'I’m rambling now but I enjoy doing it!': Rodney Ellison's Mosman Memories

Darragh Christie, 5 August 2021 · #

Studio portrait of 422916 Flight Sergeant Rodney Ellison who served during the Second World War. Source: AWM C2587338

The following article is an interview recorded by Katherine Wade on the 15/11/2003.

Katherine Wade: Hullo Mr. Ellison.

Rodney Ellison: My name is Rodney Ellison I’ve lived in Mosman for just about all my life. I was born in 1924 in Milner Street Mosman. Then from Milner Street to Killarney Street, most of my life was in 13A Whiting Beach Road Mosman down near the Zoo.

View from 11 Whiting Beach Rd Mosman, looking towards Taronga Zoo. Source: ‘Barry O Keefe’ Local Studies ‘Trace’ image archive. LH PF 4387

My father was Norman Ellison

…He was born in Moorepark and at a very early age he moved into Avenue Road Mosman, an old stone home called ‘Carisbrooke’ on the site now occupied by the only high rise building in Avenue Road down about 200 meters from Military Road. My mother was born at Walgett. She then moved into – it had a big stone house called ‘Myala’ directly above the Bondi Swimming Baths on the South end of Bondi. They owned the land almost to the full peninsula there.

South end of Bondi, with baths.

I’m not sure where my mother and father met but when they married they moved into Milner Street, as I mentioned is my place of birth.

Image right: Navy blue ‘Serge’ frock mentioned as worn by Lil to the reception. From Evening News advertisement. Article below:

Miss Lil Ruta-Cohen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. Ruta-Cohen, ‘Myala’, Bondi, was married last night in the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth-street, to Mr. Norman Ellison, son of Mr. and Mr.. J. Ellison, of ‘Tarvls,’ Avenue Road. Mosman. Rabbi Cohen, assisted by Rev. Einfleld, performed the ceremony. The bride, who, according to the Jewish custom, was given away by her parents, wore a charming gown of ivory charmante draped with silk embroidered net, and fashioned in the early Victorian style, with extended hips. Her tulle veil, arranged mob cap fashion, was caught at each side with a posy of orange blossoms, and a bouquet of white carnations. Roses and dahlias completed the picturesque ensemble…A reception was held at Sargent’s, Market-street, after the ceremony…The bride traveled in a smart frock of navy blue serge beaded in red. Her hat and bag were in harmony.

My father served in WWI artillery. He was very badly wounded.

…He came out of the Army and he went into journalism which was his only true love. He started as a cub reporter and went on to become at one stage acting editor of Smith’s Weekly and the Referee and then in later years he had his own publishing company and published a magazine called Motoring Australia and Flying and that continued until WWII when it was impossible to get paper and the magazine came to a halt.

Smith’s Weekly.

My mother served in the VAD in WWI and thereafter a housewife looking after a couple of brats, my sister, and me.

My sister Marilyn was born I think in 1932. My grandparents – there’s an exotic background there – my father’s father came from Odessa in the Ukraine. His wife came from somewhere in Holland, I’m not sure where. I think The Hague but I’m not sure of that. My mother’s father came from Poland just outside Cracow we think and his wife came from what was Russia at the time but on that moving border between Russia and Poland so it is an exotic background.


I’ve lived most of my life in Mosman. I have particularly happy memories

…but going back a long while to Whiting Beach Road – I’m guessing here, somewhere around 1930/32, one of the unique things – I’m not sure how frequently, but at least once a week, possibly twice a week, early morning about 15 or 20 fairly decrepit looking horses would be marshaled down Whiting Beach Road, and led along the track to the back entrance of the Zoo. There was what I suppose you would call a knackery there and they were killed there and that was the daily diet of the lions, the tigers, the panthers, and various other animals.

Jaguar at Taronga Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

The way of life was quite different to what we have now.

When we went to say, up to the shops we never thought of even closing the front door. It was casual, it was relaxed. We had people coming round. The mail was delivered twice a day. Milk and ice was delivered to the back of the house. The iceman would go in, put the ice in the icebox. We’d leave change out for him and he’d take whatever money was due.

There would be a gentleman who would come round, probably once a month selling clothes props and you’d hear: ‘clothes props, clothes props’. Because remembering there were long wire lines for hanging out the clothes and of course all the washing was done on Monday morning. It was often an opportunity for the housewife to chat over the back fence and there was a strong communal situation around Whiting Beach Road. It was quite lovely.

