Dennis Francis' Memories of Mosman

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Dennis Francis
c. 1942—c. 1960

Dennis on his way to Malvern school

My earliest memories of Mosman was when I attended Malvern Kindergarten; it was a lovely old house in Raglan Street. I remember rolling down the grassy slope at the front of the house with the other children. At the end of the day all the mothers would be waiting for us, talking to each other on the footpath. I still have a photo of our class and many of theses children went through the same school system as I did – Mosman Infants, Mosman Primary and Mosman High.

It was at Malvern that I met Bruce Trayes and became lifelong friends. I grew up living at 81 Shadforth Street from 1942 in my grandparent’s home. In those days our street was full of kids round about my age. We played cricket across the street with no fear of traffic, very few of our neighbours owned cars. Mosman Prep School was our playground; they had a cricket pitch and a tennis court.

At the end of our street lived Mr and Mrs Hatherly. In the 1950s they ran a children’s program over the wireless and were known as Bobby and Betty Bluegum. They would read out birthday announcements for the children and I remember on one of my birthdays Bobby Bluegum told me over the wireless to follow the length of string leading from the kitchen up the back path and into the shed. When I opened the shed door, tied to the string was my first puppy, a black and white foxie called Nipper. All this of course had been previously planned over the phone by my mother. Also I listened to serials over the wireless, my favourites being, The Search for the Golden Boomerang and Biggles.

Malvern Kindergarden Christmas Party July 1947

Malvern Kindergarden Christmas Party July 1947

Malvern Kindergarden July 1947

Malvern Kindergarden July 1947

I remember on Christmas mornings very early you would hear the bells ringing as the kids travelled down the footpath on their new Cyclops cars (always red), dinkies and scooters. Many of the householders would rake up the leaves from the footpath and burn them off in the gutter.

I remember Mum taking my sister and myself up to the Kinema Cinema of a Saturday morning for the kids birthday party; we would all line up on the stage and get a slice of birthday cake each, then sing happy birthday to the child – the Mosman RS Club now stands on this site.

Every year we celebrated the Highland Gathering at Rawson Oval. The Scottish Pipe and Drum Bands would march down Military Road to the oval and the footpaths were always crowded.

My grandfather, Robert (Bob) Milburn, his stepbrother Jack Chidzey and myself would catch the Mosman Bay ferry to the Quay and make our way to the Sydney Produce Markets where we would buy live chooks, put them in Hessian bags with their heads sticking out of the slits and catch the ferry home. My grandfather and I used to collect prune tins full of blackberries, picked from beneath the footbridge which runs above Reid Park. I would often cross the old wooden footbridge at the back of Mosman Bay and fish off the pontoon of Mr Mulgannon’s Boatshed, now the site of the Mosman Bay Marina.

My grandparents on my father’s side, Lou and Gertie Francis, had fish shops on Military Road, Mosman. My father would take orders and deliver the fresh seafood on foot. Spit Junction and Mosman had a night watchman and I would often see him doing his rounds as I walked home from night tennis. He would check all locks of the shops – I sometimes spotted billposters.

Where the Country Road store is now used to be the Mosman RSL Club and before that it used to be a Cinema, where I am told my Grandparents and Mother watched ‘The Jazz Singer’, an early talking movie. I was told Grandma asked Mum when does the picture (movie) start as she did not realise the picture had already begun as the actors were actually talking.

Trams were the mode of travel in Mosman. They went to The Spit, Balmoral, Mosman Bay and the Zoo. I remember the conductor had to change the points at Spit Junction. My family never owned a car and a big day out for my sister and me on a weekend was for us all to walk up to Spit Junction and hop on a double-decker bus, rush up to the top deck and rush to the front seat for a bus ride to Manly. On Manly Wharf visitors would throw coins into the water and watch the local boys dive and retrieve the coins. Also the Wharf supported a Fun Pier where we would have rides on the Octopus and the Ghost Train – both of these rides went over the water. There was also an Aquarium or you could go for a speedboat ride or a donkey ride along Manly Beach. A bigger day out was a bus ride to Palm Beach where Mum would buy us a double ice cream cone.

