The McMahon family
|Before 1900||1920 - 1950||Ghosts|
THE MACMAHON FAMILY 1945-1957
This is what life was like for those living at the Quarantine Station immediately after the Second World War and just how different life was to the generally more affluent society which existed at Manly just a couple of miles away.
Our regret is that we did not realise just how unique was this experience and how quickly much of the Station would disappear - if only we had been able to record it all on film. But the reality was we had no camera until Patricia bought a Brownie Box around 1955 and even then only family photos were taken.
This short outline is organised as follows -
Move to the Station
· Life in Hay
· The Quarantine Station in 1945
· The Quarantine Population in 1945
· Who's Who of the Quarantine Station of 1945
· The First Years of (our) Settlement
· Movement at the Station
· Life at the Top of the Hill
· Work at the Station
· The Pay Process and Low Wages
· The Minimisation of Costs
· Place of the "Yard" in our Economy
· Other Supplements
· Quarantine !! The Real Quarantine Experience
· Lesser Quarantines
· Schooling and School Holidays
· Fishing and Boating at the Station
· Flora and Fauna
· New Families at the Station
· Favourite Buildings and Items
Our Move to the Station and the Circumstances Surrounding it
In February 1945, the MacMahon family - Frank, then 51, his wife Lila, Patricia (11), Denise (7) and John (4) - moved to the Quarantine Station (the "Quaro" as it was known) on Sydney's North Head. The Quaro was to be our home for the next 12 years.
This was actually a return to Sydney for the family. We had been living at Simpson Street in Hay on the Western Plains of NSW since Dad had "joined up" the Army in Sydney. With Mum's family living in Sydney, it was natural that we would wish to return. For us, moving to Manly seemed to answer a number of the problems we faced - Dad did not have a job to which he could return, we had very little money, Dad was no longer young and we didn't own a house. This latter factor was very basic as, at the end of the war, there was a great shortage of rental accommodation in Sydney, especially at an affordable rent.
So we felt lucky when Dad was selected for the job especially since there was only one vacancy at the Station and a vacancy only came up every few years. No doubt the appointment was in part assisted by the policy of the Commonwealth Department of Health, which was responsible for the Quarantine Service, since it gave returned servicemen a priority in employment. Also in Dad's favour was the fact that he had been granted a small pension for war-related injuries.
Quarantine Service Badge
The position was that of a general labourer - later, in keeping with social mobility, we came to give it the more prestigious title of "Quarantine Assistant".
Though it was essentially a labourer's position and did not have the standing or prestige of the position Dad had in Hay (there he held perhaps the most responsible position in the 16th Garrison Battalion - that of Regimental Sergeant Major), he willingly accepted it as a means of providing income and accommodation for his family.
Life in Hay
The Prisoner of War camp located in Hay was run by the 16th Garrison Battalion. Initially, the camp held only "enemy" internees from Australia but later they were joined by internees from Britain (largely German Jews, including those from S.S. "Dunera"). The camp was then used to incarcerate genuine prisoners of war - initially Italians from the North African campaign and later Japanese. Hay had been selected as a camp site because it was so inaccessible that the chance of a successful escape from the Camp was virtually negligible.
The Quaro in 1945
While the move to Sydney involved quite a change from the dry conditions of the western plains, our new location was, in practice, somehow equally remote.
The Quarantine Station was a good two miles from Manly and was linked via an unsealed ironstone road which extended through the bushland of the Station and then stretched all the way to the main entrance to Manly Hospital. Once you arrived at the Hospital, the road was a normal sealed suburban road.
The Station was located on 600 acres of dense bushland scrub on the headland - an area which had been chosen precisely because it was remote from the centre of population in the city.
The Quarantine Population in 1945
When we arrived,
the Station had a population of some 20 persons. There were eight families
there and they had lived there for many years. They were largely approaching
retirement age (65 years) and, if they were
The heads of households were as follows -
- George Ashton
In addition, there was the Gate Keeper, Harry Pearson, and his family. As they lived in the Gatehouse which was outside the Station proper, and, since he was not employed on the Station, they were not regarded as a true Station family.
The drawing is a rough outline of who was living where when we took up residence.
Apart from one young girl of around six or seven (who left the Station a couple of years after our arrival), there were no other children of our age living on the Station when we grew up. In some ways this gave rise to a somewhat lonely upbringing.
We were assigned the oldest cottage on the Station - a very basic, three bedroom weatherboard cottage identified as "S5" .
This is a relatively recent photograph of the cottage called S5.
The picture to the right is of the children - Denise, Patricia and John (in his new swimming trunks) on the front verandah of S5.
A Who's Who of the Quarantine Station of 1945
The Chief Officer (the Quarantine Master) lived in the best house - a brick house - and worked from the building known as the "office". When we arrived, the Quarantine Master was a George Ashton (wife Mildred). He would proceed to the office each morning wearing a peaked cap to show his status. The hat bore the official emblem of the Station - crossed yellow and yellow and black quarantine flags (as per the cover of this document).
Second in Charge was George Newton. He and his wife Doris had two adult children who lived in the family home - Beryl and Ray. He was particularly proud of Ray who worked in an office and held a responsible position with the Department of Social Services in Sydney. The family had two fox terriers. Mrs Newton was "hooked" on knitting and even when walking the dogs she continued to knit. She also had a garden running along the side of the house which produced one daffodil (which Denise picked on her way out following a brief visit to deliver something and thinking it would never be missed).
George was the Engineer - he had a fireman's ticket and was responsible for the boilers. During quarantine activity the boilers were fired up to provide power for the Station's laundry plant and for fumigation purposes.
George had previously been employed at the Quarantine Station in Melbourne. That family was the only one we knew in Sydney which had an interest in Aussie Rules. George's daughter Beryl was going out with one of the drivers bringing in the goods for fumigation, the common interest being that he played Australian Rules. The Newtons owned a car - a 1927 Whippet - and accordingly were regarded as well off. The only other private car on the Station was one owned by George Ashton.
In a weatherboard cottage down near the second class passengers' accommodation lived Harry Croft who was known as "Crofty". He later moved to another weatherboard cottage near the "Constitution" memorial towards the headland. He lived on his own but with the company of a dog or two and was a bit of a hermit. He was deaf and, I think, Scottish. None of the families on the Station mixed and most particularly this was true of Crofty who kept to himself.
In the next house across the road from S5 lived the Bearpark family. There was Harry who was a small man and his wife Beatrice and some adult children.
The house closest to S5 on the other side was S16 - the most modern house on the Station - it had a million dollar view over the Harbour. Here lived the Thompsons - they were relatively young - probably early 40s. There was Val and his wife Aileen who had a daughter Pam from an earlier marriage - she was the same age as my sister Denise. Val previously had lived at the Quarantine Station in Darwin.
Next door to the Thompsons were the Noonans - old Dave and his wife May had married late in life. Dave always wore a woollen cap and was originally from Western Australia. He was the storeman with responsibility for the maintenance of the store and its stock. The Noonans lived in the weatherboard house with the giant Norfolk pine in the front yard. At the back fence, but within the yard, was a sturdy wooden structure which contained a stable with accommodation for two or three horses and an enclosed storage area for feed. Presumably the house was originally occupied by the cart driver who must have been responsible for stabling and caring for the horses. Dad always referred to Mr Noonan as "comrade" - whether this was because, like Dad, he had served in the British army or whether it was because he had "leftist" tendencies I never found out.
A road separated the Noonans from the next house and this was occupied by the Fullwoods - an older couple who were rather nice. Mrs Fullwood (Vera) had a canary and would always give Denise and myself a licorice all-sort if we took her thistles for the canary. Mrs Fulwood had been a nurse and was consulted by Mother when she wanted an opinion as to whether we children had mumps or whatever. The Fulwoods had no children but did keep chooks - of especial interest to us was that there was one particular favourite which was allowed in the house where it would stand on the table with its head on one side.
The final house in the sector was occupied by another older couple when we arrived - the Taylors.
