Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our place at Port Hacking

We are putting my mother's home on the market  It would be the last large undeveloped piece of deep waterfront land on Port Hacking. It has been held by my family for over a hundred years. Here is its story.
When, my grandfather, Walter James was a young man in the 1890s he would travel down to Port Hacking from his home in Fivedock, in Sydney's inner West. He would take the train to Sutherland then the horse bus to Yowie Bay where he would hire a boat to get over to Deer Park to camp. By 1909 he was a successful builder/developer and he took out a lease on some land in Great Turriell Bay. Later his sister Clara Jepson leased the land next door.
At first he built a single room boatshed/cottage but after his three children were born he extended this, now named “The Rocks” and built a separate boatshed. By 1920 he had built a house for his sister next door, “Mirrel”, and another boatshed. 
Clara’s house "Mirrel" in about 1925 with, from right to left Walter leaning against the post, Clara, Walter’s wife Agnes and their three children Peggy, Tom and Molly. 

Sailing in Turriell Bay around 1925
The houses became a base for boating and fishing and sailing and swimming. More members of the extended James family joined in and extra rooms were added. You can still see the shape of this in the existing house.


A keg party circa 1938
The cousins grew up holidaying together and by the late 1930s they were bringing their friends down to stay. They were studying at Sydney University and had a lot of takers who wanted to join in whenever they headed down to “the Port”. There’s still a mark from the keg on the old table, they had good parties, well away from any supervision from parents.  
All these happy young people were shortly swept up by the war. Peggy married Angus, one of the young men who’d been visiting “the Port”, who according to family legend, was as much in love with the place as the person. During the war, while Angus was in New Guinea, and with a severe housing shortage in Sydney, Peggy moved down to live there with her two babies. She chose to occupy Mirrel because it was bigger and had a fuel stove and by now a veranda had been added that went right around. Because of petrol rationing problems, she would row the boat up to the store in Lilli Pilli to get supplies with the baby tied to the back seat of the rowboat.
Mirrel circa 1945, you can glimpse the boatshed below, and Keith Jepson on the veranda.

After the war, Angus and Peggy settled in South Cronulla, next door to her parents in Richmount Street, gradually increasing the family until they had seven children. Cronulla was booming as a holiday destination, it had the train directly almost to the beach and people would come from all over Sydney.  Every summer was spent at the Port, renting out their house to holidaymakers to help with their finances, and because they loved it.
In 1951 Walter was able to purchase all the leasehold, he put it directly into the names of Peggy and Molly, their brother Tom had gone missing in the Bahamas during a training flight out of Canada during the war. After Walter’s death in 1955 Angus and Peggy moved down with all seven children, to live in “Mirrel”. Angus converted the open verandas to glassed in rooms, using scrap metal windows from a factory construction in Pyrmont. He put in a septic tank, up until then the “night soil” had been collected by boat.

Xmas 1972 showing the glass windows and a full family gathering.
 Peggy and Angus made the most of living in paradise. They moored their ketch “Seawind” below the window, and would sail it up to the Whitsundays each year. Angus would pop over to Wanda most mornings before breakfast to join his mates for a bodysurf. Peggy loved the bush, applying the methods of bush regeneration. She also loved the water and the creatures of the sea, collecting prawns and other sea life to keep in an aquarium.

Late afternoon sun lighting up the boatshed.
Late afternoons are delicious, sitting about on the outside veranda as the sun disappears over the Royal National Park. When there is no wind the water becomes smooth as glass and there’s always time to enjoy a cold beer in the rosy afterglow, the water reflecting the pink of the sky.
The stone jetty where the groper used to live looking across to the Royal National Park.
After Angus died in 1989, Peggy lost ground in looking after so much bushland and by her death twenty years later it had became a weed infested jungle. Some of this has now been cleared and if you take the opportunity to visit during the coming open houses you’ll be rewarded with a small taste of the local paradise there for the taking.
Postscript: It's sold, the boatshed half has gone to my brother, the house to a lucky boating family.