Elsie Wiggins – Performer & Entrepreneur

Alan Strachan and Clarrie Neal

Elsie Wiggins

Elsie Wiggins was a leading light in the Riverstone community in the early 1900s. A gifted singer and musician, she travelled Australia and the world before returning to Riverstone to establish the Olympia Theatre, which was to provide entertainment for the town for many years. Elsie and her experiences caught the attention of two of our Society members who independently wrote articles on her life. We have combined the two articles for your enjoyment.

Elsie May Wiggins was born at Riverstone in 1882. As Elsie progressed through her schooling, she became professional in music and singing. As a teenager Elsie loved to organise concerts and socials for the various community groups and benefits for families in need. She held many concerts for the Riverstone Brass Band and on the 7th September, 1901 the Windsor and Richmond Gazette noted the introduction of the Riverstone String Band, a group formed by Elsie.

The various groups were quick to respond to her efforts and she was often presented with gifts of appreciation. In 1901, when she would only have been 19, the community of Riverstone presented Elsie with an Illuminated Address and a gold watch and chain, a wonderful gift in that era. The Gazette report on the 9th March noted – …. For all the worry and work this talented young lady has done since her school days, in the cause of charity, she would never accept fee nor reward.

Elsie Wiggins gold watch gift of appreciation
Inscription in Elsie Wiggins gold watch ‘gift of appreciation ‘

The Illuminated Address read –

Dear Miss Wiggins,

“We the undersigned, on behalf of the residents of Riverstone and District who have so frequently experienced your kindness and generosity in the organising and conducting of charitable concerts, desire to express our recognition of your kindly disposition and musical abilities. As a small token of our esteem and regard we present you with the accompanying gold watch and chain and beg to assure you that your welfare will always be an object of solicitude to us and that you may enjoy many years of health and happiness is the fervent wish of yours sincerely.

A. W. Studdy, J. Cragg, M. W. Grigor,
Committee: I. McCarthy, E. Cragg, E. C. Bray, E. Leury, E Morrison,
L. A. McCarthy, M.Johnston, V. A. Vidler, E. McCutcheon

Elsie continued her community work and in 1904 was presented with a gold bracelet, the presentation taking place from the balcony of the Royal Hotel, Riverstone.

In her early twenties Elsie broadened her horizons beyond Riverstone to the rest of the world. Her travels were reported in the local Gazette and would have been of great interest to the locals, some of whom would never have travelled outside of the town. In 1908 the Gazette stated that Elsie Wiggins was performing under the stage name of Grace Elton. She toured with various theatrical groups such as Harry Clays Vaudeville, Rickards Troupe and Fred Elton.

In 1906 the Gazette reported that Elsie visited the Philippines, in 1909 it was New Zealand, in 1914 it was Egypt and in 1915 she returned home from a World Tour. All of this travel would have been by sea as air travel had yet to commence.

Elsie’s nephew, Len Parry remembers her as a top dancer, playing the xylophone and novelty instruments such as the cow bells, and could play a tune using a tuning bar on a row of bottles filled with varying levels of water.

It appears the Wiggins family regularly used Post Cards to keep in touch. Several family photos were reproduced on Post Cards. Len Parry remembered their grandfather George as a keen photographer.

A book on the history of communication called Before the Phone contains a reproduction of a post card from Elsie, sent to her father in Riverstone –

Dear Dad,
I am enjoying myself and singing well. Will send you some papers. We have not got your Post Card yet. I have a bosker curly wig and a brown hard hitter hat and gold walking stick for my swag and finish with a dance. I am waiting for your PC and answer via Sydney. This one to Cairns Queensland. You must come to meet us. XXXXXX

With love, Little Titch

Elsie returned to Riverstone between tours. The Gazette of 15th August 1908 reported – Miss Elsie Wiggins, the well known musician… who has just finished 16 weeks with H. Rickards’, [Troupe] is giving a variety comedy entertainment in the Oddfellows Hall on Saturday, 22nd… We can only say that any who misses this show will miss a treat in art, music, mirth, melody and merriment…

From about 1909, the Temperance Hall next to the Riverstone Police Station was used to screen motion pictures. (Before that the hall had been used for screening of films, lantern slide evenings.)

The hall seated approximately 150 people. It was constructed of weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof. The walls and ceiling were not lined, and there was a brick supper room attached at one side.

In 1912 Elsie organised the showing of silent movies by the Elton Picture Company in the Hall. It was very much a family affair with Elsie playing the piano and her brothers Alfred, Albert and Bill assisting at various times to hand crank the projector. On the day of the show one of the brothers would walk the streets and using a bell to attract attention, shouting “Pictures Tonight”.

Elsie continued to travel overseas during the First World War. The Gazette of 29th October 1915:-

Miss Elsie Wiggins who recently returned by the H.M.S. Osterley has travelled over a considerable portion of the world since she left Riverstone a couple of years ago.

She had rather an exciting voyage from England. In the English Channel the Osterley just missed a mine which was floating 100 yards from the boat. The Osterley was held up for 20 hours and was successful in blowing up the mine. The report from the mine was terrific and shook the boat from end to end. The Osterley carried a gun as far as Gibraltar. For the first fortnight things were very slow on board on account of having to travel at night in total darkness as far as Port Said.

Miss Wiggins travelled through England, France, Italy and Switzerland. She was thrown out of her bed in the last earthquake in Northern Luccany (Firenze). She went through the greater part of Egypt, visiting many places where Australian soldiers have been. She met many wounded Melbourne soldiers in Italy, where she visited the beautiful old galleries….

…She has been over every inch of Australia, from the West to Normanton, round the Gulf of Carpentaria (Qld), three time all over New Zealand, over Fiji and New Guinea, and is still anxious to travel more. While in Riverstone, Miss Wiggins is playing at the Elect Pictures every Saturday night and is accompanied on the violin by Miss Elvie Rothsay of Sydney.

In 1916 she bought a block of land in Garfield Road Riverstone where it was planned to build a theatre. Later that year the Gazette reported she was touring Queensland with her sister Mrs Parry, giving performances in Brisbane and Toowoomba.

Elsie must have had success in her career as in 1916 she had a house constructed on the block of land in Mill Street. The Gazette of 4th February, reported, The weatherboard cottage which is being erected in Mill Street by Mr. John Anderson for Miss Wiggins, will further improve the appearance of the street. When finished we understand it will be occupied by Mr and Mrs Bert Parry.

The Gazette Friday 5th May 1916 recorded the death of one of her fellow performers- Many Riverstone people will be sorry to hear of the death of Mr. Fred Elton, the well known comedian, which took place in Allasio on the 24th February last. The remains were cremated in Genoa (Italy). Mr Elton and Miss Elsie Wiggins practically toured the world as theatricals, and were travelling round for ten years.

Enter Mr. Robert Lindsay Harper, who was born at Newcastle upon Tyne, England in 1884. In later years, he entered the world of entertainment and became a professional singer. He travelled around the world in the early 1900s and before performing on the stages in halls in Brisbane.

During the First World War Mr. R. L. Harper join the A. I. F. and served in Europe. Robert returned to Brisbane, Australia on Monday 14th July, 1919, at that time he was aged 33 years.

Lieutenant Robert Harper.

It was through his profession that he had met up with Miss Elsie May Wiggins, whilst performing in Queensland and Sydney. On Tuesday 19th August 1919 they were married at Riverstone. Their wedding scored quite a write up in the Friday Gazette on 29th August, 1919 and reads as follows:-

At St. Paul’s Church, Riverstone, on the 19th instant, a military wedding was celebrated, when Miss Elsie May Wiggins, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Geo. [George] Wiggins of Riverstone, was married to Lieutenant Robert Lindsay Harper, 9TH Battalion, A. I. F. The bride, who was given away by her father, was attired in a gown of bridal satin and georgette bodice, beautifully trimmed with pearl and beaded embroidery and beaded tassels. The square court train of satin was lined with pale pink crepe-de-chine, and trimmed with dainty scroll and hanging roses of pink and white. An embroidered tulle veil which was worn over the face, finished with sprays of orange blossoms, completed the bride’s charming toilette, and she carried a shower bouquet of sweet peas and fern, and wore a gold pendant, the gift of the bridegroom…

In the meantime “The Temperance Hall” better known as “Elect [Electric] Picture Palace” continued to be used for screening motion pictures by both Mr Robert and Mrs Elsie Harper. The hall was used extensively for the farewells and welcoming home of local Soldiers.

Towards the end of 1919, Mr Robert Harper and his wife, Elsie toured New Zealand for six months, providing entertainment and performing on stage for the general public. Prior to leaving Australia, they had made arrangements for the erection of a new modern picture theatre at Riverstone. Elsie had seen the need for a new picture theatre and a larger hall as early as 1916 when she purchased the block of land in Windsor Road [Garfield Road] Riverstone.

The Harpers had big plans for Riverstone and the Gazette of 30th July 1920 reported –

It will be pleasing to the residents of Riverstone and district to learn that we are to be favoured by the erection in our midst of an up-to-date theatre. We learn that Mr and Mrs Harper a little while ago received the plans of the proposed theatre from Mr. F. H. Faircloth (architect), who has had considerable experience in this class of work…The new theatre will undoubtedly be a big asset to Riverstone and will fill one at least of the vacant allotments, and materially improve the main street, Windsor Road. The erection of the theatre is in the hands of Mr. J. Donaldson of Harris Park, Parramatta.

At last, the dreams and visions of the then Miss Elsie May Wiggins [now Harper] were fast becoming a reality. Records show that on Thursday 19th August, 1920 – the land title of the block of land in Windsor Road [Garfield Road], Riverstone had been transferred into the name of Robert Lindsay Harper – from Miss Elsie May Wiggins.

In the meantime, silent moving pictures were still being shown within the old “Temperance Hall” under “Elect Pictures” which had been “Elton’s Elect Picture Palace” [Elect was short for “Electric”]. Mr. Robert Harper had purchased a new engine for the running of the pictures in 1920. Large crowds were still attending the silent pictures, so much so that, extra seating had to be provided.

The following article appeared in the Gazette on Friday 19th November, 1920 – Through the courtesy of Mr. R. L. Harper, the enterprising manager of the new Olympia Picture Theatre, a Gazette reporter had an opportunity on Wednesday [17th November] of inspecting the up-to-date building that is now nearing completion in Riverstone. The theatre is a credit to Riverstone and shows commendable enterprise on the part of the proprietors [Robert & Elsie Harper]. Indeed, it is considered to be one of the best country theatres in the State.

The Olympia theatre was opened in November, 1920, to play the silent movies. A family trio of musicians – Elsie (piano), Mrs. Eileen Parry (nee Wiggins) (violin) and Bert Wiggins (trumpet) provided the music. The Gazette noted that Robert Harper often played the violin in January 1922 reported:- the orchestral music is always a bright feature and is much enjoyed by patrons.

Wiggins family c1906.
Back: Kate (Bill’s wife); Alfred, his wife Lilian; and Elsie.
Centre: George, Norman and Martha.
Front: Bill, Albert & Eileen.
Photo taken in Butchers Row.
Photo courtesy: Fred Wiggins.

Selling tickets at various times were Mr. Bert Parry and Miss Hooper. In the projection box, for different periods of time, were Tommy Gough, George Wiggins and Bede Donoghue.

Gazette Friday 26th November, 1920 – The opening night of the new Olympia Picture Theatre was marked with great success on Saturday last [20th November].

