Sunday, 6 May 2018

George Edward Ardill 1857--1945




George Edward Ardill (1857-1945)[1]

George Edward Ardill (1857-1945), evangelist and social worker, was born on 17 December 1857 at Parramatta, New South Wales, second son of Joshua Ardill, plasterer, and his wife Anna Maria, née Johnson. The family were Baptists.

 After elementary education at Parramatta, he took an office job and then in 1883 briefly set up in Pitt Street, Sydney, as a stationer and printer. While still in his 20s he devoted himself to full-time charity organization. Already attracted to the gospel temperance movement, he started the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army, a temperance organization which long remained under his personal direction. He joined the Local Option League on its formation in 1883, and later the New South Wales Alliance, serving it for some thirty years as councillor, honorary treasurer, and secretary in 1900-03.

George Edward Ardill as he appeared in middle age--he was a highly prominent  religious campaigner , starting the Blue Ribbon  Gospel Army temperance group and the Sydney Rescue Work Society  to finance the many charities  he was to set up throughout his life.
In taking the gospel to the godless at late-night street meetings, Ardill discovered destitute and homeless women. With characteristic practicality, he set about providing shelter and in 1890 formed the Sydney Rescue Work Society to help finance his work; it became a major charitable organization, attracting support from (Sir) Samuel McCaughey and Ebenezer Vickery. In 1884 an All Night Refuge and the Home of Hope for Friendless and Fallen Women were opened, the latter a lying-in hospital to which later he attached a commercial laundry where the women were gainfully employed and given 'training'. In another home, the Crusade to Women operated to reclaim the penitent, especially those saved from drink. He ran two other homes for discharged prisoners in 1884-91.

So that the mothers from the Home of Hope could take work where a child was not acceptable, Ardill soon was involved in providing for the unwanted children. In 1886 he founded the Society for Providing Homes for Neglected Children, which opened Our Babies' Home that year, Our Children's Home at Liverpool in 1887 and, in 1890, Our Boys' Farm Home at Camden where older boys were to be trained on near-by farms. In the 1890s Ardill was organizing crèches in the city. By then he was reputedly a director of twelve societies: his work was becoming less directed to rescuing the fallen than to providing for the needy.

Ardill photographed outside the  Home for Neglected Children at Concord, later to be named 'Ardill House'.
On 8 September 1885 at the Baptist Church, Bathurst Street, Ardill had married Louisa (1853-1920), daughter of Thomas Wales. She had had experience as an evangelist in England and, after her arrival in Sydney in 1883, in the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She served on the executive of the latter, superintended its franchise department in 1901-02, and represented it on the New South Wales Alliance for many years. Louisa also shared her husband's work, taking prayer-meetings, acting as supervisor from time to time in one or other of the homes and, notably, as matron-superintendent of the Home of Hope hospital, which provided under her direction and instruction a training centre for midwifery: in 1900 seventy-six trainees passed the external examinations, their fees amounting to about a tenth of the hospital's income. As it came to be used more by private patients in separate rooms, it was renamed South Sydney Women's Hospital. Extensions were made in 1904 and 1911, and surgical and gynaecological departments added. Louisa died in 1920 after a long illness but the hospital continued until World War II without government subsidy.

George Ardill's first wife Louisa Ardill (nee Wales)  set up a training centre for midwives, which later grew into South Sydney Women's Hospital. She died in 1920, and Ardill remarried one Kelsie Hannah Starr in the following  year.
Ardill was less successful in extending his other institutions, despite persistent effort and ingenuity in fund-raising, such as publicity in his quarterly magazine, Rescue. By adopting the cottage home as his model, he had considerable staff expenses and substantial mortgages to pay off. Repeatedly in financial difficulties and occasionally vilified in the press for failing to publish accounts, he juggled the funds, paying current expenses from building appeals and foregoing some of the modest allowance due to him as director of the Rescue Work Society.

Although he had successfully sued the Australian Workman for libel in 1891, he was severely reprimanded by the 1898-99 royal commission on public charities for sometimes failing to pay employees and also for his leniency in not forcing his unfortunate women out to work and allowing some to be admitted for a second illegitimate child. Prepared in principle to agree with the commissioners, he was kinder in practice: government subsidies (received since 1893) ceased. Although he remained executive director of the children's and the babies' homes until 1945 the numbers in his care gradually declined.

Using every device at his disposal, Ardill was perpetually seeking to gather funds for his many and varied activities--badges were sold, magazines ('Rescue') were distributed, and prayer meetings convened. His energy in pursuit of his goals was boundless.

