Ch12 Pt2 Cundletown

When I arrived in Wingham, the School of Arts had just been taken over by Council as a public library. There were about five hundred books in it of the “Zane Grey” and “Ruby M. Ayres” type. Twenty-one years later we had a rebuilt and enlarged premises with fourteen thousand volumes of fiction and non-fiction covering every possible aspect, and the majority of these volumes I had chosen myself. Even the rather élitist Library Board had to admit that with our limited resources, we were providing an exceptionally good public service.

With regard to our road plant, we slowly increased it until we owned a large range of the most modern machinery, and by this we increased the scope of our work enormously.  

We established an industrial subdivision near the Sporting Complex as well as purchasing land near the Wingham Cemetery and subdividing it for industrial purposes. In this latter area we sold twenty acres to Angus Nugent and Sons Pty. Ltd. for one dollar to bring their tannery from Sydney to Wingham. We then subdivided the balance of the land and sold the blocks at such prices as to recoup our original expenditure. We made the tannery loans under the decentralisation legislation and the Local Government Act, and today they have a very large and viable business, which employs between fifty and sixty people.

We lent thirty per cent of the cost of establishing a factory to R. L. Child and Son Pty. Ltd., manufacturers of hydraulic hose fittings, to relocate part of their Sydney operation to the industrial area next to the sporting complex. They currently employ thirty-five persons, and if the business prospers, they have sufficient land to enlarge their factory four times over. I was pleased by a remark made by the managing director and reported in the local press that he was particularly grateful to the Town Clerk for all his help. Talk is cheap, we all know, but it was rather nice to have one’s efforts acknowledged just once.

The establishment of these industries in Wingham might seem small beer by city standards. But one should remember that in a small country town two new industries employing the best part of a hundred persons with the promise of more means an enormous boost to local prosperity. Another point is that for each industry we succeeded in getting established, the best part of a dozen might have made inquiries, taken up time, raised expectations, then simply vanished. 

In the early days in Wingham, I was one of the founders and secretary and general organiser of “The Wingham Dramatic Art and Musical Company”. We put on some shows of really professional quality, and I am sure Patricia and Peter remember taking part in “The King and I” and other shows. By this means we also raised enough money to build a home for a refugee family whom we brought to Australia from a camp in post war Europe. With this effort we actually put Wingham on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, which I always thought was no mean feat. The family did not entirely co-operate the way we had hoped, and the thing turned rather sour at a later date, but that was not our fault.

We underwent three amalgamation inquiries in Wingham between 1968 and 1979. We fought them all tooth and nail and won the first two. But we lost the 1979 one, and despite mass demonstrations in Sydney at the Town Hall and outside Parliament House by over two thousand people who had travelled especially from the country to protest against a number of proposals, Wingham ceased to exist as a separate entity as from 1st January, 1981. From that date, the Municipality of Wingham, the close-by Municipality of Taree and the surrounding Shire of Manning (less the Tuncurry and Nabiac areas) became known as The City of Greater Taree.

The former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Taree became the Town Clerk of the City of Greater Taree. The former Shire Clerk of Manning Shire became his Deputy. As the former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Wingham, I became the Administrative Officer of the City of Greater Taree. The title was rather grandiloquent. I had no idea what it really meant. The main thing was that I retained my scale of salary and my continuity of service. In a time of recession and unemployment where it would be difficult for a person of my age to get another job, I was grateful for this. I was nearly fifty-nine years of age and had six years to go before retirement. I had been Town Clerk of Wingham for twenty-one years and three months.

So, in August, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighty one, it is nearly time to bring this account of a small segment of my family history to a close. Irene and I live in a modest three bedroom brick veneer cottage with a double garage underneath. It overlooks the Manning River at Cundletown, just out of Taree on the mid north coast of New South Wales. We moved here twelve years ago, causing quite a stir in Wingham at the time, for the close-knit population did not fancy the idea of their chief administrative Council servant shifting to a rival town. However, now that I am working at the Council offices in Taree, it is very convenient.

Our children are grown up, and I am pleased with all of them. 

Patricia gained her General Nursing Certificate at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. After travelling to Canada, to her grandfather in London, France, North Africa, Spain and a kibbutz in Israel, she returned to Australia. More study resulted in passing her Midwifery training, to become a double certificate registered nurse. Irene and I were very proud of her for this effort, first because it demonstrated her perseverance and dedication, and secondly because always, throughout her life, she would have a profession to return to in case of necessity. Moreover, to be a good nurse is a help to being a good mother. Patricia upgraded her nursing qualifications and subsequently received the degree of Bachelor of Health Science, Nursing at the Catholic University in Sydney. 

Patricia married Raymond in 1975. Ray comes from old pioneers of the Newcastle district on his mother’s side. On his father’s side, he comes from mixed German and apparently Cherokee stock.  His German grandfather had emigrated to Canada and had married a full bloodied Cherokee woman, who was one of Ray’s grandmothers. This lady had travelled a long way from Georgia and North Carolina, the homeland of the Cherokee Indian Nation up to the 1830’s. The Cherokees of that day were highly successful farmers who competed vigorously with the white man in the agricultural area. So the American army under government orders dispossessed them and drove them westwards. Their prosperous farms were then stolen by the white settlers.

