Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A Boy's Eye View of Depression Warrimoo

A Boy’s Eye View of Depression Warrimoo
By the time the Great Depression hit in 1930 William Way was ten years old. His youthful impressions give us a sharp picture of life in Warrimoo during that bleak decade, when unemployment remained a threatening black cloud until the outbreak of war again in 1939…

As the depression worsened, Dad lost his job as a cook at Tweed Heads. As we children were all growing all we could do to survive was to go to school in the same clothes, we did not have any shoes. During this time many men became tramps. Swagmen were looking for anything they could do. A carpenter was offered keep for six months and twenty nine pounds for building a house at Blaxland bordering Warrimoo on the highway and many families were applying for the dole.

These men are workers on an 'Unemployment Relief' project. They are wearing fairly typical work clothing of the period, and they hold some commonly used tools, including the omnipresent kerosene tins, which were used to carry just about anything..

A man named Mick Donnelly sometimes called on us as he travelled the mountain route looking for work. With Dad out of work we were sent out early on spring mornings, after it had rained, from daybreak to late morning scouring the flats for mushrooms and we would often come home with enough for a few days.

 Dad also assigned us to setting up a stand where the (Citizens) hall now stands where we would sell fruit, flowers, etc. to people driving back to Penrith, Sydney, or returning from higher up the mountains. Cars would be going slower as they had just crossed the railway on a bridge which went at a right angle over the line. It was a wide open area to pull into. We sold strawberries for ten pence a punnet, passionfruit for threepence a dozen, and other fruits in season.
'Waratah Road' earned its name because it was a part of Warrimoo flush with the beautiful red emblem of NSW. Yet it was also a prized addition to many tourists' lounge room vases. Hence they are difficult, if not impossible, to find in that vicinity today...
We sold waratahs, mountain Boronia which had a very pleasant perfume, and flannel flowers etc.. The road at this stage had been tarred to Springwood and beyond and more people were using it.[1]

In the early 1930’s, the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge captured the imagination of the young boy, Lawrence Way. It was such a major thing that the progress of the ‘marching arch’ was followed by the newspapers regularly, so it was a central talking point among the residents of Warrimoo…
The Sydney Harbour Bridge was one of the engineering wonders of the world in the 1930's--its construction was followed closely by local Sydney siders and Warrimooians alike. Sixteen of its workers died building it, but only two of those from falling off.
Lawrence continues...

The work on the Harbour Bridge continued and the progress was continually in the paper. The steel arch was lengthening from both sides. The progress on the bridge was always a thing of great interest especially as we watched the joining of the arches for with that event it would only be a year or so to it being used.
After Premier Lang had cut the ribbon and dignitaries and troops had crossed the Bridge, the general public, including Lawrence Way and family, could stroll across. Note the railway line on both sides.
I think it was Australia Day 1932 when we heard that the day for the Harbour Bridge opening was to be celebrated. On the opening we all went to Sydney for the occasion and walked across it using the walk way and the road way. As well as the thousands of pedestrians a large number of goods and steam engines were on it. We were told it had to do with strength testing.[2]

There was another connection of the Harbour Bridge to Warrimoo. Premier Jack Lang, who opened the Bridge by cutting a ribbon already famously slashed by New Guard member Captain de Groot, was to mysteriously visit Warrimoo and seek respite there, shortly afterwards.

Subsequent to the loss of his father’s job, life became more difficult for the whole Way family. When an ‘Unemployment Relief’ project was set up in Warrimoo, Walter jumped at the chance and Lawrence came to help out too…

In the Depression days Dad was able to get work for the dole on a scheme set up by council or through council by the government. This work was making* a three mile track from Florabella Street Warrimoo down into Florabella Gully, across two adjoining creeks with a section for picnic tables. From here up to the next ridge that crossed the creek further down then up to Bridge Street in Blaxland. I helped him lift the heavier stones for making steps. I think it was my willing attitude that led him to offer me threepence (called a ‘tray’ in those days, WH) if I hurried home from school and spent an hour chopping a barrow load of wood for the house…[3]

A 'Work for the Dole' project in action. Some might question the credibility of the scene because it seems 'posed' and some workers have bare feet. But one of the first unaffordable items of the Great Depression was expensive leather shoes. Much of the population, especially children, went without shoes for most of the time, and their feet grew hard and tough as a result--most 'kept' shoes were for special occasions, such as the opening of the Harbour Bridge. Not work or play.