 Interested as an evangelist in the Aborigines, Ardill joined the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Association, which financially supported Daniel Matthews's mission. Secretary from 1886, he was involved in the removal of the Maloga settlement. Ardill joined the Aborigines Protection Board in 1897, representing the association. A regular visitor to its stations, he became the board's most active member, a vice-president by 1909 and its effective policy-maker. Convinced of the need for positive policies to change the situation of Aborigines, Ardill set about making them 'useful members of the State' by taking the children away from the Aboriginal community, putting them to work in private homes or on station properties, and placing others, too young for work, in his homes. The 1909 Act conferring the requisite authority on the board to place or 'apprentice' neglected children was largely due to his efforts, as was the reorganization of the board's work.

In 1915, again on his recommendation, amendments to the Act strengthened the board's hand, but were condemned as 'reintroduction of slavery', and by the secretary of the Australian Aborigines Mission as attacking Aboriginal family life. Whether on account of these objections or on other grounds, Ardill had over-reached himself. He had pestered the government for more money and over the appointment of inspectors, and in 1916 was forced off the board.

Ardill was an expert lobbyist. He was a founding member of the Social Purity Society in 1886 and later secretary of its vigilance committee on public morals, and a founder and in 1890 secretary of the New South Wales Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He successfully campaigned for an affiliation Act establishing a woman's right to support from the putative father of her child before its birth, and for a children's court, but failed to get the age of consent raised from fourteen to seventeen. He was convinced that where women were destitute and without recourse to support, infanticide occurred.

Despite living in Warrimoo in his later life, Ardill continued to supervise charitable institutions such as the Ardill House Boy's home (above), and despite being driven off the  Aborigines Protection Board in 1916, he maintained a lifelong influence in policy-making relating to Aboriginal people in NSW.
The Ardills were ecumenical ahead of their times: both were prepared to conduct services or speak in other churches. A member of the Evangelical Council of New South Wales, Ardill helped to organize some of the special missions which in the early years of the century drew attendances of 50,000 to 100,000, and was joint secretary for the J. Wilbur Chapman and Charles Alexander mission of 1908. He later served as local secretary for the Australasian Chapman-Alexander Bible Institute. In his latter years the United Preachers' Association of New South Wales was especially dear to him.

Awarded an M.B.E. in 1934 for community service, Ardill died on 11 May 1945 at Stanmore and was buried in Waverley cemetery with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £13,356. Survived by a son and daughter, he was predeceased by his second wife Kelsie Hannah, née Starr, whom he had married on 5 October 1921; before and after marriage she helped to run the mission's office. Probably the friend giving the funeral oration came closest to the essential Ardill: 'He loved to plan and scheme and contrive in the interests of causes dear to his heart'.


[1]  This whole text is derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography—adb.anu.adu.au/biography/ardill-george-edward-5048

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Warrimoo Train Smash--1930




The Warrimoo Train Smash—1930

At 6.25pm on Monday 27th January the excursion train service consisting of two steam locomotives along with 8 carriages filled with passengers and a brake van, left Mount Victoria headed for Sydney Central. It was a drizzly summer evening and the tourists on board were weary from the eager pursuit of Mountains’ bushwalking exertions—it was the end of the Summer school holidays .

'Coupled' steam locomotives of the type used by NSW Government Railways in the 1930's

 But there was something different about this journey: earlier in the day a freight derailment between Warrimoo and Blaxland had blocked the ‘up line’ to Sydney (all rail lines leading to Sydney are ‘up’ lines, all those leading away are ‘down’ lines, regardless of whether the train is going uphill or down). Thus, trains heading to Sydney had to be diverted from the ‘up’ line at Valley Heights to rejoin it at Blaxland. They were thus travelling on the ‘down’ line in the opposite direction to that normally taken. This was not drastically abnormal, and in fact, 8 trains had already travelled that way in the hours prior to the arrival of the 6.25 from Mt. Victoria.

Everything works well as long as the track ‘points’ along the way are all adjusted for the reverse direction—especially since this excursion train had two locomotives leading it, an extra one being necessary for work at Blaxland. Both locos had a Driver, Fireman and a Pilot lookout on board as the train edged eastward beyond Warrimoo Station at about 10 miles per hour (15kms per hour).

Warrimoo Station as it would have appeared in 1930. The wooden structure is the 'Waiting Shed' and the overhead bridge is in place. The 'Up' track is on the far side, and the 'Down' track on the near side of the platform.