The Indian “Removals” were begun by General (later President) Andrew Jackson, also known as “Old Hickory” because of his hardness of character. They were continued under President Van Buren. The Cherokees were forced to vacate their comfortable homes at a moment’s notice. Soldiers then drove them mercilessly on a long winter’s march across the western plains to Oklahoma. During this terrible march when the icy winds began to blow down from Canada one quarter of the Cherokee Nation perished. The brutality of this North American forced exodus was repeated on a larger scale a century later by Hitler’s systematic concentration and murder of the Jews of Europe. I sometimes think that our grandchildren have a double injection of refugee blood. Perhaps with this they may be doubly endowed with the will to survive. 

Peter took up a Teacher’s Scholarship at the University of Newcastle. With the proceeds of this scholarship and by working shifts at the Newcastle works of BHP, he put himself through the University, obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, and became a schoolteacher with the New South Wales Education Department. I should be remiss not to record that my father was in Australia when Peter received his degree and was enormously proud to be present at the ceremony in the Great Hall of the University. So were Irene and I.

Peter married Margaret in 1978. Margaret’s background is interesting. She traces her ancestry to a soldier of the First Fleet, and to convicts and soldiers who arrived very shortly afterwards from England, Scotland and Ireland. So within one generation my family, from being very new Australians, related to nobody, became old Australians related to many. 

When Christopher left school, he struck an unfortunate patch. He had matriculated from High School and might have gone to University, but graduates were finding it difficult to get jobs. Indeed, everybody was finding it difficult to get jobs, and a recession of frightening proportions stalked the land. School leavers were major victims, and once having failed to get work, found themselves even more disadvantaged the following year when more school leavers competed with them for insufficient jobs. Meanwhile Mr Malcolm Fraser, our millionaire Prime Minister of the time, well insulated by his inherited capital, his politician’s high wages, non-taxable allowances, free overseas trips and princely superannuation, was telling everybody that “Life was never meant to be easy”.

So Christopher had to get a job forthwith, and any professional studies he took up would have to be done part time. 

Christopher found a job with the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales at their headquarters in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, where he is working hard and saving his money, the classic formula for financial success. Irene and I have confidence in his intelligence and ability. Christopher studied for and obtained appropriate qualifications in the Insurance business.

My father used to say to me that if a man had good children, he was rich. It was a precept with which I agreed entirely.

By these standards, Irene and I are indeed rich. For we have three fine children who, we know, will bring up good children in their turn. 

The grandchildren are, of course, a wonderful additional bonus. They are our future, our posterity. We hope that they make good marriages as time goes by and have good children in their turn. May they have health and happiness. If they have these they will acquire a sufficiency of wealth to meet their needs.

Ch12 Pt1 Wingham Town Clerk

I had arrived in Kempsey in the latter part of 1956. It was now 1959, and I was thirty-seven years old. I was once more chafing at the bit and dissatisfied with things at the Shire of Macleay.

It annoyed me that I was never allowed to attend Council meetings, was not allowed access to Council minutes, and apart from the general office routine, had very little idea what was going on. The Shire Clerk never sought my advice and never took me into his confidence. As a result, when Councillors asked me questions about aspects of development, I was unable to answer satisfactorily. The Shire Clerk had had a most unfortunate experience with his previous Deputy, and because of this, he had apparently decided to tell nobody anything at all. As a result of this experience, he was subsequently obliged to take three months’ leave, during which time I found that I was quite capable of doing his job once I gained some of the local knowledge previously denied me. When he returned to duty, I decided that it was time for me to move on.

Jobs were now beginning to dry up. For years there had been a shortage of qualified clerks, at least, in the country, the city slickers having apparently been unwilling to leave the fleshpots to migrate. Now, however, coastal jobs began to attract larger numbers of applicants. Jobs were still fairly easily available in the west. But once there, it was almost impossible to get back to the coast. I reasoned that in our lifetime the coast would be the area where most of the development and the action were. Certainly the amenities were there. Anyhow, I felt a great personal need to be near to the sea where I could visit sometimes and recharge my batteries. Thus, my objective must be a job on the coast as Clerk to a Council. So when Wingham Municipal Council advertised, I had little hesitation about putting in for the job. Wingham was eighty miles or so closer to Sydney and Newcastle than Kempsey, and it was only eight miles from Taree, a burgeoning town. Forster and Tuncurry were within easy reach, both excellent seaside resorts. Port Macquarie was not too far away. Wingham was a small town, but it suited. There was a mere ten shillings a week increase in pay, but I should be my own boss and run the business my way for once, as well as dealing directly with a Council of Aldermen.

Adequate educational opportunities were close at hand for the children. If I got stuck in Wingham, they could lead a happy and fulfilled childhood in this area. Moreover, facilities for further tertiary education or professional training were available relatively close at hand in Newcastle. When Irene and I had first come to Australia, I had picked Taree as the town where I would like to be Town or Shire Clerk for all these reasons. Wingham was very close indeed geographically speaking, and if the money was a little less than I might have hoped for, well, there were many worse places in New South Wales.

