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Hawks Nest Memories

Wendy and I loved our time at Hawks Nest. There are so many memories and friendships that have been created up there. This is not just for Wendy and I, but for our boys too.

Some of them have been great memories; some of them we could forget. Many people might not know, but Wendy and I started going up there before the boys were born. This is one of my favourite photos of Wendy up there before kids!

Our lovely friends Wendy and David Henderson had a place on the river down at Winda Woppa that was owned by David’s parents. It was a small place (that is still there today), but for many years they would let us stay in their garage or flat. Across the road was the river and with little kids it made it easy to entertain them!

Someone up there mentioned that there were some other people with kids the same age and that we should meet them. Later that day, Wendy had taken the boys across the road to play in the sand. A man came hobbling down the road as I sat on the verandah with gout in my big toe. He had on the same red and white chequered shirt that I did and happened to also have gout in his big toe too. We got talking, and soon found out that we both came from Sydney.

“Where about in Sydney do you live?” I asked curiously,

The man responded in a hesitant tone “In a place called the hills...”

With surprise both of us, I respond, “us too! where do you live?”

"We are in Castle Hill" he responded.

“So are we! What street are you in?”

"We live in Hastings road"

"Us too!!!!"

Turns out that we were neighbours, they lived in the house opposite us…

This chance meeting formed one of the best friendships not only for me but also for Wendy and the kids. Over the years Chris and John Meadows have been there, if not supporting me, then they have been supporting Wendy or the family. Chris and Wendy would take turns taking all the kids to school. John and I would take the kids up the river to Leggs camp every year at Christmas and we’d teach them to water ski and aqua-plane. Christmas Holidays were spent on or in the water during the day and laughing during the night. This chance encounter changed our lives for the better in so many ways. The Kids became life long friends and this early photo of Anne, Ben, Neil and Todd captures the friendship that still lasts today!

Wendy and Chris had a great friendship at home and on holidays. This photo was taken in "the channel" or "the shortcut" back before 1995 sometime.

As I think back, the first snippet thankfully doesn’t involve me as I was out fishing, but I’d be remiss not to mention the accident Craig had. Craig took off one day riding his bike (a three-speed shifter) around the block. As he did so, a person was backing there boat out of their driveway. Being a proficient rider, like he is today, Craig wasn’t looking where he was going and accidentally ran into the propeller. This resulted in a cut from the top of his forehead to his eye socket. We were lucky that day in more ways than one. There was a Doctor in town. This old German Dr happened to be in the war, and he did such a good job stitching Craig up, that unless he is angry, you can hardly see the scar. Stories about who has seen that scar are not for me to tell, so you might want to ask him. This photo was taken shortly after the accident.

In the early 80’s there were new blocks of land up for sale on the waterfront near the Hawks Nest boat ramp. Wendy and I didn’t need to talk about it, we just bought one straight away. We knew we loved the place and the location was perfect. At first, we couldn’t afford to build on the block and we didn’t want to tell the kids that it was ours, so we did what all good parents do, we lied.

We told them that we were fencing it and clearing it for some friends… this was when we were first putting in the boundary fence.

For a number of years, we would load up the truck with the camper, the boat with the bikes in the cabin and the laser down the middle, and we’d head off to hawks nest for our summer holiday. On time, on the trip up, the tow coupling broke and the boat was set free. We were on the old highway and the boat swayed from side to side nearly turning over the truck and the camper... The back of the camper was damaged from the bowsprit. This explains how we came to have a storage box on the back of the camper as seen in the photo below.

Wendy and I would sneak away from the kids from time to time and sit on the log that I had built at the front of the block. We’d admire the view and dream about having a house there one day. After a while, the kids found us.

By the end of the 80’s we couldn’t fit all the “stuff” into the two sites at the caravan park, so we decided to clear the block and connect the water and camp on there. The camper had also had a couple of extensions and now had three double beds and a bunk inside.