 Most Warrimoo residents were feasibly completing their evening meal and settling down to a good night’s sleep when they were jarred from their peaceful routine by raucous screeching noises and a heavy crunch of iron coming from the railway. The newspapers take up the story…

The excursion train was travelling at a very slow speed when the mishap occurred, and this fact, no doubt, prevented a grave disaster, in which many passengers must have been involved. The leading engine passed safely over the catch-points about a quarter of a mile (400-450 metres--WH) on the Sydney side of Warrimoo, but the second engine fouled the points and left the rails. The heavy locomotive bounced along the permanent way for some yards and then took a sudden lurch to the right and "nose-dived" over a 16ft (5 metre—WH) embankment.

Realising their extreme danger the crew of this engine leapt clear, and were uninjured. The sudden lurch of the engine, however, threw the leading locomotive off the rails and caused it to turn over on its side with portion of it projecting over the brink of the embankment. Those in the cabin of the engine, including McGarrity, were pinned down by the twisted ironwork, and it is believed that the driver and fireman were killed instantly.

The brake-van was derailed, but the carriages did not leave the line.[1]

Newspaper 'picturegram' of the crash--the second engine has pushed the tender of the first into the cabin, where two crew members were killed instantly and Joseph McGarrity was pinned for several hours. This angle is the 'shallow' side of the wreckage, the other side is the steep embankment above Railway Parade.

As the second loco lurched forward to push the lead engine off the rails and down the embankment, it crushed the cabin containing Driver Harold Hanna, 32, and Fireman Edward Smith, 26, both of Springwood, killing them instantly. Yet a 16 year old ‘Junior Porter’, Joseph McGarrity of Station Street Blaxland, survived with his arm and leg pinned amid the heavy iron of the wreckage. His account is as follows…

Although the night was cloudy the track was not so dark, and I heard the fireman call out loudly to the driver: 'Hold her, driver. The points are open!' After that I remember a screech of brakes and then we toppled over. Everything went black. When I came to I was in great pain. My right leg and hand were jammed and I was held up by my hand. The leg hurt very much, but the pain of my hand was worse. I thought I would never be rescued; I was almost smothered. I noticed the feet of the driver and fireman dangling over me, and I felt blood trickling down on to me.[2]

In the hectic moments that followed, the crew from the second engine sought to calm the rattled passengers, some of whom were disembarking and wandering towards the scene. It was a miracle the remaining carriages did not come off the rails. Help was immediately sought by telephone from Warrimoo to Blaxland Station and Valley Heights, and a repair carriage was sent from Penrith post haste.  Railway Headquarters at Eveleigh sent a full Repair Train to the accident site, complete with crane and other heavy lifting equipment.

Another angle of the second locomotive, after the  passenger carriages had been removed back to Warrimoo Station until the tracks were cleared. You can see that it was relatively easy for the crew of this engine to jump to safety--not so for the Fireman and Driver of the first loco.

 Amid the chaos someone had the wherewithal to contact two doctors, Baxter and Boser, both from Valley Heights—they were confronted with a horror scene…

When the break down train from Eveleigh (probably Penrith—WH) arrived about an hour and a half afterwards, the youth's leg was freed with the use of oxy-acetylene apparatus, but McGarrity was still pinned in the wreckage by his hand. The youth partly regained consciousness during his terrible ordeal.

The two doctors then performed a remarkable emergency operation. Drizzling rain, at times developing into a heavy downpour, and the escaping steam made conditions decidedly unfavourable for an operation, especially as the light thrown by the flares was very unsatisfactory. Dr. Boser administered an anaesthetic, and then Dr. Baxter amputated McGarrity's hand, and thus freed him. He had been pinned in the wrecked cabin for about two hours. A waiting ambulance waggon rushed the injured youth to Penrith Hospital, where he was admitted in a critical state. A further operation was performed soon after wards, and the arm was amputated.[3]

Young Joe McGarrity was grateful to have survived, though his arm was lost and his leg scorched by his oxy-acetelene rescuers, to testify at the Inquest that followed.

Most passengers were merely shocked and possibly bruised by the abrupt lurch-then-halt of the leading engines, but one notable escapee, Walter Aurisch, 21, of Long Bay, was discovered by a motorist wandering dazed and confused on the Highway. He was taken to Penrith Hospital where he was found to have suffered severe abrasions to the head causing serious shock and disorientation.[4]

The special 'Repair Crew' sent from Eveleigh Workshops rectified the damaged locomotives and repaired wayward tracks the next day. Services on the Mountains' line were interrupted for one day only. The damaged lives of dead  and injured crew members and accused rail employees were not  fixed so rapidly, however.

