So here in lockdown June 2021 comes to an end…

A good month for the blog, better than May. I may add details below at the end of the day.

However I thought a peaceful photo post is what we need — particularly of old photos that have come my way via local history and nostalgia groups on Facebook. I have given them a touch of colour.

Lake Illawarra: Looking towards Merrigong (the Illawarra escarpment) or the Saddleback, and what looks like a coming storm. That last detail becomes more apparent with a touch of colour.
This is a scene my father would have recognised from his childhood, having been born in Shellharbour in 1911.
Some nice memories contributed by FB just now. I was rather intrigued by “Mount Keira seen from Gipps and Keira street intersection at Smiths Hill in 1940” so, despite the resolution not being the best, decided to give it a touch of colour. Looks as if Gipps was a dirt road then…
The year my grandfather Roy Hampton Christison began as headmaster at Shellharbour Public School — 1930. In 1935 my mother Jean Christison, and my father, Jeff Whitfield married. In October 1935 my brother Ian was born.

This is the Shellharbour of those years! So rural! So small!
Here is Shellharbour in 1936 when my brother Ian turned 1 year old! Small town, as I said the other day. I can see the Church of England, the school where Grandpa Christison was headmaster, Grandpa Tom Whitfield’s house where Mum, Dad and Ian would also have been living in 1936, and Uncle Ken’s place!

June stats

As at 9pm there were 1,400 views from 509 visitors. That is the second best this year, after March with 1,558 from 671 visitors. The average views per day was 46.

The decades used to be longer once…

Take the 1950s for example. The time that elapsed between the first of the following photographs and the second spans for me the entire decade, even if the second is actually 1955. They also cover my two worlds in that decade — The Shire and Sydney Boys High, and Wollongong to Shellharbour. Both appeared on Facebook in the past day or two, and both have been colourised for my own amusement.

Dressing sheds, North Beach Shellharbour c.1950. FB post by Shellharbour Council.

On FB I wrote: Every chance I was there sometime… That little boy in the foreground could be me, except the girl is not my sister. Could be a cousin though… I had blonde hair when younger…

Then Jeanette may have been wearing some kind of sun hat? On the other hand I would have been six or seven years old, and I am not sure my blonde locks lasted that long.

Jeanette and I maybe 4 years before that Shellharbour pic — evidence of both of us being blondes.

Now to the second photo, this one from the Historic Cronulla and Sutherland Shire FB group.

Photo: Family collection of Lisa Cooper

Back in 1959 after our Leaving Certificate exams were over my Sydney High friend Eric and I one hot summer day hiked from Jannali (where I then lived) via Woronora and Menai to this ferry, the aim being to visit our classmate Roger Dye, who lived in Lugarno — Moons Avenue to be exact!

He was not at home. But his mother was and she had of course met us before when we and other classmates came to visit Roger and go for a row on the Georges River. Mrs Dye kindly refuelled us, after which we caught the bus to Hurstville and train back to Jannali.

So the time between 1950 and 1959 seemed as I said a lifetime. And in a way it was. The time between then and now seems to have gone so much faster! The decade that I have now been back in Wollongong seems mere seconds!

And can this song really have been recorded FIFTY years ago? Surely it was just yesterday….

Such a great Shellharbour photo today!

On Facebook, that is, from the Shellharbour History in Photos Group. How could I not colourise it?

It is dated “late 1940s” and attention is drawn to “City Service Boston wreck in background.”

“The “SS Cities Service Boston”, a 9,348 tons oil tanker, ran aground at Bass Point in New South Wales in a bad storm on 16 May 1943. “SS Cities Service Boston” had been in convoy PG50 four days earlier, when the convoy was attacked by Japanese submarine I-180.” — see Oz At War.

And here am I — the brat on the left — with my dad and mum, my sister, cousin Betty Whitfield, and random girls on the North Shellharbour beach around 1947-8.

See also Shellharbour: very nostalgic and My 1947: Shellharbour. From that second post:

The brat on the left in the sleeveless dark jumper is me, then Mum and Dad, cousin Betty, and in the front row left my sister Jeanette. I am not sure who the other two girls are. There was also a photo, now lost, of my older brother with an air rifle in a bushland area known as Blackbutt. Ian remembered that [in a phone conversation in January 2017].

He was 12, he said, which confirms my thought that this holiday (in my father’s home town) was in 1947. So I am probably 4 years old.

My brother also confirmed my memory that we stayed at Mrs Dunster’s guest house. See this from 9 August 1947:

I was absolutely fascinated by “the weck” as I called it on Bass Point, clearly visible from the verandah of the guest house. My brother actually remembers the event itself, fully described on Michael McFadyen’s Scuba Diving site.

The SS Cities Service Boston was an oil tanker being used during World War 2 to supply the Australian and Allied forces with fuel. Built by Bethlehem Ship Building Corporation Ltd at Sparrows Point, Maryland, USA, for Atlantic, Gulf and West Indies Steamship Lines and launched as the SS Agwipond in April 1921, the ship displaced 8,024 tons and had a waterline length of 141 metres. Its overall length was 146 metres…

Requisitioned by the US Department of War Administration for World War II and operated by them until its sinking, the Cities Service Boston was travelling to the Middle East from Sydney in convoy when it went off course and ploughed into the rocks of Bass Point…

Although the ship sank on 16 May 1943, the only report of the incident at the time was in the Herald on 19 May when it was reported that four soldiers were drowned when washed off a rock platform on the South Coast. It was reported that eight soldiers were swept into the sea out of 34 standing there. It did not report why they were there or give any explanation as to what happened. Absolutely no indication was given to the fact that a ship was sunk that night.

