Memories of Gawler by Pam Reincke

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Recalling the good old days in Gawler Pam Reincke, a Gawler resident of all of her eighty-two years, fondly remembers the good old days where life was ‘less racy’.

‘I never wanted to move away from Gawler,’ Pam said. ‘We had a nice environment, growing up at 8 Second Street. In our schooldays, our happy hunting grounds were down at Dead Man’s Pass. There was an area of the South Para River called the ‘break’. You got dumped in the river and had to swim out — that was the initiation ceremony. I know the boys who put me in there.’

‘We often asked Nana to tell us the story about Dead Man’s Pass,’ Pam said. ‘Nana would say the man might have been a traveller and, when he died, they didn’t know where to bury him. The Aboriginals who lived further upstream in caves — an area we called Black Bobs — had lots of dogs, so they put the body in the hollow of a tree and closed it up with mud. Another party came along later and gave the man a proper burial, but no one knows where he is buried.’

Pam’s mother, Alma, was one of five children to Norman and Daisy Greening (née Causby). Norman was a councillor and JP, and lived in Gawler for sixty years. Pam’s father, Vic Warnest, worked as a butcher all his life with his shop at the top end of Murray Street. He had moved from Dutton, a small township north of Truro, to Gawler in 1934. As a butcher, Pam’s father drove a horse and buggy to deliver meat to the homes in Gawler. Milk and bread deliveries were also common in those days and, occasionally, someone came around with rabbits to sell. A horse and cart delivered half a ton of wood which they burned in winter.

Pam remembers the swing bridge at Dead Man’s Pass before it got washed away. ‘In flood times a huge amount of water washed over the road and came up to where the Ambulance Station is now,’ Pam said. ‘I stood on the banks of South Para River and watched the Goose Island Bridge being washed away. That area we knew as Duck Flat.’

Pam and her brother, Neville, went to Gawler Primary School and got on well with the teachers, although the headmasters were heavy-handed and officious, Pam thought. ‘If we played up, the headmaster punished us with the strap,’ she said.

She attended Gawler High and fell in love with tennis and netball. ‘It was top tennis in those days with quality players coming from the city to play in competitions. In the tennis association you had to find out where you were playing — Gawler South, St Georges, Tod St or Daly St. The Easter tennis tournaments were a special attraction. We were classy tennis players.’

Saturday matinee at Hoyts Picture Theatre in Murray Street was a favourite in Pam’s courting days. ‘We wore swishy long dresses for balls in the Institute,’ Pam recallled. ‘I married at twenty to Clive in 1954. When we first met he would donkey me home on his pushbike. We didn’t have a car in those days — it was a big thing getting your first car. Ordinary working people had to save a lot to buy a car. Clive worked in the Army for a while and then as a public servant in the city. We always took the train to the city or, with the tennis club, sat on the back of a truck. At one of our picnic outings, at Middle Beach, the blue swimmer crabs were in profusion everywhere. After a lot of saving, our first car was a Holden FJ. These were good times. Pity you can’t re-live them.’

‘At Christmas time,’ Pam said, ‘we had a special treat — cherries and chicken. The cockerel came from our back yard — not from any supermarket. Well, we didn’t have a supermarket then. We shopped at corner shops like Whinnen brothers grocery store, where She’s Apples is located now. The shops were intimate meeting places and you knew the people in them. We also knew everyone in our street. Dear old ladies — knew them all. Miss Towers, next door, adored our two children, Mark and Catherine. She bequeathed her home to the Church of the Transfiguration, at which we attended. And the men — Mr Sweeney grew very good sweet peas. Mr Bloffwitch scared us with his bees, though. He didn’t like us going round his hives.’

Pam thought of HB Crosby as a big shop and well patronised. ‘The chain went ‘zing’ as it brought back your change,’ she said. She recalled the chemist John Duncan, Ames hardware, Miss Hooper’s ham shop, Eudunda Farmers, Stan Wurst at Walker Place bakery, Jack Stanley’s butcher’s shop. Michael Mattei had a men’s store. And market days, usually on Thursday, were huge, including a sundry market, a poultry market and a monthly cattle market. They bought vegies off the back of a ute from Italian growers. Pam worked as an office clerk at Dalgety Farmers.

‘We used to listen to the radio a lot in the early days,’ Pam said. ‘Sitting in the kitchen, we loved the comedy programmes and laughed our heads off. That was often our entertainment. We played cricket under the street lights, with no fear of walking at night time. We didn’t go out much and didn’t get into too much trouble. Sunday morning we would go yabbying and come home often with a bucket full of yabbies from the South Para River. We cooked them in a copper that we had in the backyard, and added lemon and vinegar for our gourmet Sunday evening meal.’

Life was sedate in those days, according to Pam. She said, ‘The pace of life was much slower. People looked out for each other; they would call in to ask whether you needed any help. Now it takes longer to know your neighbours. Lots of new people have come into Gawler, and they will have to learn to assimilate. Gawler is a lovely place, but it’s not big enough to cope with all that is coming into it. Somehow, we just have to keep going.’

We thank Thomas Mann for recording this in May 2016

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