I think there was a Yugoslav fisherman who used to come round once a week with a basketful of very, very fresh fish and you’d identify the fish you wanted and he would gut, scale, and clean it for you.

We walked everywhere.

I went to Mosman Public School and from Whiting Beach Road to school was probably about just under a mile.

Mosman Public School. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Unless the rain was particularly heavy we still walked to school and back, it was nothing. When we were a bit older we had scooters and bikes and the usual thing was to scooter from Whiting Beach Road down towards Sirius Cove, along the track past Whiting Beach, out to the Zoo, around Bradley’s Head, all the way around to Clifton Gardens and scooter back. This was just the accepted thing.

Sirius Cove. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

If we wanted to swim

…and I spent a lot of time in the water, sometimes we’d go down to Sirius Cove which in those days had a shark-proof net stretching from one side to the other. At low tide, there was very little water but at high tide, you had at least four feet of water and it was a delightful swimming area. You sun-baked in the bush usually on the north side of the bay, or we’d run down to Clifton Gardens, and the pool was a giant circular pool, two storeys with a top deck and I’m guessing, but at least 20 or 30 feet above the water level.

Clifton Gardens Pool. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

But Balmoral was our favourite. My father grew up on Balmoral Beach. I grew up on Balmoral Beach, my children grew up on Balmoral Beach and up to about five, or six years ago my grandchildren grew up on Balmoral Beach so it’s special. And even in these days, I walk Balmoral Beach at least five mornings a week.

Whiting Beach Road was only separated from the Zoo by bushland. As a kid, the Zoo played a prominent part in my life. Many times when I should have been studying I was in the Zoo.

I was known to all the keepers and the attendants in the Zoo,

…probably not in a very good light but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Some of the pranks were my cousin and I, who later went on to become a member of parliament, would clamber over the Zoo wall at the end of Wickard Avenue into the bison’s cage and I mean in to the bison’s cage. There was a central section to this very large cage, or it wasn’t a cage it was an area which was (indistinct) and these two dreadful young boys, either with a slingshot or whatever would annoy these bison until they would charge round and round in circles and we would head for the central enclosure all along to the wall and jump up on that wall. I still have photographs somewhere of one my cousins standing about 10 feet in front of this massive animal with a whip consisting of a rough piece of timber at least a foot long with a bit of rope on the end and I have a similar photograph of yours truly doing the same stupid thing.

Later on in years, together with a lot of the locals, we used to walk through the Zoo each morning on the way to the ferry. You had a varied collection of people, managing directors, clerks, and all sorts of people who would walk through the Zoo as members of the Royal Zoological Society, and most would be carrying little paper bags with bits and pieces to feed their favourite animals.

Baby Elephant Taronga Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

My father had a favourite animal. It was Susie the elephant.

My father used to feed all the animals in the Zoo on Life Savers, which probably contributed to the early demise of a lot of the animals. But with Susie, he would come down and call out, ‘Susie’ as he approached the elephant area and this big lumbering elephant would come out, stretch out her trunk, and dad would feed her at least half a dozen Life Savers, and with a little crooked finger would delicately put them in her mouth.

However, there were times when Suzie had been misbehaving and would be chained up. She would be at least 20 or30 feet from the moat so my father would have to throw the Life Savers in her direction which meant they usually went into little slivers and Susie, with great delicacy and using her trunk like a vacuum cleaner would pick up these tiny slivers of Life Savers. You could almost see the smirk on her face.

Postcard of elephant Taronga Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive. http://images.mosman.nsw.gov.au/?code=MzAyOTM=%3D

Unfortunately, Susie met an untimely death. During the day when a lot of people were around Susie was on the edge of the moat with her trunk reaching out to get some food from someone and one of the other elephants apparently, deliberately came up behind her and pushed her. She fell on her back into the moat. It was impossible to save her, much as they tried and she died there.

Photograph showing elephant enclosure with moat. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive. LH PF 308

To my great disgust, the then Chairman of the Trust Sir Edward Halstrom had her feet cut off and used those as umbrella stands and wastepaper baskets. I don’t forgive that.

There was another favourite of my father’s.

