Alicia Aberley

by Rosemary Phillis & Judith Lewis

Riverstone’s favourite paralympian, Alicia Aberley capped off a wonderful year in 2000 by being named the Blacktown City Council’s sportsperson of the year. Former Riverstone High School student, sixteen year old Alicia contested seven events at the 2000 Paralympic games and won an amazing two silver and two bronze medals in the S14 category in swimming. No stranger to success, Alicia has held the 100m and 200m world record for breaststroke and won medals at state, national and international swimming competitions. On Sunday 3rd December 2000 we had the opportunity to talk with Alicia and ask her what it was like to take part in the Paralympic Games.

What were the real highlights of the games for you?
The opening ceremony and the 200 IM (Individual Medley). The medley was special because I was coming last but finished second. I started out with the two strokes that aren’t my best, the backstroke and the fly and then came home with my two best.

Tell us what you remember about the opening ceremony.
They took us over to the stadium by bus and we joined the line outside. We were at the end of a queue as we were the last group to come in. It started to rain and the others started to put their wet weather stuff on and we said to them, “what are you doing that for, it’s a special night”.

As we were walking in the tunnel I could hear the crowd and the noise was deafening. When we walked through into the stadium I could feel the vibration from my toes all the way up to my head.

Were you one of the ones who took their mobile phone in with you?
No, I left my phone back on the charger, but when I got back, there were 37 calls on waiting! I took my mobile to the closing ceremony and my cousin rang me to ask where I was. I had two balloons and had to wave them so that they could see me.

What was life like in the village?
It was good, it felt like you were free, but you weren’t really, there was a lot of security.

There were different parts to the village, each with a different name. We were in the section known as Red Koala. There were fourteen girls in our house, all swimmers and I shared a room with Amanda Fraser from Queensland.

They had an athletes’ lounge where you could watch TV or videos. We had a television in our house, but it was an old one. The boys had a modern one in their house, so we went up to watch Foxtel and relax. I stayed at the village the whole time, my family wasn’t able to visit but I would see them before I swam each day. 

What was the food like?
It was good, it was all free, including the Macca’s but because I was competing I was eating like a sparrow, a bit of pasta every now and then. It was so hard to keep walking past all that food, I waited until the end of competition then had two big donuts!

Did you mix with competitors from the other countries?
We weren’t supposed to sit with the others at the dining table, but I did any way. They were worried that the others might try and psych us out but it wouldn’t work with me. I wouldn’t sit with anyone who would try to psych me out. I try to be friends with people out of the pool, but in the pool they are the enemy.

What was a typical day?
I’d get up about 6.30. You don’t do training when you are at an event, you just swim in the competition. The finals were at night, so during the day I’d try and sleep, but I couldn’t so I’d watch TV and try and relax.

What was it like competing at the Aquatic Centre?
The first day I was warming up and I could hear the people cheering in the main part and thought to myself, “wow, they’ll be cheering for me soon”.

Does the cheering and all the support help?
Yes, it brings you home, when you hear the crowd roar you think that someone is coming up on you and you try harder.

Did you feel nervous?
I wasn’t nervous, just excited during the games. Once I was in the water I’d feel confident.

Did you expect to win gold?
I’d always aim for gold and initially I was disappointed with bronze in the first race, but (and she said this with a smile) I adapted.

What events did you win your medals in?
I won silver in the 200m IM and the 100m freestyle and bronze in the 50m breaststroke and the 200m freestyle.

What was it like being up on the dais?
Great, when Siobhon got the gold it meant they played Advance Australia Fair and we both sang along. A few of the media said to us “you’ve got good voices”. We told them that they weren’t supposed to hear us as we tried to tone it down.

The medals you have there are larger than they look on television, are they heavy?
Yes, especially when you put them all on.

What did you do with the flowers?
I kept one bunch and it’s mounted in a frame at home. I gave one bunch to Nan, one to a friend whose birthday was on the day I won and the other one to another friend.
You also get a badge saying “Medal Winner” with the flowers, and I’ve kept those.

Did you know that you are one of the few people from the district to compete at the Olympics or Paralympics? John Maxwell competed in the Olympics and Eric Magennis in the Paralympics.
I met Eric before I went to compete in Perth in 1996 which was really good. He gave me some nice advice which was basically if you’ve done a PB (personal best) it is a good result and a medal is a bonus. It would be nice to see him again and to show him my medals.

Were you aware of the support that you had locally? There was a sign up at Marketown with your events and a sign at the Infants School.
Yes, I got a lot of support for the Paralympics from sponsors such as the Elite Fitness at Castle Hill, Riverstone-Schofields RSL, Bowling Club, PAP Printing and the patrons of the Riverstone Hotel and family and friends. A number of the local shops were great, donating things to be raffled to raise money. Southern Cross Flags at Windsor even donated a flagpole and flag to go in our front yard. During the Paralympics the Riverstone Hotel had the big screen TV tuned in to the ABC each night at 5.30. I would really like to say thanks to all of the Riverstone local community for supporting me in the Paralympics.

