Coal Trucks & Wagging School

August 17, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Discipline, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Transport | 5 Comments
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When we lived in Dapto, we went to the local Catholic school, St John’s, where Sister Cecilia ruled with an iron rod. Then Dad got a job working on a new concrete bridge for Huntley colliery at Avondale, a few miles from Dapto. They needed a watchman to keep an eye on supplies, so Dad moved our caravan out there.

St John's School and convent

St John’s School and convent in the early 20th century

It was dairy country between wide swathes of forest, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, below the Illawarra escarpment. We camped next to a creek, from which we drew our water. The grocer in Dapto would bring a regular order out to us each week, and we would also go to town on Saturday mornings when the shops were open. Dad bought Mum a Baby Brownie camera from McGovern’s Chemist shop.

I loved the general store run by JG Fairley. They had a wonderful contraption for dealing with money. The shopkeeper would put the docket for purchases and the customer’s money into a brass container. He would pull a cord and the container would zoom along a wire up to the cashier’s office on a mezzanine floor. The cashier dealt with the money and gave change, which he sent back in the container to the shop assistant. No money was thus kept in the public area of shop. This process never failed to enthral me. Waters in Wollongong also had these contraptions.

My older brother was nine when we moved out to Avondale, and he loved nothing more than going into the bush with his mongrel terrier, Patch. On their rambles, they would find snakes and kill them. It wasn’t unusual for Mum to come back to the van to find a four-foot red-bellied black snake stretched out in front of the door. She was never amused. Peter led us three younger girls astray too.

We were several miles away from town, with no chance of getting a bus to school and Dad couldn’t take us. But we were right near the road that led down from the coal mine in the steep hills above. Some of the trucks took their coal to Tallawarra power station to the south east, but others went north, through Dapto. Dad arranged with one of the truck drivers, Charlie Keys (who only recently died: RIP), to pick us up on one of his morning runs from the mine and bring us back on an afternoon return run. It was a great adventure for all of us, sitting high up next to Charlie on the huge wide leather seat.

This photo taken about the time we were going to St John’s, though none of us is in it.

This photo taken about the time we were going to St John’s, though none of us is in it.

Peter decided one day that he didn’t want to go to school. Obviously, he couldn’t wag while we three girls went and possibly got him into trouble. So he persuaded us that playing in the town park was a much better option than school. We had quite a few days off school before Mr Shipp, the newsagent, noticed us hanging around the streets and dobbed us in to our parents. I remember that green leather belt Mum used as punishment for major crimes, and she doled it out in good measure that day. I never could accept though that Sister Cecelia also gave us a hiding in front of the school. Two punishments for the same crime seemed unfair. But I never wagged school again.

When the job on the bridge was finished, we went back to Reed Park in Dapto. Not long after, the unwelcome attentions of the farmer from Avondale on my very attractive mother led to Dad looking for an alternative place to live. He bought a block of land on the shore of Lake Illawarra at Albion Park Rail, and moved us and the caravan onto it We loved life there, but I have never forgotten the wonderful time we had living out in the bush at Avondale.

(c) Linda Visman

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