My father by the way had lost the sight of one eye in a car racing accident. It was a big bull seal that used to sleep in one spot every morning and he too only had sight in one eye. My father felt some affinity with him which I’m not sure was reciprocated but when my father reached where this big bull semi-blind seal lay he’d make these seal-like noises and strangely enough there was always a response and there was a sort of a satisfaction, with my father who walked further down to the Zoo.

Image: Roland the Bull-seal at Berlin Zoo. Poor old Roland was killed and his statue destroyed in WW2. But Roland was captured on film for posterity. The seal at Taronga probably wasn’t as big but you can get a good idea of the type of interactions possible by watching the video.

I too had my favourites.

There was a young lady in the kindergarten, she was necessarily my favourite – very attractive – and most mornings she would meet me at the entrance to the Zoo with either Mickey, Keefy, or Andy, or two of them, these were chimpanzees dressed in their shorts and singlet walking hand in hand with her and when they saw me she would let them go and they’d run towards me, and the main interest was not necessarily in me – well there was some interest in me, but it was primarily in my watch and the watch ticked quite loudly. We are talking a long while ago, when watches did tick. Each one would pick up my arm and put the watch to their ear which they seemed to enjoy because chimpanzees, believe it or not, smirk, smile, or whatever, but they enjoyed it. And they would walk hand in hand down through the Zoo till I left them and ran down to catch the ferry across to the city.

15.06 There was another unforgettable experience.

On the way through we went past a spider monkeys’ giant pit

…with a little island in the middle with (I’m guessing) probably 40 or 50 spider monkeys. Quite frequently we would see the cleaner or the attendant go into the cage through a door in the vertical wall to the pit. Go in through the door, close the door and start just cleaning up and leaving some food for the spider monkeys. On this occasion, something frightened the monkeys. I still haven’t been able to work out why and nor could the attendant. They went berserk, they attacked him. He wore quite thick glasses. They knocked his glasses off, and cut him very badly. He fell over but managed to get up. He had difficulty opening the door but he managed to get out of the door. He was cut very, very badly and I think he was off for quite a long time.

Performing Spider Monkey. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Cutting back to the chimpanzees;

…one of the chimpanzees – whether it was born at the Zoo I can’t remember, but the attendant used to take him or her home to his home at night time and bring her back each morning – I think it was her – into the kindergarten. I think it was Keefy, but as Keefy got older she couldn’t do that so Keefy had her own personal cage, but the problem with this almost fully grown chimpanzee was, she wouldn’t let anyone else into her cage but her friend who had fathered her, or she obviously felt that.

By this stage, the attendant had progressed up the ladder in the Zoo and had I think quite a senior administrative job there. But he had to come to work half an hour early, go down to the cage, be greeted by Keefy who would put her arm around him and give him a cuddle or a kiss. He’d have to sweep up the manure and you’d hear him muttering, ‘bloody nuisance having to come in here each morning’, but he loved it and Keefy loved it. That’s one of my very precious memories there.

Add for chimps, Freda and Freddie at Tarongo Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive


I mentioned we were not the best behaved young children

…and one of the many misdemeanors: there was a giant pit where a single, solitary black panther lived. It was a new pit and the rail surrounding this pit had not been completed so you had pipes coming out in the ground to about three feet high and the top railing was to be put in place later. Probably because we had seen too many Jungle Jim films we thought by hitting the tops of these pipes with our open hand we were creating a sound similar to jungle drums. It was good fun for us but (laughs) it disturbed the poor old Black Panther and he used to go a little berserk. We shouldn’t have done it. The attendants were aware of it but they never stopped us doing it.

I also collected peacock feathers and at one stage I had almost a complete set of peacock tail feathers at home. I won’t say I stole them from living peacocks but I was tempted on many occasions, but the attendants did help me there.

Source: Peacock, Taronga Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

I don’t think I should mention the time when I was wearing knickerbockers, even that’s a moment of shame and I was running along a pathway between two goldfish ponds not far from the entrance to the Zoo and the obvious happened. I slipped and fell into the pond and filled my knickerbockers with fairly dirty water and had to rush home in embarrassment.

There was another silly thing we did. We used to fly gliders off the lookout,

Young lads flying gliders, a pastime.

…probably 100 yards from the wall of the Zoo. It was a great place to fly gliders but on this one occasion something went wrong with my navigation and the glider landed – I’m not sure if it was in the crocodile or the alligator section, not far away. Now I had spent a lot of time making that glider and it was flying beautifully. There was no way I was going to sacrifice that, so with a couple of the boys watching the sleeping crocodiles and the great alligator, over the fence I went and I swear to this day, whether he was asleep or just looking at me, he was too bloody tired to have a crack at me. It was a frightening moment but I got my glider back.

