Going to the beach


It’s a long time since I have posted on this site, for various reasons. First, there was the Covid year, and then I had other projects. Hopefully, I can get back into the swing of this and finish this journey to the past that I have embarked upon.

Go east or south for the surf

We didn’t have a beach in Penrith. We only had the river but there was an area of patchy sand there you could pretend was a beach. It was known as Little Manly but it was a long way from the real thing, literally and figuratively. And of course, nobody had a swimming pool in their backyard.

So, if we wanted the beach we had to travel. And your choice of beach was going into the city or down the South Coast to the Wollongong beaches.

For those whose families had cars, it was a long drive in whichever direction you took and the only air conditioning in cars back then came from opening the window to the cold or the hot air depending on the day. If you didn’t have a car, then your only travel alternative to Sydney beaches was the train and then a bus or sometimes two, although if you were going to Manly you caught a ferry. The good thing about going to Manly instead of the more famous Eastern suburbs beaches was the Manly Fun Pier which was a truncated version of Luna Park. Although smaller, it had the usual fun park attractions – dodgems, ghost rain, Ferris wheel – a good way to end your day at the beach.

Manly Fun Pier

Whatever mode of transport, you were hot going to the beach and hot coming home, so it often seemed like not worth the effort.

Trains were not comfortable in those days. They were steam trains so if you opened the small apertures that passed as windows, you left yourself exposed to hot puffs of carbon-filled smoke that were not friendly to clothes. There was no air conditioning and on busy days carriages became crowded and oppressive with people standing or sitting in corridors, making egress from the train at your stop or visits to the tiny and often fetid toilets difficult. Still, for kids venturing into the big smoke for a day, it was an exciting journey.

The joys of car sickness

Car travel too had its challenges. The construction of cars was aimed more at moving them from one place to another rather than on passenger comfort. The less-than-efficient shock absorbers and awkward steering, coupled with rudimentary road surfaces and poor camber design led to a lot of us getting car sick on other than short journeys.

Not all of us suffered from car sickness but you could bet that in any family there would be at least one sufferer on any trip, making the inclusion of a sickness receptacle mandatory in cars. We had an old Smiths Chips container as a vomit tin and I have to say that the sight of a packet of Smiths Chips even today brings back memories of car journeys as a child.

My father had several cars during my childhood. The two that I remember best were a Reo, whatever that was, and a Ford Pilot, both of which were guaranteed to make one of us sick on the journey..

Surfoplanes and sun tan spray

My memory of those Sydney beaches is the smell of the suntan lotion that you could get sprayed on by the lifesavers. The lotion was not as chemically advanced as those you get today with their various depths of protection. Rather they were more like a cooking oil that ensured that you got sunburnt more efficiently. The dangers of excess sun exposure were not well known and it was more important to become a sun-bronzed Aussie with the long-term consequence of skin cancers that are so prevalent in older Australians today. And of course, nobody needed a hat or those clothes that can now shield you from the sun.

There were some weird remedies around then for treating sunburn such as rubbing raw tomato into the burned areas and, particularly insane, having a boiling hot shower. How crazy was that?

The other thing I remember most about the Sydney beaches was the surfo-planes, long rubber floats that you could hire at an hourly rate. Nobody owned their own boogie boards.

Wollongong beaches

The beaches in the Illawarra area were actually closer than the Sydney beaches in travel time for those who had cars – just over an hour away. Turn right at Parker Street, drive through Luddenham and Bringelly, then to Narellan, past the monastery where they held the Stations of the Cross every Easter with thousands in attendance, on to Appin where you tried to be the first in your family to say ‘Nothing ever appens at Appin’, then down Bulli Pass. Turn left at the bottom of the Pass for Thirroul and Austinmer, or right for Bulli Beach. Travelling back at night over Fisher’s Ghost Creek near Campbelltown always involved a contest as to who could tell the best ghost stories.

Our preference was for Austinmer where Dad eventually bought a weekender on the cliff overlooking the beach and which my mother turned into her permanent home after Dad died. Austinmer was popular with many Penrith residents and on weekends and school holidays you would always be bumping into other kids from home.

Austinmer Beach in the 1950s

After my parents died, I inherited the old house and did it up and it became my permanent home for many years, where my children and grandchildren could enjoy the same delights that I did as a kid from Penrith going to the beach – the rocks, the sea pools, the beautiful beach lined with pine trees and the sensation of the Pacific Ocean, a refuge from Penrith on a boiling hot day.

And, if you couldn’t make it to a beach, there was always the river.

Penrith characters – Father Fitz

John Fitzpatrick was the Catholic Priest at St Nicholas of Myra in High Street from 1948 to 1964. He was well loved by his parishioners and a man respected in the wider Penrith community amongst people of all religions. This was no mean achievement as there was a sectarian divide in those days, not only in Penrith but country-wide, certainly more than there is now. It was mixed up with class – Catholics generally were more likely to be in the lower socio-economic strata – and issues such as government funding of religious schools, that are no longer burning issues.

A son of Ireland

Father Fitz as everyone knew him, was born in Ireland and migrated to Australian to begin his mission. His first posting was as a curate in Leichardt and when he came to Penrith in 1948 as parish priest he had previously served at Burragorang. Incidentally the Penrith parish is one of the oldest Catholic parishes in Australia.

While serving in Penrith, Father Fitz was the moving force behind the construction of the Catholic primary school which opened in Tindale Street in 1954, being heavily involved in fund raising, seeking government grants and securing banking finance to complete the work. This new school improved the educational opportunities for those who sought a religious context for the education of their children. Previously, Catholic education was conducted at St Josephs Convent in High Street.

The politico-religious schism

It was Father Fitz’s misfortune but his parish’s good luck to be in charge of the parish at the time of the great split in the 50s in the Australian Labor Party of which at that time many Catholics were members. Members of the ALP, predominantly Catholics, had split from Labor to form a new political party, others remained.  The conflict between Catholic Labor members was exacerbated by conflict within the church hierarchy itself; some priests and bishops advocated for the new party while others advised their parishioners to remain with the old. The bitterness of the political and religious schism caused rifts between friends and even within families.

Father Fitz’s gentle ways and moderating approach, and his appeals to his flock to maintain their principles while remaining tolerant of the views of others helped to stem the bitter disputes and even physical fights that took place in other communities where parish priests took more aggressive stances.

St Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church


Father Fitz’s standing and popularity in the community was seen at the large function held in February 1955 to farewell him on a nostalgic return holiday to Ireland. The function was attended not only by parishioners but by community leaders of every political and religious persuasion. Our mayor, Bill Chapman, described Father as a perfect gentleman and commended him for what he had done for the town.

Father Fitz

Although not myself Catholic, I knew Father Fitz well because he and my father were great friends. Every morning, except Sundays or when he was on church business, Father would come down to my father’s shop and they would drink coffee, talk and laugh. He was always happy and his rosy cheeks shone and he somehow reminded me of Bing Crosby who played a priest in a film called Going My Way which was around at the time. He did not look like the crooner and to my knowledge did not sing like him but their manner and demeanour and the Irish lilt were similar, although Father’s was genuine rather than made up.

Bing Crosby in Going my Way

When Father Fitzpatrick died from cancer in 1964, the town mourned.

Things we had and didn’t have in Penrith (3): maladies and vaccines

Diseases and the vaccines that prevent them are a topical subject and this causes me to cast my mind back to what was happening when I was growing up in Penrith. I must confess I don’t know if we were better off then or now.

To start with, there were a lot more diseases that could cause death or severe illness and I have mentioned them briefly in past posts. There were diseases that are still around but controlled by mass vaccination, and there are diseases that just seem to have disappeared.