Gazette, Friday 3rd December 1920 – The grand ball at the Olympia Pictures last Friday [26th November] night proved a huge success, the new floor being most satisfactory to all the dancers, whose praise of the music provided was unanimous… The orchestra was composed of Mr. Leadbeater..; Mr. Barbecci (Clarinet) is a noted Italian instrumentalist in Australasia; Mr. Smith (violinist) a well known leader of Sydney Hall music. Mrs R. L. Harper (nee Miss Elsie Wiggins) was at the piano and as we all know her exceptional musical ability as an all round pianist, it needs no eulogistic comment. The dancing was kept up to the early hours of the morning… “It is no idle boast to affirm that we have one of the finest halls outside of Sydney in the Olympia Theatre.

Elsie became seriously ill in 1921 and the Gazette of 4th Feb 1921 described how she was conveyed to Sydney by train for treatment –

Mrs. R L Harper had been under medical care for many months past and the dangerous stages which have at times eventuated have brought forth many sentiments of sympathy for her prolonged suffering. Last week a serious relapse occurred and Dr. Johnson ordered her immediate entrance to a Sydney hospital.

She left Riverstone in a low state, but thanks to the care exercised by the driver and fireman of the train when stopping and starting from stations, the journey was accomplished without any serious effects. An operation was performed and the doctors are in every way satisfied with the result of the operation.

The following extract appeared in the Gazette on Friday 5th August, 1921 – Serious misgivings were expressed by a number of residents when the popular manager of the Olympia Theatre undertook the costly erection and furnishing of that building, it being held that it would not be a profitable investment. However, Mr. Harper held otherwise, and his enterprise and faith in the town have been unmistakeably proved. Not only are the bi-weekly screenings well patronised, but also the theatre is being much availed of as a centre and meeting place for the following:- The Meat Industry Employees’ Union, the Riverstone Labor League, the District Progress Association, the Poultry Farmers’ Society, and now other local institutions have similar intentions, among them being the Manchester Order of Oddfellows.

The following article in the Gazette on Friday 2nd September 1921 reported on another improvement in the town as a result of the Harper family endeavours:- We understand that owning to the activities of Mr. R. L. Harper, manager of the Olympia Theatre, in regard to securing the co-operation of local business houses, the local council will be undertaking the kerbing and asphalting of the non-completed portions between Mr. Cohen’s Store and Mr. H. Saundercock’s Auction Rooms.

Mr Harper’s initiative in the introduction of “Moonlight” pictures on Monday nights was well received by his patrons. Gazette, 11th November, 1921 – Mr. Harper is showing commendable enterprise in catering for his local patrons on Moonlight Mondays – especially with First National Productions which include the world’s greatest modern “stars”. The splendid ventilation of the Olympia is a rare asset during the summer.

Besides being kept busy with his Olympia Theatre, Mr Harper continued on with his professional singing. Gazette, 7th April, 1922 – Our townsman Mr. R. L. Harper, Director of the Olympia Picture Theatre will sing in the tenor solo in Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” and Elgar’s “Triology” in Sydney Town Hall on Saturday (8th April) with the choral society. Elsie’s niece Jean Alcorn (nee Parry) has fond memories of Robert singing the Little Kookaburra song to her when she was a child.

Opposition to the Olympia raised its head in the shape of a second picture theatre in Riverstone, when the Royal Pictures commenced screenings at the Oddfellows’ Hall in Railway [now Riverstone] Parade on Saturday, 4th August 1923. The first film to be screened was Charlie Chaplin inimitable in “The Kid”.

The Gazette of 10th August 1923 reported on the opening– The attendance at the opening night, last Saturday [4th August], of the Royal Picture Theatre was estimated at between 600 and 700. The patrons speak highly of the programme presented, and it is the objective of the management to yet effect many improvements. With the second lot of films screened at the Royal Picture Theatre, Mr. Murrell introduced a Matinee screening to Riverstone district – another successful idea.

Success ensued at the Royal Theatre – so much so that, in February 1926, Mr. R. K. Murrell bought out the Olympia Theatre from the Harpers, who had operated the Theatre for six years. The Harpers then moved to Sydney where according to the Gazette of 19th February, 1926 –Mr. Harper has commenced practice as a professional vocalist. Already Mr. Harper has accepted a number of early operatic and concert engagements, and also established a studio at Advar House.

In later years, Elsie and Robert Harper went their separate ways, with Elsie returning to Riverstone, and Robert remaining in Sydney. Records show that through solicitors, Mrs Elsie Harper, instituted legal proceedings against Robert Lindsay Harper on the 9th June, 1955. The inquiry through the authorities, proved to be fruitless, and Mr Robert Lindsay Harper, the professional singer of renown, was never located. Although his whereabouts were not established, it was believed however that he had returned to England. Nothing was heard of Robert Harper ever again.

Elsie continued to reside in Riverstone and sadly, she passed away on the 1st March 1960 – aged 78. Her Obituary appeared in the Gazette on Wednesday 16th March, 1960 under the heading:- MRS ELSIE HARPER – and read as follows:- A wide circle of district friends learned with deep regret of the death on March 1, of a popular Riverstone resident in Mrs Elsie May Harper. A member of the well known Wiggins Family, she is survived by brothers Bill, Os., Bert and Norman and sister Eileen (Mrs B. Parry) to whom sympathy is offered in their bereavement. After a service in St. Matthew’s Church of England at Windsor, the funeral moved to the Rookwood Crematorium.

There was no mention of the fascinating and interesting life that Elsie had led, where she had been an entertainer and provided along with other members of the Wiggins Family, entertainment in the form of showing pictures in both “Lantern” Slides and Moving Pictures in the Riverstone District, and most importantly, her dreams and insight of building a modern Picture Theatre in Riverstone. Elsie had provided entertainment in singing and piano playing, sometimes dancing and moving pictures for well over 27 years [1899-1926] and had started her career at the age of 17 years in 1899.

Just how far reaching her career went is not really known. One interesting story handed down through the Wiggins family revolves around a kookaburra brooch in her possession. The family believes it to be a memento of appreciation from the parents of Peter Dawson, the famous baritone singer who was tutored by Elsie early in his career.

Information from Jean Parry, Len Parry and Fred and Marcia Wiggins.

Archibald Showers

by Rosemary Phillis

As Linda Graham mentioned in her story, very little is known about Archibald Showers. His name is listed on the Cenotaph at Riverstone, but not on the school honour rolls, so it is likely that he grew up outside of Riverstone. We know that he was born in Sydney, but little else.

According to the World War One embarkation details, when he enlisted on 3 May 1915 Archibald was said to be a labourer of Riverstone, his mother was listed as Mrs J Showers of Riverstone. Correspondence in his Army file reveals that his father died in 1905.

The Army records provide an insight into his physical appearance. He was five foot seven and a half inches high, weighed 160lbs and had a fair complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. His chest measurement ranged from 32 to 34.5 inches

The local newspaper of the time, the Windsor and Richmond Gazette mentions only: In the 77th casualty list appears the name of Pte A.R. Showers of Riverstone, he is amongst the missing.

After he was killed, his personal effects returned to his mother in 1916 contained a hair brush, testament, hymn book, match box. The records also reveal that his mother was still living in Riverstone in 1920.

Do you know anything about Archibald Showers or the Showers family? The Historical Society would be very keen to hear from you if you do.

World War 1 Riverstone Memorial

Riverstone – Gallipoli 1915-2009

by Linda Graham

It was just by chance that Rosemary Phillis and I were having a chat at a friend’s farewell morning tea that she asked where I was going on my next adventure. My reply was “Turkey”. I immediately saw Rosemary’s eyes brighten and her smile widened. “Linda” she said “Are you by any chance visiting Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli”? My reply was “Yes” it was to be my first day stopover on tour and I expressed how much I was looking forward to visiting such an historical place and walking along the shores of Anzac Cove.

Within two days of our discussion, I had in my possession something incredibly special. Rosemary provided me with a booklet giving personal details of an Australian soldier who lived in Riverstone at the time of signing up for World War 1. The soldier’s name is “Archibald Robert Showers”. Rosemary explained that Archibald had died in Gallipoli in 1915 and asked if it wasn’t too much trouble, would I be able to locate his name on the Great Wall at Lone Pine Cemetery and take a photo for the Riverstone Historical Society.

I took the information home and went through the details page by page. From reading the documents I had a description of what became “my soldier’s” height, weight, eye colour, about his family, pay, personal possessions and of how his mother sadly could not accept the fact that he had died in action stating she believed he had become a prisoner of war. I also had a map of where to locate Archibald’s name on the Great Wall.

I saw Rosemary a few days later to tell her I would be honoured to take on the task. I took the information to a meeting I had with the group of 13 whom I was travelling with to tell them of my mission to find “my soldier”. The group were excited and said that they would assist me in finding Archibald and we decided to make a special tribute in his honour. I didn’t realise at this time how humbling and rewarding this experience would be.

On the night before we started the tour I spoke with the tour guide to see if we could have extra time at Lone Pine Cemetery to locate “my soldier”. He advised that we could have as much time as necessary… I knew then that I would be running my fingers across Archibald’s name on the Great Wall without question the next day.

Early morning I rose, ironed my Australian Flag T Shirt and organised my backpack for the day. I had the necessities, camera, water, lollies etc but I also had some very special treasures to include – the booklet, artificial poppies, a small Australian Flag and a “Lest We Forget” ribbon. When packing my bag my throat tightened, my eyes filled with tears and I thought “Yes… we are coming to visit you today Archibald Robert Showers and your fallen comrades to show you our gratitude and respect”.

We travelled for three hours through beautiful country side and as we ventured closer to the region I became more anxious and excited. Our guide was fabulous, he provided excellent commentary on the area and facts associated with the war in Gallipoli.

As we turned off the main road our guide advised we were only a couple of kilometres from Anzac Cove. An immediate silence came over all occupants of the coach. After passing fields of poppies the coach pulled into Anzac Cove and we moved out single file with the Sphinxes on our right side overlooking the Cove. It was just as I had imagined from listening to and reading stories at school as well as talking to Vets on Anzac Days over the years.

Once we were off the coach, everyone walked in different directors to find their own space. I walked along the footpath reading the plaques which detailed the happenings many years previously. I then headed towards the sandstone wall with the inscription “ANZAC COVE” … my heart heavy.

I know it may be a strange thing to say but Anzac Cove is a beautiful place. The landing area is flat and pebbled, the bay relatively small with low bush. It was quiet with the only sound being the lapping of the water on the shore and the small birds playing in the nearby bushes. The sky was blue, the sun warm and there was a gentle breeze. When looking from the shore the sphinx loomed above.
On one hand it was easy to visualise what took place at that very spot so many years before and yet on the other I could not but feel how peaceful a place it was and how I could have sat and stayed there for hours.

As I walked along the shore on the rocky pebbles occasionally dipping my hand in the water and looking out to sea, I couldn’t but wonder “why”. My heart felt heavy and my eyes were full of tears…. sadly our boys didn’t really stand a chance. The Turkish soldiers would have seen our men coming a mile away. Our soldiers had no protection whilst the enemy at that time, had the ridge for protection.
I then walked around the Cove to a small cemetery near the water’s edge. The flowers growing between the memorial plaques were beautiful. Roses and geraniums grow perfectly in the climate there. It is here that there is a huge sandstone plaque with the famous inscription:

We boarded the coach in silence and teary. As we drove up the hill past The Nek and brass statues of soldiers, I could feel the excitement in my stomach and chest.

