patonga from Newport was a merry one. Some passengers were so over-indulged, they were singing their heads off. They nearly all traveled with containers such as tin “billycans” that they normally carried their milk in, or even clean kerosene tins to carry extra beer home. Some did arrive, but mostly it was consumed on the return journey.
When the daily ferry from Brooklyn arrived at Patonga, it was quite an occasion. Many residents made a habit to “meet the boat.” One occasion worth recording was the assistance rendered by a resident called Bill Dyson who was at least 210 centimeters tall. Bill insisted that he caught the ropes thrown from the ferry and place them on the pylons to complete the mooring. On this occasion, I had the duty to throw the rope to Bill but unfortunately, missed and threw the rope over him, and it would be the only time that Alan Windybank failed to put the old Ätlas” engine into neutral, consequently the “Swanhilda” cruised slowly towards the shore with Bill in tow astern. All was quickly rectified and Bill, because of his height and the state of the tide, coughed, spluttered and waded ashore, not much the worse for wear, but such goings on encouraged the locals to “meet the boat”.
Eventually, a power line was erected by men working for their “dole” allowance and this was followed by the road (more like a goat track) which follows the same modern one today. This was linked with the Pearl Beach turn-off. Transport became readily available so Williams purchased a new 1938 Chevrolet one and a half ton truck, permitting them to expand their business, and one commodity that was greatly appreciated was ice for ice chests. This and soft drinks did a roaring trade from Margin”s ice works at Woy Woy. Bob Robinson junior also bought a large truck to transport ice and deliver the fish catch more conveniently to Woy Woy railway. The road also permitted greater residential occupancy at Patonga. In addition, motor vehicles needed petrol, as did boats, so Williams installed two hand pumped petrol bowsers outside their store to fulfil this need.
The Woy Woy shire council also encouraged a local to be appointed to a seat, and Mr. Jack Cove was duly elected and used to attend all meetings, to which he traveled by his own horse and sulky.
Another horse owner was a long time resident Mr. Alf Spoule. He purchased a part-draft horse and dray, and soon built up a money earner, meeting the ferries and delivering resident’s luggage to their houses at three pence a load. I recall on one occasion, when walking with my brother up Wharf Road, Alf Sproule was walking the horse and dray up to meet the ferry to convey holiday makers’ luggage to their rented premises. In the dray were his two sons, young Alf and Charlie. As we passed, my brother called “Good Morning Mr Sproule “to which young Alf yelled “You will have to talk louder than that Laurie as the old bastard’s as deaf as a post!!. And he was too!!
Windybanks charge on the ferries was one shilling each way, or two shillings return. (a shilling then was equivalent of ten cents today). It is difficult to apply metric conversion to the currency of that time, but I calculate that in today’s equivalent, the ferry fare would be about six dollars, one- way.
The outbreak of world war two not only changed Patonga, but the whole lower Hawkesbury. One great friend of mine whose parents lived overlooking the front beach was Don Gunnee. After Don left school he immediately joined the Royal Australian Navy where he trained a wireless- telegraphist. He proved his efficiency by being selected as part of the crew to go to England in about 1937 as the Royal Navy was giving Australia three light cruisers to add to it’s
fleet. These were H.M.A.S’s “Perth”, “Sydney” and “Hobart”. Don was a member of the crew of the “Perth”. Needless to say, he was on duty at the outbreak of war, and survived it with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He took his discharge only to re-enlist at the outbreak of the Korean war.
Don Gunnee eventually bonded two of the “early “families when he married Amor Windybank.
I also enjoyed a close friendship with Ken Witchard, and was related by marriage to Dick Williams. These two of Patonga’s finest enlisted early in 1940. Ken went with the 2/13th Battalion to North Africa and served throughout to total siege of Tobruk. He saw the whole war out before returning back home to fishing.
Dick Williams joined the R.A.A.F and trained as a navigator. He flew in “Mosquito” aircraft, won the Distinguished Flying Cross and regrettably was shot down and killed over Europe in June 1944.
Once Japan entered the war in 1941, everything changed. Pleasure craft of all descriptions were towed from their moorings at Brisbane Waters, Palm Beach, Newport, Bobbin Head, Cottage Point and Brooklyn and tied up side-by-side in upper Cowan, where they were guarded by members of the Volunteer Defense Corps. These were men of world war one vintage who were too old to go overseas in the services. The plan was that if necessary, all these craft would be burnt rather than fall into Japanese hands. The only exception to these regulations applied to professional fishermen and ferry operators.
Gun emplacements were established at West Head and Juno Head ( commonly known locally as Croppy’s Point). A floating boom net was placed across the river entrance and opened by a type of tug- boat. The skipper of this was “Mack McGraw” from Flint and Steel who joined the Naval Auxiliary Patrol.
This was all done to protect a vital link to the north from Sydney, namely the Hawkesbury River railway bridge, as this was the only connection. The road bridge did not exist at the outbreak of war, and all road traffic was conveyed by large car ferries, named the “ George Peate” and “Francis Peate “ It was only later in the war that the Putty road, linking Windsor with Singleton permitted road transport to proceed north alternatively to these ferries.