How did you start with swimming?
I learnt to swim with the Riverstone Dolphins when I was ten and started squad training when I was eleven. Riverstone High School approached me to go to the trials for the multi disability events at the Pacific School Games. I was selected and competed in the competition at Perth when I was twelve. I won eleven gold medals and broke nine national records. Anne Green, the National Co-ordinator for disability swimming suggested that I should join a disability swimming organisation, as she could see I had a big future. I did and started competing in events and was selected to join the Australian Paralympic Preparation Squad.

So what next for you, we understand that you will be going to TAFE to study travel.
That’s right. I’ll also be going overseas next year, I’m not sure to where, it depends who they select and where they want to send us. In 2002 there will be the World Championships in Argentina and the first Commonwealth Games with multi disability events will be held in Manchester. In 2004 the next Paralympic Games will be held in Athens.

Siobhon is your main rival at the moment, how old is she and is she going to continue to compete?
She is seventeen and is going to continue on.

What is your overall memory of the games?
It was like a dream, like I fell asleep, dreamt of the Olympics and then they were over and I woke up.

Did you take part in the Ticker Tape parade in the City?
Yes, it was really good. I didn’t expect there to be as many people as there were. Some of the people rode in cars, but we walked. I was walking along with Siobhon and people kept yelling out her name.
The gold medallists had to go around Australia to parades in other cities, but there were only forty two spots and some of the sponsors went rather than medallists. I’d get phone calls from some of my friends saying they were in such and such and “you should see the motel we’re in”.

What was it like back at high school?
The first day back they had decorated the windows of three of the classrooms facing the assembly line with the words “Congratulations Alicia”.

They had a special assembly for me. Mr Minton had taken photos of my certificates and put them onto a disk with music and put them on an overhead projector in the auditorium, showing my achievements over the years. That was really the best thing.

It was good to be able to show the other students in the school what pupils from the Special Education Class can do, as they sometimes put us down. I used to be down when I was in Primary school, but a coach when I was at Hornsby said to me “you’ve got to be positive Alicia and try and make people happy” and that’s what I do.

After the interview Alicia happily showed everyone her medals and posed for photos. She is one of the nicest people you will meet and a wonderful representative for Australia.

The Vineyard in the 1940s

by Gloria Strachan

The first recollection of any importance was starting school for the first time, I was seven years old. For some reason you started school at that age those days, then it was changed. Mum taught me how to read and also the alphabet, so I was ready to learn. I loved school. By the time I reached the senior classes there were only eight in the class.

We had a large lunch shed for wet and cold windy days. Walking to school on frosty mornings with the frost still on the ground at 9 o’clock seemed to be fun with the frost crunching under our feet.

Events of the times I remember delighting in: Wattle Day the 1st August. Raising the Flag for assembly. Playing all our favourite games – Hopscotch, Oranges and Lemons, skipping, marbles, chasings. Empire Day we had our sports day and picnic.

In the summer we did some classes outside under the gum trees – Nature Study was one and the other was Geography. We also had a large map of Australia marked out on the playground where we learnt all about Australia. Arbour Day we planted trees.

When the war was on there was an Air Raid shelter dug a distance from the school and we practiced running and jumping in on most days.

The next big event was Sunday School in St Andrews Church Hall next to school. After the Church Service is when we had Sunday School. My teacher was a resident of Vineyard, Beryl McLean. Sunday afternoons were special as my dad used to take my brother and me for bushwalks where he taught us all about trees, plants, birds and animals we came across on the day.

When we were a little older in the early teens, there was the fishing at South Creek to look forward to, getting there seemed a marathon of a walk.

When I was very young, some of the relatives would get together and have sing-a-longs outside during summer, one of the relatives played the mouth organ and another the Concertina, (small squeezebox).

Then there were the bush fires, there were many those days, we dreaded the summer because of them. All the residents pitched in and helped the Fire Brigade by protecting each others houses, many were burnt. There was a very bad fire in the early forties, we had hot westerlies and the fire started out at Berkshire Park or further and came straight across Riverstone Meatworks paddocks and across to us surrounding most of the homes in our area. This particular fire was bad and Mum put the two of us under the kitchen table and covered us with wet towels and we were told not to come out, I remember being frightened.

When I was about 14 years old I joined the Vineyard Younger Set run by the older teenagers of the time. This group held dances at the Church Hall, picnics and bus trips to Bobbin Head, the Mountains, Mitchell Park etc. We even had a game of cricket on Sundays in the Vineyard Park. All this didn’t last very long as they all found partners and went their own way.

