Wisemans Ferry - Bon and Noel Lennon
Interviewees: Noel Lennon, born 1936
and Bon Lennon, born 1941
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 16 June 2007
Transcription: Glenys Murray, July 2007
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Now you two met at the Gas Company, where did you live when you first got married?
Noel moved into our place and boarded with my parents when I first met him. He was living in a boarding house at Mortlake. Then we started water skiing. We started going out in a little boat and then Noel got interested in water skiing. We went water skiing out at Windsor and then we sort of looked around for a property of our own. We used to ski from down the park here at Wisemans Ferry for several years. So we looked around for some land of our own and ended up at Lower Portland where we lived in a house up there and started our own caravan park off and ski gardens. We didn't do much skiing because we had an orchard there so we were doing full time work in Sydney,and doing the orchard as well. Plus looking after the park of the weekend and mowing lawns and cleaning toilets and all the good things. So that's where we first lived at Lower Portland.
So what appealed to you about this particular area?
Well when we first came here, like Bon said, we had water skied down on what we called "The Point". Opposite where the MacDonald River comes in. We got pretty good as water skiers, we entered competitions skiing barefoot and boat racing. It was a little town, the little town had a butcher's shop on the other side of the river. There was a bakehouse on this side of the river down near where the bowling club is now. The bowling club was over in the caravan park opposite where it is now and you had to walk up two long flights of stairs to get to it and it was just one room with a little bar set up.
The people were all terribly friendly and made you welcome. We never felt we were outsiders. There was a big general store which fascinated me being a city girl. It sold everything from a ship's anchor down to a pin. But the big blocks of cheese that they used to cut with a knife and things like that. I just loved going up there and looking round all the things. We bought our supplies there, didn't we?
Solomon Wiseman's home, Cobham Hall, now Wisemans Ferry Hotel
But they were a lovely lot of people, it was a lovely little country town with everything. The old pub, we used to go up there sometimes of a Saturday night with the boys that water skied and you'd be talking to locals. I'm a stickybeak and I want to know what goes on around the area so I would ask a lot of the older people what went on and who did what and who went where. We learnt a lot about the area, about the grocers going up the river to St Albans in the boats and how they picked up the watermelons on the way back and all that kind of thing. Which is really interesting when you've lived in the city and you haven't sort of seen that. I mean we had the baker on the horse and cart when we were kids in Sydney but nothing like they had down here. We've always felt comfortable down here, haven't we?
Yeah people who lived eight, ten, twelve kilometres away you still called them neighbours and that's the way they acted. When we were living at Lower Portland just prior to coming down here originally. We used to get two mail deliveries a week. The mailman would bring meat, bread, butter whatever you wanted, drop off and pick up the mail and take back. He was a real country mailman used to come through and keep you supplied. The road from here to Lower Portland, River Road, that we're on now was a two wheeled dirt track when we first came down here.
Gail Yvonne (Bon Lennon), Fred and Mary Bachell on the Wisemans Ferry race track 1956
What year was that when you came here to Wisemans Ferry? Seventies wasn't it?
Yeah it would have to be. It was early seventies.
So can you describe what Wisemans Ferry consisted of at that time? What was here?
There was a racetrack down where the golf course is, but not a flash race track just a race track. As you're coming up the hill there was an old house on the left hand side owned by a lady called Jenny Musson(?) and Jenny used to sell milk out of her place. There was another old house that ended up being where the bowling club is now. Nothing else until the pub.
Yeah, the church was where it is now. Earlier years it was on the other side of the road.
Yeah, the police station was there.
On this side of the road was a couple of old houses as you're going along River Road there was a couple of old houses. Then the school, the school house burnt down.
There was a hall where the school is now, where part of the school is and they used to hold movies and dances in there on a pretty regular basis.
That's where between the residence and the school that was in there. The administration building is now on part of that land. The school has been in Wisemans Ferry since 1867, 1865. Then the newer building was built back in the 1940's and then since then we've had additions. Then next to the school was a vacant block of land, then there was the old doctor's surgery. The people of Wisemans Ferry wanted a doctor so they got together and raised money from all these theatre nights and things like that and I think he came over from England or overseas somewhere they brought him out. Then they built the doctor's surgery and that was a prefab building that came from overseas. But they actually did that with the people that owned that land. It still belongs to the people of Wisemans Ferry. Next to that was another old house.
The service station.
Yeah the service station was in there and the house was owned by the Whittakers who owned the general store. The service station was an old one.
