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Benjamin Horace Turner and his Manor House
Ben Turner was an intriguing Shellharbour resident who built his English Manor House around a large rock on land he purchased at ‘Clover Hill’, Macquarie Pass.
Ben was born at North London on 13 March 1910 and was always interested in flying. At the age of 22 Ben made his first parachute descent, a risky thing to do in 1932. Over the years he made many jumps and achieved the fastest record for ‘World’s Timed’ parachute descent, jumping from an average of 600 feet, six times in just over 28 minutes.
Ben and two other men made aviation history when they executed a triple parachute descent for the first time at the Royal Aero Club’s Annual Air Pageant at Camden in 1938.
In 1938 Ben was employed by Denzil MacArthur Onslow, who had obtained the rights to GP Parachutes in Australia. The company offered him employment in Australia, to set up the manufacture of parachutes for soldiers during World War Two, which he personally tested at Camden NSW.
In 1943 Ben married Marjorie Jean Grahame, and after the war, with no use for parachutes anymore, Ben turned to the manufacture of swimsuits and became the Managing Director of ’Scamp’. The girls in his factory were ordered to stop sewing parachutes and start sewing swimming costumes.
Ben toured Australia with ‘Scamp’ swimsuits, along with his wife Jean and the swimsuit models.
In 1949 due to ill health, Ben retired from the company and he and Jean and their English Sheep Dog, Roger, relocated to Clover Hill, Macquarie Pass.
One of the earliest families to live on the Pass were Harry and Mary Thomas and their children, who settled at ‘Clover Hill’ in 1894 and farmed there until moving to a farm ’St Ives’ at Dunmore in 1912.
Ben and Jean began restoring the old Thomas family homestead
Photo: Ben Turner with pony Puff, and the old Clover Hill homestead.
Benjamin Horace Turner and his Manor House cont.
Ben’s gained his pilot’s licence and worked with Southern Cross Airways during the 1970s. He ran regular air services throughout New South Wales before retiring from aviation life and settling down again permanently at Clover Hill.
The 1970s were not good years for Ben. His restored home at Macquarie Pass was lost to fire, the National Parks and Wildlife Service resumed his farm for the National Park, and sadly he separated from his wife of 30 years, Jean.
Ben was allowed to stay at his Clover Hill farm for the remainder of his life through permission from the NPWS. During this time, he began building his Tudor style manor house, affectionately known to the locals as ‘Ben’s Folley’. He built his home around huge rock formations on the property, so that the rocks literally became walls within the rooms of his house.
Ben fought with Telecom for years after trying to have a phone line installed at his property. The long ordeal was fully recorded by Ben in a book he wrote and published Telecom Tower in 1998.
Albion Park locals remember seeing Ben in town often, driving his Kharmann Ghia, dressed in his trench coat (in all seasons), and often eating a meat pie.
In May 2001, Ben Turner passed away at his Clover Hill home at the age of 91 years. This remarkable local man; parachutist, inventor, pilot, artist, author and well known identity was remembered at a wake, held in his honour, at the Albion Park Hotel after his death.
Here, many colourful stories of his life were told by those who knew him.
Photo: ‘The Clover Hill History Macquarie Pass National Park’, prepared by Kevin Gillis for the Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2001.
Ben and Jean Turner with their dog Roger and cat Shaster, and Ben’s Folly.
The Lady Gatekeeper
The Stanford family arrived at Oak Flats in 1919 taking up residence at the Oak Flats railway crossing gatehouse. William Stanford had been a fettler on the railway since 1913, and his wife Janet took up the role of gatekeeper of the railway crossing; a position she held until 1931.
Janet Stanford (nee Reid) was born at Joadja on 28 August 1879. The Reid family later moved to Berrima where they lived for many years before Janet left home to work as a dressmaker in Helensburgh. She married William Stanford in 1911 and they had two children, William and Dorothy.
Gatekeeper was a 24 hour a day job for Janet; opening and closing the railway gates whenever a vehicle wished to cross the railway line, day or night. William and Janet’s son, Bill, remembered living in the gatehouse as a boy, and the windows positioned so that trains coming along the line in either direction could be seen.