Then there was the family of the gatekeeper, Harry Pearson and his wife Nina and their children - Neil, Dorothy, Margaret and Janice. Neil would have been a little older than Patricia and the others were around the same age as our family. The gatehouse was about half a mile from our home and so there was no mixing. Apart from that, Mr Pearson did not work at the Station (he worked at the Department of Health in the city) and, as a white collar worker, there seemed to be something of a gulf. It was the task of the gatekeeper to keep the gate to the Station shut each night at 6pm and at weekends - and to open it each morning. Of course the gate was shut on a 24 hour basis during any quarantine activity.
The gatehouse also maintained a Visitors' Book which was kept on a table on the front veranda. All visitors to the Station were required to sign that book indicating what their business was and who they were visiting.
The First Years of (our) Settlement
Our life at the Quaro
started at the S5 cottage. This was a rather old
three-bedroom weatherboard house. Behind the rear garden was the Station's main stables and storage area for the carts - when we were there, there were two large heavy two wheeled carts. The accommodation at S5 was pretty basic with the usual wood-fired stove, a chip heater in the bathroom and a wood copper in the laundry which was outside but attached to the house. The laundry had two cement tubs for washing plus a manual wringer. There were no carpets and the floor boards were unpolished. It had a fenced veranda which ran the width of the house at the front with a quite wonderful view of the northern part of Sydney Harbour. But since the house was situated well down the hill and there was a deal of scrub close by, it did not have the panoramic Harbour views of the homes higher on the hill.
On one occasion during our time there, the house was almost destroyed by fire. The copper in the laundry had been lit to boil water for the washing but the brickwork and cement at the back of the fireplace had given way. When the fire was lit, the flames were able to escape the combustion chamber and reached through to the wooden structure of the home. The first thing we knew was that smoke began to pour out from where it should not have and small flames began to take hold. There was no phone in the house and it would take a good ten minutes to reach the Station's office. Mother knew that the Bearpark's had a phone so asked them to ring the office and report the situation. From there the fire bell down near the Station's store was rung (as was the Fire Brigade) and the men were assembled and trucked up to the house to put out the fire. This they managed to do well before the Fire Brigade arrived from Manly. Though the situation was not serious in the end, it gave us quite a shock at the time as we were faced with the loss of everything we had in the world.
Each house at the Station was situated in large grounds which gave plenty of scope to have a garden. On the other hand, there was little with which to create a garden - the soil was very shallow and sandy. However, being on the basic wage, it was necessary to supplement the wage with what could be produced from a garden. Dad sought to grow potatoes and vegetables but given the poor soil and the fact that, though defined, much of the property was unfenced with only posts and wire outlining the boundaries. This meant that any garden was at the mercy of the local fauna. To the left of the cottage there were a couple of acres of high grass separating S 5 from S16, and this meant that all kinds of pests - essentially rabbits but also bandicoots - could come into any part of the garden which was not surrounded by chicken wire and enjoy the crops.
The MacMahon family lived at S5 for two or three years.
Movement at the Station
big chance came when the Thompsons left the Station to return to the Quarantine
Station at Darwin and our family was able to graduate to S16, the house
we considered to be the best on the Station. It was best in terms of being
brick, probably the most modern and, being high on the hill, having the
best view of any of the staff houses.
This house (S16) was situated next door to the house with the landmark Norfolk pine and was fully fenced. This relatively recent photo shows S16 although when we lived there the front verandah was not enclosed by the white door.
Life at the Top of the Hill
The house to which we moved had been built in 1938 and had three bedrooms. There was a road which passed the rear of the property which gave access to a large paddock at the back of the house and the house next door. From that paddock there were two wide wooden gates which opened onto the back yard of our house. The road at the back continued and at the bottom of the hill it formed a T- junction so that it also ran past the front of the house though again it was some 50 feet from the front fence. This front entry was not direct and so was not as convenient as entry via the back gate and was really only used by those walking up from the office or from the direction of the beach. Thus the main entrance to the house was really the back door. The back door opened straight into the laundry with its wood-fired copper and dual concrete tubs for washing clothes. At a later stage we purchased an electric washing machine. It had an attached wringer which could be swung around so that it was placed between the two tubs. We lit the copper each Saturday so that the washing machine could be filled with hot water and the kids were available to do the washing and hang it on the washing lines which extended across the width of the yard with the weighted lines being supported with wooden laundry poles. From the laundry, the lay-out of the house was that the laundry led to the kitchen with attached larder. The kitchen had a large japan-blacked fuel stove. Obviously this was used for cooking and for heating that part of the house in cold weather. Accordingly, the kitchen was very much the centre of activity in the house and the only place for doing school homework. There was a bathroom with bath and shower and a chip heater for hot water. The house had electricity but there was no gas connection.
There was a separate toilet located under the roof line but accessed by a separate back door.
Strangely, the lounge room had no view of the Harbour. It had a very large open fire place which was situated in the middle of the house backing onto the kitchen stove so that one chimney served both. The lounge room had two large frosted doors which led out onto the front verandah. Unlike the way it appears now in 2008, the verandah was semi-enclosed. There were windows on two sides sitting on a bricked area rising about three feet above the floor. External access was by way of an enclosed sideways-facing brick stair case which led to a "viewing area" at the top of the stairs / entry to the verandah measuring about ten feet by eight feet. It had one of the best views of Sydney Harbour in all of Sydney looking directly at Middle Harbour and the northern end of the Harbour as well as giving a good sight of what had just entered or was leaving the Harbour. To the left there was also an excellent view of much of the southern area of the Harbour. As the house was located on high ground it was well above the scrub meaning that the view was uninterrupted.
|Dad never tired of that view and every night after dinner would stand there for half an hour observing the happenings and enjoying a smoke. It was also a great location to watch the Saturday afternoon races of the 16 footers from the Manly Sailing Club - and even more fun to watch the Manly ferries during storms when the sea was up and they had to deal with the swell coming into the Harbour as they crossed the Heads. Rough seas always meant interesting times in watching the pilot vessel "Captain Cook" as it coped with the sea and brought pilots to incoming ships and took them from those departing when they reached the Heads (see photo to the right).|
And the journeys of the small colliers bringing coal from Newcastle to the gasworks at Little Manly was always fascinating as they passed directly in front of us.The main bedroom was at the front of the house. Strangely, it had but a normal sized window to give a view of that special Harbour scene.
At the side of the house we had a corrugated iron tool shed and workshop and then a second shed for storing firewood and for coke.
Upon moving to the new house, Mum had two objectives in life. First, to be able to afford Feltex for the floors which were unpolished timber. Second, to have a phone connected - this seemed like an extravagance but the Quaro was really isolated and a phone was necessary for serious issues with the children being at school. It was also a comfort in giving Mum access to her own family who she seldom saw - they lived miles away on the other side of the Harbour in Earlwood in what is now seen as the western suburbs. After some time, she achieved both.
Once we obtained a car - a very small second hand Ford with an engine barely able to take it up Darley Road from Manly - there was a need to provide a garage. Dad decided that this could be built onto the back fence in the vacant paddock area behind the house. The framework was erected using second hand wood from some of the buildings which were being repaired. Likewise, we used corrugated iron sheets from the same source. The wonderful mind set which prevailed at the Station meant that one could not ask to use this material, or simply take it, as it was all Commonwealth property. But if you took it without anyone seeing you do so, then the fact that it was being used to construct a building on your home site was never queried. Thus we had to make night time excursions to the demolition site and then silently carry corrugated iron sheets over our heads through the bush all the way home so that we could put up a garage or fowl house.
Work at the Station
Each morning the men
would walk down to the office where, at 8am,
Mr Ashton would detail their work for the day. The normal run of tasks involved maintenance of the Station buildings and grounds - some cleaning, cutting grass around the residential areas (everyone was proficient with a scythe and that too was how Dad cut our "lawn" at home) and burning off to mitigate the risk or bush fires. There was also the occasional task of clearing the drainage pipes when they became blocked by the roots of coral trees at the back of Spring Cove.