At the Inquest the Coroner, Mr. A. Judges, found that Robert Rupert Hindmarsh, fettler, and Alexander Angus Gollan, flagman, were ‘guilty of culpable negligence’ for not locking the points in place and not signalling that the points were open to the oncoming train.

McGarrity and the crew of the second loco had both confirmed that the points were seen to be open, and that there was no flagman present to signal the danger. Gollan had testified that he was heading towards Blaxland Station at the time of the smash because Hindmarsh had waved to him on the previous train, indicating that he was relieved and to head towards Blaxland. Hindmarsh for his part, said that he was simply waving to Gollan as a goodwill gesture—in short, the tragedy had occurred through mistaken communication.

Hindmarsh and Gollan were committed to trial for manslaughter and their Superviser, Signalman Berkeley, was severely censured for the casual manner in which he supervised the work of the other two men, who appear to have avoided custodial sentences.[5]



[1] TROVE, ‘Parkes Western Champion’ derived from the story in the SMH, Thurs 30th January, 1930,   p.1
[2] Ibid, p.1
[3] Ibid, p.1
[4] Ibid, p.1
[5] TROVE, ‘Daily Pictorial’ (Sydney), Thursday 13th February, p.7

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Dorothy Wall, Blinky Bill and Warrimoo


Dorothy Wall, Blinky Bill and Warrimoo

Dorothy Wall was no shrinking violet. She was a proud and determined author, illustrator and mother. Her time spent at Warrimoo was a true distillation of her character.

Born, raised and educated in Wellington New Zealand, Dorothy Wall travelled to Sydney in 1914, the year the Great War began. She was twenty years of age and seeking adventure, as well as wider horizons for her creative talents. She was influenced by the success of May Gibbs, and began drawing bush characters in charming and unique ways. It was a period of growing Australian nationalism, and many parents wanted to cultivate ‘Australian’ values in their children.




A young and beautiful Dorothy Wall as she arrived in Australia in 1914. Her youthful gaze holds a confident, optimistic hopefulness, and just a hint of ambition.

 In 1921, Dorothy married the swashbuckling war hero and pilot, Andrew Delfoss Badgery (‘Del’), a descendant of the same family after whom ‘Badgery’s Creek’ is named. The couple moved from flat to flat, living at twenty one addresses during the first two years of their marriage. Dorothy was a restless soul, and could find no satisfaction in her homes and neighbours, with whom she invariably clashed.


Andrew Delfoss Badgery, 'Del', swashbuckling pilot of the First World War. Surely he was the perfect match for an adventurous young woman from New Zealand, eager to make her mark...
Eventually, Dorothy and Del bought a home in Dee Why and subsequently Dorothy gave birth to a son, Peter Badgery, in 1925. The marriage was in deep trouble, however, and by 1932, at the onset of the Great Depression, the couple had separated. The first ‘Blinky Bill’ book, “Blinky Bill—The Quaint Little Australian” was not written in the Blue Mountains but in Sydney, during this intense period of turmoil in Dorothy Wall’s life.

Blinky is baptised by the Reverend Fluffy Ears. In this illustration, Blinky's father looks on, but he is soon murdered by a bush shooter leaving Blinky to survive alone with his mum, just like Peter and his matriarch/author parent, Dorothy Wall.

 When it was published, in 1933, Dorothy had already moved to Blaxland and enrolled Peter at Blaxland Public School. Shortly afterwards she moved into a rented cottage at 3 Albert Street Warrimoo—a very basic weatherboard with an outside ‘loo, a wood stove, no window screens, no town water supply, no sewerage, no telephone and no mail delivery. The basic building still stands today but fibro extensions have been added.


The house at 172 Great Western Highway, where Dorothy and her young son, Peter, first lived in the 'Mountains--the rental, however, was too high, and the young mother and son were soon obliged to move to cheaper digs at Warrimoo. Today the Blaxland house is a Denture Clinic ...
Warrimoo in those days was a rudimentary residential settlement that had been subdivided some years earlier. There were few houses. What was appealing to Dorothy was the surrounding native bushland, the railway station, and the existence of a general store. For Peter Badgery, it was “…a great place for a kid to grow up in.”

Dorothy Wall's 1930's home as it appears today at No. 3 Albert Street. Extensions have been added around the original two-roomed cabin. If you look at the roof-line where the chimneys appear, you will get an idea of the original size and box-like shape of the dwelling.