Crocodile, Taronga Zoo. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Another indication of our stupidity or misbehavior:

…we used to run up and down the cliff face of the lookout which was easy if you knew how, but two of us, and I won’t mention the name of the other chap, would go up there perhaps on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon and often there would be a crowd there looking at the glorious view across to the harbour and the city, and we’d go through the fence, stand on the edge of the cliff and jump. There were always a couple of screams but it was a little ledge about six feet down which you could land on what we thought in comparative safety. And we’d just stop there and people would be screaming and shouting (laughs) – if you think back it was a pretty stupid thing to do but we enjoyed it at the time.

Rubbish tip and bushland viewed from 11 Whiting Head Road, 1940. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive LH PF 4390

In the same category, in the evenings the flat area below the lookout was a marvelous parking spot for young couples. Not necessarily young couples but, couples and they’d be doing whatever they wanted to do and we’d sneak up, belt on the roof of the car, or the side of the car, and run for our life into the bush. Once we got in the bush no one could catch us because we knew every nook and cranny, and every track there. We thought that was good fun.

One of our near neighbours who shall be unnamed; he was likely a pyromaniac if that’s the correct word, he loved lighting bushfires. I’d say we had a disproportionate number of bushfires in the area around Whiting Beach Road to every other part of Sydney. There is nothing more exciting than to see a little bushfire and the fire engine belting down Whiting Beach Road to put it out.

Mosman Fire Service 1920 and 1910. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive LH PF 473 LH PF 475


So much of my life seems to be bound up with animals and things like that.

On one occasion, early morning when the milkman came to deliver the milk he knocked very loudly on our – it wasn’t even a back door, just on our back verandah, woke me and said, ‘come quickly’. There was a chimpanzee on the roof of the Kingsford Smith house immediately next door to ours.

It was a little unusual to have a chimpanzee in that situation. We rang the Zoo – whether we chased him or whether he just went off the roof, through the bush, back to the Zoo I don’t know, but the keepers came out and they collected him. That was just a little experience.

But one was quite frightening; in later years walking through the Zoo to catch the ferry somewhere around 8.15 in the morning, a truck came belting through the Zoo very quickly with a chap with a megaphone saying, ‘take cover, take cover a tiger has escaped’. We took cover I can assure you. I did not see the tiger but apparently, he was shot as he was about to climb over the Zoo wall but it was a dramatic moment that is worth recording.

We had a big male kangaroo escape and we tried to catch him in the bush which was a little naïve, but the moment we got close he would bring up those hind legs which are very, very dangerous. We just kept him in sight and someone told the people in the Zoo and they came out. I can’t even remember how they caught him but they did.

Kangaroos at Taronga. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

At the appropriate age, I joined Mosman Cubs.

It was probably 3rd Mosman, I think down at The Barn at Mosman Bay, an historic old building that is now suffering a few problems. Thereafter I was a member of the Scouts. Their hut was just off Middle Head Road approximately where the Rawson Park tennis area is now. I used to walk from Whiting Beach Road through a bush track to there on the appropriate nights. I remember there had been a story about some, quote ‘nasty’ man, unquote, in that area and I used to take my stave which is a long piece of timber that each Scout would have and that was my protection when I walked through this track in a dark night. Nothing ever happened, but the Scouts were good for me. They are a worthy organisation.

3rd Mosman Cubs boatshed. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Probably in about 1941 I joined the Cadets in Artillery Section at Georges Heights.

I was only there fleetingly because shortly thereafter I joined the Air Force where I served as a pilot for just under four years.
Traveling by ferry in those days – and it still is the most beautiful way to travel. We are fortunate to have a glorious harbour, but in those days everyone on the 8.15, or 8.30 ferry, I can’t remember, had their own seat. You were frowned upon if you occupied someone else’s seat.

Georges Heights Artillery. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Mostly we ran from Whiting Beach Road round the bottom track to the Zoo Wharf deliberately delaying arrival on the wharf till the ferry started pulling out. We’d belt down the wharf, jump the three or four feet across the water onto the side of the ferry and clamber in. This was showing off of the worst form.

