My Henley of the ’50s (Part 1)

Gary Bennett

Gary Bennett has always loved Henley Beach. As a youngster he often spent a portion of his school holidays with his paternal Grandma and Uncle Malcolm in their rented house in Kent Street right next to the train station. He loved to watch the trains, walk down to the beach and swim, and as he grew a little older he began to fish from the jetty…..

Read on to discover some on the wonderful (and innocent) adventures of Gary at Henley Beach in the 1950s and ’60s.

(Editor note: Gary is a regular contributor of stories to the “Boomer Magazine’ in the ‘Advertiser’ newspaper. He has also published books on local baseball the main one being “Batter up – the Genesis of Night Baseball in SA”.)

Steam Trains at Henley Beach

Ask any boy in the ’40s or ’50s, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Most, if not all, would reply, “I’d love be a train driver”. In those days a train meant a steam locomotive – there was something that all of us liked about all the “puffing billies” in preference to the Red Hen rail cars.  

Up until August 1957 the train line that now finishes at Grange, extended along the eastern side of Military Road, with stations at Kirkcaldy, Marlborough Street and the Henley Beach station. This is where the Henley Beach police station now stands. Apparently, the reason for the line’s closure was the inconvenience to the housing close to the line alongside Military Road. The noise and vibration must have been horrific.

Anyway, my father grew up with his parents and Malcolm, his younger brother, in a rented house at 1 Kent Street, directly across the road from the end of the Henley railway line. After Dad married Mum, Grandma, Grandpa and Malcolm remained in that house until 1957. In January 1950, my Mum was heavily pregnant with my sister Ros and so it was decided to send me, then aged six and a half, to stay at Kent Street until at least a week after the birth.

Gary (aged 6 years)

I had a great time. Grandpa would often take me to watch the trains come and leave the station. Often, I would stand on a bench seat behind their front brush fence watching the engine unhook from the carriages, drive to the water tower to replenish the boiler, then move on down to the turn table, when, on making the turn, would continue past the opposite side of the station enabling it to reverse back and hook up with the carriages for the trip back to the city. At that time, I had no idea that a certain Norm “Chalky” White, a brilliant SA baseballer, was often one of those engine drivers. “Chalky” was in the SA contingent for Australia in the demonstration baseball game played against America in the ’56 Melbourne Olympic Games.

(Chalky in the Train)

Grandpa, an excellent mushroom gatherer, often took me with him to the many open paddocks around the viaduct in search of these excellent eaters, something I loved doing. He also took me for enjoyable walks along the jetty and around the side shows where he would often treat me to a ride on the merry-go-round.

Despite those grand times, I finally began to get home sick and I wanted my Mum. Reluctantly, Grandpa took me home, where I found I had a new baby sister – the stork had finally delivered Ros to us, thus completing our family.

Can you or other members of your family recall the steam locomotives or the Red Hen trains coming through to Henley Beach? Please share your stories?

Fishing in the Fifties

It was in early April of 1956 when I finally convinced my parents I was old enough (I was almost thirteen) to go fishing on my own at the Henley Beach jetty.

On Saturday mornings, I would board the tram, often the number 377, by the Kensington Oval and for the grand sum of sixpence (5 cents) I could go straight through to Henley without having to change trams.

At first, I had modest success, but that all changed one afternoon and evening in May. Around 5.00pm the ‘tommies’ (Tommy Ruffs) arrived in force, and it was on for young and old. Time marched on and around 9.30pm I reluctantly decided I should head for home even though they were still biting. With no way of contacting Mum and Dad, (no mobile phones in those days), I soon realised that I would be in trouble getting home so late. Sure enough, as we neared my tram stop, looking out the window, I spied Dad’s car close to the stop.

Dad’s car – a Durant Rugby c. 1930s

Where the hell have you been? Your mother’s, been worried sick”, he loudly proclaimed. Holding out my bag of fish I replied, “But Dad, I couldn’t leave them biting”. As he looked in the bag his anger completely evaporated. Fortunately for me, he became very excited about my catch, almost nine dozen as it turned out, and wanted to know all the details. On our arrival home, Mum’s anxiety evaporated when she saw my catch and the three of us went about cleaning them.

Well, as you would expect, there was no stopping me now.

From that time on, while fishing either by myself or with friends, I would often race down the Henley Jetty to purchase a packet of chips from the local fish and chips shop. In those days fish and chips always came wrapped in about four layers of newspaper. On cold evenings I would warm myself by placing the parcel down my jumper and extract chips, one at a time, through a hole in the top of parcel.

This worked a treat!

Did you or other members of your family ever catch ‘a bagful of ‘tommies’ on the Henley Jetty like Gary? Did you ever bring your bag of ‘smelly’ fish home on the tram? Please share your stories?


Uncle Malcolm

For the first 29 years of his life (1928 to 1957) my Uncle Malcolm lived in Kent Street with his widowed mother. In those days the Grange railway line extended along Military Road to Henley until 1957.

As a youth he enjoyed watching the steam trains pull into the Henley station which was directly across the road from Kent Street and, of course, he travelled many times via that service into the city. One night he was in the sleepout when he heard a crash and, racing outside, saw a train half-way across the street after overshooting the end of the line and crashing through the buffer, but, thankfully, it came to rest before hitting their house.

A Snooker of a Story
One hot night, probably in the early forties, Uncle Malcolm was enjoying a game of snooker with my Dad in the Pool Hall at Henley Square (now ‘Stella’s Restaurant’). After potting a red ball, he lined up a black ball into the top left-hand pocket and so as not to leave it up should he miss, he decided to smack the white cue ball rather firmly. Not having the precise cueing that the pros have, he made contact with the white a little lower than he intended, resulting in both the white and black bouncing off the table. The white came to rest alongside a table leg however the black ball, after hitting the floor, continued rolling. As it was a hot night, and the proprietor had left the front door open for the sea breeze to enter, the black ball shot out the door, bounced down the front steps and continued on rolling down the Square before coming to rest against the old Band Stand – a considerable distance away. A truly embarrassed Malcolm Bennett, much to the amusement of the other players present, had just inadvertently recorded the longest snooker hit seen in Henley’s history.

Somehow, I doubt if his somewhat dubious record will ever be broken!

Bandstand/Rotunda in Henley Square
State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/17/255

(Editor note: The snooker story was told to Gary by his father) 

Do you or other members of your family have memories of playing snooker in the Henley Square Pool Hall? Please share your stories?


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