As necessary, the men were deployed on fumigation or laundry. Both of these tasks involved firing up the boiler which was served by the still-existing high chimney stack just behind the Spring Cove beach. That was a job for someone with a "fireman's ticket" and that was the only trade qualification required by any of the staff. As mentioned elsewhere, trucks with bales of Indian goat hair and Chinese pig bristles were driven from the wharves in Sydney to the facilities at Spring Cove. There they were unloaded onto flat top railway carts using the manual crane which was kept at the end of the wharf at Spring Cove. The men would then push the trolleys to the fumigating chambers where the giant doors were locked with large circular wheel-handles as seen in old bank vaults. After treatment to eliminate the risk of anthrax, the unloading process was reversed.
In the case of the laundry,
again power was provided from the boilers to provide the hot water and to run
the large washing drums. After the washing and drying process, the sheets etc
were run through ironing rollers which were some ten feet across. Dad normally
ran the laundry by himself.
Larger specialist tasks such as painting were normally undertaken by small teams which came into the Station for that purpose. On one occasion, a couple of pest control men were sent out for a job in the second class accommodation. These buildings stood on high brick pylons. In examining the underside of the floor boards under the building, one of the men reached up and found on the metal plate between the brick pylon and the floor joists some 60 golden sovereigns which some passenger had apparently hidden there and then could not find again or died without being able to retrieve them. These they handed over and were given a small reward for their honesty. Staff at the Station were very annoyed that they had never found these coins.
The normal working day involved an hour for lunch when the men would walk home for food and a blow after which they returned to their place of work giving it away at 5pm. There was no chance of working overtime except for one occasional but regular "perk".
Each weekend by rotation,
one man was appointed to be "on duty". This involved wearing the official
cap and badge and walking around the Station to ensure that there were no interlopers
and that all was otherwise well in terms of no fires, etc. The main issue was
to check on the beaches. The public was not permitted to land at Spring Cove
so the duty officer would check it a couple of times to make sure no one had
landed. However, the public could visit Store Beach (but only by boat) but they
were not allowed to proceed beyond the beach into the Station proper. Since
the Station was a very interesting place, there was always a temptation for
anyone who landed to undertake a little exploration. Again the duty officer
would march down the bush track to Store Beach to ensure that those visiting
were behaving and not straying onto Quarantine property. If anyone was found
walking up to the Station the duty officer was required to warn them and see
them off. I never heard of any trouble occurring as a result. Being "on-duty"
was especially popular with the staff as time and a half was paid for Saturday
and double time for Sunday.
On a few occasions, bushfires broke out in the scrub at the Station. The men would generally gather to keep an eye on it but it was generally allowed to burn out - in any case they had no gear other than hoes and scythes to fight it. On occasion, the Fire Brigade was called and then men assisted them though they were in pretty much the same situation. One such fire was below the old reservoir and another was in the bushland opposite the Station Master's cottage.
Dad worked at these general tasks for some years but always had his eye on the easier job of storekeeper. The Station had a large store where all the supplies to support the passengers and patients during a quarantine were kept - crockery, cutlery, pots, blankets, linen, kerosene lamps, tools and the like. The crockery included Wedgwood plates for the first class passengers and these included markings for particular courses such as "Fish" "Mutton", "Beef" and "Venison". The plates for mutton bore a further message for the diner - "Eat thy food with a thoughtful heart". The plates for fish bore the message "May good digestion wait on appetite".
The store had two entrances - one in the middle of the building and a second door at one end which opened to a lobby giving access to the issuing counter but gave no access to the building itself.
Given his clerical
skills, eventually Dad won that job and that made life easier for him.
He was well qualified to keep the ledgers and to undertake the periodic
stock takes. He also found that if you kept the main door locked (for
security purposes of course), then no one could surprise you if you sat
in your "office" around the back for a read or even had a short
nap at your desk after lunch - even the Station Master had to come to
the counter and shout to attract the attention of the storekeeper.
While we didn't realise it at the time, the store was a treasure trove of nineteenth century goods. Apart from utensils and furnishings and even a copper hip-bath, it also contained hand cuffs, leg irons and truncheons which would suggest that in earlier times, staff had to be prepared for all eventualities.
Photo from "Sunday Telegraph" of 15 July 1956 with caption
"Frank McMahon checks over a supply of handcuffs, leg-irons
In later years, the scope of work at the Station was also extended from guarding against smallpox and other contagious diseases to ensuring that animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease did not enter the country. Thus there was a concern over migrants coming from rural areas, particularly those from Italy, and the possibility that their luggage and possessions might introduce exotic diseases to Australia's rural sector. To deal with this, any such immigrants were identified and brought to the Station with their luggage for personal showering and the fumigation of their possessions. These tasks were carried out by the Station staff. Any foodstuffs found in their luggage were confiscated just as the Quarantine Service does at the Customs counters today. That was how I first came to taste genuine salami.
Dad had a further string
to his bow. As well as working as the storeman, he was responsible for the stores
which were placed in the Administrative Building following the closure of the
Migrant Hostel at Uranquinty in southern NSW. This material was largely medicinal
and had to be stored until it was decided how best it could be used or until
the use-by dates expired. Periodically one of the accountants from the Department
of Health would visit for a stock-take and the writing off of some of the stock.
Our family inherited good stocks on outdated Iodine and Friar's Balsam as well
as many bottles of Cod Liver Oil which proved a pick up to family health.
Another aspect of work was the provision of services. There was no delivery of mail or newspapers to the Station. Rather, these items were deposited in a large locked box at the roadside on the southern side of the Parkhill Gateway. Each day one of the men would take the Station truck to Parkhill to pick up and deliver these items to the Station residents.
Then, as services provided by tradespeople to the resident families fell away, they were taken over by the Station itself. Thus when we first arrived at the Station, the families were served by a baker in Manly who sent a horse and cart around to deliver bread to each house. However, sending a horse and cart on a journey of at least 30 minutes beyond the nearest customer outside the Station (who would have lived at the top of Darley Road) to sell maybe six loaves of bread would not have made a lot of sense. Consequently, when the service stopped, the Station organised for a man to take the truck to the bakery each day to pick up the bread required by the families. This was something I looked forward to during the school holidays - a ride to Manly in the front of the truck. It also enabled us to call into the bakery stables from time to time to pick up a few bags of manure to add to our compost pit.
Other services just fell away from lack of demand - thus the delivery of ice ceased when most people purchased electric refrigerators. The milk man (named Jack Frost), however, continued to deliver. This was possibly because he needed to stay onside with the Station as he enjoyed the privilege of entry to the Station so that he could go rock fishing down the "Gully".
As to garbage disposal, that had always been provided by the Station - the bin was picked up every fortnight and taken up a track adjacent to the fork in the road at the new reservoir for disposal.
Another tasks which fell to a few of the Station staff was to attend the Royal Easter Show each day at the Showground to help man the plant quarantine stand. It was a break Dad enjoyed.
The Pay Process and Low Wages
To bring up a family on a labourer's wage was always a difficult task. Every second Thursday was payday for Commonwealth Government employees including those at the Quarantine Station. So after lunch on that day two men - a driver and an offsider - would take the Station truck and drive to the Department of Health headquarters in Erskine Street in the city to pick up the Pay Clerk and the pay packets for the staff. They would drive back to the Station where the Pay Clerk gave out the envelopes and each man signed for its receipt. The truck then took the Clerk back to the city and returned to the Station.
I can recall that Dad would bring the envelope home with all its bounty - a net £16 to meet expenses and support the family for the fortnight - and to save for a house when the time came to retire and leave the Quaro !! It was therefore important to supplement wages by being as self sufficient as was possible.
