FROM THE ARCHIVES

When the French Line across the Simpson Desert was cut through in September 1963 and the last man and vehicle reached Eyre Creek, the CGG construction team could not have envisaged the connection that their office administrator would have in the following declaration of two National Parks, a Conservation Park as well as a barely-beaten heritage listing.


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DESERT DIGEST

Cashbook and Claypan
Share in the tribulations of the admin manager as he balances the books from his Office-in-a-Blitz

Birdsville or Bust
Learn how French know-how and Australian muscle carved the French Line through the Simpson

East From Oodna
Marvel at the initiative of the early pathfinders who solved the mysteries of the Red Centre

Alive in the Dead Heart
Recollections from the crew who first burst the road through Australia's One True Desert

B-line for Birdsville
Join the CGG veterans on their return journeys to the French Line. Take their tip and travel with experts

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The Kid From Towra Point

SYDNEY AUSTRALIA

Kevin Murphy was the office assistant, medic and radio operator on the historic CGG crew and it is not the first time a national park or nature reserve has risen in his wake.   Kevin lived on Towra Point with his Mum Noeline (1914-1996) and stepfather George Costandis (1913-1994) when the small family unit held the oyster lease through the 1950s.

Only 16 Miles From Central Sydney


The Towra Point Nature Reserve comprises saltmarshes surrounded by large areas of mudflat, mangroves and seagrass for a total area of 386 hectares.    It is a most significant holding of wetlands within the Botany Bay basin, in sight of Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport.

The reserve is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny as the importance of the area dawns on the responsible players.    Chief among those fostering care and rehabilitation issues is the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre whose chairman, Bob Walshe, happened also to be my English teacher at SIHS to 1954.  I recall turning in a composition to Mr Walshe about our life on the oyster lease and he marked me pretty generously.    That was the essay where he took me to task for referring to aircraft taking off from Mascot and over-flying the lease, as "Constellations".   Possibly they were few and far between in those days, but I knew no other aircraft types.    It was never obvious to me upon what grounds he was critical of my use of the name.

With the approach of the fiftieth anniversary of our Intermediate Certificate year 1954 I was aware I should reserve some energies towards whipping up a reunion of the old classmates.  I met Bob again at the Eureka Celebrations late in 2004 and made a promise to him to do just that - if you know some of his pupils of like mind, please advise.    It isn't as though I have forgotten, but the years do tend to slip by.

Little Toot Surfaces Again?


Incredibly, deep within the pages of the SSEC website, I came across a pic of what I thought was "Little Toot", the family's tourer from the 50s (apologies for the image borrowed from the SSEC).

The theories floated about past uses of the abandoned vehicle are of great interest to me and the news that "investigations are under way to determine the heritage value" of the vehicle amuses me to no end.    If there should be anyone out there with access to an RTA computer, they might run the rego "AAO 929" across the keypad and get us an engine number.   That was Little Toot's plate.

It looks more than ever likely now that the relic is a CMP Blitz after all, which is a pretty good twist to my ultimately driving one across the Simpson a dozen years later.

Our 1928 Morris Cowley at Towra Point


My uncle Charlie went out with George and helped him buy "Little Toot" during our first summer on the oyster lease. George paid £40 for it second hand.   He couldn't drive, so Uncle Charlie took it upon himself to teach George to drive in the wide-open spaces of Towra Point.

Eventually the family adjudged George ready to take his driving test and were forever perplexed that he got more pleasure out of the thought of the £5 he left on the seat for the instructor than he would have if he had passed the test honestly.

Bill Judd's Lessee, George Costandis


Twice a week George would load a bag or two of oysters into the dicky-seat of Little Toot and cart them off to the wholesaler/reseller, Sam Babbicci at Tom Uglys, who paid him £5 a hundred-weight bag of prime product.   Bill Judd had a restaurant contact in Paris, France and every now and then George would pack oysters for air freight.