Wisemans Ferry school residence 1983 was destroyed by fire a few years later
Who ran the post office?
Mrs Andrews and she only retired not that long ago. Maybe ten fifteen years ago. Her husband actually was the postmaster and she was the telephonist. The lady in charge of the phone. Then when he died she took over the post office. I worked there for a few years when we first moved here. It was run from the front of her house.
The old post office was a manual switchboard and there was another one at St Albans, one at Gunderman.
One down at the bottom of Singleton Road, Lower Hawkesbury.
Lower Hawkesbury, down there. It was good in a lot of ways you could ring up and say "put me onto Johnny Watkins" and Helen would be on the phone and she'd say "oh he's gone out for the night, he's over at so and so's place across the river I'll put you through". They knew where everybody was ninety percent of the time. If you were going out somewhere you'd ring up and say "oh look we're going up to town and won't be home until about midnight". She'd hold your calls and tell people to ring back after you got home. It was a real close knit community. We both belong to the bushfire brigade, both at Lower Portland. When we came down here a guy that worked for Prospect Council and lived just near the post office there. He was the fire captain at the time and he wanted out of the job and I got the job because I'd been captain at Lower Portland they put me in down here. Singleton Road, the bitumen goes down here way down. Those days it was a dirt track there wouldn't be more than twelve houses in the fifteen, twenty kilometres it goes down there.
Kiah, first home of Noel and Bon Lennon at Lower Portland 1972
Sounds like Wisemans Ferry was a pretty isolated place was it? Did it feel a bit isolated because you're far from the actual city?
A lot of weekend people in those days with old vehicles, a fifty mile trip was a days run there and back. The roads were bad and you'd get a lot of people come down for the day. They'd come down maybe stay at Wisemans Ferry, maybe go up to St Albans but it was mainly around Wisemans Ferry that the people came.
But the people that lived down here. That was something that I found interesting, they didn't go very far by horse. So people that we met at Lower Portland were relatives of the people at Wisemans Ferry or they married. So you would be talking to somebody here and "oh yeah that's my sister". On our property at Lower Portland they were the Herps's that owned it originally our place here was owned by the Hearne's. Now the Hearnes here also have family up at Lower Portland. This whole area was owned by Hearnes. Then you have another family like the Watkins and then you had the Jurds and they all traveled as far as their horses would take them kind of thing and that's where they met their partners. That was really interesting knowing that you were talking so far away to people. I guess that happened in a lot of country towns. The Blundells, Mrs Blundell lived over the road here when she was a child and I can't remember what her name was but her husband was from Lower Portland. I got talking to her at tennis one day "oh I used to live next door to where you are" and that was as a child. Things like that I found really interesting. I guess they were isolated to a certain extent because a lot of things were done by boat too .Weren't they?
Prior to us coming here it was a real country town, horse and wagon, to go from here to Windsor was a days trip another day to come back. So they kind of mingled a lot and being a small country town that's exactly what it was. People were friendly. They were always out to help you, no matter what or when. Flood time everybody helped everybody else. It was actually a lot different to what it is today.
When we bought this place Noel was working at the bowling club and a fellow that lived a couple of doors down, Noel was saying he was looking for somewhere to move to, because we were going to sell our property at Lower Portland. Noel's brother wanted to get out. He said "oh my Dads got a bit of land". Now that was here and it had never changed hands from the original grant. So Noel came round and talked to the old chap Fred Hearn, gentleman, and we didn't have the cash at the time. We had our property on the market, he shook Noel's hand and said "it's a deal mate, that's it, it's yours, when you get the money you can pay us". Now there was a young man down at the caravan park who wanted this land he harassed old Mr Hearn by phone calls and always on his doorstep and he wanted it badly.
Offered him a lot.
Offered him a lot more money and Fred said "no, no, I shook my hand and that's a gentleman's agreement" and would not go back on it. Noel said to him " rather than have you being harassed we'd sell our little panel van". We had a little Escort car. He said "we'll sell that and we'll give you the money for that until we get the rest of the money". That was something that is pretty unusual to see. An old gentleman, a gentleman's agreement and he would not go back on it, no way. So that's how we ended up moving here wasn't it?
River Road Wisemans Ferry with Hearne family orchard 1980
How many families would you say were living in Wisemans Ferry at that time when you moved in, about?
Wisemans Ferry is really quite a large area. It goes up nearly to Lower Portland. It goes down the river as far as Gunderman even people at Gunderman really talk that they live in Wisemans Ferry. I suppose there'd be about three hundred permanent residents around the area.
