by Alan Pride (reprint from VV Issue 34)
Friend Col Ripper has been leaning me for more reminiscences of Balmoral Village as it was when I lived there with my wife Pat and daughter Marilyn 50+ years ago, in “Balmoral Lodge”, tghe remians of which as still there on Wilson Drive, just south of the rail crossing.
I had bought the house because it was the best I could afford without going into debt, but the area was very isolated in 1955. Little work was available locally, few owned cars, and the only public transport was the rail motor to Thirlmere, Picton, Mittagong and Bowral. (The rail motor was a special single carriage with a diesel motor which ran between Picton and Bowral on the unelectrified Loop Line).
The trip from Balmoral to Liverpool, where I and many others found work, took about 2 and a half hours, because the rail motor was rather slow and the commuters had to change to the Southern Highlands Express at Picton (sometimes pulled by the famous 3801 streamlined locomotive.)
One winter morning, as the rail motor rattled downhill after leaving Hill Top, it approached the deep cutting over which the Loop Line bridge passed. During the night, a motorcyclist on an ex-Army Harley Davidson had failed to take the sharp bend before the bridge, plunged over the edge, and was now very dead on the track below. The rail motor managed to stop and the driver and passengers moved the accident off the tracks. No phone or radio were available on the train, so a passenger had to walk to a nearby house and call the authorities before the commuters could go on their way. We still managed to catch the Southern Highlands Express. (The road over the rail line, dirt at the time of the accident, has since been realigned and tarred.)
For non-working shoppers, the rail motor made several trips a week up and down between Bowral and Picton. Its engine wasn’t 100% reliable, and although Balmoral Station (now demolished) was right opposite our house, at least once Pat had to push Marilyn in her heavy cane pram from the breakdown point to home over corrugated dirt roads.
Pat had come out from London as a 20 year old and Balmoral Lodge wasn’t what she was used to. It had walls of 1850’s roughsawn timber, lined inside with paper, a dirt floor in the kitchen, and no running water. The stove was wood-fired and heating consisted of an open fire in the dining room. Water came from a 3 metre deep well alongside the house – it had no winder, so the heavy metal bucket had to be hauled up on a rope by muscle power and two rainwater tanks behind the house, with a tap outside the back door.
There was no bathroom: a tin bath stood in the laundry, filled by water from the copper until I installed a chip heater at one end of the bath. This was filled with buckets and a fire lit under it. A tap emptied the hot water into the bath. The wood was hauled up from the bush, chopped up with an axe and stacked on the back verandah until needed.
Washing clothes would start early in the morning with the copper being filled with water; then the wood fire lit under it in a brick enclosure. The nappies and clothes would be stirred round in the copper with a stick, though the dirtiest had to be scrub bed up and down on a handheld serrated glass washboard. No Whirlpools here! A hand-turned mangle wrung the water out between two rollers, then the clothes were hung to dry on a line between two bush posts. No Hills Hoist either!
Cooking on the wood stove was hard for someone unuysed to the technique, and Pat’s first scones were inedible stonelike objects. After a year or so, we got a plug-in electric “Roden” benchtop stove – a hotplate and a tiny oven.
We also bought a twin-burner kerosene “Fyreside” heater, which was nice until it malfunctioned and nearly set the house alight.
Few people had phones, and to make a call we had to walk ten minutes down the road to “Truro”, the post office and manual phone exchange, run by Elwyn Grant and her husband. “Truro” was one of the biggest and finest houses in the area.
There being no sewerage or pan collection service, everyone in Balmoral made their own toilet arrangements. We had an outhouse well away from the house, containing a pan with a wooden seat. I dug a long trench in the paddock with a tractor and would empty the pan into it at intervals and fill the trench in. Toilet paper was cut up sheets of newspaper on a nail.
Although we had electricity, TV wasn’t invented and evenings were spent reading, playing cards or listening to the radio. A radio then could cost half a week’s wage, I was earning 26 Pounds weekly – about $50 as a draftsman.
For a while, Pat would go to Mittagong on the train to buy groceries. Then we opened a grocery and newsagency in the front room, bringing great convenience to the locals. Produce was delivered from Mittagong by road, infrequently, Pat ran the shop until we moved, in March 1958, selling “Balmoral Lodge” to a Bulli dentist, Bill Meldrum, who wanted it as a retirement home.
This story started out when I found myself sitting with a group of motorcyclists a few years ago on our bike club run, and the one next to me mentioned that he lived at Balmoral. Turns out he had built his house on a subdivision of my old property!
Dictated by Alan Pride
Transcribed by Marilyn Pride
Submitted by Col Ripper