Wisemans Ferry - Bon and Noel Lennon - Part 2


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 had a doctor here you mentioned, what was his name do you know?

I don't remember the first one. When we first moved here it was a Doctor Shallard(?) and he lived in the house where the doctor's surgery is now.

I remember Shallard.

There was another one before that, I don't remember the name of the person. Then we had Doctor Lewis Rassaby. Then from Lewis Rassaby we got a doctor Hughes who was a conservation, greeny nut. Tried to get the river closed all the time. Highly intelligent man but just had all these other problems. Then we got Doctor Moseley whose been here for twenty five years and she's just selling up now and she's moved up to Kurrajong. So at the moment it's in a bit of limbo. It looks like there is another doctor coming but it got too much for her. It's been going like that for years.

With old Doctor Shallard by the time he left the surgery down here he was in a wheelchair.

He was very old.

Very old man. We had a speed boat explode on us down the river and there was two kids and two adults in it. We raced them up to Shallard and the first thing he did was he took the bung out of his drinking water tank and threw them all in there. They were badly burnt and of course cold water is the thing that you put on burns.

But nobody knew that in those days did they, they thought you put oil or butter or something on them. But he put them in the cold water and not one of the people got scarred.

One of the fellows that was in the boat he was in hospital for about eighteen months in the burns thing and the two kids they got the soles of their feet burnt worst and all up the back of their heads.

Really long hair.

That's what he did that was the type of people they were. His drinking water didn't matter. Throw them in there.

Water skiing on Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry 2006

Where would the nearest hospital have been?

In those days it was Windsor or Hornsby.

Would have taken quite a while to get there if it was something serious?

Not everybody had vehicles. You'd be lucky to have one motor vehicle per family.

Now did you get around on a motorbike or did you have a car in those days?

Oh I had a little truck in those days I have commuted backwards and forwards to town on a motorbike.

When we were here not long we had a big flood. There was a landslide down on River Road and you couldn't get through. So Noel and I went up to see a friend at Maroota and we borrowed their son's trail bike and we brought it back down and that's how I went to work. Noel went down to the bowling club on his trail bike up over the top of this dirt.

It washed the road away, so we still got to work on this trail bike. But there was a funny instance, he used to forget to put his feet out on this trail bike. He'd say to me "put your legs out" and I'd do that. So anyway he picked up a friend that used to live across the road and they came up our driveway which is only dirt. He forgot to tell Sam to put his feet out and Noel didn't put his feet out so they both fell over into the rose bushes. So that was rather ironical. We had little cars didn't we?

Hawkesbury River in flood 1978 at Wisemans Ferry with Ko Veda
caravan park in middle and NSW Ski Gardens in foreground

You've mentioned already flood a couple of times. Tell me a bit about some of the floods that you've been through here?

The biggest one I think was in 1978 wasn't it?

Seventy eight yes.

We had floods when we were at Lower Portland but nothing as big as what we had when we came down here. In Seventy eight nearly every caravan park along the river lost onsite caravan. They were going down the river one after the other. The water came up over the bowling green down in the town up to the bottom of the top step of the bowling club. I would say the river was up about ten metres or so. It was a pretty big one. All the people in the caravan park on the point down there which was Grev Torrens place most of them lost everything that they had. The Salvation Army was up at the pub giving meals out and looking after people with clothing and that. The park across the road Ko Veda we went down with the two tractors and we pulled nearly everything out. What we couldn't get out we tied up to the orchard that used to be there in amongst the orange trees. It was pretty devastating. There was a lot of property went under. After the floods went back there was a caravan up the Colo River forty eight feet above the water stuck in a tree.

We had waterfront. The water was up too about a metre of our bottom road down there which is a lot of water. We were running supplies to people in flat bottomed boats. It was quite devastating.

Noel has an old generator on a trailer and he was taking that to the shed across the road to Ko Veda for all their frozen stuff out of their shop and up to all the houses that he could reach and charging up fridges and freezers. But there was no food dropped to any of us down here. There was up St Albans way. That went on for how long?

About three weeks.

That was when the landslide also came down and that cut us off.

The floodwaters just went back and the side of the mountain came down.

What damage did that do actually?

It took part of the road away. There's big boulders sitting about ten metres out from the shore. There was a hire boat come up and he anchored there because there's good fishing around it. He anchored there fishing and the tide went out the boat sat up there on this rock till the tide dropped so far the boat just rolled over on its side and sunk. That was a bit of humour. But that was quite a few years after the landslide.

The last big flood that was the one that you went down to the houseboats and the water was up inside their lunchroom.