I never asked to whom he shipped them but I'd love to know now which French restaurant shared similar wonderful delights with its clientele as our poor family enjoyed.

Towra Point Backdoor View 1952


This view of Woolooware Bay shows the clear nature of the Towra Point waterfront in the 1950s like no other photograph I have seen (my box brownie at work).

The star-dropper in the foreground was used to mark the channel between the right and left oyster beds, lined up with the navigation pylon at deep water, outside the lease and near the workboat.   A most notable feature of Bill Judd's lease was the splendid arrangements of two-foot sandstone blocks sunk in rows, upon which the Sydney Flat Rock Oysters grew and retained their uniquely-flat nature.   We proud Towra Point rock farmers tended to look down upon the misshapen shells that characterised the produce from stick-leases of our neighbours further up the Georges River.

The pylons to the right are from a long-gone wharf used in earlier days on the lease.

The First Noeline


Mother Noeline poses astride my bike in our frontyard.    The house was situated right on the water's edge and in contrast to the overgrown nature of the area today, then there was a huge cleared section of stubby seagrass and clay-like compacted mudflat around the house on three sides, safely negotiable at low-tide in all seasons.   The Woolooware Bay frontage to the oyster lease was totally clear of mangroves for 500m either side of our home.

Noeline, with a birthdate of 24th December, has the distinction of being Australia's first "Noeline".    How do I know that?    My Grandad worked as a public servant for the old Births, Deaths and Marriages Office at Queens Square in Sydney and was on hand to coordinate the naming and manage the recordkeeping.

A Most Agreeable Backyard


My Mum Noeline and Skippy our dog by the old punt.   The house was 50m northwest of this landmark.   The conditions and the standard of living endured by the small family on the remote oyster lease over their years of occupation were quite primitive and indicative of a lifestyle more attributable to the 1850s, not the 1950s.    There was no electricity or gas, no running water or even a bathroom.    Mum cooked on a cast-iron stove fuelled by dried-out driftwood.   I studied amid the glow of a hurricane lamp.

During Christmas king tides only the full pans failed to float away from our outside windy-woof of a toilet, but there were special joys, too.   The slipper-slopper of the wavelets around the house-piles in the dead of night was a magic sound and oh! I got to eat six dozen magnificent Sydney Flat Rock Oysters a day.

Bardini and Rossel at Work


Each Saturday night Mum and George would head for Cronulla's Cecil Ballroom to engage their second passion; ballroom dancing.   More often than not they'd travel in on Stan Latta's bus.   Mum and George developed a song and dance duo known professionally as "Bardini and Rossel" and performed successfully on the club and restaurant circuit around Sydney for many years.

Kevin and His Mum, 1958


George Costandis left the oyster lease around 1958 to take up work with Caltex at their new Kurnell Refinery.

He bought a single-spinner Ford sedan to complete the break, and within a year had taken up a grand, rental residence on the avenue of the fortunate - Lang Road, Centennial Park, an address more befitting for rising stars on the club scene of Sydney than the squalor and hardships suffered at Towra Point as oyster farmers.

Return to Towra Point


Jamie Erskine, NP&WS ranger, accompanies Kevin Murphy, former resident of Towra Point, on his tour of inspection March 1995 after an absence of over 40 years.   Kevin was surprised at the enormous environmental differences compared to the conditions remembered from schooldays.

The structure he and Jamie are examining is the ruins of the old packing shed which was distanced some 500m east of the old house.   Jamie reported that the residence was destroyed by fire only a few months prior to this visit.    Kevin would like to be involved in locating whatever remains of the old house and anything at all to do with restoring the old wreck, whether or not it is "Little Toot".

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Cashbook and
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Alive in the
Dead Heart 
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GONE TO MOTHBALLS .....
Thommo's Desert Report The BeeGees Page
Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner The Kid From Towra Point
Bulldozing a Desert Trans National Causeway
Signwriter for the Simpson The Long Haul
Simpson Desert Birdlife French Line Circa 1979

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