I wouldn't know, just when I worked in the post office I'd say yeah.
What sort of entertainment did the people of Wisemans Ferry have? Was there a social life?
I was going to say that the social life nearly killed us.
Yeah that was a standing joke between Bon and myself moving from the city with a big social life coming down to a little town that she thought had no social life. But it proved her completely wrong because there was always somebody or something that needed help. Somewhere to go.
There was the bowling club and the pub was the typical country pub. Raising money for the fire brigade we had functions. I remember we had a huge big gambling night one night that the local policeman run for the fire brigade, didn't we?
We had rat races. They had these mice and they put this thing down and they had the mice all lined up with a cover over the top. They took bets on it. The people came from all over, it was packed, in this big shed down at Wisemans. These rats raced and they made a lot on that. Then we had a big Hangi because one of the policeman's friends was a Maori so he put the Hangi on. Funny thing when the thing was finished you got stuck with these mice didn't you? You were going to let them loose and they ate each other, I was horrified.
It was such a close knit community and I think the function that Bon was talking about then was to raise money for the Lion's Club.
Oh it was for the fire trucks, for the CB radios.
In those days we had to pay half of any vehicles we had as a fire truck. Although the vehicles always belonged to Baulkham Hills Council we had to raise half the money. They'd get the vehicle and fit it out and supply it. We went from an old Land Rover with a water tank in the back of it and a two wheel trailer behind it with a water tank on it to a real four wheel drive truck. We used to be able to carry enough water that you could fight a fire for half an hour without running out.
We put on a great big function in Wisemans Ferry to raise money for the sport's club which was a new foundation. The first project was to build the tennis courts and a cricket pitch. So we put on a pantomime. We hired a big marquee, we learnt all our lines over a number of months and then we put the show on. We advertised it for two nights, a Saturday and a Sunday night and they wanted us to go on for another week. The first people arrived with full intentions of having a good time and laughing at us. The show was so good that they wanted us to continue. Those that didn't come the first night came the second night and there was standing room only.
It was Cinderella.
Yeah Cinderella, it was a fun turn out. We always did things like that to raise money for different things in the area.
We had fire cracker nights and bonfire nights and that. We used to have a New Year's Eve Party and everyone would be invited and they come along and be dressed up and the kids would get prizes. It's a very old fashioned style of thing, it was lovely.
Did you get involved with any of the other community activities?
Yeah well fire brigade, we fell into that when we first arrived. The local sergeant at the time he decided we'd have a Lions Club in Wisemans Ferry and our first meeting we had forty eight members which was really unbelievable for the size of the district.
We had a black tie dinner down at the hotel.
They arrived, the kids the younger ones that came hired cars to pick them up from just a couple of kilometres away to drive them there in these limousines. It became such a big function, but it was wonderful, wasn't it?
Yeah then of course the P&C nearly everyone belonged to the P&C. Chamber of Commerce you belonged to one, you belonged to the lot. It was just a matter of changing hats.
Noel Lennon barefoot skiing on Hawkesbury River with Webbs Creek Ferry in background 1968.
What was your function at the bowling club, Noel?
It started off when we were water skiing off the point, when it was a caravan park. The bowling club was over there in the caravan park, like I said earlier. The Watkins and the Laughtons were the mainstay of the bowling club and quite often they'd want to go out to a competition as visitors to another club. It was all voluntary work in those days and they used to come down and drag me out to look after the club while they were away. So I worked as a barman there, free of charge of course. Then later on when they moved over the road, they bought this old house and converted it into a club house and put the bowling green over there. They asked me if I'd like a job. Well I was getting pretty sick of travelling from Lower Portland into the city every day. To and from work, Bon was going in there too. I jumped at the opportunity and I became a paid, well there was only me working there. So you looked after the poker machines, you looked after the cold room, you served beer over the counter.
Now what sort of produce was grown here at Wisemans Ferry in those early days?
Mainly citrus, stone fruit, there was watermelons, pumpkins. In the early days before we came here river boats used to come up here and pick the produce up, from up as far as Windsor. Take right down out to sea and back into Sydney Harbour. But that had all finished of course before we came here. It was a rural area and it was market gardens and citrus mainly.
Statue of Solomon Wiseman
Do you know something about the history of Wisemans Ferry, who was Wiseman for instance?
