20a: Heimat/Shellharbour

Posted originally on February 5, 2016 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

Several decades here, but let’s start with this photo from 1956.


That’s Shellharbour’s ocean pool, image from Shellharbour History in Photos. It’s a bit unclear but I could almost believe the man right foreground is my father, especially if what is immediately behind him is a white dog (is it?) in which case the kid running towards him may well be me! We were holidaying in Shellharbour in the summer of 1956.

That pool was renovated and renamed Beverley Whitfield Pool in 1994. See Beverley Whitfield on the Shellharbour Local History blog.

12661968_1740439649512704_2123985810144368757_nL to R: Edgar (Dunc) Gray, Mayor Cec Glenholmes, Beverley Whitfield, Andy Gerke and Terry Gathercole

Andy Gerke was Beverley’s uncle, and my cousin Una’s husband. Sadly Beverley died two years later at the age of 42. I was at the funeral, but circumstances had led to my family not seeing much of the Shellharbour Whitfields after 1975.

For my father Shellharbour remained Heimat.

Heimat is a German concept. People are bound to their heimat by their birth and their childhood, their language, their earliest experiences or acquired affinity. For instance, Swiss citizens have their Heimatort (the municipality where the person or their ancestors became citizens) on their identification. Heimat as a trinity of descendance, community, and tradition—or even the examination of it— highly affects a person’s identity.

Though in the war years he broke away yet he always was rooted in that place and time 1911-1938. Indeed he returned in 1970 until illness/distress forced his return to Sydney in 1975. Strangely I too have returned in a way, back here in Wollongong almost six years now after an absence of 30 years, But I have only been back to Shellharbour once, and that just before I actually returned to the Illawarra. See Shellharbour – a double post (2010) and more posts here, here and here.

You see, there is much of Heimat in Shellharbour for me too, even if my parents left it before I was born. We did constantly visit in my childhood, and many a story have I heard about the place. But the place of my childhood is not there any more. Well, it is, but its surrounds buried under suburbia, some of it good and some of it rather awful. Progress I suppose.

Here is my childhood’s Shellharbour:


Nostalgia on D-Day — 2001

Starting last Sunday I have been looking back, though I’ve not yet turned into a pillar of salt. As I mentioned on Monday I have found a back-up of quite a few of my old posts from Diary-X and elsewhere. This is one I haven’t seen for years!


Really old followers of my blogs – not all of them old in years though – will recall my discovery of textures and flashing bars, even if mine were of course in good taste. 😉

This one takes me back to Sutherland.


Nostalgia on D-Day
From my June 2001 diary

I have been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. Today I propose to indulge in it; later I will subject nostalgia to critique. While nostalgia is a strong element in my own personality, and while I even derive pleasure from it, particularly when sharing it with that rarity, an appreciative audience, I am aware it has its dangers too, may personally be a weakness and in political terms a millstone.

But, to indulge.

Let me run back my decades for you, first in a public context, then when I have reached my target, some impressions of a more personal nature.

1991: Australia has 17,000,000 people (19,000,000 now). The Australian Republican Movement is launched, and a gunman shoots seven people at Strathfield Mall. I am working at the beginning of the year at Wessex College of English, later back at SBHS. I live in George Street Redfern with M, Philip and Michael, then in Little Everleigh Street Redfern with M.
1981: Australia has 15,000,000 people. Malcolm Fraser is Prime Minister. I have just moved back to Sydney (Glebe) and am working at Fort Street High. John Hawke (aged 16), Rob Duffy (aged 19), Lyneve Rappell (aged 17) and I start the poetry magazine Neos: it runs until 1985. I live alone.
1971: Australia has 13,000,000 people. The dreadful Billy McMahon is Prime Minister. We are heavily involved in the Vietnam War. I have just started working at Illawarra Grammar School, Wollongong and am living at Dapto, then West Wollongong. My parents have moved in with me. My friend S. first met me at this time. My God, we have known each other for 30 years!
1961: Australia has 10,600,000 people. Very few of them are Asian. Robert Menzies is still Prime Minister. Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot wins the Miles Franklin Award; ABC-TVFour Corners begins with the terribly British- sounding Michael Charlton anchoring. Trams stop running in Sydney. I am in Arts II at Sydney University, 17-18 years old, and a member of the Evangelical Union. I am studying English (including Anglo-Saxon), Modern History (sitting next to the present Minister for Immigration) and Education I. I live in Oyster Bay Road, Como, with my parents. I sneak looks at the boy next door and hate myself for it.
1951: This is my target. Ah, the 1950s. No TV, baths heated by a wood-burning boiler. No refrigerator, though our neighbour had one. "The iceman cometh" weekly. Milk arrives in bulk and is ladled into whatever receptacle we take out to the milkman, who arrives by horse and cart, as does the baker.

