On Cattle Sale Days Bega was a hive of activity; the streets were literally crowded as families from the surrounding districts came into town. Whilst the menfolk were at the sale yards the women had a chance to stock up on food and enjoy visiting the other shops. It was commonly called “Pig and Ladies Day” and was a great boost to the town’s economy. A roving cameraman took photos of everyone who smiled at him and many were happy to pay for the prints. Balmains owned the largest garage and also operated the daily bus service to Nowra connecting with the Sydney train at Bombaderry. It was the days when every bus had a roof rack on which the suitcases were placed. I have vivid memories of it, particularly when I was on my way to school in Wollongong. Being war time all luggage was regarded as wartime commodity and scarce, so besides a small case Mum insisted I take the wicker basket. I pleaded with her for days but to no avail and I will never forget my embarrassment when standing on the footpath beside the bus, the driver threw it up to the jockey on top yelling out, “Watch it Bill, here come the chickens”. I was absolutely mortified!
The name Balmain is associated with Australia’s early history and the family could be justly proud of one of their ancestors, Surgeon W. Balmain who arrived with The First Fleet. Well known artist, John and his son, Van are members of the family. (Van held a workshop at Mallacoota some years ago.)
Our trips to Bega were not just for pleasure, mostly it meant a visit to the dentist and a check -up with the Doctor. The former held great fears for me due to the time I had eight teeth extracted by a butcher of a dentist who used a room at the Hotel. I can still see the kerosene buckets of water and Mum would often relate how he kept giving me ‘more gas’ if I looked like ‘coming to’. It was experiences like these that put the fear into the hearts of country kids so it was not only travel sickness that made my stomach churn all the way to Bega and I fervently prayed that I would not need a filling or an extraction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t! Mr Bush was a kindly man which certainly helped.
Bega’s Hospital in those days was on the right hand side of the road as you approached the town. Our doctor was Dr. John McKee (his son John is a surgeon in Bega). He would have been one of the most loved Citizens of the Bega District and a fountain and park perpetuates his memory. We would be absolutely terrified as we waited on the veranda overlooking the beautiful garden, then suddenly he would be standing at the door wearing his starched white coat, collar and tie, as he held out his hand, saying “How are you, my little lady?” You would take his hand in complete confidence. Dr. McKee became a legend in his lifetime with so many stories told of his care and kindness, I believe if mothers, particularly, the aboriginal ones who lived along the river were in poorly condition he would buy layettes for the new born babies … and many a charge (fee) was wavered. He brought generations of children into the world, including my own children.
Now back to those Hotels. I can always remember the feeling of awe as we entered the Dining Room of Bega’s Commercial Hotel. All that opulence, The tables covered, in white damask cloths with gleaming silver appointments. Sitting ramrod straight on our chairs, Mione and I surveyed it all. The tall silver vases held sweet peas or other seasonal flowers, silver sugar bowls, salt and· pepper shakers cutlery and bread containers. E.P.N.S or not, it was the real thing for us! Butter scrolls on a small silver dish looked so much more professional than the ones we made at home with wooden pats. We were intrigued too, with the starched serviettes folded like fans or Turk’s caps and we practised for days with our handkerchiefs endeavouring to produce the same effects. What bliss for we little bush children to be handed the Menu by a blackfrocked, white starched aproned waitress and allowed to choose for yourself. ere was always a glass jug of crystal clear water on the table along with a bowl of fruit, a smaller one held nuts. Once I remember there was something else which looked very interesting. I whispered to Dad (we were NEVER allowed to speak at the table) if I could try one and he quietly assured me that I wouldn’t like them. Despite being warned, I waited my chance and popped one in my mouth. Ugh! It was like the dreaded castor and paraffin oil all rolled into one! In my childhood imagination a sea of faces seemed to be watching me as mine became redder. We had been well schooled in table manners: r searched my mind, ‘Always tip your soup bowl away from you,’ ‘Break, don’t cut the bread roll.’ ‘Unfold your serviette to the side before placing it on your knees’ There was nothing, absolutely nothing in the Rules of Etiquette that covered removing a partly chewed olive from one’s mouth. Very discretely, using my handkerchief, I blew my nose and removed the offending morsel quite convinced that everyone was watching me. The traumas of childhood! Another memory is of standing on the upstairs balcony of the Hotel listening to the Municipal Band playing in the street below.
I often think of those days before WWII, before the. era of counter lunches and of Motel· accommodation. They had class those little country Pubs, and Brady’s Commercial Hotel, Bega was certainly no exception