The Response - minimising the costs
Faced with little income, it was necessary to work out a response. For our family this involved firstly a resolve to keep costs at a minimum. This meant minimising expenditure wherever feasible. It was largely possible to avoid spending money on fuel as all cooking, hot water and heating costs could be met by using solid fuel. This largely meant going to Spring Cove beach every weekend to check for timber that had been washed onto the beach. This members of the family would carry for more than one mile up the steep railway track and then through the tracks in the bush to our home. In addition, we had access to the trees and scrub which surrounded the homes and could carry or drag fallen branches home. Having secured such amounts of timber did not mean that it could simply be placed in the hearth. The reality was that much of the week-end was taken up placing the wood on high tree horses and then working with the cross cut saw to cut it into appropriate sizes for splitting - say, one foot lengths if the timber was to be used for the kitchen stove or the bathroom heater, about two feet if it was for the laundry copper and up to three feet if it was for the lounge fireplace. For heavy timbers (including replaced telegraph poles which took a lot of cutting), Dad and I would work on either end of the cross-cut; if it was lighter timber we would fit a second handle to the top of the saw above the main handle to give additional push if only one person was doing the sawing. Once cut to size, we would then split it with an axe into sizes appropriate for the particular use. If the wood was oregon we would use it for the bathroom heater and split it into narrow chips with the tomahawk. While the task of providing wood was largely undertaken by Dad and myself, the girls, particularly, Denise, were sometimes called to be part of it. Indeed, when Patricia first went to work at the local bank, the manager asked her did she spend time at home sewing - "No", she answered "but I am good on the end of a cross-cut saw".
Apart from timber we did purchase a dozen bags of coke from time to time for use in the kitchen stove. This was for the purpose of securing a constant heat in the stove when cakes were being cooked and it was necessary to avoid periodic flaring when new wood was added to the firebox. To minimise this cost we always went to Store Beach (and to a lesser extent) to Spring Cove to scavenge for coke washed off the Gas Works at Little Manly after any storm.
Even better than coke were the cobs from banksia trees. These we gathered when we saw them and they gave off an intense heat for a sustained period. Generally they were hard to find because the bush was too dense to trek through but they were easier to find once a bushfire had been through and burned away a lot of the scrub without consuming the cobs.
After we had been at the Station for six or seven years, Dad bought a small 1934 Ford and we were able to use this for bringing up smaller pieces of wood from the beach. Where larger pieces were involved it was sometimes possible to use the Station truck when it happened to be down at Spring Cove for official purposes - like so many things that went on in the Station, this had to be done "on the sly".
Of course, there were a couple of complications in having a fuel stove. One was the fact that there was no thermometer which made the cooking of cakes and scones in particular a matter of great judgment for Mum and one at which she excelled. Again, to light the stove was time consuming and wasteful if it was simply for a minor use - making a cup of tea or warming up left-overs from earlier in the week. More pointedly, to light the stove made the house extremely hot in summer. It was possible to use the electric jug to boil water for tea but we tried to minimise its use as electricity was costly. The money saving answer was the Primus Stove. We used three Primuses to cook dinner during the hot months or when lighting the fuel stove was not warranted. It was also used to make fried bread or toast at breakfast. It was my duty to pump kerosene from a four gallon drum into quart bottles using a small metal hand pump which had a wire mechanism and a marble at the top to facilitate the filling of the Primus stoves. Similarly, I had to ensure that a Brasso metal container with curved spout soldered to it was kept filled with methylated spirits to fill the pool which ran around the nipple to warm and prime the Primus for easy lighting. What a task of organisation it was for mother to have three kerosene Primus stoves pumped up and blazing so as to prepare lunch or dinner consisting of a number of vegetables and generally hogget chops for a family of five.
Place of the "Yard" in our Economy
In addition to trying to keep costs contained, we tried to generate income and substitute for purchases.
All houses on the Station had very large blocks of land and these provided a deal of scope for the development of gardens. In our case, apart from a small allotment allowed to mother for her much favoured roses and carnations, all gardens had to be utilised for the growing of "productive" crops. Thus we had large vegetable gardens in the back yard - on either side of the main path leading to the back door and another large patch further up the incline towards the back gate. In addition there was a further garden at the side of the house in front of the wood shed and then there was the front garden which utilised probably 40% of the front lawn area.
Our main crop was potatoes, Dad being Irish, and it was a crop which lasted for most of the year if properly stored. Potatoes were grown in two of the rear gardens (and part of the third) and in the side and front gardens. In the rest of the rear garden, the main crops grown were tomatoes, spinach, climbing beans, chokos and pumpkins. All gardens were watered by hand-held hose by Dad each morning and evening. Good tomato crops were obtained by reticulating water between the rows in trenches.
The big event for us was the potato harvest. Dad would make a decision as to when the spuds were to be dug up and we would go through pulling up the plants and picking up any potatoes attached or sitting on top of the soil. Then Dad would take the spade and go up and down the rows carefully looking for the balance of the crop and we would place these on Hessian sheeting to allow them to dry. We tried to grow and store enough potatoes to supply us for the entire year. The potatoes were stored in a giant enamel bin which was probably four feet across and three feet deep - I would reckon it was probably of 25 - 30 gallon capacity.
The tomatoes too generally gave a fairly large crop and we did well with chokos - and pumpkins which also had a long storage period if properly dried.
Soil fertility was kept up via a garden compost into which all household scraps were placed and the manured straw from the fowls. Sometimes Dad was able to secure a few bags of horse manure from the bakery in Manly to add in - my job was the bagging of the manure. On the odd occasion seaweed was added but the smell given off was a bit strong. However, that fragrance was as nothing compared to the time Dad found two dead sharks on Spring Cove beach and brought them home and buried them in the pit. The smell which filtered to the bedroom of Pat and Denise was so bad they had to insist on the sharks finding a new resting place. Periodically one of the two compost holes was dug out and dug into the various gardens. Strong smells were also produced through Dad's insistence on producing liquid manure - fowl and horse manure was placed in a 44 gallon drum with the top removed and replaced by a fitted wooden lid. The drum was then filled with water for the maturing process which lasted for some months.
Income supplementation came also from the sale of garden produce. Along our side fence (the side facing the vacant paddock as the sun particularly hit that side) we grew chokos and passionfruit. These were of quite some importance as Dad had negotiated a deal with one of the greengrocers in Manly. This involved selling them - when they wished to buy them - and so we disposed of most of our passionfruit crop and a good deal of the chokos. This did not produce big money - I think chokos sold for 4 pence a dozen - but it all helped. On occasion they also bought pumpkins. We would also collect newspapers which the green grocer bought for wrapping at two pence a pound.
But first and foremost there were the eggs. We probably averaged around 20 - 25 chooks though at times did reach a maximum of 50. The fowls were housed in a corrugated iron shed with two long perches at the back, four raised egg laying boxes and a shaded area which allowed them to stroll and scratch in the dirt and to take water. A doorway had then been cut in the fence and this allowed the chooks into a large outside area fully enclosed with chicken wire of about eight feet in height. This was an area within the large paddock between S5 and S16 which we had cleared. This in turn had a wire gate opening out into the unenclosed paddock.
The chooks were fed on wheat and mash which were delivered every few months by the grain merchant in Manly. Early each morning, Dad would boil up the mash together with vegetable peelings and feed the fowls. Then, when we came home from school, we would feed the fowls by throwing the wheat in their outside run and staying with them until it was all gone to make sure the wheat was not eaten by pigeons or any other external birds. Then we would open the external door and allow the fowls to run in the vacant paddock until it was almost dark. Then we would call them in by beating a tin, ensure all had come back and then lock the doors. Every few weekends we would change the straw under the roosts and disinfect them. All the old straw (ie the dried lawn cuttings) were put into the compost pits.
Every now and then
a fowl would go clucky or sick. We placed such birds in a second run along
the back fence - if it remained in poor health, Dad would chop off its
head with a tomahawk and we would eat the fowl before it had the chance
to die from natural causes. The only time we ate a healthy fowl was as
a treat at Christmas - Dad would keep an eye out for a hen not doing well
in the laying stakes. The photo to the right shows the chook "nursing
home" at the back fence with Dad, Mum, Denise and myself in the foreground.
The eggs produced were not for family consumption either but were for sale - there was a couple up the hill in Fairlight who wanted six dozen eggs every week or two. Mum would wrap them in newspaper, pack them in a small leather suitcase and carry them all the way to Manly and up the hill to Fairlight. All to make a few shillings.
Once we had a car we had a little more scope to supplement income and each month Dad and I would spend a Saturday morning at the garden of a family in Manly doing "rough gardening" - cutting the lawn and weeding.