Same house, different angle...
In her first few months at Warrimoo she wrote the seminal Blinky Bill story, “Blinky Bill Grows Up”, about a young and mischievous Koala Bear who embroiled himself in the perils of bushland life. Illustrating the book herself, it is clear that Dorothy loved the vibrancy of the native plants and wildlife surrounding her and Peter, who was undoubtedly the inspiration for Blinky’s character.



Peter and Dorothy took walks along a bush track that begins at the end of Florabella Street and descends, through angophoras, stringybarks, mountain devils and banksias, beneath overhanging rock ledges and amidst a plethora of birdcalls, to a narrow, sheltered fern-gully stream that ultimately flows into Glenbrook Creek. Here, one can envisage the lyrebird mimickry and dancing taking place at the “bushland bazaar” visited by Blinky Bill himself.

One of the seminal scenes from 'Blinky Bill Grows Up', where Blinky stumbles upon the 'Bush Bazaar'. Scenes like this were conjured by Dorothy's walks with Peter down the Florabella Track, at the end of the street of the same name.

Being masterpieces of natural observation, the Blinky Bill books are a wonderfully entertaining education for young children in the mysteries of Australian flora and fauna:

“’Ah! I know who you are!’ Blinky said very cheerily.’You’re Willie Wagtail.’

‘Quite true’ came the reply. ‘I’m sorry I woke you, Mr. Koala, but I’m in such a hurry to finish my nest. My wife is growing quite impatient because she wants to lay her eggs and the nest is not quite ready. Do you mind if I gather a few more hairs from your ears? They are so silky and pretty, and besides, I think the colour will look very well with the grass I have gathered.’

‘Go ahead,’ Blinky answered. ‘Only don’t pull too many at once.’” ( from Blinky Bill Grows Up)

 At first, Dorothy Wall was a frequent visitor to the village general store and post office, a two storey building on the Highway standing opposite the station, run by Mr. and Mrs. Duckle. Today, it is the ‘Monte Italia’ Pizzeria, hosted by the energetic and affable ‘Danny’, but in those days it was quite different, with a cluttered décor over-arched by dangling flypaper. Dorothy considered the Duckles to be busybodies, and resented using the public telephone inside the store for fear of being overheard. She thus launched a letter-writing campaign to the Postmaster General for a free standing outside ‘phone-box, which ultimately proved successful.


Dorothy's stay at Warrimoo was feasibly the happiest time of her life, because Peter was under the tutorship of Blaxland PS teacher William Wurth, allowing her to pursue the many avenues of her talent without anxiety over her son's future.
 Concern over Peter’s education drew his mother into a happy situation at Warrimoo. When enrolled at Blaxland Public, Peter was eight, and would have been obliged to walk to school from Albert Street. Dorothy arranged for him to be tutored by the (soon to be retired) schoolteacher, Mr. William Wurth, who visited to instruct Peter in the basics, and to carry out a Rousseau-esque style pedagogy in the bush, encouraging the boy to learn from his observations of nature as well as readings from the Sydney Morning Herald.

 There has been much conjecture over the relationship between Dorothy Wall and William Wurth. Dorothy was fully divorced in December 1934, but she was struggling to survive on paltry royalties from her books and some small maintenance payments from ‘Del’—certainly she was reduced to begging Angus and Robertson for advance royalties on her work at this time.

An example of the kind of graphic art Dorothy excelled in--she was frequently employed by newspapers and women's magazines on a casual basis to portray recent fashions or changes in style...
 So, was the relationship a business one, or platonic, or a romance? It was quite close, because William acted as proof-reader for much of her work at Warrimoo, and Peter testifies that he was the only man to whom his mother had shown any kind of affection. But William Wurth was 25 years older than Dorothy, retired, at the end of his career, and she simply wasn’t the kind of woman to engage in affairs—her work was too important. To foist any particular kind of relationship upon them would surely be presumptuous.

 Whatever her personal situation, it’s true that Dorothy Wall’s stay at Warrimoo was prolific and satisfying from a creative perspective. Apart from the completion of Blinky Bill Grows Up, she designed a stream of dustjacket covers for other Angus and Robertson books, illustrated two books by other authors, wrote and illustrated a further book titled Brownie, and completed yet another text for older children called The Muddles of World’s End, which never saw the light of day.

