Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Roaring 20's

Warrimoo in the ‘Roaring Twenties’

Promotional pic for the Blue Mountains 'Roaring 20's and all that Jazz' festival, showing Claudia Chan Shaw modelling 1920's fashion. Photo by David Hill
In truth, the newly-born settlement of Warrimoo didn’t do much ‘roaring’ in the 1920’s. Maybe that was left to Sir Arthur Rickard’s snazzy automobiles as they ploughed up the dusty Highway to ‘Cadia’, or possibly the loco on the new ‘Caves Express’ throwing clouds above and about as it thundered past laden with excited tourists.

‘Warrimoo’ was too young to ‘roar’. In 1920 it was a myopic infant, groping for its future, trying to establish an identity, self-absorbed with survival. One newly arrived young boy was Lawrence William Way[1]. Lawrence recalls…

When the war came to an end, six wooden homes were built for returned soldiers to move into the area. We rented the house near (the present) primary school after (my father) paid a deposit on three blocks of land, Lots 4 and 5 in Florabella Street (and another in Albert Street). Another house was built where the Todd family lived in Florabella Street and two houses in Rickard Road, one in The Boulevarde and another one in Waratah Street. Waratahs were numerous on the western side of this ridge and beautiful scented Boronia grew in this area.[2]

So, there was a minute population in Warrimoo at the outset of the 1920’s. According to available records, the only fully recognised “residents” of the estate were Thomas Smiley—worryingly, his wife and child (children?) shown in an earlier photograph, are not mentioned—who presumably lived near the station or the railroad crossing because his occupation was still listed as ‘Railways’.

Then there was Mrs Simpson, the War Widow who lived in the home supplied by the Rejected Volunteers, which Warrimoo Historians consider to have been at some position on the Great Western Highway. A War Veteran by the name of Henry Varlow had occupied the shop building[3], Henry Todd lived on the corner of The Avenue and Florabella Street, neighbouring Lawrence’s parents, Walter and Ellen Way[4].

That was it. The ‘pioneers’ of white settlement in Warrimoo. In the absence of photographs, one can only paint a presumptive sketch of the area. There would have been some very occasional weatherboard buildings, plus the brick exemplar in The Boulevarde, and the shop on the Highway. ‘Thinned’ bush would have prevailed throughout the rest of ‘Warrimoo’, intersected by unsealed roads and very basic drainage. Service provision was non-existent: no electricity, no town water, no sewerage. All settlers had to be self-reliant in this regard.

The nearest institution to supply ‘service provision’ at the time was ‘Blue Mountains Shire Council’ which met at Lawson between 1907 and 1947. It was not yet amalgamated with the Katoomba City Council nor the Municipality of Blackheath, so it was poorly serviced with rates and focused on rural issues—it tended to be slow in catching up with costly modern developments such as water conservation and electricity generation. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1920’s it was able to supply basic electric lighting to sections of the Highway, and households that could afford connection.

Sometime in the early 1920’s the ‘Warrimoo Progress Association’ was formed to make representations to the Council on behalf of local residents. A ‘Mr. Neal’ represented Warrimoo at the launch of Lower Mountains electrification at Glenbrook in 1928, and at a subsequent meeting there the President of the Warrimoo Progress Association, Mr. H.C. Lewis, proposed a vote of thanks to the Blue Mountains Shire Council…

I feel sure that we as residents of this lower end of the mountains are under a debt of gratitude to the Shire Council and what they have accomplished, he said. (Applause)[5]

Lawrence William Way 1920--?

Lawrence was to become one of the truly unique characters of Warrimoo’s history. Much of what we understand about the infant township in the 1920’s is drawn from the recollections in his amazing autobiography, My Story, which he donated to Warrimoo PS Library in 2011…


Photo/portrait of Lawrence Way on the cover of his autobiography, My Story
Lawrence was the son of a World War I veteran of the AIF, Walter William Worsley Way, avowed athiest. Shot in the jaw on the Western Front in France Walter met his bride-to-be, Ellen Gertrude Chatteris while convalescing in a London hospital. Gertrude was fifteen years younger than Walter, and she already had a two year-old son named Harold.

