Randwick Local Legends Episode 7: Margot Phillips

Margot’s association with the Randwick area started when she lived with her husband in Kensington. Her passion for the area ignited when she moved into her Californian bungalow in Coogee. Enjoy listening to Margot's unique perspective on our local history as a former Principal of Coogee Public. Margot also shares her first hand experience dealing with the changes in education in the area between the 50s and 60s.

About this episode

In episode 7, Margot Phillips talks about living in the “delightful village” of Coogee from 1957 until now. She shares her passion for the history and architecture of many of the local houses and businesses, including the Federation facades on Coogee Bay Road and also the Californian bungalows scattered around the area. Margot also recounts some of her teaching experiences at South Coogee Public School in the early 1960s and 1970s, and reflects on the changes she has seen in the area over time.

Duration: 25min 10sec
Recorded: 2020

Episode Transcript


Chelsea Hunter:  Hi, you're listening to local legends, the podcast that explores the history of Randwick City through the recollections of locals who know and love the area. I'm Chelsea Hunter. And with me is Margot Phillips, who's lived in Coogee since 1957. And is a former Principal of Coogee public school. Margot, thank you so much for joining us, so where in Coogee did you grow up and what was it like?

Margot Phillips: Well, I didn't grow up in Coogee, Chelsea, my husband did, so just the next best thing. He was actually born in Coogee. In a home that is still standing.

Chelsea Hunter: Whereabouts?

Margot Phillips: On the corner of Carrington and Coogee Bay, a beautiful home on the south eastern corner, and it was then a “lying-in” hospital called Lochinvar.

Chelsea Hunter: So, when did you move to Coogee?

Margot Phillips: 1957, up until then we were living at Kensington, which was close by.

Chelsea Hunter: And you moved with your husband?

Margot Phillips: Yes, we bought a home.

Chelsea Hunter: Whereabouts?

Margot Phillips: A street that no one's ever heard of, it only has 12 houses, called Cairo Street as in the capital of Egypt but for a very specific reason, that took me many years to learn why. It's part of a precinct, which includes Garnet, Wolseley, Alexandria and Cairo, which were all part of the story of Major General Sir James (Joseph)  Garnet Wolseley, who was a very, very famous, a very popular hero in Britain, an English gentleman who was involved in just about all the British wars of the mid and late 19th century starting with the Crimean and moving from there and he was responsible in regaining from  what did they call them, bandits I think, the Suez Canal. So that was why he was the hero of Cairo. So yeah, so Cairo, Garnet after him, and of course, Wolseley after him and Alexandria because he also was involved there.

Chelsea Hunter: Wow. And so how did you find out this information?

Margot Phillips: Well, it was only from a friend, a fellow teacher in number one Cairo Street and her mother told her this story, that this precinct when it was subdivided as the Coogee Park Estate in late 19th, early 20th century, when it was subdivided for sale, this was the reason and she still lives in Cairo Street.

Chelsea Hunter: What was it like in the 50s and earlier?

Margot Phillips: It was the most delightful village. That's how you could describe it.

It had always been a picnic venue, holiday place from quite early, mid to late 19th century and when the tram line was open to Coogee, the loop tram that used to come down and go around in what is now Dunningham Reserve; Coogee and Manly were the places to go. But then, of course, later Bondi became very, very popular and I think in a sense slightly moved Coogee to the third rank.

Chelsea Hunter: And your house was close walking distance to Coogee Bay Road, so you were able to use Coogee Bay Road as your shopping precinct?

Margot Phillips: Oh, absolutely, but I must admit I always drove. There are only 12 houses in the street, six either side. It's on a very steep incline, six on either side of an unmade road centre section and my home, half of my house stood on a double block of land and half my land faced this huge nature’s half acre, which my husband always mowed and the other half the road so, to walk it meant walking up and down a very steep hill, gradient of one and three.

Chelsea Hunter: So tell me a bit about your home as well.

Margot Phillips: Home. Ah, it's a beautiful California bungalow. I still mourn for it because Californian bungalows are my favourite style of architecture. I bought another one, a smaller version on a single block of land which is very comfortable and very convenient, but my previous home had all the possible bells and whistles of that era. It had vast skirting boards, jarrah floors right through, beautiful plaster work, the ceilings were divine, they featured nymphs of the woods and exquisite, beautiful stained glass. Although the front stained glass on the big bay windows, which is another feature of the California bungalow style, had been removed and replaced with plain glass because the view was so vast that the people from whom we purchased the home, felt the view won our over  saving the lead lights, so the lead lights were sacrificed. I was rather sad about that, but I would have faced the same conundrum.

