Second day out of lockdown

And I stayed at home. It was rather damp and cold yesterday morning, but also perhaps I had just a little more Shiraz at Diggers than I should have the day before….

But I did not waste time too much, and I do have plenty of food here at home — except for bread which I must renew from the local shops today. One thing I accomplished was downloading my official vaccine status document form Medicare. This is the business end of it:

Me not having a smart phone, that only exists on my laptop. I have not yet printed a copy either as my printer really is useless as I have basically given up buying ink for it. I can no doubt contrive to get a printed copy later on. So for the moment any venue I try to enter must either 1) accept the Wollongong Medical Centre’s statement, which I carry with me at all times or 2) wait while I fire up the laptop. Not that it takes all that long.

Meanwhile quite a few have been marking the passing of a remarkable Australian, Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku who has died at age 101.


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.


On at least one advantage of being alive when George VI was King — and one for Philip

On the excellent Historic Cronulla and Sutherland Shire Group on Facebook — not all nostalgia sites by the way are excellent: some are merely trivial, others pander to the most reactionary (and worse!) among us — there appeared this photo of Sutherland Post Office in 1940, during both World War 2 and the reign of George VI. My late sister Jeanette was born into our Auburn Street Sutherland family in 1940, and I came along in 1943. So as I (we) grew up, this was the local post office, and I clearly recall it. Not sure whether the picket fence lasted through the 1950s though. I have colourised the image for my own amusement.

So the issue came up: where exactly was this? David Little, the group moderator, wrote: “SSL LS has pinned the location as Corner of Princes Hwy & Flora St – this is open to debate and the caption will remain fluid until location is confirmed – members are encouraged to contribute suggestions.Photo: Sutherland Shire Libraries Local Studies collection.”

One comment (no longer there) claimed it must be Eton Street as there is no hill in Flora Street and even mentioned a likely weatherboard building in Eton Street that may have been this one. Personally I think that comment was thinking of the original Sutherland Library which I spent many an hour in, just up Eton Street from the Council Chambers.

Another comment from Faye Bray got to the truth:

This post office was definitely on the corner of the princes highway and flora st. Our family moved to Sutherland in 1946 and that is where it was… I also remember on the opposite corner was an old grocery shop with wonky wooden floors and the grocer had to climb ladders to get to items. I have so many memories of Sutherland, we lived in Oxford st for 18 years and watched the first part of the servicemen’s club being built.

I then contributed:

Faye Bray is right. I can remember being in that post office, and Vallance’s Stores next door. In this photo from the Sutherland Library collection you can clearly see the Post Office fence on the right of the photo. Corner of Flora and Old Princes Highway for sure! I was born in 1943 and lived in Sutherland and went to Sutherland Public School from 1949-1954. Lived in Auburn Street then Vermont Street, then from 1956 Kirrawee and then Jannali from 1959… I can vividly remember the sound of morse code being tapped in the telegram office part of that post office.

When I posted both pics on my own Facebook I elaborated:

A touch of colour for old Sutho Post Office, when post offices were just post (and telegraph) offices and not shops selling tat…. Old Princes Highway, corner of Flora Street — near the railway station. Have a look at this one (colourised by me) from the Sutherland Library collection. The Post Office fence is on the right of the photo. I can remember Vallance’s store too! We used to buy chook food, garden stuff and chaff for my brother’s horse there.

Here is that second photo:

Louise D’Arcens (who now lives in the house my family occupied in the 1940s-January 1952) also wondered about the Flora Street “hill”. My theory: ” I suspect that is not a hill but an optical illusion caused by the camera lens* or position. The photographer is somewhere on the north approach to the bridge over the railway. Flora Street also appears wet to me, as if it has been raining.”

* A wide-angle lens can do this to the edges of the field of vision.

But the clincher is this from the reminiscences of Mary Parker, in the Sutherland Shire Library Collection — and I have only just found this!

MK: And Flora Street was just a track in those early days?

MP: When my parents came there it was just a track – did I tell you on the tape?  Yes, there was a bush track and my mother used to put the lantern on the gate so my father would know that he was approaching the place and nothing for him to trip over a cow that might be lying in the track or fighting his way through cobwebs on the trees, yes.  Then, of course, I always remember Ellem’s shop, the old grocer shop on the corner, Ellem’s.

MK: Somebody mentioned that recently.

MP: Yes, Mrs Ellem’s.

MK: On the corner of where?

MP: On the corner of Flora Street and, what is it, the Princes Highway.

MK: On the north or south side?  No, the post office is on the north side.

MP: It’s where that bank is now.

MK: Right, yes, on the south side.

MP: And then, of course, on the other side was just this post office, just a little wooden building up there.

MK: I remember it, actually.      