One of the more famous dustjacket covers: Ion Idriess' 'The Desert Column', an account of Australian Light Horse heroics in World War I. Dorothy Wall had a brilliant eye for dramatic design.
She would have stayed in the ‘Mountains, but by 1936 Dorothy was looking towards Peter’s secondary education, and wanted him enrolled at Sydney Boys’ High. This necessitated a move to Randwick. The change provoked further restlessness and frustration, moving from school to school, address to address, project to project.

 All the while she struggled to keep her own and Peter’s heads above water. She strove to have Blinky Bill animated like Mickey Mouse, or syndicated as a cartoon strip character, or promoted on china ware, or in any form possible, but failed on most counts. In 1937 she came back to the Mountains, this time taking up residence on the Hawkesbury Road at Springwood, where she wrote the third book of her series: Blinky Bill and Nutsy.


Over the three books of 'Blinky Bill', the artistic style evolved from 'naturalist' to 'cartoonist'. This mural at Telstra's Warrimoo exchange reflects the latter technique. Wall never gave up on her dream of world-wide recognition for her bush characters, along the lines of Disney's 'Mickey Mouse', who had burst upon global imaginations in the late 30's.
Again, Dorothy Wall’s stay in the ‘Mountains was productive and Springwood must be entitled to some bragging rights, but her stay there was briefer, and they (Springwood/Faulconbridge) have Norman Lindsay. It’s appropriate that Warrimoo, the “teacher and children village”, should have adopted Blinky Bill, Dorothy, Peter and William as their own.

 Dorothy Wall moved back to Sydney and thence to Auckland, New Zealand, where she worked as an artist for the New Zealand Herald until mid 1941, when the lure of  wild bush spaces and character-filled native animals lured her back to Australia. When she returned to Sydney to live at Neutral Bay with her sister Marjorie, she was just up the road from May Gibbs’ ‘Nutcote’. The contrast between the two women authors could not be more complete, nor galling: May Gibbs was well off and a celebrity in her own lifetime, living in an architect-designed cottage overlooking Sydney Harbour and receiving the MBE for her services to children’s literature, while Dorothy continued to battle to make ends meet.*

More earnest, matronly and demure now, Dorothy Wall is photographed in Sydney just prior to her premature death in January, 1942.
In January 1942, before she could return to her beloved Blue Mountains, Dorothy Wall contracted pneumonia and died shortly afterward in Lanchester Hospital, Cremorne. Penicillin had already been invented and could have saved her life, but it was not publicly available till some few months later. She was forty eight.[1]





[1] Information for this summary biography came exclusively from: Dorothy Wall, the creator of Blinky Bill, Her Life and Work, A Biography by the inimitable Walter McVitty, to whom Warrimoo Historians are most grateful, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1988.

* Ironically there are also unconfirmed reports that May Gibbs, author and illustrator of the famous 'Gumnut Twins', once stayed at Warrimoo, visiting a relative in Rickard Road.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Kookaburra Tea Rooms



The ‘Kookaburra Tea Rooms’

The most common climax of a social day’s or weekend’s jam-packed itinerary was a dance at the renowned ‘Kookaburra Tea Rooms’, located at 230 Great Western Highway, Warrimoo. The manager was Mrs Mary Ellen Griffiths, who along with her bricklayer husband Edward, bought the property in 1928 and immediately set up a commercial ‘Tea Rooms’ for weary travellers..

The business must have been ideally placed for drivers making the arduous journey from Sydney to the Mountains in those inter-war years—ascending the Lapstone escarpment often entailed an overheated radiator stop, and motorists usually carried a tyre repair kit in the boot for the all-too frequent flats that blew out on rugged Mountains’ roads. Overall, it could take the good part of half a day to arrive at Warrimoo, at least, such were the expectations of the day.

 
Mrs Mary Ellen Griffiths serving up a delicious cup of tea on the verandah of the Kookaburra Tea Rooms. Not only were the Tea Rooms an iconic stopover for motor tourists visiting the 'Mountains, but a hub of social activities from Warrimoo and Blaxland alike.


So the site of clear off-road parking, a refreshing cuppa and delicious scones with jam and cream would surely have been a welcome one. The ‘Tearooms’ was said to be quite a successful enterprise, with notable identities such as Ben Chifley regularly dropping in on his frequent trips from Sydney adding to the lustre of the place. Of course Chifley was the local Federal Member of Parliament, and would later become Prime Minister of Australia.

Then there were the ‘dances’. By all accounts—and there are a lot of local ‘paper references—they were a pretty regular occurrence, complete with live band from Ryde, ‘Clayton’s Orchestra’ mostly, later transforming into ‘Clayton’s Victory Orchestra’ during the war years, and generally well attended. Warrimoo Historians assumes that the verandah of the Tea Rooms opened into a larger, ‘small-hall’ sized area to accommodate dance-goers of between 50 and 100 people.


