Chapter 1 - Introduction
A practice I have always enjoyed, although many people seem to shudder at the idea and, I suspect, doubt my veracity, is to take a cold shower immediately after arising each morning. Perhaps I should admit that in recent years and on very cold mornings I have been known to take the chill off the water by cracking open the hot tap, but in general I enjoy the rush of cold water which I find just as exhilarating as a dive into the surf. It seems to set me up for the day, shocking me into alertness and clearing both body and brain of the fuzziness of sleep.
I acquired this strange practice from my Mother who perhaps enjoyed it even more than I, and who persuaded my Father to build a special outdoor shower at the back of the house we lived in at Parramatta, New South Wales, soon after coming to live there in 1936. The shower was close to the back door, next to a fernery and enclosed in corrugated iron. It had a most ingenious cupboard inside the outward swinging door in which to hang clothes and towel while taking the shower. Using this shower was quite an experience on a frosty morning as it was fitted up with cold water only, the luxury of hot water being confined to a monstrous and noisy gas heater over the bathtub in the bathroom. On a winter's morning the water was little above freezing point, the galvanised iron walls were like ice, and the top of the edifice, being open to the sky, allowed the breezes, as if from the Antarctic to enter freely. I have known my Mother to take a shower even when it was raining. I reckon she was the most wide-awake Mum in the neighbourhood at breakfast time.
When we moved to Parramatta from our farm at Kulnura on Mangrove Mountain in 1936 Mum was thirty-eight years old and was to suffer the greatest change in her life style that can be imagined.
Nellie Agnes Hunt (nee Pegler) had lived at Kulnura since her marriage to George Thomas Hunt on 3rd April 1920. He had not long returned from Palestine and Egypt where he had served with the 7th Light Horse Brigade as a Mounted Trooper in World War 1, his discharge from the Army having been delayed somewhat because his Regiment had been kept in Egypt after the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918 because of riots in that Country. His war diary ends on 1st May 1919 at which time he was still in Egypt. His photograph albums reveal that he arrived back in Australia about the beginning of September 1919, but he was not finally discharged from the A.I.F. until 12th December, 1919.
Before his war service he had established his citrus orchard at Kulnura which he left in the hands of a caretaker while away at the war. The property, known as “The Springs” because of the natural springs that flowed from the ground in the bush just north of the orchard, comprised a one square mile selection, roughly triangular in shape, and with the orchard and homestead on the southern corner. The orchard gently sloped from a picturesquely timbered rocky hill in the north-west and had, therefore, a delightful south-easterly aspect looking over low foothills towards the coast. There are one or two places at Kulnura where the ocean can be seen (in fact, Kulnura is an Aboriginal word meaning “In sight of the Sea.”) However, although as a boy I have stood on the top of the hill behind the orchard and gazed seawards I was never able to see it except in my imagination. There were often huge banks of clouds over in the east and these often fuelled my imagination as I daydreamed of castles in the air.
The soil at The Springs, as in most parts of Mangrove Mountain is a light sandy loam, ideally suited to citrus fruits and passionfruit which were the crops planted and tended by my Father until the depressed state of affairs from 1929 forced his entry into growing extra crops like tomatoes, beans, peas, and cucumbers. The soil also suited oats and barley which Dad cultivated to feed the horses and cows.
It was to this farm that my parents came after their marriage. It was a pretty isolated life. The nearest centre with shops and services was Gosford, twenty miles away over dirt roads, part of which were little better than unformed bush tracks. Similar, but even worse roads led to Yarramalong down an incredibly steep and dangerous mountain track. In the early days Yarramalong to the north was the main source of supplies of meat, bread etc and Mangrove Creek to the south was the trading connection, by sea, to Sydney. Transport was horse-drawn. Dad generally had two horses, one for the sulky (and occasionally the saddle) and the other a draught-horse for the farm work with tip-dray, spring-cart and the plough which was a single furrow on our farm, although some of our neighbours ran to double furrow ploughs drawn by a pair of horses. Other horse-drawn implements were the sled (mostly with a small tank on board to carry water or with a cask full of Bordeaux mixture to spray the orange trees), the harrow, scarifier, roller and scoop.
The draught-horse also provided the power for pulling over trees with wire ropes attached to block and tackle and then haul the logs into heaps for burning when new land was being cleared. It was quite a sight to see the horse straining across the rough ground with a wire rope snitched around a huge log while Dad, trotting alongside the horse with reins in hand encouraged Old Bess to greater effort.
The nearest neighbours were some settlers of German extraction named Branz. They lives about half a mile further along the road that wended its way to Wollombi and Singleton. I suppose the total population of Kulnura at that time would have been less than sixty souls, comprising perhaps twenty families. In the 1921 edition of Sands Directory there were only twelve settlers listed, although I am sure it is not a complete list because the Hunts are not mentioned. Those who were listed were William H. Archbold, Robert G. Burton, Alexander P. Collins, William Galloway, John E. Gatley, Francis G. Gibson, William L.C. Harris, Alfred J. Lay, Charlie Lees, John H. Sharp, John A.H. Stanley and Samuel F. Wise.
