Friday, 18 September 2015

A Watsons Bay childhood C 1947

The Simple Pleasures of Camp Cove and Watsons Bay from Dennis Callaghan who lived their from 1947 when soldiers with bayonets guarded South Head , occupied at that time by the Callaghan family. a network of tunnels and a colony of penguins. #TBT #ThrowBackThursday #savewatsonsbay  . Dennis was prompted by @ailsapiper on Radio National talking about the horror of what could be lost with the Dockside Development

I was born in Rose Bay but moved to an Army married-quarter at South Head when I was less than one-year-old, in 1947. It's the stone house on the point, separated from Hornby Lighthouse by a semi-detached place. In those days it's address was: 31 Military Reserve, South Head, Watson's Bay.

My father was a professional soldier, who had come up through the ranks, joining the Army as a gunner in 1934 at Georges Heights and retiring to North Bondi as a lieutenant colonel in 1968.

The house, which is now heritage-protected, is owned by National Parks and Wildlife like the other buildings being offered to Dockside Group. The Lighthouse Keepers cottage was built at the same time as Hornby Lighthouse in 1857, as the lighthouse-keeper's residence, following the Dunbar Disaster at The Gap. (Apparently the captain mistook The Gap for the heads during a ferocious storm at night.) The first lighthouse-keeper was one James Johnson, who was the sole survivor of the wreck.

I lived there until 1961. I was very lucky in that regard, since I only attended 3 schools (namely Our lady Star of the Sea, Watson's Bay; Christian Brothers' College, Rose Bay; and Waverley College) whereas most soldiers' children changed schools every couple of years. (My elder brother, Owen suffered from mental illness and my father was able to convince his masters that the quiet environment at South Head was therapeutic for him. Of course, he had to forgo promotion, e.g., he was meant to obtain his majority in Townsville 10 years before he did.)

Being the baby of a family of 5 (2 brothers and 2 sisters) and not being born until my father's return from WWII, I lived a fairly solitary existence making my own fun "down The Rocks" and at the "Bogey Hole"  in front of  my house and the lighthouse. I also spent much time exploring every inch of the place. When I wasn't doing that I'd ride my bike down to "the Bay" and play with my friends there, mainly in Robertson Park and around the foreshore.

Like everyone in those days, we had no money, and made our own fun: building billy-carts, using old ball-bearing-wheels from the local garage, and rafts, using 4-gallon drums tied together for buoyancy; making cubby-houses up in The Glen and in the bush above Camp Cove; "bottling", i.e., collecting soft-drink bottles for the threepence (2 cents) return at Wiggin's milk bar/cafe next to the Gap Cafe, located at the military end of the road, opposite the shopping centre and from where the buses now leave; kicking a football around, playing bicycle-polo, using home-made clubs and having wars, with one side attacking the other ensconced in the band rotunda - all held in Robertson Park; swimming at Alf Vockler's Baths; and so on.

Few people know that South Head is riddled with tunnels, the entrances to which have long been deliberately covered over or have become overgrown with lantana. When I lived there, the Coastal Battery, armed with 2 x 6-inch, 100-pounder artillery pieces was located above the cliffs about 100 yards further up from Hornby Lighthouse. They used to fire them through Sydney Heads, yes, Sydney Heads, at targets towed along the horizon, day and night, once or twice a year. At night the searchlights, which were located in the remains of the concrete block-house next to the lighthouse and half-way down the sheer cliff-face below the present Naval chapel, would provide the illumination for the targets. (To get to the searchlight below the chapel, one had to enter via a little, green timber shed and then climb down a series of ladders, housed in a vertical cutting.)

Can you believe that in my time there were soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets on guard at the 2 main entrances?  Unauthorised persons were not permitted to enter the reserve. So, we had Lady Jane Beach, to which we always referred as "Lady's Hall" or "Lady's Bay", all to ourselves, replete with a colony of penguins, which lived under the ledge at the Watson's Bay end. Watson's Bay was home to mainly ordinary fishermen, who went out to sea at night in their boats. My brothers grew up with the Doyles, who turned the front room of their timber cottage on the promenade into a restaurant. The rest is history.

Every morning local fisherman would row their boats from one end of Lady Jane Beach to the other, in a semi-circle, laying their nets behind them. Then they'd return to the beach and pull the nets in, invariable laden with fish. We'd wander down and sometimes buy from them direct.

As all the great liners passed within about 100 yards of our house, I became familiar with all their names:  P&O's "Orion", "Orcades", "Oronsay"; Lloyd Triestino Line's (?)  Mariposa & Monterey; etc. I witnessed the Queen and Prince Phillip passing by on the "Gothic" in 1954 and the first, great, US nuclear aircraft-carrier "Enterprise" in 1961.

Somewhat ironically, I was conscripted in 1967 and had to report to Marrickville depot from where we were eventually taken to Puckapunyal via the Eastern Command Personal Depot (ECPD) at South Head - just beyond the white building above The Gap, which used to be the area Army officers' mess. Then, upon return to Australia from Vietnam, where I served as an infantryman, I had to spend 3 months at ECPD after my 60 days' leave, in order to complete my 2-year service. (There are marvelous scenes in "The Odd Angry Shot" with Brian Brown and Graeme Kennedy, first walking through Robertson Park, later in the back-bar of the Watson's Bay Hotel, upon their return from serving in SAS in Vietnam. I could really identify with those scenes. They brought back wonderful memories, especially of Brian turning to Graeme, while looking out over the wharf, and  remarking: "Well, here we are." or something to that effect - as if to say: "Well, what was that all about?".

I could go on for hours – e.g., did you know that the tram terminus was located immediately outside the side wall of the hotel and that one of the best light-rail journeys in the world was through the Glen below The Gap, en route to Queen's Square adjacent to Hyde Park?

P.S. I make a point of going out to South Head and watching the Sydney-Hobart yacht race each Boxing Day. I love being in the Bogey Hole at high tide when the boats go past. Unfortunately, officious rangers prevented me from doing so during the start of the race last time. So, I waited for everyone to leave, and went down anyway. My letter of complaint to the appropriate NSW Government minister didn't bear any fruit.

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