Diseases that have faded away

There are several medical ailments that were a big threat to us when we were kids but rarely rate a mention today. There was rheumatic fever, which started with a sore throat and eventually affected other organs, leaving many of those who survived with life long heart weaknesses; scarlet fever, another malady that started in the throat and caused bad rashes and organ damage; something called pink disease which apparently came about because of too much mercury in teething powders given to babies; nephritis, a disease of the kidneys which I contracted and put me in hospital for five months. And others.

There was also an ailment called quinsy, another throat thing, which really hurt, and there was rickets, which we now know as being caused by malnutrition or vitamin D deficiency. I am not sure how kids in that era were deficient in vitamin D because it primarily comes from sunshine and we were outside a lot more than kids of today. And the foods containing vitamin D – eggs, red meat, cereals – were in most diets. Maybe, we didn’t eat enough fish.

What caused these diseases to be prevalent and why have they all but disappeared? Perhaps it was a combination of factors – sanitary conditions not being as good as they are today like outside toilets and iceboxes instead of fridges; more relaxed government health regulations; build-up of immunity over the generations; changes in diets.  And perhaps, with the advent of antibiotics, early treatment of things like septic throat, prevented things from getting worse.

Diseases that are still around

Just about every child that I knew contracted either measles, mumps or whooping cough or all of them at one stage of their childhood. There were no vaccines but we got sick, missed some school and recovered. Generally, if one kid in the family got the disease, so did all the others, and their friends who failed to get away before the infection jumped to them.

More serious was tuberculosis (TB), a life-threatening disease and which was, in many cases, untreatable and could result in long stays in sanatoriums. The authorities were so concerned about TB that they would set up mobile x-ray stations in town to facilitate checkups and would send them to schools annuallyfor compulsory testing of students.

Diptheria was another killer and so was tetanus, always a risk in outdoor activities. Climbing through a barb wire fence could be risky. And of course, there was polio, which is the subject of a previous post.

Schoolchildren lining up for a jab (State Library of Queensland)

Anyhow, these ailments are mainly preventable today with vaccines and, even if contracted are treatable with antibiotics. On the subject of antibiotics, they were generally not available until the late 1940s but sulphur drugs held the fort until penicillin and its offshoots came along.

Diet and exercise

I suppose that our diet then was both good and bad. On the good side, we ate lots of protein and the food was mainly fresh. Processed foods were rare – there was no Macdonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut or the like, although we might occasionally have the treat of chips from the fish and chips shop, or a hamburger. However meat pies, then as now, were always popular.

On the other hand, we ate a lot of starchy foods, and although meals always featured vegetables, any goodness in them disappeared because they were literally boiled to death. Frozen foods were sparse but tinned foodstuffs were available.

Our teeth were awful because the water was not fluorised and visits to the dentist were a necessity. The government organised dentists to visit schools to provide dental care for children whose parents could not afford regular visits.

All set for an afternoon’s play in the yard: snappy dressers too, weren’t we?

We definitely had more exercise and time outside in the sun and fresh air than kids do today. It is not just because they have more indoor entertainment options than we had but there are just more indoor activities today, and that’s a good thing. Apart from the wireless, and later television (which anyhow in its early days did not really get going until late afternoon), the only real alternative for children to get together after school, and indeed before it, and on weekends, was to play outside. I think that we can all agree that that lifestyle was healthier.

Today’s maladies

There are conditions and syndromes around today that I do not remember as being around as much back then. First, there is asthma which seems a lot more prevalent. Sure, some kids had respiratory problems but not nearly as high a proportion as today. Perhaps it was because Penrith was semi-rural with little industry and surface and air pollution, perhaps it was because of more time spent outside – I do not know.

Then there are things like autism, ADHD and the like. Definitely, some children had difficulties keeping their attention span for long periods but they were never diagnosed as having any sort of illness or syndrome. The system shuffled them off into lower learning classes and never really attended to their difficulties, leaving them with life long learning gaps.

It was the same, I would imagine, with children who had dyslexia and other similar types of learning difficulties. They received little understanding and certainly no extra help. The attitude in the schools was treat them as dumb, put them in classes that served mainly to keep them off the street until they turned 14 or so, and then let them loose without any assistance. We are fortunate to now live in more enlightened times.

Autism is a difficult one. I do not recollect any child of my acquaintance, and I knew most of the kids in Penrith, who showed those signs of behaviour that today we recognise as the autism spectrum. Was this because autism is a recent development, or were children who had this difficulty, just kept out of sight?

So, as I wrote at the start of this post, in some ways we were better off back then, in other ways we were not. I do consider myself fortunate in that nobody in my family, and none of my childhood friends, died of a childhood disease. Many got sick, some severely, but we all made it.


Christmas in Penrith

As Christmas 2020 approaches, my mind wanders back to what Christmas was like in Penrith in the forties and fifties, and one word comes to mind – Hot!

The heat

My memory, not just of Christmas time but of summer days generally, is day after day of temperatures over or close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 on the Celsius scale), exacerbated by hot winds; no relief even at night; and with the tar melting on the roads causing the possible loss of a shoe as you crossed over. You wouldn’t be game to cross the road in bare feet.

I remember too almost daily storms that seemed to start just as one was walking home from school.

I really doubt that it was any hotter then than it has been in the last few years but it certainly felt hotter, one possible reason being the almost total absence of air conditioning. Houses and shops were not air-conditioned and at best had fans that really only circulated the already hot air. As for cars, air conditioning consisted of opening windows and letting the wind roar between them. Again, only hot air, but it at least gave the impression of cooling things down.

If you were walking down the street at night, you would frequently pass houses with mum and dad sitting outside on the front step or porch desperate to get the slightest breeze while the kids played under the sprinkler.

Nobody had swimming pools in their homes. the public pool had not yet opened, and the only body of water to throw the body into for some cooling relief was the river.

The heat was aggravated, at least until the fifties, by the use of fuel stoves. Some households had still not made the move to electric ranges and had retained the old fuel stoves, guaranteed to raise the temperature in the house by a good ten or fifteen degrees.

Bushfire haze over Emu Plains c 1950 (Penrith City Library collection)

If there were bushfires around, that only made matters worse. There were bad bushfires in the area in 1944-45, 1951-52, and 1957-58, and the curtain of smoke hanging over the area trapped the heat, making life all the more uncomfortable.

There was a myth at Penrith High School that if the temperature reached 105 degrees, school would close down for the day and students could go home. In my time there, the temperature often reached that level but I do not recollect that there was ever a go home release. Nothing like sitting in a stinking hot, uncooled classroom, working on a Latin grammar or hearing about the glories of the British Empire.

Before Christmas Day

The approach of Christmas not only meant presents and festivities coming up; it also meant that school was over until the end of January and we could relax from the hard grind of daily attendance, good behaviour on pain of punishment, and no homework. As we used to recite:

No more pencils, no more books

No more teachers’ dirty looks

Santa in the park (Penrith City Library collection)

Another sign that Christmas was on its way was the arrival of Santa Claus in Memory Park. For some reason, this died out in the fifties and the only Santa Claus was, to my recollection, at Fletchers. Clubs and other organisations generally had a Santa impersonator at their Christmas functions for the children of members.

Father Christmas at Grace Bros (State Library)

One of the big things to do in the days before Christmas was to go to Sydney and see one or more of the Christmas displays put up by the big department stores. They not only dressed their windows in appropriate Yuletiude fashion, and provided a Santa Claus (also equally known as Father Christmas by our generation) for the younger and more credulous children,  they set aside a big section on one of their floors for Christmas scenes.