Chelsea Hunter: What was the name of your home?

Margot Phillips: Caltana,

Chelsea Hunter: Why was it called that?

Called after a city in Sicily, where be not surprised, because, I will stick my nose everywhere all over the world that has any association, but my home was built in 1922. The builder was Edward Christie, and he also built the house next door in 1923 for his wife's parents and my house was Caltana after Caltana city in Sicily ad the house next door was Catania, which is the wonderful Bay in the south of Sicily. And I was perplexed about this until one of his descendants came calling, as they often did in the period while I lived there, they'd often come find me in the garden or they'd come and ring the bell and say, “Oh, hello Margot”. They told me that it was because the grandfather of Edward Christie had been a railway engineer and lived on Sicily for some years.

Chelsea Hunter: That's a beautiful story. What did you love most about where you lived?

Margot Phillips: Ah, the view and well I love the house. We had a huge stone cellar underneath. As I go around the world visiting wine tastings in stone cellars, I think I missed my chance, I could have made a fortune, but I just loved looking… north we look to Ben Buckler, northern headland of  Bondi uninterrupted, this is no looking around buildings or anything or chimneys even , down south to Mistral Point at Maroubra. But the greatest joy, the jewel in the crown, was Wedding Cake Island...

Chelsea Hunter: Of course!

Margot Phillips: Oh, just a magical place, magical. And of course, one of the great plusses was without any effort, you just look through our eastern blinds to see the whale,

Chelsea Hunter: Southern right whales.

Margot Phillips: I'll get it right. Thank you, migrating. Was an absolute joy.

Chelsea Hunter: I can imagine. So, who was in the house at the time? There was yourself and your husband.

Margot Phillips: Yes. We had three sons.

Chelsea Hunter: Wow!  What was it like for them growing up in Coogee?

Margot Phillips: Oh, wonderful, wonderful being a house on a dead-end street, there was no passing traffic, not at all. Hardly anyone ever came up our hill and I mean we had off street parking for five cars as the boys grew older. They all had a car of course but I mean, one of them the middle one, who was a yachtsman and scuba diver, he would have the binoculars or the telescope on Wedding Cake Island to see if there was Interesting flotsam or jetsam. I have a ring from the Oriana, the original Oriana not this new one. What else did he bring in? Oh, glass fishing floats. A melly of all sorts of fishing floats, plastic I think they are, which I have didn't value them because I have five beautiful blue glass ones with their rope. Ah, and the other bunch, I have hanging in a tree, outside a mango tree my favourite, but it was such a privilege.

Chelsea Hunter: And tell me about some of the families that were living in the area. What was the demographic of Coogee at that time?

Margot Phillips: Good question because they were mostly business people or professional people.  I mean I’m thinking, journalists, dentists, pharmacists, business owners.

Chelsea Hunter: So you're also a teacher at the time as well.

Margot Phillips: Oh, yes, I went back to work after my babies, I resigned in 1959 from Malabar Public School and I went back to South Coogee Public School in 1967.

Chelsea Hunter: So tell me some of the differences between teaching in schools then and what you understand of teaching in schools now.

Margot Phillips: It is now 34 years ago, frightening since I retired. I think it’s a different attitude, I think the parents are much more involved. I mean, I was always begging and pleading for them to become involved, but it only ever happened to a limited degree.

Chelsea Hunter: What were class sizes like?

Margot Phillips: In 1955, I had a class at Malabar of 63 children.

Chelsea Hunter: Wow. And you were the one single teacher for 63.

Margot Phillips: Oh yes, yes, of course and the Principal used to say … oh, in those days we called him headmaster… he used to regularly come and thank me for my tolerance. When you saw the stack of books that you had to mark. Oh, it was quite an experience, but we got through it.

Chelsea Hunter: And writing reports at the end of year all by hand.

Margot Phillips: Oh, My Goodness me, oh yes it was an experience.

Chelsea Hunter:Sounds like you enjoyed it.

Margot Phillips: I was then appointed to Malabar in the 50s and that was an absolute joy. I was there till 59. As I said, I then left to have babies and went back to South Coogee to open their school library. Which was quite an experience.

Chelsea Hunter: Tell me about opening a library from scratch. How did you do that?

