This is a transcript of the talk I gave as the guest speaker at the Wyong and District Pioneer Dinner on Saturday, 20 October 2012.
My earliest family connection with the Wyong Shire links back to the late 1890s when three GASCOIGNE brothers, Thomas, John and Robert would travel to Tuggerah Lakes for holidays – camping, shooting and fishing.
They would travel to Wyong by train from Sydney to the new railway station at Wyong and then take a launch down the Wyong River.
The town of Wyong was beginning to grow with the expansion of the northern railway when a Sydney journalist, writing in 1896, left us with this account of the district and its potentialities:
Sometimes one wants to get away from the wear and tear of city life. Only two hours in the northern train takes one into the quiet solitude of the primeval forests, where the climate is as mild as that of Sydney. The Tuggerah Lakes are in close proximity to this dense forest, and the largest is a fine sheet of water where fish of several species abound. Wyong Creek is the backwater from the lake. Just where the railway bridge crosses Wyong Creek is growing up a small town or village named after the creek. A ferry is maintained here, as there is no bridge for traffic, other than the railway.
A road bridge was built across Wyong River in 1901.
He goes on to say:
This district with its splendid forests and miles of rich soil is very sparsely populated. The people live chiefly by timber cutting for the sawmills, or by fishing. A few cultivate patches of land, growing maize, potatoes, etc. Nearly all kinds or fruits grow luxuriantly here, also every kind of vegetable, and all cereals but wheat.
The climate is superb, and the facilities for conveyance of produce to market most excellent, as there are both rail and water ways at hand. The land is capable of sustaining a large population, yet the district is almost as untilled as when Captain Cook sighted Australia. If a few enterprising men were to take the matter in hand the beautiful lakes would be surrounded with villa residences, and the place would throng with tourists.
I think this journo had very good foresight.
I’m going to go back a bit further in the history now.
For 25,000 years, before Europeans landed on Australian soil, Aboriginal people from the Darkinjung tribe inhabited the area around Wyong. The Darkinjung occupied land from the Hawkesbury in the south, Lake Macquarie in the north and to Wollombi in the west.
In 1825 William CAPE the headmaster at Sydney Public School became the first European settler in the Tuggerah Lakes district. He was granted three sections of land that he used for sheep and cattle grazing. Included in the grant was 500 acres for his eldest son William Timothy CAPE. This was called ‘Wyong Place’. However both William (senior) and William Timothy did not spend a lot of time on their Wyong properties as they were still teaching full time in Sydney. William CAPE reportedly had quite a difficult personality – he was harsh with his servants, quarrelled with his neighbours and had no love for the Aborigines.
In 1840 after constant difficulties with the management of ‘Wyong Place’, the property was leased to John Kerr WILSON, and in 1860 after the deaths of his father, mother, wife and son, William Timothy CAPE returned to England where he died in 1863.
William ALISON purchased the three CAPE properties at Wyong from William Timothy’s estate in 1875. This land covered the area from Wyong River in the south to Jilliby Creek in the west, and Wallarah Creek in the north to Budgewoi Lake in the east.
Alison Homestead was built, shortly after the land purchase, where it stood until recently as the Wyong District Museum & Historical Society. With the support of many good people in the Wyong Shire I am sure it will be resurrected from the ashes in the very near future.
In the 1890s the ALISON family were affected by death duties and hit hard in the economic depression, and the property was mortgaged to pay off some of the debts. The Scottish Widows Fund and Assurance Society were able to secure the Certificate of Title from Alison and started selling off parts of the land.
In 1903 Albert Hamlyn WARNER bought 12,000 acres to the north and east of the Wyong township and subdivided the land into small farms, weekend blocks and shop sites.
By 1906 Wyong was officially classified as a town and among the first buildings erected were two small hotels, or rather inns. The Royal Hotel, built on the south end of the town in 1889 and the Commercial Hotel (later named the Grand Hotel) at the north end in 1892. Both of them were wooden structures.
