Memories of Willoughby

The Willoughby community is made up of an array of unique voices and different backgrounds, from those who have lived here for generations to those just arrived. Willoughby City Library Service would like to capture these stories of Willoughby.

If you have anecdotes and memories about local places, events and characters, family and friends, then please send them through to the Library.

The word limit is 1000 words per memory. Memories submitted in Chinese are welcome.

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You can complete the Memories of Willoughby Form online or print out the PDF version. For the PDF version, please fill out both sides of the form and attach your memory on a separate sheet. Please return to your local Willoughby Library or scan and email to attention Local Studies.

For more information, please contact the Library's Local Studies Team on 9777 7900 or

33 Result(s) Found
Author  Willis, Betty Lou (2008). Oral history transcript, pp. 9-10
Date Range 1952
Subject Walter Burley Griffin; 158 Edinburgh Road

A Walter Burley Griffin House

Well, when Mum and Dad got out of the property up at Grenfell, where we were then, on the land, it’s between Grenfell and Forbes, they came down and they went looking for a house and the one at Castlecrag, 58 [158], was one of the original Burley Griffins. No windows shut, no door shut. I can remember going there and seeing the window... well, it wouldn’t shut, it’d be sitting on top there instead of being down there and Dad of course, Dad had always been busy in the bush as you could imagine, being on the land. He wanted something to do, so he was quite happy.

And I always remember, an estate agent at Chatswood said, “I showed Mr Redding” and he said “I felt awful. I knew it was full of white ants and it was this, that and another and so forth”. Yes, but what you didn’t know was Dad knew too. Because he’d had a look around and he wanted something to do, and he ripped every floor up, or he had help. It kept him busy and he was quite happy, because he didn’t want to be sitting around doing nothing. So that’s why they went to that 58 [158] Burley Griffin house. That was in 1952. Yes, 52 they came down….. It’s on Edinburgh Road. You know where Cabarisha is? Well, next door but one. Thompson’s were next door to them on the western side. Then there was a vacant lot to Cabarisha, which I think is still vacant, if I’m not wrong. But there was a vacant lot on the eastern side and Mum wanted Dad to buy it. She said, “Buy that...” No, no, he wouldn’t buy it. Never did and she always regretted it.

For more about Betty Lou Willis, you can view the full oral history transcript at Chatswood Library.



Author  Angus D B Caporn
Date Range 1926-1950
Subject Bread; Ice Chest; Milk Cart; Milk Man

Excerpts transcribed verbatim from Mr Caporn’s handwritten memories

One day my mother arranged with the milkman to ride back to his depot which was up in east Roseville on the north side of Archbold Road. We had to alight and walk beside the cart to ease the burden on the horse. It was a big deal for me, sitting up with the milkman.

No fridge then, only an ice chest so milk was bought either by the pint or the half pint at the rear door near where the ice chest was, by the entrance to the bathroom. I think the ice man came about twice or three times a week and if the existing block of ice hadn’t melted enough he would chip that up and place around the new block. It was my job to empty the ice tray of water.

The bread either came in a full loaf or half. My mother shopped practically every day and in the holidays I would walk down to Victoria Avenue with her to help carry the basket.


Author   E.M. (Ted) Meyer
Date Range  1946 - 1947
Subject  Junior Rugby Union; Football; Brothers Rugby Club; Christian Brothers Old Boys Rugby Club


Brothers Rugby Club Sydney Chatswood was formed in 1947 from former students of the Christian Brothers College. The College was later renamed St Pius X College.