My father in later years used to go down by tram to the ferry

…and on one occasion as they took the turn on the downhill section from Ashton Park the brakes in the tram failed. It picked up considerable speed. My father abandoned the ship/tram (query) somewhere around the Aquarium and injured himself quite badly. The tram continued down, went straight off the end of the lines next to the wharf, nosed into the water, and came to rest with the front of the tram actually in the harbour. A few people were hurt but I don’t think anyone was hurt badly, but my dad did suffer, not shockingly, but he was seriously injured in that situation.

Tram accident at Taronga zoo wharf. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Balmoral and Middle Harbour also played a very prominent part in my life.

…My father was badly injured in a car racing accident. That’s when he lost the sight of the one eye that I mentioned previously. My mother decided we needed a break so we moved into Braymar Guesthouse on The Esplanade at Balmoral for several weeks, probably around Christmas time if I remember correctly. I think I was about eight then and they used to have canoes for hire on the beach and they started having canoe races. I consistently won these races and I think I used to get a shilling for winning which came in very handy.

After that I had a VJ sailing boat which we used to sail up Balmoral in a B class division which included the variety of all small craft. I had my own canoe and the regular route was across to Castle Rock which was lovely. It was not unusual when doing this to see a shark. These days I have never seen a shark in the water. It was quite unusual to see a shark.

VJ sailing boat in Mosman yard. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

On one occasion with my cousin, (the one who attacked the bison), we were sailing, or paddling across to Cobbler’s Beach and we ran onto the rocks. The canvas canoe had a large hole in the side and in those days we were even more stupid. We got some bark, pushed it against the hole in the side of the canoe, and paddled on all round Middle Harbour bailing as fast as we could. When you think back it was pretty stupid but at the time it was a lot of fun. Sailing became the sport I most enjoyed.

(tape break) Track 2/1

View of Mosman surrounds taken from Ross and Keith Smith’s Vickers Vimy, 1919

I used to keep my sailing boat initially and my canoe at Joel’s Boatshed at Balmoral.

Joel’s family had been around that boatshed for a long, long while. I sold my VJ 6th June 1942 one or two days before I went into the Air Force.
In my mature days, I fell in love with sailing again, initially in the Heron with my son as the forward hand. All this went well until my son recognised there were certain benefits in seeing young girls and sailing became a poor second so I got rid of the Heron and went into sailing lasers. That was love at first experience. I consistently raced my laser at Balmoral where I became an Honorary Life Member and then more latterly Middle Harbour Amateurs where I became an Honorary Life Member and in my last sailing event, I won the State Championship for the Great Grand Masters. That’s for the very, very old, for the over 65s. At that stage, I was 73 and I was very proud of that moment. I would still be racing my laser if I hadn’t had a stupid accident which meant no more racing of lasers.

Boat sailing past Chowder Bay Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

It was not unusual for us to have a party at home and we’d all go for a walk or a run down to Clifton Gardens,

…have a swim and whatever down there. But of course, these were the days when the Clifton Garden Hotel was the focal point for that area. It was quite famous I think early, in probably the 1900s and something. It was a fashionable place. A lot of honeymooners went there for their honeymoons. It was a big picnic place and probably still is, and of course, the regular ferry run was, Circular Quay, Clifton Gardens, Taronga, Garden Island, and back to the Quay. At various times Clifton Gardens did pick up a lot of businessmen who would come across and join the people who got on the ferry at Taronga Park.

Clifton Gardens Hotel. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Down at Ashton Park which was again a very popular picnic spot

…and the old hall is still there, but just below the hall was a big Razzle Dazzle, which is like a giant May Pole. It has a centre column, probably about 30 feet high. It has a circular section below which you sit on and steel arms coming out supporting that, and horizontal timber sections going through to the base of the centre pole just to get rigidity.

Children’s picnic event at Ashton Park. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

…The idea was that you got on the outside of this seating area and you pushed and you pushed in a circle till you got up speed then you jumped on the seating section – this was good fun, but sometimes some of our silly gang would get on the inside where all these horizontal beams came out to the seats. It was easier to push so you’d belt along pushing this as fast as you could, but the obvious happened. Sometimes someone would slip and fall down. Then you had two alternatives. You laid there until the Razzle Dazzle stopped but if you tried to get up, which some of them tried, you usually got hit on the back of the skull with a heavy piece of timber. But this was all part and parcel of growing up in the area.

