“I was so happy growing up there, and have tried to recall the events and experiences that made it so. I want others to be happy there, in the future.”
So wrote Margaret Colditz, in May 1990. The earthquake in December, 1989 had changed Hamilton’s main street irrevocably. People who had lived there all their lives told her they felt that with the terrible carnage to the street, “part of them had died.”
When I moved to Hamilton in 2012 and began delving in the Local Studies Section of the Newcastle Region Library, I found a 21 page manuscript, written in Margaret’s exquisitely clear handwriting. Captivated, I read it all at once. I knew it was a treasure.
Several months later, I obtained a photocopy of "My Beloved Beaumont Street" and brought it home to read again at leisure. By now I had already researched and written many blog posts on Hamilton, so I quickly recognised where Margaret’s memories were adding fresh new material.
The manuscript is written like a letter, to Beaumont Street. There is even an address at the top. I checked the phone book, and was surprised to find an entry under that address. I had a vague memory someone had told me Margaret had passed away. Thinking that perhaps a relative might still be living in the family home, I telephoned. Margaret answered the call, very much alive!
Within a few days, we visited this intelligent, articulate woman who is now 87 years old.
Margaret Colditz (2013)
For at least the first 43 years of her life, Margaret Colditz lived in Beaumont Street –
....and have done so, in memory, for the whole of my life.
She uses the word “in” deliberately –
My home was “in” the street, literally, but apart from that fact, I am sure that most people of Hamilton felt part of that interesting, bustling street that runs north to south.
Everyone knew each other, and it was Hello! Hello! Hello! all along the way.
There was a “family feeling”. Everyone was interested in each other and proud of each others’ achievements and skills.
Life was interesting because of the cosmopolitan nature of the street. I don’t think we were aware that it was so. As children, we were not. All of the people were always there, and each was a part of the whole. For sure, the buildings were there, but it was the friendliness and sense of belonging, the sense of family that produced the atmosphere.
Margaret’s letter is a homage to her beloved Beaumont Street as she remembers it over four decades, from the mid 1920s to the 1960s.
I asked Margaret if anyone had ever contacted her about her manuscript.
“No”, she replied. “You are the first.”
It was her friend Norm Barney who ensured Margaret’s letter to Beaumont Street was placed in the Newcastle Library.
Thirteen years later, I want to bring her memories to light and share them with my readers.
This will happen over forthcoming posts, but first I would like you to know something about the remarkable woman behind the writing. This is why I wanted so much to meet her.
Margaret’s mother, Isabella, had been “a lady bookbinder” in Glasgow. At Scots Kirk, Hamilton Isabella married Sam Primrose, also from Glasgow – a marine engineer – who found a position at Honeysuckle Railway Workshops.
Honeysuckle Workshops NSW (n.d.)
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia
Sam Primrose bought a home for his new wife at 161 Beaumont Street.
Present day, 161 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (2013)
They had a son, Thomas. Sadly, Sam succumbed to cancer and died. The house at 161 Beaumont Street had been paid for, but Isabella was without any means of ongoing financial support. Since there was no bookbinding work in Newcastle, she found a cleaning job at the Hamilton Municipal Chambers. Margaret recalls Isabella telling her how she scrubbed the floors of that large building, upstairs and downstairs, on her hands and knees.
Hamilton Municipal Building and Clock Tower in Beaumont Street, photographed February 12, 1936
Photograph courtesy Greg and Sylvia Ray
One day Edward Camfield, a railway engineer who also worked at Honeysuckle, was passing the entrance to the Council building. Isabella was scrubbing the marble steps. He couldn’t believe Sam’s widow was “reduced to this,” as he put it.
I’m not sure how long it took for the romance to flourish, but Edward and Isabella married. They lived at 161 Beaumont Street.
Margaret was born at Fettercairn Private Hospital, Hamilton in 1926. Read the story of Fettercairn here.
'Fettercairn' at Lindsay Street, Hamilton
22 April 1904
Courtesy Newcastle Region Library
Thomas, then aged 11, was delighted with his new baby sister. Over their lifetimes, he was a loving and protective brother to Margaret.
Margaret walked to school (Hamilton Infants and Hamilton Public), and describes how it was then –
Naturally, everybody else’s mother knew us because of knowing our mothers. Mothers didn’t make friends at school or because of school. (They met at social, church or sporting activities, often in homes). Mothers were not involved in the school! True!