There was a larger settlement to the south at Mangrove Mountain and also a sizeable community at Peats Ridge. Halfway to Gosford was Somersby with a population probably about the same size as Kulnura.
The road to Sydney was part of the then main road connecting Sydney with Newcastle. I can remember Pixie being harnessed to the sulky and setting off with rugs over our legs through Central Mangrove, Mangrove Creek, Ten Mile Hollow and Wisemans Ferry after which the road wound along through Maroota, Cattai Creek, Pitt Town and McGraths Hill, near Windsor, on its way to Parramatta, our destination.
The journey was generally completed in a day, although it must have been close on seventy miles. Sometimes, generally on the return journey, an overnight stop was made at the hotel at Wiseman' s Ferry. I recall one occasion, when going down the steep hill into Wiseman's Ferry the horse took fright (Dad thought she had shied at a wet shiny section of rock on which the moonlight was reflected) and bolted down the hill, throwing us all out of the sulky on to the road. We were none the worse for the experience except for Dad who suffered a broken collarbone. I quite enjoyed the night and most of the next day at the hotel while Dad got patched up, although I must have been only four or five at the time.
I think the only other sulky accident I was involved in was when Mum and I were returning from Central Mangrove with the mail and supplies and the horse took a corner going down Black's hill rather too fast and tipped us out. We weren't hurt much but, according to Mum, I was very upset because the rug had got dirty! Incidentally, it was usual to keep a rug over one's legs when travelling in a sulky, which was a completely open type of single seater carriage, just as it was common to wear dust-coats when driving in a motor car in the early days because of the dust. There were thick felty rugs for winter time and light silky ones for summer. Bitumen roads were not known outside the main cities and towns until the 1930s. The reason I was upset about the rug getting dirty was probably because as a small lad I was, apparently, very particular about cleanliness and couldn't abide dirty hands or clothes. I think I am still a bit like that which is perhaps the reason why I like my daily (cold) shower and my fondness for wearing a boilersuit and gloves when engaged in grubby pursuits. I also recall that Mum used to make us put on bib-and-brace overalls when we were dressed up and waiting to go out. Mind you, this may have been because my younger brother, Wally, didn't share my cleanliness fetish.
Wally (or Walter George, to give him his full name) was born a couple of years after me. His birthday was 14th July 1923 while mine was 7th March 1921. We were followed, to the great delight of our parents, by a baby girl, Lois Nelly, on 1st February 1927. Then on 31st March 1929 the final member of the quartet, Neil Norford, was born. The first three all came into the World at Parramatta but Neil was born at home at “The Springs” for which occasion Nurse Jackson from Northmead came to live with us for a few weeks.
Both Wally and I were born with the help of the local midwife in the front bedroom of our maternal Grand-parents' home at 7 Church Street, Parramatta. (The street number was later changed to 11, and that house was later to figure large in my life as I will later relate.) Lois was born in a hospital in either George Street or Phillip Street Parramatta. I think it was called “Aloha” and I believe it was there that Mum first met Nurse Jackson when she had an appendix operation. Some years later I boarded briefly with Nurse Jackson when I came from Kulnura in 1936 to take up a job at Regents Park, but more of that later, too.
Although life at Kulnura was in some ways isolated and primitive, it must have had many consolations and I am sure that my Parents were very happy there. Until the Great Depression of 1929 to 1936 there was a good living to be made on the orchard and I imagine that living costs were not high. There was quite a good social life with tennis, cricket and dances. Father had given a small piece of land on the north-west corner of his property, about two miles from our home, for the building of a Progress Hall and tennis courts. These formed a centre for social life and a place for the first school at Kulnura which was privately run by a local farmer's wife, Mrs. Burns.
I well remember the tennis afternoons and the opportunity they gave for us youngsters to play without the same restrictions as we had at school or at home. At night time there would be dancing to a pianola, which we kids were sometimes allowed to play, to the confusion no doubt of the dancers. There was also a good deal of entertaining at each others homes, particularly on the occasions of a child's birthday or an engagement or a wake. Dances and sport were not confined to the Kulnura Hall either, especially after the Mangrove Mountain Hall was built, as it was much larger and had better lighting. It had a petrol driven generator and electric globes, whereas the Kulnura Hall had only acetylene gas, generated by dripping water onto carbide granules. The gas was burnt on a silk mantle and gave quite a good light, but it was tricky to keep alight and was the cause of much bad temper on the part of the men and impatience on the part of the women. Incidentally, when Wally and I used to ride our bikes from Kulnura to Central Mangrove (four miles each way) to catch the bus to Gosford High School we had acetylene lamps on our bikes. The light was extremely feeble but acetylene had advantages over the electric generators run off the front wheel of the bike which took such an effort to push, especially on the sandy patches of road which were numerous!