The Stanford’s later moved to Central Avenue, Oak Flats, where Janet operated a store and a post office for many years.
Janet also arranged the first church service in Oak Flats at a small hall in Central Avenue where she played hymns on her pedal organ, brought from the Stanford home to the hall, by her son Bill.
William passed away in 1959 and Janet in 1974 at the age of 94 .
When the new Oak Flats Railway Station was officially opened, Shellharbour City Council called for submissions for naming of an entrance road to the station.
The Tongarra Heritage Society suggested the road to be called Janet Stanford Drive. The road was named Stanford Drive, in memory of the lady gatekeeper and the Stanford family of Oak Flats.
‘Oak Flats Garden Suburb’ by Kevin Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2008.
Photo: Janet and William Stanford and the gate house at Oak Flats.
The Cedar Getters
In the early 1800 free permits were given to cattlemen so they could bring their cattle down to the meadows and open pastures to graze. Occupation grants were given to Major George Johnston, Captain Brooks, Charles Throsby, D’Arcy Wentworth, Robert Jenkins, William Browne and Samuel Terry.
Red Cedar (Toona Australis) was valuable to the new colony and it was found in vast quantities in the Illawarra. Soon after its discovery, sawyers were given the task of cutting down the massive trees in areas of thick and impenetrable forest. After the trees were cut down, the logs had to be sawn into planks for transportation. With no roads and few tracks through the thick forest, transporting the planks to the harbour was difficult work.
James Badgery ‘had the use of all the clear land from the southern shores of Lake Illawarra to the Minnamurra River’ and one cedar cutter, David Smyth ‘found the face of the country except for some small open patches, with timber and almost impenetrable’. The vegetation at that time was mostly ferns, cabbage trees, and creeping vines.
Cedar planks were hauled through the forests to the edge of Lake Illawarra by bullock teams. The cedar planks were taken to the port at Shellharbour Village where they were tied together to form a raft and floated out to the vessels waiting to take the shipment to Sydney. The cedar was then sent to England where it was made into furniture and often returned to New South Wales.
William Charles Wentworth, explorer and son of original Shellharbour landowner D’Arcy Wentworth, obtained the rights to cut cedar in the Illawarra from the Governor in 1830. Wentworth was given access to 5,268 acres between the Minnamurra River and Mount Terry at Albion Park. The manager of Wentworth’s Cedar Estate was John Pugh Nichols, son of First Fleeter John Nichols.
‘150 Years of Shellharbour City Area’, Dorothy Gillis, 2009, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc.
Photo: Clearing the forests at Tongarra c.1860
In the early days of settlement at Shellharbour, when ships came into the harbour, the Dunster family who farmed ‘Signal Hill’ (known locally as ‘Duster’s Hill) would send a signal to farmers living in the outlying areas.
Early settlers and farmers relied on the shipping trade to make their living and survive. From as early as 1856 steamers called in at the harbour however the ships were restricted by the tides as the water was not very deep at that time.
Over the years vast improvements were made to the harbour; it was deepened and a jetty added for loading and unloading goods. A storehouse was also built at the end of the jetty to store supplies.
In those early years before the telegraph when communication across Shellharbour was greatly restricted and the population widespread, a means of communicating with the outlying settlements was needed.
Dunster’s Hill is the highest hill in Shellharbour and is visible over almost all of the city, even to this day. High atop this hill, the Dunster family could keep watch for coastal ships calling at the harbour. When ships did arrive, a huge wicker ball was raised into one of the large fig trees atop the hill.
Settlers in the low lying areas of the Macquarie Valley would then set off to the harbour with their produce to be taken to the Sydney markets.
‘Green Meadows’ William A. Bailey, Shellharbour Municipal Council, 1959.
Photo: Dunster’s Hill homestead, The Dunster family at The Hill, Dunster family at Macquarie Rivulet, and the telescope used to spot ships at Signal Hill.
Shellharbour has seen many shipwrecks over the years especially around the rough seas of Bass Point. One of the earliest recorded wrecks was the Amphitrite a wooden ketch under the command of local Captain William Baxter that was wrecked off Shellharbour in May 1851.