Brisk Bay, surrounded by Patonga, Pittwater and the entrance to Brisbane Waters became a ground for both naval and military training. Live marine depth charges were used to train ocean-going fishing trawlers, which were confiscated by the navy to become minesweepers. It was a small price to pay at that time, but the continuous explosions had a disastrous effect on all future commercial and amateur fishing, as it never returned to the breeding grounds to which it was pre war..
With the road established, this gave Bob Robinson another business opportunity. Every day when the navy finished their training maneuvers, they would anchor opposite Patonga and come ashore in their whalers. Dances would be held in the local hall, but many wanted unobtainable strong refreshments. Bob made his truck available for a modest fee, and take the sailors to the Ettalong Hotel, and deliver them back to the jetty before the last whaler back to their ships departed. Needless to say, his truck was extremely popular.
Bob also used his truck on Saturday evenings, when it would be crammed full of residents to attend the Woy Woy theatre. Everyone would climb in to the back and coming and going, would sing their heads off. It truly was an event not to be missed, but this was eventually substituted by Reilly’s bus service.
Refuge Bay along from Flint and Steel was taken over by the army and navy for all sorts of covert training. It was ideal, as it had a deep water anchorage and a large inexhaustible fresh waterfall as well flat ground for all the purposes required. It was here that all training for the successful raid on Singapore harbor using that captured Malayan fishing vessel called the “Krait” took place in 1942. This craft is now on show in the National War Memorial in Canberra.
. The army also encamped at Little Patonga, servicing the defence gun emplacements located there.
I have referred to the hard working men of Patonga at that time, but it would be most remiss of me not to record the efforts of women in that era. Many took work in munitions factories, but because of food shortages, many migrated to Patonga where rents and other costs were cheap, and while their husbands were in the services. Up to four would join together, rent a cottage for as long as they pleased. These women were referred to a “grass widows. “
Two women most worthy of mention are my sister, Joyce who married Dick Williams prior to his going overseas with the R.A.A.F to England, and his eventual loss of life that I have already referred to. With Dick’s sister Betty, these two were responsible for the total running of the Williams business enterprises with Mrs (Eve) Williams.
Betty was always a bit of a “tomboy” in her early days and could do anything a man could. In earlier times, she milked three cows for the local milk supply. These cows grazed in the dairy where today it is called “Eve Williams Memorial Park”. In the war, Williams also converted it in to a camping area to meet the shortage of accommodation.
It was only natural that Betty would take over the running of the truck which by now was doing a weekly run to Sydney for local deliveries as well as daily runs to Woy Woy and Gosford as required. Mail, milk, meat, ice and soft drinks to name a few essentials were required daily. The petrol for the bowsers was also trucked in 44 gallon (200+ liters) drums and these took some handling to discharge into the underground tanks. Betty did all this with some unpaid volunteers to assist on occasions.
Joyce was the opposite. She could best be referred to as an academic. She was dux of her high school, did business courses in shorthand and typing, and was sent by her pre-war employers to study (at that time) the latest book-keeping method, called the Kalamazoo System. It was natural that in the family business, she would assume the running of the post office, Commonwealth Bank and all monies handled and accounts payable for the total business enterprise. Joyce was officially listed in the government gazette a “Post Mistress “as well as certified as an accredited officer of the Commonwealth Bank.
Every Friday night at the close of business, Joyce had to count every post office stamp, all money orders, postal notes and balance the postal books to the last penny. She would then have to replicate these balances with bank monies and cheques and both returns had to be sent registered mail respectively to their official destinations urgently. Nothing could be put off, and this caused her to burn the “midnight oil “every week, as the general shop part of the business did not close until the last customer was served, consequently, the shop takings had to also be balanced and included in the bank monies.
It is a definite fact that these two women did these duties seven days a week ( excepting the bank and post office) and rarely would they retire before 11pm. Holidays were unheard of and neither had one for the whole period of the war.
During the war, and with the road established, Reilly Brothers of Ettalong commenced a bus service to all points between Patonga and Woy Woy railway station. This service also permitted children to attend schools at both junior and higher level. Previously, for some years, only a one class school existed in Patonga. This had Miss Molly Hickey as teacher. Molly was Mrs. Eve Williams sister and a wonderful lady.
The Hawkesbury River in general, for most of it’s development was dependent on the town of Brooklyn. It was the “hub” of the upper and lower river. So many residents depended on river craft for their existence, as many do today. “ Store “ boats as they were called carried all the basic requirements such as food, kerosene, mail and clothes. They were best described as floating shops. There were also just cargo boats plying their trade along the river to individual houses in Mooney Creek and as far up as Wiseman’s Ferry.
One such occasion worth recording is the story of Tibby Smith and his son Keith. They owned a beautifully maintained cargo vessel called the “Enterprise”. One of their contracts was to service the mental establishments of Milson and Peat Islands. In those days, these islands accommodated both the dangerous and criminally insane.