Ellen Gertrude and Walter Way on their wedding day during World War I in England. Walter had been shot in the  jaw and met Ellen while recuperating in hospital. Believe it or not, the child in the centre of the picture is Lawrence's older half-brother, Harold.
It was a whirlwind romance. Immediately after discharge the couple were married in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, then sailed for Sydney where they rented homes first in Broadway, then West Ryde. Walter worked as a cook in the Australia Hotel. Lawrence was born in Paddington Hospital in April 1920, just as the ‘Warrimoo Estate’ was being opened up. As an ex-serviceman, Lawrence’s dad was able to purchase land at Warrimoo at significantly reduced rates: he bought two blocks in Florabella Street and one in Albert Street. The story is best in Lawrence’s words…

When we moved from West Ryde to Warrimoo in 1922, we lived in a rented house (a returned soldier’s house) in Florabella Street for a while. Dad built a two-room humpy on Lot 5 Florabella Street covering the wooden frame and roof with a roll of tarred ruberoid. We lived in this until a small house was built on the Albert Street block…

While we were still living in this humpy, news came that my mother, who was in hospital, had just had a stillborn baby…

We moved to our house in Albert Street later in 1923. Around this time I had…a trauma…I had jumped off the verandah and had ripped part of my rear end. This time (the doctor) did not use the knife but stitched me up but I did not appreciate it as much as I should have. I screamed loudly as in those days we did not receive an injection to relieve the pain. I remember twelve years later the pain I experienced when the dentist hit the tooth nerve a couple of times when filling a tooth. How different things are today!

Things were changing in 1920’s and weekenders were popping up here and there. Many people were buying blocks of land. By 1923, Warrimoo could boast of at least twenty houses. At our Albert Street house we had used some bricks which we collected from the first shop in Warrimoo. This shop was the front of a small house and had burnt down around 1925. It was near the corner of The Boulevarde and the Highway.

Harry Todd lived in the house (No. 3) on the corner of Florabella Street. He collected bottles and built a beautiful glass garden with the words at the top “Moms regime meaning mountain queen”. …We came to know the couple who lived there well. Another house was built shortly after on the opposite corner and a family whose surname was Watts lived there. They were Church of England and shortly after settling there, Mrs Watts came to see my mother. I remember as she looked at me she remarked about my fair skin and I hid behind mum. Mrs Watts was looking for people who would be interested in a Church of England meeting. The Church of England minister came from Springwood and a meeting was held on their back verandah.

Warrimoo had a small corner shop and we used to get our bread delivered by horse and cart. It wasn’t uncommon for the bread deliverer to stop and talk, leaving the person’s bread on the horse’s rump before the buyer took possession of it. The meat was delivered in a motor bike sidecar in all kinds of weather. In later years, the meat was sent from Penrith by rail and picked up from the railway station…[6]

The astounding thing about Lawrence’s account is the ‘normalcy’ of his perception. To most of us, what he was experiencing in Warrimoo was little more than ‘hardship’, but to the young boy Lawrence it was just what life was like. There were positives, too…

One day when we were going to Springwood my mother told me she had left her glasses at home. She told me when the train comes tell the driver I will be back in a moment. I did this and the train driver held up the train for about one minute until Mum arrived. It was an early morning train consisting of a tank engine and three box carriages. I marvel as I look back on this incident with many others how people went out of their way to help in any way they could…

…Dad worked in the mid-1920’s as a cook in the northern cane fields. He often obtained clothing from a Queensland warehouse and during the depression days he would still send for clothes from there. I remember going to Parramatta with Mum and, as Dad had returned from the cane fields, he had given her five pounds for shopping to buy clothes etc. Trousers were only a few shillings. In fact, ten years later, I bought myself good quality long trousers for ten shillings at Lithgow.

My sister Helen (who became known as Nell) was born in January 1925 and our verandah sleeping quarters ceased to exist. My brother Harold and I were assigned to a tent just near the kitchen door.

There are two things I recall about this time. One being that in 1926, Dad took us to the zoo.[7]A photo was taken of me sitting on a small column. It was a day of absolute wonder to see so many animals. The other thing was that on Christmas Day 1926, there was a little wooden boat in a Christmas stocking which I was thrilled with…

Lawrence William Way photographed at Taronga Park Zoo, when he visited there in 1926--he was six years old.
…Dad took to digging wells for watering gardens as we grew most of our vegetables. One day I was playing near a well full of water about 12 feet by fifteen feet and fell in. Dad dived in and rescued me.

