A marvellous place for childhood

Posted by
Ngaire Souter
Streets
Clanalpine Street
Time
1930s—1950s

In 1933 my parents, Ralph and Frieda Avison, my grandmother and I moved from Hunters Hill to 30 Clanalpine Street, a street named after an alderman of Mosman’s first Council, Archibald Macalpine. Our new home was a rambling slate-roofed house standing on a double block of neglected garden. It had been empty for months.

The day we arrived I remember walking into the front lawn. The buffalo grass had grown high enough to touch my three years-old chin. I was enchanted. But before long we had mown lawns, gardens stocked with flowers, herbs and vegetables, and the benefit of existing trees: apricot, white peach, four lemons and a loquat tree. Jars of homemade jam, together with my mother’s ginger beer, my father’s black molasses and shelves of assorted groceries were kept in a walk-in pantry. It was about the size of Dr Who’s Tardis with a stone floor and a solid lockable door. An oak ice-chest stood in our large primitive kitchen, where gas wall lights still functioned but were rarely used. Like our supply of fish and rabbits, blocks of ice for the chest were delivered once a week in sacks or a clothes basket. Mail was delivered on horseback by our postman, Scotty. One of our neighbours, Mrs Hall, used a metal food safe which hung on a hook outside her back door. She said this kept her meat fresh! She also churned her own icecream and occasionally let me look at her tall jars of glowing opal potch and Victorian displays of stuffed birds, butterflies, coral and dried flowers in domed glass containers.

Across the road on the lower side of Clanalpine Street was The Grange, a grey stone house with an even larger garden than ours, filled with exotic plants. It was not surprising that the owner, Mr Algernon Allen, had once been a senior employee of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and had helped design and plant the famous floral clock at Taronga Zoo. This clock, now demolished, really did register the time, although it was simply a large circular garden with numbered hours and moving metal hands mass planted with tiny flowers.

Mr Allen wasn’t particularly fond of children, but he allowed me to visit to look at his wedge-tailed eagle which he kept on a long chain fastened to one of its legs. It was a savage bird and I was too young to realise that it was also an unhappy bird.

Other neighbours on our side of Clanalpine Street were the Armstrongs and the Misses Browne, four unmarried sisters who shared a grand old house called Duddingston. I was for a while best friend of their niece, Margaret, and through her I had access to their house filled with antique furniture and massive gilt-framed paintings. Nearby on the same side of the street stood (so it was claimed) one of the only two authentic Dutch colonial houses in Australia. This was built in 1887 by a Sydney merchant named Robinson.

Almost opposite were the Bellmaines. Their grandson, John Suhan, was a friend of mine and my only visitor (through a partly opened window) while I was quarantined at home with scarlet fever. Most days, on his way home from Shore, he would knock on my window and pass me comics or books. His grandfather had a black car sporting the numberplate PB1 – his initials and presumably first off the assembly line.

One of the newer houses perched above a street garden was home to Bill Dowset of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and his family, followed by the Saint family. From that house there was a clear view down Sverge Street, a cul-de-sac continuing as a steep flight of steps, past Leeze, built by a Swedish mariner. Captain Blix, and demolished in 1964; past Berg Eaglestone, built by German-born Miss Bickell at the turn of the 20th century, also now demolished; and so to Sirius Cove.

This was our beach. We had a car, but like our neighbours and nearby friends we never considered swimming at Balmoral. Sirius Cove was the place for us. This was long before Sirius Cove was half filled in as parkland. Back then it was a tidal beach flanked by a clump of mangroves and rocky outcrops studded with small, sweet oysters, and backed by enormous sandstone slabs where my parents and their friends sunbaked. At high tide there were schools of fingerlings (probably bream) and jelly fish which we cupped in our hands and then released. At low tide all sorts of treasures were revealed: a rotting see- saw, lost toy yachts, a coolie hat and armies of soldier crabs. From the lower side of Clanalpine Street this beach was also accessible through thick bush. Although I later became a serious arachnophobe, in those days I followed my friends without fear through prickly tunnels oflantana and nasturtiums down to Sirius Cove.

Clanalpine Street is almost triangular with a slight curve towards Raglan Street. At its highest point it branches downhill from Queen Street. This part of Clanalpine Street was even then a built up area with small houses on small blocks of land. Near the junction with Queen Street there was a rock projecting on to the footpath from someone’s garden, and in that rock was a deep cleft always full of water and teeming with tadpoles. Children coming home that way from school would scrabble in their Globite school case or satchel for a drinking mug or bottle to collect a few of those fat slithery creatures to put in fish ponds when they got home.