Upon arriving at Lone Pine, our guide without warning, asked me to come to the front of the coach to share with the group something special. I walked up the aisle full of emotion. He handed me the microphone and my first words were “Archibald Robert Showers”. In speaking those three words, tears flowed and I struggled with words but finally managed to give information on this courageous soldier. As I walked back to my seat to collect the treasures, hands touched my arms and legs in comfort and when I looked up I could see that all my travelling colleagues were reduced to tears.

We alighted from the coach and in an instant I was surrounded by 43 people assuring me that we would find “my soldier”. From that moment Archibald Robert Showers became “our soldier”. I found it extremely difficult to stop the tears.

We walked into the cemetery high up on the hill overlooking Anzac Cove. The view was absolutely magnificent, a wonderful spot for our heroes to rest in peace. The Lone Pine stood to the left of the cemetery and was providing shade to a large group of Turkish people who too had come, to visit our lost soldiers.
I headed straight for the Great Wall along with a few others from the group to find Archibald’s name. I was part way to the wall when suddenly I heard a woman call me saying “He is here Linda, come quick”. I turned and ran back feeling extremely excited to think that Archibald had been honoured with his own plaque, my heart jumped with glee.

We all gathered around and decorated Archibald’s plaque with poppies, the ribbon, and the Australian flag. One of the men from the group placed his grandfather’s war medal and our group organiser scattered gum leaves around the memorial. Everyone gathered around and we all gave thanks to Archibald Robert Showers for his courage and patriotism to his country.

I sat behind the decorated plaque feeling totally overwhelmed. I cried for Archibald and all the soldiers who lay with him. I could have sat there for hours.

Lone Pine is a relatively small cemetery and it has a feel of peacefulness. The roses and flowers growing there are colourful; the lawn is green and well maintained. The Great Wall made of sandstone blocks is clean and bright, standing high and strong at the end of cemetery. To my absolute delight, there were scattered red poppies poking out amongst the rocks around the perimeter. I now have a better understanding of the significance of the “Red Poppy”.

We had a group photo taken at the Lone Pine sign… we all wore our Australian T-shirts and had a large Australian Flag. At that moment, high up on the hill in this incredible surrounding, my thoughts went home to my family and friends. I thanked God I was born and raised in Australia and felt extremely humble … we are so lucky!!!

After leaving Lone Pine and over the course of the following two weeks, I was approached by people travelling with me expressing their thanks and gratitude for sharing that wonderful day with them. They said it was an experience they will never forget.

In my wildest dreams I would not have thought that my chance meeting with Rosemary Phillis that day would result in one of the most heartfelt and memorable days of my life. I feel so honoured and humbled to have travelled half way across the world to find one of Riverstone’s lost heroes.

Over the past 20 years, I have attended dawn services on Anzac Day. Each year I stand with others and remember those who fought in the war. Each year I shed tears of sadness in remembrance. Anzac Day 2010 will be, I am sure, even more special as I will be able to reflect upon that day at Anzac Cover and Lone Pine, the day I met, thanked and gave tribute to Archibald Robert Showers.

Lone Pine Cemetery.
Photo by Linda Graham.


Lone Pine Cemetery. Photo by Linda Graham.
Linda Graham at Archibald’s grave.
Photo by Linda Graham.
A view from the Lone Pine Cemetery. Photo by Linda Graham.

Jack McNamara

Bill McNamara – OAM

Jack McNamara

John Henry McNamara, (Jack) was born on 25th October 1921, the second of six children born to Harry and Olive McNamara. He was born at Richards Avenue, Riverstone, this avenue was better known by the community as ‘Butchers Row’ because all the houses in the street were owned by the Riverstone Meat Company. Jack’s father Harry was the foreman in charge of all the handling of livestock at the meat works.

Jack spent his childhood in Butchers Row and attended the old Riverstone Public school for his early primary education, transferring to the new public school when it opened in 1929. The old school building is now the museum and houses the Riverstone Historical Society.

From all accounts Jack was a good scholar and after completing 6th class he transferred to the Marist Brothers school at Parramatta to complete his secondary education. He excelled in athletics, and in rugby league he captained the 6 stone 7 team that won the Marist Bros combined schools competition. This team was undefeated, scoring 218 points to 11 against, in a season, and played a curtain raiser to an Australia v England Test match, against a team from Queensland.

Jack played football with Rivo C grade with players like Noel (Butch) Drayton, Manny McCarthy, Waffie Schofields, Ronnie Wallwork, and John ‘Socker’ Ward.

Like most boys growing up in Riverstone in those times he was keen on fishing in South Creek and catching rabbits with his ferrets out in the meatworks paddocks. I recall Jack being expelled from the fellowship after a school get-together for Rivo school children held in the old Oddfellows Hall (now demolished). His expulsion was for dropping a cake of soap into the water being boiled for their afternoon tea.

Our family moved from Butchers Row to a house in Riverstone Road for a few years, and then we moved to a ten acre farm that Harry had bought on Carnarvon Road, Marsden Park. Harry was promoted to a livestock buyer for the meatworks but unfortunately was killed in a motor accident at Picton whilst returning home from a cattle sale at Moss Vale.

With no car driver in the family and being too far out from the town and schools, we moved back to 57 Riverstone Road. When Jack left school he commenced his working career at Sargood Gardiners, a clothing warehouse in Sydney.

A few years later the Second World War broke out and Jack joined the Royal Australian Air Force on 9th November 1941 and was stationed at Bradfield Park, Sydney before transferring to Narromine, NSW for his initial air training and where he had his first solo flight.

In November 1942 he was posted to No 1 SFTS camp, Borden-Canada to complete his training. In March 1943 he was transferred to Worcester, England, and in April transferred to the Pilots Advanced Flying Unit at Greenham Common.

He was then transferred to No. 82 operational training unit at Ossington, flying Wellington bombers, and in October 1943 gained his first posting on the 4 engine bombers. In November he was posted to Bomber Command No. 620 squadron based at Chedburgh.

In March 1944 he was posted to the RAF station at Fairford for his first operational flying. He took part in the D Day landings on 6th June 1944. His log book shows he carried out 29 operational flights against the enemy.

On one of these operations his plane was badly hit and damaged, one engine and propeller shot clean off and the fuselage was badly torn. Out of radio contact, he nursed the plane back to England and made a successful crash landing at his base. (See photo below.) The crew escaped uninjured but the incident upset Jack and it was months before he could talk about it.

Wellington bombers

He received his Commission as a Flying Officer in 1944 and later in September that year was awarded the Croix De Guerre by General Koenig, Leader of the French Forces.

On the 28th December, 1944, flying a British Stirling 4 engine bomber he was shot down by a German fighter whilst returning from a mission over Norway. Jack and his six crew members were all killed on impact.

On a trip to Norway in 1956 I had the opportunity to visit Jack’s grave. With a friend we hired a car and an interpreter and drove about 50 km from Oslo to the small village of Sande. We found a beautiful little cemetery with a Lutheran Church on one side and a butter factory on the other.

A group of young boys were standing with their bikes in front of the cemetery and the interpreter asked them if they knew of any British Airmen buried there. They all answered as one and with that jumped the fence and with their snow boots trampled down a track in the snow for us to walk to the graves. The seven headstones were visible above the snow.

We asked the boys if there was anyone locally who could tell us more about the crash and they referred us to the owner of the butter factory next door. On meeting the owner he explained that he saw the British Stirling bomber shot down by a German fighter, with the bomber crashing into the side of a hill in very heavy snow.

That night the owner and his friends tried to help the crew, but they had all died on impact. The next morning the Germans retrieved the bodies and with the assistance of the Lutheran Pastor gave the airmen a Christian burial, with the German soldiers saluting them at the ceremony.

I asked the owner how the graves were cared for; he told us Norway’s National day is celebrated in May each year (similar to our Anzac Day) and on this day all the war graves are decorated and honoured. It was a sad day but very fulfilling to know that Jack is with his crew in this faraway land, his grave and heroic deeds are appreciated and not forgotten by the Norwegian people.

When it was announced that Jack was awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Koenig, and also when he was posted missing and eventually announced deceased, our mother received many letters and telegrams, too many to repeat in this article but I will share with you one of the letters, particularly one from a lady unknown to our family with whom Jack and his friends spent many happy hours of their leave time. It will give you some idea what Aussie boys went through in the wasted war years.

(This is a copy of a typed version of the original letter.)

Rivertone and the Floods

by Shirley Seale

The Hawkesbury River has flooded, I imagine, since the beginning of time. The first recorded flood took place in March of 1799, and it was a big one! Already the area was being used to grow a food supply for the settlers and convicts in Sydney, so devastation of the crop lands was disastrous and nearly resulted in starvation for all. There was another flood in 1800, then 1806 saw three floods in March, June and November, when 38,000 pounds (millions of dollars in today’s money) worth of property was destroyed.

Governor Bligh became a well-loved figure in the region by introducing Government relief to the farmers who had lost everything. Another big flood in August 1809, resulted in Governor Macquarie establishing the five Macquarie towns of Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Wilberforce and Pitt Town and encouraging farmers to secure a block of land on these high grounds to which all harvested produce could be removed to safety.

Many of the new residents of the Riverstone area have never stood at the railway crossing at Garfield Road seeing only the roofs of the houses across the line visible above the flood waters. The last time we were cut off by road from the surrounding areas was in February of 1992, but the older Riverstonians have their own memories of the wreckage and trouble they caused. My own first experience came one month after we bought our house here. Having grown up in Newcastle I was unaware of the flood dangers at Riverstone, but witnessed the huge flood in November 1961. Through sheer luck, not knowledge, our house was on the high side of the railway line.

Reading through the back copies of the Windsor Richmond Gazette has shown many facets of the trauma and distress caused by our antecedents at Riverstone during the floods of many years.

The following accounts will let you feel the terror and dismay of the people in our community at these times. As there have been 120 floods recorded on the Hawkesbury, I will only give the details of some of the biggest, and how they affected the Riverstone area.

On Tuesday, 27th July 1857, the flood closed the road at McGraths Hill and people were ferried over by fragile boats above the house tops. By Wednesday, 28th, water had risen another six feet,(almost two metres) during the night. Tebbutt’s House at McGraths Hill became an island in the highest flood since 1817. This time the flood was not caused so much by rain as by the heavy snow fall in the mountains melting and the water rushing down. There was no loss of life, but the editorial stated, “we shall find the damage and impoverishment will in some measure attack a very large portion of the people”.

Then, on the 24th August of the same year, “Woe upon woe! Another inundation has visited our unhappy district.” The second flood rose more than two metres higher than the previous one in July, and covered all the surrounding areas. However the ship the “Dunbar” had been wrecked at the gap only a few days before and the news of that tragedy, with the stories of the two survivors and the horror of the loss of life kept the Windsor flood off the front page.

In February 1860 the bridge at North Richmond was covered, but the flood subsided quickly, only to be followed by another in April when McGraths Hill was covered and no mail could get through. When a third occurred in July of the same year the paper said there was no point in starting a relief fund as people had no more money to give and when in November a flood hit as the harvest was underway, many farmers were forced to give up.

There were widespread floods throughout the state in 1864, when every river from the Fitzroy to the Moruya had flooded and the water at Windsor was hailed as the worst flood it had known. The toll house was carried away and there were only four houses left clear between Windsor and Pitt Town the rest being covered in “unctuous mud”. A Captain Saxby propounded the theory that the moon was responsible for all the bad weather because every time the moon passed over the equator the weather was disturbed. The Sydney Morning Herald printed pages on this theory and its rebuttals because every one was so concerned about the changes in the weather. (Reminds you a little of the global warming debate we are immersed in today!)