Another big event in our lives would have been The Rivoli Theatre. It was very popular with everyone not just the Vineyard residents, there was often standing room only.

I also remember hot summer nights with the curlews singing out, they had such a mournful sound.

What I miss, now I no longer live there, is looking out my bedroom window on a Sunday morning at the birds in the garden next to my window. The Wattle birds feeding on the nectar and the Yellow Robins nesting in the pine tree. I miss all the wonderful creatures that live in the bush.

I left Vineyard three times in my lifetime and returned twice, the last time I spent 12 years living in Otago Street. I built a house on five acres which was part of the original land belonging to my great great grandfather and on this land I spent some of my happiest years, it was so peaceful there.

Lyle Rosenthall

Compiled by Clarrie Neal with information from Joan and Les Schilling, and Bob Cox.

The store on the corner of Garfield Road and Railway Terrace was owned and operated by Lyle Rosenthall and his wife Madge from 1923 to 1963. From this date his daughter Joan and her husband Les Schilling took over and they operated the store until it was sold in 1973. This meant the Rosenthall family store had served the community of Riverstone for a period of 50 years.

It was a two storey building with the shop occupying all the ground floor, and the family living on the top floor where Lyle and Madge raised their three daughters Leila, Joan and Lyle.

It was a general store in every sense of the word, at times selling groceries, clothing, shoes, gifts, newspapers, medicines, hardware, Victa mowers, and was also an agency for the payment of rates.

The following article was furnished by Lyle’s daughter Joan and her husband Les Schilling, who now live in Cairns, Queensland.

After finishing his education at Newington College, and the Hawkesbury Agricultural College (now the University of Western Sydney), Lyle Elias Rosenthall decided to go farming in the Bega Valley to please his father who owned a prosperous General Store in Bega.

Lyle’s main interest was in dairying, especially cheese making, to which end he employed a Swiss family named Jauncy to help him. In fact he was the first person in Australia to package cheese.

A couple of bad seasons sent him back to the Hawkesbury, where he remembered while at school, seeing lush pastures suitable for dairying. He found what he was looking for at Freemans Reach, and bought a farm there. Whilst at Freemans Reach, he was among a group of farmers who started the Windsor Milk Factory.

Unfortunately after a few good seasons the Hawkesbury flooded twice in as many years, and as Lyle was married with a wife Madge (nee Jewel) and two young daughters, he decided to look towards retailing.

At this stage of his career, he was offered the chance of a lifetime, to join with three other businessmen who were about to start Woolworths. He turned them down, and bought the general store at Riverstone in partnership with a Mr Stewart Filmer. They bought the store from a Mr Cohen, and started in business in 1923, the store was known as LYLE STEWARTS.

After a few years the partnership was dissolved. Rosenthalls took over the business, and bought out the Filmers who then moved to Goulburn. The business was known as LYLE ROSENTHALLS, and was carried on in the original two storied shop and dwelling owned by Mr Billy East, who also owned the Royal Hotel across the railway line.

The corner position, where the shop now stands, was the Produce Store, managed by Mr McKenna, and an assistant there was a Mr Edwards. Most of the farmers around the district were supplied from this part of the shop. Everything else was to be found in the main part of the shop, including papers etc., groceries, boots and shoes, plus mercery, drapery, and even patent medicines, there being no chemist, paper shop, or shoe shop in Riverstone at that time. There was no bank either, Windsor being the closest.

An assistant from the grocery department went around the district taking orders, and he covered Marsden Park, Schofields, Oakville and Kenthurst. When he returned to the store, the orders were made up.

Most grocery lines came to the store in bulk, and had to be weighed up in brown paper bags as required. This made selling of groceries much more labour intensive than today, where we have most lines packaged ready for immediate sale in the modern supermarkets.

In those days when the orders were made up ready for delivery, a small bag of boiled lollies was included in the order for the children. Not a lot of people had telephones, as can be judged by the number of the shop, which was number 4 Riverstone, much easier to remember than today’s numbers.

In the late 1920s the business had outgrown the old premises and the present building was built by Mr East. Mr Ray Vaughan was the carpenter who built the new building. Later on the building was purchased by Rosenthalls.

A few years after the new building was completed, the original was burnt to the ground. It had been carrying on as a milk bar/restaurant, being run by Mr and Mrs Morgan. Fortunately no one was at home on the night of the fire. It was said that the new shop was only saved by having the railway water tank so handy. There was no laid-on water in Riverstone, everyone relied on tanks. The water came later, as did the electricity.

Lyle Rosenthall was an Alderman, first with Windsor Council and then later with Blacktown Council. He was credited with lobbying for both water and electricity, and there was much celebrating in Riverstone when both these essential items were installed. Among the fun days were ‘Back to Riverstone Week’, and Queen competitions, to name a couple.