Further down Clanalpine Street lived my friend Joan Hobden. Like me she was an only child. She shared my tree “house” (two wide planks in the tree) and I shared her “junk room”, an orderly place where a long, graduated line of sea urchins was ranged on one shelf, books on another, and on a third shelf various treasures sent to her by her soldier father in Palestine – a copy of King Solomon’s pomade box, a filigree silver butterfly and small alabaster or terracotta figurines. The Patels, an Indian family who showed my mother how to make pappadums, the Thornes and the Stiebels were also nearby in our street.

The peace of Clanalpine Street was shattered on the night of 31 May 1942 when we were awakened by thudding noises and the sound of ornaments moving on mantelpiece and shelves. “It’s an earthquake,” said my mother, who was a New Zealander, but in fact of course it was the unsuccessful Japanese submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.

As it happened, one of my best friends at Mosman Primary School was Naoe Hirodo, whose father was a Japanese wool buyer in Sydney. She enjoyed playing with me in our garden after school. She loved the kittens my cats kept producing, and after her return to Japan in 1940 we maintained a prolific correspondence until Pearl Harbour. Forty years later, by fortunate coincidence, we made contact again and resumed our friendship. She had become a teaching nun at the Sacred Heart Convent in Tokyo, and during the 1990s she revisited Mosman for the first time while bringing a party of her students on an Australian tour.

Clanalpine Street was, and probably still is, a marvellous place for childhood. I certainly enjoyed mine and was married from my Clanalpine Street home after twenty idyllic years there.

Ngaire Souter · 28 June 2006

Your comment

Well what a joy to read about Clanalpine Street, i was on the post run for five years in, 1965/1970 ish, and used to go down Clanalpine, all round that area, loved the job, loved the people on my round, thank you for a lovely story. Terry.

— terry brown · 18 July 2006, 18:42 · #

I enjoyed reading your story, but was wondering if you could email me about John and his family the Bellmaines. I was wondering if John had a brother by the name of Stuart Hamilton Suhan. He was my grand father and I think the John you speak of may be my great uncle. I am trying to search through my grandfathers family history with my mother, Stuarts daughter. Any information on the Bellmaines would be much appreciated.
Thankyou Caroline Veale

— Caroline Veale · 16 November 2006, 05:33 · #

Dear Ms Souter
I’m Naoe Hirodo’s niece and she is my fathers yougest sister! I’m living in Sydney now and it is good to know about the story which is related to my father’s family.
Are you still in touch with my aunty? If not, you can contact me!

— Catherine Keiko Hubik · 13 April 2007, 10:44 · #

Dear Ngaire,
I too lived in Clanalpine St, and was an Armstrong. I do remember meeting a neighbour with your name when I was child. My aunt was a great friend of the Browne ladies and I have fond memories of the Halls, the Indian family, the Lavers & Johnsons. My grandfather built our house and had a long connection with Mosman. I have many happy memories

— Helen Upton · 3 March 2008, 06:26 · #

I lived in 14 Clanalpine Street as a child, born there in 1938. I remember the night the Japanese submaries entered the Hrbour and the sirnes went on and on. We hid downstairs in the basement during htat night. Our house is still there and has lovely views of the harbour. I could write more if you wish.

— Mary Mennis (nee Eccles) · 9 March 2009, 09:49 · #

Yes Mosman was a lovely suburb. Our family moved there to 14 Clanalpine Street in 1937 and the cost of the house was 3,300 pounds. It was called Dunsfold. There were seven children in the family at that stage and we enjoyed tennis parties on the grass tennis court; folk dancing on the lawns and picnics at the local beach at Sirius Cove which we could walk to. There was a rockery down Clanalpine Road with water cascading in it. Sometimes a duck was seen there. My brother and I were in trouble for running down the road to look. Is the rockery still there? Our friends the Burke family lived at 6 Major Street. As a child I thought they had a large front yard but when I visited it as an adult it was just normal size. We left Mosman in 1943. My father could only sell the house for what he had paid plus the cost of any improvements as it was the war-time. We went to New Zealand on a troopship and were the only passengers. We had minesweepers in the front of the ship and target practice. My father became Professor of Medicine at Otago University and went on to become quite famous.

But Mosman was the place I was born so it has always been a special place for me.

