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Recollections

Hillier Clement (Clem) Wight, May 1983

I was born in a house in Stanley Street, North Adelaide on December 10 1906 and christened in St Cyprian's Church in Melbourne Street. The house, number 130, was next to the corner of Fuller Street, and had four main rooms off the central passage. At the back end of the passage, a door and curtain led to a wide room which served as a kitchen and breakfast room with a large wood-burning stove, and at one end a rudimentary bathroom containing only a low concrete wall which was supposed to create a bath. A tap admitted cold water to this miniature swimming pool, if you fancied a cold bath. How the water could ever be warmed with only a wood stove in the house, I don't know. All bathing was done in a washing-day tub on the kitchen floor, near the stove in the winter time.

Gas mains ran along the street, if only to supply the street lights, certainly no gas used in number 130. Of electricity there was none. Lighting in the house was supplied by kerosene lamps and candles.


130 Stanley Street, North Adelaide (October 2007)

My play grounds were the nice wide Stanley Street, on which my toy engine ran beautifully where the road was smooth, the nearby parklands on Kingston Terrace, and a certain large vacant block of land (now occupied by the S.A. School of Arts and Crafts). The attraction of this piece of land arose from the circumstances that, at the right time of the year, it was covered with beautiful high marsh-mallow plants, a perfect place to play hidie, or just get lost. Our part of North Adelaide, then called Lower North Adelaide, lay between Adelaide with its shops and warehouses, and the settlements in the hills to which the North-East (Tea Tree Gully) Road gave access. The bullock wagons which conveyed the heavy goods preferred to go along Stanley Street, and were a regular and familiar sight. If there were coaches carrying people they went another way; I never saw any.

Transport to Adelaide up to 1909 was provided by horse-drawn trams. We were on the Walkerville route and the trams ran along Melbourne Street, I suppose I rode on the horse-trams, but do not claim to remember them. When the electric trams came, they were regarded as marvels of speed, and of beautifully grained and varnished wood.

Street lighting was provided by an occasional gas lamp. These were lighted at dusk each evening by a man who came along on a bicycle and equipped with a ladder. There was a bar at the top of the lamp post against which the ladder leaned. I don’t know at what time the lamps were put out.

In 1910 some excitement was caused by the appearance of Halley’s Comet. I do not know whether I was woken up to see it, or was told about it years later.

A more local excitement was caused by a man thought to be no less than a millionaire who rode along the street in the chauffer-driven car showering handfuls of new shiny pennies to the eager children. If I picked any up, I suppose they went to Tidswell’s shop to buy comics such as Tiger Tim.

We were friendly with neighbours who lived on the same side of the street as we did (but not with the other side, perhaps the street was too wide). On our East, on the corner of Fuller Street, lived the Pavy family. Mr and Mrs Pavy had two boys eight or ten years older than I, and more the age of my brother Cyril, who played football with them in the parklands. Mr Pavy was blind, having lost his sight in a mine explosion in Western Australia. He earned money playing an accordion in King William Street. He proudly claimed that he earned his living, and accepted no charity.

On his earnings he sent his two sons to the Adelaide University, from where one emerged as a lawyer and one as a doctor. Dr H.K. Pavy lives at Netherby. Some years later while I was going to Flinders Street School, Mr Pavy, then a salaried collector for the Blind Institute, visited the school, and hearing my voice, recognised and spoke to me.

On our West side, a few doors along, lived the Ashtons. Will was an artist, with his studio in the back yard. I delighted in sitting on the floor watching him paint — he did not seem to mind. I do not remember doing any drawings at the time, but I do remember Will saying how strange it was that his Adrian, son, and indeed grandson of artists, showed no drawing ability, while I did. He need not have worried, because Adrian became a successful architect in Sydney where the family later went, and Will became Sir Will and Director of the Sydney Art Gallery. Grandfather was the well-known “identity” Jimmy Ashton who among other things taught Art at Prince Alfred College.