MP: Yes, and I always remember the postman would deliver the mail on horseback.

Here is another colourised photo: On the back it says “March 21 aged 9” — Jeanette’s ninth birthday (19 March 1949) being crashed by me, it appears. Left to right: Connie Phipps, Jeanette, me, Gail MacNamara, Deidre Hawke. The Auburn Street house is in the background.


Our neighbour, Tibby Doyle, worked in that Sutherland Post Office. Later, in the 1960s, she worked in Cronulla’s. And the Doyles were no longer in Auburn Street but in Glencoe Street.

Here is the same scene as that 1940 Post Office shot today, thanks to Google Streetview:

From the ramp leading to the bridge across the railway line.

I remember too the sadness in 1952 when King George VI died. Overwhelming really to my 8 year-old self, as just about a month before my much-loved sister Jeanette had died. So with that in mind, and in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh, I finish with a poignant few minutes from Saturday’s funeral.

From Sydney High to World War 2 heroes….

Even with all the idiocy happening between Facebook and the Australian Government (property of Rupert?) interesting things do pop up there still — and a reduction in news and associated moans is not an entirely bad thing. Trouble is the determined newsmoaner (I just invented that word) will find a way, and they have it seems. Anyway, this post is actually not news, but it is serious. I think it tells a great story — and not a moan in sight!

A Brown (bow), W Skinner (2), E White (3), G Meldrum (str), T Kelly (cox)

That’s the Sydney High First IV in 1939. They won their GPS Regatta race that year, as did the Second IV. The VIIIs, the prestigious Head of the River, was won by Shore. Mind you, not a good year, was it, given what was to come six months later….

Made in 1965

That is what popped up on YouTube last night. It is a good reminder of what my parents’ generation went through, and near the beginning it does mention the 1939 Head of the River, or The Boat Race as it calls it. Now that was just twenty years before my own Leaving Certificate at a Sydney High hardly changed from 1939! There were even some staff members still there! In fact, looking just now at a 1943 staff photo there are six there who were still there between 1955 and 1959! On reflection — twenty years (21 to be exact) since I taught that memorable Class of 2000 at High! Unbelievable!

In sharing that video to Facebook I wrote: “The Boat Race referred to near the start is the GPS Regatta.. The last times SBHS won were 1957 (when John Pilger was in the crew) and 1959. So I am in that special bracket that is still alive and saw SBHS win ‘the boat race’. There were no boat races from 1940-1945, so the doco must be referring to 1939. Shore did win the VIIIs, but High won the other two major events, 1st and 2nd IVs. Then came the war. There were SBHS boys involved, Roden Cutler for one, and one Bob Page…”

[Sir] Roden Cutler was awarded the VC and went on to be Governor of NSW. The driveway from Anzac Parade to Cleveland Street past the school’s front entrance is named after him. And the gates at Anzac Parade, dedicated to him in 2007.

Dr Jaggar, the Principal, said at the Dedication:

As a scholar, sportsman, soldier, leader,diplomat, concerned citizen and statesman,Sir Roden Cutler was an example in action of our SBHS ethos – with truth and courage. At High in 1934, Sir Roden was awarded School Blues for swimming, water polo and target rifle shooting. Sir Roden was described as a trier, a leader and a role model for younger boys. At High, then as now, we idealise the good all-rounder – the person who has the talent, courage, will power, self-discipline, flexibility and communication skills to succeed in a variety of endeavours. Sir Roden was such a man. His integrity in public life was legendary; his gallantry conspicuous, his humility inspirational. He was able to interact easily and warmly with people from all walks of life. He loved his sport. His lifelong dedication to public service and charitable causes marks him out as a very special Australian icon – a man of the people.

Most importantly of all for us here, Sir Roden held his old school in high regard and throughout his life supported its activities. His involvement as patron of our organisations made him special to our community. He was a point of reference for the school in its history and a champion of its causes. He dedicated buildings and made himself available at ceremonial occasions, despite his commitments as Governor. Even as late as 2000, nearly two decades after his retirement, he attended an Anzac Day assembly with a 1934-40 class reunion at High, despite his ill health and the inconvenience of being confined to a wheel chair. He joined in the singing of the school song with his old classmates. He followed closely the fortunes of the cadets and the rifle team and was very pleased with the gift of a picture of the High GPS Championship target rifle shooting team of 2001. It was with a solemn pride that twenty School Prefects formed up behind our school banner and led the procession into St Andrews cathedral at Sir Roden‟s state funeral in 2002.

As a staff member in 2000, I was at that Anzac Day assembly. But Bob Page? Now there is a story!

This humble fishing trawler led a double life during World War II as part of Operation Jaywick.

I then cited the story from The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX19158) Captain Robert Charles Page, Z Special Unit, Second World War.