Old Solomon Wiseman was a convict but he'd been given his leave and he built the hotel down there. It was called Cobham Hall and the story goes that his second wife supposedly committed suicide. She did die and the blood is supposed to show up on the side steps at certain times of the year. He was also an overseer of the convicts and apparently a very vicious, horrible man. He was the one that put the original ferry across.
It was more or less just a platform with a rope and they'd ride on it on their horses and hand pull it across the river and let them off on the other side. It was pretty primitive.
There's a statue down outside the little shopping centre that was put in there. I have to be honest I didn't want anything to do with him because I thought he must have been a horrible vicious man to have done all these terrible things to the poor convicts. But our road was built by the convicts and they're not allowed to change that road. When you go home you'll see the sandstone and up on top of the hill was where the stockade was. Also on top of the hill is water holes where the horses used to fill when they got to the top going home. I think that was him from what I understand he was the overseer and stood there with the whip and gave them a pretty hard time.
On the mountain going out of Wisemans Ferry towards Sydney a quarter of a kilometre up the hill, there's a set of steps that go off the road to the right. If you walk along up there there's a big cave. Courthouse rock it was called apparently they held kangaroo court up there. On the other side of the river on the beginning of the MacDonald on the northern side is the old Great Northern Road. Now days they've got it chained off but you can walk up there. Trail bikes and four wheel drives were getting up there and doing too much damage. But they've built culverts up there out of sandstone and the cuttings. Everything was done by hand by the convicts and its still standing as good today as it was when it was first built. Now days they have plaques up there telling you what to look for and who did it. Each of the convict stonemasons had their own mark that they put on the stones. They're not put together with concrete or anything, they're just laid together and it's a work of art.
There's some down also at the Wisemans Ferry in the Baulkham Hills park there. There's plaques and things like that about the track.
There's a big rock up there with a hole through it and it was called Hangman's Rock. Apparently there was tree with an overhanging limb and they used to tie the rope around their neck and drop them through the hole. How true this was we don't really know but it's a good story.
Convict Trail plaque at Hawkins Lookout
Was there a local progress association when you came here?
I think there was before we came and then they started another one up about ten years after we came here but it was a bit of a kangaroo thing. They were trying to get one of the families out so I pulled out. I didn't want to get involved in nasty politics.
By the time that was going on a lot of newcomers had moved into the area.
And wanted to change the area.
And wanted to change things. I've got nothing against newcomers except the fact that they want to change things as soon as they get here. They think "oh what a beautiful place to live" and as soon as they get settled "oh we don't like this, we don't like that". Like people who bought a property down Singleton Road and there's been water skiing on this river since the year dot virtually. Gelignite Jack Murray and Bill McLoughlin and Greville Torrens.
Who lived down here.
They all used to water ski among other things. Gelignite Jack decided he'd be the first one to ski the full length of the river. He got hold of somebody with a float plane, a little sea plane and that towed him on skis all along the river. That was the first time the river had ever been skied the full length. But getting back to new comers in the area. The guy down there bought the property and the first thing he complained about was the noise of the speed boats at the weekend. So you've got to take it with a pinch of salt.
Hawkesbury River from Hawkins Lookout
What about religion was there a church in Wisemans Ferry?
It's still going strong.
It was always run as a....
It is an Anglican church under the Windsor churches but then it sort of dropped off and nobody was going. Up at St Albans is a crowd called Word of Life and they're a Christian organisation and they started coming down here. I belonged to the church at the time and so did my friend Grev Torrens(?) wife and we used to run it as the Bible church and they would send down a pastor. It grew and it was a lovely little church, we used to teach Sunday School and when we built it back up again the Anglicans were interested. At one stage they wanted to sell it and Judy and I said we'd lay in front of the trucks if they tried to sell it. It was not the Anglicans that wanted to sell it, just a few other people.
All religions went to it.
Yeah and so they've taken it back over and it's doing very well. But it was nice to see that it never closed down. There was also I believe down at Leets Vale another little church I think that's Methodist, Uniting. There's a Catholic ceremony that is held in a private house but the Anglican has been there for many, many years.
While we're on the subject of churches when we were at Lower Portland there was a Church of England on one side of the river, Uniting on the other side and they held their services once a fortnight each, on alternate weekend. Everybody went to this one this weekend, everybody went across the river to the other one the following weekend.
The ministers took their turns in giving the sermons. That was lovely because everybody...
Everybody knew everybody.
Everybody just went along and that's how I think it should be everybody should be just similar.
Go To Part 2