Houseboat at Fisher Bay, The Spit

We lived on a houseboat for a while at Fisher Bay, The Spit. I was seven then and Mum cooked on Primus’s and we generated our own electricity; Dad was a commercial fisherman at the time. Sometimes we walked around the bush track to catch the tram to school but ticks were a worry so mostly we rowed across to Mrs Ferguson’s boatshed and then left our dingy there till after school. I remember carrying big blocks of ice in our dingy for our ice chest.

We regularly beached the houseboat and repainted the hull. I remember a Guy Fawkes Night we had on the beach, my sister and I would often watch hundreds of dolphins playing from our bedroom window. I learnt to swim at Sam Herfords Baths and I remember watching Murray Rose train there; Sam was his coach. Dad would clean the mussels off the wooden pylons for Sam. We cooked and ate these as we did from off the pylons of the old Spit Bridge.

I had a great uncle Cecil Lewis (Uncle Goog) who lived in a tin shanty beside the track that led to Chinamans Beach. We would shoot the net at Clontarf, Griffins then Claires before Chinamans Beach, hang the cotton net out to dry then bbq the mullet over an open fire. Dad and his cousin Vic Saville used to tan the net on this site; evidence of that is still there today. When money was short we would wait till high tide then we would swim at the back of the baths to avoid the entrance fee.

Some Sundays I would take down to Pearl Bay a baked lunch for Herman, a gentleman who lived on a very small boat. Also Bruce and myself would feed a feral cat here, she had a litter and I asked Mum could I bring one home; the answer was ‘yes’ as long as it was a male. Bruce and myself selected a sturdy male, ‘Whiskey’ (black and white) – she had over seventy kittens and we found a home for every one.

I remember the Clifton Gardens baths and we drank at the Clifton Gardens Hotel. Once a week we had a fruit and vege merchant (Paddy) deliver to our street with fresh produce from the markets, by horse and cart. The horse knew which householder supported Paddy because he would make his own way to the next house – the wheel marks in the curb are still there today. My grandfather and our neighbour Mr Langley always had a bucket and spade handy to collect the manure. We bought ice from the ice man and fresh bread, honey and jam rolls (still hot) from the baker. I remember the rabbit man and the clothes prop seller. The garbos in those days would enter your property and empty your garbage tins and they were tin not plastic like today. You would hear him working his way down the street, but no one to my knowledge ever complained. The milkman used to deliver our milk, running up the side path and placing the bottles on the windowsill. You could buy bulk milk but it was said if it had a blue tinge it had been diluted too much. Often of a night you would hear geese and swans passing overhead and sometimes if you were lucky you would see them during the day flying in their V shape formation and a bird taking over the lead.

Bruce and I used to save scrap metal and sell it to the scrap metal merchant at North Sydney for pocket money; we got 9 pence per pound for lead and 3/6 per pound for copper – aluminium was not worth saving.

The Mosman Hotel of a late afternoon was always packed, standing room only with drinkers hanging out of the doors on Friday afternoon. The Salvation Army Band played on Spit Road; they also ran a chocolate wheel which was always popular. My father’s parents lived at 23A Spit Road which is now the Garrison Retirement Village. I believe my grandfather played football for the local team, The Trafalgars, but I have no evidence of this.

As a boy I worked for the Newsagent at Spit Junction. I started very early in the morning rolling newspapers with brown paper and glue, then after school I would do my paper run, delivering papers to regular customers and also visit the many large Convalescent Homes (Rest Homes) on my run.

Some of the shops I remember at Spit Junction were Amos the Removalists, now a block of units; a beautiful old home on the corner of Cowles and Military Road now the Crystal Car Wash; Kerslakes Chocolates; a Ham & Beef Shop; Mintys Drapers; Line & Co Drapers; a plant and seedling shop with the open window; Perry’s greengrocer; Mr Whybrow the Chemist; Miami Milk Bar; Mr Whittles Hardware; McIllwraiths Grocers with the sliding shop assistants and the drawers; Pop Foys Bicycle Repair Shop; Horsnels Shoes; the Wine Bar with the swinging louvered doors; The Pets Pantry and the Kings Cinema.

