A walk by the Lake: reminiscenses of growing up in Speers Point
by Gwen Stevens nee Probert
One beautiful sunny day I decided to walk from Speers Point, along The Esplanade to my mother's, at Morse Street Speers Point, where I grew up. Owen dropped me off, at Pippis at the Point, while he continued on his way to do the weekly marketing.
Oh! what a flood of memories raced through my mind as I walked along. How it had changed. I remembered how it was when I was a child. Gone was the old landmark, the old pub - replaced by what was supposed to be a modern building, at the cost of the charm of yesteryear. The old pub was always crowded with people. When I was a little girl, the noise from the pub sounded to me like a huge swarm of buzzing bees. This was a meeting place for men. A lady never frequented a pub in these times.
My father told me of the steam trams that used to run from Wallsend to Speers Point. Families came to enjoy a leisurely outing. A picnic in the Park, swim in the baths, stroll along the foreshore or listen to the brass band in the Rotunda. Miners and their families from the coal fields would spend the entire Christmas holidays camping at Speers Point Camping Reserve. The Ambulance Committee held a fund raising carnival which was well patronised during these lovely summer evenings. There was always a picnic in the Park. A concert in the hall. I would hear a hush in the Hall, as I played outside, then I could hear the beautiful silver strains of my grandfather’s tenor voice.
My daddy used to walk with me, holding my hand, to the football field, behind the pub. I loved these walks around the waterfront.. As we were growing up, this lake was our playground, we swam, paddled, fished, and my father had a boat, called the Welshie. We spent every weekend on this lovely old launch. Gone is the old jetty, a very popular place for people fishing, and where the ferry disembarked taking the tram passengers for a trip around the lake. There were always rowing boats along the water’s edge, and Browns Boat shed with hire rowing boats and Browns Bait Shop on the Esplanade above.
My dad and Uncle Merve hired a boat one evening to do some night fishing. Somehow the boat capsized. My dad swam to shore, Uncle Merve hung on to the boat, and through the stillness of the night 'Help Help' the call went out " Help Welshie is drowning." (not him he could swim).
The water was beautiful and clear, with pretty coloured opened mussel shells, like mother of pearl and shell grit on the pebble beach. It is not like this to-day unfortunately.
The foreshore now has a beautiful cycle and walkway all along the lake's edge, It certainly enhances the area. It is very popular. The swish swish of the busy traffic disturbs my thoughts. Some of the old homes have been replaced by villas and grand homes. There are still some Heritage homes remaining, where I played as a child with my friends. I wondered - where are these children to-day? I could remember the way we frolicked paddled and swam around the old Sailing Club. Hitching a ride on Page’s V.J. falling in as we went about.
As I approached Thompson Road I looked up to where Mrs. Johnson once had her little Sunday School. There used to be so many little children in the tiny building. and the sounds of their singing and laughter, rang in my ears. The lovely Picnic Days on the vacant lot, the Anniversary Presentations, and the Special Christmas Service, and party, with Father Christmas. thanks to Billy Hughes.
Mrs. Johnson was the most wonderful Christian lady that have ever known. How she toiled with love and devotion to young and old and the down and out. To "suffer the little children to come to Jesus". The land on which the Sunday School stood was sold by the owner. The children had lost their building. Mrs. Johnson did not surrender and her prayers were answered, The Boolaroo Baptist Church built a little hall on top of the hill in Thompson Road, and the Sunday School continued for many years under Mrs. Johnson. Then the land was sold up on her again, but Mrs. Johnson never lost her faith. Her little Sunday school continued in her small garage in Speers Street Speers Point. Every Christmas, the Christmas party was held at The old R.S.L. hall in Main Road Speers Point. It continued to be a huge success and was well attended by the community. until Mrs. Johnson grew too old to carry on. How she influenced my life and the lives of my children.
I recalled the names of the people I knew who lived in the homes I passed, between Alley Street and Morse Street. Edwards, Rae, Wallace, Johnson/Hughes, Davies, Myers, McFadyn, Blunden, Fergusson, Lambs, Masterson. Dr. Beans huge estate, also the ones in the streets behind. The children went to the Boolaroo Public School, and many attended the little Sunday School.
The boat sheds and jetty below where Lambs lived have gone. My brother Brian and I played for hours diving and jumping off this jetty. We would wrestle each other to see who would be first in the water. We would each say "You can be Shark bait". I would win and Brian would come out quick, all wet and slippery then in I would go.
Our parents never had to worry about us, as we could swim like little fish. We felt safe swimming inside a shelf of rocks. There was a nice weed grassy bottom, soft and clean. The world was our yyster. I never see people swim there anymore. My thoughts go back to when I would swim under water, all along from Speer's Point to Warners Bay. I knew everything that grew underneath me, I would pull myself along on the high brown weeds, where the bream hide It was my magic world.
I recall the day that Brian took me out in a tin canoe, when I was very little and unable to swim. The more I cried for him to take me back to shore the further out he went, laughing at me. Then the canoe capsized., I just hung on, scared, while Brian dog paddled around me laughing . "Gwennie can't swim Ha-Ha-Ha". My parents were beside themselves on the shore as dad had a broken leg. He grabbed a boat, fell into it and rowed out to rescue his children. I never again got into a canoe with Brian..
On reaching the bottom of Morse street. I could hear him laughing again at me. He had thrown my school bag, down the embankment into the blackberry bushes as the bus was coming around the corner. Or before I left home he would unlatch the latches on my school port, and the bag would fall open, as I ran down the hill to catch the bus. Ha Ha, I wasn't amused. He wasn't, happy unless he was tormenting me.
I approached Dr. Bean’s old homestead. ( all new homes have since been built, as the land around the home had been subdivided) This old home once had beautiful lawns, gardens and trees. It was all fenced. We used to peer through the slats in the tall cream fence. The ground was covered with masses of jonquils. The jonquils grew outside the fence, and my girlfriends and I picked a bunch each day. The flowers inside the fence were all double jonquils. One rainy day, Maureen and I climbed the fence. Jennifer was too scared. She kept a lookout and we stole the flowers. In our haste to retreat back over the fence, I slipped and tore my nice dress. How do I own up to my mother that I had climbed the fence and stole the flowers. I only had to ask Mrs. Bean, she would have been only too pleased to let us have them. Girls and flowers. "Where have all the flowers gone? The girls have picked them every one."
Another time when I was about 10 and Brian 11, we took our little brother for a walk in his stroller . We went down the track Mr. Sweeney used - he was the local professional fisherman. Brian and I left our little toddler brother on the shore while we went out on to the rocks looking for eels. We forgot about our little brother, until we heard a "SPLASH". George was laying face down in the water. We picked him up, stripped off his little sailor suit and put him in a fishing boat on the bank, hoping the warmth of the sun would warm him. I placed his little sailor suit in the sun to dry, too scared to take him home all wet. As if our mother didn't know by the state of his clothes! These were the happy days of our childhood, when the world was our oyster, and the lake was still pristine. We were the lucky ones.
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License