Ashton Park looking out over HMAS Sydney Mast Memorial to Sydney Harbour. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

I should mention one of the most dramatic moments ever in Mosman.

…It was when the US fleet was in Sydney Harbour and when they were leaving the harbour I went down to Bradley’s Head and climbed into my favourite tree next to the old ramparts there just behind the HMAS Sydney’s mast. So I was sitting up high to get a good view of the Cruiser that went past Bradley’s Head. I think it was the Rodney, a two-storey motorboat from the people who had – I can’t remember their names – the organisation in Mosman Bay. It came through alongside the Cruiser.

Rodney, moments before she capsized and sank, showing many people on the top deck and few on the lower deck. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_disaster

It was filled to overflowing with people waving at the American Cruiser but then they did a U turn so people on the other side could have a better look, and the rest is history. As they did the U turn people rushed to the other side and the ferry capsized. I can’t remember how many people drowned. It was a tragic, but a marvelous moment because, whether it was the USS Chicago, I can’t remember, but sailors were diving off the side of the Cruiser, say 30 feet above the water level to rescue people. It was chaos but there was a tremendous amount of bravery.

Rodney capsized and about to sink. Rodney sinking. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_disaster

Other boats came in to try and save people, but then to add a macabre touch to it; after school, we used to go down to the same spot to watch them dragging for bodies which is not a very nice thing for a young schoolboy to do. The mast of the HMAS Sydney – I always refer to as dad’s mast which is not quite accurate but I believe he was the person who first suggested that it would be an ideal spot for that to be there as a memorial to that famous ship.

Manly ferries Barrenjoey and Dee Why, and an assortment of small craft help in rescuing passengers off Bradleys Head. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_disaster


I’m rambling now but I enjoy doing it.

My father, as I mentioned, served in WWI and he brought back a Smith & Wesson Service revolver,

…45 calibers, and for reasons unknown, he also had a collection of 45 soft-nosed bullets. On this particular occasion, one of the lads, three doors up in Whiting Beach Road was with me. We got out (tape break – lost passage) to find a soft-nosed bullet. The nose of the bullet is lead so when it is fired it makes a normal entry of 45mm, but if it hits anything solid, bone in particular, it spreads and makes a gaping hole where it comes out.

Now I put this bullet in the chamber. I was toiling (sp) the chamber for what reason I can’t remember, and the obvious happened. The gun went off and the bullet struck the side of my head in that loose flesh just to the side of my eye, traveled underneath the skin for about four inches then left me, went through the ceiling of the house, broke two tiles on the roof, and went on its merry way. If it had touched the bone of my skull I would not be making this recording.

Smith & Wesson Service revolver, .45 caliber

To a lesser extent there was danger in the bush opposite.

We had been to too many ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ cowboys & Indians films at the local Kinema Theatre which is where the new RSL is now and had seen what the Indians could do by putting a trip rope across a path.

Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

Attaching that trip rope to the back of an arrow which was set into a bow attached to a tree trunk. We found that we could do a similar thing and we’d have a piece of string across one of the tracks through to the Zoo, onto the back of an arrow, and this fairly primitive bow was nailed to a tree trunk. So if you were walking through that track I doubt if you would have suffered any damage but it might have given you a slight surprise to see one or two arrows whizzing past you. To my knowledge, no one was ever damaged in this manner.

…We had to earn our pocket money; it was the usual chores, mowing the lawn, picking the poppies, or collecting manure. Remember all the deliveries except one, were made by horse and cart. The milk was delivered by horse and cart, the ice too and the other bits and pieces. The only one that wasn’t was the Long & Barden Soft Drinks.

Add for Long & Barden soft drink co. on bottle crate.

They used to bring around jars of ginger beer in a Gabbyjard (sp) I think they called them, but everything else was delivered by horse & cart so there was an abundance of manure and a little bit of competition from the various people around the area as to who could get there first to collect the manure.

Advertisement for Iced Vo-vos.

My father was a keen gardener so I was usually out bright and early. I would be paid several pence for this cultural activity and out of that money I would possibly go up to Derrin Brothers at Mosman Junction and buy sixpence worth of broken biscuits. You never knew what you were getting with broken biscuits: Iced Vo-Vos, shortbreads, ginger biscuits. It was an exotic collection.

Illustration of mullet fish. Mullet is also Australian slang to denote a crude haircut- cropped short up front ‘with a party at the back.’