The shops at Mosman Junction I remember were Farquharsons French Polishers; Erics Greengrocer where we bought sugar cane by the foot; Mr & Mrs Lopez Greengrocer who displayed two large models of sailing boats in their shop; Derrins grocer shop where we sat on high Arnotts stools with no back support while Mum asked for a pound of Arnotts plain assorted biscuits please from the tins; Newsagents; Butcher shop with water running down the inside of the window (I sold old newspaper to the butcher here); Northern Suburbs Supply Store; Mallams chemist; Moran & Cato Grocers; Ham & Beef Shop; Wine Bar with swinging louvered doors and Pavlovics Fish & Chip Shop. Further down Avenue Road I remember watching black and white television with my grandfather and others of a night from the footpath, it was displayed from an Electrical Appliance store. Further down Avenue Road there were two butcher shops, a newsagent, two grocers, a greengrocer and a chemist (Ian Craig had this shop for a while). We had a coal and coke merchant whose property backed onto Memory Park – we had coke delivered to our house. I remember this man was always black with coal dust and always had a large sack over his shoulder to protect himself from the sharp coke bags which he carried and I remember he was well liked within the community.

Mosman life at the end of the forties and throughout the fifties was a lot slower than it is today. We knew nearly everybody in the street and we always had time to stop and talk. My grandson is the seventh generation to live in Mosman. My Mother’s Father started on the trams in 1900 and retired in 1952. His first job was a sand boy where he walked in front of the tram in wet weather sprinkling sand on the tracks for better traction. My Father’s Mother Gertie Lewis was the Australian Single Sculling Champion from 1906 till 1911. She defended this title successfully five times taking on any challenger. She rowed against a New Zealand Maori at the Spit and won. She retired undefeated and was also a handy swimmer and diver and was a rival to her friend the great Annette Kellerman.

Dennis Francis · 9 May 2013

Your comment

What a beautifully written story. It gives a wonderful window into those gentle years in Mosman. You can see mine on Mosman Streets. Muston St. From the mid fifties to the seventies. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I often wondered who lived in those house boats and imagined what life would be like.

Linda Cairnes · 21 June 2013, 10:00 · #

Hello Dennis. I was your PE teacher at High school — Les Peterkin—-remember me?? I enjoyed your writing . I remember Bruce Trayes very well too.
Cheers Mate !!!

— Les Peterkin · 17 August 2013, 13:01 · #

Hello Dennis, I loved reading your story, how exciting it must have been to live on a houseboat, throwing a line over the side and waking every morning surrounded by sparkling emeralds dancing like fairies through the water. I lived at Rose Crescent Mosman, just above the wharf, and even now I can close my eyes and be transported back to those happy days and the deep spicy seaweed smell of Mosman Bay, lantana grew like wildfire across holes in the rocks and through the surrounding bush land. The age old patina of the area is timeless. Thanks for sharing your story, best wishes, Narelle

— Narelle Marie McDonald · 30 August 2013, 11:22 · #

Thanks Dennis for such an evocative series of memories.
I ended up on this webpage because my mother, Estelle Clancy, a long-term Mosman resident was reminiscing today about her Aunty Nance Sweetland and the school she set up, Malvern School. Mum’s cousin Cecily went there and had been talking to mum today about the pantomimes that Aunty Nance would organise, Red Riding Hood being one of them. Both my mother and her cousin are 90 years old.
Mum said Nance Sweetland was particularly patient and helpful with children with learning difficulties. This is of particular interest to mum as mum was an English as second language teacher.
If you have any memories of Mrs Sweetland I am sure mum would love to hear of them. Thank you.

— Margaret Boden · 3 September 2013, 18:12 · #

Thank you so very much for the memories – Remember all those shops so well – prompted by your writings. My brother worked for the Lopez’s for quite a few years throughout school.

— Pamela Voltz (nee Turner) · 23 October 2013, 16:35 · #

Thanks for all that Dennis. I also went to Malvern and Mosman Primary but then in 1952 moved on to Naremburn Intermediate High School. Our father had a shop in Military Road Mosman between Lopez’ fruit shop and Derrin Bros. It was a men's hairdresser and tobacco shop. We lived above the shop until 1947 when we moved to the corner of Countess and Awaba Street. We spent many a Saturday morning at the Kinema and we grew up with Dom and Tony Lopez as kids.