The Rangoon was wrecked off Stack (Rangoon) Island at Minnamurra in 1870 after the Captain mistook the Minnamurra Inlet for Kiama Harbour during rough seas. All of the crew were rescued . The anchor from the Rangoon is located at the front of the Ocean Beach Hotel at Shellharbour Village, and material from the wreck was used to construct the old McCabe family home in Shellharbour Village.
The passengers and crew of the Bertha in September 1879 had to be rescued by local Aboriginal people who witnessed schooner become a complete wreck at Bass Point on its way from Sydney to Kiama.
Four men lost their lives in 1901 when the Alexander Berry owned by the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company was wrecked at Bass Point.
Perhaps the most famous wreck is of the American oil tanker Cities Service Boston, which was carrying a supply of fuel during World War Two. The ship ploughed into rocks off Bass Point 16 May 1943 during rough seas. A rescue crew; soldiers from the 6th Australian Machine Gun Battalion (AIF) stationed at Dapto were sent to help the 62 man crew. All of the American crew were saved but four of the Australian rescue team were lost.
In 1995 the Troy D overshot the Bass Point Jetty while loading basalt from the quarry and the ship became grounded on rocks. The blue metal carrier was winched off the rocks the following day.
‘150 Years of Shellharbour’, Dorothy Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2009.
Many preparations against a possible invasion during World War Two were made in Shellharbour. Oak Flats had a light horse battery with two big search lights at the end of Deakin Street. The battery had Bren guns which were dismantled and packed on the horses. The horses were then taken for some exercise and a drink at a natural bore across the highway before walking back to the camp.
Searchlight pits were constructed at Nob Hill, Oak Flats, with mobile generators hidden in trees. Soldiers stationed there had to spot planes and distinguish between friend or foe. Information was linked with radar at Croom Hill and Mount Warrigal. Spotter boxes were located at Dunster’s Hill, and can still be seen today. A communications cable that ran under Lake Illawarra linked the boxes with anti-aircraft batteries at Hill 60 Port Kembla, and Fort Drummond, Wollongong.
Zig-zag trenches were dug in the playgrounds of local schools and partially covered with sheets of iron. Every few days a siren would go off and the children would have an air raid drill. Children would run down to the trenches and during rainy periods would be up to their ankles in mud.
The tank trap was built in the early 1940s and the entrance to Lake Illawarra was covered with barbed wire. It was believed the tank trap would stop invaders from the south from reaching the Port Kembla Steelworks. The Owen Gun was manufactured at Lysaghts and steel for the war effort was produced at the Steelworks. The Albion Park Airstrip was constructed in 1942 for the defence of Port Kembla and used for training pilots.
Petrol and meat were rationed. Private residents couldn’t get petrol or tyres and travel was restricted. Only certain people were allowed to travel to Sydney. Quite a few things were on the black market, nylon stockings were the ‘in thing’ when the Americans came. The soldiers loved getting fresh eggs and they used to trade kids cigarettes for eggs. The kids would rob the chook yards for the eggs.
‘Voices of a Lifetime’, Janelle Cundy, Shellharbour City Council, 2008,
‘150 Years of Shellharbour’, Dorothy Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2009.
Photo: Spotters Box Dunster’s Hill & Airstrip at Albion Park.
An old silo and fig trees mark the original site of ‘Marks Villa’ homestead, near the Illawarra Regional Airport at Albion Park Rail.
The Johnston family, a well known farming family from Albion Park, leased ‘Marks Villa’ from the owner John Russell from 1907, and purchased the property at the Russell Estate sale in 1916. ‘Marks Villa’ had two large bedrooms and a lounge room, a kitchen and laundry. The verandah was closed in by the Johnston family and the children slept in there.
During World War Two the Department of Defence resumed part of the Johnston farm when they built the airstrip in 1942. This put great strain on the Johnston family and their dairying business as much of their fertile farming land had been lost. At times the cheque the family received for their milk did not cover costs and the family almost went bankrupt.
Mrs. Mimie Johnstons’ brother, James Russell East was the Mayor of Shellharbour during the war years and tried to stop the land from being taken, however he was unsuccessful. Many sacrifices were made during the war.
