Mrs Ellen Lane grew up on the land now occupied by the Steel River Site. It was originally the site of John Laurio Platt’s farm, mill and house, and was later sold to the A.A. Company in 1839. The company later built their manager’s residence, known as Argyle House on the land. It was later sold to the Catholic Church who turned it into the Murray-Dwyer Orphanage. Mrs Lane’s story is entitled As It Was and was written for her family as a remembrance of her childhood years growing up in this area of Mayfield with the beautiful Shelley Beach and the fishing culture.
Argyle House stood on the banks of one of the channels of the Hunter River. It was a beautiful white mansion, surrounded by well kept lawns and beautiful gardens. It was the home on the manager of the A.A. Company, to be taken over by James Henry, the newly appointed manager for the Newcastle area. He previously managed Warrah Station where my father was employed. He asked dad would he like to go with him to the city. Dad accepted the offer with his family in mind, as there were no schools available in the area at that time.
Rear of Argyle House after fire
A house was provided for us. It was as though we’d never left the country. The home was surrounded by many acres of rich green land. The main gates to the property were at the Maud Street lights. Beautiful trees surrounded the dwelling. We were overjoyed. But the greatest pleasure of all was “Shelly Beach”. Argyle House looked over this delightful place.
There seems to be some doubt about this little beach. Did it really exist? I can assure doubters that it really did. As children, my sisters and our friends spent many happy days there. It was a popular Sunday walk for families and courting couples.
We used to race over the green, grassy banks, through the sweet smelling lantanas, to the fishermen’s wharves to fish, or to borrow a boat to row on the channel.
At the foot of the river banks was a cottage in which lived a fisherman, his wife and two children. One day the lady became ill and was taken away. The children went to live with the relatives, and Old Quail, the original fisherman, was joined by one Bob Ashby. Together they fished the river for many years.
Old Bob, as the kids knew him, was something of a mystery. He was very well spoken, with the faintest accent American we learned. He had great tales to tell about his travels throughout Australia, shearing sheep and cooking in shearing sheds. He admitted leaving America as a young man, but still had contacts there. He never talked about it, but he used to give me American stamps.
He was very musical and on Summer evenings he used to bring out an ancient concertina and play anything from classics to jazz. His waltzes were accompanied by the tapping of his heavy boots. It was fun, and many times boats would anchor in front of the old place, just to listen to his music.
A Mr Cruise had a boat on the beach and many times we had our photo taken on it. In mid stream was a house boat built by a Mr Sam Palmer, who lived on it.
” A Mr Cruise had a boat on the beach and many times we had our photo taken on it.“
The five “Meehan” girls photographed circa 1925 -1926 in Tom Cruise’s boat at Shelley Beach.
They were (l-r) Patricia, Ellen, Alice, Yvonne (Bonny) and Mearie.
[Photograph courtesy of Mrs Vera Deacon]
To the right of Shelley Beach, just across the lane which is now Tourle Street, lived a family named Dillon. Just up from them was the West Family. Dave was one of our crowd, and was a regular at the beach. On the property where they lived is now the chemical works and other industry.
As the years went by, and we grew into our teens, great changes were taking place. The A.A.Company applied to the Tarro Shire to rezone. Streets were built and blocks of land were sold. Buruda, Werribi and Groongal Streets were named after A.A. Company owned stations, while Gregson Avenue was named after the previous manager. Then the Catholic Bishop bought the beautiful Argyle House and our home. It became the Murray Dwyer Orphanage for boys.
After my marriage, I was very close to the Daughters of Charity who ran the Orphanage. But then came the War, when the Nuns and boys had to hand over the place to the Army.
After the War things changed. B.H.P. offered an undisclosed sum for the property. The Bishop sold, and then commenced the devastation. Two channels of the Hunter River were filled in, and with it went the fishermens cottage. Progress, they said, but ever since, mayfield has been plagued with dust, smell and noise.
The last straw was when the Industrial Highway was built behind the homes in Groongal Street. The old Tarro Shire no longer exists. Instead, we have the Newcastle City Council – B.H.P.’s good friend.
Vale Shelley Beach, Argyle House and our childhood dreams.
Copyright 2000 Ellen Lane
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