Christmas display at Anthony Hordern’s (State Library)

Anthony Hordern’s and Grace Bros were the best. The latter had a series of caves in each of which there was some sort of Christmas scene. As you came out, there was a stall that handed out fairy floss wrapped around a stick of sugar cane.

This was often combined with a visit to a Christmas Pantomine, a fading theatrical tradition. We usually went to the one at the Tivoli Theatre.

The core of Pantomine was a musical play with a story based usually around a fairy tale which provided farce, slapstick and lots of laughs. There was always one particularly evil character at whose approach kids could boo and hiss. Another main character was the Pantomine Dame, generally a male actor dressed as a woman, who provided most of the farcical element.

There was always at least a couple of scenes where the evil character would sneak up upon some unsuspecting victim and this enabled the kids in the audience to scream out a warning. Sounds a bit tame but, hey, we didn’t have Superheroes movies playing continually on Netflix to amuse us.

Many of the churches, clubs and service associations in Penrith also had an annual Christmas tree with presents for the children of members put around the tree.  Church Sunday Schools had their best and most regular attendance in the weeks prior to Christmas.

We did have Christmas trees, but the expensive decorations and the modern convention of energy blowing displays of Christmas lights around houses was non-existent.

Christmas presents and other things

The first thing that we did as kids on Christmas Day was to open our presents. Even though the Santa Claus myth died at an early age (but probably not as early as it does with today’s more with-it kids), the Christmas swag of presents was still there ready in the morning. We never had the traditional Christmas stockings but had pillow slips instead. I don’t know if this was a common occurrence.

The range of Christmas presents varied with the age of the child and the income of the parents.

Dolls and the things that go with them would certainly have been popular for girls but, as there were only boys in my family, I don’t know what else girls would have been given.

For younger boys, anything associated with Cowboys and Indians -outfits, cap guns, Indian headdresses -, carts and other things on wheels and model cars – Matchbox and Dinky were popular brands. Sports equipment whether serious – cricket bats, footballs etc – or less so -shuttlecock sets, indoor bowling sets – would also have been frequent presents. Everybody wanted a Hornby electric train set but they were expensive. If you were really lucky, you got a bike.

Dinky toy car

Meccano, the child construction toolset, was ubiquitous and add ons to the standard set were available. Board games too were popular – Monopoly and Cluedo for the older children, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo and Chinese Checkers for the younger ones.

Meccano loader

All told, we had a lot of fun with not so much, but it is safe to say that today’s children would probably consider our loot of presents not all that great. The toys, however, would almost certainly have had longer lives – they were more durable, there was a lot less plastic construction, and, as we never had the range and variety that there is today, we would have looked after them better, passing them down at the appropriate time to our younger siblings.

Christmas Lunch (Dinner)

Firstly, we, or most of us, had different terms for the three daily meals. Breakfast was always breakfast, today’s lunch was often called dinner, and today’s dinner referred to as tea. Many people of my generation still favour these terms.

Generally, the preparation of the Christmas meal was done by the mother in the family, helped sometimes by any daughters of sufficient age. Men did not do that sort of thing then. The women had a hard time of it. On a really hot day, the temperature in the kitchen would approximate the summer temperature on Mercury.

The standard Christmas Lunch was always a hot one and was inevitably a baked dinner. Few people engaged in a cold festive meal and nobody had the sumptuous seafood repasts that we enjoy today – prawns, lobster, oysters, bugs, crabs. For a start, fresh seafood outlets were few and far between in country towns, bottled oysters really being the only ones available.

The most common baked meal was lamb, followed by beef and occasionally pork. Some people had chicken and for many that was one of the rare times during the year that they had poultry. Chicken was expensive as battery farming had not yet become popular in Australia. Nobody had turkey. Though there was the occasional baked ham, ham was more likely to pop up in the form of slices bought from the ham and beef shop in High Street.

Many families enjoyed the traditional Christmas pudding boiled in a cloth weeks before Christmas Day and allowed to hang out to dry in preparation for the big day, hopefully escaping from the mould, the grubs and the flies. Coins were placed in the pudding and the lucky diner, having escaped either swallowing a coin or losing a filling, got to keep the coin. The pre-decimal coinage – threepences, sixpences, shillings, florins, even pennies and halfpennies, were ideal for this, but decimal coinage when it came in in 1966 did not work as well. Crackers, as bonbons were more usually known, contained real and useful trinkets, unlike the present-day plastic rubbish.

Christmas in Penrith was great when I was a kid – hot, but great. We had good and happy times and because the gatherings were smaller – it was not as easy for other relatives to travel and assemble in the one home – there were probably fewer family flareups. Although my brothers and I were always happy to engage in a Christmas sibling dispute.

High Street in the 50s (11)- North side: beyond Station Street

Although there were some traditional type shops once you passed Bamford’s Corner and crossed Station Street heading towards the river, most of the businesses that you encountered were different both in category and size. Because of their nature, many of them required larger sites than were available further up High Street and I assume that the square foot rental was lower as well.

I cannot remember all the businesses here – they changed a lot – nor the exact order that they were in, so this story just highlights some of those that I can remember.

Station Street Corner

There was a garage on the corner- the Penrith Garage – run by people named McLeary, (although an ad in the Nepean Times in 1946 suggests that it was owned by a Mr Smith) and the depot and office for Penrith Taxis were behind this.

Next door, Tony Skipton at various times had different businesses. At one time, he had a cafe further up High Street, a milk bar cum coffee and pastry shop opposite Bussell Brothers, then at various times, in shops down from Station Street, he had a milk bar, the Imperial Cafe, and I think at one time some sort of fabric shop. He then went on to build Skipton’s Arcade.

There was a War Surplus Disposals store around here too. In those days, this type of store sold genuine military disposals rather than the faux-army clothing and equipment and camping goods that they sell today.

Duval Studios and street photographs

The camera man is a Mr De Boer (Penrith City Library collection)

Duval Studios sold photographic supplies but its main function was professional photography. Many photos taken by Duval of events in Penrith have helped preserve the town’s history. It was either owned by, or employed, a man named De Boer.


The Nepean River in flood 1948, taken by Mr De Boer (Penrith City Library collection)

Family photos were a big thing back then as few people owned cameras and those that were around were, by modern standards, not all that good. Street photographers were plentiful too, not so much in Penrith but in the big cities. Martin Place in Sydney was a favourite snapping spot. Professional photographers would snap a photo of people walking down the street and then talk them into ordering a copy.

The photographers generally dressed in a suit and tie so as to appear both respectable and professional and mostly they were. They must surely have taken hundreds of photographs on a normal day in the hope and expectation of selling a few.

My mother, aunt and grandmother. A typical Sydney street photo.

As I understand it, the photographer would take the photo unsolicited and then hand a card or ticket to the potential buyer. The photos would, of course, have to be developed and when they were, you would go to a central kiosk and produce your ticket and would be given a large sheet of photographs and a magnifying glass to find and identify your photo. If you decided to buy, you handed over the money and would receive the finished product in the mail a few days.

There was another tyre place nearby Duval Studios.

George Howell

George Howell and Co (Penrith City Library collection)

Mr Howell was a man of many parts. At various times he had been a farm agent and an estate agent, and had run trucks, but he was primarily a seller and repairer of agricultural equipment, catering for the district’s farms and orchards which at that time played a prominent part in Penrith’s industry and employment but which have now mainly been lost to the developers.