In their trips to Wyong and Tuggerah Lake the GASCOIGNE brothers had seen the potential of the area and in 1899 John GASCOIGNE bought both the Royal and the Commercial Hotels. John managed the Royal and his brother Thomas was licensee of the Commercial.
The GASCOIGNE family came from the Ryde area of Sydney, they owned a great deal of land on the Putney foreshore where they had businesses building commercial boats and light racing sculls.
Robert GASCOIGNE remained working with the business in Ryde but he would come up to Wyong on race days and other busy times to help at the hotels. In 1904 a financial arrangement was made between the brothers – Robert bought the Royal from John and as part of the deal John took over Robert’s property at Ryde.
At this time Robert left Ryde with his wife Marie and two sons (Robert Jnr aged 17 and John aged 15) and settled in Wyong where he remained for nearly thirty years.
As befitting a publican in a country town he soon became prominent in civic affairs – in the founding of Wyong Sports Club in 1905, in establishing the town band (in which his younger son John played the cornet) and also the Wyong Bowling Club in 1912.
For many years he was a leading member of both the Masonic Lodge and the Oddfellows Lodge. For Robert and his family it was a good time. He owned a private launch on the Wyong River, used mostly by his sons. He also owned some prize racehorses – trotters and pacers – which were driven in gigs by his younger son John who as well as being an outstanding horseman, was also a star winger in the local football team. Robert Snr was one of the first in Wyong to own a motor car – an imported American Buick.
In 1932 Robert retired from the hotel. He had a house built for himself in Byron Street, Wyong and he divided the bulk of his property between his two sons. Robert Jnr, was given property in Ryde and John was given the ownership of the hotel under a mortgage from his father. The gradual repayment of the mortgage constituted Robert Snr’s income for the rest of his life. He died in 1951 at the age of 90.
His son Robert Jnr had an unfortunate accident when he was 22 years old; a horse he was riding bolted and crushed him against a tree, breaking his leg in several places. For the rest of his life he was a semi-cripple with a badly deformed leg. In 1925 he married Lillian BRIDGE who came from a well-known pioneering family in Dooralong. For a few years he had a small farm on land adjacent to the Wyong River, then he took a job on the railways as a timekeeper and he left Wyong and for many years lived at Lidcombe.
In 1904, the same time his brother Robert took over the Royal, Thomas GASCOIGNE sold the Commerical Hotel and it passed out of GASCOIGNE ownership. Thomas had acquired 60 acres a Pipeclay Point in the 1890s in the area now bound by Howelston Road and Gascoigne Road, Gorokan. He went back to fishing and boat building and he built and operated the ferry ‘Wyong’ designed to carry about fifty passengers and with a draught shallow enough to negotiate the sand bar at the mouth of the Wyong River and the sea grass beds of the lake.
Wyong was the gateway to the lakes and in what is now the riverside park there were wharves from which ferries carried passengers and goods to The Entrance and other places around the lakes.
Thomas made a good living fishing, farming his land and building boats for other fishermen. He had an orange orchard and also grew excellent grapes and other fruit. Thomas’s first marriage to Lydia MOON produced four daughters and his second marriage to Sarah PATERSON produced three daughters and three sons.
Don’t worry, I am not going to detail all ten of them but I will tell you about a few.
Of all of Thomas and Sarah’s children, the one who achieved the most fame was their eldest son Thomas, known as “Gunner” GASCOIGNE. As a member of the crew on the HMAS Sydney he was wounded, losing an eye, in the Sydney’s celebrated victory over the German light cruiser Emden in the Indian Ocean in November 1914, soon after the beginning of WWI.
He also claimed to be the first, or among the first, Australian servicemen to set foot on enemy territory. This was immediately after the outbreak of war when a party from HMAS Sydney landed near Rabaul, the capital of the German colony of New Guinea, in order to destroy the radio station there.