Ben Chifley as Prime Minister and Member for Macquarie. Chifley was a familiar sight around Warrimoo in the '30's and '40's, being a frequent visitor to the Kookaburra Tea Rooms and a good friend of the Labor supporter who lived next to the Patmans in Florabella Street.


Like Blaxland Public School, the ‘Kookaburra’ was ideally placed near the ‘border’ between Blaxland and Warrimoo to service both communities so that social interaction between the two small townships was frequent, inexpensive and cordial. Feasibly it may well have been the only social outlet for many battling residents in those clouded years. There is a touching reference to the ‘Kookaburra’ in a brief interchange between Lawrence Way and his mother, Ellen…

…a hall was built on the highway half way to Blaxland where mum would take us once a week. It was called “Kookaburra Hall”…I had to foot slog it home after 11.00pm on those occasions. My mother was 33 years old, so I know now she had to have some outlet. Dad would be away… [1]

 As the Depression wore on Lawrence’s parents drifted further apart, and they ultimately separated.


Mrs Griffiths died in 1939, yet it seems that the business continued to operate for some years after that.  Newspaper articles from the Nepean Times in 1940 and 1941 detail fundraising dances held at the Tea Rooms to raise money for the Springwood branch of the Red Cross and for the war effort generally.[2] Possibly her aging husband, Edward Griffiths, who did not die till 1956, may have continued to manage or lease the Tea Rooms into the war years, but in September of 1941 the following ad appeared in the ‘Classifieds’ section of the Sydney Morning Herald

Kookaburra Tea Rooms, main Western Highway Warrimoo, sell or let, reasonable terms—licenced dining hall 3 bedrooms, lounge verandahs etc[3]

The 'Tea Rooms' as they appear today, at 230 Great Western Highway, Warrimoo. It is wondrous to think this humble rental accommodation was once the vibrant hub of social life for local residents.
Presumably the Kookaburra property was sold and converted into rented accommodation from that time onwards. The building still stands today at the same address, partitioned into 3 flats. It is hard to imagine how this humble timber and fibro abode occupied such an exalted role in the social life of Warrimooians in that age gone by, but it did. 
  


[1] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011, p 14
[2] TROVE, ‘Nepean Times’, Thurs 13th November 1941 p.1
[3] Ibid, SMH Classifieds, Sept. 7, 1941

Thursday, 30 March 2017

'Fun Times'


‘Fun Times’

Social life in Depression Warrimoo was by no means all ‘doom and gloom’. By 1930 the 44 hour week had become entrenched in Australian employment practice, meaning Saturday afternoon as well as Sunday were now available for leisure activities. The legendary ‘Great Australian Weekend” was taking hold.

Naturally the Blue Mountains, and this certainly included the Lower Blue Mountains, became the focus of one of Sydney society’s favourite weekend pastimes—hiking and bushwalking. So much so, that a celebrated ‘hike’ of several hundred people drew the attention of the Sydney Morning Herald whose photographer captured highlights of the event as it wound its way from Valley Heights to destinations round about, including Warrimoo…

Since the Great War engagement of women in active rather than purely passive pursuits became a hallmark: women could be seen smoking in public, travelling about unescorted and taking part in a wide variety of sports. One such—extremely popular at the time—sport avidly involving players of both sexes was tennis.

It so happened that one of the truly attractive features supplied to Warrimoo by Mr. Rickard was a set of clay-based tennis courts at Warrimoo, immediately next to the station on the southern side and a stone’s throw across the Western Road to the General Store. Another court was formally opened in Florabella Street by Mr. and Mrs. Powell in 1933. It was positioned roughly where the Warrimoo PS canteen car park is today, and was greeted with orations and fanfare.[1] After all, who could resist a game or two with members of the opposite sex, engaging in cheerful banter which might possibly lead to further activities into the evening?


A very old pic of the General Store, taken in the 1930's. The little girl is next to an indiscernible adult in the shadows, but you can make out the near new front windows and the frontage of the owners' accommodation above. This shop supplied many of the necessities for tennis players directly across the newly tarred highway...