Emu Plains from the river – citrus trees in the background

Those of my generation can remember, for example, when Emu Plains was filled with citrus trees – the Hunter family had large orchards. As well as providing revenue for the town, and employment for its people, the orchards were great parking spots for young couples seeking a solitary spot away from prying eyes.

Mr Howell c 1952 (Penrith City Library collection)

Sometime in the late 1950s, Mr Howell suffered some business reverses and the business that he had run for so long was closed. He was, however, a genius at repairing and restoring fruit sorting machines and I would often see him in the garage of his house in Ladbury Avenue, working on some old machine that he had picked up cheaply.

Hungerford’s, the vets

The biggest veterinary practice in Penrith was Hungerfords owned by Mr T G Hungerford. Mr Hungerford, apart from his veterinary skills with small animals, was an expert on stock animals, and was the author of a standard textbook on cattle diseases and treatments.

The Humgerfords were prominent in local religious activities and were behind the formation in Penrith of the Inter-School Christian Fellowship, a group that brought together young religious people, and they often hosted meetings in their home attached to the veterinary practice.

Like most of the businesses in this area, they were subsumed by the construction of the Penrith Plaza.

Hickey’s Tank Works c 1950 (Penrith City Library collection)

Close by was Gregg’s electrical business and Plunkett’s Grage. There was also another produce store run by a man called Charly Dean, Hickey’s Tanks, a timber yard and then Ron Barrett’s house.

The RAAF or Police College?

From the Sunday Sun, 14 November 1948

In this area, there was also a large government installation which I am fairly sure operated as a training centre for New South Wales Police Officers. I am comforted in this belief by the fact that the Sunday Sun published an article in November 1948 stating that 1438 police officers had been trained there since it opened in 1945 and it published the photo reproduced above.

People have told me however that this building was occupied by the Royal Australian Air Force as a barracks. If this is the case, it must have been before it was taken over by the Police Department. Or is there some confusion and there were two separate sites? If any reader can clear this up for me, I would appreciate it.

The saddlery

Mr Tornaros had a saddlery shop down this end of town but whether it was on this side of the street or the other. I cannot remember. The saddlery was owned by Mr Atty Tornaros, who was a migrant and who was also prominent in community affairs. He served on Council for many years and was elected mayor on at least one occasion. This suggests, as I have mentioned before, that although some old-time residents and influential business men were reluctant to accord migrants the same respect as those who were Australian born, prejudice was not widely apparent in the larger community.

Mayor Tornaros (4th from right) and others welcoming the Governor 1949 (Penrith City Library collection)

There may also have been another saddlery in the town owned by a man named Ainsley, an indication that, even though Penrith was moving towards having a suburban character by the late 1950s, there was still a large part of the town that had a rural base.

I always liked the smell of leather in saddlery shops. Same with bootmakers.

Previous High Street post

North side – the Federal to Station Street


Another big day for Penrith: the electrification of the railway line

Penrith had another big day on October 8 1955. Electric trains came to the town.

It may not seem a big deal now but it was back in 1955. We had a good existing railway service – Penrith to Central (limited stops)  took about 70 minutes, multi-stop trains took about 15 minutes longer.

The perceived problem was that Penrith was not part of the electric railway system, so our trains were primarily steam trains and they had to terminate at Central with no direct access to other lines or to the inner city train system. So if you worked in the city, you had to get off at Central and change trains to Wynyard or St James or intermediate stops.

In those days too, there were two classes on board the trains. You could travel first class or second class; obviously first class was more expensive but, apart from the fact that you were less likely to miss out on a seat, there seemed little difference between the standard of fittings between first and second. There was perhaps some snob value in riding first class – I don’t know. I was happy enough travelling with the plebs.

Like many people, I was happy with the existing system because I liked steam trains. Sure they were noisy and the soot got onto your clothes and on a hot day it was unwise to open a window because of the dirt and the noise but they were comfortable, fun and historic.

And we had our favourite trains – the Chips and the Heron for commuters, and the ten o’clock Mudgee Mail for those who had to work or study late or, more likely, for those who liked to drink late. The paper train leaving Central in the early hours of the morning was the fate for those who missed the Mail.

The new railway system was supposed to knock ten minutes off the travelling time but, if that did happen, it was not for long as the city rail network got busier and busier with the increase in population during the sixties and the inevitable stops and slowdowns as the trains got closer to the city.

Photos. Some of the photographs in this post are somewhat indistinct. I apologise for that but they come from the Nepean Times archives and have nor reproduced well digitally.

The celebrations committee

So, the community decided to make the official arrival of the first electric train a big deal and a committee, to represent the community, was appointed to plan the festivities. There were big things planned.

The photo above is that of the Electrification Celebration Committee and I recognise some faces. If any reader can identify others, I would be happy to acknowledge them.

Back row:

  • 2nd from left Mr Arthur Street, teacher and local historian
  • 3rd from left – Mr Joe Sheehan

Middle row

  • 2nd from left – Mr Dave Fitzgerald Leagues Club
  • 3rd from left – Mr Mel Roberts?

Front Row

  • 3rd from left Mr Les Mitchell
  • 4th from left Mr Jack Carvan
  • 6th from left Mrs Essie Price
  • 7th from left Mrs Parkes?

I have an idea that the man leaning on the piano was from the Penrith Press and could the man first on the left in the back row be a young Ron Mulock?

The first train – official

Penrith Mayor, Bill Chapman

The first train was not really the first one, but the first official one, because there had been numerous trial runs. It left Central that day at 9.03, carrying the official party, and arrived at Penrith Station at 10.30 after stopping at St Marys for a few minutes while that suburb had its own celebration. There was an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at St Marys, after which the train went on its way. St Marys had its own celebratory procession later on the day.

My uncle, Harry Sternbeck, was the driver of the train, and Bill Glasscock was the guard. Harry’s wife, my Aunty Alma, the greatest cook of scones that there absolutely ever was, was supposed to be an official guest. Unfortunately, she had had an argument with Harry a couple of nights before the event and kicked the wall in anger, breaking her ankle. There must be a lesson here.

The official party consisted of, amongst others, the Premier, Mr Joe Cahill, the Mayor of Penrith, Bill Chapman, the Railway Commissioner and other dignitaries.

Penrith Railway Station (State Archives)

A passenger with a close connection in history was also a passenger, William Badcock, aged 90. His mother had been a passenger on the first steam train from Sydney to Penrith, a nice coincidence.

Railway Square

In preparation for the big day, local shopkeepers decorated their windows with appropriate themes. There were prizes given out fr the best-dressed windows. The winner was Dorraine, owned by a Mrs Graham, a business I do not recall, and high commendations were given to other businesses including Neales, Fletchers and Millers Men’s Wear.

The area surrounding the station, which is apparently named Railway Square but I have no memory of anyone calling it that when I was a child, was decked with streamers, balloons, bunting, plants and flags.

Bands played the usual kinds of tunes while large crowds waited for the train’s arrival and the official ceremonies.

A dais was set up near the entrance and it was there that the opening ceremony took place. The Premier cut the ribbon with a pair of golden scissors (gold plated, I would imagine, rather than pure gold) and there were speeches by every dignitary who was able to successfully grab the microphone. What happened to the official party after this is not known but presumably they were fed and watered and went back to their respective locations, probably by car. It is hard to imagine them choosing to ride the train again.

The procession

Penrith loved a procession back then and let’s face it there wasn’t all that much around in the way of entertainment. There were bands, and there were floats in various categories entered by local merchants and community organisations.

First prize in the historical section went to Count O’Meagher for his famous 1912 Renault – you couldn’t keep the Count out of a Penrith celebration. For some reason best known to the Count, he had labelled the car as a 1755 model. Was 1912 not old enough for the Count?

