The Yerranderie Story

My mother wrote this account of her family’s experience of Yerranderie, a small town west of Sydney, during WWII. It’s worth sharing. 

From June Day

In 1942  my father, a great supporter of the Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, was searching for a place of safety to take his family should the Japanese invade Sydney.  This was how he found Yerranderie, a thriving silver/lead mining town at the turn of the century but by then a  remote, semi-ghost town west of Burragorang Valley and still inhabited by some of the old miners and their families. The attraction of the area as an escape destination for us was that in the event of an invasion, the Burragorang Valley locals had plans, I understand, to blow up the road down into the valley and seal it off.  I presume we would then have had to live off the land.  Interesting concept which, fortunately, never needed to be tested!

To get to Yerranderie, we drove in our 1934 Studebaker, with trailer, through the beautiful Burragorang Valley, crossing the Nattai River and then the Wollondilly River in Upper Burragorang and climbing west a further ten miles to where the village nestles at the foot of  The Peak.  Thus it was that Dad came to buy a small, dilapidated miner’s shack for 13 pounds, subsequently paying rent of sixpence per week to the mining company which owned the land.

I was six years old when we first visited the cottage and still vividly remember my horror when I  saw the interior.  I was often reminded in later years of my comment then, that  “This is the nastiest house I have ever been in!”  The interior certainly was creepy.  The walls were lined with layer upon layer of old, rat-infested newspapers; it was very dark; the floors were bare earth, and the outer walls were rough-hewn timber slabs filled with wattle daub.  It did have its charms, however, which included a cute little front verandah festooned with multi-coloured climbing geraniums.  The fence was also of timber slab and enclosed the whole like a little playing-card house.

Dad and his uncle quickly set about making the cottage liveable.  They ripped out all the paper lining and replaced it with filter-cloth, a heavy canvas made by CSR.  They  installed skylights and timber floors, and with its roaring log fire in winter, it became a cosy little haven for family holidays during our childhood and teen years (and for my honeymoon!).

Our days there were spent in a kid’s paradise.  We loved exploring the many abandoned mines that covered the countryside and fossicking on their mullock heaps for all sorts of interesting rocks and minerals.  Visiting the old miners and listening to their tales around the kitchen fuel stove was also something I will never forget. There were dams to swim in, delicious fruit to be found in abandoned orchards, derelict buildings to explore and rabbit-shooting excursions with Mum and Dad.  The countryside offered superb bush walks, especially down to the Tonalli River where there were superb waterholes for swimming.

The highlight of each weekday was trekking the  mile or so cross-country to the post office for the arrival of the big black mail car from Camden, driven by (to me) a very dashing gentleman by the name of Ritchie Jeffrey.  Mail, papers and fresh bread were brought by the mail car, to supplement the non-perishables still sold in the fascinating old general store which sported the sign, “The Herald – 1 Penny”.

The rising waters of Warragamba Dam closed the route through Burragorang in the late fifties and we faced the prospect of losing access to the town.  While we had the cottage Dad had kept the trees cleared for a couple of hundred yards to the north and west to protect it from bushfire. But in the summer of 1957, there was no-one to guard our cottage from the raging inferno of an Australian bushfire as it swept up the hillside, engulfing everything in its path.  We were almost relieved, as the flooding of Burragorang was about to close access, and the prospect of abandoning our little piece of paradise to the white ants (we had become expert in termite eradication) was almost more than we could bear.

In later years I have twice revisited Yerranderie and the only evidence of the cottage is now just a rusty fuel stove and an old bath sitting on bricks in dense bush.

June Day

16.09.07

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