— Mary Mennis (nee Eccles) · 30 March 2009, 07:34 · #

It was very interesting reading your article.  “The Grange”, at 55 Clanalpine Street, Mosman belonged to my Great Grandfather Mr Algernon Nathaniel Allen.  He had two daughters Anne Christina Allen (known as Christina) and Algina Allen.  Christina married Mr William Little and had three daughters – Joan, Ivy and Phyllis.  Phyllis (known as Virginia) is my mother.  Joan and Ivy were born at “The Grange”, but my mother was born at 4 Calypso Avenue, Mosman where the Little’s family later lived. They then moved to 126 Raglan Street, Mosman approx 1937.  This is where I grew up.  Born in 1951 I enjoyed the wonderful lifestyle of old Mosman.  I remember riding our bikes along Clanalpine Street to what we called the “Fairy Grotto” gardens. Rock formations  always wet from seepage, little pools with ferns, tadpoles etc.  We would play there for ages.  I  also remember a sheep being tethered on a front lawn of a house on the corner of (I think) Clanalpine St & Mistral Avenue.  We assumed to keep the lawn down.  Try doing that now!  We have no ties in Mosman now, but it was a wonderful old suburb to grow up in.  

— Linda Booth (nee McCauley) · 28 April 2009, 06:35 · #

I have really enjoyed reading the various articles on Clanalpine Street, myself and my husband have just purchased 18 Clanalpine Street, a Victorian house built around 1890, which we have been told was a Boarding House in a previous life. I would be really interested to hear from anybody who can tell me more about the history of my future home.

— Karen Wiles · 28 July 2009, 04:56 · #

I would love to find out what happened to John Laver if any one has kept in touch. I spent many wonderful times in the Laver’’s lovely home during my late teenage years in Mosman listening to family music sessions.

Kate (Cathy) Mora (nee Mellor) · 1 January 2010, 07:33 · #

I was interested to read Linda Booth’s memories of “the Grange”. Algina Allen was my grandmother, and as a child I was taken to visit the Raglan St house where her sister lived, many times.

My daughter has just moved to Mosman as she is now working in the city, and uncovered this site in a search for family history. My father is now 91, and remembers the Grange, and the dairy that his grandmother started (selling milk to locals because the only supplies of fresh produce were from the city, by ferry). We have a painting of the goats that they kept, presumably adjacent to the house. I’m sure my father could answer other questions about this era if more information is of use.

— Jeanette Learned · 10 May 2012, 21:30 · #

Phyliss Virginia Little married Thomas Edward McCauley R.N. & R.A.N.
Thomas was Uncle of my wife Patricia Frances McCauley and brother of her father William McCauley
I have researched family history of McCauley family and have a photo of all the McCauley brothers including Thomas in his R.A.N. uniform and Paddy in his R.N. Uniform

— Alan Brookes · 12 May 2012, 01:39 · #

My husband I bought “ The Grange221; from the Stanton family in 1960 for 5,500 pounds ! It seemed a lot at the time but our family has loved living here over the years, & we have had the privilege of meeting some of the original families descendants of Algenon Allen , who I was told quarried the stone on the site to build the house.
As a child growing up in Mosman (Clifton St.) I had a romantic dream of living in a stone house when I was married ! So it has been a joy to have spent 53 really happy years at The Grange , a house with a wonderful history ! Thank you for all the fascinating stories too !!

— Jill Swart · 30 August 2013, 16:59 · #

Hi. I lived in 3 Kallaroo Street, a small cul de sac off Clanalpine in the 1960’s.
My mother, Mary was good friends with Madge Laver and I knew John and Bill Laver although they were a little older than me.
I often wonder what happened to them, does anyone know? They moved from Clanalpine to Raglan Street in the 1960’s and had a fine victorian house down from Mosman Prep.

— John Grosvenor · 21 September 2015, 22:46 · #

John,
I remember you, and your family. I live in Bowral and John has been in San Francisco since 1975. Where are you now, and what has been happening in your world since the 1960’s. By the way, my daughter Alyson messaged me about your blog which she saw when she was looking for info on mum. Look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards Will Laver

— Will Laver · 29 February 2016, 08:51 · #

Hi Will
I remember you, John and your sister as I stayed with you and your family for about 18 months in 1964/5 having emigrated from England.
I’m now back in the UK and retired but frequently travel to the west coast of America. Could you please let me have John’s contact details in SF, it would be good to catch up with him although I doubt if I will play in the band again.!
Kind regards.
David

— David Smith · 6 November 2016, 06:32 · #

Hi

I lived in 21 Clanalpine street for over 20 years. Fantastic memories of fishing in the harbor, football and cricket at “the cove”.

I miss those days and sadly our lifestyles have changed so much. In many ways not for the better. That’s what we call progress I guess!

— Anthony Parkinson · 4 December 2016, 13:24 · #

Will Laver,
My name is Peter Armstrong and I lived two doors up from you, we used to play together. Do you remember the walk round the bush track to the spot where it was possible to jump the fence into the zoo? Would love to hear from you.

— peter armstrong · 7 March 2017, 10:25 · #