Yeah that was pretty big.

And you helped them down there with all the houseboats.

Yeah you had boats floating off down the river that were on moorings. The amount of rubbish that built up on them got too much and it dragged the moorings away. Helped out the neighbours up here. Went down there and asked a bloke if he could use some help. Never seen a man so pleased to see somebody offering help. He hadn't been there very long and he knew nothing of floods. So yeah we helped him out down there, been good mates ever since.

But even here like that last week the water was right across the paddock, not deep, deep but about a metre deep at the most. The water just came down the mountain, there is a water fall up there and the water just came down the creek and it was just flowing very quickly across the road. It breaks your heart to think that water could have been up in the Warragamba Dam but you know it has nowhere else to go but out to sea eventually.

But we haven't had that many floods have we?

Not since we've been down here, no.

Ferry loading cars at Wisemans Ferry 2006

Tell me about the old ferry service. What was that like taking a ferry across?

We had a couple of old people the Whites, Billy and Roma White and the ferries in those days you put it into gear and away it went across the river and pushed up on the bank. They used to carry a crow bar with them and if a ferry went up a bit hard they'd get out with the crow bar and prise it off. The amount of days it broke down you could count on one hand. For months, they just kept it going. Whereas now days with all the modern equipment they've got on them. Hydraulic drive, hydraulic flaps that they can lift up and let down they do nothing but break down.

And now days they have to have two people on board at all times whereas in those days it was either Billy or his wife or his kids. When Billy and Roma were on if they got stuck which wasn't often they'd ring up one of the locals, they'd come down with a tractor and push it off. Simple as that.

I believe in the flood one of the ferries sank. Can you tell me that story?

That was the seventy eight one wasn't it?

That's when Billy rode it down to the harbour.

The ferries run backwards and forwards on two cables laid across the river and one cable is a drive cable and the other is a guide cable. The amount of rubbish that came down and the flow of the water. The rate it was running at broke both cables on the main Wisemans ferry which is a big steel ferry. Two others got away up here and they were all going down the river. They got down around Singletons Mill. Johnny Watkins one of the prawn trawlers down there he had a dozer and he run out with the boat and ran a wire rope out to one of the ferries and hooked onto the dozer as the ferry was going past and tried to drag it ashore. It snapped the rope but it did enough damage to the ferry that it sank. The big ferry, the big steel one, the Wisemans ferry itself. It was going down the river at a rate of knots and they'd had trawlers and other boats trying to slow it down, push it ashore they couldn't do anything with it. In those days they didn't have very big anchors on them, they just couldn't stop it. Somebody in their wisdom decided that if it hit the Brooklyn Road Bridge it would take it out. It would have, it would have knocked the pylons out from under it so they loaded the thing up with explosives and they were going to blow the bottom out at the last minute. But as it happened a tug appeared from nowhere and took it under tow and got it in control but that was only about fifteen minutes before they were ready to blow it.

But our ferry driver Billy White rode that all the way down in that flood.

All the way down.

Ferry crossing Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry 2006

There's a book out actually that's called "the day or the night the ferries got away" (actually called "When the Ferries got away" by Bill Bottomley) it's written by a local chap. I bought it It's very interesting.

That's a good ferry story.

We can tell you a funnier one that happened just the other day. The ferry cable broke and one of them on board threw the anchor out.

The anchor is nearly two metres high, it's a ships anchor, it would weigh somewhere in the vicinity of two tonne and its got chain on it that's railway chain. Big, thick links that they link the carriages together with and it goes down a hawser tube into the bilge of the ferry. The top of the anchor has got like a spring clip on it. You knock the keeper off and the clip drops and away goes the anchor. So I get a message the ferry got away and they let the anchor go to try and hold it but nobody had thought to shackle the end of the chain to the ferry so they lost the lot.

It's at the bottom of the river.

Ferry and all?

No the anchor and all this chain. I suppose it would be eight or ten thousand dollars worth.

But they put the other anchor out, they did fasten that and it held.

They checked the other one was chained on.

The flood of 1991 was also a bad one I believe, was it?

Ninety one it was not as high up the river as what it is down here. In flood time if it's a general flood coming from all round the area. For every foot over the Windsor Bridge that the water goes we can count on an inch here down at Wisemans Ferry. The rise of the water, but if you get rain like we've had just recently where the majority of it fell in the Hunter or up Singleton way. The MacDonald River comes down, if it's in the Blue Mountains the Colo River comes down. Depends on which river is running. Last week in that heavy rain there was about ten metres of water up the top end of the MacDonald River.