Neales won the commercial section with Ken Wood, the Holden dealer, as runner up. The Wood float had a blue Holden atop a Chevrolet truck all surrounded with chains and a sign saying ‘Holden, a link in the chain of Penrith’s Progress’. Corny, I suppose, but that was local advertising back then. And the CWA and the Orchard Hills Primary Producers took out the prizes in the Original category. There was also a Comical section.

After the procession

The floats and bands proceeded to the Showground where members of the public could have a closer look at the floats and other exhibits.

There was a series of events and stalls at the showground for spectators to look at and participate in, including athletics and other sports, and a few more speeches. At night there was a gymkhana with appropriately named events.

High Street too was closed at night between Woodriffe and Station Streets to allow dancing by those who wanted to get their feet moving. There were several bands and people enjoyed themselves.

The changing town

As I said, it doesn’t sound such a big deal now but it was. Penrith had become that much closer to Sydney and more reachable. The town and its suburbs, mostly undeveloped with the exception of St Marys, became attractive to developers and to their customers – young families who worked in areas closer to Sydney but who wanted a place to live that they could afford to buy. The farms and the acreages were subdivided and new houses built. More and more people moved in and this was really the start of Penrith’s change from a semi-rural township to what it has become – just another suburb of Sydney.

Some people see this as a change for the better. Penrith people who grew up when I did probably have a different view but progress has its benefits and its losses. Old Penrith dies but new Penrith lives.






Things we had and didn’t have in Penrith (2): the wireless, television and gadgets galore

I can start with a long list of things that we didn’t have, either as kids or adults:

  • The internet and all the entertainment options that go with it – smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles;
  • The information sources that come with the internet – search engines, smartwatches, fitbits, search engines;
  • Today’s multiple ways in which to listen to music;
  • television and the ways in which we can view content – free to air programming, streaming, the already obsolete DVDs and video cassettes.

What we had was the radio (or wireless as it was more commonly called), the picture show, record players, comics, games, and our own resources and imagination.

I will talk about the wireless in this post and look at other activities later.


Our entertainment

Somehow, night time entertainment was not as important to us as it is now. We played outside a lot, often until dark or until our mothers called us in either do our homework or to get ready for dinner. By the time that was all over, we only had to be entertained until we went to bed.

I suspect that our bedtimes were, on the average, earlier than they are for modern kids and probably our homework took longer as well. For example, if one was doing a project, there would be the visit to the library, copying words and pictures from an encyclopedia or other reference book, and then incorporating all this onto a physical page.

It must be much easier now to just Google what you want, cut and paste, and slap it all onto a computer file and then either to print it or deliver it electronically. And of course, with word processing programs, mistakes and revisions can be taken care of in a jiffy, instead of having to erase the problem, or, if that was not possible, to start all over again.

Wireless stations

After play and homework, we had the wireless. It was either a shelf top unit or a console, sometimes with a record player attached. If you were lucky there were two; the small one in the kitchen and the big one in the lounge room. Not many kids had one in their bedroom.

A wireless console

There were eight metropolitan stations, all AM, and the local station 2KA, which few of us listened to. The ABC had two of these stations. Running down the dial the stations were 2FC, 2BL (both owned by the ABC), 2GB, 2UE, 2KY, 2UW, 2CH, AND 2SM. All stations broadcast a mixture of programs but they focussed heavily on entertainment in the way of dramas and comedies (both in serial form and one-offs), quizzes and special programming. News and music were not nearly as prevalent as today.

The serials

There were serials for adults and serials for kids. 2UW, as I remember, had the bulk of adult serials, or at least serials of a type that the programmers imagined, with their minds founded in stereotypes, would appeal to women as they went about the housework because that was the primary task allocated to women in those unenlightened days.

Popular 2UW serials were Courtship and Marriage, Dr Paul, Martins Corner. Portia faces Life, When a  Girl Marries, Mary Livingstone MD, Dr Mac (‘aye it’s me, Doctor Mac’)and Mrs Iggs and Mrs ‘Arris. You can see what programmers imagined women to be interested in from the titles.  I don’t know whether poor Portia had medical problems or marriage problems, or maybe both.

2GB seemed to have a monopoly on serials for kids which were broadcast mainly in the afternoon and early evening. I particularly remember Superman (of course), Biggles, The Lone Ranger and The Shadow. There was also a classic children’s’ serial called The Serach for the Golden Boomerang, which almost uniquely had an Australian setting. Its theme was Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky and whenever I hear that piece I am reminded of my childhood.

The ABC also had an Argonauts Club for children, not a serial but a mixed program for younger children.

2UE had the night time serials carefully chosen to appeal to both children and adults. There was Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Dossier on Demetrios, I Hate Crime with Larry Kent and Night Beat (my name’s Randy Stone (‘I work the night beat for the daily’).

My particular favourite was one called Hagen’s Circus about ‘romance, excitement and mystery set against the colourful background of the big top’ (National Film and Radio Archive) with its hero Grant Andrews played by Guy Doleman who went on to have a successful film career.

There were the comedy serials too like Life with Dexter, Ada and Elsie, Mrs ‘Obbs, all on 2GB, and Yes What on 2CH. I would be willing to bet that if we heard these shows today, we would not think them all that funny with the possible exception of Yes What, a show about a school class of kids, presided over by a teacher played by Rex ‘Wacka’ Dawe. The kids – Greenbottle, a garrulous fool, Bottomley a cheeky rascal, a posh boy whose name I do not remember, and Stamford, who was a bit slow – always seemed to get the better of the teacher who gave them frequent canings, probably inspiring the teachers at Penrith High to do the same. 

For any reader who remembers these shows and wants to feel nostalgic, I have included some Web links to sample episodes at the end of this post.

Quiz shows

Bob and Dolly Dyer

Quiz shows were very popular on the wireless and there was friendly or contrived competition between the two main hosts on rival stations. Jack Davey was a New Zealander with a ready wit and self-destructive social habits that got the constant attention of the daily rags, particularly the Daily Mirror, a sensation filled tabloid that has thankfully passed into history. Bob Dyer was originally a hillbilly guitar strummer who transformed into a successful quiz show host assisted by his ever simpering wife Dolly.

These two personalities over the years swapped radio stations, changed quiz formats, dabbled occasionally in variety shows, and traded friendly banter. The most successful of the quiz shows was Pick a Box.

When television came, both hoists made the jump from radio. Bob was a success, Jack Davey was not.

Amateur hours 

Another popular wireless format was the talent quest where amateur performers hopeful of making the big time or just impressing their friends would strut their wares on stage before a live audience. Again there were competing programs on rival stations such as The Amateur Hour and Australia’s Amateur Hour and rival hosts including Terry Dear, Dick Fair and Harry Dearth. These hosts generally spoke with a posh British accent, real or pretended, and were smooth, at times bordering on the unctuous.

As radio does not have visuals, the performers were mainly singers, musicians and the occasionally desperate stand up comic. If you have seen the quality shown on such current programs as The Voice and Australian Idol, you would see little resemblance to these talent quests of the 40s and 50s where the standard was probably inferior to that which you would see at a school musical performance these days.

Winners were determined by popular vote, phoned in by listeners.

Hit parades and teen shows

Various stations had their hit parades featuring the best selling records of the week usually ranging down from seven or eight to number one. There was certainly no top 40 or best 100 in those days and I have to say that music was pretty awful in the early 1950s until rock and roll began with Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel and Rock around the Clock in 1956. Two execrable songs that stick in my memory that made the hot parades back then were Shrimp Boats is A-coming by warbler Jo Stafford and Band of Gold by a second rate crooner called Don Cherry. Awful stuff.

