Recollections of Patonga

Patonga is a village near the mouth of the Hawkesbury River.  On the eastern side of the bay, reachable at high tide only by wading through a lagoon, is Dark Corner. Relatives of ours had a weekender there. Actually the term weekender was a bit generous; in the absence of maintenance it was decaying into little more than a tumble-down shack. There was a boatshed too, but it was standing only because it was nailed to the neighbour’s boathouse. I can’t recall now who “owned” the house; I only have vague recollections that they may have been aunts of my mother.

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According to a couple of postings on the internet there was no road to Patonga until 1937. This fits with stories I recall about all the building material for the weekender being carried by ferry from Brooklyn to the wharf at Patonga, and then by rowing boat across the bay to Dark Corner. So it was probably built during the great depression.

The shacks at Dark Corner were on crown land and were built without permission. There were about half a dozen stretching from the rocky point back to the lagoon. Some were well maintained, but others like ours were in need of serious repair. There was an outhouse (“dunny”) up a steep track on the hill above the house. The area was known to be home to quite poisonous snakes. It also stank, and there was no toilet paper, just a Yellow Pages telephone directory hanging on the door. So I only used it when terminally desperate.

Despite the homes being illegal, the toilet pans were still collected weekly by the “dunny can carters”. Evan at high tide they would wade through quite deep water with a full can on each shoulder.

Eventually the occupants were given eviction notices: they must leave and remove all traces of their shacks. This was probably in the late 70s. Over time the ruling was softened. Instead they were told (unofficially I think) that they could stay until the owners died. So some shacks were pulled down, and some were kept by descendants who forgot to advise that their parents had died.

My Aunty Thelma moved into the shack probably in the 1970s and lived there even after a stroke until shortly before her death in 1983.

Our family’s understanding was that the shack should have been demolished after her death. While we dithered about what to do, my cousin Richard Bradbury, who was on hard times, moved in with his wife Carmen. I lost contact with Richard and don’t know what happened between then and when he went to live in Cowra with his parents.

Linda and I last visited Patonga in July 2011. It was high tide so we couldn’t walk across to Dark Corner. However from a distance we could see that several shacks had been removed and Aunty Ted’s, although still there, had been damaged by fire. The house immediately to the right, owned many years ago by the Bolton family, appeared in good condition, and in fact I’ve just found a great article about that cottage: . It seems that the remaining shacks may now be considered of some heritage value.

The visit brought back memories of family weekends and school holidays spent at Patonga. The shack would be filled with adults and kids and somehow we all found somewhere to sleep. However I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about the place. After all this time I can’t recall why, but maybe it had something to do with constipation.

Fishing was at one time very good, with flatheads the favourite catch. This leads into a story Dad told me recently.

Dad and Uncle Russ June 1947 at Croydon
Dad and Uncle Russ June 1947

He was staying at the Patonga weekender with his younger brother Russell. Dad’s recollection was that Uncle Russell had recently returned from the war, and that Dad was on sick leave from the police force. I can’t quite reconcile these two dates, but nevertheless the story was about a day they took the rowing boat around the point to fish. Coming back, a squall blew up and as they approached shore the boat was overturned by a large wave. Dad looked around and although he could hear Uncle Russ swearing he couldn’t see him. Dad finally found him under the boat in the pocket of air formed by the upturned hull.

Patonga village is now very posh: new and renovated million-dollar homes, Mercedes, BMW and Lexus cars in the drive-ways and a comfortable pub. It’s quite a change from those childhood times when there was just the post office, general store, butcher and sly grog shop.

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