The first time the name Riverstone appeared in the paper connected to flood damage was in the truly horrendous deluge which began on 22nd June 1867, which reached the record height of 19.26 metres at Windsor Bridge. The first intimation of trouble to those outside the area was a terse message from William Walker, Windsor Parliamentarian, to the Colonial Secretary: “Send boats to Windsor by train, then water. Fear loss of life”. From the Minister for Works, Mr Byrnes, to the Colonial Secretary: “I have sent four boats to Windsor. Got to Riverstone in time with boats to save family on roof of house”. In fact it was two families, one consisted of seven people and the other was a widow and three or four children. So much water had surged down the rivers and creeks that a boat could be taken from Riverstone in deep water to the Blue Mountains, said the paper. Before long the railway lines were submerged and the railway engine could not approach within half a mile of Riverstone station.

At Riverstone, only two houses escaped the flood and they were only a few feet from the edge of the water. The ridgepoles of the station houses at Riverstone and Windsor were showing only two feet above the surface of the water. There was a fierce gale. The telegraph lines were not working so getting messages for help and information was not possible. How easy it is to forget the difficulties of communication experienced in the mid- nineteenth century, in these days of mobile phones!

But if Riverstone was in peril, Windsor was much worse off as the two mothers and 10 children of the Eather family, who had climbed on to the roof of their house for safety as the water rose within, were swept away and all drowned. (To read more of the 1867 floods in Windsor, see Michelle Nichols’ book, “A disastrous Decade.”)

A train ran between Parramatta and Riverstone, bringing rations, a ton of flour and bread. In true Victorian fashion, the newspaper ran a quote from Shakespeare’s “King Lear”:

“Poor naked wretches whereso’er you are
Thou bide the course of this pitiless storm
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you
From seasons such as these.”

There was fear that the railway line to Windsor would not be able to be re-opened when the water began to recede, because “the ballast was of inferior description and now has the consistency of mud”, but the line to Mulgrave was clear by 26th June. A relief fund was begun and quickly raised enough for distributions by local committee. Ideas were put forward that a channel should be cut from Richmond to Wilberforce as the curves in the river were thought to produce the bad floods, and to bring in Government regulations to force people to build above flood level.

There had been eight more large inundations between then and 1879. In her book, “Rouse Hill and The Rouses”, Caroline Thornton quotes from a letter that Bessie Buchanan Rouse wrote to her mother on 10th September 1879:

“The road to Riverstone is quite impassable. One of the bridges is washed away and the water is high across the road. Ashton tried to get over this morning but had to turn back. Whitling (their coachman), managed to ride through the bush at the back with this telegram and even there he says in some places the water was up to the girths – it looks a perfect sea all in the flats between here and Box Hill down by the creek”. That time and there were two floods in the month, the water was 13.19 metres over Windsor Bridge.

It was only the next year, when a great flood started on Friday, 26th May 1889 after three days of solid rain. By Monday, with many houses and shops flooded people began to be alarmed. They tried to get news but the telegraph line between Riverstone and Parramatta was broken, and also the southern line. During the afternoon word came that several families at Riverstone were in need of assistance and had no boat. One was sent by train on Monday, but it overturned by 8 am and one of the occupants, a man named Jenkins was missing, the others had perched themselves in a tree. The Brigades’ boats were not watertight and it was dangerous to use them at night. 12 inches (30 centimetres) of rain fell in 24 hours.

1890 was another bad year with three floods. On 1st March the flood water at Eastern Creek rose level with the floor of the bridge which leads to Blacktown Road. All low-lying land around Mr Joseph Craig’s wool washing establishment was covered with water, and the rain did great damage to the grapes, which were growing in the area. It happened again on 15th March, exceeding the last.
60 centimetres more would have put it in the Neverfail Hotel. Mr Craig and Mr Court were flooded out, and traffic around Marsden Park was blocked, as the water was about 8 feet deep (2 ½ metres) over the bridge.

On March 29th, the Gazette reported a Drowning Accident at Riverstone.

“Rain commenced to fall steadily on Sunday morning and on Sunday night, Monday and Monday night it came down in torrents….. Mr Edward Simpson, contracting for the mail between here and Rouse Hill and who lives on the Marsden Park Estate, at about 5.30 pm, in attempting to cross the creek from Marsden Park, was drowned…..Mr Joseph Court, who saw what had happened ran with a pair of spring cart reins and met the deceased at a bend in the creek. Mr Court succeeded in drawing the reins around the deceased… but he did not make an attempt to grab them. It is thought he was almost gone at that point. This was the last that was seen of the unfortunate man. His wife tried to prevent him crossing, but being of a determined disposition, he would continue it.”

Mr Noble Hanna heard the screams of the bystanders and jumped into the creek, but could not find him and had to be taken to Mr Woods’ home to get dry clothes. Mr James Dick of Windsor lent a boat on the Tuesday morning and the horse and vehicle, with broken shafts, were found, but no trace of Mr Simpson. “The deceased was a fine old fellow, and was never known to do anyone an injury. He leaves a wife and child.”

The paper called for the Government to provide a boat for the future.

July of 1900 saw the next really big flood appear – measured at 14.08 metres at Windsor Bridge.

On 7th July, Riverstone reported the water higher than it had been in ten years and it was in imminent peril. On 14th the paper stated: “Marsden Park has been quite flooded out. Mr W. Davis has lost his all. His house and furniture are partially destroyed and he is staying with his brother. Mr A. Pierce had to leave all and clear for life from the rising flood with his family. Mrs Wilson lost very severely and it is feared her house will fall. Mr Holding lost 17,000 bricks. This is a severe blow to him. Mr Pomfret lost a new piano besides all furniture and effects. Mr McPhee in his home- made canoe did good service to the people of Marsden Park. He paddled to Riverstone and brought back letters and papers. His canoe was made out of a single sheet of 8 feet, (2 ½ metres), of galvanized iron…… Every youngster will be trying to make one”.

By the Thursday night water had entered many of the houses along the railway line and residents were moving out their furniture and belongings as quickly as possible. At the meatworks, water had submerged the offices and other buildings, got into the engine shed and damaged the electric plant. A number of pigs were drowned. The Gazette carried the following report:

“In Mr Wonson’s Royal Hotel, a two storeyed building, the water reached as high as the ceiling of the first floor. Mr and Mrs Wonson and the other occupants remained on the top floor, but were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Fortunately there was no lack of willing hands to offer assistance or many lives would have been lost. Constable Grigor is to be recommended for the way he worked. He and a party were out Thursday and Friday nights saving much property and lives. “

Butchers from the meatworks, J. Aird, R. Wheeler, Sheffield and W. Miles came in the 10.23 train to Windsor, the last one to get across, where they found a boat to use and were able to rescue Mr E. Stokes, and Mr J.Montgomery and his family. Listed among the many who were washed out by the flood and lost a lot of property were Mr P. Quinn, manager of the meatworks, Mr E. Bradley, accountant, and Messers J. Edwards, C. Robbins, N. Morrissey, J. Brown, W. McCarthy, J. Cobcroft, G. Smith, B. Hodgson, T. Davis, E. Stokes, W. Davis, J. Commerford, A. Drake, J. Mason, D. Cummings, H. Cragg, J. Pomfret, J. Montgomery, A. Pierce, F. Carey, H. J. Williams, C. Mortley and many others.

The flood waters which had seemed to ease on the Thursday had crept up silently during the night and people woke on Friday morning to find their homes completely surrounded by water. Trains could only come from the city as far as Riverstone as the viaducts were covered in water and the patrons who wanted to go by boat from here to Windsor and Richmond were advised against it by the Station Master, Mr W. Allen. He had been informed that the current and surf made it positively dangerous as well as the trees and debris and other dangerous obstacles. Mr Joseph of the Riverstone Hotel, Dr Studdy and others threw open their doors and provided shelter.

A man was reported on the roof of the little chapel at Clydesdale on Richmond Road, but when a boat got there only a hat and coat were on the roof. On the Monday the body of a tramp was discovered floating, by Harry Woods’ son, (of Clydesdale). He was about 50 and as he had a tattoo of an anchor on his arm, he was believed to have been a sailor.

Traffic to Marsden Park was restored by Monday and the Gazette wrote that Miss Pitt, a teacher at Marsden Park, who came down from Windsor at 7.30 am was, they thought, a little disappointed that she could resume her duties again! The houses were left so damp that it was agreed it would probably be six months before they could be lived in again safely and much sickness was anticipated because of the damp. On a lighter note, two cats which had floated away on a plank found their way back to the Jordan Mills wool scouring works. A total of 27 houses on the south side of the line were flooded.

The floods came irregularly, but inevitably. Sometimes six or more years would elapse between them. There were none between 1916 and 1922, or from 1925 to 1934 and not again till 1942, but the rivers broke their banks eight times in 1950, three times in 1951, four times in 1952 and seven times in 1956.

The flood in February 1956 was said to be the biggest in 55 years. There were actually two lots of flooding within a week. There were 20 homes affected in Riverstone and the occupants were taken in by others in the community, who also helped to clean out the mud and slime which was left behind after the waters subsided. There was a third flood a week later, but not so big, and the Red Cross Depot in Windsor helped to provide necessary items for the families.

1956 flood looking across the Riverstone Park (when the trotting track ran around the outside).

The completion of the Warragamba Dam followed by five flood free years, had led people to believe that the Hawkesbury had at last been tamed, but in November 1961, the worst flood since 1867 occurred and submerged houses in Windsor which had been flood free for almost 100 years. South Creek and its tributaries, Eastern Creek and Killarney Creek overflowed and covered much of Riverstone and Vineyard.

The water started to rise on 19th November, and the flood -gates at Warragamba Dam were opened at 3 am sending massive waves of water down the river. Unfortunately, logs and debris raging down the river stopped the gates being closed again. The western side of the railway line at Riverstone was inundated and 300 people were evacuated from 90 homes. Volunteers worked for two days helping to move possessions out of the encroaching flood waters. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, promised to work with the NSW Government to assist in relief funds.

The Riverstone Meatworks were completely flooded, (to read more about this see “The Riverstone Meatworks” by Rosemary Phillis) and the homes that were damaged were in Richards Avenue, Garfield, Litton, Delaware, Burfitt and Carnarvon Roads and Creek, Denmark and Carlton Streets.

It had been the wettest November since records began in 1881, with 1748 points of rain. The State Governor, Sir Eric Woodward travelled to the district and emergency distributions of clothing and necessities was arranged. Although it had been said in 1956 that we would never see a bad flood again, now the Water Board stated that the flood would have been much worse without Warragamba Dam.

As the flood subsided, Windsor Council undertook to investigate a high level road from College Street in Richmond to Blacktown Road to give flood free access. It only took another 40 plus years for a smaller flood free access road to be built!

Column from Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 29th November 1961.
On Being Flooded Out.