Mr Rosenthall was always very active in town affairs, like the Progress Association, Masonic Lodge, and the Parents and Citizens of which he was president for 10 years. He was always willing to lend a hand to any fund raising charities.

In 1963 in consultation with the family, the Rosenthalls decided to hand over the running of the business to their daughter Joan and her husband Les Schilling. Madge had given up her active participation in 1954 owing to ill health. Madge and Lyle went to live permanently in their beach house at North Avalon.

Joan and Les carried on the business much as always, catering for the needs of the changing population, which included many migrants who had settled in the district. Bob Cox, Mrs Kate Pead, Mrs June Johnson, and Mrs Peggy Webster were some of the loyal staff who helped them greatly.

Sadly Lyle did not live long to enjoy his retirement: he passed away in October 1963 after a full and happy life. Madge continued to live at Avalon, visited often by her three daughters, sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren, until March 1973, when her death coincided with the sale of the business at Riverstone, the fiftieth anniversary of its beginning.

Bob Cox recalled his days working for Lyle Rosenthall, prior to becoming a foreman at the Meatworks. He commenced at the store in 1950, working in the grocery section and he replaced Ron Reilly as the delivery man, driving a cut down Buick sedan. The Buick was later replaced with a little dark green Ford Anglia van. The orders were delivered to the surrounding districts and he remembers on hot summer days it being necessary to place the perishables in the ice box (or refrigerator), even if there was nobody at home.

Others who worked in the shop at the time included Millie Crouch, Betty Davis (n.Strachan), Mary Skeers (n.Schofields), Denise Shields (n.Budden). Mrs Rosenthall’s nephew, Jack Arnold also worked in the shop prior to opening his own drapery shop up near the Post Office.

Bob recalled most of the goods were delivered to the shop in bulk, biscuits arrived in 6lb, 8lb and 14lb tins, and then packed into paper bags as required by the customer. Cheese came in bulk and was cut to size by a wire strand used with a guillotine action.

White sugar, brown sugar, castor sugar, rice, barley, and split peas all arrived in 56lb hessian bags. The sugar was then packed into 1lb, 2lb, and 4lb brown paper bags and tied with string that hung down from a ball attached to the ceiling.

The empty hessian sugar bags were much sought after by the local residents who had a multitude of uses for them. Meatworkers would tie a piece of rope or a bike tube to the corners as a shoulder strap, and use the bag to carry their smoko and dinner to work.

Rosenthalls was the stockist for linoleum, a bitumen based material that was the common floor covering of the day. The lino was delivered in a large roll and it was Bobby’s job to cut the lino. As there was no space to cut it inside the shop the cutting was done outside the side door on the footpath. The footpath had to be swept clean before the lino could be rolled out and cut to the required length.

The store was also the agency where residents paid their council rates, water rates and electricity bills, with each account having to be paid on a specified day. On that day two officers from the Council or the Board would arrive and set up their table in the centre of the shop and commence collecting. Often a long queue would form and Bob recalled the queue stretching outside the shop and sometimes up to the milkbar next door.

Lyle loved his fresh fruit and vegies and it was a tradition that every afternoon he would walk up to Dick Stacey’s fruit shop with a little cardboard box under his arm to get his supplies, usually taking his pet blue cocker spaniel for the walk. In the shop as he sampled the grapes or a peach he would often ask for a half a pound of peas or beans, etc. – this prompted Mrs Stacey to refer to Lyle as ‘Arfa’ and it always led to much light hearted banter between the two as he made his purchases.

Bob was working in the store when in an agreement reached with Wally Wood, Rosenthalls took over that shop’s mercery and drapery sections and Wally took over Lyle’s grocery sections. Bob recalled cleaning out the grocery section and finding one drawer filled with unpaid accounts. Many of these accounts were from families who had struggled through the depression or the hard times with the slack seasons at the Meatworks.

When asked what he wanted done with the dockets, Lyle replied “Nothing”. Bob, who always found Lyle to be a caring and compassionate man, believed this proved Lyle’s innate generosity to the community of Riverstone.

Cockroach Alley ~ My Birth Place

by Ernie Byrnes

This was the name that referred to a group of houses near the corner of Market Street and Railway Parade, Riverstone [what is now a car park], I am not sure where the name originated from. There were three buildings on the front row, facing Railway Parade (now Riverstone Parade). Behind the front row of houses there was a lane way, then another row of four dwellings, the front and back rows of dwellings being joined together. On the western end was the Oddfellows Hall, and at the other end of the dwellings was a mixed business shop that was owned by a Mr Vaughan, and later a Mr McCutcheon joined Mr Vaughan and both gentlemen ran the business.

During the 1870s there was a timber saw mill situated near the railway line, close to the present station. It was here that all the timber for the construction of “Cockroach Alley” was milled.