Let’s deal with ‘Florabella Gully Track’s’ construction*. The Relief project mentioned here didn’t literally ‘make’ the track. That had been done at the outset under Arthur Rickard’s instructions as part of the ‘Warrimoo Estate’s’ attractions. There are several references to this track prior to the work done by Lawrence’s dad and his fellow unemployed. Indeed, many visitors to Warrimoo had made the trip to Florabella Gully to specifically observe and record the diverse botany, fauna and creek settings so sought after in the Mountains generally.

However the level of sophistication of this track, like many others elsewhere in the Mountains, might have left something to be desired. Florabella Track required a serious upgrade if it was to match the inspiring ‘tourist walks’ being constructed around Leura, Katoomba and Blackheath at the time, and believe it or not, the residents of Warrimoo were generally proud of the drawing power of the settlement’s natural gifts. Hence the wisdom of the Council’s choice of Relief Projects.

Thus the Florabella Pass Track was ‘civilised’ thanks to the Depression: it now had a designated, carved pathway through rocks and bush and over streams, as well as constructed steps, guideposts, and even a picnic table and seats in a clearing next to the creek—and there was ample evidence that it was used, too, not only by Warrimoo schoolkids taking the ‘shortcut’ to Blaxland PS, but by willing tourists soaking up the energising variety of diverse walks in all parts of the Blue Mountains.

Despite a fine legacy though, the story today is somewhat different. In contrast to the high usage of the ‘Fiveway’ tracks on the northern side of Warrimoo, Florabella Pass Track seems to lag unobtrusively behind, with a rundown entrance at the end of Florabella Street, deteriorating steps and occasionally dangerous gaps as well as, at times, confusing direction. Unfortunately, it has simply been allowed crumble.

Entrance to the Florabella Pass Track today. It is overgrown with weeds and ill-cared for. Neither Council nor National Parks nor local residents seem moved to repair its entrance nor the full length of the walk.

Only the collective efforts of Warrimoo residents, one way or another, can save the Florabella Track from complete obliteration.

[1] Way, Lawrence, Op Cit., 'My Story', p. 30
[2] Ibid., pp. 32-33
[3]Ibid., pp. 31-32

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The 1930's

The 1930’s…

Photo shows the interior of 'Everglades' at Leura, an Art Deco mansion built during the Depression years and now managed by the National Trust.

Ironically, in the period when Australia’s economy struck a collapse of markets leading to awful Depression and widespread unemployment, Warrimoo experienced the kind of growth that established it as a permanent community with nascent institutions and an effective economy. Apart from the ongoing timber-felling industry, the 1930’s saw the development of poultry/egg farming, some attempts at orchardism and the establishment of a local dairy.

Main Street, Katoomba, showing tourist bus of the 1930's.
A raw kind of tourism chimed into the opening up of Katoomba and the Upper Mountains to visitors from Sydney, anxious to free themselves of the pong of pan toilets and smoky coal-fired industrialism. Tuberculosis and bronchial sufferers escaped to the peace and ‘clean air’ of the sanatoria of the Blue Mountains and in doing so passed through Warrimoo, another important link in the chain of stops encountered in a full day’s journey to a ‘different world’ of cool, clear climate and healthy atmosphere.

 Even the unemployed sought respite in the ‘Mountains and Warrimoo—the blocks along Torwood Road were said to have been Warrimoo’s own ‘shanty town’ of makeshift shelters and desperate attempts to ‘grow one’s own’ survivalist veggie patches during the ‘hard times’.

While this Electoral Roll is labelled "1930", it is actually referring to 1920. These are the original settlers on the Warrimoo Estate founded by Arthur Rickard, or at least those who had registered to vote (adults over 21 years of age).
Certainly, the population grew. A comparative perusal of the ‘Electoral Rolls’ for Warrimoo in 1920, 1930 and 1934, will provide evidence of the increasing number of residents, as well as their addresses in the township and their occupations.