Denise and I had a private source of income - bottles from Store Beach. No one was allowed to land at Spring Cove but those with access to a boat (these could be hired from Laurie Farrell's boatshed at Little Manly) or their own yacht or motor boat could land at Store Beach for picnics.
Each weekend, and particularly on Sundays, eight or ten groups would land and make fires in the sand using a few stones as a rough fireplace. When we were lucky they would leave empty soft drink bottles. Naturally there also beer bottles left. At six o'clock each Sunday evening, Denise and I would each take a sugar bag and walk for about 15 minutes through the Station to the track leading to Store Beach and then we would make a careful inspection to locate any soft drink bottles which could be taken to one or two shops in Manly and the deposit of three pence claimed. These bottles we put into our bags, swung them onto our shoulders and made the up-hill journey home. On a good day we probably got about seven or eight bottles. Of course we kept our eyes open for other treasures which people may have overlooked or dropped on the sand. Such discoveries were not common but we did find a sports coat hanging on a tree and once we found a wrist watch - on the way home we worked out a roster as to who could wear it but when we showed it to Dad he felt he could best use it.
Beer bottles were more common but at two pence a dozen they were not worth the carriage - though on occasion when there was a good supply we would fill the sugar bag. I can recall doing so and being swung around by the weight in the bag when I swung it onto my shoulder. We would store these bottles at the back fence and wait for the bottle-o's truck to pick them up - he drove through the Station each month or two.
Second hand copper brought a good price at that time too and when electricity wires were being replaced the workmen threw odd pieces down at the base of odd poles. We would gather those to sell to the dealer who periodically came around. In addition, when the naval vessel was wrecked on the rocks at the Gully, Dad insisted Denise and I climb down Jack Frost's rickety ladder to salvage any copper nails.
Dad also was a rough cobbler and undertook all shoe repairs for the family - given the amount of wear on our shoes this saving was of some importance.
Quarantine !! The Real Quarantine Experience
In the course of the
12 years we spent at the Quarantine Station, there were few actual quarantine
situations. Though all residents at the Station were required to have a current
small pox vaccination in anticipation of a problem, we experienced only one
major "emergency". This was in June 1949 and was the only occasion
during our residence when the entire Station was fully shut. On that occasion
it was suspected that one or more of the almost 1,000 passengers on the P&O
passenger liner "Mooltan" bringing migrants from the UK (the "ten
pound Poms") may have had smallpox.
RMS "Mooltan", quarantined in June 1949
With the last real quarantine being in 1935 (SS "Aurangi"), it was probable that few if any of the workers on the Station had worked through a similar situation. So when notified that the ship was to be quarantined, there was a tremendous "to do" as a very limited number of staff had to prepare the buildings to accommodate some hundreds of people - by the time the "Mooltan" came to Sydney it still had some 600 passengers. While the rooms and dormitories at the Station were kept generally clean, they still needed additional cleaning to allow them to actually accommodate passengers. In addition, it was necessary to draw from the Station's store great quantities of sheets, blankets, pillow slips, etc. Of course, supplies were supplemented by the ship's own provisions and the ship provided the bulk of all foodstuffs from its own supplies as well as cooks, etc.
When the "Mooltan" reached Sydney it was required to anchor off Flagstaff Point - the flagpole on the headland then flew the yellow quarantine flag as a warning. A similar flag was flown from the flagpole on Spring Cove beach. All passengers and crew were landed at the Spring Cove wharf by small boat for accommodation at the Station for at least the next two weeks. This meant that the entire Station was closed off from the rest of Sydney for that time. Those considered as possible cases were accommodated in the Hospital and all other facilities were brought into operation, including the (rough surfaced) clay tennis court in front of the first class passenger accommodation and the tiny bar building which had sufficient space for a barman and perhaps six or seven patrons if they stood closely together.
This was the first time we had ever seen the "railway" in action. The passenger accommodation was up a very steep hill from the beach at Spring Cove so a rail track with cable had been built. At the top of the hill was a building in which a wonderfully preserved engine was housed. When the luggage had been assembled at Spring Cove, the engine was rolled out along the rails and onto the turntable in front of that building. Once fired up, it began to haul the luggage which had been loaded onto flat top railway carts up the hill for delivery to the passenger accommodation.
For me, the quarantine was a great joy as it meant that I was unable to attend school for the next two weeks. This was reported to my teacher (and to Denise's teacher). They suggested that we stay with some family outside the Station but we knew no such family so we were able to sit back and enjoy an extra period of holidays. Though the Station was picturesque and fresh, I think the passengers soon became bored of the life with its lack of facilities - especially after they had already spent the last six weeks on board ship. I can recall many walking around the Station to fill in the time. Denise and I tried to address their problem by hiding in the bush with those little plastic canary warblers which could be filled with water and then, when blown, a wonderful bird call would be heard. We thought this an excellent way to introduce them to Australian fauna.
What I found particularly interesting was the way the closure of the Station worked. The main gate into the Station was shut for the duration. Three or four hundred yards from the gatekeeper's cottage, and within the Station proper, was a large shed. Half-way down the shed and running from wall to wall was a wide "counter" and it was at this point that supplies were able to enter the Station. This created what were known as the "clean" and the "unclean" areas. For instance, the baker and the green grocer would bring fresh supplies and the gatekeeper would conduct them to this shed and they would place those supplies on the counter. When the suppliers had left the building via the door on their side of the shed, Quarantine staff entered via a second door on the other side of the shed. Here they were able to take all the supplies and mail which had been left for the passengers (and staff) without making contact with people outside the Station. Other than that, there was no entry into, or exit from, the Station for anyone.
For the passengers, the experience was not so pleasant. Upon coming ashore, each passenger was made to have a disinfectant shower in the blocks in the vicinity of the Power House in the company of other passengers of their sex. In addition, their clothes and luggage were taken to be fumigated. Thirty or forty years later, Patricia met a woman who underwent the experience and she still recalled how unpleasant it was for her and for other passengers and how it was seen as an unpleasant introduction to Australia.
RMS "Mooltan", quarantined in June 1949
In addition, while the setting at North Head appears rather idyllic, the "Mooltan" passengers were quarantined in June which meant that they were not able to fill in their time by swimming or enjoying the beach.
The staff families also
were largely fed by P&O and we felt we were living
extraordinarily well. We experienced for the first time frozen lamb chops which came in boxes of a dozen. There were large tins of biscuits. The need for additional assistance to cope was great so Mum was enlisted in the kitchen, a happy occasion for her. In addition, Dad also volunteered Patricia for a job working the ancient switchboard at the Office.
I recall that the quarantining of the "Mooltan" ended at a time of a severe shortage of vegetables in Sydney and thus they were very expensive. While the staff was cleaning up after the departure of the passengers, Denise and I also thought we had better check out whether any property had been overlooked and left in the rooms so we crept down to the accommodation area. However, as most of the staff was working in that area, we did not have the chance to explore the opportunities so instead went to the kitchen where we found large potato bags partially filled with beans, onions and potatoes. We decided to settle for those and were able to surreptitiously smuggle them into the bush and then home. We thought we had done well - then Dad came home in a bad mood. It appeared that there had been an agreement among the staff to set the vegetables aside and to share them out once the tidying up was done. When they gathered to do so it was found that they had all disappeared and there were many accusations among them as to who had taken them. We were told not to mention the subject to anyone and the family got to enjoy the lot.
After the "Mooltan" episode there were no further full quarantine episodes but there were a couple of strictly limited situations. These occurred a few years later when the migration program by sea had been replaced by migration by air. A flight made over a couple of days rather than over six weeks meant that there was little chance for contagious diseases to show themselves. The standard protection then became vaccination against diseases prior to travel.
However, there were a couple of situations where passengers had boarded the plane without the required injection, or had refused it for religious reasons. This meant odd families being placed in isolation in quarantine for a week or so and being kept under medical observation. In these circumstances, the Station was not fully shut though the gate was shut and the staff were unable to leave the Station for the time involved. The passengers were accommodated in a particular building or, as in one case, were placed in the doctor's cottage (this was opposite the Store and adjoining the carpenter's shop). Again, we got to enjoy a few luxuries courtesy of KLM and BOAC.