Some History

The war ended in 1946 and Australia abolished wartime conscription and with it, my obligation for military service. I decided to give Rugby a go and joined the Gordon Rugby Club, juniors U-19 team. We played in the Metropolitan Junior Rugby Union. There were three grades: U-21, U-19 and U-17. Because of frequent industrial disruption, some weekend tram services were replaced by restricted bus services. E.g. The Wynyard-Chatswood bus service terminated at Willoughby Public School. We were the only team on the north side and only had one home game there, at Mosman Oval. For our opponents from Rose Bay 'Wallaroos', transport was equally difficult. Another home game was at Ashfield Park oval. This was notable for the referee breaking his leg when he collided with one of our breakaways, as a scrum broke up. The break sounded around the oval like a pistol shot. The incident was reported in the sport pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. The Christian Brothers Old Boys (CBOB) club had a team in the U-21 grade, which had the same problems as we had. One of their players was Gerald Gates, a school friend from St Thomas, Willoughby, who started at Christian Brothers High School, Chatswood in 1937. Origins of Gordon-Northern Districts Junior Rugby Union

Origins of Gordon-Northern Districts Junior Rugby Union 

Manly and Northern Suburbs already had a joint junior union which had produced many players for the senior clubs and at least one Wallaby, namely the late Charlie Eastes from Manly. With these problems in mind, someone (probably in the Gordon Club) decided to take action. The CBOBs club supported the move. A public meeting was called in late 1946 or early 1947 at the old Chatswood Town Hall on Victoria Avenue. It was well attended and as some preliminary work had been done, another meeting was called. There were a couple of sub-district cup clubs on the North Shore already who probably supported the venture and would enter teams. The meeting was informed that clubs were ready to be set up and start recruiting. So the Gordon-Northern Districts Junior Rugby Union (JRU) was formed.

There were three grades and a weight limit for the two lower grades:

  • U-21 with four teams
  • U-17 with four teams
  • U-19 with six teams, weight limit equivalent to 65-70kg today

New clubs and teams entered the JRU. And it began to provide weekend sport for school boys as young as U-7s.

The 1947 Season

I was in my 21st year but within the weight limit, so was able to play U-19 with CBOBs.

The six teams and playing strips were:

  • CBOBs Royal blue/gold V, the stripes came later
  • Chatswood Gold/green collar
  • Roseville Maroon/white, broken stripes
  • Lindfield Sky blue/white, plain stripes
  • Killara Royal blue/white, broken stripes
  • Gordon-Pymble Red/gold V

Lane Cove joined later from Northern Suburbs juniors. CBOBs home ground was Beauchamp Park which was shared with Chatswood club. Home and away was not strictly observed and we played at other grounds. CBOBs’ first game was a pre-season match against Chatswood at Artarmon Reserve. Sport then, was NOT played on Council owned grounds on the North Shore. The reserve was surrounded by bush and well away from the eyes of Council rangers and the ears of objecting residents.

The reserve was not well grassed, as it is today, so all players had plenty of bruises, cuts and sprains to show after the game. Possibly this was the origin for the later fierce rivalry between the two clubs. The result, I’ve forgotten. The two clubs quickly became the dominant teams in the two lower grades, until team politics interfered with the U-19 CBOBs team. 'Premiership' was decided by 'First part-the-post'. Chatswood won the U-19, and CBOBs the U-17 grade. Later in the year the school’s Ex-Students’ Association invited the players to their annual dinner which became the presentation night for the football club. The 17s were given their premiership blazer and the players who were not ex-students of the school were made honorary members of the association.

I was 21 in 1948 and no longer eligible for junior football. The club lodged an application to enter a team in the sub-district Whiddon Cup competition. Then, there were only three grades: Kentwell, Burke and Whiddon Cup. Never more than fourteen players attended pre-training training for this team so the application was withdrawn. The club continued in the juniors. I lost contact with the club, although Jim Gillespie kept me informed in later years.



Author  Christopher Holt
Date Range 1946-1956
Subject Bubblers; Water fountains.

I think that everywhere else they were called 'drinking fountains', not so New South Wales and in particular, Willoughby. We called them 'bubblers'. They 'bubbled', that's why.

