Mosman Voices - oral histories online

E. Abercrombie, with Madge Dwyer

Interviewed by Eve Klein on 1 February 2001

Mrs. Abercrombie. Another thing I thought of, when I was coming home from town one day – it was very close to Christmas.

Eve Klein. When would this have been?

Mrs. Abercrombie. I don’t know what date it was, but you might remember – it’s not that long ago. It was very hot and I decided when I got to Martin Place that I’d post some letters, and they were Christmas cards, and then I thought – well I won’t go home on the ferry, I’ll get on the bus and go that way. When we got to Spit Junction, Mary Maxwell’s son Robert was on the bus, as well, and it must have been pretty near to Christmas because we were both coming home early for some reason, or other. When we got to Spit Junction, the chap said: ‘you’ve all got to get off; we’re not going any further’. We got off – nobody said anything – there weren’t many on the bus, and I still didn’t know what had happened. I walked around the corner into Clifford Street because you know how you can cut round that way and through that lane and come out in Awaba Street over here. There were people sitting out there – elderly people in dressing gowns who had obviously been having an afternoon sleep. And that was the time that funny ‘Willy Nilly’ thing came – the first one. It was unbelievable because when we got out of the bus nobody knew anything about it. But apparently, it did do a bit of damage at Cremorne.

Madge Dwyer. It did a lot of damage here.

Mrs. Abercrombie. And when it came down – the first block of units on the corner of the lane there, these people were sitting out on the brick fence that’s still there, and a police constable was talking to them. ‘What on earth has happened’, I said. ‘There’s been some sort of a ‘willy willy’, they said, and it swooped down and it took the top of that building and those people were quite terrified.

Eve Klein. When would this have been?

Mrs. Abercrombie. I can’t remember. That’s why I’m asking you Madge.

Madge Dwyer. I remember it quite well because they had trees in Warringah Road that fell over and caused the gas to leak, and the electricity. Boats were flying in the air….

Mrs. Abercrombie. ….but the amazing part was, people in Beauty Point didn’t know it had happened.

Madge Dwyer. It just slipped through.

Mrs. Abercrombie. When I got in there, I said: ‘what on earth’s happened?’ and the policeman told me. He said: ‘oh it’s worse down towards the beach’. I thought, oh, the top of the house, and my husband was in Townsville on business; he used to go up to all the sugar mills and things. I walked down here, but I didn’t come down the main road, I came through this way, you see, and I didn’t see the damage that was done in Spit Road. When I got down here, I thought, oh thank goodness the house is all right. A nephew rang me as soon as I got in – he said: ‘are you all right?’. I said: ‘yes, I’m all right, but there’s damage up here’. Now, of course, as news leaked out, two friends of Stuart’s were over on Spit Hill coming home from surfing. Up here between Stanton Road and Clifford Street, more on that side than on this side, the windows of the units had been blown out and the curtains were flying out of the windows, and these friends of Stuart’s could see it over at Spit Hill. They said: ‘what’s wrong?’, they thought an explosion had happened.

Madge Dwyer. Yes, people thought it was an explosion.

Mrs. Abercrombie. They thought it was an explosion because of the way the curtains were blowing out.

Madge Dwyer. Someone I know saw a toilet roll coming down, and they thought an aeroplane had crashed.

Eve Klein. Was this in the 1970s, do you think?

Mrs. Abercrombie. It would have been earlier than that, because my son is 54 now, and they were surfing when they were 15, 16, 17, but they kept it up for a while.

Madge Dwyer. Thirty years makes it…

Eve Klein. ….1970.

Mrs. Abercrombie. It could have been Christmas 1969. I’m not sure about that. But anyway, I remember – there was no damage round this part here, your place and that.

Madge Dwyer. No, we had a concrete thing laid on the open veranda area, and it was just fresh concrete and it all washed down to the bricks. It hadn’t set enough.

Mrs. Abercrombie. I believe down at Chinaman’s Beach, I don’t think this is a true story, but one chap was mowing his lawn and he could see this thing coming, so he put his lawn mower under a bush, and he reckons he’s never found it since. (laughter) That might be true, I don’t know.

Madge Dwyer. There were dinghy boats flying around.