Lake Macquarie History

My Circle of Life in Oz

By Penny Lane

My father Ken Lane was born in 1920 in Barking, Essex England. It must have been an experience being raised in the east end of London, running along the River Roding where the Saxons first invaded England - so much local history.

When war broke out, Ken was selected to join the Royal Air Force. He met my mother Joyce whilst on leave in London. In 1944 they married as did many thousands of others, keeping the moment in their minds as though this was their time and they had to make the most of it.

Housing was very limited after the war in London. When I was born in 1948 to become one of many 'baby boomers', the family was living in a temporary Nissan hut in Barking Park.

Then after several moves but wanting a new way of life, my parents decided to take up the offer of assisted passage and signed up for the epic voyage to Sydney on board MV Fairsea, along with my brother Richard 14 and me 11, arriving 12 May 1959 - later known as Ten Pound Poms. It was a scheme devised by the Australian and British Governments to help populate Australia. We really were 'boat people', not dissimilar to those children sent to Australia from UK during the war, or to those families risking everything by sea to escape horrible times with unknown outcomes elsewhere.

After disembarking at Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo we were sent to Bradfield Park Migrant Camp. It had originally been built as an army barracks at the start of WWII, for training purposes and awaiting postings to war zones, but was converted as temporary housing for thousands of European migrants. It was run by the Housing Commission and people lived there until assigned a home in one of their housing developments.

We lived there for two years and found the life style changes very difficult. The nearby Lane Cove National Park became a huge recreation area. In those days we could swim in the river, and even though we were stunned by the heat we enjoyed the unfamiliar freedom of bushland.

The name Bradfield was later dropped, the area absorbed into Lindfield, West Pymble, Killara and the Lane Cove River. It seems there was a perceived stigma associated with the Migrant Hostel and Housing Commission occupants ... geographic 'cleansing' had taken place.

Towards the end of my primary school year in 1959, not long after arriving in Australia, my parents sent me on my first school excursion to Point Wolstoncroft Fitness Camp for two weeks.

Publicly owned and managed by NSW Sport and Recreation, generations of NSW children often experienced their first trip away from their parents. Bounded by state forest and on a peninsula of Lake Macquarie, the camp was established in 1941 following an idea developed in Britain and the USA at the time. Their aims were to provide experiences for children who might otherwise not have such an opportunity. Nature craft, bushcraft, first aid, physical education, organised games, swimming, hygiene, camp cooking and campfire entertainment formed the programmes.

I vaguely remember a long train and bus trip ending in a dirt track at the camp. While most kids jumped for joy, I just felt anxious having just been on a journey in a ship leaving everything I was used to. We were all checked over for anything contagious, then bundled into one of a dozen wooden cabins and allocated one of eight bunk beds. Our bush education started in earnest and we were expected to work! - tidying our hut, sweeping and washing up and generally looking after ourselves. Each day at 10.00 am we had an 'Inspection' of our cabins and were awarded points for neatness.

It was a very pretty yet isolated place and not unlike the National Park where my brother and I had been exploring. While most of the others could swim and paddle a canoe, at least I enjoyed bush walking along the track to the Point. Sitting by a fire at night was fun, but I didn't know many of the songs, and the mosquitoes loved me. I remember being very hungry most of the time with all the activity and fresh air.

Gone were the hot lunches at school that I remembered, then throwing snowballs at each other and making long slides in the icy playground. Gone were the big ancient churches and buildings and my favourite cobble stones. Now it’s just hot bright sunlight and lots of trees.

The relative remoteness over the years has meant that the area of Summerland Point and Gwandalan was not ‘discovered’ and developed until more recent times. The initial occupation of the land by the Awabakal aborigines was followed by the subsequent use and occupation by early settlers with access by boat. Initial development was started in the 1920’s but languished until the establishment of Point Wolstoncroft. Because of the lack of recorded events and also because the Aborigines lost much of their identity soon after white settlement, historians had to search for archaeological remains as well as the experiences of early settlers for information. Many shell middens have been identified along the shores of the lakes being the only known permanent evidence of their existence, although the Aborigines occupied the area for thousands of years. The region did not attract many early settlers due to poor soils, lack of fresh water and lack of good sources of timber.

Back home at the Migrant camp again, my dad had started his new teaching career as an English and Art teacher and mum worked in a factory in Chatswood. Then with a brand new commission house at Sherbrook Road Asquith, near Hornsby, finally by 1962 my parents’ dreams seemed to be coming true.

In 2000 I met Leon Puckeridge and we moved to Engadine, in the Sutherland Shire. After a while the soaring Sydney real estate market proved too tempting and the Strata Management proved too annoying. Leon and I looked at buying a house on the Central Coast, leaving sufficient funds for both of us to retire. We soon found a house at the 'Top End'- Gwandalan, a place neither of us remember ever hearing about. We have now found it to be a very friendly area with a relaxed atmosphere.

I had forgotten all about the existence and location of the Fitness Camp but have discovered since it still operates and is even hired out for functions. Leon and I visited the camp for a guided tour. The tennis courts, swimming pool and archery range were not there before and the buildings have been upgraded, but the basic design of the area is the same, even an original cabin had been left.

I am grateful to my parents for making the decision to bring the family out for a new life in Australia, despite being such a long way from our relatives and all that we knew. There has been much to learn and many difficult life experiences to face, but my brother Richard and I have done our best in our own ways to make the most of it.

So, from a dramatic childhood experience at Point Wolstoncroft in 1959 to now with an unexpected move with Leon to Gwandalan, the exact same area, I feel that I have closed the circle in a chapter of our family history.

The fact that this latest relocation to Gwandalan is my twenty-second move since I was born, may explain my restless spirit and need for new challenges. But perhaps this will be my last move.

I would like to thank the following in helping me write my story: J. Bernard Cornell for information from his book 'Discovering Summerland Point, 2006'.