MEMORIES OF A NELLIGEN CHILDHOOD - by Bill Simpson 'The tiny township of Nelligen could soon be one of the major tourist attractions of the South Coast ... By this time next year Nelligen will be a big tourist town', I read.
I scarcely noticed as THE CANBERRA TIMES of December 29 slipped to my lap - my mind was already back in the Nelligen that I'd known so well, more than 60 years ago, during those impressionable years that I'd lived there with my parents, when I - and the world - was young.
My father had been appointed as the local schoolteacher and so we moved from the dusty plains of the Riverina to the rambling old residence on the hill overlooking the town of Nelligen on the Clyde. For the next five years, until I was nine years old, Nelligen was the centre of my wonderful world and the images and impressions and the events of those years are still etched vividly and clearly in my mind - not in any chronological sequence but rather as a rich kaleidoscope of exciting never-to-be-forgotten experiences and impressions.
Be it a weakness, it deserves some praise.
We love the play-place of our early days
In 1922, the year after our arrival, the old school residence (photo above) was demolished - another year or two and it would have fallen down of its own accord - and a new school and residence was built. The "new" school has long since been transported elsewhere, but the residence still stands on the hill above the town and when I saw it last, several years ago, it had become The Old Schoolhouse Pottery, conducted by Len and Lilli Bathgate. My wife and I were made very welcome by Lilli Bathgate; for me it was a most nostalgic experience to wander through the rooms I remembered so well - so familiar but now strangely modernised and oh, so different. However, we were delighted with the wonderful range of pottery, much of it made from Nelligen clays, and of course we purchased several lovely pieces as a memento of our return to "Yesterday". As I stood that day on the verandah, looking down over the village and trying to superimpose what I was actually seeing on to the picture I'd held in my mind's eye for so many years, I thought of that winter's night in 1924 when my father had woken me in the middle of the night and carried me out on to the verandah to watch the original Steampacket Hotel burn to the ground.
This first of the three Steampacket Hotels had been a two-storey timber building, owned and conducted by one James Neate. As far as I can recall, the cause of the fire was never determined, but the old "pub" certainly made a great spectacle as the flames lit up the school residence and the surroundings. Next day I remember going down with my parents to view the still-smouldering ruin and collecting "glassies" - the glass marble stoppers used to seal lemonade bottles. They'd been blown out somehow by the heat and provided us kids with marbles by the dozen.
One story was that one of the permanent boarders at the hotel, an elderly retired timber worker who acted as "general useful", kept his life savings (1000 pounds was the amount spoken of) in an old tin trunk in his room. As soon as the smoking ruins had cooled sufficiently, the old fellow located and finally opened the trunk, and was greatly relieved to see his bundles of pound notes still intact - but alas, as soon as he touched them, they crumbled away to powder! It was a good story, anyhow, and one that caught my childish imagination. I've often wondered if it were really true.In their first year or two at Nelligen my parents had no transport of any kind, although most of the local residents owned a horse and gig or buggy. However, our lives were changed quite dramatically when Dad, after much perusal of brochures and manuals, purchased a brand-new Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sidecar, complete with a "dicky-seat" in the nose of the sidecar for me.It came from Sydney by coastal steamer and created much interest in Nelligen - the first bike and sidecar in the village, although there were several others in the district.
The Andersons, who lived at the foot of the Clyde Mountain, had one, and the policeman at Batemans Bay - I think his name was Hoole - also had one, but ours was the first in the village (7.9 horse power).In the early 1920s there was a great deal of interest in motor bikes. I well remember my father and I getting up very early one morning, in the dark, to position ourselves on the edge of a cutting overlooking the old road behind the police station to watch 50 to 60 bikes roar past in a national reliability trial on their way to tackle the Clyde Mountain. As it became lighter we were able to identify the different machines - the Red Indians, the Nortons, the Douglases, the Rudge Whitworths and, of course, our chosen favourites, the Harley-Davidsons. It was a sight and an experience for a seven-year-old to savour and remember! The old hand-operated punt that carried all traffic across the river resembled a scarcely floating collection of flotsam, with an alarming list to starboard.It was operated by Sydney Harkess, a large man of few words. His wife was the postmistress for many years. It was said that he had taught his own children to swim - and many others of the village besides - by tying a rope around their middle and throwing them off the punt into the river, then towing them across as he wound the old punt to the other side.
The fact that sharks were sometimes seen in the Clyde no doubt spurred the kids on to regain the punt as quickly as possible and provided the necessary motivation. Presumably no child was ever molested, but I do remember a dog being taken by a shark not far from the punt. Syd had a bunk inside the galvanised iron "shack" that hung precariously from the side of the punt, and at night he'd sleep "on board" in order to provide a 24-hour service to nocturnal travellers. Part2 From the PASTIMES Newsletter - republished with kind permission of the Clyde River and Batemans Bay Historical Society Inc.Clyde River and Batemans Bay Historical Society Inc is loacted at 3 Museum Place, Batemans Bay NSW 2536..Website: www.oldcourthousemuseum.com Opening Hours:Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 10am - 3pm, 2nd. Sunday of every month 10am – 1pm. Additional hours by appointment and during school holidays.