Pelicans: reminiscances of 65 Bowman Street, Swansea
By Denise Porter
As a kid, my family and I used to spend every summer Sunday at Swansea. My great grandfather, Thomas Southon, had land which went from Black Ned’s Bay up to the main road and an old stone structure sat on it. He may have used the place to camp out when he was building the schools at Swansea in 1887 and other buildings as it would have been too far to go home to Mayfield. Swansea was called Galgabba back then. (The Aboriginal name for it)
Later a house was built and my great grandparents used to rent it out to others as well as using the weekender for themselves. It was eventually handed down to my grandmother Croese, from her brother Dick Southon. The old house sat one quarter on land and three quarters on pillars in Black Ned’s Bay. It was a very old house by the time I saw it and erosion had taken its toll. It was a bit of a worry when king tides hit. It used to flood. There was a newspaper article in the ‘60’s about the dredging of the channel and the problems it led to, with a photo of my grandfather standing on the front verandah.
In the article, my grandfather says that: “the house used to look over a rocky beach, leading down to the water. Now it is well in the water. At high tide, the water leaks into the kitchen”. He says the position along the channel foreshore has deteriorated. He could remember when the channel near his place was hardly deep enough to put a boat, and now I can put a boat in at my back door.
There was a lady called “old Maud” Peel who lived next door on the waterfront. I used to have to take things, food I think, over to her and she ducked her head to get out as the floor of the cottage was lower than the outside land. I remember that she seemed to have lots of cats. She was thin and wiry, with a shock of white hair. Her father had a job of opening the bridge from 1903. My grandmother used to also to visit Maud’s sister-in-law, Amy Peel who lived further up Peel-street (No 5). Between these two houses, there was a large empty paddock. The other neighbours on the Bowman-st side, were the Richardson family.
We had so much in and out of the water. There were no fences in those days so you could run free. Climbing the mulberry tree and having our fill, being bitten on the feet by bees, sandflies and of course watching the pelicans that sailed past. They were so graceful, peaceful and I loved them. To me, it was the best part of being there. As the verandah was “floating” in the Bay, you could watch them closely, coming up and down so quietly.
Unfortunately, one day my sister let go of her floatie and mum decided to swim out after it. She got caught in the tide and couldn’t swim back. She sang out for help and dad dived in and swam out after her. Of course, he made sure he took his cigarettes out of his pocket first!!! They swam to the little island and a fishing boat brought them back. How quickly things can change in an instant. We were all very lucky that day.
The Pelicans must have loved Black Ned’s Bay as there was plenty of fish to satisfy themselves. I remember one late Sunday afternoon when the men were late getting back from fishing (it was actually the RSL, but fishing sounds better) and we kids were getting tired and cranky. My grandmother quietly took out her row boat and caught enough whiting to feed us all. She knew those waters so well. I was amazed!
My own family had the good fortune to spend a week there just before our move to Brisbane. I remember my sons learning to fish and one of them chasing a squid in the shallows. The squid won. It was so much fun to watch. Another day, some divers were scrounging around the front of the house and found some old bottles. There was sheer delight on their faces, so they must have found some good old ones.
We heard a commotion at the weighing station at the RSL one day, where some fishermen had caught a large tiger shark. It was a bit confronting but my boys were in awe. One of the fishermen cut out a tooth and gave it to them.
The house is now gone and a lovely new home was built in its place. There is a concrete pad out the front which is where the original house was. It amazes me that it stood so long without floating down to the channel.
It’s nice to reflect on such happy times on the shores of Black Ned’s Bay with my family and lots of cousins to play with. Such precious memories.
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License