The camper was located on the block each year. We had installed a little shed that acted as a male toilet, and had a cold shower. Wendy would ride her bike back up to the caravan park to go to the toilet and to shower…

This Set up wasn’t going to last long, so we found a company that would allow us to change the design of the home. As a family we designed the little house and had them build the relocation home. We dropped it on the block one weekend and built a shed out the back that was as big as the house for all the toys. For many years after, this formed the core of memories for Wendy, I and the boys.

The photo below shows Todd (bottom right) and Neil (Top Left) and their friends heading off to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I can’t remember if it was this year, but it was the first time Todd drank… he finished a bottle of “something", possibly that Blue Curacao that Darren, the guy on the left is holding, then was given bourbon and coke and had that too. He recalls just drinking coke, but he certainly remembers the impact. He came home by way of Craig carrying him from Tea Gardens hotel and was sick as a dog. Wendy heard the commotion and made me get up. Todd has his head in the esky in the laundry. I gave him some tough love and made sure that the next day I mowed the lawns early. Todd was never really a big drinker for many years, but today he seems to drink more than the other two boys!

Wendy and I moved the house at hawks nest to our farm. For many years I’d be designing the perfect house. Over the year we built our new holiday house.

Many of you might not know, but Wendy’s parents house was called “Allambie” meaning - a quiet place. Once complete Wendy insisted that we name the new house "Allambie". We installed the sign that sat on her parents place over the Arbour at the front door. I think the only time this house was quiet was when the family was in Sydney! Before Wendy passed away Neil and I removed the old sign that had been on her parents house for decades and been on our place at Hawks Nest for years. Neil restored it and gave it back to her when she was in hospital given it meant so much to her.

Wendy requested that given the importance, he keep it and continue the tradition. Today, the sign sits above Neil’s front door. The irony is still present, as anyone that knows Kate and Neil - they'd be aware their house is not that quiet!!!

I don’t remember what year it was, but whilst up at hawks nest I had chest pains and tingly feeling down my arm. After trying to rest and not feeling any better, Wendy drove me over to the paramedics station. They took one look at me and knew I was having a heart attack. They put me in the back of the van and we headed off to Newcastle. Wendy stayed behind to clean up the house and lock it up. This was not long after Kerry Packer had had a heart attack and he paid for defibrillators in all ambulances. On the way down to Newcastle I had a massive heart attack and only survived because of that device and being in the ambulance with the paramedics. I think this was my first visit to the Mater hospital in Newcastle.

A couple of years later, when I was 70, with three fully grow, able boys, I decided to chop some branches from the gum tree that was hanging over the house. I was up there by myself so it was the perfect time to do a job like this. I went next door and asked my neighbour to come and steady the ladder while I climbed up the two stories with the poll chain saw to trim the branches. Waiting a while, my neighbour never came over so I went up alone. It was all going well, till the ladder started to shift to the side. I knew i was going to fall so I ended up pushing the ladder and luckily landed on the grass in between the driveway and the entrance way.

That neighbour certainly heard me scream and was out in a flash. I was air lifted by the Westpac rescue helicopter from Hawks Nest with a number of broken bones, collapsed lung, punctured lung and my femur had broken into 13 pieces.

This time I spent 2 weeks in the John Hunter hospital and then when i was stable I was transferred to Sydney for another two weeks in the Mater Hospital while I received another hip replacement. You can see below what it looks like today…

But it was not all about my health.

At one stage we had 6 boats.

There was the Trojan (As seen behind the camper above) and we had a little tinny ( the Jabaroo) for the kids and fishing. Seen here with Blake, Rachel (Glen's Kids) Neil and Glen.

In the background there is a small boat floating in the river - take note of this little boat.

Then I had a catamaran (Hobie cat 16') Seen here with John, Me, Ben and Neil, the later two who were getting ready to go sailing.

The kids had one too ( a Prindle called No Puff Too Tuff) - We certainly proved that wrong a few times, with stays breaking and people and wires going in all directions!

There was the laser, which is a mono hull sailing boat, then, finally, there was the mooring minder, the African Queen. She was an old abalone fishing boat from Eden. Built in 1929, she was indestructible…. As seen in the Photo above.

