Vera Deacon lived on Mosquito (also known as Moscheto) and Dempsey Islands since the 1920s. During the Depression years the family left Dempsey Island and lived at Shortland, Platt’s Estate and Mayfield, returning to Moscheto Island in 1939. Her father fished the river, and along with the other farmers, grew fruit, vegetables, corn and sorghum from the fertile soils of the Islands. Mosquito Island was famous, from early colonial times, for its oranges, grapes, bananas and milk. In their launch, the Lady May, they sailed the River, often doing the ’round trip’ from Moscheto Island, taking in Platt’s Channel to the South Arm, Hexham and Raymond Terrace, then home via the North Arm, round Walsh Island, into Moscheto Creek and home. They lived there until they moved in 1951, when BHP began filling in the Platt’s Channel. She remembers her father showing her damaged fish and dying mangroves, exclaiming ‘They’re Killing the River’, a river that had sustained her family during the Depression. Please read Mrs Deacon’s memories of Mayfield West and Platt’s Channel.
My father began our connection with the islands of the Hunter in 1922. My earliest memories are of Dempsey and Moscheto Islands in 1928. The River was like a second mother to our family and the daily rhythm of its life: winds, tides, gales, the industries, fishing, rowing up the south arm to the Black wharf at Ingall Street etched itself into our lives. The estuary and its islands from Raymond Terrace down to Walsh Island was our playground, our school, our work. We left Dempsey Island in 1932, living very briefly in camps at Shortland, a house on stilts at Platt’s Channel and then in two ‘houses’ in Mayfield West Unemployed camp. We weathered the depression and returned to Moscheto Island in 1939.
Jim Latham, fisherman, told me fishing and prawning in the south arm up to Hexham/Raymond Terrace ‘was my life’. Another man, Bill Artup had a shed somewhere on Platts Channel. In the 1920s he organised one shilling FUN DAYS: rowing, picnicking and fishing, I suppose. Probably similar to the AQUATICS and HEXHAM SAILING HANDICAP reported in the NH, 31 Oct. and 9 Nov. 1896. These, promoted by the Hexham Regatta Club, covered a course of 214 miles, beginning about 700 yards north of the Travellers’ Rest Hotel to a bouy moored near Ironbark Creek. Legendary scullers such as Harry and Tom Muncaster, George Towns, Peter Kemp and Chris Neilsen competed. Visitors from Newcastle, Wallsend, Dempsey, MOSQUITO, and Ash Islands assembled at the winning post and lined the river banks.
I note on an old map that the banks of Ash Island carried a generous 100 foot reservation for the aborigines to pursue their fishing!
Over from the camp the abattoir spread alongside Maitland road. I still recall its malodorus ‘boiling down days’ when the sickening tallow smell nauseated all. A stark, lonely hill on which a roadside hoarding flaunted a magnificent winged white horse, advertising ETHYL … a kind of gasoline, I think.
Though poor we were rich in an imaginative freedom given to us by the river and its hills, gullies, fields. Not too far away, against the eastern sky, the industries, ground, smoked and steamed, chimneys stark, their pipes pouring oils, grease,’ tars, poisons into the south channel. Trains hiccupped slag which infurated the river. An anger I still share.
Copyright 1997 Vera Deacon
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