Old Northern Road Wisemans Ferry with school at top of hill and post office on right 1991

That backs up the main Hawkesbury so it didn't go anywhere near going over the bridge at Windsor but they had a metre rise here at Wisemans Ferry. Because the Colo came out, the MacDonald came out and it holds the main river back. Plus Warragamba wasn't letting water out which was good for us. It depends on where the rain is, as to which part of the river floods. In the year we're talking about the Colo came out and the MacDonald and of course Webb's Creek came out pretty hard and we had a very big one here at Wisemans and it wasn't so big up the river.

But we didn't have as big as seventy eight. It didn't come up to near the house.


Is there still a prawn fishing industry here at Wisemans Ferry?

Yes at the moment I suppose there'd be about fifteen prawn trawlers work the area. There used to be more everybody that had a boat was licensed as a prawn trawler years ago. They got good catches. Nowadays there's only a few of the old originals doing the job. They still get some very nice prawns but they've closed nearly all the river to prawning on the East Coast. The Hawkesbury is about the only river that they're still allowed to prawn. They don't know when that will stop.

So what has happened to land prices since these new people moved in?

As land is getting scarcer a lot of the area is minimum twenty five acres, whatever that converts to nowadays. You were allowed to build a house on it because it was rural. Now if you had one hundred acres you could divide it up into four twenty five acre lots. Whereas now there's been a tremendous amount of homes built on quarter acre building blocks. Homes are going up everywhere, land is getting scarcer.

I think also the river, people wanting to live by the river. It's not just at Hawkesbury it's all throughout the state, the land is terribly expensive on the water. Homes over there at a place called

Walmsley Road there million dollar homes and they're only on a housing block. If you look in the real estate agent's windows you get a shock. A block of land used to be ten acres you could sell for eighty thousand. Now it is twice that price if not more, especially if it's near the water.

Wisemans Ferry below Court House Rock Old Northern Road mid 1930s before it was sealed


What made it possible for all those people to come? Those new residents?

Well years ago Old Northern Road was really only a sealed if you passed an oncoming vehicle you really had to get to the side of the road. It was not an expressway, it was a bit on the rough side. But then we had the sand mining up at Maroota open up and heavy vehicles started using it. There was a lot of new locals in the area that opposed it. There were petitions that went round to try to stop the heavy vehicles from using the road. My attitude was if the heavy vehicles used the road we're going to get better roads. That's exactly what has happened. Nowadays you can sit on eighty five ninety kilometres on that road and enjoy the drive whereas forty years ago you'd probably only be travelling at seventy kilometres. Because it was so rough.

Perhaps also it's only an hours run in your car from the city to come out. A lot of people do. Down to the two parks where they have lovely barbecue areas, down to the old pub up to St Alban's hotel. They come out for the drive and amazing just talking to people that's how they started down here. Then they came back and then they decided that they'd like to live out this way. So I think that's a lot of it too. It's not far from Sydney. I can remember when we first moved here people would say "oh it must drive you nuts, having to go into town". We used to go into the theatre in the city, the ballet and things like that. It's only an hour and you get used to it. When you get to the top of the hill no matter who you speak to we all go "oh we're home". It just makes you feel this is lovely , it was worth the trip.

Now Noel and Bon when these new people came and settled Wisemans Ferry, what sort of changes were happening at that time?

I guess the biggest change was it went from a little country town to a developing area similar to what you get in town. So many people came into the area.

What sort of new facilities did you get with these new people that came?

Because of the influx of people we lost our butcher's shop, I think that mainly went because of health regulations.So we lost that, our bakers went. The old general store that carried everything from a knitting needle to a bag of concrete. They built a new shopping centre on the opposite side of the road and it was supposed to be a big success.

Wisemans Ferry Village shopping centre 2006

It's got a takeaway, a general store , used to be a hardware store in there. Because there was a lot of building going on the hardware store did well. Real estate agent, hairdresser...

We had a bakers there for a while.

Yeah there was a bakers in there for a while and there was a butchers.

We have an art exhibition place that also sells their goods from the local artists. The Ferry Artists. But there is a chemist coming very shortly, because the doctor used to do all the prescriptions and chemist things. That was one of the reasons she had to give it up it became too much for the dispensary. So I believe there is a chemist coming anytime into the shopping centre which will be a big added bonus for us. We've also got a new big pre-school and a little hall attached called "Forgotten Valley mobile resource unit". It used to be mobile many years ago when Doctor Rassaby was here. They used to go round in little trucks and run kindergartens. Well they finally built, with Hornsby Councils help the building around there and they hold preschool there three days a week. There's other functions, dance clubs and things like that come here and perform and have their lessons.