Bob Page was born on 21 July 1920 in Sydney, the eldest son of Harold and Anne Page. He attended Sydney Boys’ High School and enrolled to study medicine at the University of Sydney in 1940. He left his studies a little over 12 months later to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. Joining the 2/4th Pioneer Battalion, he was quickly promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

In 1942 Page’s father, Harold, who had been a senior administrator in New Guinea, was captured by the Japanese at Rabaul. Later that year Harold Page was en route to Japan on board the Montevideo Maru with more than a thousand prisoners of war when it was torpedoed and sunk, killing all the prisoners on board.

In the same year Lieutenant Page transferred to Z Special Unit, a joint Allied unit formed to conduct clandestine operations behind Japanese lines in South East Asia. In September 1943 he took part in Operation Jaywick, devised by British officer Captain Ivan Lyon and using a dilapidated Japanese-built fishing vessel, the Krait, to sneak a crew of 14 into enemy waters. The Krait left Western Australia on the 2nd of September and arrived off Singapore about three weeks later. From there, Page and five other men paddled canoes in to Singapore Harbour and attached limpet mines to Japanese ships under cover of darkness. They destroyed or seriously damaged seven ships, more than 35,000 tonnes of shipping.

On his return, Bob Page married Roma Prowse in Canberra on the 1st of November, 1943. His role in Z Special Unit required him to keep the operation secret from Roma. Page was awarded the DSO for his “courage and devotion under extreme hazardous conditions”, but because of the need for secrecy it was not officially promulgated until 1945 and Bob never knew about it….

To conclude the story, I turn to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

In September 1944 Page was one of twenty-three men taken by submarine to the South China Sea. There they seized a junk in which they sailed towards Singapore. On 6 October, off Laban Island, they mistakenly fired on a Malay police launch, killing some or all of the crew. With secrecy lost, the mission was abandoned. The commandos scuttled the junk and made their way in rubber dinghies to their base on Merapas Island. For about two months they either evaded or fought off the pursuing Japanese. A British submarine sent to collect them failed to make contact. Page and ten other survivors were eventually captured, taken to Singapore and sentenced to death. With nine comrades, he was beheaded on 7 July 1945 at Ulu Pandan. After the war had ended, his remains were reinterred in Kranji war cemetery. His wife survived him.

There was a made-for-TV movie in 1989, Heroes of the Krait. It is on YouTube, quality watchable but not great.

My own private Idaho — sorry, VJ Day 1945

Loved that movie, based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

But I meant to tell you about VJ Day in 1945 — and yes, I was alive then. And saw something very like this.

I told my blog readers about it first around 20 years ago.

On my old Diary-X blog I had a series that pleased some readers (one very much). For each place the idea was to recall a few stories, or to try to capture that time and place. I guess it is the sort of thing a poor old sod does in his dotage! Fortunately, some of the earliest ones survived the great Diary-X crash.

Auburn Street 1943-1952


Auburn Street: the front yard in the 1940s: my brother Ian, sister Jeanette and I

The house is still there….

At the bottom of the backyard was a line of gum trees, a paling fence with allegedly poisonous gourds growing on it, and in front of that the chook yard. The story goes, as I can’t remember this, that my grandmother (whose nerves were not good as she had two sons and one son-in-law away in the War) was coming back one day from feeding the chooks when an American in a Kittyhawk or a Mustang appeared at treetop level and chased her up the yard. Convinced it was a Zero and she was about to die, my grandmother dropped everything, screamed, and ran for the house.


I do remember sitting on my dinkie on the gravel drive, near the Dorothy Perkins climbing rose which I called Mrs Perkins and confused with the lady next door who I thought was also Mrs Perkins. A yellow biplane flew over very low and the pilot leaned out and waved to me. My mother later told me that must have been the end of World War II….

Poor Grandma Ada! Imagine this chasing you up the backyard.

And as I posted on Facebook yesterday:

Conscious of my Dad and Uncle being RAAF, I was passionate about planes as a young kid. How could I not be? Dad’s RAAF greatcoat was still in the wardrobe. I saw the medals frequently. I attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service in Sutherland at least once with my Dad and went to the “breakfast” after and heard the talk and felt really proud of my Dad. At my Uncle Neil’s place in Kirrawee there were wartime plane identification pics under all the Women’s Weeklies in the hall cupboard. And These Eagles, which I read avidly. Again as I acted as DJ and played the old songs I heard the talk. It was truly part of me. Mind you neither of them were great RSL types in those days, though I think Uncle Neil was a member of the Air Force Association.

I am a war baby.

Don’t you forget it. I don’t.

Finally, a bit of blog stat news.  Already we have passed the total views of all of 2019!  Thanks, people.

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