How would you react if a group of men came to your house at 11 o’clock at night and told you to start moving out immediately? Something like this happened in more than 100 homes last weekend.
For some indefinable reason, just about everyone in the path of rising flood waters harbours the hope that it will stop just before it enters their particular home. This kind of thinking does not help the rescuers or the householders in the long run. But everyone understands it is not easy to empty your home in an hour.
Things start to happen. Out goes the piano first. Pianos fall apart even after the shortest immersion. Then the refrigerator and other heavy furniture. An anguished cry from the bedroom has nothing to do with the housewife breaking down because her possessions are going. She has noticed fluff under the bed!
A call goes out for someone with electrical knowledge to disconnect the stove. This is a signal for another agonized yelp from the housewife as a small patch of grease appears where the stove has stood for the past five years.
Time is running out. Doors are being taken off their hinges, cupboards emptied out until all the precious suitcases, boxes and cartons are overflowing. All the rest must now be packed onto higher shelves. The kitchen is raided for unopened cans of fruit to put under table legs and other places that cannot be moved. Doors are placed over the shower recess and piled high with knick knacks.
While all this is going on, the children are kept in bed and asleep if you’re lucky. The budgies get VIP treatment but the cat is a problem. He’s prepared to stick to home until it founders. The family dog knew before you did that something terrible was about to happen, so that’s why he just got out of the way and watched disconsolately.

At last everyone is satisfied that all the remaining chattels are at least three feet high and the flood is not likely to rise more than a foot if it does come into the house at all. But it does, and that’s another story.

With every group of rescuers there’s always a leader. Nobody appoints him and he doesn’t even know himself that he’s the leader. Luckily in such crises, those few odd bods who harbour delusions of grandeur and other psychotic problems are safe and warm. After the event they are ready and willing to tell everyone what they should have done.

This was a light hearted look at the problems facing the evacuees, but the really horrible part comes when they return. For floodwater does not leave a home sparkling clean. It leaves behind mud and sludge and debris. The walls have to be removed as Gyprock can’t withstand water, and the smell that the muddy water leaves behind is literally breath taking. Many volunteers are at hand to help with this heartbreaking task after all the floods. We live in a very caring community and we look after each other.

Evacuating a resident from Richards Avenue (Butchers Row).

In May 1962 there was a heavy downpour which did not rate as a flood for recording purposes, as it only caused local roads to become impassable. However it had tragic results. On Saturday evening, 13th May, Mr Alan Coles was driving his wife, Edna, their daughter Ann and two young friends, Lynette Hardinge and Laurel Elith home to Schofields from Katoomba. When they reached Grange Avenue, they were unaware that the causeway was flooded and that the water was flowing strongly. The car and all its occupants was washed away and was not found until the next morning, 180 metres downstream, with all occupants deceased. The whole area mobilized to raise funds to help the three Coles boys, all under twenty, to keep together and manage the family farm.

There were four small floods in 1963, but in June, 1964, 100 homes in Riverstone were again damaged on the south side of the railway line when the creeks overflowed once more. Sergeant Paine from Riverstone police was in charge of the local rescue efforts, and two amphibious army “Ducks” were sent from Richmond where they were assisting the Civil Defence force in the rescue, bringing food and fodder and transporting workers to restart essential services.

Water Police and their boats were also used to cope with the strong currents. 86 train passengers, including some schoolchildren, who had been stopped at Mulgrave Station and sent back to Riverstone, were accommodated in the Primary and High Schools here and meals were provided to them by volunteers.(Unfortunately there are always a few who try to benefit from others’ disasters and later some local lads were charged with stealing cartons of beer while helping to remove stock from the cellar of the hotel.) It was a long time before evacuees from the Pitt Town area were able to return to their homes, I remember, as I was teaching at Windsor Primary School at the time and we had families billeted in our assembly hall for many days.

1961. An Army duck turns into Garfield Road and prepares to evacuate residents.
Photo: Bromby family.

The water being released from Warragamba Dam was seen to be a big problem and Councillors from all local councils involved formed a Hawkesbury Flood Mitigation Committee to see if an authority other than the Water Board could have control of deciding when the water gates should be opened at flood times. This came to nothing, and as this was the year the Beatles visited Australia, the flood water debate was soon pushed from the front pages.

In the next 14 years, there were 14 floods of varying ferocity in the area, including six in 1974, but the next really serious one came in June 1978. It began on Tuesday, 21st March, and all the gates at Warragamba Dam were opened, releasing 520,000 mega litres of water downstream every 24 hours, the equivalent of a day’s usage for Sydney.

Royal Hotel ar Riverstone isolated by flood waters

The dam had been 4.16 metres below full when the heavy rain began. Once again Riverstone lowlands were covered and the long-suffering residents were once again evacuated with as much of their belongings as could be rescued. Once again our township was isolated with the roads leading in all directions covered in impassable sheets of water. A Flood Relief Office was set up by the Department of Youth and Community Services, in Market Town shopping center, to help those in need.

1988 saw the Bicentenary and the opening of our Museum at Riverstone, but also saw another two floods in April and July. The April one I remember, as my father was in Windsor hospital. My sister brought Mum down from the mountains, but we couldn’t drive up as the roads were covered and had to go and bring her back in the train. It was her first sight of the expanse of water that covered this area at such times.

In August 1990 we had the biggest flood in 12 years. As the water came down from Warragamba dam the river had waves a metre high, but the Water Board insisted that the flood waters would have been two metres higher without Warragamba Dam there. We all suffered the same fate once more with the roads cut, and the residents across the railway line trying to protect their property. Once more the councils called for a flood free evacuation route to be built.

The last flood to come to our district was in February 1992. This one was measured at 11 metres at Windsor Bridge and was not as severe as many we have lived through, although once again, it was not possible to drive out of Riverstone as the roads to Marsden Park, Windsor, Parramatta and Penrith were cut for some time, and looking across from the railway station you could see nothing but a large expanse of water.

As you drive through Richmond and Windsor, there are still occasional signs showing the depth of the water in previous floods. If you have never seen it, it is hard to imagine the water so deep that people are being taken off by boat from the top floor of the “Jolly Frog Hotel” at McGraths Hill, but we old time residents have seen it happen.

The Penrith Lake Scheme is supposed to be the answer to the easing of floods in the Hawkesbury Valley, as the excess water run off is to be trapped in the man-made excavations and so prevented from coming downstream to us as it has done in the past. At least now, our flood free access road from Windsor is a reality. Maybe our flood history will end in February 1992, but only time will tell.

Judith Lewis

by Clarrie Neal

Judith was the second child of Mr & Mrs Garnet Shepherd of George Street. Riverstone and was born in July 1937 at the Hospital/residence of Sister Barnes located in Garfield Road; today the site is occupied by the Doctor’s surgery. Other children in the Shepherd family included Bill, b.1935, and Rob, b. 1940. The family endured more than their share of tragedy when their mother passed away in 1950. Garnet’s sister Vera Stockwell, who lived nearby became their carer, getting the children off to school and providing their meals through the week. Bill passed away in 1961, aged 25.

Judith attended Riverstone Public School from 1943 till 1948, and has wonderful memories of her early school days, the games, events such as bonfire night that was held on Empire day, and of the Sunday School picnics held at St. Pauls in Elizabeth Street. With her mother as the Sunday School teacher at St. Pauls, Judith attended Sunday School from the age of two until she was confirmed at age 14, and she became a Sunday School teacher herself.

There are happy memories of their annual holidays spent at the Blue Mountains, and in later years spent at Narrabeen – holidays often shared with other families.

Judith loved school, doing well in all subjects, and has fond memories of most of her teachers; this appreciation of school was to continue all her life. In 6th class she won a Bursary award that enabled her to attend Parramatta High school from 1949 till 1953. Judith recalled High School being a lot more demanding and not as blissful as her primary school days.

Always having in mind a career as a teacher she attended Balmain Teachers College; this involved long days, catching the 7-00am steam train to Sydney, change into the electric train to Town Hall, then get the bus to Balmain. The day ending with the return trip home on the steam train arriving in Riverstone at 6-00pm.

Her first posting as a school teacher was in 1956 to North Parramatta Primary school where she taught 3rd class, then in 1957 to Granville Girls school where she taught 5th class and later that year to Seven Hills Infants where she taught Year 2. In 1958 she was transferred to Riverstone Infants, and recalls for the first time since 1949, how blissful it was not having to travel those long hours by train.

Going steady with Kevin Lewis since 1955, they became engaged in 1957 and married in August 1958. She resigned from the Education Department in 1960 to start a family and thought her teaching days were over — not realising how wrong you can be. Their three boys were — John, born 1961, Peter, born 1962, and Paul, born 1964. Judith joined the school Mothers Club in 1966, and found herself inundated with offers of casual teaching positions.

In 1968 she accepted a semi permanent position, working four days a week, as the Teacher/Librarian at Riverstone. In 1975 she was appointed permanently to this position and attended Kuring-gai Teachers College to gain her Diploma as a Teacher/Librarian. During the 1970’s there were further promotions to Deputy Mistress, then Assistant Principal, and when she retired in 1992 she was the Relieving Principal.

Her career with the Dept. of Education spanned 27 years, five years as a teacher and 24 years as the Teacher/Librarian. Also in the 1970’s she was appointed as the Supervisor of the Special Unit classes. She believes her many years of teaching the children with Special Needs have left her with the most endearing of all her school memories. Her memories of some of these children include –

“Billy*”, who came in to close the windows of the library for me each afternoon for all the years he was at primary school.

One young girl who was an elective mute, had not spoken one word in her first three years of schooling. It was February, 1983, I was supervising the handful of students whose parents had not consented for them to attend the school swimming carnival; as they finished each piece of work they would bring it in to me and usually stay for a little chat. With a group of them around my table, she announced “when my mother has her nightie on her boobs bounce up and down”. She then withdrew back into her shell, but this day was the beginning. By the time she was in Year 6 some teachers were wishing that she would occasionally stop talking.

Another favourite was Tom* who initially would only communicate with me by talking into his hand formed into an imaginary puppet. The whole school soon learned when Tom had done some good work in class, he would run across the playground, book in hand, calling “Lewis, Lewis, Look, Lewis, Look!” Tom would pick me handfuls of weeds from the playground, which I would duly admire before placing them in a vase. At lunch time he would stand at the door between my office and the library and loudly call out, “All you chillun be quiet, Lewis has a headache”.

Tim* was not in a special class, but he needed special care. He was a very angry little boy, who often came to school in very dirty tatty clothes. Judith had spent many hours trying to help Tim, even to the extent of organising the buying of shoes for him and fitting him with clothes from the School Uniform pool. The year after she retired she was asked to return to the school for a few hours each day to ease Tim back into the classroom, following a suspension. She believes Tim is a victim of his environment and life is never going to be easy for him.

Judith believes her last year at school was the most rewarding. She has wonderful memories of her last day, her send off, and she was resigning as the Relieving Principal of the School. The staff were great, the kids were great, there were gifts – including a gold watch and a domed clock, the office was filled with flowers, the Special Classes presented her with a Pensioner Pack, containing a grey hair net, a packet of Ford Pills, denture paste, etc.

Later, at an official farewell attended by representatives from the Department of Education and staff she was presented with an electric organ, (which she is finally learning to play,) a Medal, and was thrilled to learn that the School Library was to be named the “JUDITH LEWIS LIBRARY.”

In 1983 Judith was given the task of organising the hugely successful Riverstone Public School Centenary celebrations. As Chairman of the committee she enlisted the help of Margaret Crouch, Rosemary Phillis, Michelle Nichols, Rosemary Hynds and other P & C representatives to ensure its success.

Outside of school, Judith played an active role in the re-formation of the Riverstone & District Historical Society in the mid 1990’s. With the community showing an increasing awareness of local history, the Society was re-formed with Judith as President, a position she still holds today.

In 2000, Judith was a founding member of the committee formed to organise the Riverstone Festival held in May each year. Judith has been the group’s Publicity Officer since its inception.