These must have occurred in the school holidays as I have no recollection of absences from school (although Patricia and Denise, who were by that stage working, stayed outside the Station with friends.
Schooling and School Holidays
On moving to Manly, the three children were enrolled in the schools at the bottom of Darley Road in Manly. Patricia went to Manly Girls' Primary School where she won entry to the selective Fort Street Girls' High School. Because of the distance to that school, and the amount of travel and fares involved, she was forced to attend Manly Home Science School. Denise and John were enrolled in the Infants School. Subsequently, Denise went to Manly Girls' Primary School and then qualified for North Sydney Girls' High School, a selective school. However, similarly to Patricia, she was not able to take advantage of that option and instead attended Manly Girls' Home Science School. I went to Manly Boys' Primary School and Manly Boys' High School. My first year in High School was at the Balgowlah location ("Shack Town") and the next four years were at the newly built school at Wingala.
The initial times were really hard. There were no other children on the Station so we were on our own. In the morning we would walk the two plus miles to school with our schoolbags on our backs. The first mile and a half through the Station and up to the gatehouse, then beyond that to the entry to the School of Artillery, and further past the NCO's married quarters and on through the Parkhill Gateway was largely through bushland and unmade roads which were hard on the feet and shoes. There was virtually no traffic on the road so there was mimimal chance of someone giving you a lift - and of course, taking lifts was extremely risky for young girls anyway. Once you got to Manly Hospital and St Patrick's College, things picked up as there was a footpath for the rest of the way and the area was populated. Although a bus ran from Manly to the Hospital, it was the family stance that having walked the most difficult part of the journey we would not pay the fare for a ride in the bus when the walk was downhill from the Hospital. That did not endear us to the family running the bus.
When we first arrived, there was another family living in one of the Army houses on that part of North Head at the back of the Quarantine Station. Keith and Ann Latta (who were a few years older than I was) didn't like the thought of newcomers in the area and when our paths crossed walking home (they went to the Catholic schools) Keith (Latta) would pelt us with a few stones.
In the afternoon, we
were able to take the Hospital bus which allowed us to avoid walking up the
steep Darley Road hill and the bus actually took us beyond the Hospital and
as far as the Artillery Barracks. We then walked home from there.
Initially, on arrival, we children also had to walk to school when it was raining. There was no shelter whatsoever on the route to school so it was just a slog for 40- 50 minutes. Depending how bad was the rain and wind, we could arrive at school quite wet for the day despite being kitted in our "raincoats" - during the War, raincoats were not available so we had a type of poncho made out of some sort of khaki waxed material. Dad was not satisfied with this situation and took it up with the Quarantine Station Master who was not particularly moved. However, as Dad joined in argument and became progressively more angry with him, he agreed that on wet days the old official Quarantine truck which was kept parked in the stable complex at the back of S5 would be made available to take the kids as far as the School of Artillery where there was a little shelter. Although no one was allowed into the army base, special arrangements were made so that we could shelter there while waiting for the bus. It might be noted that there was no corresponding arrangement for keeping the kids dry on the way home from school - presumably the "official" thought was that the kids could dry off once home though Dad always tried to wangle a pick up in the truck when he could.
One other occasion of
transport difficulties which I recall was when I was in kindergarten. At lunchtime
I heard someone outside the school calling out "rabbits, rabbit-oh"
and climbed up the fence to see what this was all about. But a nail sticking
out of the fence ripped my knee open and I was taken to the staff room where
an ambulance was called. They also called my seven year old sister, Denise,
and placed us in the ambulance which took us to the Casualty Section at Manly
Hospital. There my knee was stitched and bandaged and that was where the care
ended. I was then placed in Denise's care and we simply had to make our way
back to the Station on Shank's Pony - of course we made it but only with a lot
of encouragement and assistance from Denise.
My first year of High School meant going to "Shacktown" as the many building making up the school at Balgowlah were called. By the time we started second year the new school building at Wingala (North Curl Curl) had opened. This was much further away from the Station - perhaps 7- 8 miles but easier in that one could avoid the Sydney Road hill. At that point I was given an old second hand bike and began to ride each day from the Quaro as bus fares would have been four pence per day. In my last two years at school, I bought another old bike but one with gears which made the journey a good deal easier and quicker - though the trip home and up Darley Road with a heavy backpack of books in summer was never a joy.
Weekends were taken up with chores around the yard though Denise and I were frequently given six pence to go to the Morning Matinee at one of the cinemas in Manly. There were also occasional family picnics at the beach and we always looked forward to the Christmas tides when there was so much more clear water in which to swim.
We would change in the old horse float which was kept at the back of the storage building at the wharf and then swim at one of the two ends of the beach where the water was fairly free of dark weed (with mum keeping an eye out for the approach of sharks). The photo below shows John, Patricia and Denise between swims at Spring Cove.
After swimming we would then enjoy sandwiches while Dad boiled water on the blacksmith's forge in a building outside the laundry - it had a metal enclosed fireplace with a manual set of bellows. To the water was always added a stick from a gum tree, and when it boiled tea leaves were added, the lid placed on the billy and it was then swung around the head making a perfect brew of tea.
In the holidays, the swimming focus for Denise and I shifted to Manly Pool where we were able to swim to the pontoons and the wheel - and later in the day proceed to the Penny Arcade on the other side of the wharf where we spent a deal of time walking around and watching without spending any money.
There was always the billy cart option too.
As they grew older, weekends for the girls were difficult. As the time for going out with boys arrived, there was a real problem in that young lads did not have cars. So It was near impossible for boys, given the minimal public transport, to take the girls home to the Station, then walk back to the Hospital in the hope of finding a bus to take them to Manly. Even if they got back to Manly, chances were that the bus system to other suburbs had stopped. This really reduced greatly the chance for the girls to have a social life and gave little meaning to a weekend - the chores which they had always undertaken continued and it was not until they were at an age where young men were in a position to have a car that their lives had this wider perspective.
Fishing and Boating at the Station
The Station was not, as many people assumed, rich in fish. The best spot was the area known as the "Gully" around the back of North Head but it was somewhat dangerous as it involved a steep climb down the rock face using an old timber ladder bolted to the rock-face and then rock fishing. I think that ladder had been erected by Jack Frost.
Others fished from the rocks around from the boatshed at Spring Cove but this yielded only blackfish while the wharf was generally good for a few leatherjackets and yellowtail and sometimes bream at night. I once caught a pike there. One could also snack on oysters from around the rocks or collect a jar full for oyster soup - we always finished with bloodied hands.
Sharks were uncommon in the area but could be seen the other side of Flagstaff Point. The picture below shows they were not unknown at Spring Cove - author shown with father at left.
Not being the most skilled or patient fisher-people, we mostly used a special trap. This was made of chicken wire with doors at each end which, when the trap rested on the sea floor, fell open and allowed any interested fish to help themselves to any bait which was hanging inside on a horizontal wire. When we then pulled the rope taut the doors shut and we had our catch. This was normally smallish leatherjackets, perhaps three or four landed at a time, which we took home and ran through a mincer to prepare tasty fishcakes.
The most interesting fishing recollection was when Danny Sewell saw from the wharf a large groper motionless in the water. He went away and made up a rope lasso and managed to slip it around the fish before pulling it tight and landing it. It weighed more than 20 pounds.
Most fishing activity centred on the commercial fisherman at Little Manly - the Laurie Farrell crew. Laurie owned the boat shed at that beach from which he hired out rowing boats, motor boats and accommodated the skiffs for the Manly 14 foot Sailing Club. In addition, he had a couple of licensed fishing boats - large rowing skiffs. When the mullet were running, they would net them from Spring Cove. The key person involved in this work was a man employed at Laurie's boatshed respectfully known as "Dummy" (there was also another one-armed man known as "Lefty"). Dummy was a small mute aged in his 50s who has a remarkable ability to spot the mullet shoals.
