Lake Macquarie History

Reminiscenes of Early Childhood on Kilaben Bay

by Brian Blackshaw

World War II was in “full swing”. I lived with my parents on our poultry farm at Kilaben Estate, now Bayswater, on Kilaben Bay. We were not far from the Rathmines Flying Boat Base to which my parents supplied the Officers’ Mess with their breakfast eggs.

On the Lake there were Catalinas and other seaplanes frequently taking off and landing, day and night, as well as “crash” boats, luggers and supply boats which tended the planes. There was plenty of interest for a small boy. Constructed around the foreshore were artificial “bays”, surrounded by poles and covered by camouflage netting to hide planes in the event of enemy aerial attack. Of course, they were never used.

Before I was born, my parents lived in a shed, built from bush poles and used corrugated iron, with a compacted dirt floor. This eventually became the “feed shed” for the farm after dad single-handedly built a new home in time for my mother and me to come home from hospital. The original shed was a legacy of the Depression, during which my father and his mate had walked from Abermain to Sofala (near Bathurst) to prospect for gold, only panning enough to cover the cost of flour, tea, sugar and tobacco.

After my parents married they moved from Abermain to Bayswater, travelling in a battered old T-Model Ford ute, via the Gap just north of Freeman’s Waterholes. Dad had to drive the Ford in reverse gear over the steep, corrugated, gravel Gap road as the ute had a gravity-feed fuel tank which only worked downhill or on the level. Bullockies were permitted to drove cattle on public roads after midnight and on one very early morning trip, in pitch darkness, without headlights, the inevitable happened. The ute ran into a mob at the top of the Gap striking 2 animals, causing the bullocky to tell my father what he thought of dad’s ancestry.

When it was time for me to begin school, Mum and Dad decided I should attend Toronto Primary School.There was a very small, one-teacher school at Rathmines which was a long walk for a small boy. This school eventually blew down during a cyclone! To reach Toronto Primary school, my mother rowed me across Kilaben Bay each morning in a 16-foot, clinker-built, heavy, timber boat. She did this for the whole of my primary schooling, “hail, rain or shine”.

Waiting each morning at the Kilaben Bay bus terminus, I would know when the “bone-shaker” bus was coming as it rattled along the rough gravel road, followed by a great cloud of dust. The bus travelled around Coal Point, picking up primary kids along the way, until it reached the school. There was no primary school at Coal Point in those days. However, there were some occupied homes, also quite a number of “weekenders” and boatsheds. One thing that remains with me was the number of potential “telegraph poles” – large stands of closely packed, very tall gum trees - that covered the peninsula. After a day at school, it was back to the bus where we were greeted by “Harry, the Bus Boy”, who collected fares from any adults on the bus, as well as keeping the kids in line. To us kids, “Harry” appeared to be very old for a “boy” - could have been in his forties!

Reaching the Kilaben terminus, I waited the arrival of my grandad, a retired coalminer, who lived with grandma in a weekender on Bayswater waterfront reserve. As mum and dad were very busy on the farm in the afternoons, grandad took over the oars to row me home. At this time there were only three permanent families living in the area, two Blackshaws and the Woodman family. I am sure older residents of Toronto will remember their late son George, who opened and ran a butcher shop in town for many years.

The waters of Kilaben Bay were so clear that it was possible to see the lake bottom all the way across, as well as lots of fish and jellyfish. Where Stockyard Creek entered at the end of Kilaben Bay, there was an extensive bar of beautiful white sand, long since gone as a result of later development. You could fill a bucket with oysters in a few minutes, just off the edge of the sandbar and have no fear of them being contaminated. We used to swim in the gravel-bottomed creek, as we were told that “it was safe as the sandbar prevented sharks from entering”.

I really did enjoy the freedom of my early years living at Bayswater and attending Toronto Primary School. After Primary School, I was packed off to boarding school south of Sydney, so that I wouldn’t have to travel all the way to the nearest high school in Newcastle, but that, as they say, is another story.