Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Signal Hill

In the early days of European settlement at Shellharbour, before the telegraph, when communication across Shellharbour was greatly restricted and the population widespread, a means of communicating with the outlying settlements was needed.

Dunster’s Hill is the highest hill in Shellharbour and is visible over almost all of the City even to this day. The Dunster family farmed high atop this hill and would keep watch for coastal ships calling at the harbour. When ships did arrive, a huge wicker ball was raised into one of the large fig trees atop the hill.

Settlers in the low lying areas of the Macquarie Valley would  then set off to the harbour with their produce to be taken to the Sydney markets.

The harbour  was the only means of transport of goods to and from Sydney. Early settlers and farmers relied  on the shipping trade to make their living and survive. From as early as 1856 steamers called in at the harbour however the ships were restricted by the tides as the water was not very deep at that time.

Over the years vast improvements were made to the harbour; it was deepened and a jetty added for loading and unloading goods. A storehouse was also built at the end of the jetty to store supplies.

The Boat Store and Wilson's Flour Mill at Shellharbour c.1900
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

The Ball Tree and Dunster and Fraser children at The Hill c.1923
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

The Lady Gatekeeper

The Stanford Family arrived at Oak Flats in 1919, taking up residence at the Oak Flats railway crossing gatehouse.  William had been a fettler on the railway since 1913, and Janet took up the role of  gatekeeper of the crossing, a position she held until 1931.

Janet (nee Reid) was born at Joadja on 28 August 1879. The Reid family later moved to Berrima where they lived for many years before Janet left home to work as a  dressmaker in the Helensburgh area. She married William Stanford in 1911 and had two children, William and Dorothy.

Gatekeeper was a 24 hour a day job for Janet; opening and closing the railway gates whenever a vehicle wished to cross the railway line – day or night.  William and Janet's son, Bill, remembered living in the gatehouse as a boy, and the windows positioned so that trains coming along the line in either direction could be seen.

Not to be daunted by hard work, Janet also operated a grocery store from a cottage the family moved to a short distance away from the gatehouse. The Stanford’s later moved to Central Avenue, Oak Flats, where Janet operated a store and a Post Office for many years. Janet arranged the first church service in Oak Flats at a small hall in Central Avenue, where she played  hymns on her pedal organ, brought from the Stanford home by her son Bill to the services.
Janet died in 1974 at the age of 94. William died in 1959.

When the new Oak Flats Railway Station was officially opened, Shellharbour City Council called for submissions for naming of an entrance road to the station.  The Tongarra Heritage Society submitted that the road to be called Janet Stanford Drive. The road was named Stanford Drive, in memory of the Lady Gate Keeper and the Stanford family of Oak Flats.

Janet and William Stanford at their Kingston Street home, Oak Flats c.1920
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

The Railway Gatehouse at Oak Flats c.1920
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.