Cover - Before they Built the Bridge - images © E.M. Christensen 1997; not to be copied without the artist's permission return to Tasmanian Gothic Home Page

Before They Built the Bridge

by E.M. Christensen and M.C. Jones is a lighthearted look at suburban life during the first half of the twentieth century. Based on anecdotes collected from more than eighty elderly residents of Lindisfarne, Hobart's second-oldest Eastern shore suburb, supported by documentary evidence wherever possible, and illustrated with period photographs from the authors' own collection as well as amusing sketches by E.M. Christensen, the book includes a location map, comprehensive historical notes and a detailed index.

While the book does try to be historically accurate, it is unashamedly biased and opinionated. The chatty style accurately evokes the atmosphere of the times, providing an enjoyable dip into the past for younger generations while triggering memories and stimulating heated discussions among older readers.

Before They Built the Bridge is available in bookshops throughout Hobart, or you can directly.

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A few samples from

Before they Built the Bridge


In those days before television, when the wireless was a cat's whisker set requiring careful and patient tuning, families entertained themselves. It was expected that young ladies would learn to play a musical instrument, the piano at least. Men sang, and many learned brass instruments. Family gatherings were never complete without a good old sing-song around the piano, and where would they be without Uncle George or young Brian to play all the old favourites?

Singer - image © E.M. Christensen 1997; not to be copied without the artist's permission

In the early nineteen twenties Grace and her sister, Miss Edie Denholm, invited friends round to Sunnybanks to form a Glee Club which met every Wednesday night. Many members also sang in the Church choir. Ruth, who would join in anything which included music, was a very regular attendee and usually their pianist. At first they just sang all the old, sentimental ballads and music-hall songs - Tipperary, Home Sweet Home, Love’s Old Sweet Song, - and performed play readings, but they soon became confident enough to stage a production of The Mikado at St Aidan's. The members loved parties. We were not sure we approved of these parties, and our opinion was not improved when Ruth disgraced herself by getting so drunk she had to be brought home. We suggested very pointedly that she might consider restricting her activities to charity concerts at St Aidan's.

Concerts to raise money for the church and for the Boy Scouts were usually organised by Mrs Alice Brammall, Miss Mollie Swan, or a member of our family, but all the participants helped. We wrote our own skits and comedy sketches, made our own costumes, painted any necessary backdrops, found our own props and provided supper for the audience.

At the concert to celebrate the opening of the Mission Hall in 1907 children from the State School all did items. Little Beattie Jordan danced so well that Mrs Brammall, who was everyone's Mother, suggested she should learn ballet. This she did and in due course became a dancing teacher.

Joe Lane and Jack Pearce wrote several funny skits. Bea Elliston, Muriel Byfield and Babs Brammall did a sketch wearing school uniforms and fighting over a hat. Miss Mary Sweetingham, who was learning ballet, did a dance routine that had everyone in fits of laughter. A very large lady with straw hair and a red face, wearing a low-cut white satin dress decorated with brilliant red poppies and blue cornflowers, came on to the stage, stood for a moment, then, taking a deep breath, launched into "Spring is coming, coming, coming, . . . " her dress heaving up and down at the breast in a most alarming manner.

from Chapter 13 - PROGRESS

In 1910 a company called Complex Ores Limited won a contract to supply electric street lighting to New Town. In Lindisfarne we had been paying close attention. We invited Mr H.J. Spencer, the Gas Company's electrical engineer, to attend a meeting of the Progress Association and explain how we could replace the inefficient old oil lamps that served us as street lighting. He told us that service wires could be attached to private houses, that the supply of electricity would be available for use all night, as well as during the day and went on to say that it could be used not only for lighting, but for cooking, and people in Melbourne were actually finding it cheaper for cooking than gas. Besides that, it could be used to drive motors for sawing wood and so forth. It did not smell, rooms stayed cool, and it did not tarnish or injure the colouring of the walls or ceilings the way oil and other lights did. Light Switch - image © E.M. Christensen 1997; not to be copied without the artist's permission The Hobart Gas Company was prepared to provide a service if they had a firm undertaking that a total of two hundred houses in Bellerive and Lindisfarne would use it.

