Mosman Memories

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Marjorie Doreen Cooper

These memories, covering approx 1902 to 1920, were taken from an interview with my Grandmother (Marjorie Doreen Cooper “Poppy” (nee Wilshire) [E.6.13a.2b] 1897-1995) by Elizabeth Compton in 1992 at Montana Nursing Home, Mosman. My Grandmother would have been 95 years of age at that time. Marjorie was the daughter of Ethel May Wilshire (nee Hungerford) [E.6.13a].




I started Killarney School1 in 1902 when I was five years old and finished three years later at aged eight years.

I lived at the head of Mosman Bay and walked by bush track or perhaps a dirt road to Killarney, up what is now Harbour Street. I was given a penny to catch the tram home. I often didn’t catch the tram home because I would spend the money on a chocolate ball. I think Mother’s friends were rather horrified that I should be expected to walk from Mosman Bay to Killarney, at the top of what is now known as Spit Road.

The School was co-educational and ran from 9 am to 3 pm with about 15 pupils in each class. I had previously been to a kindergarten run by Miss Duffy who taught us pothooking2and ‘forms’ which must have been preparation for writing.

Killarney School in Dalton Road Mosman
Killarney School in Dalton Road Mosman

Killarney was a very wonderful building with beautiful grounds surrounded by pine trees. We used to climb these pine trees with Alma and Trixie Matthews and we would swing from one to one which was great fun. We all tried to beat each other. One day Alma fell and could not move. We went shrieking into the school Alma’s dead! Alma’s dead!. Much to our horror Alma was taken away. We believed that she was dead. A number of days later she was brought back to school and I remarked to Miss Carter Has Alma been resurrected? It was a word that I had heard at Sunday School.

Mrs Carter was a very wonderful woman but she had the misfortune of being cross-eyed and it was difficult to tell who she was talking to. So quite often when I was asked a question, I thought it was the girl next to me that was being asked and I did not reply. Then Mrs Carter’s response was Now Marjorie. why didn’t you answer that? I got very upset about this. I don’t remember if I cried but I was very cross. I know I went home and told Mother that Mrs Carter didn’t like me. She had an assistant by the name of Miss Grant, however, I only have a very vague memory of her. I can see Mrs Carter very clearly but not Miss Grant.

It was a big room that we went into for lessons and it was my first introduction to not being free to scribble as I wanted. We really had to write words which I wasn’t very good at, and no pothooks ever helped me. It was fun and was pleasant, you had to line up in lines and then go past and say good morning to Mrs Carter then go on into school where you sat at tables or desks. I remember them as tables but they may have been desks because you could leave your books there until the next day. You had pencil boxes given to you by your parents which you had to have when you went there.

There was daily exercise program using dumbells and clubs which I loved. You might call it calisthenics now. I used to love anything to do with sports. The school didn’t take us but my parent used to take us swimming and I was a natural to the water.

The life was the best thing at Killarney. The freedom and yet the same discipline that I had had at home. There was a fair bit of discipline. The worst aspects were being threatened with lines. If you made a mistake or misbehaved you would have to write out sentences or stand in the corner.

The gardens were very extensive the lawns were spacious and very beautiful. We would have a sports day outside which would consist of running and jumping, the 3-legged races and hoops which we ran around the ground with. You got a little present if you won something. One time I won three races and won the same prize three times. It was a little set of baskets that fitted inside of each other. They were very old fashioned.

We studied English, History (The History of the English Empire). Maths and Geography. We had to draw maps and put in towns. Maths was my favourite subject. We did not study any Ancient History nor Religious Studies although I did go to Sunday School. We did not do Drama or Sewing that I can remember. I took my lunch in a haversack. We didn’t go on outings because it was all bush. there were no roads. The tracks were made by horses and carts. There were no shops; the nearest post office was down in Mosman Junction. Mosman Junction had a few shops; it was very, very overgrown; lovely trees that we would climb.

The School promoted discipline. Today it concerns me that mothers expect the schools to teach the children discipline when they haven’t disciplined the child ever.

There were boys and girls at the School and they shared the same classroom and play ground and were given the same forms of discipline. My older brother (Roy Hungerford Wilshire [E.6.13a.1b]) went to Neutral Bay Public School.

I had a brown dress to wear to school; it was my pride and joy because Mother had put a few touches on the Peter Pan collar. We wore hats and pinafores over our dresses. I felt that I was really dressed up to go to school. I had the most wonderful parents. I really had. We lived a really very happy life; very wonderful home (Mooriwarra). They chose Killarney because it was the first school to open in the area. They were very keen for me to go and I have no idea where else they could have sent me. They could have thought nothing of Mosman Public otherwise my brother would have gone there and not Neutral Bay.

