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.