I was born in 1927, in the house on the front row nearest to the Oddfellows Hall. It was common practice in those days for women to have their babies delivered at home. The local Doctor would usually deliver the baby, then it was up to a mid-wife who would visit the mother for the rest of the convalescing time (which normally was not very long due to the amount of work thrust upon the woman).

The houses had a front verandah with wooden lattice, each consisted of four rooms. There was no electricity in the town, lighting was by way of candles or if you were lucky kerosene lamps or lanterns. My parents could not afford to buy ice for the ice chest, when perishable goods ran out Mum would go to the corner shop to get them. If no money was available we would have to go without.

We had an old windup gramophone that we would listen to at night time. A wood fuel stove in one room, the kitchen, was used for cooking and this also provided us with plenty of warmth during the cold winter nights. When the fire was alight, (which was most of the time) Mum would put what was called a ‘Mrs Potts’ iron on the top of the stove to warm up, then she would iron our clothes. This iron was a heavy contraption made of cast iron and the handle had a wooden grip, made to be removed when the iron was on the stove. This was to keep the handle cool, then when the iron was hot enough the handle was slipped into place.

The water for our bath was warmed up on the stove, this was achieved by filling the big kettle, once had to do, and when the water was hot enough it was poured into a large round galvanized iron tub that was placed on the floor. This bath only occurred once a week. To conserve the water the rest of the time we would get a sponge over before going to bed, during the cold winter months the tub was always placed close to the stove.

To wash the clothes, Mum would have to light a fire out in the back yard, over this would be placed an open kerosene tin filled with water and the clothes were boiled in this. The kerosene tins were given away at the corner store. Dad would cut out the top and hammer down any sharp edges then attach a wire handle. When ready, the clothes were then transferred into the large galvanised tub, (same one we bathed in) with fresh water, then the clothes would be hand scrubbed clean on a timber scrubbing board, then placed into fresh water which had a knob of Reckitts blue bag added. The clothes were left to soak for a short time then wrung out by hand then hung out on the clothes
line. This line consisted of stretching a rope between two poles, the branch of a tree with a fork at the end would support the centre of the line, this was called a prop.

In the back yard we had a water well. This was covered with a domed brick structure and had a hole in the top big enough to drop in a bucket attached to a rope to get water. A wooden cover went over the hole in the top. Also there was an old fashioned hand pump on the top, to get this started you had to prime it, to do this it was necessary to pour some water down it and pump like mad to get the water to come out. Sometimes it was quicker to drop down the bucket! This is the only water we had.

This well was situated on the boundary of two houses so that the residents of both could use the well. (As with the Electricity and Water, both of these did not come to Riverstone until 1934.) The houses were separated by a fence which ran from the house to the well, and continued to the back fence, where there were two pan toilets built together, one for each house, with the fence separating each door. The pans were changed once a week, this was done from the back lane, each toilet having a small door at the rear of the building allowing easy access for the person on the night cart . This cart was drawn by a horse. To keep down the smell Mum would pour some ‘Phenyl’ into the pan. No fancy toilet paper for us, Mum would cut any paper available into small
squares, these usually hung on a nail until wanted.

Dad, like the majority of men living in the town, worked at the meat works. At the time he was not on permanent employment. He would go down to what was called the ‘Gate’, this was the entry into the meat works from the road. The foreman of the beef house and other foremen who wanted labour for that day would come down to the gate each morning and select those that they wanted, the rest would have to either go home or go looking for other work elsewhere. Before leaving home each day Dad always said to Mum, “If I’m not home by a certain time send one of the kids down with some lunch”, if this happened Mum would know that he was working for that day. In those days if you did not work with your head down and bum up you were considered not to be a good worker and you got nowhere, as well you would never get picked up, the foremen always seemed to have their favourites.

The road along the front of the houses was dirt, as were all the roads in Riverstone at the time, this road separated the houses from the railway line.

The Oddfellows Hall was a large building, constructed of corrugated iron with a verandah on the front. The building was a favourite place for the residents of Riverstone and surrounding districts, as it was used for a great number of events, mostly meetings, dances and balls. Mum said that it was used to show pictures, no doubt it would have been what they called ‘Silent Movies’. We being so close to the hall would often lay in bed and listen to the music.

Next door to us lived a woman by the name of Beadie Mary, Mum said she was very quiet and a very nice person, she shared the well with us. Next to the shop lived people by the name of Johnston.

Getting back to the corner shop, when Mum went up to pay our bill, usually at the end of the week or when she could, she would be given from the owner a bag of boiled lollies and a bag of broken biscuits to bring home. The corner shop was owned by two gentlemen, Mr Vaughan and Mr McCutcheon. From a photo that I have seen I believe this shop had a gas street light near it. The shop was closed in April 1933. Mum’s mother was living in the house before us. I’m not sure when the terrace houses were built.