They didn’t walk us to school, in our case, by order. Our headmistress informed the mothers, who were waiting at the gate (they were not allowed in) on our second day of school, that we were “big children and didn’t need our mothers to walk us home!” Few mothers dared to defy Miss Lambert. Furthermore, the girls were not allowed to talk to the boys on the way home.
Miss Francis Lambert, Headmistress, Hamilton Infants
Photograph from Dr Bob James, A History of Hamilton Public School,
We didn’t wear school uniforms. Pretty 'Dimity’ floral material (a sheer cotton fabric ) was bought by our mothers at Gow's and dresses were (hand)made. Being post Depression, this must have been affordable.
A sample of floral Dimity
In 4th Class, Margaret remembers bringing home a textbook called “Mastering the Mother Tongue.” Her father laughed and laughed when she showed him the book, saying –
“I don’t think you will ever master your Mother’s tongue!”
This was a reference to her mother’s strong Scottish brogue.
Margaret attended elocution lessons for 5 years to ensure she did not replicate her mother’s accent. The first thing I noticed about Margaret was her well modulated voice and fine articulation. Those lessons clearly worked!
Margaret went on to attend the selective girls school, Newcastle Girls High, where she was school captain.
Margaret Colditz (nee Camfield) second from left, Captain Elect Newcastle Girls High, being congratulated by the then Headmistress
Photograph courtesy of Margaret Colditz
Margaret trained as a nurse at The Royal Newcastle Hospital.
Royal Newcastle Hospital - North Wing (left) and York Wing (right) (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy of Hospital Archives, held by University Archives in Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia
She attended one of the earliest university nursing courses, winning a Florence Nightingale scholarship to undertake a postgraduate nurse tutor assistant course at Melbourne University.
“It was a great honour”, Margaret explains. “On the first day, we walked past these grand stately buildings – only to find we were being taken right down the back – to an ex - army hut! It was as cold as charity! So much for the honour!”
Eventually, back at the Royal, Margaret became Tutor in Charge at the School of Nursing. Thus she combined her love of both nursing and teaching.
At the age of 27, Margaret married Harry Colditz, the son of watchmaker and jeweller Henry Colditz whose shop was at 45 Beaumont Street. Harry learned his skills from his father, who had left Australia to train as a journeyman watchmaker in Belgium and Switzerland.
Present day 45 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith
Hundreds of bicycles, ridden by men going to work at BHP steel works, surged along Beaumont Street – “so close a pin couldn’t fit between them,” Margaret tells me. Because of the shift work, alarm clocks were absolutely essential, and keeping these in working order was bread and butter business for the watch maker. Margaret remembers a large shelf being built in the shop at No. 45 to accommodate all the alarm clocks. Men would drop them off on the way to work, and collect them, expertly repaired, on the way home.
Alarm clock circa 1930s
Harry and his father had bought land for a weekend retreat on the shores of Lake Macquarie. In time, Margaret and Harry moved to live there permanently with their young family, and care for Mr Colditz senior.
In that tranquil, bushland setting, Margaret has never forgotten Beaumont Street. She specially loves its sounds, and I imagine that in the twenty years since Harry passed away, there are many quiet days on Lake Macquarie when birdsong mingles with her recollections of those sounds –
If one lived towards the southern end, there was no need for an alarm clock. “Ting, ting, ting” from the blacksmith's shop as he struck the large anvil, was a melodious way of being awakened. .... St Peter’s church bell on Wednesdays and on Sundays....the paper boys wheeling their often home made billy carts, usually with iron wheels which made quite a noise on the bitumen surface – also ensured we woke up early on Sunday mornings. The milk man, with his horse and cart...used to run down the long side lands to the back verandahs, measure out a quart of milk into the billy can, replace the lid and then run back up to the horse and cart.
At night, a Steel Works Bus would take men to “Dog Watch” (the late night shift) and return them in the morning, We all used to listen for that bus. Tucked up in bed asleep, early, we still seemed to sense that bus about 10.15 pm.
Thank you to Margaret Colditz for her memoir 'My Beloved Beaumont Street' (unpublished), her later contribution and and photographs.