One aspect of social life that was very important to my parents was participation in music, especially in relation to Worship. Both Mum and Dad had very fine singing voices and one of my earliest recollections is hearing them sing duets. I especially associate this with driving home after a day out, perhaps at the beach, and we would have a concert in the car all the way home, and always, at sunset they would sing the beautiful old hymn “Day is dying in the west..” and then as we drew near to home they would finish with a harmonious rendition of “This is the end of a perfect day... They were in great demand as performers, not only to sing duets together, but also because Dad had quite a repertoire of bass/baritone solos (in the style of Peter Dawson, whose life was almost contemporaneous with Dad's) and also because Mum was one of the finest elocutionists of her day.
On her own admission, Mum had been a pretty precocious child without any tendency to shyness. At quite a young age she must have shown a lot of promise as an elocutionist, a form of entertainment that was very popular in those days. No concert programme was complete without an elocutionist to give a recitation or two or a musical monologue. Sometimes it took the form of a dual act - a kind of short play for two. Her aptitude was sufficient for her to be given lessons by the great A. Bertram Flohm. Her other teachers were Gertrude West and Stella Kingsbury. How Grandpa Pegler was able to afford these lessons I do not know. Perhaps she won some sort of scholarship. Anyway, she proved to be a good pupil and her collection of newspaper cuttings, programmes and awards for merit testify to both her skill and popularity as a young performer.
Examples of the critiques taken from her scrapbook collection are:
1906, “The costume recital `Dolls Wooing' by Nellie Pegler was particularly good. The encore was imperative and the young performer gave admirably `The North Wind', a fine composition of Miss West's own.
1907, “Little Nellie Pegler, a young reciter of whom Granville folk are justly proud, gave the recitation `The Gates' admirably. This item was encored.”
1908, “Miss Nellie Pegler, - a clever little lady from Granville - .... was excellent.” “Miss Gertrude West and her clever little pupil, Nellie Pegler, contributed a dualogue `Behind the Times', which was quite the hit of the evening. In response to the applause at the conclusion of the dualogue little Miss Pegler recited `The Dolls Wooing' very prettily, and later gave `The North Wind' in a charming manner.”
1908, “After this item came a dialogue `The Backward Child', Miss Hunt taking the part of Miss Milligan, and little Nellie Pegler, of Granville, that of the pupil. The little girl acted her part to the life, and displayed histrionic talent of a very unusual standard. The item was enthusiastically received, each sally producing shouts of laughter. At the end both performers were presented with a bouquet of flowers. Miss Nellie Pegler responded to a joint encore by contributing a child's impression of a wedding. She was equally successful in her rendition of this piece.”
1909, “Granville's most promising little elocutionist, Miss Nellie Pegler, added to her already long list of triumphs with two of her best efforts, `Prior to Miss Bell's Appearance' and a deliciously funny `Garden Episode'.”
I remember her, of course, as a more mature performer. All the rest of her life until she was crippled with arthritis and confined to a wheel-chair she could entertain both amusingly and touchingly, depending on the nature of the piece. Many a time I have known an audience to applaud and insist that she give yet another encore for which she had a store of short funny pieces that never failed to amuse no matter how many times they had been heard. After her marriage, particularly when things started to get a bit tough as the Depression approached she resumed on a casual basis the occupation she followed before marriage, that is a teacher of elocution. After school there were regular visits of little girls who tried to learn their items and also to improve their speech. I was one of her pupils, too, without much aptitude I fear, but I do believe my Mother's efforts taught us all to enunciate more clearly, to speak up, to pay more attention to grammar and pronunciation.
Although I am not certain of this, I suspect that it was because of appearing on concert platforms that Mother met the young man who was to become my Father.
As earlier mentioned, Mother performed at times with a Miss Hunt. This was Nellie Hunt, one of Fathers's sisters and about a year older. She later became Mrs Reg Wearne. They were both tutored by Miss Gertrude West and appear to have often performed together. It is probable that Father sometimes also appeared on the same programme as a baritone soloist. It is likely that she would also have met other members of the Hunt family such as Dad's brother Ken, who was two or three years younger and had a very fine tenor voice. He later sang semi-professionally and was a well-known teacher of singing.
Mother was only a child when Father was a young man, as he was born on 11th November 1889 while Mother was born on 27th August 1898, nearly nine years later. But the age difference did not prevent the young girl and the youth falling in love as some surviving postcards written in a very childish hand by Mother and sent to Father testify. The earliest of these that has survived appears to have been written on New Year 1908 and as they did not marry until 1920 it was a long courtship!