The corner shop, Marshalls, sells biscuits in bulk; you have them put into a brown paper bag. There are two types of cheese, "block" cheddar and processed. There are basically three types of cold meat: ham, corned beef and devon. Chicken is eaten only at Christmas, and the rooster involved has its head cut off by my father and, horribly, runs round the yard without its head. His harem supplies our eggs. Our neighbour two houses away has a cow, which kept me supplied with milk during war-time shortages. My brother’s horse, Lassie, sometimes lives in the next-door yard, a Canadian war-bride whose war-traumatised alcoholic husband has just died. When Lassie is in our own yard, she has a habit of coming though the back door and sticking her head into the kitchen until my mother gives her sugar. Peter the Kelpie dog observes all this wisely. This is Sutherland, outer suburban Sydney, seventeen miles from the Harbour Bridge.


Royal National Park near Sutherland in the late 1920s or early 30s. It didn’t look all that different in the early 1950s — and my grandfather and some neighbours had cars like those!

My brother is 16 and is an apprentice carpenter. The local girls find him very attractive; at the moment he seems to prefer the horse. My sister is 11; I am 7-8. I remember us getting a special book from Mr Menzies (all school-children did) because Australia was 50 years old.

That began my political education.

My mother has the local wives in for a cup of Bushell’s Tea. They address each other as Mrs Mack and Mrs Doyle and Mrs W. Everyone is an Anglo; some fairly suspect people are Catholics and have statues in their houses, or so we have heard.

Sunday nights in winter we listen to the radio and make toast by holding it on a fork in front of the lounge-room fire. It is rather nice.

I still like to eat toast and listen to the radio on Sunday nights, but do not have a lounge-room fire. And then read.

Mr Menzies is Prime Minister, although the High Court found his Communist Party Dissolution Act invalid, and the Labor-dominated Senate blocked his banking legislation, leading to a double dissolution and an election. Australia has 8,5000,000 people. Over 90% of them are still Anglo-Celtic.

King George VI is on the throne, and crackers are let off on Empire Day, bonfires lit. The neighbourhood seem to spend weeks building the fire on a vacant lot down the road.

In a year George VI and my sister will both be dead.

In 2050 Australia will be 50% Anglo-Celtic. M and M may both be alive then, M2 almost certainly. M2 will be a decade older than I am now.

Weeping like a child for the past

D H Lawrence’s poem "Piano" is as powerful an enactment in words of nostalgia as I know. Like sentimentality or grief, it is a quality that defines us as human; to be without it is to be less than human. Like those, it is also dangerous, or can be. It is instructive sometimes to check a dictionary, in this case the latest Shorter Oxford:

nostalgia | n. L18. [mod.L (tr. G Heimweh homesickness), f. Gk NOSTOS + algos pain: see -IA1.] 1 Acute longing for familiar surroundings; severe homesickness. L18. 2 Regret or sentimental longing for the conditions of a period of the (usu. recent) past; (a) regretful or wistful memory or imagining of an earlier time. E20. b Cause for nostalgia; objects evoking nostalgia collectively. L20.