There were two major radio shows aimed at teenagers. Rumpus Room was on 2UE and was compared by the incredibly smooth Howard Craven while Teen Time was broadcast on 2GB and presided over by an ex-vaudevillian named Keith Walsh. I cannot remember the format of these shows, so they obviously were not all that memorable.

Comedy and other programs

Comedy and variety programs were a staple of wireless fare. Variety shows contained a mixture of musical items, thankfully better than those on the amateur hour, and comedy sketches. Comedy shows were mostly just comedy sketches and a lot of advertising. Among the most listened to shows were Calling the Stars, the Cashmere-Bouquet Show, and Bonnington’s Bunkhouse Show. These shows presented new employment chances for ex-vaudeville performers.

Mo McCackie

The most famous comedian of them all was Roy Rene who had several shows in his alternate persona as Mo McKackie, a stereotyped Australian Jew with a host of offsiders such as Young Harry (‘Young Harry, cop this) and Spencer the Garbage Man. The humour was crude with lots of sly double entendre and by modern standards both racist and sexist. Mo would not be tolerated in today’s media.

Other shows

There were other shows too, most of them forgettable but not The Quiz Kids where a team of really smart kids were asked different questions by quizmaster John Dease and tried to answer them. One’s own cleverness was calculated by how many we could answer as compared to the smart kids.

Among the quiz kids who subsequently went on to better things were Prime Mimister John Howard, NSW Premier Neville Wran, and Barry Jones who won fame by scooping the pool on Pick  A Box before going into politics. Smarties!

And then came television

Television came to Australia in 1956 and although at first only the more prosperous families had a set, they became cheaper over the next few years and soon most families had one.

Programs in the first years began at 3.30 pm and ended at 11 pm with the playing of God Save the Queen against a patriotic backdrop. But the viewing day gradually increased and that spelled the end of the wireless as we then knew it. The serials, variety shows and quizzes transported to the new medium with some old shows making a successful transformation but others falling by the wayside and being replaced by newer and better ones. 

I think the thing that suffered most from television coming on stream was playing outside and even more so today where there are so many other electronic opportunities for children. And that’s a pity.

But we were lucky as kids in Penrith in the forties and fifties. Sure, we didn’t have many of the material things that children of today have but we had big backyards to play in, a safe environment for most of us, strong family ties, and pastimes that may have been simple but which gave us lots of pleasure. I am glad that I grew up where I did.

Web site references for some of the programs mentioned in this post

There are some sample episodes here which may jog your memory, sweep you in a wave of noistalgia or start you laughing.

Dr Mac: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajei9OESMDI

Australia’s Amateur Hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrQ0zMLF1TE

The Search for the Golden Boomerang: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIxyK9BGNLc

Night Beat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=800Jw3AT66s

Hagen’s Circus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZq8Hoaa4lI

Yes What: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xbcido

Bonningtons Bunkhouse Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb7cOaW__Es

Mo McCackie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0rhAhtX1hg

The Quiz Kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9zpRW6O2nc

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Penrith characters: Essie Price

Penrith characters: Essie Price

Essie May Price was a noted citizen of Penrith, one who worked tirelessly in its community and political affairs and who, when she died, was mourned by many. She was the widow of Leo Price who had, at various times, part owned the John Price and Son funeral home, and the picture show, as well as being active in the town’s affairs and in other businesses.

Mrs Price was a family friend and, to some extent, she was a substitute grandmother to the children in our family as our real grandparents lived a long way away. Mrs Price was very good to me and I remember her fondly.

John Price and Son

The Price family have a long connection with Penrith. Probably Penrith’s oldest surviving business, this undertaking firm was started by John Price. I only remember the funeral home as being on the corner of Station and Henry Streets but apparently it had different sites over the years.


It began at a site in Henry Street next to the Methodist Church and this, in future years, became the home of Leo and Essie Price. Additional premises were opened in High Street near the site of what was to become the Nepean Theatre. The land that became the Station Street site was purchased from the Priddle family and it was there that the business was conducted for many years.

After John Price died, the business was carried on by his sons, and subsequently by Leo Price, a direct descendant. In the 1920s, Leo sold the business to his cousin Nelson and, in turn, the business was sold to a Mr Smith.

Leo Price

Leo Price was a man of many experiences and many accomplishments. He went to the old Henry Street school and later to a private school in Penrith called the Penrith College. A crack shot who won prizes for marksmanship at State level, he volunteered for the Boer War at the age of 15 but his mother stopped him from going because of his young age. He was also apparently a a talented singer, cricketer and journalist, writing stories for both local and Sydney newspapers..\

In the above photo, Leo Price is the man in the hat near the front of the cart (Penrith City Library collection).



At some stage, he also operated an open air picture theatre in Penrith which I am told was the forerunner of the old Nepean Theatre.




He married Essie May Ritchie of Forbes on 26 August 1908 at St Stephens Church of England. The church was packed to capacity with an overflow crowd standing outside. The Prices had three children but Leo’s premature death left Essie a widow. 

Essie Price’s wonderful old house

Mrs Price lived in a great old house at what was then 244 Henry Street Penrith. There were two separate buildings on the site. The front building was occupied by a white weatherboard cottage with lots of small and interesting rooms, filled with curios and antiques. A wooden walkway connected this cottage to a separate building that contained the kitchen, laundry and rooms for storage.

It was an original wattle and daub building. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, it describes an early form of construction in this country in which wooden planks called ‘wattle’ were plastered and held together by some wet composite material that could include soil, sand, clay and/or straw. And it is a pity that Mrs Price’s house was demolished and not kept as a heritage building, but such has happened to so many of the town’s historic buildings.

The property had a really big back yard bordered by cork trees and contained an old stage coach which was the perfect setting for kids like us to play Cowboys and Indians. Amongst Mrs Price’s collection of curios were muskets and old .303 rifles which, together with indigenous and New Guinea war weapons, added to the realism of the game.

The contents of the house were amazing. Mrs Price had a collection of infinite variety – antiques, native war tools, pictures, photos and odds and ends. I always understood that the family must have been in the antique business in past years but this was apparently not so. I have read that Leo Price was at one stage an auctioneer and valuer of real estate and furniture and I can only assume that these things came into the possession of the Price family through that business.

My particular favourite was a telescope inscribed to Phillip Gidley King who sailed to Botany Bay with Captain Arthur Phillip as a first lieutenant in 1788, was put in charge of the convict settlement at Norfolk Island, and later the third governor of the colony of New South Wales.

Mrs Price always told me that I was to have this telescope after she died but I somehow missed out on this. All that I have as a memento of her and her collection are a couple of indigenous war weapons from I know not where.



Community activist

Essie Price was a force in the community, not just through her participation in civic affairs, but also through her activism and agitation for causes in which she believed. An inveterate correspondent, there were few issues of the Nepean Times that did not contain a letter penned by Essie on some issue or another.

She served for many years as a councillor on Penrith Council, as a member of the board of the Nepean Hospital being the first woman to be appointed to the board, and on many other community organisations. Mrs Price was a long time president of the Penrith Mothers’ Club, the P and C like group attached to the Penrith Infants School. In association with Mrs Sandy, she raised funds for improvements to Memory Park, and these two ladies tramped the streets every Thursday for many years, raising funds for charities.

She was also the first woman to be appointed a Justice of the Peace in the district. A JP was more than a document witness in those days and could be called upon to preside in an emergency as a temporary magistrate for the purpose of bail and adjournments of proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court.