— Robert Stirling · 28 November 2013, 18:28 · #

Hi Dennis
Your story is a very pleasant surprise. Who would have thought you write so well ?
We were together in Mr. Shadbolt’s class 5B at Mosman Primary in 1953 . I still have the class photo.The smarter boys were all in 5A. I remember you very well as I do Bruce Trayes ( of 1st Mosman Scouts and Queen Street ) and all your other vivid recollections of the goings on . Being an Australian born child of “reffo” Estonian parents made for some tough times growing up near you at 4 Canrobert Street. Nevertheless I learnt to play cricket and rugby football forcing back kicking in the Mosman Prep school yards after school. You will recall no doubt I was not very good.
Les Peterkin ( complete with his very cool looking crew cut hair ) was also my P E teacher at Mosman Intermediate Boys’ and he may also remember me as a poor physical and un coordinated specimen. Be it known Les that I became the senior athletic champ at Balgowlah Boys’ in 59 and 60 and the CHS discus record I broke n 1959 stood at Balgowlah Boys High over 25 years.
I left the family home in Canrobert street to get married in 1968 and become an architect . I still visit the neighborhood on regular memory lane expeditions on way to Balmoral Beach for early morning swims and can report that you house in Shadforth Sreet ( near Alan Anderson’s house ) is still there. My old home has been gentrified …enough said.
How about a get together ? It may be fun.

— karl romandi · 29 March 2014, 12:27 · #

Karl Romandi, after all these years. I was in sea scouts with you, cannot recall the name of the troop but the scout hall was on Little Sirius Cove at the end of a bush track past the zoo at the end of Rickard Avenue. I do recall your artistry which was apparent even in those days: you painted your bike an uber cool pink with blackened zebra stripes; a complete contrast to the standard Malvern Star colour scheme of the time.

At the time I lived with my parents at the corner of Harbour and Short Streets and used to ride to the scout meetings and remember riding with you to Balmoral Beach for the occasional swim too, though in those days our interest seemed divided between bikes, beach and the girls who swam at Balmoral.

Our old house,and indeed every house in the block, was resumed in the mid 1960s and became the electricity substation that is still there. Pity conservation architecture and PV cells were not the go then as the house might still be there; it had a very extensive roof with northerly aspect.

Years later I married at All Saints Hunters Hill which, I believe, was just around the corner from your architecture studio.

— Ian Campbell · 27 August 2014, 13:27 · #

Heavens, this brings back memories. We lived at 3 Badham Avenue during this era; walked up to Mosman Junction via Shadforth Street, shopped at Chidzey’s, went to school at Mosman Infants and Primary before going to North Sydney Girls’ High School. And for Karl Romandi … I went to school with your sister Astrid. We still keep in contact and I remember visiting your house sometimes on the way home from school.

— Rosemary · 22 January 2015, 05:04 · #

Just came across this site.
I was bought up by my grandmother and lived at 5 Avenue rd Mosman overlooking Mulgannons boat shed.
As a boy the fishing was great plenty of blue swimmer crabs and good flathead not to mention bait fish every where.
Today it’s a trash pile compared to yesterday what a damn shame.
I remember Mulgannons boat shed,the rowing club, and the sea scouts pontoon where I fished a lot.
Once they dredged the bay and put the Marriner in that was the beginning of the end the dredging ruined the crabs for a start.
Great memories then kids could walk free without fear it was a wonderful era.
Unfortunately all that is gone forever.

— Robert Manning · 10 March 2015, 12:05 · #

Wonderful memories for sister Phyllis (Holdsworth) put me onto your site and I have loved the trip down memory lane. Both my sister and I went to Beauty Point school which we walked to from 86 Awaba Street, my grandparents (Fathers side) lived in the same street as Queenwood. We were members of Balmoral Swim Club and I remember we used to walk to the Spit Baths from school for swimming lessons. I attended Mosman Home Science School (all girls) as it was called in those days. The whole family always attended the Highland Games at Balmoral. My mother used to work in McIlwraiths and they used to sell broken biscuits from a jar. Always loved the beautiful old building that was the Mosman Library.

— Di Smith · 28 March 2018, 17:20 · #