Throughout her life, Judith has been an active member of St. Pauls church in Elizabeth Street, keeping church records, cleaning, sending cradle roll birthday cards, etc. When she retired in the mid 1990’s she became a scripture teacher, teaching the children in the Infants School Kindergarten and 2nd class. In 1985 she helped produce a book on the 100 years of history of St. Pauls, a big effort in those days, before the advent of computers.

In 1994 she enrolled in the French Class at the Hawkesbury University of The 3rd Age (U3A), when there were only a handful of members and six courses. Today there are now 280 members and there are more than 50 classes to choose from.

In 1995 she became the Secretary and the Class Co-ordinator. She continued on as an active committee member until 2007, serving as the President from 2001 to 2007. For her continuous efforts as a committee member, Judith was rewarded with U3A Life Membership in 2007.

Today, Judith continues her work and interests at the Riverstone Museum and the Historical Society, the Riverstone Festival, the Hawkesbury U3A, her Scripture teaching at the Public school, and has proven herself to be a truly outstanding member of the community of Riverstone.

Judith holding flowers presented to her by a fellow Historical Society member in celebration of her OAM award in 2009. Photo: Rosemary Phillis.

Compiled by Clarrie Neal, March 2008.

* Names changed for privacy reasons.

Alderman Lawson

by Clarrie Neal

E.H.L Lawson arrived in Riverstone with his mother and sister in 1907, and gaining employment at the meat works he immediately became an active member of the Meat Workers Union. In 1923 he was elected as an Alderman with Windsor Council and was a staunch fighter for the communities of both Riverstone and Windsor. His name appeared regularly in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette as he battled the Railways, the Water Board, the Post Master General, the Police Commissioner, both Windsor and Blacktown Councils, seeking better amenities for both communities.

The Gazette, in a front page report on his farewell function, noted the Olympia Theatre was filled with one of the most representative gatherings that had ever assembled in Riverstone. For many years the Lawson family have been numbered amongst Riverstone’s most foremost citizens and most active public workers. Ald. Lawson occupied many public positions in the town, and proved himself a man of extraordinary energy and considerable ability.

This illuminated Address was presented to Alderman E H L Lawson by the community of Riverstone the 4th November 1927.

Alderman E H L LAWSON

Dear Sir.,
Your recent departure, after 20 years of residence, is exceedingly regretted, and we the undersigned, on behalf of the employees of the Riverstone meat works and the citizens of Windsor and Riverstone, desire to express our appreciation of the efficient and faithful manner in which you have discharged the many public duties entrusted to you.

As an official of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, your success of by-gone years in organising the major portion of the membership at Riverstone is recorded as a most praiseworthy achievement.

Your entry into Windsor Council as an Alderman of the municipality for many years, has brought about great advantages to the ratepayers, who, in their recognition, have always elected you by substantial majorities. We would express our admiration for the many public reforms you have secured, which at times have only been won after being confronted with keen long sustained opposition.

To those of our members afflicted by misfortune, they refer with deep gratitude to your activities to lighten their burdens of life, and gladly do we all pay high tributes to one of your many outstanding characteristics – your sterling friendship.

We now ask you to accept the accompanying gift as a small token of the regard in which you are held by those who have been privileged to be associated with you in the social and public life of the district

To your mother and yourself-
We say goodbye, respected friends, with the warmth of that eastern phrase –
“May the peace of Allah be with you, and bless you all your days.”

For, and on behalf the citizens of Riverstone, we are Dear Sir, Faithfully Yours.
R. Schofield, A. Shields, W. Keegan, W. Everingham, F. Parkes , S. Clifford, W. Alcorn, J. Martin, G. Teale, A. Driscoll, A. Keegan, H. Unwin, A. Aminthe.


The death of Mr. Edward Harold Llewellyn Lawson in Parramatta District Hospital on Wednesday, 13th February, 1935, came as a great shock, not only to the whole of the residents of Riverstone and district, but to the many others he had been associated with and to whom he had endeared himself. Although he had resided in Wentworthville the past six years, most of the late Mr Lawson’s activities were connected with Riverstone, where he had a fine record of public service.

Born in Queensland, the deceased, in company with his parents, came to live at Marsden Park when quite a lad. He was educated at Marsden Park Public School, and as a young man joined the staff of the Riverstone Meat Company. This appointment he held for a number of years, but subsequently relinquished to accept a position in the office of the Aust. Meat Industry Employees Union. After serving in various departments he became accountant for the union, which position he held at the time of his death. Altogether he had been connected with the union for 34 years, and was one of the most popular officials at the Trades Hall.

During his residence in Riverstone, Mr Lawson interested himself in every organisation and movement which had as its object, the welfare and development of the town and the district. A man of broad vision with a keen eye for future development, he was one of the first to conceive the possibility of water and electricity being reticulated in the district. In the early stages, many ridiculed the possibilities of these services, but it is noted that the last public function Mr. Lawson attended in Riverstone was the “Back To Riverstone” celebrations — the auspicious occasion of turning on the water and switching on the electricity.

For a number of years, Mr Lawson was an Alderman of Windsor Council, representing Riverstone, and it was during his term of office, the township became severed from the municipality and attached to the Blacktown Shire. A fluent speaker, he did good work for Riverstone and the municipality generally whilst a member of the Council, and was always fearless in the expressions of his views. Mr Lawson was most sympathetic and charitable in connection with the many appeals of the distressed that were submitted to him.

He was a popular member of the G.U.O.O.F lodge, and for many years during his residence in Riverstone was the official correspondent for the Gazette, a service which he rendered with credit and distinction and which was keenly appreciated.

Some six years ago the deceased left Riverstone to take up residence in Wentworthville with his mother. The wonderful devotion which he displayed to his mother was one of the outstanding characteristics of his life, and in this case alone in this regard will indelibly impress his name on the minds of those he came in contact. His admission to Parramatta hospital on the Tuesday of last week was the result of heart trouble, from which he had been suffering for some time, and he passed away peacefully the following night. Mr Lawson was a bachelor and at the time of his death was in his 52nd year.

The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon, a large and representative gathering attending to pay their last respects to a very popular man. A brief service was conducted at the mortuary chapel of W. Metcalfe, Parramatta, after which the cortege left for Rookwood Crematorium.

William John Edwards

Messenger Boy to Church Minister
by Judith Lewis

Researching on the Internet for information on the Riverstone Post Office I came across the following entry “Guide to the Papers of William John Edwards” which are kept in the National Library of Australia.

William John Edwards was born in Riverstone on the 9th of December 1891. His parents were John, who was a butcher, and Ida (nee Drayton). In 1905, at the age of 14, he was employed at Riverstone Post Office, the first year as a messenger boy, then later as Post Master’s assistant. William attended, and later taught, Sunday School, at St. Paul’s Church of England, Riverstone. In 1907 William transferred to a position at Casino Post Office. At Casino he became Superintendent of the Anglican Church’s Sunday School.

Between 1908 and 1910 William resigned from the Postal Service and returned to Sydney where he enrolled at Fort Street Model School to complete his education, with the intention of entering the ministry. In 1913 he studied at Moore Theological College, Newtown. During this time he preached at a number of Sydney churches. From 1914-1916 he completed a BA Degree at the University of Sydney, graduating in April 1916.

In January of that year he had joined the AIF, being given the rank of Corporal in the Administrative Branch. On 29th of April he married Amy Stephenson. William and Amy had five children, three daughters and two sons. In August William resigned from the AIF and in October he was appointed the YMCA Field Representative to the AIF with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant for front line service in France/Belgium with the AIF 5th Division. He embarked in the next troop convoy.

In June 1918, after being injured in a German mustard gas attack, he was repatriated to England for hospitalisation. Here he resumed his YMCA service in an English army training camp at Salisbury. In 1919, whilst still a YMCA/AIF officer, he attended Cambridge University and completed his Teachers’ Certificate and Divinity Testimonium, both of which were awarded in December of that year.

William returned to Sydney and, in March 1920, was discharged from the YMCA, admitted, on 14th March, into the Holy Order of Deacon and, on 21st December, into the Holy Order of Priests, both by the Archbishop of Sydney in the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew. From 1920-22 he served as Curate on the staff of Holy Trinity College, Dulwich Hill, serving at Hurlstone Park. From 1923-26 he was Rector of the Church of Saint Augustine at Bulli.

In 1926 William was appointed a Priest by the Bishop of Goulburn. Also in that year he became Headmaster of Monaro Grammar School which, three years later, was to become Canberra Grammar School, with William, who had overseen its establishment and construction, as Headmaster, a position he held until 1947.

On 15th July, 1932 The Windsor and Richmond Gazette reported on the death of Mrs. Ida Edwards, 62 years, widow of the late John Edwards, and mother of the Reverend W.J. Edwards of Canberra, and Mrs. Tiddeman of Riverstone.

The following are some highlights of William’s life in the ensuing years:-

    • Member of the Council of the Canberra University College (Chairman in 1935);
    • Appointed as a Canon by the Bishop of Goulburn on June 4, 1935;
    • Delegate to the British Commonwealth Relations Conference at Lapstone, NSW in 1938;
    • Delegate to the 9th International Conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations at Hot Springs, Virginia, following which he took a lecture tour of the USA;
    • Appointed as Chief of the UNICEF Mission to Greece, Italy and Malta from 1947-1952;
    • Awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Philosophy Department of the University of Athens in 1948;
    • c1952, had a private audience with Pope Pius XII in Rome;
    • Senior Welfare Supervisor with the Colombo Plan for the Department of the Exterior in Sydney;
    • Appointed by the Archbishop of Sydney as Rector of St. James, Sydney from 1956-62, where he developed its property to provide a permanent income for the parish.

In 1962 William retired to Canberra where his wife died, on 5th December 1963, following a stroke. On 24th September 1967, after a long illness, William died in Bellevue Hill, Sydney, survived by his three daughters and one of his two sons.

In the Australian Dictionary of Biography author George Garnsey stated:

“His face conveyed strength and authority, emphasized by impressive eyebrows, but his gaze was often kindly and compassionate, and betrayed a keen sense of humour. Edward’s Anglicanism was representative, upholding the best of the church’s traditions while combining progressive thought with action for human welfare and dignity. He kindled faith in many, and restored and strengthened it in others. Possessing a clear vision of what was attainable, once his goals are set he gave of himself unstintingly.”

A fitting epitaph for a man who began his working life at age 14 as a messenger boy in the Post Office of his home town of Riverstone.


GARNSEY, George, Edwards, William John (1891-1967, Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol. 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996.
Guide to the Papers of William John Edwards, National Library of Australia, 2005.

Telephone Exchange Recollections

by Judith Lewis

Sue Watson and unknown girl operate the switch.

A number of people who worked at the Riverstone Telephone Exchanges have kindly shared their memories of that time.

Esme Flynn (Platt), Norman Wallace and Ken Magennis all worked at the “old” Exchange when it was in the Post Office at the Railway Station. Esme and Ken also worked at the “new” exchange after it opened in the “new” post office in 1943.

Esme Flynn recalls: … I started there when I was 15 and that was in 1941. I was taught by Mona Richards and, when I learnt the job properly, was employed for weekends only. Mona and her mate left and Nancy Schofield and I took over. I think we started at 7am and worked until 10pm. We were then relieved by Ken Magennis who worked the all-night shift.

It was only a small office and after hours we would answer a knock at the door through a peep- hole. We would take the number the person wanted and they waited on the other side of the post office for their call. It usually took a while for a call as we only had one line to Sydney or elsewhere and we had to share with incoming calls.