In these days of plastic bottles of water from the supermarket, it is hard to remember in the past, the dire necessity of these decorative little pedestals set up in public parks, outside railway stations and on major street corners. After cricket, schoolboys headed straight for the nearest bubbler. In summer elegant women with hats and long dresses would bob down, curtseying you might say, before wiping the spout with a handkerchief and having a bird-like drink before their tram arrived at the stop. Toddlers were lifted up by their parents, little brothers would get a leg-up from their older siblings – it seemed we were all desert nomads congregating at the oasis. Free drinking water we assumed as our right. It was, as you might say, a cherished gift from the heavens, not to be taken lightly or sold for a profit.

I doubt if any of us could have foreseen the day when people would be buying it at the shop…

Author  Nicholls, Marie (2007). Oral history transcript, pp. 10-11
Date Range 1930s, 1940
Subject Marie Nicholls; Eric Nicholls; Marion Griffin; Julia Barrachis; Guido Barrachi; Betty Roland; “Camelot” 3 The Bastion Castlecrag.

Marie Nicholls is the daughter of Eric Nicholls, a well-known architect in the Willoughby area who worked with Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin in Castlecrag.


Getting back to the preschool group that Marion [Mahoney Griffin] and Mum had at home, I obviously didn’t go to that as I wasn’t old enough when Marion was there. Marion had gone to India when I was born and only came back for a year, then went back to America in 1938, but I can remember that Mum was part of a small group that used to meet. I have no memories of either of the Griffins because I was too young for one and the other wasn’t there.

In this playgroup I remember doing finger paintings with Godfrey Miller, a well-known artist, whose brother was very involved in the society, Louis Miller, and who was also one of the early Directors of Glenaeon [Rudolf Steiner School, Middle Cove]. A lot of these people will be in different scenes and intermingling. Godfrey used to come and look at the paintings and say I guess he is quite artistic. Also I used to go to Julia Barrachis. Guido Barrachi was one of the early members of the Communist Party and he was living with Betty Roland, a well-known writer of that day who wrote books and plays. They had obviously come to Dad and he had designed their house “Camelot”. It is a rather beautiful house, I love it. It was designed because of her putting on her plays, as a circle so that it could act as a stage. The sliding doors could come back and people could sit in the grass out the front, around this lovely central part you could see this wonderful little staircase going up to the tower. Gilda, who was a little younger than I, used to play down there. I remember that and having a good time climbing up those stairs that went up to nowhere. Also, just remembering little personal things and food played a very big part in my life and still does. I can remember going there and sitting in the little banquettes where you have the seats built in. This was part of the thing and Dad had obviously designed that. I can remember sitting there and being given cauliflower with white cheese sauce. It was absolutely delicious and I had not tasted anything like it in my life. I still love it. But then because Guido knew my parents were teetotallers (there was no alcohol in our house) he gave me some beer. I must have been only five or six and I thought it was the most terrible thing. I had this beautiful stuff on one hand and the terrible stuff on the other. I am not a beer drinker to this day.

That is one little insight. They were quite colourful characters – very interesting people in those early years.

For more about Marie Nicholls, you can view the full oral history transcript at Chatswood Library.



Author  Angus D B Caporn
Date Range 1926-1950
Subject Anderson Street; Benjamins store; Chatswood Post Office; Picture theatres: Arcadia; Kings; Hoyts; Town Hall

Excerpts transcribed verbatim from Mr Caporn’s handwritten memories

 …By then my father and I would travel up from Lane Cove for the ritual pictures (movies). There were three in Chatswood: Arcadia, Victoria Ave up near the Pacific Highway; Kings, opposite west side of the station; and a Hoyts, Victoria Avenue north side near Archer Street (I see that building is still there). The Arcadia was the favourite, especially with its Wurlitzer organ played before the start, at interval and whilst we left. There were serials, news reels and two feature films all for about 1/6 shillings.

 'Benjamins', Victoria Avenue, west side up opposite 'Arcadia' Theatre (almost) was a large store: groceries, clothing, hardware, where my parents shopped.

