Interview with Isabelle Bell
Isabelle Bell (nee Wildman)
Edited interview from 'The Lights of Norlane' (2006) by Ferg Hamilton
North Shore resident, Isabelle Bell (nee Wildman), is interviewed by local historian Ferg Hamilton on her reflections of early life in North Shore.
Isabelle recalls her memories of the Phosphate Cooperative of Australia and the presence of the U.S. Air Force during World War II. This is an edited version of an interview that appears in the publication ‘The Lights of Norlane’ by Ferg Hamilton which was published in 2006.
ISABELLE: Now, I can remember when the painted the pivot, the name, "Pivot" on the great, big super shed. And there was about eight men who painted that. And people used to come, and stand, and watch them painting the name on the phosphate. Yeah. And the wharf that was down-- there was a wharf down at the side.
I can remember before the phosphate. Big Pier was fully-- it wasn't built then. We had a little wharf at the side, where we had to go down steps to get to it. And you could drive the car down, and we used to have the old trucks. They used to get these old trucks and drive them down there, and the men used to go down and fish off the old wharf.
And then they built the other big wharf. And you know, when you look at the phosphate company, and you see the trucks, they come down to unload the boats and the trucks that passed the four hoppers. I can remember when there was none of those hoppers, and I can remember them being built. And as each one was finished, you'd see one there, and then you'd see there. And you'd see them go trick, trick, trick, right up the top, and go over the road, and go down to the dinghs.
And from the dinghs they get into the super shed. Aw, gee whiz, that's going back a long way.
INTERVIEWER: So your father was a very big part of the phosphate.
ISABELLE: Oh, yes. And he was a works foreman. Goodness gracious me, I can remember when the tele-- when the phosphate phone was put on. And they'd had the men working night shift. And that phone would go through the night, sometimes, at 2 o'clock in the morning.
And I can remember one night, oh, we were in a terrible state. We couldn't find dad. We knew he was in the house, that he got up half awake, and he'd got inside the wardrobe.
And when he got in the wardrobe, the door closed on the wardrobe. And he was in the wardrobe, and he didn't know where he was. And we couldn't find him. We didn't know where he was. He was locked in the damn wardrobe.
Anyway, we got him out. And when he quieted himself down, he went up to the super shed. And later on, the aerodrome, from the Americans came up and opened the aerodrome.
ISABELLE: They assembled planes that came over by ship. And they'd unload them there, and they would take a boat into that big paddock to try them out. And they had-- I'll never forget. Now, I was in the army when that was happening, because I know I came-- (LAUGHING) aw, gee.
I'll never forget this one night I came home on the last train. And I left Melbourne around about 20 to 11, I think, or 10. You know, round about I never got home till about 10 past 1:00.
And I got off at North Shore and come down past, down the road there. And I got halfway across the paddock, and I knew there was someone there. I knew there was something there. And I turned around. I went back around Hincksman's shop.
And I woke dad up and said that I thought someone was waiting for me over in the paddock. So dad got up, and we went over to have a look. And do you know what it was that I felt I-- do you know what had frightened me?
ISABELLE: I'll give you 100 guesses. You'd never guess.
ISABELLE: They had 12 44 drums of petrol for the airplanes, and they were covered with straw, and they had a light planted down. And when you went up near them, you reflected into the-- yeah. But it was the cleverest thing, that these petrol drums, there was three lots of them.
There was one between there and our fence. The other one was down, around the corner from that plantation, and the other one was right down the bottom of the hill, towards the International Havester. They were all there.
My mum and my dad, I can remember, Dad was talking. Oh, yes, this is funny. Oh, god, I can remember this.
Dad, he used to work quite a bit, and he would walk up and down the railway line to get backwards and forwards to work. This particular night, he came up, and there was two men standing up at the end of the fence, up at the end of the fourth house.
ISABELLE: See? And they sung out to Dad. So dad went up to see what they wanted. They wanted to know, did he know the lovely lady, the lovely lady that used to bring up their billy of tea?
Now, Mum used to make hot scones, or cakes, or a billy of coffee, or tea. I can't remember. And every night, around about half past 8:00 at night, mum would come down to the hole of the back of the fence, and I'd go up and hang this billy of coffee. And their supper on that fence. And the Yanks who were stationed over the International Harvester, they're on duty, on patrol, or on draft.
And they would come up there every night at a certain time, and they would get their supper. And dad, he knew about it. But he thought that we were extreming a little bit, you see? And those two men sung out to this man, who is going to get through the fence. And it was Dad.
And they were telling this man about this woman who was giving them this beautiful supper every night, and did he know them? And Dad said that he never felt so proud of anybody, that that had been going on for so long, that Mum never, ever told him.