When he returned to Wyong in March 1915 he was given a hero’s welcome and presented with an illuminated address and a purse of sovereigns by the Wyong town leaders. Thomas married Mina DUNCAN and had two sons, he went back to fishing on the lake and in later life was a Fisheries Department inspector at the Sydney Fish Markets.
His younger brother Roy joined the navy at the end of WWI, he remained in it through the inter-war years and served on HMAS Perth in WWII. Roy married Eva BEDDING the daughter of Ernest BEDDING who was a builder and had a poultry farm and some lemon trees near where the Wyong hospital now is at Kanwal.
Madge GASCOIGNE (my grandmother) married Ernest BUCK in 1923. Ern grew up in Newtown in Sydney and had served at Gallipoli in WWI. Ern’s sister Bertha BUCK married Byron LEGGE and they settled at Tuggerah and raised their family. My dad told me that there were three families in Wyong around this time, named HAND, FOOTE and LEGGE and they all lived in the same street.
We think Ern first travelled up to Wyong to visit the Legge’s, but there is also talk he met Charlie CRAIGIE, who lived at Kanwal, when he was working at the Sydney Fish Markets and Charlie convinced him there were opportunities a plenty to be had at Tuggerah Lakes.
Ernest and Madge settled on land at Pipeclay Point, which was Madge’s division of Thomas’s estate. Ern was a builder and fisherman and they grew vegetables – lots and lots of cabbages according to my dad and aunty Hazel who had to harvest them for market.
Madge was a very generous and hard working person. I have heard reports from many of the folks around the district who know her, that she always had an open door and there was always a good time to be had at the BUCK’s Christmas parties.
An extract from her obituary in The Advocate in 1968 reads:
As a young girl Madge was one of the first pupils of the Kanwal Public School when it opened in 1911 and she later took an active interest in the school as a parent. Mrs BUCK formed the school’s Mother’s Club and was its secretary for 12 years.
An honest, frank, forthright person, Mrs BUCK became a pillar of the local community. In March 1955 she inaugurated the Toukley Girl Guides and was elected as president, a position she held until her death. A strong supporter also of the Boy Scouts movement, she was elected a patron of the Toukley Boy Scouts five years ago and re-elected each year.
Mrs BUCK joined the Toukley RSL Women’s Auxiliary in 1953 and was a staunch worker. It would be impossible to enumerate all that Mrs Buck did for the local community. Hers was one of the most familiar faces at street stalls for many different charities. Whenever there was community work to be done, Mrs BUCK could always be relied upon as one of the “willing horses”.
Madge’s youngest brother Jimmy GASCOIGNE will be familiar to some of you. He married Betty STACKMAN from the STACKMAN and WATERS pioneering families of the Yarramalong Yalley. Jimmy and Betty managed the ‘Top Pub’ at Wyong for a time, then moved over to The Entrance. They spent a brief time at Narrandra in the Riverina, then back to Wyong, first to Panania Road, then to their house in Jennings Street, where they lived for 45 years.
To show you the type of young person Jimmy was, his daughter Janice had a silver medal and certificate awarded to Jim in 1923 that recognises a deed of bravery. On the 6th November 1922, Jim along with Edna CRAIGIE saved several children from drowning at Pipeclay Point at Gorokan. One of the children was Jimmy’s little sister Gwen. In recognition the Royal Shipwreck Relief & Humane Society of NSW awarded both Jim and Edna a medal and certificate.
In Jimmy’s younger days he played Rugby League for Wyong, but really as those who knew him can all testify, his life long interest was fishing, fishing and more fishing – he had salt water in his veins.
For those of us who have lived in the area, fished on the shores of Tuggerah Lake and grown up and played on the beaches around Norah Head – we are ever grateful to our enterprising pioneers for taking a chance and staking their claim in the Wyong Shire.
[Sources: Gascoigne: an English-Australian Family History by Robert Mortimer GASCOIGNE; National Library of Australia TROVE http://trove.nla.gov.au ]