Post Office, Victoria Avenue, west side by the station.

The Town Hall had a house beside it where the caretaker lived, a Mr Williams, as they had a son, Ross, who went to Roseville School.

Shopping was all by walking down to Chatswood and returning up that hill in Anderson Street.




Author  Terry Fogarty
Date Range 1972-1992

Chatswood High School – Duke of Edinburgh scheme; Chatswood High School – Proposal to close the school.

I first became connected with Willoughby in 1972 when my wife (now) Dr. Mary Fogarty started teaching at Chatswood High School. At the time, I was undertaking a Ph.D at Macquarie University and would often drop Mary to school either by gunning it up the Fullers Road West hill from Delhi Road or down and up the dip in Edgar Street. I was driving a 1966 HR Holden sedan at the time.

In the early 1970s at Chatswood High School (CHS), Mary organised a number of holiday student coach excursions to Fraser Island and Central Australia (does not happen in these days of risk aversion). My role was to take up station when the coaches were due to return to make sure they had space to park outside the school. The coach company Mary used was Coachways, run by Russ Neville. Later, Coachways ran a promotional tour to the Mt Seaview cattle property in the Hastings Valley, run by Eric and Ralph Clissold, who were establishing a tourist ranch and field studies centre. This was when Mary was establishing the Duke of Edinburgh (D of E) Award Scheme at Chatswood High.

The D of E comprised voluntary community activities by students over a number of years toward a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. It also had the option of students participating in an ‘Expedition’ (usually a multi-day bushwalk). Mt Seaview was an ideal location for a base camp allowing for the safe management of students undertaking the expedition. I had just bought my first four wheel drive (an FJ40 Toyota SWB). Mary appointed me a D of E Instructor and Expedition Assessor. I was required to tutor students on a weekly basis on all facets of safe activity in the bush (mapping and navigation, clothing, food, water, etc). In addition, I was required to reconnoiter the tracks and trails in the forests around Mt Seaview to find Bronze, Silver and Gold class trails. During the expeditions, we used Mt Seaview as our staging base. We were required to visit each group at least once a day. Plus, it was often necessary to supplement water provisions and provide medical assistance to students.

One of our most memorable ‘rescues’ involved a bushfire that developed whilst one of our groups was walking in the upper Hasting River water catchment. Along with Ralph Clissold, we mounted our trail bikes and set off to find two girls who were in harm’s way. Fortunately, we reached them before the fire did and were able to run them safely to base camp.

In 1989 we moved from Newtown to 3 Valerie Avenue, Chatswood West. The move was prompted by a number of factors. We had two daughters, Jacqui and Dani, and were beginning to feel that the inner city was not the best environment to raise a young family. Mary was committed to teaching at CHS and my father had gone blind and we wanted to establish an environment where we could provide ongoing care for my parents.

Chatswood High School has had some outstanding Principals. Early Principals included Harris Morris and Ilma Woodward. At one stage the school was set to close and move to the UTS site in Ku-ring-gai. The Principal at this time was “Herbie” Fenton.

The parents were fearful that in opposing the closure their child might be disadvantaged. So they called on me, as President of the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association, to join with the P&C in fighting the proposal. I sought the assistance of Willoughby Council Town Planner, Greg Woodhams. Greg and his team were able to demonstrate that the population statistics the department had used were flawed.

Because of the fracas, the then departmental Cluster Director, Ms. Deanna Heorrmann, became actively involved with the process. Reasonably quickly, Deanna acknowledged the reality of the situation. Mr Fenton moved on, and to the delight of parents Ms Heormann assumed the role of Principal.

This was a great example of Willoughby Council, the school community and CWWPA working together to achieve a positive outcome for the local community - a model that was to be repeated with other schools.

