Interviewee: Mr Leslie George Clarke
Date of Birth: 11 January1908
Interviewer : Jenny Drennan
Date of Interview: 17 March 1986 to 28 April 1986.
Date of Death: 14 August 1997
Synopsis: Lyn Adams
BOHG No: 1986-004
Total Length: 2 hrs 35 mins
Les was born in Bunbury and lived in Oakley Street. Les’s grandparents, on both sides, were West Australian born, which in that era was a fairly rare attribute.
His mother died when he was two and a half and he and his sister Enid, went to live in ‘Bury Hill’ with his Grandmother, Mrs Spencer and two of her Sisters, maiden Aunts, Mena and Rose Oakley.
‘BuryHill’ was built by Mr Eliot who was then a Commissioner of the area, It was later occupied by Dr Lovegrove, and then bought by William Spencer who extended and rebuilt some of it. It was a big bungalow with lots of verandas. A croquet court there later became Moorabinda Croquet Club, Mrs Spencer being President until her death. The house was bought by Edwin Rose. The property or land originally stretched from Edward Street to Sampson Road. Later the house became part the St John of God Hospital. Much of the furniture was later auctioned and Les still has some of that.
There was a Chinese market garden not far away from which they obtained vegetables.
Water was collected in tanks from the roof before there was a town supply. There was a steam operated power unit, supported by coal, where the Gardens are on the corner of Wittenoom and Prinsep Street, about 1910. The coal probably would have come by train, and delivered by horse and dray. There were pan toilets in those days, and holes dug in different places over which the toilets themselves were moved and previous holes filled in with sand.
There was a volunteer fire brigade and Les used to watch them practising. They got their water from big tanks on Boulter’s Heights, and later there was a big bore put down near the Police Station.
The family went shopping by horse and buggy, mainly to Hayward’s store, which was at the end of town, near the jetty. There were a few other shops there too, including a butcher and probably a baker. There was Forrest’s Mill where they crushed grain, and Forrest’s house was near that. There were two main hotels.
The breakwater was built in about 1912 under government contract. The lighthouse was then where the Lookout is now. They had a big wicker ball which was hoisted on a flagpole to tell people that a ship was coming in. The lighthouse keeper, who lived in a little cottage down below, had to climb the stairs to light the lamp.
Sailing ships would come in with goods for the stores, such as Hayward’s , and Clarke’s store in Stirling Street. . There was also a hardware store, and a clothing store called Tipping’s
Les’s Aunt Mena would take him down to watch the ships unload, or for a jetty walk on Sundays. There were a lot of steam ships come in too, the ‘Huntress’ a regular one taking on timber sleepers as cargo. The train used to go along the jetty to the Blacksmith’s shop, where ship repairs were done. The Gibsons were the main carriers then, then Michael Kelly, a Mr Wight and much later, Paddy Stubbs. Albert Hay had the first motor car taxi, and the first fatal accident too. The first car that Les could remember was one owned by Edwin Rose out at Brunswick, but Mr Eastman also had one of the first cars in Bunbury. The first truck that Les could remember was owned by Mr Beigel of Beigel’s Brewery, in partnership with Dr Joel.
People mostly swam at the Back Beach and many families, including the Clarkes had beach huts along the swimming areas.
Before he was old enough to attend the State School, Les accompanied his sister, Enid, to the Church of England Grammar School for Girls. He then attended the State School, which incorporated the Infants’ School, before that was rebuilt on the other side of the railway line. He progressed to the High School when it first opened, and completed his Junior Certificate there.
Les’s first job was in the bank where he learned a lot about business. He really wanted to go farming and got his opportunity through his Uncle Charlie. He worked on the Benger Swamp, growing potatoes, and later worked with Dr Joel’s son on Maxicar Orchard. During the Depression Les left the farm.
Through the connections of his Uncle Charlie, Les went to the Goldfields and obtained work in the Gold Room at the Lake View and Star Mine. By chance he started just before there was a Miners’ Strike, and he found himself working with the Shift Boss, the two of them virtually keeping the mine working during the Strike, and thus Les gaining knowledge of the workings of the whole enterprise. He had many experiences while on the Goldfields, finding it a really colourful life.
Les met Connie in Bunbury, became engaged while he was still in the Goldfields, and married her in St Paul’s Cathedral in Bunbury when he came back. Les later became involved in the church Council and to become one of the Diocesan Trustees of the Cathedral. There were a number of other churches in Bunbury at the time too.
Miss Steere who was Secretary of the Bunbury Building Society saw an opening for a Land Agent business, and the Bunbury Building Society enabled ‘Steere and Clarke Real Estate’ to form within their premises.
In 1940 Les enlisted for service in the Second World War, and through a series of circumstances, became a Fitter in the Airforce. He worked on Pratt and Whitney engines while in the Fourteenth Squadron. He became a Flight Sergeant in the Repair and Salvage Unit and then in the Dismantling Unit. In New Guinea he came under the authority of the Fifth American Air Force as a Test Fitter.
Miss Steere had continued on the business of Steere and Clarke during the War, and out of his share of the business, she was able to pay off the mortgage on his house.
She retired soon after, having been Secretary of the Building Society for forty years, and Les became Secretary. He employed Miss Duce at that time, and Mr Rodney Johnson. The business grew so much that Les Clarke and Rodney Johnson went into partnership, separated from the Building Society and moved into the old Ephram Clarke store premises. ‘Steere and Clarke’ became the most successful Real Estate business, at the very least in the Southwest.
Les was elected onto the Bunbury City Council in 1948, and served on Council for twenty years until 1971, with a break between 1956 and 1959. During that time he was involved in many projects including Meals-on-Wheels and the establishment of the Senior Citizens Club into the same building. He nominated unsuccessfully for Mayor at one time. There was a family background of Mayors in the family, both his Grandfather and Father holding the position before him. There is a cloth worked by his Grandmother, Rose Oakley, with signatures of many important dignitaries embroidered on it, in the Council Chambers.
Lesley Clarke obtained many awards through Rotary and Government for his committee services, including an MBE.