As a theme to this chapter it is worth noting that a new and dynamic group had infused the Warrimoo Progress Association—family names which were to dominate the minutes of the Association, the pages of the Nepean Times as well as the Tennis tournaments themselves, began to appear: ‘Mudie’, ‘Neall’, ‘Bolton’ and ‘Wicks’…In a spritely piece in the Nepean Times they were announced…

The Progress Association, of which Mr W. Mudie is President, and Mr. Arch Neall secretary, is regarded locally as being a very live body, always ready and willing to do its utmost for the welfare, and in the interests of, the district generally.[2]

The Progress Association took a leading role in organising social events, usually with the aim of raising funds for some worthy community cause. The following excerpts from Nepean Times articles explain the process…

During the week-end Warrimoo Progress Association conducted another highly successful tennis tournament, followed by a grand euchre party and dance in the "Kookaburra" at night. Despite the inclement weather, players came from Sydney and Blaxland, and a very enjoyable week-end was spent by all.

Winners: Mixe d doubles championship, Miss Bradbury and B. Mudie; runners-up, Mrs Parmenter and H. Powell. Men's doubles championship: O. Powell and J. Sobels runners-up, A. Neall and N. Leaght.[3]


Such ‘Tennis Tournaments’, often held over a weekend, were major events and were a fond excuse to invite friends and relatives to Warrimoo to ‘stay over’ and take part. Numbers often reached over 50 and could grow up to 100 participants. Sometimes high profile players were invited to play ‘exhibition matches’. Guests from the city frequently stayed at the hotels in Springwood, so it was not unusual for them to walk/catch the train back to Springwood after the tournament, refresh and change, then return for the evening’s festivities at Warrimoo.


A likely group of tennis enthusiasts at the Warrimoo Courts--you can see the General Store in the background and the structure of the courts in between. Ukelele players and pianists were stars in the 20's and 30's, when sing-a-long parties were 'all the rage'. The renowned 'Archie Neall' looms to the right of the picture.

Tennis tournaments reliably had another purpose other than a purely social one—fund-raising for the Red Cross, local church or the Progress Association itself assisted the community’s growth. A famous visit to the ‘Mountains by Bert Oldfield’s ‘Womens Cricket Team’ inspired the Progress Association to raise pounds, shillings and pence for a very worthy cause indeed…

…A case in point was the recent purchase of three acres of land, at £5 per acre, for the purpose of establishing a local cricket ground—considered to be a long-felt want by the sporting fraternity at Warrimoo. The ground has been named Neall Park (after the Secretary of the Association, Mr Neall), and all work with regard to the clearing of the ground, etc, is being carried out by voluntary labor.

For the purpose of getting funds to help pay for this venture, a tennis tournament was held on Easter Monday and was a great success. About 80 entries were received, and a splendid days' tennis resulted. The following were the prize-winners:—Gent's singles, Mr W. Bolton; ladies' singles, Miss Rene Galicher; men's doubles, Messrs K. Watts and Powell; mixed doubles, H. Powell and Miss Elliott.

A very successful euchre party and dance was held in the Kookaburra Hall at night, and altogether the day's festivities added to the funds the very respectable sum of £4/4/-

Another tennis tournament will be conducted on the local courts on the Saturday of Anzac Day week-end, 23rd April.[4]


A Test Match between England and Australia held at the SCG in 1935. Famous Aussie cricketer Bert Oldfield brought a women's team to play exhibition matches in the Mountains in the early 30's, which inspired local activists of the Warrimoo Progress Association.


‘Enthusiasm’ was key to social activities of the day—people could have a marvellous time for very little cost as long as this key ingredient remained. The ‘cricket ground’ block here mentioned was located ‘at the bottom of Cross Street’ and as mentioned, consisted of 3 acres. It was indeed ‘cleared’, by voluntary labour and used as a cricket field, nominally as a womens’ cricket ground to encourage growth of the game in the ‘Mountains.


Obviously the ‘Warrimoo Cricket Ground’ did not survive the war years and again became overgrown with native bush. It is the surmise of Warrimoo Historians that this block was later purchased by the NSW Department of Education and thus morphed into the ‘Cross Street Reserve’ so avidly fought for by residents several decades later.[5]




[1] TROVE, Katoomba Daily, 2nd March., 1933
[2] TROVE, Nepean Times, Sat. 9th April 1932 p.6
[3] Ibid, Sat. 4th Feb, 1933 p.6
[4] Ibid, p.6
[5] Subject to confirmation, it is probable that the ‘3 acres’ referred to was bought by the NSW Education Department after WWII for a future school site. As it transpired, however, the block upon which the current school stands was bought later and became the preferred location, thus leaving the original block available for alternative usage—this became the centre of a protracted struggle between community, Council and State government for the ‘Cross Street Reserve’.