Morning tea with Aina Lynch - Part 3

In 1982 the state rail authority determined that they would not renew Lynch’s lease.  This was due to the fact that there were several authorities with an interest in the tiny parcel of land where the postage stamp sat and regulatory frameworks had developed over time to the point that basically the bureaucracy of it all was insurmountable.  The Lynch’s basically didn’t intend to fight the decision and essentially were going to wrap up their operation.  The public had other ideas.  One of the customers brought in a book to start a petition.  Another customer had a legal background and he prepared a cover letter.  This petition ended up in several volumes.  The community went into uproar.  I remember the “hands off our prawns” campaign from when I was a boy.  It was all over the local media, I remember people with placards demanding that something be done.  Below is a cartoon from the Herald at the time which says it all.

In the end council was forced to act.  They built the Lynch’s Prawns building that we know across the road from the old Lynch’s site, pictured below.  The Lynch's were only in this building for a short while, calling it quits in the mid-80s.

After having my morning tea with Aina, I started relaying the stories over the next few days to different people that I knew and via social media.  The thing that really struck me was that everyone I spoke to had some story about this place, some connection with it and the families involved.  Whether it was “my father was such and such’s cousin”, or “my family used to service Pats cab”, or even just “I remember buying my bait there”.  For my part, I found out that my grandfather caused a bit of a row between Pat and Aina once.  My grandfather would sometimes fish with Pat and on one occasion he promised to have Pat back for dinner he was going to.  Apparently they got onto a good spot of fish and a very sheepish Pat turned up at the dinner at 11pm.  According to Aina, Pat visited my grandfather the next day at the police station and told him that he'd "better go and square up with Aina or they mightn't be getting away to dangle a line for a while".

The thing about Lynch’s is that it was a focal point for the Novacastrian community from the time they started in 1935 until the time they called it quits in the mid-80s.  The foreshore is now unrecognisable from what has gone before and that is a good thing, it needed to happen.  Only the Lynch's building remains now, it is the last physical reminder that we have of the people, culture and heritage of the Perkins Street boat harbour and everything that went with that. 

Newcastle is changing so fast at the moment.  Its so exciting and joyous to see our city coming back to life.  Novacastrians have waited a very long time for this and it is sorely deserved.  The thing is that we need to be careful, its important that in all of this excitement of re-discovering and re-defining Newcastle, we don’t lose what it means to be Novacastrian.  The Lynch's building and its history in our community is important and we are very proud to be involved with this project that will save this landmark on our harbour, breathe new life into the Lynch’s building and return it to its role as a focal point for the Novacastrian community.

Thanks very much for reading this series of blog articles about the Lynch's site and its importance to the Novacastrian community.  We hope to see you at Lynch's soon, we can't offer one of the world's best prawn sandwiches these days but we will do an amazing cuppa.

Morning Tea with Aina Lynch - Part 2

In our last instalment of this series of blogs we finished up by touching on where the Lynch's had come from with Pat's parents moving down to boat harbour to set up shop after living in the hovels behind Nobby's during the great depression.  Aina’s parents weren’t quite as local.  Aina’s grandmother passed away when her father was just a young man in Finland.  Her father Arynto Frisk (or Tony Frisk as he was known to most in Newcastle), found that he couldn’t get along with his step mother when his father re-married and so he ran away, stowing away on a ship and ending up in Australia. 

Aina’s father served in WWI and was shot on at least three separate occasions in France.  On one of these occasions he met Aina’s mother while convalescing in England before heading back to the front.  After the war they married and headed to Newcastle to start their life together.  Aina’s father became a dredge master in Newcastle harbour, she said this made them incredibly fortunate when the depression came because he always had work.

Aina and Pat first met at Cordwall’s dancing studio on Hunter St in 1947, they were 17.  Later, the Cordwall's studio shut down and that was that.  Five years later Aina was boarding with Mr and Mrs Ailing on Glebe Rd.  She had no idea that the Lynch’s and Ailings were family friends.  One day Mr. Ailing had been ill and Pat came to visit.  Aina said she didn’t know who got the biggest shock when she answered the door, Pat or herself.

By the time Aina and Pat took over at the shop that first little shed behind the convict wall at the Perkin's street boat harbour was long gone and they had built their new shop which Aina said she always referred to as the “postage stamp”.  The postage stamp is circled in the picture above and you can see exactly how much our foreshore has changed by using the railway signal house (which is still there) as a reference.  This was because perched next to the Darks Ice and Cold Storage facility, that’s all it looked like (a better appreciation of this is shown below).

Darks Ice.jpg

Perhaps “took over” is the wrong expression noting that Pats parents (pictured below with a friend) continued to work the shop with Pat and Aina.  In fact Pats mother worked in the shop every day up to, and including, the day that she past away.  Aina remarked that it was quite funny to regularly see a line of customers at this tiny little building that would stretch out of the door and around the corner, but then the way that most seem to remember Lynch's, the line was half the reason to go there.  It was an opportunity to catch-up with other locals and have a chat, Lynch's was a focal point for the urban community in Newcastle.  After all, as you can see in these images, there wasn't a lot of other reasons to go over to that side of the tracks unless you worked at Dark's or wanted to dangle a line in the harbour.