There were three applicants for the job apart from myself.

Nobody else had applied for the job because it apparently seemed so insignificant. Also, the threat of amalgamation overhung Wingham even in those days, and few people were prepared to take this risk. The incumbent Town Clerk was a Freemason, and he and I recognised each other the moment we met. Despite this, I never did attach much importance to the Masonic link. The days when you had to be either a Catholic or a Freemason to get a good job in the public service were passing, and it seemed to me that the sooner that kind of rubbish was buried, the better. I think that I got the job, in the final analysis, by default. The other candidates were so unacceptable for various reasons, that I was the only one left, in spite of the fact that I was a naturalised Australian and not a natural born one.

So I started work in Wingham. I immediately found that we were grossly understaffed and that I had no chance of getting any extra staff because the finances of the Council were balanced on a knife’s edge. The only plant we had was a tabletop Bedford truck which was of ancient vintage even in 1959, and a farm tractor with a blade on the front which acted as a grader-cum-dozer. Every time the thing struck a rock larger than the size of a football, the wheels spun, and the labourers had to rally round with pick and shovel. All the records were kept by hand. I had one old fellow who looked after the rates, thank goodness, but all the rest of the income and expenditure records, the ledgers, the plant returns, stores and materials, journal calculations and entries, periodic financial statements, annual statements of accounts, trial balances, annual estimates, calculation of appropriate rate levies – in fact every last thing to do with accountancy – were carried out personally and manually by me. In addition, I managed the show, raised loans, attended to all the mail, all the correspondence, organised all the Council meetings and did all the minutes. I worked a seven day week with daily overtime for ten years, and never got paid a penny extra. I calculate that Wingham Council owed me thousands upon thousands of dollars when I left, and my regret was that I never stood up to them and demanded what was rightfully mine. However, at the time, I was in a financial bind, and very worried. The children were at a stage when I did not want their school disturbed. I owed a lot of money and had very little capital. Wingham was a small, inward looking community. Had I stood up for my rights, they would probably have had to pay me. But there was a legal doubt in that the Mayor never authorised the overtime that I was forced to work. Also, our finances were so restricted at that time that every penny had to be watched. By all the rules of the game Wingham should have been amalgamated within a few months of my arrival. But I also had another personal and even selfish feeling deep in my heart. Here was a little community obviously on the point of collapse. I was determined to see that it did not collapse. Maybe this silly little place was my personal testing field and battleground. If I could make Wingham live and prosper I would know deep in my own consciousness that I had contributed a small amount to the development of Australia. Nobody would fully understand it but me. It does not matter a rap what other people think of you. It only matters what you think of yourself. I became determined that come what might, I would set Wingham on its feet so that it would never collapse. At the same time, I would earn sufficient money to ensure my children an undisturbed and secure childhood.

Today, I might take a different attitude. But what actually happened is factual, and backward thoughts are pointless.

When old Normie, who did the rates book and other odd jobs eventually retired, I mechanised the entire accounting process, installed an electronic accounting machine, and transferred the manual ledgers to card systems with automatic postings of the general and works cost ledgers at the same time. I replaced Normie with a female accounting machine operator with a good knowledge of bookkeeping.

Prior to this, I organised the financial and legal aspects of a sewerage scheme for the whole of the municipality, which had previously been on an antediluvian pan service. Subsequently I organised extensions of the sewer, and was in the process of organising with the Public Works Department a further augmentation of the overall sewerage scheme when Wingham was finally amalgamated in 1981. However, this augmentation was in train, and the town was to receive the benefits of it, amalgamations notwithstanding.

When I arrived in Wingham, slightly over a score of houses had been built under a Council housing scheme introduced by the Town Clerk who was my predecessor. When I left, we had financed four hundred new homes under the scheme, and a myriad of extensions and renovations. In addition we had built one small Council subdivision, one large subdivision of over two hundred houses, mostly Council financed, and a further large subdivision half constructed and built on at the time of amalgamation. Here again, the project had reached such a stage that the new Council had no alternative but to continue the work to completion.

I was able to obtain thousands of dollars by way of government grants for unemployment relief, which put kerb and gutter and footpath throughout the Municipality. (The manager of the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank said he always dreaded receiving correspondence from me asking for loan funds. He said that he knew that he would have to advance Council the money, because the picture I painted of Wingham’s plight was so heart rending that it made him cry. I used the same technique on government departments, and it worked amazingly well for about three years until they seemed to wake up to the fact that they were being rather free with their money).

During my time at Wingham, we built a filtrated and chlorinated 33⅓ metre swimming pool and extended it to 50 metres. We also turned our old garbage dump and an adjoining Crown lease into two hundred and seventy acres of sporting complex for football, hockey, cricket, shooting and other sports, and built a huge Sporting Pavilion, again partly with grants. The Sporting Pavilion contained for a long time the only basketball court in the area. It also contained squash courts, showers and dressing rooms, and on the outside a grandstand to seat one thousand people. This grandstand overlooked what came to be recognised as one of the best rugby league football fields in the area.