A look at life in Little Bay in the 30s and 50s

A personal and fascinating insight into Little Bay in the 1930s and 1950s submitted by Bob Burgess, a long-time member of the Little Bay swimming group affectionally known as 'Ward 24'.

Bob Burgess grew up in Little Bay and as a kid had the run of the hospital grounds and surrounding area — he recalls having a great time with his friends just roaming around getting into as much mischief as they could get away with. 'A great place to grow up', he says fondly.

Bob's family lived in the fibro house next to the newsagency in Anzac parade, in a fibro cottage that's still there. In early 1966, they moved 68 km west of Sydney to Wallacia. Bob remembers the date very well.

He said, 'my dad was the local milkman in the Malabar area, and I worked on the milk run with him.

'The sale of the milk run was to be after the Xmas period of 1965, but before decimal currency was to be introduced on 14 Feb 1966. This timing had two benefits. Firstly, I was able to collect my Xmas gifts from our customers, a thing I looked forward to every year. And, secondly, we wouldn't have to get involved in the new decimal currency conversion.Milk at the time was 11 pence a pint, and we weren't looking forward to converting that to cents per pint.

"It's only a minor point, but one that's still top of mind when I think back tomy youth. The years from 1960 to 1965 were a huge part of my early life.'

When Prince Henry was being developed, Bob bought a unit in Coperture. He says he and his family were the first to move in. They've since sold the unit and returned to Wallacia but the 'pull' of Little Bay persists. Every Sunday with his wife and sometimes his children and grandchildren they come back to Little Bay to swim with the rest of 'Ward 24'. They just can't keep away. And can you blame them?

This special swimming group was established around 2011. No matter what season, every Sunday, rain, hail or shine, 'Ward 24 tragics' meet at the foot of the steps on Little Bay Beach at around 9:30am.

Several Little Bay and Prince Henry 'indentities' are part of the group, some with intereresting but pretty self explanatory nicknames. There's Jefferson the Brigadier or Captain, Pick-em-up Peter and George the Whinger. Yes, you all know who you are!

Bob mentioned that one of his great loves is the ocean swim starting at Doctors Rock (south of Little Bay) and finishing at Little Bay. Although it's not safe to tackle this particular swim alone, Bob's convinced it's the best ocean swim in the world. 

The Coobras, a swimming group from Coogee and Maroubra, now also swim at Little Bay on Sundays because it's less volatile than the surf at Coogee and Maroubra.

Bob came across the photo (pictured at right) recently, and it evoked a few memories. These are Bob's own words:

'A precious snippet of Little Bay history here.

'The photo in the right column was taken circa 1935 and is my mum Evelyn (at left) and her sister Clarice, sitting near the top of the steps at Little Bay. I guess the date at 1935 as mum looks around 17 years old and was living in Little Bay at the time.

'In the distance you can see the male lazaret, or lepers' wards. Most of the stone wall at the front of the lazaret is still standing. At the left of the photo you can see the opening where the lepers kept their little rowboat. Running down from the opening in the wall down to the water, you can just see the two slip rails used to drag the rowboat down.

'I can still remember their boat in the 1950s. It was a clinker hull ,so pretty heavy — thats why they had the slip rails. A few of the posts for the slip rails are still visible today on the lepers' beach.

'The lazaret was completely enclosed by a tall fence to isolate it from the rest of the hospital. I can remember the centre area, between the lazaret buildings, comprised  well-maintained lawns and gardens, with the creek (drain) flowing through it. About all that remains are the few large trees, which now look out of place in that area.

'The entry to the lazaret was near the corner, where you can see a cottage on the western side of the lazaret. A road ran in front of the old workshop (now the Surf Life Saving building), and the other workshops (since demolished) around the top of the gully, just up from the golf course bridge, and down into the lazaret.

'There were large gates at the lazaret opening, but they were never closed. So, when we were kids, we could wander into the lazaret at any time. We'd never had any thoughts about catching leprosy because we were told that it really wasn't very contagious!

'This information came from Ted Johnson, the male orderly in the lazaret. Ted's theory was that he'd worked there for years, and had never picked up the disease so why would we! Ted lived next to us in Little Bay. He owned the Little Bay newsagency and built the old garage (two storey building), which is still part of the current Little Bay newsagency on Anzac Parade.

'I think the trees, close to where mum and her sister are sitting, are in the same group of Eastern Suburbs Banksia that are at the top of the stairs today. Beneath the wooden steps, you can still see some of the original, concrete steps that led down to the nurses beach.

'A few changes over the years, but merely cosmetic. The overall area is still as precious as it was all those years ago!

'And that's why we return to every Sunday when we can to swim in the wonderful Little Bay waters and meet up with 'Ward 24', a unique group of people.'

Bob Burgess