Tibby Smith had occasion to deliver a full boatload of bags of coal for the furnaces at Peat Island. Approaching the island jetty, a man called to Tibby to throw him the ropes to assist with the mooring. This he did, and when he stepped ashore, the man said “what have you got for us today”, to which Tibby explained he had a cargo of coal. “Come and fix up the paper work and I will have the coal unloaded” said the man, and Tibby followed him to what he anticipated was the office. Instead, he was led into a room, where upon entering, the door was slammed and locked. Needless to say, Tibby realizing he had been deceived by an inmate, yelled for help. Eventually, a real guard appeared on the scene demanding to know what was the all the noise about.
Tibby explained he was the man who brought the coal and was promptly advised that if he did not stop yelling, he would have the fire hose put on him.!!.
Back at Brooklyn concern as to why the Ënterprise” had not returned started, and once night fell, the police were called to take their boat and commence a search. Sergeant Dole eventually found the missing vessel properly moored at Peat Island. A further search found a distraught Tibby, still locked up, and I believe they never discovered the miscreant that caused him such distress.
Dangar Island had a few shacks and cottages, but it was originally occupied on occasions as a holiday retreat by the Dangar family who had a wealthy grazing property outside Singleton, hence the name. The island had no store, and once again, everything required was ferried from Brooklyn. This service was maintained by a Swedish gentleman who was only known as Manuel. He lived on the island and carried supplies and passengers as required and filled an essential need.
Stan Notting ran the ferry from Brooklyn to upper Cowan, where even to this day, expensive waterfront homes and restaurants can only be accessed by boat or seaplane.
So as I have mentioned, Brooklyn was the focal point of all development of the lower Hawkesbury. The town itself is not much larger today than it was then. This is because it is fully enclosed by national parks, thus there is no land for further development. There was always the hotel built originally to service the railway workers, building many tunnels between there and Cowan, as well as the railway bridge. Opposite the hotel was Bui’s general store, then a butcher shop, the post office and police station. Heading down towards the railway station was Forbes and Martin’s general store and nothing else. What wasn’t freighted by rail, was supplied locally for all the residents needs by boats plying their trade.
In the early 1980’s, I took my own boat with my wife on an extended cruise of the whole river system. Cottage Point now has a sealed road from Sydney’s north shore servicing it, and there are multi-million dollar homes and pleasure craft moored there, and this is replicated up at Coal and Candle Creek. Further up Cowan Creek, I anchored at was once another establishment built by the Windybanks which had access by foot track they had built up the mountain to Cowan railway station. It used to have residence, staff quarters, under cover storage for small boats as well as moorings and a slipway for larger craft. I felt quite sad to see only a rusted winch as all that remained of what was once a thriving business.
Further up river, there is absolutely no sign of Woodnuts boat shed that was accessed by foot track from Bobbin Head. From those early days, Halvorsens at Bobbin Head have progressed dramitacally from strength to strength.
Cruising up the Hawkesbury, as I have said, development at Brooklyn is impossible. My wife and I called there for fuel and stores, then proceeding beyond Long Island, I was astounded to observe the number of craft of all shapes, sizes and prices that are moored in the vicinity. It is a boat owner’s dream, close to Sydney via the expressway, totally sheltered from all weather and good luck to all those who had the foresight to develop what is about all Brooklyn has to offer further.
As I mentioned earlier, the outbreak of world war two changed the lower Hawkesbury immensely. Consequently, so did the termination of that war. Ferry contact with Patonga in addition, eventually came from Palm Beach. Old residents moved on or passed away and new ones came. Post war, Patonga was literally “on the map “. Though the legacy of petrol rationing existed until 1949, new people moved in. They built better quality housing and with road improvement, it made access more readily accessible.
Those of us that played together there as kids in the early thirties, then enlisted and took our discharges from the various services ultimately went our different ways in our trades, occupations and professions. My sister eventually remarried and took up residence, first at Patonga and then in Umina. They had four marvellous children of whom I am the proud uncle. I am also the proud grand uncle of all their siblings.
I returned to Patonga post-war to visit my sister when she married Bill Partridge of Reilly Brothers Coach Services. I did see many of my lifetime friends, but as my sister and husband moved to Umina, I had no reason when visiting her to go to Patonga and maintain those friendships. When I returned to visit, I stayed at Tasker’s Umina Hotel as with four children, they had a full house. It was a pleasant walk from the hotel to their home in Ocean Beach Road.
Regrettably, as I compile these memoirs, I understand the only friend I know of, still residing at Patonga is Keith Witchard, who I believe is in poor health. I would not have seen Keith for more than fifty years, yet the bonds of friendship, forged together, first as children make it so strong that as a friend then, so he is a friend now, and will be as long as I live.
Time makes circumstances as well as people change. I decided to compile these memoirs while in hospital in Brisbane. On and off, for two years, my right leg has incurred surgery, and finally , the only alternative is to have it stiffened for the remainder of my life. Thus the opportunity to write these in hospital on my laptop computer presented itself. I hope what I have written will be retained by younger members of my family and sincerely hope that any friends they have who would be interested, living at Patonga or elsewhere will receive a copy so that there is some record of “The Lower Hawkesbury Long Ago “
27th July 2006