Chapter 6

Trip to Moruya 1937 to visit the Bethe family

It must have been the August school holidays in 1937 when we went camping at Beachmere for a week or so. There was the marquee tent, the cast iron camp oven with lid and tripod stand folding camp stretchers and mosquito nets. At Beachmere the tide seemed to go out for miles and leave pools of water with fish trapped in them.

To catch them for bait people would use a length of fencing wire bent over one end for a handle and swish the wire down like a sword swing cutting through the water and stunning or killing the fish. The other memory of Beachmere was this house owned by a millionaire or so the story goes which was reported to have gold taps.  The house was between the camping ground and the general store. Thinking back I realise that trip must have been a trial run for the big trip coming up. Dad had seen very little of his family, and since his mother, now in 1938 was aged 81 years and living in Moruya, it was planned to drive there over the Christmas holidays

The car was packed full with a space for me in the back seat alongside the camping gear etc. On each running board a couple of bricks or rocks were secured in case Dad had problems with the brakes; then it was my job to get out and place the bricks in the right place when the car had stopped. This was only necessary once. We drove down the Pacific highway through the border gates at Coolangatta, the cane farms on the Clarence River and across other rivers on vehicle ferries,  camping at night off the highway or else in camping areas. There were gates like the border gates where you had to stop and declare what fruit or animals you had to ensure pests were not taken from one area to another. Most fruits were confiscated and animals fumigated.

The first major stop we had was at Cundletown where one of Dad’s brothers lived. It was near Taree on the Manning River. The house was about three feet off the ground with large verandas all round and many boards missing from the railings. The area was subject to flooding.  I understand this was my Uncle Frederick Bethe, Dad’s eldest brother, then aged 59 years. I can remember nothing more except that we did not stay there long, and I think it was here that Bill Bethe joined us and came to Sydney. After crossing the Hawkesbury River at Wiseman’s ferry we spent a couple of nights at a camping site halfway up the range with a small waterfall and large pool under it making it an idyllic site.

Then on to Sydney to Dad’s sister, Noni Cameron, who was married to Don Cameron with a daughter Leila and was Iiving at Strathfield. During our stay there I was taken to Taronga Park Zoo and that has been one of the memorable times in my life with the zoo, aquarium , Sydney Harbour and the harbour bridge . The granite for the bridge pylons happened to come from Moruya. We then left Sydney and drove down the coast road stopping to see the blow hole at Kiama. It was when we were   going down the range at Bulli pass that Dad misjudged the grade and instead of going down in low gear he was in second gear and relied on the brakes. It was not too long before smoke was evident from the brake bands being overheated and we were fortunate to find a less steep area and stop off the road. This is where the bricks came in handy so the brakes could be released and cooled. It was a close call. Eventually, we reached Moruya, a fishing town on the Moruya river. There was the town, the showground and beyond this a lane that led to my grandmother’s house. We stayed in the showgrounds, which was the camping area and was close to our relatives.

My grandmother was a small frail lady with white hair and that’s about all I remember. There were two girl cousins younger than me and Dad’s brother and his wife but I can’t place them now. The area was covered with blackberry bushes which over run the place but the berries were nice. Moruya had Friday night shopping which was unusual for the time. We did a trip to Moruya heads and to a rocky beach called Congo beach, and stopped off at the granite quarry which supplied the granite for the Sydney Harbour bridge.

I can’t remember anything about the trip home except I think we returned via the New England highway, so it must have been uneventful. I now realise what a remarkable trip that was for my father to undertake. He always worked as though the loss of a leg was not a handicap, even with the chafing through the woollen stump sock which must have given him hell at times, and the nerve pains at night . He had the choice of two artificial legs; one a peg leg and the other with a knee joint and foot for a shoe. Each was supported or suspended by a harness over both shoulders and attached to a webbing belt securing the stump covered by a woollen stump sock into the moulded cup at the top of the leg.  Dad preferred the peg leg which gave him a gait where he swung the leg in an arc outwards when walking, and he could ride a fixed wheel bicycle with this leg. The end of the peg was enlarged and capped with a section of car tyre to prevent slipping. The articulated leg gave him a rocking gait forward and back and he then could have matching shoes or boots. There was also a pair of crutches used when necessary to move about before fitting his leg, but he did not like using them. I could always avoid my father’s displeasure by getting over the back fence before he caught me.  This escape means was resorted to as I got older.

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