Marks Villa was relocated to a site behind the historic ‘Ravensthorpe’ homestead, some two kilometers to the west. The house was lifted, put on blocks and transported across the paddock. This caused a huge disruption to the Johnston family for a number of years. The family were provided some compensation from the government for the resumption of their precious land, however it didn’t amount to much and certainly did not cover the costs they incurred.
‘Marks Villa’ still lies behind Ravensthorpe homestead today.
Garnet Hedley Johnston – Johnston’s Bros. who farmed at Marks Villa, Tongarra Heritage Society resources.
Photo: John Alfred and Mimie Isabel Johnston on their wedding day and the Johnston family at Marks Villa homestead c.1910
Contract miners were paid by the amount of coal they produced. Miners worked in pairs with a small lamp on their cap to see what they were doing. Coal was dug out with picks and shovelled into wooden skips. A small pony would pull the skip along the rails to ‘The Flat’ where it was attached to a steel cable and pulled to the surface by a winch.
The coal seam was only 4’6’’ high and the miners could not stand upright. They dug coal by hand with a pick and shovel. The men would come out of the mine at the end of the day holding their backs. At times, coal was blasted out. Shots were fired into hard sections of the wall by drilling holes, ramming in the powder, hiding around the corner and then firing the shots with the detonator.
In their breaks, the miners would open the boiler and stick in the Billy to boil the water. When it was boiled they would add tea leaves and then put in back in the boiler to brew. Smoking was a little bit common in the mines in those days but it was very illegal. Then there’d be a scare! The management would be waiting for the miners to walk out of the pit and there would be a smoke and matches search.
Snakes were up there everywhere. Bill Thomas used to travel on the bus to the mine and used to feed a pet diamond python in the bathroom every morning. Jack Brownlee used to catch snakes up there – black ones, brown ones and diamond snakes. The men would bring these home on the bus.
After years of traveling to the mine atop the coal trucks, the miners demanded a bus. WJ Harris who ran a car hire service in town, put on a bus for them in 1945. Claude Harris (WJ Harris’ son) drove the 52 miners every morning from 1945- 1960. It was a wild road up to the mine and there wasn’t any room to pass coal trucks coming down. Claude would often have to back the bus all the way down to the bottom of the bank to let the trucks pass. Claude would leave the bus up at the mine and ride a Norton motorbike back down again. He would ride back up to the mine on the bike to pick up the miners again. He would leave his motorbike in one of the mine tunnels overnight.
‘Tongarra Mine since 1945’, Claude Harris in ‘A Short History of Tongarra Mine’ The Tongarra Heritage Society, 1996.
Photo: Mine store building after a landslide and the Harris bus at the mine.
The Lady Albion Tourist Launch
The Lady Albion tourist launch was used to ferry people all over Lake Illawarra and to the guesthouses located on the lake foreshores. Albert Orange who had great dreams of Oak Flats becoming a holiday haven for tourists, built an impressive guesthouse which he named Illawarra House at Oak Flats on the lake foreshore, with a jetty to accommodate his guests.
Mr. Orange also owned the Lady Albion and used the launch to transport his guests from the railway station at Albion Park Rail to Illawarra House. The Captain of the Lady Albion was William Green of Albion Park Rail. The launch was registered by the Illawarra Ferry Company in 1927 and could carry up to 70 passengers.
Holiday makers would hop off the steam train at Albion Park Rail and make their way to the jetty at Windang Street where they would be ferried across the lake to the guesthouse. Tours were made of the lake with a stop off at Gooseberry Island.
These tourist ventures opened up Lake Illawarra and its foreshores to Sydneysiders who were keen to purchase blocks to build holiday homes on. With the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s, a downturn in business caused Mr. Orange to sell his famous guesthouse. Remains of the original jetty can still be seen at The Esplanade, Oak Flats.
The ‘Illawarra Guesthouse’ was dismantled after sale in 1936, and transported in pieces to Reddall Parade, Lake South, where it was rebuilt as the ‘California Guesthouse’.
The red Merchant Navy flag flown on the Lady Albion tourist launch was donated to Tongarra Museum by members of the Orange family.