As you the reader of this article will be aware, I was too young to remember much about my early days living at “Cockroach Alley”. To obtain this story as accurately as possible, I spoke at length with my mother Linda Byrnes who related most of this story to me. She being then aged 91 (1999). Today it is sad for me to have to say that no evidence remains of any of the buildings I have referred to, to show where “Cockroach Alley” once existed.

A & A Shoe Store

by Claire Pfoeffer

The A & A Shoe Store at Riverstone was set up by Alan Steward (a mate from Army days) and run by my brother Allan Pfoeffer. The two were partners in ownership. The A & A Shoe Store was named after the two Allans.

Allan Pfoeffer was a wood machinist and Alan Steward a carpenter. They served together during World War II in one of the workshop units and served most of their time in Queensland.

After the War my brother finished his apprenticeship with Clyde Engineering and then got a job with Chandler’s Timber Company on the Western Highway in the Westmead / Wentworthville area. He worked there for a while and found that the dust was affecting his asthma and the noise of all the machines was affecting his hearing.

He kept in touch with Alan Steward who talked him into learning the shoe trade and going into business. They looked around for somewhere to set up where there was no opposition. In 1954 they bought land in Riverstone next to the Post Office. Alan Steward’s brother-in-law and sub contractors constructed a building on the site. As partners in ownership both men, being carpenters, did the shop fittings themselves. The shop opened for business on the 5th October 1954.

Alan Steward continued to work with his mother at Parramatta, leaving my brother to run the shop at Riverstone. At first he used to go down to Parramatta when the shoe salesmen came, then eventually when he felt that he knew what he was doing they’d call out to Riverstone.

The shop was divided into two sections and for the first few years they leased one shop to a man who ran a small haberdashery business. After he moved they expanded the shoe shop into both parts of the building.

All the girls employed at the shop were local girls, the last one who worked there was Michelle. The two partners in ownership sold the shop and property and the business finally closed its doors on 20th June 1987 after 33 years of trading as the A & A Shoe Store.

Ray Brookes

by Clarrie Neal

Ray Brookes is an identity of Riverstone who during his life has been a model builder, a master craftsman on the restoration of historic homes, a restorer of vintage cars, a part time writer/photographer, and has been on five expeditions to Antarctica where he spent three years working.

He was born in 1933, one of seven children born to Bill and Lindia Brookes and spent all his childhood days in the family home at 16 Hunter Street Riverstone. He attended Riverstone Public School during the war years, 1939 to 1945 and remembers the air raid trenches being dug and our practice drills. He recalled the headmaster Joe Millerd using his map of the world to explain to the children the progress of the war. Ray used to run home every day to get his lunch and then would run all the way back to school to get there just before the bell rang.

He has vivid memories of the day as a five year old he was sent to neighbour Norm Brown to get some eggs. As he entered the yard he was attacked by their blue cattle dog that was normally kept on a chain anchored to a log. This day the anchor broke free and the dog savaged Ray with bites all over his body and limbs. Ray only escaped by crawling under the barbed wire fence and by hooking the anchor at the end of the chain around the barbed wire and eventually breaking free. Norm had the dog put down later that day.

Ray loved to experiment and one of his favourites was to get the dry ice from Mulford’s school tuckshop and put it in the ink wells, watching the blue coloured bubbles and vapour it produced. These experiments led to his nickname of “professor”, given to him by his mate Charlie Weaver.

He remembers the day he was walking home from Charlie’s place when a Wirraway from the Schofields base crash landed in the meatworks’ paddocks just behind the Egg Pulp, the pilot surviving. He also recalled the day (28 April 1939) the Avro Anson crashed at Eastern Creek near Grange Avenue killing all four crew.

Sometimes Ray would clean out the picture theatre for Charles Murrell. He remembered the day when Charles was locking up and he dropped the key between the step and the wall and it finished up under the floor. Charles had Ray crawl under the floor up to the step to retrieve the key and kept asking Ray had he found it. Although Ray had found it he said no, because also under that step were a lot of coins that other patrons had lost and Ray was busy filling his pockets first.

Ray remembers the first day Lettie Williams attended Riverstone School and she was placed at the same desk with him. He recalled telling his mother that a new sun-tanned girl from Broken Hill had started at school. Lettie recalled going home and telling her mother that she was sitting alongside a nice quiet blue eyed boy but he did not smile. Perhaps it was because he had a few teeth missing at the front.

Little did they realise that in 1955 they would eventually marry and raise their four daughters in Riverstone. Ray recalled that their wedding reception was held in the Masonic Hall, now the museum. Lettie recalled the first day she arrived in Riverstone, the Vineyard bush was on fire and with the smoke and flames she thought she was in hell. She was also amazed to find that none of the boys wore shoes to school. Ray’s secondary schooling was two years at Richmond Rural School, he left when he was aged 15 and did not attempt the Intermediate Certificate. 