Often we’d then go down nearer to the Buena Vista Hotel and buy a mullet.

…Now people used to sneer at mullet as being a not particularly tasty fish, but it was the cheapest. I would buy the mullet, go down to Balmoral in the (indistinct) walking, light a little fire on the beach, collect the Mosman Daily which I would dunk in Middle Harbour until it was soaking wet, wrap it round the mullet, wait till I had a lot of ashes in the fire, lye the mullet in the Mosman Daily on the ashes, cover it with ashes, wait ex number of minutes, unravel the Mosman Daily and usually the skin would come off the mullet at the same time. I’m not sure whether it was my uneducated palette but I swear and declare that no fish tasted as delicious as that mullet did cooked down on Balmoral Beach.

Postcard of Balmoral Beach. Source: Barry O’Keefe Library ‘Trace’ image archive

At that same part of the beach for a limited time – I can’t remember – a flying boat used to land in Middle Harbour and taxi up directly onto that part of the beach at the southern end. That part of Joel’s Boatshed. For a vast sum of five or ten shillings I can’t remember, he would take you on a short flight. I managed to save up sufficient money to have one of those flights. I’ve always loved flying and that was probably my first flight and I made up my mind there and then that I wanted to do more flying which I did in later life. But it was quite exciting to see this flying boat – not a sea plane, a flying boat, land in Middle Harbour, taxi across, and come right up the beach always surrounded by a gaggle of young boys and girls.

Quantas Empire Airways operating from Sydney Harbour

Let’s go forward quite a bit to the end of May 1942. I’m about to go into the Air Force. I had a friend staying with me who was already in the Navy and early in the evening we are sitting there and suddenly there’s a strange, dunk, dunk, dunk sound. Alistair, my friend, said, ‘God, that’s an alican’ (sp). An alican is a light cannon that a lot of warships have on deck. I said, ‘you’re crazy’. He said, ‘no, that’s what it is’. We raced up to the same lookout I mentioned earlier and we saw – that was the US Chicago.

USS ‘Chicago’ in Sydney

The Japanese midget submarine had come in.

Had fired a torpedo at the Chicago and luckily missed but unfortunately hit the HMAS Kuttabul, what had been a retired ferry anchored at Garden Island and used as a dormitory. Unfortunately, a number of people were killed in that. But the Chicago went out of the harbour through the boom gates. I won’t say at full speed but quicker than any warship I’ve ever seen go into or out of Sydney Harbour.

Japanese midget sub being dredged from Taylor’s Bay.

As a postscript to that I went into the Air Force

…a few days thereafter and I went in as a sole recruit. I won’t go into the details of the strange sort of situation. I was put in a hut. No one knew what to do with me and that evening I’m lying there and the hill raid alarm goes. Everyone scattered to the slip trenches, they knew where to go, I didn’t, and wearing pyjamas I dashed down and I see a slip trench and I dived into that to find I’d dived into the WAF’s – the Women’s Australian Air Force. I thought – I’m going to enjoy the Air Force, which I did for just on four years.

Members of the Australian WAAF

I’ve lived nearly all my life in Mosman as I have said. My family grew up in Mosman and I grew up in Mosman and my kids, and my grandkids. I’ve been blessed. I can’t think of anywhere better to have grown up or to have lived. It is a unique part of Sydney. It has more waterfront than any other suburb, but it is more than that it has a, for me anyhow, a pleasant serenity. It is becoming a bit more sophisticated, but I enjoy it and I’m a very happy fella.

Katherine Wade: Well thank you very much Mr. Ellison for sharing your life experiences here in Mosman.

Norman Ellison

Rodney Ellison: This is an addendum or a PS, whatever you wish, but one of my proud moments is to walk past the War Memorial at Mosman Oval and there is my father’s name there: H.H.N. Ellison and he served for a number of years in the artillery. He was refused three times before he could get into the Army. He was very badly wounded in Belgium and suffered grotesque wounds to his thigh and his legislation. Thereafter, all his life he had a very slight limp. I am very proud of my old man he was quite a remarkable man.

Mosman War Memorial with Norman Ellison’s name, among others. Source: Author

excerpt from National Archive record showing Norman Ellison’s injury in official transcript


Follow the Norman Ellison Story:

Local resident Norman Ellison: A literary life.

Local resident Norman Ellison: memories of a man behind the iron mast.

Rodney Ellison’s Mosman Memories.


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