Registration for voting in Federal elections became compulsory in 1912, so that all citizens of Australia, men and women over the age of 21, were recorded on ‘Electoral Rolls’. Naturally, children, and by all accounts there were quite a few straying the dirt roads and bush tracks of Warrimoo, are not mentioned, so we must draw rather general conclusions about their number in the township during the 1930’s.

The Roll of 1930 shows a substantial jump in the number of residents. However, ‘Mrs Simpson’, the war widow who won possession of the ‘Volunteers’ residence, is notable by her absence. ‘The Duchles’—and there are several alternative spellings of this name in other publications, most notably ‘Duckles’—have arrived and are managing ‘The Store’ (present day Monte Italia Pizzeria). They will play a substantial role in Warrimoo’s history from this point.

Warrimoo's Electoral Roll for 1930. Note the wide variety of occupations listed. How many of these suffered unemployment in the coming years--1931-32--is anyone's guess, since these were the worst years of the Depression when unemployment hit 30%, a rate unheard of today.
The Watts family lived on the corner of The Avenue, The Mall, and Florabella St., diagonally across from the Ways’ poultry farm, which was directly opposite Henry Todd’s place. The house currently standing on their corner still bears the historic name “Watts’ Bella” (‘Beautiful Watts’).

Henry Todd lived opposite on the Florabella Street corner (Number 3). Henry was one of those for whom the ‘Rejected Volunteers’ and Arthur Rickard had set up the Warrimoo estate—he was a war veteran, but after signing up in 1916 and serving in France he was medically discharged in July 1918 with ‘premature senility’[1]…Given the relative ignorance of the authorities at that time, it can be supposed that this diagnosis in effect refers to what we call “shell-shock” or "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" today. According to Walter Way[2] he built a beautiful glass garden dedicated to his wife, titled “Mons Regina”—“Mountain Queen”. Sadly, he too had gone by the time of the 1930 Electoral Roll.
The "Embassy' cinema in Katoomba--1930's--note the 'Art Deco' style yet again. Going to the 'Flicks' was an essential part of life in this decade, and Warrimooians dressed up to the nines if they were ever to engage in such a palatial night out.
Nevertheless a new family had moved in (probably the “Ozannes”—Elizabeth and Thomas). Indeed this particular intersection could be said to be the densest population of Warrimoo in 1930, and a veritable hive of activity, with Mrs Watts perpetually encouraging all and sundry to attend Anglican Church services every Sunday.

By the time of the 1934 Electoral Roll the number of registered residents had more than doubled, with a wonderful cross-section of occupations evident, ranging from Bus Driver to Hairdresser to Miner to Bricklayer and Dressmaker, Cabinet Maker, Plumber and Labourer. Warrimoo Historians wonder whether the “Harry Charles Swain, Bookseller” of The Boulevarde was in fact the same “Swain” who came to own an extensive chain of bookstores throughout Sydney.

The 1934 Roll--massive upheavals had happened in Australian political life: two Labor Governments, the State under Jack Lang, and the Federal under James Scullin, had been swept out of office. Fascism was on the march in Europe and Asia. Yet the township of Warrimoo had grown by over 100% in the same period...
One must not become too fazed with the broad term used by many women to describe their roles—‘Home Duties’—with any sized family and little support from electrical home appliances we have today, this was indeed a full-time and demanding job, often supplemented by other very worthwhile activities. We already know, for example, that “Catherine Yousen” acted as an “Attendant” for the Warrimoo Station—basically, ‘Station Master’. Many of the women mentioned would have been executing valuable skills such as sewing, boot repair, and vegetable gardening to supplement the family income.

Whatever the case, Warrimoo was becoming a true ‘melting pot’ of varied skills, classes, and interests, maintaining a solid component of mutual respect and assistance common in many Australian communities at the time. There was no real ‘crime’, and people helped out with a cup of sugar, a bowl of milk or a lift when it was needed. Without neighbourly support, life would have been miserable indeed.

[1] RICHARDSON, E., and MATTHEW, K Warrimoo History Project, Library Records—War Records, ‘Henry Todd’
[2] Op Cit., ‘My Story’, p.10