Essie Price was a dedicated smoker and it was rare to see her without a Craven A cigarette. She also liked a social drink and enjoyed parties. She was very fond of the films, having the privilege of life time free admission to the Nepean Theatre. Her favourite time at the pictures was Saturday afternoon because she really enjoyed the serials and B class movies that were a feature of that session. She would sit in the front stalls in her regular seat on the right hand side, surrounded by young kids whose parents were happy to let them go there unattended because they were confident Mrs Price would both look after them and control any childish over-exuberance.

Essie Price was not only a Penrith character. She also exemplified the character of the town in those days – community service, friendliness, and the affinity and cooperative nature of the residents with each other.



High Street in the 1950s (10): North side – the Federal to Station Street

Continuing down High Street on the north side, I recollect that there was another grocer Goodlands, next to the Federal Hotel, Supermarkets were just coming in to replace the old type grocery store where you asked for what you wanted at the counter and the grocer got it for you, either prepackaged or from bulk. After weighing or counting. It was then put in a bag or container supplied by you or the shop.


Elston’s Cake Shop followed at number 463. I don’t remember a Mr Elston and if he was around he was not in the cake shop which was run by Mrs Elston. There were also tables in the shop where you could get a cup of tea and a couple of delightful scones.

elston ad

Mrs Elston was also a tireless worker for the community, being very active in the Country Women’s Association and the local Red Cross. She was made a life member of the CWA in recognition of her many years of service.

H G Palmer

Then came another electrical store owned by Harold Parry at 465 High Street but  which was later taken over by the HG Palmer chain of electrical stores. Palmers, supposedly the largest seller of electrical wares in Australia, were one of the first national chains to set up in Penrith.

palmers 1
A typical PH G Palmer store. The Penrith shop was smaller.

Palmers started in 1925 and built up into a 150 store electrical empire but they they unwisely decided to finance customers through the company rather than send them to hire purchase companies. The owners were smart enough to sell the company in 1963 to the MLC Insurance Company but bad debts and and an economic downturn caused Palmers to go into liquidation two years later.

Here were the emerging signs of the small owner operated businesses being replaced by chain stores.

I cannot recall what came next but Cyril Hamilton had a fruit shop at number 473 and Geoff Upton had a sports, toy and travel goods store at 479. I think before the sports goods, Mr Upton may also have had a boot repair business. He also operated some fine tennis courts in Henry Street which were among the few in the town that had lights to allow play at nights.

Gaymark Lane 1995 (Penrith City Library collection)

Mr Upton had two children, Mark and Gay, and their names carry forward in Gaymark Lane, which is situated at the back of where the Upton Sports Store was. I do not know how this came about.

Max Upton’s Chemist came next, followed by Davies the jeweller who also repaired watches and sold gifts. Mr Meyers, an optometrist, came to the shop every Wednesday to provide eye checks for local residents.

Mr Empson outside his shop

There was another fruit shop run by Mr Clark and then, I think, came another jeweller. Mr Empson. There was a big robbery there in 1948. There might also have been a fish and chips shop next to this.

More chain stores

Next up was F J Palmer, a chain of men’s wear stores that had been in business since the start of the 20th century. It must have been one of the first chain stores in the town because I can not recollect any other store that was there before it.stamina

The store specialised in men’s and boys clothes and was the official store for school uniforms for Penrith schools. They had their own brand – Stamina – as well as stocking garments from other manufacturers ,and it was a proud day when they fitted you out for your first pair of long trousers. This rite of passage generally took place when you turned 12.

You then came to Moran and Cato, a large grocery shop and again part of a national chain. At some stage it changed from an over the counter grocery store to a quasi-supermarket model. The manager for as long as I can remember it was the irrepressible Fred Hinch, a local wag. If comical role playing for town events was needed, Mr Hinch was the go-to man.

moran and cato

Moran and Cato advertised that it followed the ‘golden rule’ in its stores but I never quite understood what this meant in a retail area. They also had a full money back guarantee on any goods sold. They were big enough to produce their own grocery lines which allowed them to sell some products cheaper than the smaller grocers.

Handley’s electrical store was at 493 High Street and like other electrical stores had its golden era when television came to Australia and people started buying what were then expensive appliances.

The electrical stores used to leave a television set switched on at night in their store windows. I remember how local families who could not yet afford a set of their own making a night of it standing or sitting outside the stores watching a program or two, kids in pajamas and dressing gowns amongst them.

Handleys was particularly popular but Roy Handley, the owner, sold the store to Eric Andersons, another chain, sometime in the 60s.


Schubachs at 495 High Street was the principal newsagency in Penrith then, although there were a couple of sub-agencies in other parts of the town.

Australia back then was much more monopolistic than it is today and had many more restrictive trade practices. For example, New South Wales hotels only sold New South Wales beer and, with rare exceptions, were tied to one brand. So in a Tooheys pub, you could only buy Tooheys beer.

And there was a thing called resale price maintenance where a manufacturer of goods prevented retailers from reducing the price of their product below a certain minimum price, otherwise they could refuse to supply them any more. Manufacturers and other organisations could also refuse to supply certain stores, or to favour one store over another without having any good commercial reason for doing so.

There were restrictions on all kinds of businessses and newsagents were no exception. The combined proprietors of the main Sydney newspapers determined who could and couldn’t sell their newspapers and in Penrith the authorised outlet was Schubachs. The owner, John Schubach, could, if he chose, sublicense other shops to sell newspapers in the area but they had to pay him a commission for each paper sold. Only Schubachs had the right to deliver newspapers.

All that said, the system worked quite well and Schubachs was one of the town’s better businesses and lasted a long time. It was always there during my childhood and did not close until 2016 after 77 years in business. Pretty good for a local business.

Mr Schubach also stocked a large range of magazines and books and other stationery and he was also a travel agent and the official vendor of lottery tickets. He used to publish travel brochures to publicise the various tourist spots and historic sites around the town.

schuback poster
The front page of a Schubach brochure c 1940 (Penrith City Library collection)

I think that at 499 High Street there may have been another hardware store (Smith and Son) and next to that was Nepean Dry Cleaners owned by Mr Arthur Bennett. The dry cleaning was done in a factory in Belmore Street but you left your clothes and picked them up from the High Street shop. Mr Bennett was very prominent in community affairs and very well liked.

Next door was Nock and Kirby, a hardware store which also sold household appliances and was particularly big on gadgets. The chain of stores later became BBC Hardware.

Bamford’s Corner

Bamford’s bakery  was on the Station Street corner which was always referred to as Bamford’s Corner. I dont’ know why some corners get immortalised with a particular name and others don’t. The opposite corner, for example, was not commonly called Murray’s Corner, nor was the corner of High and Lawson Street (as it is now) known as Melrose Corner. Who knows?

bamford corner 2
Bamford’s Corner c 1906 (Penrith City Library collection)

For the curious, in those pre-sliced bread days, the going price for bread at Bamfords was a shilling for a 2 pound loaf (delivered or over the counter) and sixpence for a half loaf. Good bread too. Above the bread shop were the White Way Flats, one of the few apartment opportunities in Penrith back then.

bmford corner
Bamford’s Corner in the ’50s (Penrith City Librasry collection).

Next High Street post
Last Penrith High Street post

Things that we had and didn’t have in Penrith (1): the iceman, the milkman, the dunny man and the garbo

Many of the things that we enjoy today and that make our lives easier and more entertaining did not exist in Penrith when I was a child, at least amongst most families.

