Lake Macquarie History

Charlestown History

by Peter Scaife

I came to Charlestown from Mayfield at age 5 in Easter, 1947, and have spent most of my life in the suburb. The family home was 78 Pacific Highway, below the Warners Bay turnoff.

Charlestown was then only a little removed from a mining village, with the houses clustered along the major roads (the Highway, Dudley, Kahibah and Warners Bay Roads, all dirt except for the Highway which was 2 lanes of concrete), with a large number of paddocks, and a few cows, and with a shopping area on the Highway from Smart St to Charlestown Road.

In those early days, it was a wonderful place to be a child, with fresh air (certainly compared to Mayfield at the time – before the NSW Clean Air Act came in, in 1962), and extensive bushland. We roamed everywhere, with no concerns for safety.

The comments below come from the period late 1940s to mid 1950s. One of the families near our home earned their income from wood cutting. Bakeries in those days (before gas was reticulated at Charlestown) used wood as fuel. The father and young adult son, cut wood from the bushland areas (I think south of Charlestown), and sold cords of wood (3.6m3 in volume) for 30 shillings (as I recall). This is hard physical work using an axe (before chainsaws). They had a horse and cart for delivery.

photo: pacific highway charlestown

My father, in co-operation with some neighbours, brewed beer (100 litre batches) using our copper (for boiling up clothes), and various receptacles under our house (which sometimes exploded if excessive sugar was added). My job was to walk up to Williams Chemists to obtain from Norm a container of malt for the brew (about a mile each way). My reward was a tablespoon of malt - quite a treat. Private brewing of beer was illegal at the time, but my father solved the issue by giving 6 bottles of beer per batch to the local policeman.

We had an outside toilet, with the pan collected regularly by the dunny carter. To maintain a good relationship with the person supplying this essential service, it was prudent to give them several bottles (large) of beer at Christmas. In return they left a little piece of printed poetry for the customer (they were quite humorous, and I wonder if anyone has one).

My father had been a lieutenant in the Artillery in WW2, and kept gelignite hung up in our chook shed (not sure where the detonators were). One of his mates bought a block of land in James St, close to Dudley Road, and needed to remove a very large stump. Dad obliged by using his gelignite, and it worked a treat. As a young boy, I was very impressed.

When Waratah No2 Colliery was in operation (entry off Charlestown Rd, on the northern side, where Moreton Bay Gardens are now), there was a train line up to the mine in Raspberry Gully. This line ran through the Gully line to Georgetown, and then to the Steelworks/Port industrial area. In the mid 1950s, when myself and another boy from Charlestown left Newcastle Boys High School at Waratah early on a sports day, we sometimes were able to have a ride on the engine back to the Colliery and then walk the mile or so home. We were lucky that the engine driver was a friend's father who lived in Charlestown. Oh, the joy of days before being tied up with safety issues.

One of the boys in my class at primary school lived in Tirriki St, under fairly primitive conditions. They used bush poles and corrugated iron (actually steel) to make the dwelling, with hessian for the pillows and bedspread (and perhaps blankets), and their water was stored in sterilised (perhaps unused) dunny cans. Somehow, it did not seem particularly unusual, and there was at least one woman living rough in the bush in Charlestown.

In sixth class at Charlestown Primary School, our teacher Mr Barnaby was often absent on administrative matters. In early summer we caught cicadas and Christmas beetles, tied cotton onto them and flew them around the classroom. The beetles were excellent helicopters. If I saw a child doing this today I would object on the grounds of cruelty. In school we had to make our own ink using ink powder provided by the Education Department. It was a very messy business. The pens used in those days were only a slight advance over the quill. One of the favourite tricks was to fill ink wells with flies, especially for the girls.