‘150 years of Shellharbour’, Dorothy Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2009.
Photo: Lady Albion tourist launch, Jetty at Koona Bay built to service the launch, Red Ensign flag flown on Lady Albion , California Guesthouse.
Albion Park Show
The Albion Park Show has played a large part in the local community since 1887.
Ploughing matches had been held since the 1870s and in 1887 the staging of a provisional show was held in a paddock owned by John Russell in Terry Street.
John Russell donated eight acres of land at Tongarra Road to the newly formed Agricultural and Horticultural Association for a showground, and the committee purchased another three acres.
The first show was held Thursday 18th and Friday 19th January 1888 with 49 exhibitors in the dairy cattle section. Exhibits included horses, sheep, swine, butter, cheese, hams, fruit, flowers, birds, dogs, honey and preserves, buggies, and saddlery.
Local identity Garnie Johnston recalls show day was a very important part of his early life. The Johnston’s showed cattle every year, and only had to transport them across the paddock to the showground, as they farmed neighbouring land at ‘Marks Villa’. In the morning Garnie got up at 4am to prepare for the day.
Many prominent local families have been involved with the Albion Park Show for generations, namely, the Dudgeons, Coles, Greys, Lindsays, Evans, Dunsters, and Heiningers.
The Albion Park Show is affectionately known as the ‘Biggest Little Show on the Coast’, and the Albion Park Show Society held its 120th show in 2008.
‘150 Years of Shellharbour City’, Dorothy Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2009, ‘Through the Century’, Albion Park Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Association, 1986.
Photo: Albion Park Show 1911, The Johnston Bros Illawarra Shorthorn exhibit at the Dapto Show 1920, Cattle sale at Albion Park, and the Agricultural Hall at Albion Park.
In the 1870s coal seams existed at Tongarra. In 1893 William Brownlee of Tongarra started mining a coal seam on his property. The Albion Park Butter Factory had opened in Calderwood Road and in 1894, William sold his coal to the factory for their machinery operations.
William Brownlee came from Ireland as a settler and farmer. In the late 1850s William purchased 236 acres in the foothills of the escarpment and base of Macquarie Pass. William married Elizabeth Collins in the early 1860s and they had five children, John, Mary, James, Peter and Jane. William built a cottage of local sandstone for the family which still stands today.
After discovery of coal on his property in 1880, William began to excavate. By 1893 William excavated a horizontal tunnel 800 feet above sea level. By August 1893 the tunnel had cut into a seam of the purest and best gas coal which was 22 feet thick. There were another two seams above this one at 14.5 feet and 4.5 feet respectively.
The coal at Tongarra was regarded as being of the best quality and was put on par with Newcastle. William Brownlee was able to sell the coal to operate the machinery at the creamery.
In 1893 when Brownlee opened the mine there was every pro-spect that Lake Illawarra would be developed into a major port to export coal from a mine at Dapto. Further development was made to the mine in the early years by Percy Owen, and later Dawson, Gilchrist and De Latorre.
Excellsior Colleries of Thirroul took over mine operations in 1943 and in the 1940s Yuill and Company, under the management of Murray Brownlee. In 1950 William Brownlee’s son, Francis became the manager of the mine on his fathers old property and at this time the entire mine was operated by Excellsior.
Tongarra Mine was closed in January 1965. Over the years the mine provided steady employment for the men of Albion Park and the surrounding districts.
‘A Short History of Tongarra Mine’, The Tongarra Heritage Society 1996.
Photo: Mine workers in the 1950’s and William Brownlee at the entrance to the mine c.1900.
Before a bridge was built at Windang, people travelling between Wollongong and Shellharbour could only cross at low tide. People requested a operational punt in 1926 but conditions at the lake entrance were not suitable.
In 1936 the building of a wooden bridge was begun over Lake Illawarra to connect the two shires. The bridge was officially opened 2nd April 1938. It was 1,050 feet long with a 12 foot clearance at high tide, a 20 foot carriageway and a five foot path. The bridge cost £43,600 to construct.