I cannot put a year on when a lot of things changed, and can only pinpoint them at about the time that my family moved from living above the shop in High Street to our house in Evan Street around about 1951. Maybe that was when things changed or maybe I just noticed them more because of the change of locale to a residential street.

Services and deliveries

There were many more home visits by vendors of goods and providers of services back then than there are today where almost every product is available in the shops or online and services have been streamlined and more automatised by technology.

I am told that several of the services that I will discuss in this post were done with the assistance of a horse and cart but I honestly do not remember this. I only recollect motorised transport. This may be because horse-driven services had more or less stopped by the time my memories start or because the delivery mode was different for houses than shops.

What I do remember is that there were horse troughs in the town for many years. There was one in High Steet almost outside the Federal Hotel and another near the railway station just down from the corner of Station Street and Belmore Street opposite the Red Cow.

The iceman

I definitely remember the iceman.

Although refrigerators were available from the thirties, they were expensive and didn’t really catch on in this country until the fifties. The alternative was the icebox which was a cabinet divided into three compartments. The ice went into the top section, the food went into the middle and the third was to catch the water from the melting ice.

milk factory
The Milk Factory c 1950 (Penrith City Library collection)

I believe that the ice came from what was commonly called the Milk Factory (Nepean Cooperative Dairy Company) which was in Castlereagh Road. The milk factory was a cooperative with shares held by farmers and local businesses. When the factory was privatised, if that is the correct word, in later years the shareholders got a real windfall.

milk factory 2
Cold storage at the Milk Factory (Penrith City Library collection)

The ice was delivered to homes in big blocks by the iceman who carried it with huge tongs and placed it in the top compartment of the ice box for you. The blocks of ice were heavy and the ice man needed to have plenty of muscle.

As more and more people were able to buy fridges, the icebox fell out of favour and the iceman went on to other things. Another occupation lost to technology.

A very popular fridge in homes was the Silent Knight, manufactured by a company owned by Sir Edward Hallstrom, a leading philanthropist who contributed a lot of money to Tarango Park Zoo behind which he was a driving force for many years. These fridges originally ran on kerosene but were later converted to electricity. About the name – I get Silent (although the early models were not all that quiet) but I don’t understand the Knight part. Anyhow.

silent knight
A Silent Knight fridge

Most people also had a larder – a cool place in the home where you could keep goods that were best kept cool but did not require refrigeration. Food in the larder was often covered with a muslin cloth to ward off the flies in summer.

The garbo

There was no assortment of plastic bins – one for garden refuse, one for recyclables, one for ordinary garbage. There was only one – a cotrragated metal bin into which went everything.

garebage truck
A garbage truck from the 1950s

The garbage truck was completely manual. One man drove the truck and two other men -‘garbos’ – either rode in the truck or stood on the running boards. The truck would stop outside a house, one of the garbos would alight, pick up the garbage bin, hoist it on his shoulder, empty it into the truck and them return it to its spot outside the house. Unlike today, the garbage bin was returned correct side up with the lid on rather than just thrown onto the footpath in a haphazard fashion.


The traditional garb of the garbo was a shirt (with jumper if it was winter), shorts and boots. As David Ellis has reminded me, Mr Roots was one of the local garbos.

The milko

And then there was the milkman. As I remember it, milk was not at first delivered in bottles. At night, people would  put a container – a billy, a pot, a jug or whatever – outside their front door with a note as to the quantity of milk required.  The milkman would come by in the early morning and fill the container from the big milk cans that he had with him on the truck. Payment was usually by way of a weekly account if credit was available, or the money was left with the container.

milk van
Milk van 1950 (Penrith City Library collection)

The mlkman for our area was Mr Love. Trust was big in those days and if, for any reason, there was going to be nobody at home when the milko arrived, the door would be left unlocked and a note left asking him to kindly put the milk in the icebox or fridge for you. This ensured that the milk did not go off when the day heated up.

Cream was delivered too, and sometimes the milk man also carried eggs, but there was no such thing as low fat milk, yoghurt in the many varieties around today, and other associated lines.

Then they started putting milk in glass bottles with an aluminium foil stopper and the need for the billy can disappeared, with the number of empty bottles put outside the door indicating how many were wanted. You were expected to wash out the bottles that you wanted replaced. As containerisation of dairy products improved, the packaging altered from glass to plastic and cardboard and the variety available widened.

With the advent of supermarkets and multiple other types of stores selling milk, the milko disappeared into history.

The dunny man

Much of Penrith was sewered although there were still pockets of houses that relied upon outside toilets.

For those who have no experience of the outside toilet, it was  a separate small building in the backyard, often roughly constructed. The waste was collected in a metal bin under the wooden seat (splinters in the posterior were a common occurrence) and was collected on a weekly basis by a dedicated worker, and exchanged for a fresh container. For those who have had no experience with outside toilets, this work was politely titled a ‘night soil’ worker but was affectionate;y known to all, children and adults alike, as the dunny man.

dunny man
An unknown but essential worker

He needed to be always kept on side as you didn’t want to miss a dunny man visit. It was mandatory to present him with a dozen bottles of beer at Christmas to keep him happy. He was however fatally attractive to dogs and it was always necessary to keep the family cur tethered when the dunny man called to avoid an unseemly spill caused by an attacking or friendly hound. Garbos had the same appeal to dogs.

Even when sewerage was introduced to previously dry toilet areas, the outside toilet was often kept as a now sewered throne room either because people could not afford an expensive addition to their house to cater for a new toilet, or there was just not enough room. Almost everyone had chokoes growing along the side wall of the outside toilet. They flourished.

Toilet paper was primitive, generally consisting of cut out strips of newspaper placed on a nail in the toilet, a far cry from ‘what’s the gentlest tissue in the bathroom you can issue’ of today.

And then there were the insects. You can imagine that flies, including those enormous Penrith blowflies of summer, were highly attracted to the outside toilet and they were both a pest and a health hazard. The real problem is that the underneath and back areas of the toilet seat were a magnet for redback spiders. It was always good practice to check these areas before taking your seat. At night, carrying a torch was mandatory.

I have been told by Bill Joyner that his father recalls Barney Roots as being  the local night soil man. I and others recollect that Mr Roots was the garbage man so either he was doing double duty or there was more than one Roots helping Penrith get rid of its waste.

Bill’s father also recounts a story that the night soil truck lost a full can when it was turning into Station Street at Tatts Corner one day. As Barney Roots was shovelling the fallen contents off the road, Tatts drinkers enquired of him what he was doing. ‘Stock taking’ was the witty retort. A great story, thanks Bill.

Other deliveries

I understand that various other things were delivered too – bread, fish, meat and fruit and vegetables. I don’t recollect many of these but I do remember, even in the fifties, a man driving around in a horse and cart with rabbits for sale, and other one collecting old bottles. The Turnbull family at one stage had a fruit and vegetable delivery service in South Penrith.

David Charlton tells me that he remembers horse-drawn carts coming around the town: Woods Butchery had one delivering meat, and O’Farrels used one to deliver bread. Stan Price who later had an oil depot in High Street just up from the Catholic Church, was also a general carter and he too used a horse and cart.

I also recollect a man coming around from time to time in a horse and cart selling props for the clothes line. Before Hills Hoists, the clothesline generally consisted of a length of rope tethered to fence posts (almost always paling in the pre-colour bond era) and supported by a wooden stick or two called props to keep the clothes from weighing down the line. Another fun pastime for the family dog and a hindrance to outside games.

One thing about the coronavirus pandemic is that quite a few merchants have returned to home deliveries. A good thing, but I do not anticipate a return by the dunny man any time soon.