I cannot remember when we moved to the new post office. It was a strange day. We had someone from Parliament to open it. Mr. Knox was the Postmaster. Eva Turner was another girl on the switch and I have an idea May Fisher was another, and maybe June Freeman. I stayed at the Riverstone Exchange for about five years and went on to be a telephonist for 25 years until I married and had a family.

Norm Wallace worked at the Exchange for around 12 months in 1940/41. He recalls: I worked on the night shift, seven nights a week, commencing at 10pm and finishing at 6am. There were three ladies who worked the day shift– Dorothy Dalton, Betty Strangemuir and Mona Richards.

I got the job through Dorrie Johnston who lived opposite our place (in Elizabeth Street). She had heard through the assistant stationmaster, Jim Walsh, that there was a job going. During the day I’d work on the bread cart, for my father’s bakery. I didn’t get paid for that job. The Exchange job paid £1 ($2), which I would give to my mother. I would be given 2/6 (25c.) pocket money for the week.

At the Exchange there was a small fold-up bed near the switchboard and I’d switch over to the night alarm and then go to bed. There were no toilets at the Post Office. I had to use the toilets on the Railway Station. I was generally woken, every morning, by Tommy (Freeman?), from the Meatworks ringing to put through an order to Sylvesters’ in Redfern. That order would be out to Riverstone on the train later in the day.

I recall that the Police Station’s number was extension 44 and, when I checked recently in the ’phone book I noticed that their present number ends in 44. (I presume this happened with all the old exchange numbers when Riverstone switched to automatic connections.)

Ken Magennis was a Night Boy at both the Old and New Exchanges. People he remembered working with included Esme Platt, Eva Turner, Dawn Byron, Mona and Jean Richards (Jean married Horace Beazley), Jean Ryan, Nancy Schofield and Hilton Richards.

Shortly after they moved to the New Post Office there was a violent storm, which caused the whole of the building to leak and be flooded. Frank Knox was the Postmaster and Jim Walsh, who boarded with Mrs Matt Johnston, was his assistant.

Ken, as well as being Night Boy, also delivered telegrams, filled inkwells and did other general tasks around the Post Office. He left in May 1945 to go to work in Richmond Post Office but didn’t like it and, when his application to join the railways was accepted, he was happy to leave.

Bob Fell, Real Estate Agent, was someone Ken remembered who would habitually ring at 3am wanting to be connected to Dr. Lapin whose advice was to “take an aspirin”.

Phone numbers Ken recalls were :-

    • Rosenthals’ – no. 4,
    • the Railway Station – no. 18 (present no. 9627 1518),
    • The Meatworks – no. 21,
    • Vic Knight’s Garage – no. 38
    • the Police Station – no. 44 (present no. 9627 1144).

May Fisher, Fred Becke and Monica Wolffe worked at the “new” Exchange, after the Post Office had moved to its present position on the corner of Garfield Road and Pitt Street.

May Fisher (Alcorn) began working at the Riverstone Telephone Exchange as a part-time telephonist when she was aged 15 years and 3 days!

May worked every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 5 to 10pm. At 10pm the “Night Boy”, Bill Floyd, would replace her. If Bill had been to the city and was late getting back May would have to stay until he arrived. If he had missed the last train home from the city she would need to be there all night. This rarely happened, but when it did, May’s mother Annie Alcorn would come to the Exchange to stay with her.

May recalls it was “scary” in the Exchange. She likened it to what she imagined it would be like to be in gaol. There was a small sliding opening in the door and people wanting to make a public call would have to knock on the door for May to open the slot. The person would give May their name and tell her who they wished to call. This was recorded on a small docket. May would then close the slot and ring the required number. When the person had finished their call they would again knock on the door and May would give them their account (probably about 1/- – (10c.) worked out according to the length of time of the call. The bill was then to be paid.. It was an “honesty” system and it was rare for anyone to “scarper” without paying.

May remembers at least three people who had accounts and were not required to pay at the time of the call. They were Charlie Fisher, the local baker, and later to become May’s father-in-law when May married Alec Fisher; “Aunt” Mary Freeman who had a general store where Civic Video is now located and Mr. Martz, a poultry farmer. She recalls Charlie Fisher’s number was 17 and Charlie Murrell, who owned the Olympia Theatre was number 1.

There was one line through to the Sydney Exchange, two lines through to Parramatta and three lines through to Windsor. One of the calls May received each evening was from the Council directing her to turn on the switch which would turn on the town’s street lights. May left her job on the Exchange when she was 17 to take up full-time employment at Anthony Hordern’s City Store.

Fred Becke was a Night Boy at the Riverstone Exchange for about 1½ to 2 years in 1946-47. At that time he was 14 years old and still going to school. He would be on duty from 10pm till 7am. A loud bell was installed that was set to go off if any calls came in whilst Fred was sleeping. At 7am Fred would ride his bike home to Crown Road then ride it back again to the station to catch the train to school at Westmead.

June Freeman (Whelan) was head girl. The other two were Doreen Doolan (Welk) and Zela Crozier who later married Ken Magennis. Charlie Tuckwell and later Cedric Voysey were postmen. Cedric, a very big man, around 6’ 4” (6 feet, four inches, almost 2 metres) tall, was the first postman in Riverstone to do deliveries on a motorbike, a small BSA Bantam. Gerry Sullivan, from Cargo, a small town 40 kms. south-east of Orange, was the telegram boy. He boarded with the O’Kane family in Oxford Street.

Fred also remembers the SP Bookies “laying –off” their big bets. He remembers the Alcorn family, who had a poultry farm in McCulloch Street, as frequent users of the Exchange.

A lasting memory for Fred was the time Mrs Moulds, whose trotting stables were near the Post Office, rang to say she had a prowler and wanted the police. Charlie Crawford was the policeman in those days so Fred called the Police Station and got him for her. Charlie, of course, responded straight-away. He combed the area for her but could find no one. About an hour later Mrs. Moulds rang again, same problem. Fred called Charlie. He was there very quickly again. He wasn’t really happy the second time but still searched the area, to no avail.

Another night Fred had a call from someone who wouldn’t say who they were but said someone was trying to break in to the Commonwealth Bank, which was next door to the Post Office. Fred rang Charlie who once again arrived quickly. Charlie could find no one and no sign of anyone trying to get in. Charlie came over to see Fred and said, “I think someone is having us on”.

Monica Wolffe’s Memories:

This is Monica’s account of her employment by the P.M.G. at Riverstone Telephone Exchange Post Office building.

I started work in 1949 at the age of 16 as a Telephonist on the Manual Exchange, which had two switchboards, Plugs & Keys -each subscriber had a hole into which the plug was inserted when they were making or receiving a call – (P.B.X.).

There were approximately 160 subscribers and the following lines:

    • Sydney & Parramatta – each had one direct line (shared with another exchange on the same line) and one dial line. A dial line would put them in touch with the Sydney Exchange who could then put them through to country or interstate;
    • Windsor had two direct lines (shared) with party lines at Post Offices through Windsor. A party line could go through a number of subscribers and the switchboard operator would have different rings for each subscriber;
    • Rouse Hill – Post Office (Mrs. Cooper) line – as there was no exchange there we would ring to Parramatta for calls to Rouse Hill numbers.

I worked with June Freeman (Whelan), Doreen Doolan (Welke), Dorothy Haywood, Jean Elliott and Heather Mangold. (Heather came from Sydney’s Main Trunk Exchange to fill in for the girls who were taking holidays or other form of leave. She came in late 1952 and did this till 1954-55.)

There were four work shifts:- 7am to 3pm/3pm to 10pm/8am to 4pm/4pm to 9pm, with alternating weeks being night work.

At 10pm the night boy would start and he would work through till the girl rostered on for 7am started. The night boy slept on a fold-up bed. The two night boys at this time were Jim Gallen and Laurie Greenacre. Laurie was the Telegram Boy at the Post Office during the day. Laurie’s mother “Greenie” was the Post Office cleaner.

During the day Jean Ryan read out the number to be called and we wrote the number on dockets. After hours callers would knock on the hatch door. When we rang the number the call would be connected in one of the two ‘phone boxes. Sergeant Crawford did his rounds at about 9pm and he would knock on the hatch door and enquire if all was okay.

Twice a year Sydney Head Office would send a Supervisor, Miss Mallon, to the Riverstone Exchange. She would stay for a week to monitor the way we worked, checking how we answered calls and checking all our dockets and prices. She was very strict.

The characters we encountered made our work always entertaining and never boring. At Christmas time we received calls, cards and gifts. Dr. Carroll sent us chocolates. Ambrose Driscoll, Real Estate Agent and Auctioneer, sent chocolates and a card to each of the girls – June’s would be inscribed “love from Errol Flynn”, Doreen’s “from John Wayne”, Dorothy’s “from Gene Kelly” and Monica’s “from William Holden”. Noeleen Abell (Kelly) who worked at the Exchange at a later date recalls hers being signed “love from Gary Cooper”.

Saturday, Race Days, we were interested and amused by a character lady with the alias of “Harry”. “Harry”, an S.P. Bookie, would ring and ask to be connected to “Harry” at Parramatta (UW9813). The call would be connected. Later a call would be answered from Parramatta. The caller “Harry” would ask to be connected to “Harry” at Rivo. Lots of calls were made in the same manner on Saturday afternoons. (The following extract from a previous Journal article “Two Bob Each Way” sheds some light on the activity of the two “Harrys” – “If Sheck (another Riverstone SP) took a bet for a large amount of money he would “lay it off” with a Sydney bookmaker. The girls at the local telephone exchange knew about this and would always ensure there was a line available for him.”)

These are some of the subscribers and their phone numbers that Monica can recall:-

1 Charlie Murrell – owner of the Olympia Picture Theatre;
2 Connie Moulds – trotting owner, driver, trainer;
3 Williams – Schofields’ Hardware & Produce Store;
4 Rosenthal’s – Riverstone General Storekeeper;
5 Dr. Boag;
9 Royal Hotel, Riverstone (later to become 9627 1009);
10, 13, 23 Rumery families;
12 Riverstone Hardware (Taylor’s Produce);
16 Frank Mason;
18 Riverstone Railway (the present phone no. is 9627 1518);
19 Coulters’ Bike Shop;
21, 84, 85, 86 Riverstone Meatworks;
22 Mr. Len Parry – Riverstone Fire Brigade;
24 Butchers’ Shop;
36 Commercial Bank;
39 NSW Produce – Mr. Bert Lillia;
40 Eileen Hynes;
43 Chemist Williams;
44 Riverstone Police Station (to become 9627 1144);
47 Ambrose Driscoll Real Estate (later to become 9627 1047);
51 Conway’s Newsagency (present phone no. is 9627 1051);
52 Dick Stacey’s Fruit & Vegetables;
53 George Trahanas’ Milk Bar;
57 Horace Bambridge;
101 Commonwealth Bank;
102 Dr Carroll (present. ’phone no. for that surgery is 9627 1102);
103 Gosden & Dunstan’s Sawmill;
157 Bill McNamara.

The Switchboard Operators (“Switchies”) gave wonderful service to the people of Riverstone, from December 1914 to June 1963, a total of 48 years. Their service often extended beyond the call of duty. One of the many examples of this was told to the writer by Moira McHugh whose husband, John, was a serving member of the Royal Australian Navy from 1950 to 1965. They had no ’phone in the late 50s early 60s, and when John was stationed at Garden Island he would make arrangements with the Riverstone “Switchies” and Moira would take her children, and the dog, at a designated time in the evening, to the public ’phone box at the corner of their street and the “Switchies” would put John’s call through to her there.