Before relocating her to Hawks Nest I fixed her up at home in Castle Hill. I placed her in the paddock next door and propped up the sides with pieces of timber. At the time we had a German Shepard, Heidi, and a goat, Billy. They would play together for hours. I had filled the bottom of the African Queen with flotation foam to make her ride higher in the water and I was just putting the floor back into the boat one day. Heidi and Billy were chasing each other around the African queen. They would run one way, then change leaders and run the other way. Billy rammed one of the timber struts holding the boat up and over she went with me inside. I wondered what had happened, one moment I was upright, then I was upside down on the ground with a goat and a dog looking at me.

After finally getting her back in the water, Wendy wanted to go to visit her friend Jenny in Shoal Bay. So off we set in the old African queen. It was a slow ride as she only had a two cylinder engine that you had to crank start. We made it over and went to the pub for dinner. I might have had one too many lemonades and Wendy and I got back in the old queen and navigated back to Hawks Nest at night by the river markers. I knew the river well from my many years of holidaying in the areas and was full of confidence that we’d be fine. Wendy, as always, was in for an adventure. It was going really well until this one section where there is a marker called the wedding cake. I swear that I had to go on the right of the green flashing light… we were full steam ahead and

we hit rocks…. ?

Into reverse and we tried again…. Same thing – the rocks had moved which was strange.

We reversed once again and Wendy asked if I was certain- such a silly question!

We weren’t going fast enough i thought.

This time we tried with more speed - same thing!

After conceding defeat, we navigated to the left of the green flashing marker and we made it straight thru… Wendy and I made our standard pact, never to mention the incident. At family dinner during the next week, I tested the boys on there understanding of the river and navigating at night… I checked if they knew if the wedding cake was a port or starboard marker, bugger me if they didn’t get it right!

Later that week, I received a call from the MSB, they were calling to inform me that our boat, the African Queen had sunk! Turns out that the boat was sunk, but the foam was holding it suspended in the water so that only the cabin was showing. She was still tied to the mooring… and was full of water.

As a good parent should, I started by questioned the boys if they had hit anything in the African Queen. After some light interrogation, they didn’t break…

So it was time to shift to planning how to salvage the boat as a way of distraction from what really happened…

What to do? As you would remember from the story of the bees, we had the farm. So I came up with “the plan”.

We arrived at Hawks Nest at night under the shadow of dark, I had checked the tide, it was an incoming tide first thing in the morning…we were up early, Neil Launched the tinny with the 15hp on the back and went out to the African Queen. He attached the tow rope and waited for the signal. Craig Todd and I took off to the ramp at Tea Gardens just the other side of the bridge with the hired car trailer. I backed down the ramp until the trailer dissolved into the water and the rear wheels of the car were in the water too… we signalled Neil and he released the mooring lines and slowly towed the half sunk boat down the river with the tide. We only had one chance to get the boat lined up and over the trailer… Neil did his job perfectly, he brought the boat down and positioned her over the trailer reading the flow of the tide. We tied the front to the trailer and slowly, we drove forwards letting the water drain from the boat and strapping it up on the sides. Finally after 30 mins, she was strapped down on the car trailer. We did a slow trip to the farm and headed to the location where the remainder of the bees that were still morning the disappearance of their extended family. We strapped the back of the boat to a tree, jumped in the car and took off as quick as the Toyota would go.

The old Queen sat there for a year or so till I advertised her and she was sold. During that time, the cows would come past and mingle around her.. some of them would rub there heads on the boat. There horns were getting in the way. That sounded like another job...

This job needed the help of someone special. It was the perfect job for Glenn…. We captured the cows and found the hacksaw. Glenn cut the first horn and cut it a little too low. This one poor cow had blood squirting out of its horn and Glenn and I were covered in it! We learnt quickly that you needed to go a bit higher. It wasn’t long after that I decided to sell the farm.

Hawks Nest has been, and remains, an amazing place that has provided stories, created memories and built relationships that are irreplaceable.

I’m sure like Steve Francis, others might have a story or two about me and Hawks Nest. If you have a snippet, then send it over to and we’ll post it.


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