As a young lad Ray often used to go rabbit trapping and camping with Charlie Weaver, Neville Stockwell and myself (Clarrie Neal). After loading up our pushbikes with the gear we would ride out to Rouse Hill and camp in the bush near Wally Brown’s place. Ray decided there was too much gear for the pushbike so he used to walk out to Rouse Hill pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with traps etc.

His first job was in the tin-shop at the meat works where he worked for 12 months. After being refused an apprenticeship in carpentry he left and commenced work as an Indentured Apprentice Carpenter with local builder Harold Boulton. Although he was an apprentice carpenter he was required to lay bricks, apply cement render, plumbing etc.

He attended Granville Technical College and in 1953 won their top apprentice award. In 1954 he was called up to do his Army National Service Training with school mate Norm Jennings, which was followed by two years part time service in the CMF. While in the Army, Ray was a member of the guard of honour at Government House when Queen Elizabeth was in Australia in 1954

He completed his apprenticeship in 1955 and got a job with local developer Bill McNamara, working on big projects such as shopping centres, Richmond aerodrome, Government Institutions, churches, etc. Ray commenced work with the Department of Public Works in 1980 working on the restoration of historic buildings. Initially he worked as a member of a team but in later years much of this specialist work he did alone.

It was in 1980 that he first linked up with Rouse Hill House but for the last four years prior to his retirement in 1993 he was employed there by the Historic Houses Trust. He performed all types of restoration work and he often had to study a lot on the materials being used and the methods of preservation. Some of the work he did at Rouse Hill House included:

  • the summer house was on the verge of collapsing and had to be pulled down and restored.
  • the slaughter house had toppled over and had to be stood up and the roof replaced.
  • the stables had to have flooring and roof replaced, doors renewed, and stable divisions restored.

Ray said it was quite an experience working on the stables because at lunch time a large blue tongue lizard would often appear from under the floor for a hand-out. The hand-out was usually an egg that Ray collected from the fowl shed. On hot days a large red-bellied black snake would also appear, though he was not fed.

At the Rouse Hill House opening day ceremony held in April 1999, Ray Brookes was publicly thanked by the President of the Historic Houses Trust and by Bob Carr, the Premier of NSW, for his efforts with the restoration of this property.

It was in 1971 that Ray first made out an application to work as a carpenter in Antarctica. He thought not having his Intermediate Certificate would hinder his chances but hoped that the Indentured Apprentice and his Trades Certificates would overcome this problem. He was also very aware that most other applicants would have their University Degrees.

He was interviewed in September and at this interview he realised this was going to be something special when he offered his credentials to the committee and they said “we already have all that information”. Ray was amazed to find that they even had his records from Riverstone Public School.

A week later he received a letter advising he was on a short list and that he was required to undergo a series of tests and courses in relation to his health and physical fitness. He also had to do an Intensive Psychological Test of five hours alone in a room with no windows.

He was successful and advised that after initial training courses he would commence work with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) at the Davis base at the end of 1971.

The initial training courses included an explosives course at Bendigo, a survival course at Falls Creek, an intensive First Aid course, along with medical procedures required during emergencies.

Ray made five trips to Antarctica with ANARE –

  1. In late 1971 to early 1973 at Davis (wintered over).
  2. In late 1973 to early 1975 at Davis (wintered over).
  3. In 1976 at Macquarie Island where he worked on the powerhouse during the summer.
  4. & 5. Were made in the summer of 1977 -78 along with the French Expedition to Commonwealth Bay where he worked on the historical Mawson’s Hut.

It was on his first trip working at Davis in 1972 that Ray had two interesting experiences. The first one was with a model glider, with a six ft wingspan, that he built from oregon off cuts and made the casing from surgical paper tissues, about the same thickness as toilet paper. There was much discussion at the base as to whether it would fly or not, and many were prepared to gamble their week’s rations of beer on the result. It had to fly for one minute.

The big day was 3 June 1972. The glider was raised on a string, just as one would fly a kite, to a height of 150 feet and released. At its first attempt it flew for 2 minutes 10 seconds. Ray collected on all the bets but being a good teetotaller he returned the beer rations to some much wiser punters later that evening. The glider’s best effort that summer was to fly for more than four minutes and travel over 1000 metres. The editor of their newsletter later wrote “Ray is a real craftsman, whatever he does, he does it well”.

The second event is about a large Husky dog, known as Cactus, that sometimes Ray would take for a walk, and, at other times Cactus, would take Ray for a walk. An item in the Davis Newsletter for April 1972 read: “The month started on a sad note, our dog Cactus disappeared from the station and never returned, but we are ever hopeful.”