This was because of wartime censorship preventing most bad news from reaching the public. It is interesting to note that the same edition of the Herald carried the good news of the “Dambusters” which happen only short time before. The same edition also had the bad news of the loss of the hospital ship Centaur on 14 May 1943, two days before the Boston was lost (this made the Japanese out to be heathens for sinking an unarmed hospital ship) and was included for obvious reasons.

No other mention of the wrecking appeared in the media until exactly six months after the wrecking when an article appeared on 16 November 1943 in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph actually mentioning the wrecking and the loss of the soldiers. As well as reporting what happened, it reported on the Wollongong Coroner’s Court inquiry into the deaths….

Well worth reading the rest of that.

Another local civilian from Shellharbour, Eric Dunster (?), was driving a milk truck. During break in weather he saw a ship up on Bass Point. He drove out and left the truck near where gates are now into the reserve. He walked out, at 45° due to the strength of wind. Looking back towards Shellharbour he saw there were huge seas hitting the rocks. He got out there about the same time that the soldiers arrived. The rain was horizontal. He helped set up the gear and after a while he left due to the weather.


The “weck”

For more on the Dunster family see Children of Shellharbour’s The Hill.  

On Shellharbour there is also this post from 2020: Dad — would have been 109 today.


I realised soon after posting that the conversation with my brother about that holiday in Shellharbour was one of the last we were to have — possibly even the last. He passed away in April 2017.

See among many posts in April-May 2017 Back again: last photo of my brother. Thanks to my nephew Warren.


Anzac Day 2021

I am staying at home. The Wollongong Dawn Service is indoors at City Diggers, and limited to Sub-Branch members and invited guests.

I have posted often on this, as Anzac Day reposts: 1 shows. In 2015 I posted:

In my Neil’s Decades series you will find much that is relevant.


And going back to the South African War I should add:

….pictures of the people – all relatives – mentioned in those posts…

John Hampton Christison in South Africa; David Christison, his son, a sapper on the Western Front in WW1; Keith Christison, my uncle, WW2

Neil Christison, my uncle, RAAF WW2; Jeff Whitfield, my father, RAAF WW2

Norman Harold Whitfield MC and bar, German New Guinea, Gallipoli, Western Front – from Wollongong; Kenneth Ross Whitfield, my uncle, from Shellharbour


I think I might have indicated on Facebook that maybe there would be a blog post like this…. I’m not going into full family details. If you want that look at my series here. And this search will take you into deeper time.

So that is Wollongong, where in my 70s I find myself again after links going back all my life, and beyond most likely for thousands upon thousands of years — way before anything you will read about in your Bible. For yes, this is Dharawal country, and there is strong reason to believe that I myself through one strand of my ancestry am of the Dharawal. The link I gave you above may lead you further down that path.

I began my life in another part of Dharawal country, now known as Sutherland, in 1943, though my father was born in another part, Shellharbour, in 1911. So the roots go back….

I did not myself live in Wollongong until 1970, when the Department of Education posted me to Dapto High School, and I moved to a half-house in Finlayson Street Wollongong which my mother dubbed The Hovel! But nearby was where my father’s sister, Ella, and her husband George Moon had lived, both of them passed on by 1970. Still living there was — when I look back on it — one of the most remarkable women I would ever meet, and it is a 1970 conversation with her that prompts this post. But first let me tell you about her — and as I have posted the story before I will simply recall it now from my archives:

The woman I thought was my aunt’s maid

Posted on August 27, 2011 by Neil


That’s not a pizza oven!

Miss [Bessie] Foskett gave 40 years of service to the steel industry serving as personal secretary to Sir Cecil Hoskins and successive general managers. She retired from the steelworks in 1965 and opened her own secretarial service and was involved in many community organisations. She died in February, 1985.


I was reminded of all this by a letter in yesterday’s Illawarra Mercury:


You may read an outline history of steel in the Illawarra here. [Dead link: go instead to this PDF. Most of that document is in fact by Bessie Foskett!]

Bessie Foskett, then, was what we would now call PA to Sir Cecil Hoskins, one of the bigwigs in the history of industry in this country and especially in this area. She lived for as long as I can remember with my aunt and uncle, Ella and George Moon, in Wollongong. Because it was so often Bessie who appeared to be in the kitchen I made my erroneous judgement about her role, even asking my mother once if Bessie was Aunt Ella’s maid. There was much laughter about that…


She was also a musician, a cellist, playing in the the 60s and 70s in Wollongong Symphony Orchestra. That skill went way back, and I have wondered if this is how she met my aunt who in her young days was training as a concert pianist.


My father once said Bessie is the one who really ran the steelworks at times. It may well have been true.

* * *

Yes, Bessie Foskett. (And in another coincidence it was her brother’s family who occupied 61 Auburn Street Sutherland, my first home, after we moved in 1952 to Vermont Street.)

So soon after moving into Finlayson Street I visited Bessie. Recall I was all of 26 at the time. And she said to me: “Neil, it is time you put down your roots….”

Well, I didn’t really. By 1981 I was back in Sydney, the inner city — and there until 2010. And now here I am back in The Gong, more than ten years on, and as I have said on Facebook I am now feeling so much part of The Gong as I sit in one or other of my clubs, or look out my window at Mount Keira and Mount Kembla.

Perhaps it was meant to be, and perhaps, Bessie, you knew this is where I belong. As Uncle George and Aunt Ella did. As you did.