Margot Phillips: Oh goodness me it was a challenge because the books had been shelved at the back of the assembly hall. The library had just been completed and it still exists down there at South Coogee and Waverley Road. And it was at that time, it was built to the standards of secondary schools because South Coogee school was a relatively new school, when you compare it with the other local schools and I don't know I was teaching classes, but I was also establishing the library, which meant that I had to take all of the books off the shelves in the back of the assembly hall, decide where I was going to shelve, have the shelves placed in the new facility.

I had a library clerical assistant one day a week, fortunately I had a small portable typewriter that I always kept on the large charging desk at the entrance to the library because I never stopped typing, lunchtime, morning tea time, I always was typing because, I was determined to create a dictionary catalogue, which in those days was a card catalogue, which was an author card, a title card; if it was nonfiction, subject cards, it could be two or three of those. So yes, I was pretty busy.

But children were at that time and I'm sure it still exists were so wonderful. They would come and beg me, if they could help and they were just amazing, absolutely amazing! They’d say, “could you teach us to type”? I said, “Well, I don't know how to type”, I was a one finger girl. But they would come in, and I would say go and play, go play, no, no, no, we want to help you, we want to get this dictionary catalogue done. Because I forget how many thousands it seemed an enormous number of books in the collection, but it eventually grew, I was there for long enough to see it  grow to fantastic collection. Finally, it was 12,000, which is a huge collection for a school library.

Chelsea Hunter: That’s a big undertaking

Margot Phillips: It was an enormous privilege and of course, I used to go up on Saturdays and Sundays until the headmaster at that time said, “give me your door key, you’re not coming up on the weekend anymore”, anyhow, it all came together.

Chelsea Hunter: When did you become the principal of Coogee Public School?

Margot Phillips: 1981, but I had been principal previously in the inner city of Annandale North and previous to that I'd been what was called a deputy principal one which is equivalent to a principal status of Gardeners Road, where I was also teacher-librarian and previous to that I had been deputy at Maroubra Bay and South Coogee. also, because I had a promotion’s list when I when I resigned in 1959, I was re-established there, and I had a deputy’s position at Coogee South.

Chelsea Hunter: I understand you were instrumental in getting a playground created at the bottom of the school grounds. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Margot Phillips: It's just opposite the Diggers Club and it was originally tramway land. Because the tram used to run through it, but I researched early documents that showed it as always having been Department of Education, part of the grant. So, I locked both the gates on either side that gave access to this path across the centre, the school was built in 1876, so in 1976, they had a Centenary celebrations and published a book on the history of the school, but there was no formal acknowledgement of the centenary. So, in 1981, I talked the P and C into making this top area up the hill, a centenary playground. So, we had a large sign on the fence, which I noticed is only in the last 12 months disappeared, declaring it to be Coogee Public School Centenary playground!  I thought, no one’s going to take it back as part of a tramway and we would put playground equipment up there, furnished it with anything that would intrigue children and it gives me great joy every time I drive by, to see the use that is made of it.

Chelsea Hunter: And how did you source some of the equipment?

Margot Phillips: P & C. I mean, in those ancient days, one had contacts on all these sorts of suppliers. So, we had a big function declaring the opening, oh everybody who was anybody in the Department of Education in this area was in attendance and so it went. And I was just thinking, we had a lovely lady who had been the original canteen manageress. Coogee Public school had one of the first health canteens.

Chelsea Hunter: You’ve always been quite resourceful in your throughout your teaching career and there was a time when you didn't have access to a photocopier. And you built yourself a duplicator. Can you tell me about that?

Margot Phillips: Yes, well actually, photocopiers didn't exist, and I had taken on board the methylated spirits copiers and how they worked, fordigraphs I think they were and at home I had this lovely little Victorian blotter. It's like a half circle with a little handle on the top. And so I took it apart and thought now if I can cover that with feltex , and then I can cut a wax stencil of what I want, well of course you had to initially ink that feltex with the ink and metho (methylated spirits) and put the wax stencil over it and fasten it, and it had already fasteners. And then I could directly copy into the children's notebooks, whatever I had a map or plan something I wanted them to have.

The district inspector was most intrigued, he’d never seen anything like it.

Chelsea Hunter: And when did computers first get introduced into the school system?

Margot Phillips: I can't be sure possibly before 1980 I would think so. But I can't give you a specific date and it probably depends upon the financial situation of the individual school because the P & C had to supply them, they were not supplied.

Chelsea Hunter: Yes, you were given a laptop, your school was given a laptop.

Margot Phillips: Yes one laptop, one laptop, you know, I mean, there were only four or 500 children, one laptop.

Chelsea Hunter: So, how did you share that around?