Near Ashtons was the Deland family of which I knew only the daughter Effie. I was to meet her twice in later life. Once was when she came to Adelaide High School to do a “crash” course in chemistry in preparation for a science degree at Adelaide University — she became a M.Sc. Then in 1937 and 1938 my wife Dorrie and I used to go to a “Truby King Mothercraft Centre” located in John Martin’s shop in Rundle Street with our first daughter Rosemary, and we often met Effie there, also getting advice about her children. She had married a chap I knew at school, Rupert Best, who was a Doctor of Science.

Further along lived a Jewish family, Goldstein or Goldsmith. All I knew about them is that, one morning a girl of the family called at our door and said that it was time I went to school. Thus it was that I was enrolled as a student at Miss Stack’s Private School, and received an enamelled hat badge bearing the letters M.S.P.S. Miss Stack conducted her school, alone, in a galvanised iron structure at the rear of the Druids Lodge building in Stanley Street; both buildings are still there. I did not get to know any of the children at the school, and have seen none of them since, except Laurie Whittle of E.T.S.A. When comparing notes with Laurie in 1947, we decided that we must have been at the school at the same time.

Between our home and the school was the Blacksmith shop. Here was a place to pause and watch the glowing fire and flying sparks, in the gloomy interior which seemed to be a feature of these places.

The back fence of our small yard had a gate giving on the “lane”. There was a house on Kingston Terrace, back to back to us, also with a gate on the lane. To this house came a migrant family from England, the Leighs, mother, father, Walter, Harry and Lily, and we became close friends. Mr Leigh was a plumber, and later established a good business in the Port Adelaide district, with his two sons as partners. Lily twice widowed and childless, is the only survivor of the family. She was a clever machinist and was employed by a boot factory in Unley to do the stitching on all their most expensive products. Lily is now Mrs L. Bird, of Pennington.

Our time in Stanley Street came to an end in 1915 or 1916, when we moved to a single-fronted house, then number 179 in Carrington Street, Adelaide. We had fewer rooms. Two bedrooms opened off the passage, which then opened into the dining room, the full width of the house. This room led to the small lean-to kitchen, on one end of which was the bathroom. The rear yard was even smaller than the Stanley Street area.


269 (formerly 179) Carrington Street, Adelaide (October 2007)

The kitchen stove was again a wood burner, but wonder of wonders, lighting was by Gas. No matter that one had to stand on a stair with a lighted match — in the passage a match was not needed, there was a pilot light, always on. All that needed to be done to flood the passage with light, coming home at night, was to pull down a little chain which opened the main gas tap. Of course, a price had to be paid for the luxury of gas lighting — the “mantle” was frail and easily damaged (by that match). Replacing a mantle was a delicate operation, carried out by a person on a ladder up near that high ceiling. The convenience of gas was extended to the bathroom, which contained a truly beautiful gas bath heater, with large areas of polished copper and brass. Unfortunately it did not work — hot water had to be carried in kerosene buckets from the kitchen stove to the now-normally-sized bath.

The house was separated from Cardwell Street by a vacant block of land, now occupied by St John Spiritual Church, street number 271. From time to time the land was used by a travelling amusement show, so we had next to us hurdy-gurdies, swings, slippery-dips and so on. My walk to school was along Cardwell Street to the school in Flinders Street, to which I went to the end of 1918.

That was our final year at the school. At the end of it there were two exams, one, internal, to find who would the girl and boy dux; the other, statewide, for the Qualifying Certificate which was the entry-ticket to a high school. We three each gained our Q.C. and in the boys dux exam, I came first, Colin second and Archie third. The Q.C. exam was to have been on November 12 but the Great War ended on the 11th (in Europe) and the 12th was given over to joyous celebrations in King William and Rundle Streets, so the exam was on the 13th.