The July Newsletter read “The appearance of the sun on the 8th July was much appreciated by all. Better than this was the interception of our deaf Husky dog ‘Cactus’ who had been missing for 60 days. Des called out “Ray, quick look”. Quote Ray “a bloody dog——-Cactus”. He was retrieved soon after, carried home by our dog lovers and cleaned up. While missing, constant attention had been given to searching for Cactus by all. Traces of the dog’s survival had been noted about three miles southwest where old decrepit seal carcases, which had been there for years, were chewed up
into an assortment of little pieces.”

This poem was written by Ray and appeared in the Davis Newsletter for 1972.


Young Husky dog from Davis here,
He’s been with us just over a year,
Come from Mawson, he wasn’t sold,
So brave and strong, deaf I’m told.

He wasn’t bad to handle when he was just a pup,
But now this Husky dogs’ so big he tangles me all up,
I tried to get him off the chain,
With wind so short I felt the strain.

The chains undone with no remorse,
The dog was swift, I felt the force,
On ice and snow I plundered forth,
Southeast by East, I ended North.

Oh God this dog’s a giant, he dragged me down the hill,
With battered skin and swollen hands, he made me feel quite ill,
My strides were long, this dog’s so strong he sent me almost soaring,
My trousers split, I yelled “Shit”, so now I am a’roaring.

Gillespie stood with hands on side, with grin from ear to ear,
This bloke Brookes is sure underpaid for work he’s done this year,
I’ll send a note to the Director, to see what can be done,
On second thoughts I’d better not, they might just send a gun.

Ray Brookes

Ray recalled this incident at Davis. A decision was made to build huts out on the ice fields, to allow better access for the research workers to their sites. Ray built the first of these huts at Long Fjord, some 15 km out from Davis, and it has been named appropriately enough “Brookes’ Hut”.

Ray modified a jeep that was used to tow the materials on a sled from the base to the site, and as a safety measure attached 8 metre beams of oregon under the chassis. He also cut an escape hatch in the roof just in case the jeep did go through the ice. The jeep was a success and was able to get all the materials to the site, this allowing Ray to ride his skidoo out to the site each day.

One day when Ray and his partner were building the hut they received an urgent message to return to base immediately as the ice was melting. They made good time on their skidoos until a kilometre from the base where they paused and saw just how serious the situation was. They had no choice other than to make a run for it across the ice. They checked their skidoos then gunned them flat out across the ice cheered on by their mates on shore waving and shouting encouragement. Ray said they were lucky as they knew the field ice was breaking up behind them. It was a happy and relieved
group of expeditioners at the base that evening.

It was on these trips that Ray has been able to write articles on some of his experiences and take excellent photos that have appeared in magazines and books. The articles on Brookes Hut and Mawson’s Hut have featured in detail in Tim Bowden’s book on Antarctica “The Silence is Calling”.

Mawson’s Hut.

This hut was built in 1912 at Commonwealth Bay by Mawson and his Australian Antarctica Expedition. Since the 1970s there has been much debate as to whether the hut should be restored and left on site or dismantled and returned to Australia and re-erected as a museum.

Ray was one of four members of a group that were chosen by ANARE to visit the hut and report on the options available. He was required to build a hut where the team was to stay while doing their assessment and restoration work. He named the hut “Granholm Hut” after the Captain of the supply ship Thala Dan and a plaque was carved with the name and year 1978 on it.

They arrived in January 1978 to find the hatch on the roof of the hut had long disappeared and that some of the rooms had become solid blocks of ice. The wind had eroded the outer surfaces of timber and left the nails exposed, and that particles of snow had penetrated the tongue and groove boards and left gaps.

Much of the larger equipment was missing, however there were many items remaining on the shelves. As they cleared the ice out of the rooms they were surprised to find some of the rooms had little ice in them.

Ray said whenever the weather permitted he was up on the roof trying to restore it in the best possible manner. Ray believed the best option to preserve the hut was to support a false timber roof over the existing structure. Ray would have liked to return and finish the job but this was not to be.

Ray has always spent a lot of his spare time with his other two loves, model making and restoring vintage cars. He has built numerous model planes and also built, from scrap timber, a canoe that can be converted to a trimaran with a sail. Over the years he has had four vintage cars, including a vintage racing car that he built/restored and competed in Hill Climbs and Rallies at Amaroo Park.

He has had two Vauxhalls, one being a Luton Vauxhall that was totally restored, the fourth car was a baby Austin 7.

Ray has always been a firm believer in physical fitness and when possible still rides his bike 40 kilometres every morning. In the 1980s he joined the Blacktown Cycle Club for veteran riders and participated in their races. However injuries sustained in a bad race fall one day ended his racing days. The bike he currently rides now has 54,000 km on the speedo.

Ray Brookes and assistant, Mawson’s Hut, 1978.
Photo: Courtesy of Ray Brookes.

Compiled by Clarrie Neal from an interview with Ray Brookes in January 2000.