Margot Phillips:Honestly, I thought we can't possibly go beyond sharing it between fifth class and sixth class of which there were two or three classes each and so because Coogee school, in my time there, was full of antique furniture. Absolutely, every classroom had a pine turned leg, original teacher's desk. I had 400 Bar Back, Queensland Silkie oak chairs in the assembly hall. I had antique bookcases.

I took one of these desks, teacher’s desks, which was spare, I put the one and only computer on it and had it taken upstairs and I said, “Okay, okay, people, this is THE computer” and sent a few of the teachers off to do computer  in-service courses And that was the very beginning.

Chelsea Hunter: So, you wheeled the laptop around from classroom to classroom.

Margot Phillips: Fortunately, all on the same level, which was upstairs in the original building, the 1876 building. It was such a joy to be in such an historic school.

Chelsea Hunter: I want to take you back to your time as a mum with boys growing up in Coogee. What were the areas that you used to take the boys to as they were growing up?

Margot Phillips:  Well, summertime, they all learned to swim, down at the ladies’ baths, and Rose Kelly was the swimming teacher. We used to spend a lot of time around at the Ivor Rowe pool, which is further into South Coogee, almost Lurline Bay and other than that we used to take them over to the north side of Clovelly, which was a wonderful place. They all went to school down at South Coogee. They all played cricket and rugby union with the school teams and Saturday teams. There was never a dull moment.

Chelsea Hunter:  What was Coogee Bay Road like at the time?

Margot Phillips: Quiet, very few cars. Moving down to the base of Coogee Bay Road when they took away the sea wall at the foot of Coogee Bay Road and of course, they put the blue bollard type fence, to replace the sea wall. And we are blessed at the historical society, we have a cast iron dolphin from the sea wall. They used to stand in pairs, placed about every maybe 10 metres along the sea wall with a gas lamp in between.

Chelsea Hunter: Fabulous. So, what were the shops like, the stores like?

Margot Phillips: Well facing south on the northern side of Coogee Bay Road and most of them I think not to spoil, they're still Federation facades. If you look up above the awning, you'll see that they are Federation. On the other side facing north, of course you have a wonderful Coogee Bay hotel, which was one of Coogee’s earliest schools. That was a school in the 19th century. Going up the south side it’s a little bit of a mixture of architectural styles. Although one of the great treasures if you go right up beyond Brook Street, corner Brook and Coogee Bay the old Commonwealth Bank premises, have a wonderful sea mural on the front on sandstone, beautiful sculpture. I hope it's still there, it’s a treasure.

Chelsea Hunter: I’m going to go and have a look.

And of course, what you mustn't forget is the wonderful Art Deco; flats, apartments around that corner of Brook and Coogee Bay.  On that southern side, there are some wonderful Art Deco’s, buildings of all sorts and then of course we have, going further up Coogee Bay Road up to almost the top, we have possibly the greatest jewel of Art Deco in the whole city of Randwick is Gower Galtees block of apartments you know. Yes.

Chelsea Hunter: So, tell me a little bit about the Artist’s bench in Dunningham Reserve.

Margot Phillips: Yes, I'd like to if I may, because Louis Franks, he or his family, I can't be sure which, owned the Baden - Baden Hotel, which on the northern end of Coogee beach stood in Baden Street and that is where the artists - Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton, used to stay with Louis Frank who was himself a wonderful artist and three of them would sit there and where the bench is, they've located that it would almost be exactly where they set up their easels to paint Coogee Beach. Looking south, and of course you could see the track going up over the hill, which is probably Dundas Street.

Chelsea Hunter: So, you've seen and been through a lot in Coogee over the years, is there any one thing that you hope for Coogee and Randwick City for the future?

Margot Phillips: Oh, what a wonderful question.

I belong to the school of thought that nothing should change. But of course, it can stay so. I'm sure there is an awareness now in Council of the priceless heritage, that not only Coogee…

I haven't mentioned, if I may, Chelsea, the plaque that used to be on the sea wall, which declared Coogee to be a village in 1838 and when that section of the wall was demolished to open it up to the foot of Coogee Bay Road, the plaque disappeared so they had it replicated. And it is now in the big sunflower, in the paving of that whole area which Margaret Martin opened as a little Plaza, I can't give you the date that occurred but it's wonderful. There are other plaques, if you go down and look from the beach side, there are other plaques on the stone wall, the base of what was the sea wall, it's worth doing just to have a look. So, for the whole City of Randwick, all I would ask is a respect for the past and I feel it's there because great efforts are made.

Chelsea Hunter: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate that.

Margot Phillips: You're most welcome.

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