The butcher shop (Pelham’s) and other shops were in nearby Hutt Street, while milk was obtained, in a billy can, from Beachampe Dairy, along the street towards Hurtle Square. (This business eventually became Amscol.) Between us the and the dairy was the shop of A. Seaman, boot repairer.
Image courtesy Janette Garratt, granddaughter of Mr & Mrs Pelham

During our time in Carrington Street, there were two notable fires in the city. One was two blocks north of us, in Wakefield Street, in an area now occupied by (I think) M.S. McLeod. This was most spectacular, and visible a long way off. During the fire, gas cylinders about four feet long, exploded and hurled themselves high in the air. One cylinder landed on the roof of a house in Cardwell Street — the dent in the root was visible for months after.

The other fire was at Burfords soap factory in Sturt Street, on February 2 1919. The building was unused for many years after the fire, it is now (again I believe) a motor car showroom. The most memorable thing about Burford’s fire was the sight of molten soap running along the street gutter.

When we went to Carrington Street, Cyril visited all the nearby Sunday Schools, and it was decided that we should go to the Pirie Street Methodist one. It was quite a famous era in Pirie Street, the minister was Reverend Henry Howard, and, quite often the solo singer at the evening (Church) services was the equally famous Peter Dawson.

It was quite a walk to Pirie Street, but I must have been a good walker, for one prize I received (a Bible) was for “good attendance, not having missed one Sunday”. Other prizes were in the form of vouchers, to be exchanged at the Methodist Book Depot for a book. I usually chose a Red Indian book about Deerfoot by Edward S. Ellis, but I gathered from the attitude of the teacher that I should have chosen a religious book. My attitude was that if a book was sold by the Book Depot, it should have been all right.

While at Flinders Street school I received the only prize I won at a public school, a book of school life by T.B. Reed. It is a good story — I still have it, and read it from time to time. Ironically the prize was “for spelling”. I don’t remember being good at spelling, I am not much good at it now, anyway. That was in 1917.

The Pirie Street Sunday School picnics were usually at National Park, Belair, and transport was provided by large horse-drawn vehicles called draughts.

It was while we were in Carrington Street that I received piano lessons. Earlier, Cyril had gone to teacher Mr F. Wheatley Bowering, at the northern end of O’Connell Street, North Adelaide; and although we now lived in the city, it was to Mr Bowering that I also went. Fortunately, the tramcar that ran along O’Connell Street also ran along Hutt Street.

About the middle of 1919, we moved to my third, and as a single person, final, home at 119 Rose Terrace, Wayville West. This was indeed a change. A very large house of six large lofty rooms with front and side veranda. Cooking was still by wood stove, but, wonder of wonders, electric light and, after a power point had been installed, electric iron, replacing the charcoal one.

I have mentioned school holiday trips to Strathalbyn and Port Pirie, and to Tumby Bay. In early 1918 I went with, and at the invitation of, my school friend Willie Porter to spend a week with his uncle and aunt Moore who kept the store at the then respectably-sized town, Wild Horse Plains. The journey was by train to Long Plains (end of line), then horse and buggy to W.H.P. All the land between the road, Port Wakefield Road, and the coast of the Gulf was virgin untouched scrub, and we had a wonderful time roaming through it and seeing the native animals and birds that lived there.

For transport to the city (from Rose Terrace) there was a choice between the train from Keswick Station and the tram which started running in 1919 from the then Keswick Military Hospital to the city. When a tramcar wished to cross the Keswick Bridge, the line was laid at such an awkward angle that all other traffic had to wait until the bridge was clear. Later, when a new slightly wider bridge was built, the tram-line was expelled and the tram journey stopped short of the bridge, whereupon the line was called Wayville West.

Another mode of transport was the Keswick horse bus, which ambled along Park Terrace (now Greenhill Road), Cohen Avenue and finished up somewhere in the Grote Street area.

I went to Adelaide High on this bus once, but the attitude of the other passengers who evidently regarded their seats as reserved, deterred me from using the horse bus again.

About this time I acquired my first bicycle and this of course provided another means of getting to school, with the additional advantage of being able to go home to lunch, and if all else failed, the walk to school across the parklands was quite easy and enjoyable.