Well! Hands went up all over the hall. Mr Matthew Simmons, who could not be present, had sent a message to say he would have the electric light installed at his house immediately it was available. Everyone agreed with Mr Newham Waterworth who said we had everything to gain and nothing to lose. Mr Spencer went back to the Gas Company well pleased, and they were soon calling for tenders to provide equipment. We were a bit disappointed to discover we lived so far away from the centre of Lindisfarne that we would have to pay extra to have a line up our hill, but we were used to our kerosene lanterns and candles. It was not a great hardship to wait until there were more people living nearby to share the cost. The Cartela was used to lay an electricity cable across the river from below Government House to Rosny Point in April the following year, Mr Alf Cuthbertson put up poles to the two townships, and electricity came to Lindisfarne the week before HMAS Geelong, the first troopship, left Hobart with our boys bound for the Great War.

Complex Ores Limited began digging holes to divert rivers in the Great Lake area with the intention of setting up a hydro electricity generator. After many vicissitudes which included near bankruptcy and several extensions of time on their contract their hydro electric power station at Waddamana opened in 1916. A temporary underwater cable was put across to Shag Bay from a substation at the Electrolytic Zinc Works and overhead lines brought power to Lindisfarne. When the whole service was upgraded in 1924 the lines came all the way to our house. Anyone who enjoys candlelight suppers will understand why electric lights were such a sensation. They were so bright we were almost afraid to turn them on! Electricians were careful to place the big brass switches too high for little fingers. Toddlers thought it a great treat to be lifted up by Dad or Auntie to switch on the light. Some people were very nervous about electricity and were afraid of being Blown Up. Aunt Mabel always made sure she turned off the main switch before she went to bed at night.

from Chapter 14 - SANITARY MATTERS

Near the Rowing Club at the head of the bay was a jetty with a shed at the end. On Tuesday mornings everyone walked - or ran - past very quickly to avoid the overwhelming smell. Tuesday was the day the boat tied up there to pick up nightsoil. She carried this unmentionable cargo far out into Storm Bay to be dumped, an occupation which earned her the nickname Pandora. After emptying, the pans were cleaned and tarred and left stacked in the shed on the jetty. Pan Man - image © E.M. Christensen 1997; not to be copied without the artist's permission

In the early days at Lindisfarne the lav consisted of a deep hole in the ground with a wooden seat built over it, but once subdivision began and the population increased this primitive earth closet would not do. In 1907 a sanitary service began. Residents were provided with a lavatory pan, like a big bucket, which slipped into the back of the lav through a little flap and once a week a man came in a horse and cart to collect it and leave a clean one. Mr George Ryall, employed by the Council, owned the horse-drawn nightcart which was like a low-slung furniture wagon. People were wary about going to the lav on Monday nights just in case they were there when “Sam Pan” came along in the nightcart to collect their pan.

We didn't have the luxury of a council collection service. People who choose to live beyond the town boundary have to do things for themselves. It was Hal's job to go and bury our waste, but it was never easy to get him to do it. Our lav was in the end of the workshop; we went out there with a candle in one hand and some paper in the other.

Nobody bothered buying toilet paper. A few torn-up sheets of newspaper, or in our case the Bulletin, sat on the wooden bench beside you or hung on a nail or piece of wire. If you wanted to be very posh you could make a little box to stack your paper supply in, or you could thread a piece of string through the corners and hang it on a hook. There was a bucket of ash from the kitchen stove on the floor nearby, with a metal scoop made from a jam tin so you could scatter a few ashes in the pan when you finished. Once a week, after the pan was emptied, the floor and seat were scrubbed with phenyle. We took the smell for granted, as an unavoidable fact of life, in the same way that we accepted the open ditches down each side of the Lindisfarne streets into which peoples' household drains emptied. They smelt absolutely awful at times, too.

Everybody in Lindisfarne knew everybody else and everybody else's business, and the Pan Man was no exception. One night Mrs Norma Stephens was having trouble sleeping, so slipped on a dressing gown and went out to the kitchen for a cup of tea. The kettle had barely had time to boil when there was a knock at the door. There was Bill Shirley. "I've brought your washing in, Mrs Stephens. I thought it was going to rain."

Don't forget - Before They Built the Bridge is available in bookshops throughout Hobart, or you can directly.