2 A. TOFFLER This reversion to pre-scientific attitudes is accompaniedby a tremendous wave of nostalgia. Country Life Nostalgia for a worldof Norfolk jackets, muttonchop whiskers, penny-farthing bicycles. A. BROOKNER She alone remembers her father with nostalgia for his benevolent if abstracted presence. b P. DE VRIES Her potato bread was sheer mouth-watering nostalgia.
Also nostalgy n. (rare) M19.*

The earlier use confirms my feeling that nostalgia can be a form of grief. Migrants, I am told, especially involuntary ones such as refugees, spend their lives going through the stages of grief over and over again, even when on the surface they may appear settled. In a sense we are all migrants, and our home country is childhood, or some warmer world than the present, which may be a world of imagination. I am a nostalgic person, and it is my own childhood that draws me, or even my mother’s childhood, a more bucolic world or apparently more settled values. My mother’s father, whom I dearly loved, was a teacher; in a sense it was my nostalgia as a 16-year old that made me become a teacher.
I would not be without the sometimes sad pull of nostalgia, yet I also recognise it is a force that can lead away from maturity and contentment in the present moment. I think it partly explains why I am drawn to younger people than myself; if I am honest, it must be seen as a reluctance to leave youth behind–the "Peter Pan" principle, or what the Jungians call puer aeternus. That is part of my make-up, not in itself a bad thing but bad if allowed to become unbalanced. "To be young at heart" and all that is the positive side. Paradoxically, nostalgia also draws the young to those who are older, as part of their appeal is that they may represent a "lost world" to those on the edge of the complex and possibly dangerous choices life offers. And you thought it was "wisdom" the old had to offer; well, partly so–but it is also a retreat into a "better" past through the old sometimes I suspect. Certainly there was a lot of that in my affection for my grandfather, apart from the fact that he amply deserved such affection.

In politics the role of nostalgia is well worth exploring. I would hypothesise that much of the appeal of reactionary or conservative politics is nostalgia, which can be easily distorted or manipulated. From the Nazis to Pauline Hanson to George Dubya Bush to John Howard–consider these not as equivalents–it would be silly to say Howard has much in common with Hitler–yet nostalgia is a crucial factor in all four, I suggest. Not to mention the present ruling party in India, fundamentalism worldwide, and so on: a force to be reckoned with is nostalgia.
In education, nostalgia governs attitudes to schooling, often to the detriment of education, which needs to be future-oriented as well as conservative. To prepare students for a world that existed for their parents or grandparents is to betray those students. Yet there are lessons from the past, and things worth preserving: respect for the rule of law and human rights, for example. Hence I again stress the immense value of studying History–but critically rather than nostalgically or sentimentally.

So much more could be said, but that is enough for one Sunday rave!

Memorabilia 17 – Sydney University: Fisher Library c.1960

Fisher 6

I suspect this is a few years before 1960, when I arrived at Uni, but the Library is as it was then. To the right were the book stacks, remarkable for their glass floors. That door at the end opened on to a small balcony. At desperate times, as when essays were due, some students used to take books out there and throw them down to waiting accomplices. Needless to say, I didn’t. 😉 The area is now known as the McLaurin Hall.

The picture is from Sydney University archives.

Memorabilia 16 – 50 years on


Me, 1955

See also Memorabilia 15: 1959 — or thereabouts, Fifty years on – guess what, nothing is for ever!, Now, what did I learn half a century ago?, Sydney Boys High School 1955, I wasn’t a prefect…, Time and friendships 2 — the class of ‘59, This may well be me….

I so remember the hats! Mine I successfully lost some time in 1956, after one failed attempt at Kirrawee Station when it blew off my head and onto the train tracks, only to be rescued, much to my chagrin, by a brave member of the public.


1950s junior students SBHS

Linked image.

Memorabilia 15: 1959 — or thereabouts

Watching the episode on Compass tonight on the Billy Graham Crusade of 1959 — yes I was there and may post something on Floating Life soon — really took me back fifty years!

My Leaving Certificate 1959

My Leaving Certificate 1959

But the jewels here are not mine. I am in debt to a YouTuber, DippityFish, for these two Super-8 movies. I just had to share them.

The first shows some Christmas scenes in Kingsford NSW c. 1959, a brief sequence of floods in Taree, and Sydney Harbour with the beginnings of the Sydney Opera House.

That’s a world I remember from age 15-16! The next is a couple of years later and shows the last tram in Anzac Parade Kingsford. I travelled so many times on these trams, quite possibly on that very one, and sometimes on this route on my way to a school friend in Kensington or another in Maroubra.

Thanks for posting them, DippityFish! 🙂