It was during such a walk, one hot north wind morning in the early 1920s that we saw descending from the sky the ashes from the fire in Duncan and Frasers of Franklin Street, the Ford agents and body builders (they built the bodies of many of Adelaide’s first tramcars).

Beyond the back fence of our house was a large expanse of vacant land, later to be developed as the Showgrounds. One day the famous aviator Harry Butler made a forced landing on the future showgrounds, to rectify some small fault. I saw the aeroplane from over the fence, but the boy along the street scaled the fence, complete with camera, and took the only photos of the incident. The boy was Harry Cockburn, later to become my “Best Man”. In winter there were large pools of water in the showgrounds, inhabited by wild ducks.

Many people in those days who lived a few streets from the Parklands kept a cow, for their own and their neighbours’ milk supply. After the morning milking, the cows were taken along the streets to a gate in the parklands fence marked “Cows Only” and depastured for the day (for a fee to the Adelaide City Council) until the time came for the evening milking and bedding down in the home shed for the night.

During my school holidays, if I went anywhere at all, I went either to Strathalbyn (by bike) to stay with my Aunt Edith (Edmonds), or by train to my Aunt Nell (Milne). At Pirie there were plenty of cousins my age with whom to explore the strange salt water creeks south (or west) of the town.

One holiday journey was different. At Christmas 1920 I went to Wilmington by train (7 am to 11pm) to join Cyril who then was in the National Bank there. He planned to motor from Wilmington to Port Lincoln and back in his little “Stoener” German made motor car. Fortunately, in those days of no roads and little petrol, the car sustained some slight engine damage from a rock thirty or so miles south of Port Augusta and after temporary repairs, the trip was abandoned and we returned. Cyril admitted later that it was a mad enterprise. He probably wanted to revisit Tumby Bay where he was in 1918 and 1919 and where I spent the 1918 Christmas holidays, travelling in the eight knot steamer Wandara.

I passed through the classes of Adelaide High School until in 1922 I was in the top class, then called “Higher Public”. This was the only class of its level in a High School, and many country boys, who wished to do this level and thus qualify for entry to the University, had to board somewhere in Adelaide and go to A.H.S. Thus I got to know people from all over the State. I still have the signatures and home towns of the whole class of 1922.

I passed the H.P. exam at the end of the year, but did not win a scholarship to the University (twelve were awarded each year). In my case I was too young to go to University. So to A.H.S. for another year, the class being renamed “Leaving Honours”. This time I did win a scholarship, coming second on the list. That year A.H.S. did very well, gaining seven of the twelve scholarships including the first five. One of the seven however resigned his scholarship as he was going to Teachers Training College, where he did not need it, so the 13th on the list, my cousin Humphrey, gained his scholarship, and we went through the Engineering course at the University together.

At the end of my last two years at A.H.S., thirty or forty of the boys had the wonderful experience (especially for the townie boys) of going to a ten day camp at Kuitpo forest. Here we dined and slept in a large log building, and attended lectures, and did plenty of practical work, in such subjects as mapping, Surveying and Forestry. This was at a time when most people had never heard of Kuitpo or if they had, did not know how to spell or say it.

My University career started in 1924 and provided something of a shock. Here nobody cared whether the students worked or not — the lectures and demonstrations were given and you could please yourself what you made of them — until the end of the year. Failure meant doing the subject again next year, and made a bad impression on the Scholarship authorities. So for the lucky twelve, there was some incentive after all.

Then there was the matter of what school you used to go to. The Saints boys kept much to themselves, occasionally accepting a P.A.C. boy. The P.A.C. boys, if not accepted by the Saint boy, would fraternise with A.H.S. The sole C.B.C. boy, Will Maloney, had to accept anyone, or be very lonely. He was rather a nice chap, actually.