Taken around 1960 inside the exchange.
Left to right: Anita Cox, Sue Watson, Jan McGiven, June Tobin.
Photo: Sue Orr (nee Watson).

Riverstone farewelled the “Switchies” when, on 1st June 1963, the Exchange was converted to a portable automatic step-by-step exchange. The step-by-step exchange was bulky and needed weekly maintenance. On 27th July 1974 the exchange moved to a new building, in Riverstone Road, and was replaced by a regular L/P cross bar automatic exchange which was smaller and needed less maintenance.

Countrywide, the “Switchies” at the Local Exchanges provided a service which was far greater than the service offered by today’s myriad of Telephone Providers. Gone are the days when a cheery voice would say, “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m putting you through now.” When making a call to a busy number these days you are usually greeted by a recorded voice telling you, “The number you have dialled is busy. You have been placed in a queue and your call will be answered by the next available person.” You then spend a lengthy time listening to recorded music, which is regularly interrupted by, “Thank you for waiting. Your call has progressed in the queue”. When you finally get through you are quite often confronted with another recorded voice giving you instructions about which numbers to press and, more than likely, will end up hanging up the ’phone in frustration! Welcome to the age of advanced technology!

Acknowledgement: This article would not have been possible without the generous input from Fred Becke, May Fisher, Ken Magennis, Esme Platt, Norman Wallace & Monica Wolffe.

Riverstone Post Office & the Telephone Exchange

by Judith Lewis

The first regular train ran between Blacktown and Richmond on 1st December 1864. The original Riverstone Railway Station building was erected in that year.

In April 1870 Mr. A.H McCulloch wrote as follows:
“…I have the honour to call your attention to the fact that letters addressed to Riverstone are sent to Blacktown, and detained until called for remaining there in many instances for weeks. This could be altogether avoided if the station master at Riverstone would allow the letters to be left at the station as was the custom of previous station masters but which the present one declines to comply with. I respectfully urge upon your consideration that to compel the residents of Riverstone to travel to Blacktown – a distance of six or seven miles to get a letter when the train stops at their doors twice a day is a sacrifice of public convenience which will neither merit nor receive your approval.”

His letter apparently had some success as, in the same month, arrangements were made for the Secretary of the Railway Department to instruct the Station Master at Riverstone, Mr. Titterton, to take charge of any letters left in his care. The Station Master was only to take charge of the letters when authorized to do so by the residents. It was made clear that the Station Master would not be appointed Postmaster. It was estimated that there would not be more than a dozen letters a week.

On 13th October 1870 the residents of Riverstone requested the establishment of a post office at Riverstone Railway Station. The Postmaster at Rouse Hill, Mr. S. Nicholls, reported, in November 1870, that there were seldom any letters from Rouse Hill to Riverstone and he believed some four or five houses and some woodcutters huts were situated there. He added that the latter residents were of a “movable class”.

Mr. A. Collins, Postmaster at Blacktown, reported, on 11th November 1870, that he received an average of six letters a day for Riverstone and that, as far as he knew, there were about twenty residents there.

A petition from Riverstone in October 1871 again requested the establishment of a post office. This petition was accompanied by a letter from Mr. Charles Brady of Curl Curl, Manly, who advised that he had become the owner of the Riverstone Estate which he had purchased from Mr. McCulloch.

Mr. A. H. McCulloch made additional representations in October 1876. In them he claimed that in the previous week the following mail was handled at the railway station:-

Letters received – 63
Letters sent – 49
Papers received – 8
Papers sent – 4.

The Postal Inspector, reporting that the place was about six miles from Blacktown and eight miles from Richmond, estimated that, as about 50 people would benefit from the establishment of a post office, he recommended its establishment.

Mr. A.H. McCulloch recommended Mr. Burge, the Station Master, as Postmaster. According to the Telegraph Inspector a telegraph office was not necessary at Riverstone as “the only persons who would be likely to use it are the manager of the Saw Mills at Riverstone and Messrs. Terry, Rouse, Hassell and Broad who live somewhere about three miles away. He added “there is already an alphabetical (telegraph) instrument at Riverstone in connection with Blacktown (railway) and there would be no objection to the railway station master taking messages but the difficulty would be in delivering them as he has no assistant and it is only by chance that he could get anyone about the place to act as messenger”.

When asked if the public would be allowed to use the railway telegraph facilities at Riverstone the Commissioner replied that there would be no objection to transmitting an exceptionally important message to or from Riverstone but it would be imprudent to recognize it as a public telegraph office as it was required for railway work.

On 1st January 1877 the railway Station Master, Mr. C. Burge was put in charge of the Riverstone Post Office. He nominated as his Sureties Samuel Burge, saddler and William C. Burge, draper, both of Parramatta. His postal allowance was £10. His request that, as there was not room in the Station Master’s office to conduct the post office, a small office be erected, was refused. It was pointed out that the only alteration required was a small box for the receipt of letters posted and a hole cut in the weatherboards for the letters to be placed through. Mr. A. H. McCulloch unsuccessfully applied to have the railway telegraph facilities made available for public use.

Mr. Burge’s successor, Mr. Cornelius Rowe, took charge of the office about July 1879 but refused to complete his appointment papers, requesting an increase in the postal allowance. He objected to providing security of £200 for a position with a salary of only £10 a year!

Rowe said “…if salary cannot be arranged to admit of my carrying out those duties (postal) in a fit and proper manner I hereby wish to be relieved of the postal duties at your earliest convenience – as I am often greatly annoyed thereby and am prevented from giving the necessary attention to my duties as station master which I should do”. On 20th September 1879 the Government Railway Department advised that Rowe had been suspended and that Mr. T.J. Foley was acting in the capacity of Postmaster.

By 20th November 1879 Rowe had resumed duty from sick leave and requested that his wife be appointed Postmistress with a salary of £20 a year. This was agreed to and Mrs. Louisa A. Rowe took charge of the post office on 1st December 1879. She gave security through the Victoria Life and General Insurance Company.

The death of Cornelius Rowe was reported in February 1880 when James Rowe, formerly of Cabramatta Platform, became Station Master. Postmistress Mrs Louisa Rowe handed the office to her successor, James Rowe on 23rd February 1880. H. J. Addison took over on 16th July 1880. In October 1884 161 letters were being posted weekly at Riverstone and 48 mails sent and dispatched. The revenue was about £35 per annum. Next in charge was Henry Campion who was appointed on 22nd November 1884.

In February 1885 approval was given for Money Order facilities to be introduced and further representations for a telegraph office were renewed. Storekeeper Mr. A.A. Laws offered to erect two rooms and to let them to the Department for £26 a year. Perhaps this prompted the Department of Railways into action as, on 23rd December 1885 they advised they had given directions for an office to be constructed and that the engineer expected it to be completed in a few days. Just over two weeks later, on 11th January 1886, the Superintendent of Telegraphs reported that a telegraph office, for the transaction of public business, had been established on that day at the Riverstone Railway Station.

Henry (Harry) A. Kirwan, formerly a messenger at Windsor, was appointed operator at Riverstone. His annual salary was £100. Henry Kirwan took charge of the telegraph office on 1st February 1886 and arrangements then were in hand for the amalgamation of the post office and telegraph office as from 1st March 1886.

The Riverstone residents, through local M.P. Mr. A. Bowman, forwarded a petition requesting that the Post Office remain in the charge of the Station Master as, under existing conditions they could collect letters any of the hours the Station Master was on duty. The Secretary of the Post Office ruled that matters should be left in abeyance and be reconsidered in three months time, after telegraph returns had been checked. Messenger Claude Irelands made the telegram deliveries on horseback.

In January 1887 it was decided the Post and Telegraph Offices would be finally amalgamated under the direction of the Telegraph Operator, Mr. Harry Kirwan, who was appointed Postmaster on 15th February 1887. The Post Office was conducted in the former telegraph office.

Harry Kirwan wrote, on 30th March 1887, enquiring as to why his salary was about to be reduced? He had commenced duty as Telegraph Operator on a salary of £100 per annum and had then received an increment of £10, making his annual salary £110. He had now the dual duties of Postmaster and Telegraph Operator and had been advised that his annual salary would be £100. He was duly advised that his annual salary would be at the rate of £110 a year.

When Mr. C. P. Ayling wrote, in April 1889, requesting the erection of a new post and telegraph office it was decided to defer any action until Riverstone had been visited by the District Postal Inspector. At that time the annual revenue from the Post and Telegraph Office was £296 a year. The Inspector’s report, in July 1889, stated:

“I visited Riverstone on 13th. Instant and found extensive alterations being effected at the railway station there, on the early completion of these (within six weeks) it is intended to remove the post and telegraph office from the present temporary position to a permanent brick building of three rooms on the railway platform affording ample accommodation for business and public convenience.”

Harry Kirwan, the Postmaster, was to remain in that position until 1913, a total of 26 years. In the late 1800s he was assisted by Joseph Campion, a Telegraph Probationer, who successfully applied to have his salary of 2/6 (approximately 25 cents) per week increased to the sum of £26 (about $50) per annum. The allowance was increased on the basis of his assistance with the postal work.

In April 1890 Harry Kirwan wrote that there were two rooms attached to the Post Office but one was used as a storeroom and the other leaked every time it rained. There was no private yard and he considered that two more rooms, outhouses and a fenced yard would be required if a residence were to be provided at the Post Office. In lieu of quarters he was allowed £20 a year.

Late in 1908 considerable negotiations took place between the Postal Department and the Railway Department when it was discovered that the Post Office had not paid for the rental of the three rooms at the Railway Station (referred to as the old residence of the Station Master). It was early in 1910 before this matter was settled, the agreement being that rental would be charged from 1st March 1901 at the rate of £26 per annum and the Railway Department would make extensive renovations to the premises.

Riverstone Post Office c1916 when part of the Railway Station precinct.

Whilst a telephone was probably in use at the Railway Station prior to that date, the first record of the installation of a telephone at the post office was about 1914 and a telephone exchange was established on 24th December 1914. The earliest list of subscribers available appeared in the directory for April 1916 as follows:

Riverstone (9am to 6pm)
Cohen, M. M. Merchant, Windsor Rd.
Johnston, Dr. A. G., ‘Glengairn’ Windsor Rd.
Marsden Park Post Office
6 Reid, H. R., Storekeeper Riverstone Parade
3 Reid, H. R., Storekeeper Marsden Park
7 Smith, Mrs. H., Storekeeper Riverstone Parade

A new building, the present Post Office, was completed in 1942 and was officially opened on Saturday, 27th February, 1943 by the Hon. J. B. Chifley, Federal Member for Macquarie and Federal Treasurer. Mr. Harry Kirwan who was Riverstone’s first official Postmaster, serving for 26 years from 1886 to 1913, had the honour of being the first speaker on this occasion.

The following have been Postmasters at Riverstone Post Office from 1913 to 1969.

F.H. Percy  1913-14 C.J.A. Rogan 1950 –52
A.H.B. Fenwick 1914-15  J.W.C. Bourke  1952-53
A. Short 1917  C.R. Graham 1953
J. Neale 1917-21 R. Walsh 1955-58
A.W.J. Lees 1921  W.J. Gerathy 1958-61
T. B. Davis 1921-32 K. Bellman 1961-62
W.V. O’Connor 1932-37 A. Irving 1962-68
G. Ireland 1937 F.L. Callaghan 1968-69
F. Knox 1937-50 F.G. Thomson 1969

Acknowledgement: Information for this article was sourced from information provided by the NSW Historical Section of Australia Post in 1985.