Killarney didn’t go on to a higher grade so I didn’t stay there. Miss Isobel Yarnold set up a school in Raglan Street in 1908 (St Hilda’s). I went on to Miss Yarnold’s where I really had to study. I played a lot of tennis where Betty Shaw and I fought it out time and time again to be the best. At 12, I went on to Riviere College at Woollahra. I wanted to do Medicine but my Father (Edwin Hosking Wilshire [E.6.13a=]) told me that my place was with my Mother in the home. I was too young and had to wait a year anyway. I had an allowance but could not have afforded the costs of books and studies on my own. Then the war came (my brother went to the First World War) and that knocked any chances of studying at the University. During the War I did a lot of nursing but I never registered as a nurse although I passed all the requirements. My Father had my affections so strongly that I never thought of crossing him. Yet, I never realised that Dad and Mum were so strict. It never occurred to me for one minute, it was just their attitude. It was the same with the help in the house. We had two gardeners you never ever were rude to them, you called them Mr or Mrs as the case may be except for “Smelly Mack” who polished the halls, because that is just what he was!

We had a little orchard just a few apricot trees and a peach tree and a currant just at the foot of the steps.

Mosman at the time was very beautiful. We walked every where because there was no transport. The coach which met the ferry at Mosman Bay was drawn by two horses. My mother used to push my younger brother (Edwin Norman Wilshire (“Bill”) [E.6.13a.3b]) around in a perambulator which she dragged behind her after she got off at Rangers Avenue and I presume my brother went into the pram and my mother would walk up Rangers Avenue to Oswald Street. The Rangers3 was still there. it was not until I was 18 that they pulled it down. We had a fete to raise money to try to save it but it was no good, they would hack it down.
The Rangers

The postman came on a horse and when he came to our gate he would get down and I would ride it while he would deliver the letters. The Rabbit-O would come round and a man selling any old tins or irons. That family is now very wealthy, that’s what they started with. There was a huge stone (granite) rock outside our house where Mother used to sit and sew. I can just remember crawling around on it, with my brother playing nearby and a nursemaid keeping an eye on us. We had several servants. I suppose you could say that we were upper middle class. We would have had to have been for me to go to Killarney, or St Hilda’s or anywhere else. My Father was an importer of iron and steel, the business was sold to Lysaghts when he died.

When I was young there was a group of Aboriginal people living up Middle Harbour. Mother used to take a boat load of us up there at each full moon. It was a big row boat that we would hire from The Spit. We would walk down to The Spit; there was a big hill in those days. Mother would leave food, she would say it was for the birds but in retrospect I believe it was for the Aboriginals. She saw them but I never saw them; they never frightened me. Roy and I built a tea tree cubby just outside the ‘low’, that is the rock that I speak of, and we never dared leave anything there because it just disappeared. We couldn’t imagine who took it. I was always losing hats because the minute I was out of sight of Mother I would take them off. We would go into lunch and there would be nothing in the cubby when we came back. So you learned to take your possessions with you. It was a good lesson to learn.

Mother’s companion was oft time asked to go and see how I was going with my dressing. I would drop everything just anywhere, so Miss Hyland would put things away in the wrong place (deliberately). When I came to get dressed the next morning I could never find my clothes; I had to look everywhere; so she taught me to put my own clothes away. We had two gardeners, a cook and a ‘general ‘, a woman came in once a week to wash and iron and clean, and ‘Smelly Mack’ to do the floors. It was a big house which was extended when my younger brother came along. The house stood at the intersection of Brierley Street and Oswald Street.

At the top of our street was Seidenberg’s Dairy with a bull. I had a red cape and one Sunday when Father and Mother and I were going out to visit the Glassfords who lived at Neutral Bay, the bull went for me. Dad had a very wonderful walking stick which he broke over the bull’s head. There was also Foley’s Dairy on the Northbridge side. There was a Chinaman who used to come around every week with two baskets over his shoulder. The baskets had every type of vegetable and fruit you could want. I didn’t know of any market gardens run by the Chinese at Chinaman’s Beach. It may have been after my time but we used to picnic down at Chinaman’s Beach and the Armatige’s used to own all around there. There were no other ethnic groups around. These were the days when the butcher would bring the meat around and if Cook or Mother didn’t approve of the meat then they would sent it back and he would bring some other. I said to Mother that they probably only turned the meat over and showed her the other side.

There was Steele’s Corner on the corner of Rangers Avenue and Avenue Road and that was like a corner shop. Mother used to send us down to get the odd thing that they may have run out of, because she always shopped at Anthony Hordens or Civil Service. Mr Steele would always give us a horn (a paper roll) filled with lollies; so we would willingly go messages.

The newspapers must have come from Mosman Junction Newsagency because Dad got the Herald and Telegraph. He left Mum with the Telegraph and took the Herald. He worked in the city and would go down to the ferry at Mosman Bay, in gum boots because they were all mud flats in those days. Later they put the concrete channel in. At the back of Steele’s store was a cascade. a natural spring and the Council permitted his son George to build over it. There is not the water in it now. The tide used to come over the flats4 too, which is why they built the bridge5. Dad used to wear his Wellingtons down to Mosman Wharf and collect them again at night, they would still be there.