George McIver was the head builder. A crane was used to pickup huge logs and poles (40 foot long with a big concrete block about four to five feet high and three feet wide), and lift them into the air about 30 feet. The logs were then released and a pile driver hit the pole into the water, to make the footings. The bridge builders lived in canvas tents painted with a little lime and cement while constructing the bridge. Workmen came from all over.
The townspeople held a party when the bridge was finished, and everyone walked over the bridge. A corroboree was held near the Windang camping area.
On 22 December 1971 a new cement bridge was completed and opened for south side traffic access, and on 22 September 1972 the north side was opened providing a four lane carriageway over Lake Illawarra.
‘Voices of a Lifetime’, Compiled by Janelle Cundy, Shellharbour City Council, 2008 ‘150 Years of Shellharbour’, Dorothy Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society, 2009.
Photo: Windang Bridge c.1940-1950, Windang Bridge 1938, boats near the bridge c.1938, and installing the water main at the bridge c.1950
Aboriginal people had travelled up and down a track from the valley at Macquarie Pass to the escarpment for thousands of years before European settlers came to the area. Tullimbar camped with his tribe at the base of Macquarie Pass.
During the early years of settlement, when cedar was cut and transported to the harbour many tracks were made through the thick forest. Ben Rixon was paid five pounds to cut a path for horsemen, drays and buggies. Mr. Carl Webber was employed to map a route for a road up Macquarie Pass when pressed by local residents. Archibald Campbell MLA for the Illawarra paid for the cost of the initial survey.
On the 4th July 1898 Macquarie Pass was officially opened with over 600 people attending the festivities. The Albion Park Band entertained the crowds and a banquet was held at theCommercial Hotel at Albion Park; officiated by Louis Robert Mood of Shellharbour.
A marble tablet marking the opening of the Pass was placed on a rock wall at the top hair pin bend. It reads –
Macquarie Pass opened July 4th 1898 by the Hon. J. B. Young Minister for Works and Archibald Campbell M.P., this tablet erected by the Borough Council L. R. Mood Mayor Shellharbour, S.N. Co. J. Fraser J.P. Chairman, Albion Park A&H Society J. Brownlie President Robertson A. Society W.R. Hindmarsh President.
‘Short History of Macquarie Pass’, compiled by Ted Furlong, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 1998
Ladies on the Pass c.1908, The Pass c.1898, Survey Camp at The Pass 1894, and Cars coming down the Pass 1947.
Beatrice was born at Waverley in 1900. She lived in the same one room house that her husband built at Oak Flats in 1920 on the west side of Horsley Creek, until she was 100 years old.
Mr. Slater worked as a timber getter for Bernard Kirton, a saw miller from Thirroul. Kirton had purchased 266 acres of the Kembla Vista Estate (Oak Flats) and had a contract to supply pit props for the coal mines. The swamp oak casuarinas glauca was perfect for pit props and grew all over the Kembla Vista Estate.
Mr. Slater was also a bridge builder and built the bridge on The Esplanade in the 1920s. He also helped build the first Windang Bridge opened in 1938. The first bridge built across Horsley Creek near the Slater family home was built by Mr. Slater, but unfortunately it washed away in a flood. The replacement bridge that exists today was named Slater’s Bridge in honour of the family.
There weren’t any buildings at Oak Flats when the Slater family arrived, just one house owned by the land agents, Watts’. The Slater’s added one room at a time to their house – just what they could afford, bit by bit. The home was made of fibro and iron. The windows were purchased from Waters, and the timber came from a saw mill up the coast. The floor was given to them by the local rifle range and was four inches thick. The front door was made out of tram seats from Sydney.
Beatrice Slater used to swim in Slater’s Creek every morning at 6am. One day eight children walked onto the middle of the bridge and jumped off into the creek, where they became stuck. Beatrice swam out and swan each child back to shore. This was when she was 75 years old.
Sadly Beatrice’s husband died when she was just 50 years old but she always had the company of her 70 year old Cockatoo, Cocky, who she shared a cup of tea with every day. Beatrice lived through two world wars, men landing on the moon, and the development of the automobile; she died in 2002 aged 102 years.
‘Oak Flats A Garden Suburb’, Kevin Gillis, The Tongarra Heritage Society Inc, 2008.