I am not sure how it came into being, but on the headland between Spring Cove and Store Beach was a sturdy wooden ladder erected at 90 degrees to the rock on which it stood. Apart from being cemented into the rock it was supported by four wire ropes which were secured into the rock. Dummy would land on the beach, hurry round the rocks and up through the bush to the ladder which he then climbed. He would then spot where the mullet were and yell and gesticulate to the boats as to where and when they should throw out the nets. Having done that the four or five men in the boats would then row to the beach and slowly pull upon the ropes to bring the net to shore.
It was very exciting to see just how much thrashing and splashing there was in the pocket and to watch the fish being pulled out and thrown into washing baskets and then into the two rowing boats. Any staff helping or watching were given two or three mullet in acknowledgement of the use of "their" beach. On a good day, the two 15 foot skiffs would be filled to overflowing with mullet and they were then rowed to Manly beach along side the ferry pier where they were sold to passengers getting off the ferry. The going price was four for 2/- wrapped in newspaper.
As to boating, few of the Station staff were interested. Apart from the MacMahon fleet, no one else had a boat until the Harris' arrived. We had a very heavy rowing boat ("Heigh Ho") which Dad made with the assistance of a local carpenter.
We also had a canvas canoe which had been washed ashore in a storm and which Dad patched up. Then Patricia had a VJ sailing skiff ("Blue Peter") which was kept at Laurie Farrell's boatshed at Little Manly.
The rowing boat and the canoe were kept in a rough door-less boatshed close by the official boathouse and next to the sea-face. One always had to be careful when lifting out the canoe as it was always possible that a penguin was sleeping in the covered bow.
Of course there was the official Quarantine Station rowing boat which was kept locked in the boatshed where it was maintained. It was a beautiful craft but in the 12 years I spent at the Station I saw it used only once.
The Shopping Experience
Needless to say, there were no shops at the Quarantine Station and it was necessary to make the trip to Manly itself.
Nevertheless, some of the tradesmen made deliveries. The baker called daily in a horse and cart until perhaps 1950 as mentioned earlier. The milkman called on a daily basis with bulk milk and later with bottles delivered to the back gate. We also had weekly deliveries by EA Jones, grocer of Darley Road which continued until the supermarkets came to town and his goods became far too costly to buy. On occasions, a greengrocer would bring his truck to the Station but the quality of goods offered and the prices meant that he found little support.
Apart from this, the women of the Station would walk to the Barracks to get the bus into Manly where they would do the weekly shopping at the grocer, greengrocer and the butcher. They took the Hospital Bus to return but the bus seldom went beyond the Hospital and on to the Barracks. Thus they would start the long trek from the Hospital to the Station weighed down with heavy loads in baskets along an unsealed and uneven road in all kinds of weather - mid-summer temperatures or rain storms. Mum normally carried a leather suitcase filled with meat for the week and a basket and string bag for the groceries, fruit and vegetables. It was a load that she should not have been carrying.
It was only later in better times when we had access to a car that shopping became a more normal chore comparable with that faced by those living in suburbia.
It was a very isolated life at the Quarantine Station, especially in the first few years of our time there.
In reality, social life did not exist on the Station. The families rarely mixed though an occasional game of cards might occur between a couple of the families. The few children that there were tended to be of different ages, at least in the early years of our time there, and so mixing was limited. Then the Station was so isolated in terms of transport that the children did not get the chance to play with kids from Manly proper and equally the kids from Manly never had the chance to visit those on the Station. In part too, I think they would have been put off by the need to officially "sign in". Patricia did have friends visit occasionally and on her fourteenth birthday there was a tennis party of school friends, with the obligatory butterfly cakes.
Very occasionally the
staff were invited to a film night at the School of Artillery (or Jack Davey
or Bob Dwyer recorded an episode there).
It would probably be fair to say that there was little mixing as the families tended to have little in common and the widely held view was that in a very small community it was best to keep to yourself.
One of the most enjoyable experiences was when we became film stars. Part of the classic Australian film "The Overlanders" starring Chips Rafferty and Helen Grieve was filmed at the Station in 1946. This part of the film was about the evacuation of residents from Wyndham in the face of the imminent Japanese invasion. The action was centred around the beach and the luggage sheds at the wharf at Spring Cove - the walls of the sheds had been painted with the words "Wyndham Meatworks" and staff at the Station were invited to be extras portraying the departing residents of Wyndham. We had to board a converted tug which was moored at the wharf. All of our family was in on the act and there were numerous practices. In the end, the film only included shots of Mum and Patricia and the rest of us were, I guess, left on the cutting room floor. I can remember the director shouting at me and Chips intervening in his drawling accent to say, "Leave him alone the kid's alright". I still treasure that endorsement. We each received a small payment and tickets to the film when it was finalised.
Roads on the Station - indeed beyond the Hospital - were not sealed until perhaps 1955 which made the walk to school and to the shops a deal more difficult and made the use of bicycles unattractive.
The Hospital bus - the 135 - was a bit of a legend in itself. Unlike all the other buses serving the district from Manly Wharf, they were not part of the Government fleet but were privately owned by the Curtis family. There were probably three buses in the fleet with two being in service at any one time. They were single deckers and generally old and clapped out. One ran to Manly Hospital, the other to Bower Street. They were not only owned by the Curtis family, they were also driven by the brothers. Harry was big and fat, Arthur was much smaller. By the time of the afternoon run, it would probably be inaccurate to say that the brothers were not fully sober - in between every bus trip, they would make a visit to the bar at the Hotel Manly and then wander back to the bus to drive. On one particular occasion we witnessed Harry being assisted to walk back to the bus before taking his seat and driving the passengers home. However, because Harry and Arthur only had these two routes and had been driving them daily for who knows how many years, they drove as automatons and it really didn't matter whether they were sober or otherwise. There was always a conductor as well.
The service provided by the bus was not great in terms of providing regular trips as far as the Barracks - the after-school bus did go to the Barracks but few of the morning and afternoon buses did - and even the normal 135 bus reached Manly via a convoluted route along the northern peninsula. We always thought the drivers had no heart for when Mum was laden with shopping, neither Harry nor Arthur would drive beyond the Hospital to take her to the Barracks even when it was teeming with rain and they knew her situation.
As school kids, we would
be let off at the barracks and would wander to the top of the grassed hill for
a run down - one had to speed past the "Balts" - post-war refugees
from the Baltic who were responsible for maintaining the grounds at the School
of Artillery and had a few tethered sheep to help in their task of keeping the
lawns in order.
Our purchase of a second hand car was essentially a response to Patricia leaving school and beginning to work. It was not proper to have a young woman come home in the dark through bush roads through such a lonely place, especially an area going through Army barracks.
Apart from buses, the Manly district was also served by a fleet of taxis - large post-war American cars - but these were expensive by working class standards. Nevertheless, on occasion the family would go to the pictures on a Friday night and splurge with a taxi home in lieu of a late night via the bus service and a long walk. We became a little friendly with one of the drivers, a Mr. Rawlings, who would sometimes gave us a lift if we were walking towards Manly along the road and he had just delivered a passenger.
Flora and Fauna
North Head was covered with scrub and it might be thought that wildlife would abound. This was not really the case.
There were bush rats which were not much seen but which on occasion came to our shed looking for wheat seed which we kept for the fowls and stored in raised 44 gallon drums with fitted wooden lids. Or they would seek pumpkin seeds from our drying pumpkins or eggs if they were ever left uncollected. On occasion they would enter the house. These were trapped with normal rat traps.
There were bandicoots too which showed up at times in the garden rooting around the root systems of vegetables and thereby incurring the wrath of the family. These we trapped in special wire traps kept in the Store which had been used in earlier years for a special purpose - to catch bandicoots alive. The point was that they tended to have ticks aplenty but were not affected by them so they seemed an excellent source from which to develop a vaccine. Each trap allowed the capture of up to six rodents in separate sections of the trap with a gate closing behind the rodent as it entered. In our case, when we caught the occasional problem bandicoot in the trap, it was tipped into a hole in the garden and a spade was run through it. This seems hardly acceptable today, especially to an endangered species, but the produce of our garden was of great importance to us.