What really surprised the Saints and Princes, who after all only gained five scholarships between them, was that the A.H.S. boys usually topped the exams. Sid Blasket, the genius of the lot, finished his course with 22 credits in his 24 subjects. I even beat James Irwin in drawing much to his disgust. (He later become Sir James Irwin, Architect and Lord Mayor of Adelaide.)

It is time I mentioned Alf Martin. We started at A.H.S. at the same time, and had parallel careers to the end of our University days.

When the time came to gain “practical experience” we went together to Whyalla and Iron Knob for three months.

At the end of 1924, Colin Dyster and I decided to do a three day bike trip to Victor Harbour, where we had never been. Also we had no experience of long journeys or of camping. Nevertheless we set out one warm morning on December 27th or thereabouts. After calling on my Aunt Jessie, at Strathalbyn, we pushed on (against a head wind) to Milang. Here we selected a nice looking paddock in which to have our evening meal and to spend the night. Darkness was falling when those curious animals, cows, decided to amble over to see what strangers were using their land — we fled to the safety of the road, and decided to push to what the map called Queens Own Town, but where the railway station was called Finniss.

I had to take the lead on hazardous journey in the dark, because my bike had an acetylene lamp while Colin had only an oil lamp. We were guided to the railway station by the sight of a train going along. We spent the night (with permission) in the railway waiting room, and set out early next morning, viewing Middleton, Port Elliot and Victor Harbour.

After lunch we set out for home via Willunga and McLaren Vale. It was sad to have to walk down Willunga Hill, but the brakes on our bikes just could not cope with such a long steep descent. Arriving at the southern outskirts of McLaren Vale, we enquired where my friend Alf Martin might live. Mr McMurtrie (for such it was) told us he lived on the other side of town, and at dusk we arrived at the cottage. There in the passage I was introduced to the young lady who afterwards became my wife.

We were received with much hospitality, and we passed the night as the first persons to sleep in the newly-built house, a little to the west of the cottage.

In the morning, Alf, with some justified pride, drove us round the district in the family car, the Durant.

Then after lunch we set out on the final 25 miles of the trip, and passing over the Keswick Bridge, just before arriving home, on our bikes suffered the first and only mishap of the entire trip — Colin’s pump fell off.

At the end of the Engineering Course, it became a matter of getting a job — no easy thing in those days. Some graduates went to England and America, and were never heard of again. Architectural graduates (except James Irwin who became a partner in the firm Woods Bagot Laybourne Smith and Irwin) were glad to be allowed to work for no wages as building labourers on one of the few building jobs going on.

I secured a job in the Electrical Test Dept of the Tramways, and thus got a chance to find out all about tramcars, motor buses and later, trolley buses. Later I transferred to the Power Department, in the Converter Stations, there gaining good knowledge of electric power generation and distribution which was to be of great benefit later.

But before that “later” came World War II. Public transport became an essential national commodity, and in particular the reliability and punctuality of the tramcars was of paramount importance. During these years, it is pleasing to say, no tramcar was ever delayed by any human mal-action or in-action in the Power Department.

World War II over, with its attendant horror of the blackout, it became apparent that the days of electric tramcars were nearing their end. (Except on the Glenelg line — and it pleases me to recall that I helped in the building of the Bay Trams in 1929.)

Accordingly I left the M.T.T. (Municipal Tramways Trust) and joined the E.T.S.A. in July 1947, in the equivalent department, the Substation Department. Here I spent a happy and, I believe, useful time until compulsory retirement on December 17th 1971 (aged 65).

But I should have written in the proper place, on September 28th 1935 Dorrie Martin and I were married in the McLaren Value Methodist Church. Dorrie’s attendants were Madeline Mossop and Kath Smith; mine was Harry Cockburn. Dorrie’s father was beginning to be infirm so she was “given away” by brother Alf; Vera Illman played the organ, Reverend F.W. Brasher officiated and his wife sang a solo.

We made our house at number 11 Angus Street, Goodwood, which we bought for £750, inheriting a £500 loan from the State Bank, which we paid off in 4½ years, our total interest being £66.


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