Father had a cottage at Cronulla that we would have holidays at. It was located right on The Esplanade. Otherwise outings consisted of trips to the Zoo at Moore Park which was a bit of an ordeal for Mum and Aunty Mable (Ada Mabel Swire (nee Hungerford) [E.6.18a]). Aunty was Mum’s sister who accompanied her everywhere. The zoo smelled but we children didn’t mind that. Another treat was a trip to Manly where there was a merry-go-around under a marquis. The Corso then was just a dirt track. I remember the dance halls at Clifton Gardens and at Balmoral but of course Mother and Father never allowed me to go there. It didn’t worry me that Mum and Dad didn’t want me to do something.

It did worry me when Mum and Dad didn’t want me to do Medicine. That really upset me. Constance Darcy went to do Medicine and I went with her and sat in on lectures. I couldn’t enrol because the books would have been quite beyond my pocket money. You didn’t think of going against your parents’ wishes in those days. And yet Mother had a companion all her life and still I was told that I was needed at home. I would sit beside her and we would have morning tea brought out to us; she and I would sew with our fancy work.

I married at the end of the war (1920) and we went touring to the Jenolan Caves and around Mudgee. We went touring in a T model Ford which I loved very much. My husband was a grazier with stud cattle and fat lambs (corridales). We went to live in Uralla near Armidale and had four children. When I first arrived I lived in a slab log hut for two years; I papered the walls with newspaper and then brown paper; of course there was gaps between the logs. It was a tough life at first but I loved every moment of it. There was a copper out in the back yard which I would light with kindling first and the fire up with logs. When I was a small child mother had a fuel stove so I used to see the cook fire it up (not that I ever soiled my hands with it). It was no trouble to me; I had spent a lot of my holidays in the country. I had gone down to two properties near Cooma in the winter the Allen’s and the Litchfield’ s. I also had gone up to Kosciuszko and had gone skating and had stayed at the big hotel that later burnt down. That was how I had spent my holidays, school vacations.

Rangers Avenue Mosman, circa 1940s

I returned to Sydney in 1930 and after a short period in Roseville returned to Mosman (purchasing a home in Rangers Avenue) to be closer to my parents. I have always loved living in Mosman.

[box type=”note” icon=”none”]Just a reminder that, if you have older relatives, take the opportunity now to talk to them and record their memories for posterity. Other useful sources for memories can be diaries, old letters, and friends who might have shared many events and times with that relative. These memories can be posted on this website and stored in the HAFS archives for future generations.[/box]


  1. Killarney School was founded in 1902 by Miss E Carter in an old home in Dalton Road, Mosman, originally owned by the Dalton Family. In 1916 Miss M Grant took over the running of the School and remained as principal until 1945. The house was leased at first and later purchased by the Grant Family. Miss Grant introduced the brown uniform to the School. The Killarney School children are instantly recognisable in their brown gingham uniforms, which they wear to school with pride. The uniform is part of the schools unique character and is a wonderful way of introducing children to the traditions of school and also provides them with a sense of belonging.
  2. An S-shaped mark, often made by children when learning to write.
  3. Built in 1844 by John Frederick Hilly, architect, for Oswald Bloxsome, the house was purchased by a syndicate in 1885 and its grounds partially subdivided. The house, located near Spofforth Street between Rangers Avenue and Brierley Street survived until 1912 [now known to be 1914] ‘when, despite protests by the local community, it was demolished for further residential subdivision’.
  4. Now Reid Park at Mosman Bay
  5. The Mosman Bay Sewage Aqueduct over Reid Park, completed in 1901, is a magnificent piece of Federation era engineering constructed from imported steel. It is one of two such structures in Sydney Water’s portfolio of assets, which as a type are unique in New South Wales. The aqueduct was designed to provide the conveyance of sewerage over the bay as part of the Neutral Bay and Mosman branch sewerage scheme, one of the earliest of the lower north shore sewerage schemes constructed from 1891. The structure is a key element in the historic built environment of the lower north shore, and continues to serve as a pedestrian right-of-way. The structure forms an intrinsic element of the landscaping of Reid Park. Elements of significance are past and ongoing use, technology of construction, the shape of the arch, and setting within the park (inclusive of views).

3 thoughts on “Mosman Memories”

  1. Lesley Abrahams

    One thing that resonated, was that she was not put off by the fuel stove or old copper system, or by living in a slab hut. My mother, my grandmother and a number of my aunts all started their married life in bark huts while their husbands (my grandfather, uncles and father) build more substantial homes.
    However not all young women were so prepared to live like this. Congratulations on being prepared to be adventurous and live in the country, when just about everywhere was “country”.

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