Mosman Voices - oral histories online

Valerie Lhuede

Interviewed by Trish Levido on 6th November 2009

Valerie Lhuede. We moved – getting to the Pearl Bay Estate, dad had bought the Pearl Bay Estate in the 30s and had an auction sale in the whole area including waterfront blocks. Nobody wanted to buy them so in the 1940s he decided to build a house. That’s what I’ve written down here – from thereon yes.

Trish Levido. He was called a spec builder.

Valerie Lhuede. No, no this was our own home, a beautiful large home in 21 Pearl Bay Avenue right on the waterfront, so that’s where he lived from that time onwards. My father had died in 1965 and I looked after my brother’s children and my mother. They didn’t all live with us, mother used to come and stay. And then my brother and I had a falling out. He decided that I shouldn’t be living in the house.

Trish Levido. Even though it was your family home.

Valerie Lhuede. Yes, and partially mine, but he was jealous, and so he said, ‘you’ve got to go’, so I said, ‘ok’, and I walked down the pathway and on the waterfront was the houseboat, which my father had given me as a present in 1960.

Trish Levido. We’ve got to go back, when you arrived in Mosman how many houseboats were there and how did they get there?

Valerie Lhuede. The background of the houseboats goes back to the Depression. If you can imagine, people didn’t have anywhere to live and they tried to find the cheapest place to live. The actual Pearl Bay Estate that dad bought was called ‘Happy Valley’ because everybody lived in the bushes they had little shanties and shacks and everything including caves, old cars, tents, anything. They were all shacked up in this little ‘Happy Valley’ down on the waterfront and they lived in boats so that was how you had the houses and the boats in Pearl Bay.

Trish Levido. But a houseboat isn’t a boat and it’s not a house, it’s a combination of both.

Valerie Lhuede. Some of them were actual boats and the Maritime Services Board as it was then, registered the houseboats so they could be either, like mine, a proper barge with a house on it or they could be a boat.

Trish Levido. So who built the barge?

Valerie Lhuede. Well, the barge is a real piece of history. His barge was actually a proper barge, a vehicle ferry. It used to take the vehicles across the Spit before there was even a bridge. Eventually they built the first bridge over the Spit and then eventually they built the second bridge. But prior to that they had – I mean it was a barge, not a ferry but a flat topped barge.
Harry Ryan who presumably bought the barge somehow or other and in 1910 he put a little house on it and took it to Pearl Bay and anchored it there.

Trish Levido. Why Pearl Bay?

Valerie Lhuede. Pearl Bay is a beautiful bay, you’re facing north so you’ve got the sun, you’ve got the cliffs around you, Beauty Point shelters you from the westerlies and the other cliffs are behind you, it is an absolutely delightful place to be with a view across to the Spit, and in those days there was a tram that went from the Spit to the city so you could walk round the waterfront and get your tram into the city. It was a very convenient place to live.

Trish Levido. How old are you at this stage when you fell out with your brother?Valerie Lhuede. In1936 dad had the auction sale, so I was 23.

Trish Levido. How many blocks of land did he have?

Valerie Lhuede. 21.

Trish Levido. He developed the area in as much as he put the services into the area.

Valerie Lhuede. To start with, it had been sub-divided, and in Depression of course everybody lost their money and all the sub-divisions went bung and so he had bought this ‘Happy Valley’, which nobody wanted. I don’t know what he paid for it but it wasn’t very much I’m quite sure.

Trish Levido. Where did the actual area of ‘Happy Valley’ start, and the streets.

Valerie Lhuede. Pearl Bay Avenue was the Avenue that the blocks were on facing the waterfront, they connected up to Beauty Point Road and Beauty Point had been sub-divided by Sir Arthur Rickard in the Depression and he went bung I think at that stage, anyway he didn’t ever finish the road and the road in Pearl Bay Avenue was completely overgrown when dad got it. The lantana was as high as me.

Trish Levido. Can I take you back to when you were living on the houseboat? How many houseboats were there in Mosman at that stage?

Valerie Lhuede. The houseboats originally – I don’t know how many there would have been but I’ve got photographs here I can show you afterwards. There were literally hundreds – that was in the Depression, but as time went on the Maritime Services Board became very, very fussy and they gradually said, ‘no, you can’t have this or that houseboat’. And so by the time I went down to live on the houseboats there would have been about seven I suppose, and of those seven there are now four left. There’s one over the other side. No, there are three left. Maureen Young is fighting in the Supreme Court I believe, to try and keep hers.

Trish Levido. Are they numbered, like 1,2,3,4?

Valerie Lhuede. Mine was H.B.3 the third one ever to be registered in Sydney Harbour.

Trish Levido. There was one that was done up that was in the paper about 15 years ago, and beautifully decorated.

Valerie Lhuede. That was probably H.B.19 that was Muriel and Alan Thistlesthwait’s. Muriel stood for council and she’s still my friend.

Trish Levido. You were a very exclusive little group weren’t you?

Valerie Lhuede. Well yes, but we always had to fight for them. Mosman Council wanted to get rid of them and the neighbours were very divided.

Trish Levido. Why did they want to get rid of them? What’s wrong with a houseboat, why is it any different to a boat as far as the council was concerned?

Valerie Lhuede. The council had various different elements in it and some of them were pro-houseboats, others were anti, and we had a real war. We formed the Pearl Bay Progress Association.

Trish Levido. When was this?

Valerie Lhuede. In the 1970s.

Trish Levido. The council was putting so much pressure on you to get rid of you, only four little houseboats. Perhaps they wanted to discourage houseboats.

Valerie Lhuede. Quite a lot of them had been derelict, even mine was when I started, and I did it up. It was almost a tradition that the people up top didn’t want houseboats down below. If you have a look in the archives you’ll find a real war, should they go or should they stay.

Trish Levido. How did the council work out what to charge you for rent?

Valerie Lhuede. Originally, they didn’t charge us rates and that was one thing that Muriel Thistlesthwaite did, she stood for council and she said to me, ‘I think we’d better offer to pay rates’ and we did. We offered to pay the minimum rate and that has gone up and up and up.

Trish Levido. Because the council says that you’re a boat.

Valerie Lhuede. At that stage you didn’t have any control over them it was all under the MSB.

Trish Levido. Did the MSB want to get rid of you two?

Valerie Lhuede. Not really, no they were quite happy, providing we did what they said. We had to comply with the rules and regulations. Every year the occupants of the houseboats had to be inspected by a marine surveyor and he had to say that we were suitable to stay and keep afloat.

Trish Levido. So that you were actually waterproof, what is it like to live on a houseboat, why is it different from living on a boat?

Valerie Lhuede. I was about to write that down. It’s a unique experience. You are living in your own home. The water is underneath you there are fish and birds, you look out the window, and the view is constantly moving. You get to know the sea and all its moods. You get to know the fishermen and the fish. It’s an absolutely wonderful experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.