Another house was built around 1926 on the fourth corner of Florabella crossroad (No. 3 Florabella Street). There were hardly any children in the area and I took up playing with a girl also named Laurie spelt the same as my name and also my age. The four corners of the crossroad were now built out as a weekender existed at No.2 which was the first house backing off Florabella Street. The Watts’ house fronted The Mall, which was the continuation of The Avenue. Also at the back of the Todd’s place, people by the name of Newton were clearing the land in preparation for building next year. It was the last block of two acres in The Avenue and joined onto our two acre block, Lot 5, which was to be 11 Florabella Street

Springwood Public in 1927--somewhere Harold and Lawrence Way are lurking...

…My brother Harold travelled to Springwood school from Warrimoo and at the age of six, the beginning of 1927, I started school (also)…We used to walk nearly a kilometre to the railway station to catch the train just before 8.00am across the dusty highway with an occasional car appearing. One day a lady stopped and asked where we were going. She travelled to Springwood to work and offered to take us to school. It was an almost new model T Ford and we thought this was wonderful. Those days the school was near Springwood station…

Model T Ford--the most affordable automobile in the world--and the most commonly seen vehicle travelling through Warrimoo in the 1920's. Lawrence seems to have hitched many a lift in model T's just like this.
…One day when Harold and I were on Warrimoo station two fire balls came from the highway direction across the eastern end of the station near the overhead bridge near the middle of the station. We saw them moving side by side down the valley towards Long Angle Gully. We would often meet trains to pick up parcels of our meat from the butcher at Penrith (“West” by name). This would mostly be on a weekend and my little sister Helen would come with us. When she was not there it was not uncommon for the guard to ask “Where is your little sister?” or similar questions…

 (Shortly Lawrence came to be enrolled at the newly built ‘Blaxland Public School’ on the Highway)…About the end of the first year at Blaxland School, a school picnic was arranged at the swimming pool in Long Angle Gully about one kilometre down from Warrimoo station where there was a creek from the flat at Valley Heights.  These flats were originally a crater of a very large volcano. It was where Arthur Rickard or someone was influenced to build this swimming pool. It had a concrete wall with a spillway.

On one occasion we had actually been playing across the pool at the other end and I and a boy around the age of five from a family near us were walking across a tree trunk when he slipped. He was holding my hand and pulled me into the water. We were quickly pulled out by a couple of swimmers. Circumstances of this nature are seldom forgotten…

Warrimoo pool photographed in the 1920's--you can see the concrete weir and spillway in the foreground. Where Lawrence fell in is open to question.
…It was around 1926 when electric lights were added to streets. They were very poor lights, perhaps 60 watt, and it was quite dark between the lights. If we were not home by dark we would run between the lights…

 …One time I was down at the house in The Boulevarde at the bottom of our street. It was dark and I was afraid to go home by myself. One of my friends said, “I will go to your house with you,” which he did. But no way was he going back on his own! So I then had to take him back and make a dash back the second time on my own. I did not think I would live to tell the tale.

Another time we were at the tennis court opposite the shop when a friend decided to run across the road before he realised a car was coming. He just made it but lost a shoe. We were not sure if the car clipped his shoe or if it just came off. It was certainly close.

So ends some excerpts from Lawrence Way’s vivid account of a young boy’s life in 1920’s Warrimoo. By the end of the decade new settlers were coming to live in this brave new settlement on the edge of Mountain bushland. Most led happy, interesting lives, but some were not so fortunate…


[1] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011.. Warrimoo Historians are indebted to Lawrence Way for the timely account of his experiences in Warrimoo. His book is available at Warrimoo PS Library, and it provides most of the observations for this chapter of our history.
[2] Ibid., p.9
[3] More information on Henry Varlow is available in another chapter in this section titled :’Arson in Warrimoo?’
[4] RICHARDSON, E., and MATTHEW, K Warrimoo History Project, Library Records
[5] TROVE, Nepean Times
[6] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011. pp 9-15
[7] Taronga Park Zoo had opened just ten years earlier, in October of 1916