What else do we get? We have the Sunshine Club and that's in a building down near... we had a new doctor's surgery built and down the back of the doctor's surgery is a demountable building that was offered by Council to people who wanted it. The people from what's called the Sunshine Club asked for it, they were going to buy it, but Baulkham Hills Council gave it to them, brought it down and sat it on the property.

Old Northern Road, Wisemans Ferry with paddlewheeler Lady Hawkesbury in distance 1988

The main street of Wisemans Ferry has that changed much in the last thirty years?

In the last thirty years the bowling club was across the road in the caravan park. It is now a rather attractive building and about two or three years ago they did big extensions on that clubhouse. There's a dining room and everything in it now. We've got the bigger fire shed with the three fire trucks now.We have community buses that run people around, that take them shopping once a week.We've got school buses running from St Albans and Gunderman, Spencer. Over the last fifteen, twenty years they're all new.

We now have the place called "The Retreat" which is a big convention, function centre with motel units. That used to be just an old golf course where we used to water ski. It just had a little shop up there and then the little old bowling club was there as well. But now that is a beautiful five star restaurant and convention centre. Just recently, a fortnight ago down there, they came and borrowed cricket equipment from the school and they were playing cricket down on the oval. That's part of the conventions that they have when they do all these different things. There's a lot of weddings down there, it's a big wedding function centre. They're very generous they allow the school to use their swimming pool every year to do the swimming lessons for the Sports and Rec. Also the local Youth and Community sports club, which is another new thing, that they run every Wednesday afternoon for the local children. They're allowed to learn swimming down there. Our children go down there in summer every week for school. So that's another small organisation that's started up, because there's nothing down here for the local children after school.

The sports club has kind of got a bit on the back burner. The tennis courts are still used.

Wisemans Ferry Park Entrance

They still play cricket down there.

Yeah, yeah they still play cricket in summertime.

The Lions Club put in a lovely big playground many years ago down below the bowling club. Then we have another lovely playground on Baulkham Hills Park. That has been within the last thirty years, they have made that park very lovely.

On the other side of the river we've got a Swiss restaurant run by Swiss people. It's a very nice place. The hotel hasn't changed very much over the years. They've extended the beer garden outside. Our roads have got better. River Road now is sealed nearly all the way up to Lower Portland whereas it used to be two wheel tracks. I can remember going along it with a box trailer and having to go about fifteen kilometres at least before I had room to turn around. It was that narrow. Singleton Road is sealed for a long way down.

We get mail delivery now every day.

Yeah up until about ten years ago we never even had a letter box. Now we have to delivered. There's been a lot of changes, a lot of changes for the better. But the amount of people that live in the area now, it's only a very small percentage of them that really get involved with community. Whereas twenty years ago it was a majority of the residents that got involved with everything. Times have changed.

Do you like living in Wisemans Ferry still?

Oh yes I wouldn't change it for quids. The air is clean if I go down to the pub of a summer's afternoon, walk in I might only, the pub might be full but I might only know two or three people in there. I guess most people know me or know of me only because I've been around for so long. I wouldn't swap it for quids.

No, me neither.

Even though the character of the place has changed and it's become more urbanised?

Since you've been sitting here there might have been two vehicles go past the front door. It's still a quiet country town during the week.

Weekends it gets a bit busy. But that's progress I'm not knocking it.

Playground at Wisemans Ferry Park 2006

If you lived in the city where would you get a gentleman to come across the road with his tractor and mow your lawn. Fellow from Ko Veda he just comes over with his tractor and mows the lawn. I must admit the reason he started doing it was because I was on the tractor one day and rolled it over into the creek. He threatened that if he ever saw me on the tractor again he'd do me some harm. But he comes over and mows our lawn. Noel helps him out. It's still a friendly place, I just couldn't move back to the city. Not to suburbia.

Rustle and bustle.

So how do you see the future for Wisemans Ferry?

There's been talk about putting a bridge across Wisemans Ferry.

For how many hundred years?

For the last eighty years. I don't think we'll ever see that. I don't think we'll ever see water laid on, we'll always be on tank water. Curb and guttering the main street is the end of it.

But they only just got that in the last ten years.

That's not very old. The people that move in, during the week they're mainly commuting backwards and forwards to town to work. Me being retired I haven't got to do that anymore. If I go up past the tip that's a big day out for me now. Wouldn't move.