Pats parents at shops.jpg

The “postage stamp” was fairly misleading though in terms of the scale of the Lynch’s operation.  Pat kept three cool rooms in Dark’s Ice.  One down stairs for freezing down product and two upstairs for storage.  Aina remarked with a definite tone of pride that even though the river closed for 6 months every year, they only ever ran out of prawns once for a week before the start of season.  “Everybody knew that you could always get some prawns at our place” she said.   Apparently a fellow from council once scoffed at Pat for his tiny little business.  Pat said, “mate I’ve got a cool room that you could drive your car around in and that’s one of three”.  The council fellow turned up at Lynch’s for a pound of prawns for Sunday dinner and Pat spotted him.  Pat insisted that the council gentleman pop over and inspect his cool rooms.  A grand tour of the internals of the Lynch’s cool rooms followed which Pat apparently only brought to a conclusion when he thought the fellow was about a heartbeat away from being snap frozen himself.

Another story that Aina told me with pride was that they received a letter from the state rail corporation one year thanking them and telling them that they were the best tenants that they had ever had in a state rail building.  One thing that struck me was how incredibly hard this family had worked.  Aina said that Pat would quite often simply skip a night’s sleep when his prawners were fishing a night tide.  During the season Pat would be up and out of the house at 4am to head to Tuggerah and buy cooked prawns.  Then he would come back and open the shop, Aina would pop down and relieve him for an hour or so after opening so that he could go for a swim which he loved and tried to do every day.  Then they would work the shop together through the day, sometimes depending on the tides Pat would scarcely make it home that night before the first call would come in from his prawners to come down to the wharf and collect their catch to be frozen down live on the floor of darks.  Pat also operated a cab in later years.

With that, we will bring the second instalment of this story to a close.  Stay tuned for the third and final part next week,

Morning tea with Aina Lynch - Part 1

We thought that for our first blog post it would be great to outline the reasons that this project is so important to us.

My grandfather (who I genuinely believed to be some kind of Hercules in bifocals) brought me to this funny little, blue, yurt-like building when I was a boy to buy yellowtail and green prawns for bait.  It was a special experience to me but not especially unique, I was hardly the first boy to be taken by his father or grandfather to Lynch’s to buy bait, or a pound of prawns for Sunday dinner, or even just to have a yarn.  Lynch’s was an institution in Newcastle and a focal point for the community.  Before Honey-suckle and the foreshore promenade, Lynch's was the only reason that anybody ever went over to the habour side of the train line.

In November 2016, we held a launch for our crowd funding campaign which aimed to save the Lynch's building.  At the crowd-fund launch I was approached by a couple who told me that they lived next door to Aina Lynch.  I asked them if they could speak to her for me and see if she might meet with me.  A week later I got a phone call from Aina inviting me over for a cup of tea and a chat.

When I arrived at Aina’s home no more than 2km from the famous shop, I found myself wondering if Pat and Aina had always lived here when they were operating the shop.  This was answered fairly quickly when Aina told me that this had been Pat’s parent’s house originally.  Aina pointed to a seat and told me that she could remember Pat’s father sitting in that spot listening to a radio broadcast, she said she remembered him as clear as yesterday say “we will be at war by the end of the month”, he was right.

Aina said the house was very different back then.  It had been added to and altered over the years, back then it was a very basic cottage.  Certainly, it was always far more comfortable than the hovels behind Nobby’s beach where Pat’s parents, like so many other Novocastrians had been forced to find shelter during the great depression.    

The first thing that Aina showed me was a print of an old newspaper article from 1949 about somebody I’d never heard of before.  The article regarded Hartey Spurr as one of the best-known characters in the entire coalfields district.  At the time of writing, the article said that Hartley’s strange little hut at the Perkins street boat harbour had been a landmark on the harbour for many years.  Hartley himself in 1949 was 83 years old.

Hartley Spurr's bait shop at Perkins Street boat harbour

Hartley Spurr's bait shop at Perkins Street boat harbour

Hartley Spurr (left) inspecting a basket of prawns caught in the backwaters of Port Hunter by a local prawner.

Hartley Spurr (left) inspecting a basket of prawns caught in the backwaters of Port Hunter by a local prawner.

Pat’s father was a fisherman, he hawked fish in the suburbs and sold at the fish market near the market street gates.  Pat’s father would regularly supply Hartley Spurr and apparently, it was Hartley who first suggested to Pats mother that they set up at boat harbour.  Aina told me that one day Pat’s mother was in Hartley Spurr’s and Hartley said, how would you like a shop on boat harbour.  Pat’s mother responded that “they’d never give us a place down here”.  Hartley replied “that’s not what I asked you”.  Hartley helped Pat’s parents to set up at boat harbour.  That was during the depression and quite a while after the following picture was taken but you can see the shed which Hartley Spurr helped them to lease in this picture.  Its to right of shot just behind the brick wall.  Aina said the brick wall was referred to as “the convict wall”, and everybody said that it was built as a perimeter to the main convict compound on Newcastle harbour.

Pat told stories about this little shed.  As a boy he would have to count prawns and beach worms into children’s shoe boxes.  They would then fill them with sawdust and tie them with string for delivery to fisherman’s homes during the day.  Aina remembered him speaking about how cold the wind could be coming through that first shed and about recalling his mother cooking meals for the family from the floor on a little primus stove.

Aina's parents certainly weren't quite as local but we will leave the story there for this first instalment and pick up where we left off next week.