Ticks did abound in the bush and it meant that we needed to go through the dog's coat feeling for them and disposing of them with tweezers every night.
There were snakes which generally kept away from the houses but on occasion came into the back yard looking for water. We had black rubber hoses for the garden and I recall the odd snake lying beside it in summer to cool down. They were thus not easily seen but once spotted they were disposed of with a heavy hoe. But generally they were inclined to sunbake on rocks or on the road and would generally hurry away at the sound of humans. There were some particularly bad areas down beyond Clegg's house. Again I can recall a large snake slowly crossing the road as I was cycling home from school. I stopped and found a stout stick and laid into it but not well enough for it reared up to strike which helped me to concentrate on laying it out properly. The snake was then laid at the side of the road as we had the belief that they did not truly die until the sun went down. Denise also got one and on another occasion poor mother missed the bus as a large snake lay sleeping in her path.
There were always snakes and water snakes at the two reservoirs, particularly the newer upper one as it was surrounded by much grass. And a few rocks thrown into that reservoir very quickly stirred up the water snakes which came to the surface, raised their heads and started for the sides.
There were also fair numbers of rabbits running around the bush and these we would trap - that is, until "mixie" made it unwise to eat them.
Birds were not all that numerous though there was a reasonable number of kookaburras which lived on snakes and lizards. One kookaburra was found with its claw caught in one of our rat traps and Dad had to pick it up and release the trap while the kookaburra fiercely attacked his hand. Another interesting sight was the fairy penguin which tended to reside in the bow of our canoe stored in an open boat shed. There were also occasional bats.
Then there was that time of year when the bogong moths appeared in great numbers. One year we had a cousin who had been working in Mauritius staying with us for some months and he was given my bedroom and I slept out on the front veranda which was not fully enclosed. Before turning in, I would lift the pillow to brush away the odd hundred moths but if one then pulled down the blind it was revealed that there were another one or two hundred moths rolled up there and they also fell upon the bed.
There were always stick
insects in the bush and frequently a line of
"hairy marys" crossing a road.
There was a good representation of flannel flowers, Christmas Bells and a few waratahs and we were also able to decorate the house with gum tips as well as with Christmas bush and poinsettia when they were in season.
New Families at the Station
After we had been at the Quaro for about five years, changes began to occur in the workforce. The old timers were retiring and younger men began to take their place and this began to alter the nature of the Station. But in fact the change was fairly superficial as the families largely continued to keep to themselves. Generally visitors tended to be few and I guess many of the younger wives found life at the Station very lonely. Few had cars - when we came only Mr Ashton and Mr Newton did.
The following outline is not necessarily accurate in terms of sequence.
When we were able to
occupy S16, our former home, S5, was then made available to a new family, the
Abberfields - Ray and Eunice together with two young daughters - Gaye and Sue.
So we ceased to be "the newcomers".
Ray was a handyman and had been brought up in Manilla in NSW. They later shifted into the Taylor's house when that couple left the Station.
S5 was then made available
to a new family, the Cleggs - Barney and Eunice and a son of two or three years
- Jeffrey. It was the youngest family at the Station, Barney was a tradesman
and was qualified to be a boiler attendant. He later acquired a BSA motorbike.
George Ashton retired and was replaced as Station Master by George Newton. The Newton's took the opportunity to move into the Ashton house.
Reference has already been made to the Cleggs. Once the Bearparks left, the Cleggs left S5 and moved into the Bearpark residence across the road, a full brick house. There was quite a lot of grass around that house and Barney hit on the idea of bringing in a ewe to keep it under control.
Danny and Beatrice Sewell and their young family arrived and took over S5 - the Abberfield house. This was a nice family - if I recall correctly, they came from the Brookvale area and Danny was very interested in fishing and spent a deal of time doing so at the Station. He had also had an interest in bike-racing. They came with two young boys and a daughter, Julie, was born to them at the Quaro. Danny had a former Army Harley- Davidson and sidecar.
Alan Fidler and his wife moved into the Noonan house next to us. Alan had been in the Air Force and was a keen surfer being a strong swimmer and board rider.
The Fullwood's house was taken over also by another younger family - Fred Roberts and his wife.
Alan Fidler did not stay all that long and his house was taken by Joe Nutter and his family which consisted of two sons and a daughter. Joe was, I think from Yorkshire and had spent time in a Japanese POW camp in Singapore.
When the Newton's moved out of their house, it was taken over by the Harris family - if I recall correctly, the father had been employed in the Department of Health's Sydney office but he wanted to experience a more "rural" lifestyle. At least one of the family's sons, Bill, came with them. Bill had attended Sydney Boys' High School and lent me his Economics books to help me in my high school studies.
In about 1952, two women from refugee camps in Europe were employed and accommodated in the Quarantine Station. Lydia Otti was an Estonian and she shared a house on the Station with an elderly Russian woman known as "Mamma". They were required to mend sheets, etc.
And there was change
too at the Gatekeeper's cottage with the Pearsons moving out and being replaced
by Harry and Sylvia Beed and their family,
Shirley, Barry and Terry.
Favourite Buildings and Items and other Memories
We all had favourite items at the Station. Without a doubt my favourite was the ambulance carts. These were essentially a white canvas stretcher on two wheels about three feet in diameter with legs at each end like an old time wheelbarrow. But they were fully enclosed with a semi-circular canvas covering over the stretcher and with flaps at both ends. I never saw them in use but suppose they were used to transport the sick from the point at which they were received on the beach up the hill to the Hospital. Equally, they were probably used to carry the dead to the morgue. There were two of these stretchers which were stored in an area along from the laundry at Spring Cove.
The morgue was another favourite facility presumably because it was so far removed from everyday life. The morgue was quite a big building on the way to the hospital containing some laboratory facilities but the main room contained a large marble table where the body was laid out. The table was grooved to allow the blood to drain.
The crane on the wharf too was always a fun object and one could push it along the railway tracks which ran right up the wharf and past many of the buildings in that area. The biggest fright I ever got was when my cousins visited the Station and were skylarking with the crane and derailed it such that it looked as though it would topple into the water. Happily it did not and we were able to re-instate it on the rails but it was a day when our hearts were in our mouths.
Other great items were the horse carts which were stored in the stable area behind S5. There were two large carts stored side by side each with two wheels of perhaps five foot circumference. It was great to take the driving seat on these and to imagine driving around the Station.
The grave stones were also interesting - they had increasingly become weathered and had been removed and placed under a verandah in the Administrative building. I never knew precisely where the graveyard had been but understood it was down the hill and in front of the Hospital.
On one occasion Denise and I were wandering in the bush having left the railway track and Denise found a couple of upright markings signifying graves.
Other occasions included the Sydney - Hobart yacht race when we would track up to the inner heads through what was known as the Happy Hunting Ground and watch a wonderful sight from the Old Man's Hat (the rock formation where one large rock is balancing across the cliff at right angles). From this vantage point we also saw the entry of the Queen's yacht "Britannica".
One memorable occasion in 1946 or 1947 was the day when the British fleet departed Sydney Harbour and passed the US fleet which was entering the Harbour at the same time - Dad called it "symbolic".
Our family left in stages. The first to go was Denise who met up with a young officer in the Army who she married in 1954 and took up residence in Puckapunyal. Then Patricia went to work in Tasmania in 1955.
Mum, Dad and I soldiered
on until 1957. Dad had two objectives in life - first, to keep lifting the rate
of his War Pension by having the degree of his incapacity raised, and second
to build up a fund which would give him some chance of placing a deposit on
a home. This he did by joining the Commonwealth Provident Fund rather than the
pension fund as the former paid a lump sum and not a pension. At the end of
1957, he succeeded in being invalided out of the Commonwealth Service and so
it was that we came to leave the Station for ever. This timing allowed me to
finish my Leaving Certificate (Matriculation) at school. Dad went on to take
a job as a caretaker in the city and eventually qualified for the Repatriation
Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) Pension.
(with valuable input, photos and guidance from my sisters Patricia and Denise)
|Before 1900||1920 - 1950||Ghosts|
and was last modified 20th January, 2007.