Soon after John Brooks became the principal of CHS, he decided the school would benefit by having a field studies centre in a country setting. The idea being that various groups within the school would use the centre for both curriculum and extra curriculum activities. John identified my wife Mary as someone who could offer value in assessing potential sites for the centre. Mary co-opted me as driver and co-assessor. The area of interest, with the needs of the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme in mind, Mary targeted the area beyond the Wollemi National Park with access via Rylstone. After some time searching, we found a unique little property known as Marnie. It was on a small holding near the corner of the Narrango Road and the Nullo Mountain Road on the banks of the Cudgegong River. Not far away was a beautiful lake known as Dunne’s Swamp.

The building on the property was formerly used as the Olinda Post Office. It was a slab timber construction with an iron roof. It comprised about five rooms and a kitchen and single toilet. To make it usable it needed toilets and showers. The P&C came to the party and showers and toilets to cater for groups of forty were soon constructed. Active in the P&C at the time were Jan and Lyndsay Skinner and Tim and Roz Bowden who worked for the ABC.

Whilst the property was used yearly for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, other school groups tended to shy away from using it, citing distance and the inadequate condition of the main house as being problematic for them.

In purchasing Marnie, John Brook may have used some money from school funds, but the majority came from the P&C. John was eventually audited but no inappropriate use of school funds could be proven. To future proof the investment, the deeds to the property were in the name of P&C members.

With subsequent Principals the centre was seen to be diverting efforts from other school P&C projects. There was a resurgence of support (to maintain the property) when it was first offered for sale by the school. However, the sale could not proceed because the deeds could not be ‘found’. Ultimately, the P&C must have produced the deeds and the property was sold.

29 April 2018


Author  Dr Christopher Holt
Date Range 1946 -1953
Subject Willoughby; Cicadas

In the early fifties, Willoughby, although a suburban environment, had arguably the most varied and colourful species of cicadas in NSW. This was not lost on children who avidly collected them, sometimes at the risk of falling out of garden trees. The children put their noisy trophies in shoe boxes peppered with breathing holes, together with gum leaves and droplets of water.

The next day the cicadas were taken to school to be swapped. On the open market, a single 'cherry nose' was worth one 'chocolate soldier' or four 'yellow Mondays', eight 'green grocers', and any number of 'mongrels' - a supposed hybrid of the two latter species. Highest in demand was the legendary 'Black Prince' - last seen before the first world war - was the usual myth but you could vary it by phrases such as 'since Ned Kelly' - or even Captain Cook! The truth was that south of the Harbour Bridge there were any number of 'Black Princes' of indeterminate varieties and they were as common as crows.



Author  Brian Day
Date Range 1932 - 1938
Subject The Great Depression; Roseville Baths; Roseville Public School; Sydney Flour.

When I was a pupil at Roseville Public School I would go swimming with the other boys at Roseville Baths. They were all most amused, as I was getting changed, that my underwear had a picture of a navy destroyer on my backside with the words 'Sydney Flour'. This was because my mother made my underwear out of old Sydney Flour bags and although she boiled the cloth the dye would not come out.





Author  Brian Day
Date Range 1940
Subject Bantry Bay ammunition dump; Echo Point; Fishing; Middle Harbour; Police; World War II.

When I was 12 or 13 my father would take me fishing at Middle Harbour. I would walk from our home in Alleyne Street through the bush to Echo Point and hire a row boat, row down the harbour and moor the boat at the beach below the cave at Killarney Heights. Often we would stay in the cave overnight. Sometimes my friend Roy Vane would accompany us. One night in 1940 I was in the cave and I heard a motor boat coming. I was wondering who it could be when I heard voices saying 'there’s a boat moored over there – I wonder who’s there?' Roy had a large powerful torch and turned it on the boat. We discovered it was the police patrolling. They were blinded by the light and told Roy to turn the light off. They asked why we were there and I explained we were just fishing. As it was during the war they said 'You know you are close to a restricted area?' The restricted area was a large ammunition dump at Bantry Bay. I assured them we knew and they went on their way.


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