Dad — would have been 109 today

Started life in Shellharbour NSW 25 November 1911. The place has changed so much in recent years, but I can remember it as not all that different from the place my father knew. There was a photo perhaps from the 50s or 60s posted on Facebook recently. I have colourised it. I am sure Dad would have recognised it.

Mid 20th century Shellharbour — South Beach

He passed away during the Christmas holiday period in 1989. I recall being at my mother’s place (then in Glebe) on the phone to the Undertakers when the Newcastle Earthquake shook the place — even in Glebe!

He served in the RAAF in World War 2.

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Things my father did/didn’t tell me

Posted on November 27, 2015 by Neil

Let’s think about 1925, when my father was 13/14 years old. There was, he told me more than once, a group of artists that used to come down to Shellharbour – from Sydney, one imagines. My father spent time with them, and they encouraged his artistic talent, evidence of which I have seen in works he drew during World War 2, none of which survive.

My grandfather T D Whitfield didn’t encourage this artiness. My father told me that he therefore hid his art gear and paintings in a rock shelter on what was then Native Dog Hill, Mount Warrigal today.

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See Shellharbour – a double post

Perhaps my grandfather also had in mind the influences my dad as a very handsome boy who had just left school at 13 may have been subjected to.

DH Souter, who supervised the decorations for the 1923 artists’ ball, described it as a ‘jazz fantasy’. It was at this ball that the famous poet, writer and Queen of Bohemia, Dulcie Deamer, wore her cavewoman outfit. The photograph of Deamer dressed in a wrap-around leopard skin hide complete with a dogtooth necklace has come to symbolize the joi de vivre of the decade, despite Deamer’s own protest regarding its relevance.

Perhaps the most notorious of the artists’ balls of this decade was held at the Sydney Town Hall in 1924. The ball turned, if not into an orgy, then into a veritable bacchanalia: alcohol flowed freely and spirits were smuggled in in great numbers. Deamer called it the ‘Night of the Great Scandal’. The theme of this ball was ‘Back to Childhood’, so George Finey hid a bottle of rum in his nappy, secured with a safety pin, and Jack Lindsay hid whisky flasks in the habit of his friend who had dressed as Friar John. In the basement of the Town Hall the floor was covered in beer. Fights erupted after gatecrashers climbed through the basement windows, and extra police and the fire brigade were eventually called to clear the overcrowded basement which was littered with drunken semi-naked women, broken crockery and high spirited revellers. The Lord Mayor’s orderly, Martin Carrick, reported that ‘in one place I saw a helpless man and woman vomiting into each other’s laps’, and in the Ladies Rest Rooms ‘men were entering with women and locking themselves in the compartments’.

Certainly sometime around 1925 my father encountered the poetry of Swinburne. In the 1960s I found that rather sad, seeing Swinburne through Leavisite eyes – not a great figure in the pantheon of Sydney University English in those days.

A land that is lonelier than ruin
A sea that is stranger than death
Far fields that a rose never blew in,
Wan waste where the winds lack breath;
Waste endless and boundless and flowerless
But of marsh-blossoms fruitless as free
Where earth lies exhausted, as powerless
To strive with the sea.

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Far flickers the flight of the swallows,
Far flutters the weft of the grass            10
Spun dense over desolate hollows
More pale than the clouds as they pass
Thick woven as the weft of a witch is
Round the heart of a thrall that hath sinned,
Whose youth and the wrecks of its riches
Are waifs on the wind.

Actually it is rather dreadful, isn’t it? Not so this painting in the Art Gallery of NSW, which my father loved, as do I still.

Artist : Douglas Watson (Australia, b.1920, d.1972) Title : Date : -1948 Medium Description: pen and ink, wash Dimensions : Credit Line : Purchased 1952 Image Credit Line : Accession Number : 865

W Lister Lister “The ever restless sea” 1892

My father also encountered in the 1920s the writings of Robert Ingersoll.

I do not say, and I do not believe, that Christians are as bad as their creeds. In spite of church and dogma, there have been millions and millions of men and women true to the loftiest and most generous promptings of the human heart. They have been true to their convictions, and, with a self-denial and fortitude excelled by none, have labored and suffered for the salvation of men. Imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, believing that by personal effort they could rescue at least a few souls from the infinite shadow of hell, they have cheerfully endured every hardship and scorned every danger. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they believed that honest error was a crime. They knew that the Bible so declared, and they believed that all unbelievers would be eternally lost. They believed that religion was of God, and all heresy of the devil. They killed heretics in defence of their own souls and the souls of their children. They killed them because, according to their idea, they were the enemies of God, and because the Bible teaches that the blood of the unbeliever is a most acceptable sacrifice to heaven.

My father was fond of Omar Khayam:

His creed was “moderation in all things”. Since I became a dedicated Calvinist in the mid 1960s I found that disappointing; I am sure Dad was however trying to tell me something. It was around this time he mentioned Colonel Ingersoll.

Fragments from Auburn Street 60–70 years ago — 4

Posted on  by Neil

Coming back from the war my father (right) determined to build up his own

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business as a builder and developer, partly in response to the post-war housing shortage and related policies.

In the 1930s, Sutherland, like everywhere else in Sydney, suffered the Depression, with many families in trouble and in need of assistance. It was not uncommon to see unemployed people selling flowers along the road to the cemetery. Despite this, Sutherland was the first township to have a baby health centre. The work of Father Thomas Dunlea, Roman Catholic parish priest at Sutherland, was notable at this time. He took in homeless boys and later rented a small cottage in the centre of town to accommodate the growing number. Due to overcrowding and insufficient space, it later moved to Engadine and became the well-known Boys’ Town.

In 1939 a railway line from Sutherland to Cronulla was opened and completed the network of links between the shire suburbs with Sutherland as a hub.

Postwar Sutherland

As Sutherland was so close to the national park, residents used parts of the park closest to the township for recreational purposes. With permission of the Park Trust, an area had been used as a rifle range from 1915, set up primarily by councillors and local businessmen. Over the years other sporting and recreational activities had also been held there. In 1950 due to the housing crisis the rifle range area was used to temporarily house low-income families in a camping ground that operated until 1958. By then housing was more easily obtainable, so the remaining people were moved. The area then became playing fields, known as Waratah Memorial Playing Grounds.

— Dictionary of Sydney….

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I remember the houses he built on that land, and that my brother Ian worked on them as an apprentice carpenter.

Comfort Homes eh! I had forgotten that business name, but the front room at 61 Auburn Street was the office and Mum the receptionist. It was a mixed success, as by 1951 dad was back working with C S Boyne, a Real Estate Agent in Beverly Hills and a relative of my mother’s mother’s family. In due course in the 50s he had a semi-independent enclave in another Beverly Hills agency, Sproule’s.  By the later 1950s he was independent again at Jannali and Sutherland.

Sometimes the business prospered mightily, sometimes it didn’t.  I’m afraid I took as little interest in it as possible!

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Bread delivery, Sutherland in the 1920s. Same thing and maybe same cart was in Auburn Street in the 1940s – along with the milko and the ice man.

Back to Shellharbour — 1947:

Back row: me, Mum, Dad. Cousin Betty. Front: my sister Jeanette, two random girls….

3 thoughts on “Dad — would have been 109 today

  1. Thank you for sharing the story of your father. We are the keeper of history. We must teach our children. We came from strong people and we must be strong.

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